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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Thai court throws poll decision back to PM

Posted: 24 Jan 2014 02:38 AM PST

BANGKOK: A Thai court on Friday threw a decision on whether to delay an election due to deadly political unrest back to the government and the election commission, leaving the controversial vote mired in uncertainty.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the February 2 vote could be postponed but said it was the joint responsibility of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the chairman of the Election Commission to make that decision.

Yingluck is under intense pressure to step down after nearly three months of street rallies aimed at ousting her elected government and installing an unelected "people's council".

Nine people have been killed and hundreds injured in grenade attacks, drive-by shootings and street clashes since the protests began at the end of October.

The main opposition party is boycotting the February election, while protesters have vowed to disrupt voting, saying reforms are needed to tackle corruption and vote-buying before polls are held in around a year to 18 months.

The government previously rejected the Election Commission's call to postpone the polls, noting that under the constitution an election should normally be held no more than 60 days after the dissolution of parliament, which happened in early December.

On Thursday, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban threatened to "close every route" to polling stations, saying the election would not be allowed to take place.

A survey by Bangkok University released on Friday showed that nearly 80 percent of roughly 1,000 respondents planned to vote next month.

But some southern constituencies have no candidates because demonstrators blocked registrations, so even if Yingluck's party wins it may not have enough MPs to appoint a government.

The demonstrators have staged a self-styled "shutdown" of Bangkok since January 13, erecting roadblocks and rally stages at several main intersections including in the main hotel and shopping districts, although attendance has gradually fallen since last week.

The government on Tuesday declared a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas to deal with the unrest.

Advance voting on Sunday is seen as a litmus test of whether the polls will go smoothly.

Government supporters 'won't accept delay'

The kingdom has been periodically rocked by political bloodshed since Yingluck's older brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was overthrown by royalist generals in a coup more than seven years ago.

"Red Shirt" supporters of the tycoon-turned politician, who lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption, have said they oppose an election delay.

"If there is no election or the election is postponed or a neutral person is appointed prime minister, we will not accept it," Red Shirt chairwoman Thida Thavornseth told reporters.

The Constitutional Court dealt a major setback to the government in November when it ruled that a ruling party bid to make the upper house of parliament fully elected was in breach of the constitution.
Dozens of Yingluck's MPs face a possible five-year ban from politics over that failed bill.

"The status of the Constitutional Court is very controversial," said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"It is a product of a coup in 2006 and acts mainly as a tribunal not a court of justice per se," he said, noting that the government had been "badly crippled" by its rulings.

The demonstrators have staged a self-styled "shutdown" of Bangkok since January 13, erecting roadblocks and rally stages at several main intersections including in the main hotel and shopping districts, although attendance has gradually fallen since last week.

The government's emergency decree gives the authorities the power to ban public gatherings of more than five people, prohibit protesters using certain routes and forbid media spreading misinformation.
But the government has not yet used any of those measures, and has ruled out using force to end the rallies.

When a state of emergency was last imposed in 2010 during pro-Thaksin protests, the previous government cracked down with armoured vehicles and soldiers firing live rounds. More than 90 people were killed and nearly 1,900 injured.

The military, traditionally a staunch supporter of the anti-Thaksin establishment, has said it wants to remain neutral during the current standoff, although the army chief has refused to rule out another coup to seize power from Yingluck.

The political dispute comes at a time of disquiet among many Thais about the health of 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and who will be in power to oversee the transition when his more than six-decade reign eventually comes to an end. -AFP

UN urges Myanmar to probe sectarian killings

Posted: 24 Jan 2014 12:30 AM PST

YANGON: The United Nations has called on Myanmar to investigate reports that dozens of men, women and children were killed in attacks on Rohingya Muslims with the alleged involvement of police.

The UN said it had received "credible information" of a series of attacks in a remote area of strife-torn Rakhine state earlier this month, in the latest statement of international concern over the fresh bout of unrest.

Myanmar, whose sweeping political reforms have been overshadowed by religious bloodshed, has vociferously denied civilians were killed but said a police officer was presumed dead after a clash.

