Archive for August 9, 2017


May 28, 2017

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Authorities in Bangladesh reinstalled a Lady Justice statue near the country’s Supreme Court, two days after its removal following complaints by Islamist hard-liners. Sculptor Mrinal Haque said Sunday workers put the statue back in place a few hundred meters (yards) from its original location.

Haque, who took care of the reinstallation work overnight, said he was shocked at the statue’s removal Thursday night. He said it would be less visible in its new place. Security was tight and officials did not allow anybody inside the court area when the statue was re-erected. A dozen people nearby chanted anti-government slogans and demanded the work be stopped.

The removal was to appease hard-liners who said the statue was erected last year in front of a ground used for prayers during two Islamic festivals. But it also sparked criticism and protests among liberals, cultural groups and left-wing activists.

Many have accused Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of siding with the Islamists who are traditionally close to her rival Khaleda Zia, the opposition leader and a former prime minister. Hefazat-e-Islam, a platform of the Islamists, had welcomed the removal and vowed to wage new protests to press for removal of other sculptures on university campuses and intersections across the country.

The statue of a woman holding a scale and sword in her hands was installed in December. The statue is wrapped in a sari, a Bangladeshi revision of the usual representation, the Greek goddess Themis blindfolded and clad in a gown. Islamists oppose idol worship and consider the Lady Justice statue anti-Islamic.

The reinstallation of the statue can be seen as a blow to the hard-liners who are trying to get some political mileage ahead of next general elections expected to be held in December next year. Hefazat-e-Islam supporters have protested in front of the main mosque in Dhaka several times after the statue was erected. The group, which has a network of students from thousands of Islamic schools across the country, had threatened to launch a mass movement if the government failed to remove the statue.

In 2008, protests led to the removal of a statue of a Bangladeshi mystic poet at a road crossing near Dhaka’s airport. The country of 160 million people is ruled by secular laws, but radical Islam has been rising.

In recent years dozens of atheists, liberal writers, bloggers and publishers and members of minority communities and foreigners have been targeted and killed.

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By Sohara Mehroze Shachi

DHAKA, May 4 2017 (IPS) – New technology could be the answer to reducing negative climate impacts of aviation – one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gases. And a recent quantitative research at North South University (NSU) of Bangladesh has found that upgrading the existing navigation system will reduce fuel use, hence decreasing carbon emissions as well as costs.

Currently, aviation in Bangladesh, like that in many countries, depends on fixed Ground-Based Navigation sensors that guide aircraft along pre-established routes via waypoints. These are often not available in direct paths between airports, hence aircrafts have to take an indirect, inefficient path, burning more fuel.

A new system named Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) has been developed which depends on satellite signals and computerized on-board systems, allowing flexible and optimum routing. This not only reduces costs, flight duration and infrastructure needs, but also contributes to mitigating climate change.

Many countries are in various stages of implementing PBN, and USA’s implementation is called the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen. According to Leighton Quon of NextGen Systems Analysis, Integration, and Evaluation at NASA’s Ames Research Center, it will allow more efficient routes hence faster travel with fewer delays. This video shows how the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has started to use PBN for Super Bowl flights.

Bangladesh has drafted a PBN Implementation Roadmap following International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 2007 resolution on global implementation of PBN. A.K.M. Rezaul Karim, Public Relations Officer, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) said CAAB is seriously working on implementing Required Navigation Performance or RNP (a variety of PBN) and achievements have been made since the roadmap was prepared.

A.K.M. Faizul Haque, Deputy Director (Air Transport), Flight Safety and Regulations Division, CAAB, said RNP approach procedures have already been introduced for Dhaka airport’s runway 14 but local carriers don’t use them, whereas Emirates – a foreign career – uses RNP approach for landing. He added that Emirates helped CAAB establish runway 14’s RNP approach through validation and even allowed CAAB to use Emirates’ flight simulator in Dubai.

“Implementing RNP requires significant, time consuming efforts such as transforming geographical coordinates, infrastructural development and validation,” Haque said. “Progress might seem little so far but it is getting implemented gradually.”

However, Imran Asif, CEO of US-Bangla – one of the leading domestic airlines of Bangladesh – expressed his reservations about the ability of CAAB to implement PBN.

“Our airports don’t even have the most basic of equipment and the controllers lack training. The surveillance radar has not been upgraded in 40 years,” he said.

Asif stated that the commercial airlines are willing to adapt to PBN, but for that the primary groundwork needs to be done. “Infrastructure and human resource needs to be developed and regulations put in place first then operators like us can insert the curriculum in our manual and train our crew,” he added.

While the Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh (CAAB) wants to implement PBN, it has not carried out or published any analysis of PBN in the domestic setting. Thus, the local stakeholders do not know exactly how much improvement can be achieved through PBN, or if there will be any improvement at all.

