Archive for July 17, 2015

April 13, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang had just been elected an opposition lawmaker in Malaysia’s Parliament three days earlier when racial riots between ethnic Chinese and Malays broke out on May 13, 1969. The government named Lim a suspected instigator and arrested him a few days later.

No charges were filed. There was no trial, and no guarantee he would ever be freed. The law under which he was arrested — the Internal Security Act — ensured that he could be held indefinitely. For life, if the government so wished.

So it was with great relief and euphoria that Malaysia welcomed the abolition of the law by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2012. The joy was short-lived. Last week, after hours of debate in Parliament, where Najib’s ruling coalition has a majority, the government passed a new law that critics say is the ISA in another garb.

“Malaysia is regressing into a period of dark ages. This is very, very disturbing,” Lim, 74, said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. The government says the new Prevention of Terrorism Act, which also allows detention without trial, is aimed at curbing Islamic militancy amid fears that the Islamic State group in the Middle East could be spreading its tentacles to Asian countries with Muslim populations like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, India and Pakistan to find recruits.

Some 92 people have been detained over the past two years for allegedly supporting the Islamic State militant group, including 17 arrested on April 5 for planning attacks in Kuala Lumpur, under another law that does not allow indefinite detention.

About 60 percent of Malaysia’s 24 million people are Muslims, most of whom have little sympathy for Islamic extremism in the Middle East. But critics such as Lim fear that the new law is a sign that authoritarian politics is returning to Malaysia to crush dissent as public support for the government erodes rapidly. It fared poorly in the 2008 general elections when for the first time the ruling National Front coalition could not win two-thirds majority in Parliament, coming to power with only a simple majority. In the 2013 election, it won a majority of seats but lost the popular vote.

Najib’s own position in the ruling party is threatened. He is also saddled with allegations of mismanagement at a debt-laden state investment company and efforts to link him to the death of a Mongolian woman nine years ago. He also implemented an unpopular new goods and services tax this month to boost government revenue amid a weaker economy.

“If history is an indicator, then these new laws could potentially be very important tools for the regime to hang on to power before the next elections due in 2018. The new laws can ensure opponents are crippled before they can contest,” political analyst Ibrahim Suffian told the AP.

Najib, who came to power in 2009, says the new law is dedicated to fighting “violent extremism” and has promised it won’t be used against political opponents. During the session to pass the anti-terrorism law, lawmakers also approved amendments to strengthen the Sedition Act including mandatory jail sentences and longer jail term of up to 20 years.

The Sedition Act has been used extensively in recent months, with more than 100 activists, politicians, academicians, journalists and a cartoonist being investigated or charged in court since last year.

Najib went on national television on Thursday to defend the new act. “If we wait for an incident to occur … the implications would be bad. So before anything happens, we can take action under this new act,” he said.

The ISA and Sedition Act are handovers from the British colonial days designed to fight communists. But after independence in 1957, the laws have been largely used against thousands of trade unionists, student leaders, political activists, religious groups and academicians who opposed the government. Many opposition politicians were among some 10,000 people detained so far under the ISA.

Among them was Lim, who was only 28 when he was arrested after the 1969 race riots. On being told he faced imminent arrest, he fled to Singapore but returned a few days later. On the flight back, Lim said he wrote on postcards asking his wife to take care of their four children, aged 3 to 8 years, and left them in the seat pocket.

He was detained at the airport and held in solitary confinement for two months, with no access to lawyers or family for the first month. Police interrogated Lim intensively, up to 24 hours in the first week with no breaks, to try to make him confess to being one of the master-mind of the riots that had killed nearly 200 people.

“Those were the most excruciating moments. I had many moments of despair. They tried to break me down mentally and psychologically. My family didn’t know where I was and I didn’t know whether they were safe,” he said.

Lim was freed Oct 1, 1970, after about 17 months in detention. The nightmare recurred in 1987 when then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, facing severe political challenges, locked up many political opponents.

Also arrested with Lim was his eldest son, Lim Guan Eng, who was then 27. “For the first few weeks, we were isolated and not given any information. They gave us a mix of truth and fake news to try and destabilize us,” Lim said. ‘

Just like before, each detainee was kept in a bare cell comprising a single bed with a thin mattress, a table and chair. He said most detainees became resigned to their fate but a feeling of outrage and anger often surfaced at being held without any recourse in court.

Lim and his son were freed 18 months later. Both are now lawmakers and the younger Lim is the top elected official, the chief minister, of northern Penang state. “No one should be locked up for their political beliefs. People will be locked up not because they are terrorists but because they are not in the good books of the authority,” Lim said.

