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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Indian Kashmir shuts down to protest military court verdict

Posted: 31 Jan 2014 03:25 PM PST

Srinagar (India) (AFP) - Large parts of Indian Kashmir shut down on Friday and protests were held against a military court verdict last week that exonerated five army officers involved in the killing of civilians 14 years ago.

Most shops and businesses were closed and public transport halted in the main city of Srinagar and other areas of the restive region after separatist groups called a strike over the court's decision.

Scores of protestors shouting anti-India slogans pelted stones during clashes with police and paramilitary forces who fired tear smoke canisters to disperse them in the city's old town area.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who also heads a faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a grouping of separatist organisations, urged Kashmiris to "raise our voice against the verdict", in a statement this week.

Police detained more than a dozen activists after they tried to stage a protest near a central commercial district in Srinagar, an AFP photographer said.

Hundreds of residents also protested near the graves of the five civilians in the southern village of Brari Angan, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, chanting "we want justice", according to a police officer.

The five victims were killed days after the massacre of 35 Sikhs in the remote village of Chattisinghpora in March 2000.

The army claimed the victims were "foreign militants", accusing them of being responsible for the massacre.

But a subsequent probe by India's top investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, described the killings as "cold blooded murder", paving the way for a trial in a military court held behind closed doors.

The five soldiers were however cleared last Thursday as "the evidence recorded could not establish a prime facie case against any of the accused persons", according to an army statement.

In its verdict, the military court did not dispute the CBI's findings that the victims were civilians but it added that they were killed during an operation "based on specific intelligence".

The decision has been denounced by rights groups and Kashmiri separatists and fuelled anger in the already tense region.

Security forces, particularly paramilitaries and army personnel, in Indian Kashmir are routinely accused by human rights groups of using excessive force and torture.

The local government was preparing a "legal recourse" to try to reopen the case, but it is unclear how this could be achieved since the military court handling the case was outside of civilian jurisdiction and scrutiny.

Kashmir, a picturesque Himalayan region, is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both.

About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or for its merger with Pakistan.

The fighting has left tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, dead.

Philippine typhoon survivors brace for new storm

Posted: 31 Jan 2014 03:52 PM PST

Tacloban (Philippines) (AFP) - Hundreds of people who survived Super Typhoon Haiyan are bracing for a new storm that is expected to hit the central Philippines late Friday, officials said.

Tropical storm Kajiki, packing maximum winds of 100 kilometres (62 miles) per hour, is expected to hit the central island of Leyte before midnight, cutting through the archipelago as it heads towards the South China Sea, the government weather station said.

Although Kajiki is far weaker than Haiyan -- one of the strongest storms ever to hit land with winds reaching 315 kilometres (195 miles) per hour -- authorities are still warning it could bring new flashfloods and landslides to communities living in already rudimentary shelters.

Leyte suffered the worst casualties when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck in November, flattening whole towns and leaving about 8,000 dead or missing.

In the island's still-ruined capital of Tacloban City, about 150 families living near the coast evacuated ahead of time before the storm hit.

The residents, who are still housed in tents after Haiyan destroyed their homes, fled to higher ground or took refuge with friends or relatives, said city administrator Tecson Lim.

Housewife Bising Alberta 55, said her family had decided to voluntarily flee "even before the government told us to evacuate," as she and her loved ones packed up to find shelter in a crowded boarding house.

During Haiyan's fury, her house was wiped out by large waves and she had to be hospitalised for her subsequent injuries.

"I am a survivor (of Haiyan). I am scared of water now. Even if it is just drizzling, I am already frightened," she said.

Regional civil defence chief Rey Gozon said pre-emptive evacuation had been ordered in all areas expected to be affected by the new storm.

Stockpiles of food have also been prepared in case more people are forced to flee, he added.

The second level of a three-step storm alert has been raised over much of the central and southern Philippine islands with a lower alert hoisted over the surrounding areas.

Man washes up in Marshall Islands 'after 16 months adrift'

Posted: 31 Jan 2014 03:14 PM PST

Majuro (Marshall Islands) (AFP) - An emaciated man whose boat washed up on a remote Pacific atoll this week claims he survived 16 months adrift on the Pacific, floating more than 12,500 kilometres (8,000 miles) from Mexico, a researcher said Friday.

The man, with long hair and beard, was discovered Thursday when his 24-foot fibreglass boat with propellerless engines floated onto the reef at Ebon Atoll and he was spotted by two locals.

"His condition isn't good, but he's getting better," Ola Fjeldstad, a Norwegian anthropology student doing research on Ebon, the southern most outpost of the Marshalls, told AFP by telephone.

Fjeldstad said the man, dressed only in a pair of ragged underpants, claims he left Mexico for El Salvador in September 2012 with a companion who died at sea several months ago.

Details of his survival are sketchy, Fjeldstad added, as the man only speaks Spanish, but he said his name was Jose Ivan.

"The boat is really scratched up and looks like it has been in the water for a long time," said the researcher from Ebon.

Ivan indicated to Fjeldstad that he survived by eating turtles, birds and fish and drinking turtle blood when there was no rain.

No fishing gear was on the boat and Ivan suggested he caught turtles and birds with his bare hands. There was a turtle on the boat when it landed at Ebon.

Stories of survival in the vast Pacific are not uncommon.

In 2006, three Mexicans made international headlines when they were discovered drifting, also in a small fibreglass boat near the Marshall Islands, in the middle of the ocean in their stricken boat, nine months after setting out on a shark-fishing expedition.

They survived on a diet of rainwater, raw fish and seabirds, with their hope kept alive by reading the bible.

And in 1992, two fishermen from Kiribati were at sea for 177 days before coming ashore in Samoa.

According to Fjeldstad, the Marshall Islanders who found Ivan took him to the main island on the atoll, which is so remote there is only one phone line at the local council house and no Internet, to meet Mayor Ione de Brum, who put in a call to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Majuro.

Officials at the Foreign Ministry said Friday they were waiting to get more details and for the man to be brought to Majuro.

The government airline's only plane that can land at Ebon is currently down for maintenance and is not expected to return to service until Tuesday at the earliest, with officials considering sending a boat to pick up the castaway.

"He's staying at the local council house and a family is feeding him," said Fjeldstad, who added that the man had a basic health check and was found to have low blood pressure.

But he did not appear to have any life-threatening illness and was able to walk with the aid of men on the island.

"We've been giving him a lot of water, and he's gaining strength," said the Norwegian.

The Marshall Islands, in the northern Pacific, are home to barely 60,000 people spread over 24 atolls, with most of them standing at an average of just two metres above sea level.


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