To address this issue, Ahnaf Ahmed, a faculty member at North South University (NSU) and the lead researcher of the project “Satellite-Based Navigation in Civil Aviation: Performance Evaluation in the Context of Bangladesh” is using simulation and mathematical optimization to compare the two navigation systems under identical conditions, and find their extent of differences regarding flight duration, fuel burn, engine emissions, cost etc.

So far he has found that for Dash 8-Q400 aircraft RNP on average reduces 2.8 minutes in each flight to and from Dhaka and the other three cities, which means fuel consumption reduces by approximately 123.2 pounds per flight. In a year, this equates approximately to total fuel savings of 1.8 million pounds and CO2 emission reduction by approximately 4.9 million pounds.

Ahmed believes his findings can help policy-makers and local industry stakeholders because they are now able to make decisions after precisely knowing how much improvement can happen through RNP regarding costs, fuel consumption and engine emissions. And Haque of CAAB echoed his thoughts, stating that quantitative analysis and comparison data will be very worthwhile for CAAB.

The NSU authority has recently approved the research grant in this regard for which Ahmed applied last year. The fund will compensate for the research expenses he has personally borne so far in covering Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar, and will also allow him to expand the research to other cities to make the results more comprehensive.

“Although this is a small spoke in the big wheel of climate change, it will be great if the general people and the stakeholders can know about such findings to efficiently combat climate change and be aware of the solutions,” he says.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/flying-green-in-bangladesh/.

2017-04-26

DHAKA – Bangladesh has approved a project to build hundreds of mosques with almost $1 billion from Saudi Arabia, an official said Wednesday, worrying minorities who fear they could be used to spread fundamentalist Islam.

The government plans to construct 560 mosques — one in every town in Bangladesh — as the secular administration woos Islamist groups before elections.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sought the funds from Saudi Arabia, which will provide the lion’s share of the $1.07 billion cost, during a visit to the oil-rich state last year, said planning minister Mustofa Kamal.

The centers of worship — equipped with research facilities, libraries and cultural centers — would be a “model” for worshipers in the Muslim-majority country, said Shamim Afzal, head of the state-run Islamic Foundation.

“It is a perfect idea of spreading the true knowledge of Islam,” he said.

But minority groups are less certain, concerned the proliferation of Saudi-backed mosques could spread the ultra-conservative Sunni doctrine of Wahhabism practiced in the Gulf kingdom.

Bangladesh has suffered from a rise in extremism in recent years as the moderate Islam worshiped for generations has given way to a more conservative interpretation of the scriptures.

The government has ordered a crackdown on homegrown extremist outfits after a series of bloody attacks on secular activists, foreigners and religious minorities.

Rezaul Haq Chandpuri, from a federation representing Sufi Muslims who have been targeted for violence, said there was no justification for these new mosques.

“Saudi finance is a concern. They may use their money to promote Wahabism through these mosques,” he said, adding minorities would feel “helpless and insecure”.

But the scheme could also “help the government monitor hateful sermons”, a tough task in Bangladesh where it controls few of the 300,000 existing mosques, said leading secular activist Shahriar Kabir.

“I think the government should take control of all mosques across the country. That way, it can easily identify where extremism are being promoted,” he told AFP.

In a major concession to Islamist groups ahead of polls, Hasina this month announced her government would recognize degrees from hardline madrassas, paving the way for religious scholars to qualify for public service jobs.

She also supported conservative protesters railing against a symbolic statue of justice outside the Supreme Court which they deemed un-Islamic.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=82799.

26 January 2017 Thursday

Clashes erupted in Bangladesh’s capital Thursday as police fired tear gas at hundreds of campaigners protesting against a massive coal-fired power plant they say will destroy the world’s largest mangrove forest.

Witnesses said Shahbagh Square, Dhaka’s main protest venue, turned into a battleground as police used water cannon and fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds of left-wing and environmental protesters.

“There were some 200 protesters. We fired tear gas at them after they threw bricks at us. We also used water cannon,” Maruf Hossain Sorder, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told AFP.

Local television stations and an AFP correspondent at the scene said police also fired rubber bullets at the protesters. At least four people were injured, according to private Jamuna Television.

Campaigners have been protesting for the last three years against the under-construction plant which is 14 kilometers (nine miles) north of Sundarbans forest, part of which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Experts from both Bangladesh and India — part of the forest also lies in eastern India — say the project could critically damage the unique forest, which is home to endangered Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins.

UNESCO said there was a high chance pollution from the plant would “irreversibly damage” the Sundarbans which acts as a barrier against storm surges and cyclones that have killed thousands in impoverished coastal villages.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has defended the project and rejected concerns about it as politically motivated. She said the plant was needed to provide power to the impoverished south.