July 13, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi government began a long-awaited, large-scale military operation on Monday to dislodge Islamic State militants from the country’s sprawling western Anbar province, a military spokesman announced.

The spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, said in a televised statement that the operation started at dawn and that government forces were being backed by Shiite and Sunni pro-government fighters. Rasool did not say whether the U.S.-led international coalition was taking part.

This is not the first time the Iraqi government has announced an operation to retake Anbar — where several key towns, including the provincial capital, Ramadi, remain under Islamic State control. In May, authorities announced an operation to retake Ramadi, but there has not been any major progress on the ground since then.

In a brief statement, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi vowed to “take revenge from Daesh criminals on the battlefield … and their cowardly crimes against unarmed civilians will only increase our determination to chase them and to expel them from the land of Iraq.”

The Islamic State group, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh, seized large parts of Anbar in early 2014 and captured Ramadi in May. Iraqi forces, which had been making steady progress against the extremists in recent months with the help of the air campaign, scored a major victory in recapturing Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in April.

During the past few weeks, the troops have been moving to cut the militants’ supply routes and to surround and isolate Ramadi and Fallujah. Rasool didn’t provide any further details on the ongoing operations. By noon, the country’s state TV reported government forces recapturing villages and areas around Fallujah, which is located half way between Baghdad and Ramadi.

Hours after the announcement of the military operation, Iraq’s Defense Ministry announced the arrival of four F-16 fighter jets from the United States to Balad air base north of Baghdad. They are part of 36 F-16s purchased by the Iraqi government.

The new fighter jets will boost Iraq’s air force, which depends only on several Russian-made secondhand Sukhoi jets. Last week, a Sukhoi fighter jet accidentally dropped a bomb over a Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least 12 people.

Meanwhile, U.S.-led coalition forces continued their aerial campaign across Iraq and Syria, ramping up attacks near Ramadi, which IS captured in May. A statement by the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve said that 29 airstrikes struck 67 IS staging areas near Ramadi over the previous day. The strikes destroyed two IS excavators, a militant armored personnel carrier, and a militant vehicle, the coalition said.

Also, on Monday, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a series of bombings Sunday in Shiite areas of Baghdad that killed at least 29 people and wounded 81. Iraq is going through its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops. The Islamic State group controls large swaths of the country’s north and west after capturing Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul and most of Anbar.

In neighboring Syria, government helicopter gunships dropped barrel bombs on a diesel market in the northern town of al-Bab that is held by the Islamic State group, activists and pro-IS social media pages said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday’s airstrikes killed 13 people, including six women, and wounded as many as 40. A Facebook page used by Islamic State supporters said 35 people died. The discrepancy could not be immediately resolved.

Monday’s attack on al-Bab came two days after activists said army airstrikes killed at least 28 people in the town, which is a frequent target of Syrian army strikes that often kill civilians. On May 31, Syrian army airstrikes that hit a packed market in al-Bab killed around 70 people, most of them civilians.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Vivian Salama in Baghdad contributed to this report.

June 11, 2015

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The body of Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s former top aide who died last week in prison in Iraq, went missing on Thursday after it was snatched in Baghdad while en route to Jordan for burial, Aziz’s daughter said.

Aziz’s daughter Zeinab said she was told by her mother — who was in Iraq and waited to accompany the casket to Jordan — that his body went missing at the Baghdad International Airport. No further details were immediately known.

A Royal Jordanian official confirmed that the last flight left Baghdad on Thursday without Aziz’s casket. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Calls to the Iraqi government for comment or information were not immediately returned. Aziz died last Friday in the city of Nasiriyah, where he was imprisoned awaiting execution. Iraqi forensics chief Zaid Ali Abbas says autopsy results Thursday confirmed that he died of a heart attack.

He was the highest-ranking Christian in Saddam’s regime and was the international face of the Baath Party in Iraq. He was sentenced in October 2010 to hang for persecuting members of the Shiite Muslim religious parties that now dominate Iraq.

In recent months, a number of other former Saddam loyalists have been suspected of working with the Islamic State militants in what is viewed as a Sunni alliance of convenience against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

Another senior Saddam aide, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, is suspected of working directly with the Sunni militant group. In April, a number of Iraqi government officials and members of the country’s Iran-backed Shiite militias announced that al-Douri was killed in fighting near Tikrit. But DNA results were never released to confirm the death as promised.

Aziz’s daughter, obviously distraught, would not speculate or who may have snatched the body and for what purpose. In Baghdad, Aziz’s wife Violet and airport officials could also not be reached for comment.

Associated Press Writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.