"I deplore the loss of life in (the village of) Du Chee Yar Tan and call on the authorities to carry out a full, prompt and impartial investigation and ensure that victims and their families receive justice," the UN's human rights chief Navi Pillay said in the statement late Thursday.

The UN said it had information that eight Rohingya Muslim men were attacked and killed in the village, near the border with Bangladesh, by local Rakhine Buddhists on January 9.

Four days later, a police sergeant in the same village was captured and killed by Rohingya.

This in turn prompted police and local Rakhine to kill at least 40 Rohingya Muslim men, women and children the same evening, the statement said, adding that the UN had passed on the information it had received to the Myanmar government.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut described the UN statement as "regrettable" and based on "groundless sources".

"Because of these acts, mistrust and concern can increase in Rakhine state and trust in the UN organisations among local residents can decrease," he told AFP.

Myanmar's western Rakhine state remains tense after several outbreaks of inter-communal violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities since 2012 that have killed scores and displaced 140,000 people, mainly from the Rohingya minority.

The area where the latest violence is believed to have taken place is mainly populated by the stateless Rohingya, whose movements are strictly controlled by a heavy security presence.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), one of the few outside organisations permitted to operate in the region, said it had treated at least 22 patients with injuries believed to be from violence in the village on January 14, mostly from knife wounds but also one gunshot victim.

Activists said shortly after the January 13 attack that at least two women and a child were stabbed to death in the village, with possibly several dozen casualties.

Both the United States and Britain have raised alarm over the reports of the violence.

'Official discrimination'

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on his official Twitter account that he was "sickened" by reports that women and children had been killed.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had received information that police had authorised the arrest of all Rohingya men and boys over the age of 10 in the area.

It said Myanmar's initial denial of civilian casualties suggested reports of unrest were "not being taken seriously".

"Official discrimination against the Rohingya population and impunity for past abuses has created a fertile ground for new atrocities to take place," said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.

Myanmar's government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

Two rounds of unrest in Rakhine state in June and October 2012, largely between local Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim minority, sparked religious unrest that has since spread across the country leaving some 250 people dead.

Rakhine has been left almost completely segregated on religious and communal grounds by the unrest, with many thousands of Muslims living in squalid camps nearly two years after being displaced.

Thousands of Rohingya asylum seekers have fled Myanmar in rickety and overcrowded boats trying to reach Malaysia and further afield, with scores dying at sea.

Myanmar's quasi-civilian government has sought to emerge from decades of junta-imposed isolation, with sweeping political and economic reforms since taking power in 2011.

The country this month began its first international political role in decades as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). -AFP

Five Afghan volleyball players shot dead

Posted: 24 Jan 2014 02:45 AM PST

MIHTARLAM, Afghanistan: Gunmen shot dead five young Afghan men playing volleyball, officials said Friday, but Taliban insurgents responsible for much of Afghanistan's unrest denied any involvement in the killings.

Former warlord Ismail Khan, a vice-presidential candidate in the forthcoming April election, also escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a suicide bomber detonated himself outside a mosque after Friday prayers.

The volleyball players were gunned down in the eastern province of Laghman by attackers riding on a motorbike.

"Armed men opened fire on a volleyball game. The players were young men, all innocent, and all of them were killed," Sarhadi Zwak, spokesman for Laghman's provincial governor, told AFP.

The Taliban regime between 1996-2001 banned volleyball and many other activities, but a spokesman for the group said it was not responsible for Thursday's deaths.

"We completely reject this allegation. We are not involved in this killing at all. Those who killed them are not our men," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

Some local reports said the victims had been playing cricket, but Habib-ul-Rahman, the governor of Alingar district where the attack took place, confirmed the provincial spokesman's account and death toll.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and said such violence would not deter Afghans' search for peace and development.

Ismail Khan was unhurt when an elderly man triggered a suicide bomb in Herat - the western city where Khan is an influential figure.

"The attacker, who was an old man, detonated explosives strapped to his body near the entrance to the mosque after Ismail Khan came outside. There were no other casualties," Herat police spokesman Abdul Rauf Ahmadi told AFP.

In other violence, officials said the body of a murdered journalist was found in the southern province of Helmand. No group has claimed responsibility for his death. -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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