The website of the mass circulation Bengali daily Prothom Alo said protest marches were also held in other key areas in the capital although there were no reports of any violence.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/183740/bangladesh-police-fire-tear-gas-at-anti-coal-protest.

February 21, 2017

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijan’s president on Tuesday appointed his wife as the first vice president of the ex-Soviet nation — the person next in line in the nation’s power hierarchy. Ilham Aliyev, 55 named his wife Mehriban, 52, to the position created after a constitutional referendum in September. Mehriban, who married her husband when she was 19, graduated from a medical university. She has served previously as a lawmaker and headed a charity.

The constitutional amendments approved at the referendum introduced the positions of two vice presidents, one of them the first vice president. The first vice president takes over the presidency if the president is unable to perform his or her duties. It doesn’t describe the first vice president’s duties, but it’s expected that they will include overseeing the Cabinet.

Aliyev’s critics say the September referendum that also extended the presidential term from five to seven years effectively cemented a dynastic rule. In 2003, Aliyev succeeded his father, who had ruled Azerbaijan first as the Communist Party boss and then as a post-Soviet president for the greater part of three decades.

Aliyev and his wife have two daughters and a son. Aliyev has firmly allied the energy-rich Shiite Muslim nation with the West, helping secure his country’s energy and security interests and offset Russia’s influence in the strategic Caspian Sea region. At the same time, his government has long faced criticism in the West for alleged human rights abuses and suppression of dissent.

Azerbaijan’s leader has cast himself as a guarantor of stability, an image that has a wide appeal in the country where painful memories are still fresh of the turmoil that accompanied the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

August 01, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Nearly 500 suspects, including generals and military pilots, went on trial Tuesday in Turkey accused of leading last year’s failed coup attempt and carrying out attacks from an air base in Ankara.

The U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government blames for the coup, has been named as the main defendant in the case and will be tried in absentia. Gulen has denied involvement in the coup.

Former air force commander Akin Ozturk and other defendants stationed at the Akinci air base, on the outskirts of the capital Ankara, are accused of directing the coup and bombing key government buildings, including the parliament.

Many of the 486 suspects face life terms in prison for crimes that include violating the Constitution, murder, attempting to assassinate the president and attempting to overthrow the government. The trial is one of dozens underway in Turkey in relation to the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that resulted in 249 deaths. Some 30 coup-plotters were also killed. The government says the coup was carried out by followers of Gulen’s movement.

The government says the coup-plotters used Akinci air base as their headquarters. Turkey’s military chief Gen. Hulusi Akar and other commanders were held captive for several hours at the base on the night of the coup.

On Tuesday, a group of 41 defendants were paraded from their jail to a courthouse that was built especially at a prison complex to try the coup plotters. They were handcuffed, with two paramilitary police officers on each arm, and protected by armed special force officers.

A total of 461 defendants are behind bars while 18 were freed pending the outcome of the trial. Seven others, including Gulen and an alleged top operative in his movement, are still wanted by the Turkish authorities and are being tried in absentia.

Ozturk, the former air force commander, is also on trial in a separate case, accused of being a ring-leader of the coup. The families of those killed or wounded during the coup attempt staged a protest Tuesday. Some threw ropes toward the defendants, demanding that the government reinstate the death penalty and that those convicted be hanged. Others threw stones or tried to break through police lines to reach the suspects, shouting “Murderers!”

A total of 1,300 security personnel were deployed both inside and outside the courtroom, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The government declared a state of emergency following the coup and embarked on a large-scale crackdown on Gulen’s network and other opponents, arresting more than 50,000 people and purging over 110,000 others from government jobs.

Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.

July 29, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Seven staff members of an opposition newspaper were released from a Turkish jail early Saturday pending the outcome of their trial on charges of allegedly aiding terror organizations. A court ruled for the release of Cumhuriyet newspaper’s cartoonist Musa Kart and six others Friday, but ordered four others to remain held.

The daily newspaper is staunchly opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is one of the few remaining outlets in Turkey critical of the government. A total of 19 defendants went on trial Monday for allegedly aiding several outlawed organizations, including Kurdish militants, a far-left group and the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the government blames for a failed coup last year.

Upon being released from prison, Kart told reporters they had been imprisoned for nine months for “unjust, lawless, baseless allegations.” He said the indictment would collapse with their release. Their families and supporters embraced them outside the prison on the outskirts of Istanbul. The terms of their release bar them from leaving Turkey.

“I thought I’d be very happy at the moment of my release,” the 63-year-old cartoonist said. “Unfortunately, four of our friends are still in Silivri prison.” Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, prominent columnist Kadri Gursel and chairman Akin Atalay remain behind bars.

The Cumhuriyet arrests are part of a wider crackdown in the aftermath of last summer’s bloody coup attempt that has led to the imprisonment of more than 50,000 people. Critics say the crackdown that initially targeted people suspected of links to the failed coup has expanded to include government opponents. Among the jailed are opposition lawmakers, activists, and more than 150 journalists.

The trial was adjourned until Sept. 11.

July 02, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police chased away a small group of transgender rights activists who attempted to march to Istanbul’s main square Sunday while carrying rainbow flags despite an official ban on the event. Seven people were detained.

The rights group Istanbul LGBTI, host of the 8th Trans Pride March, had said on social media it won’t recognize the governor’s ban. Activists gathered in Harbiye district and in a live statement on Facebook said, “We are trans, we are here, get used to it, we are not leaving.”

The organization tweeted “all roads lead to Taksim,” using the hashtag “GameOfTrans,” but police prevented them from reaching Taksim Square. A water cannon sent to the area wasn’t used on the activists.

The Istanbul governor’s office banned the march late Saturday for the second year in a row. It said “marginal groups” on social media had called for the march and it was being banned to preserve public order and to keep participants and tourists safe.

The ban also said, “very serious reactions have been raised by different segments of society,” in reference to threats by conservative and ultranationalist groups made against trans and LGBT marches. Istanbul police announced Sunday they would close multiple roads to traffic at noon as part of its security measures. Large numbers of plainclothes and riot police officers were stationed around Taksim.

The U.S. Consulate in Istanbul issued a security message Friday informing its citizens of possible “heavy police presence and counter demonstrations” and asking them to exercise caution. The message also said participation in illegal gatherings could lead to detention or arrest under a state of emergency imposed after last summer’s failed coup.

The LGBTI group’s lawyer said seven protesters were detained. Turkey doesn’t criminalize transsexuality, but its civil code requires court permission and forced sterilization for transgender men and women to undergo gender reassignment.

Rights activists say transgender individuals face rampant discrimination and hate crimes in Turkey, and want to march for visibility and acceptance. In 2016, Transgender Europe said Turkey has the highest number of trans murders in Europe. The brutal murder of 23-year-old Hande Kader caused an outcry in Istanbul and the global LGBT movement last summer.

The Turkish government says there is no discrimination against LGBT individuals and that current laws already protect each citizen. It also insists that perpetrators of hate crimes are prosecuted. Last week, the governor’s office banned a march for LGBT rights for the third year. Police set up checkpoints to prevent participants from gathering and used tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse crowds. Forty-one people were detained, among them activists and counterdemonstrators.

July 02, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s official news agency says two ruling party officials serving in district organizations have been shot and killed, and ruling party officials blamed Kurdish militants. The Anadolu news agency says Orhan Mercan, a vice president of an AKP branch in the southeastern Diyarbakir province, died Saturday after being shot near his house. It says Aydin Ahi, who was serving as vice president for a party branch in the eastern province of Van, was killed late Saturday.

AKP officials decried the slayings, which they blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Minister Omer Celik tweeted Sunday that “terror is attacking our nation’s “political” institution.”

A cease-fire between Turkey and the PKK collapsed in 2015, restarting a more than three-decade-long conflict that has left an estimated 40,000 people dead.

June 30, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Qatar’s defense minister held talks with his Turkish counterpart on Friday as the Gulf nation’s feud with four other major Arab states deepens amid a sweeping list of demands to Doha, including the closure of a Turkish military base there.

U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, discussed ways to resolve the dispute in a telephone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said. Defense Ministry officials said Qatar’s Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah met with Turkey’s Fikri Isik in Ankara, but did not provide details.

Turkey is adamant to keep its base in the small Gulf Arab state and has sided with Qatar in the dispute, which saw Arab countries cut ties to Doha earlier this month, accusing it of supporting terror groups. Qatar denies the accusation.

In a sign of support, Turkey shipped supplies to Doha to help ease its isolation and swiftly ratified military agreements with Qatar, allowing the deployment of soldiers to its base. A contingent of 23 troops departed for Doha last week, joining some 90 soldiers already there.

Erdogan has rejected the four Arab nations’ demand for an end to Turkish troop presence in Doha, calling it “disrespectful” and saying that Turkey would not seek permission from others over its defense cooperation agreements.

Turkey insists its troop deployment to Qatar aims to enhance regional security and is not aimed against any specific country. The White House said Trump and Erdogan spoke about ways to overcome the crisis “while ensuring that all countries work to stop terrorist funding and to combat extremist ideology.”

“President Trump emphasized the importance of all our allies and partners increasing their efforts to fight terrorism and extremism in all its forms,” the White House statement added. Other demands presented to Qatar by the four nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain — include shuttering the Al-Jazeera news network and curbing diplomatic ties to Iran.

Erdogan has said the demand for Al-Jazeera’s shutdown is an attempt to strip the network of its press freedom and urged rights groups to denounce the call. Qatar denies supporting extremism and considers the demands an attempt to undermine its sovereignty.