Maldives state of emergency declared by government amid political crisis

The Maldives government has declared a state of emergency for 15 days amid a political crisis in the island nation.

The state of emergency gives security officials in the Indian Ocean state extra powers of arrest, reports say.

The government has already suspended parliament and ordered the army to resist any moves by the Supreme Court to impeach President Abdulla Yameen.

Security forces have entered the Supreme Court and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the ex-president, has been arrested.

There were judges inside the court but a court spokesman said he was unable to contact them.

The US National Security Council has warned in a tweet that “the world is watching” the Maldives.

Why are all eyes on the court?

In a landmark decision on Friday, it ruled that the 2015 trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed had been unconstitutional.

Mr Nasheed, the island nation’s first democratically elected leader, was convicted under anti-terrorism laws of ordering the arrest of a judge and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

However the verdict was internationally condemned and he was given political asylum in the UK the following year after being allowed to travel there for medical treatment.

The Supreme Court also ordered the reinstatement of 12 MPs, which would see the opposition’s parliamentary majority restored.

How important is Mr Gayoom?

Now aged 80, he ruled the country autocratically for three decades before the Maldives became a multi-party democracy in 2008.

A half-brother of President Yameen, he has now aligned himself with the opposition.

He was detained in a police raid on his home, the opposition says. Shortly before, he tweeted about a large police presence outside.

How else has the government responded to the court ruling?

It sacked the police commissioner for pledging to enforce the ruling and ordered the detention of two opposition MPs who had returned to the Maldives.

It also warned that any court order to arrest President Yameen for not complying with the Supreme Court ruling would be illegal.

The Maldives previously declared a state of emergency in November 2015, after the government said it was investigating a plot to assassinate Mr Yameen.

That move came two days before a planned protest by Mr Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party.

How have the opposition reacted?

Mr Nasheed, who is in exile in Sri Lanka, told BBC News that the government’s “brazenly illegal” actions amounted to a coup.

“Maldivians have had enough of this criminal and illegal regime,” he said. “President Yameen should resign immediately.”

An opposition MP, Eva Abdulla, said the state of emergency was a “desperate move” that showed the government had “lost everything [including the] confidence of the people and institutions”.

What is the Maldives better known for?

Breathtakingly beautiful beaches and breathtakingly expensive luxury hotels, says the BBC’s South Asia correspondent Justin Rowlatt.

The nation is made up of 26 coral atolls and 1,192 individual islands.

But while the water of the coral reefs that surround them may be crystal clear, politics in the “island paradise” has always been very murky indeed, our correspondent adds.

Since President Yameen took power in 2013 it has faced questions over freedom of speech, the detention of opponents and the independence of the judiciary.

source: BBC

North Korea to send ceremonial head Kim Yong-nam South

North Korea is to send its highest ranking official for years to the South amid an easing of tensions during the Winter Olympics.

Kim Yong-nam, the ceremonial head of state, will lead a 22-member delegation to the South beginning on Friday, said the South’s Unification Ministry.

The two Koreas’ athletes will march under one flag at the opening ceremony.

The North’s participation in the Games is widely seen as a diplomatic manoeuvre by Pyongyang.

It faces growing international pressure and sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

The united Korean women’s ice hockey team played its first match on Sunday, but lost the friendly against Sweden 1-3.

They will get a chance to even the score when they face Sweden again during the Games.

Sunday’s outing was the first and only practice match for the newly minted Korean squad.

Kim Yong-nam is the head of the parliament in the North and will be the highest-level official to visit South Korea in four years.

An unnamed official from the South’s presidential Blue House told the BBC that they believe this reflected a willingness on the part of North Korea to improve inter-Korean relations, and demonstrated the North’s sincerity.

Mr Kim will lead a delegation of three other officials and 18 support staff, the Unification Ministry said.

It did not say whether he would attend the opening ceremony of the Games in Pyeongchang, a county in the mountainous east of South Korea.

If so, it would put him in the company of US Vice President Mike Pence at a point of high tension with Washington over the North’s nuclear ambitions.

The North has conducted a series of missile tests designed to demonstrate its nuclear capability.

North Korea’s participation in the Olympics, which run from 9 to 25 February, was a sudden turn towards reconciliation.

It came after the hereditary leader Kim Jong-un extended an olive branch to the South in a New Year message, saying he was open to dialogue and could send a team to the Games.

As well as the ice hockey players, North Korean athletes will compete in skiing and figure skating events. It is also sending hundreds of delegates, cheerleaders and performers.

However, there have already been some bumps in the road to reconciliation.

Earlier this week it emerged that the North had scheduled a large-scale military parade for 8 February, the day before the Winter Olympics commences.

Amid negative headlines, North Korea said no-one had the right to take issue with its plans and promptly cancelled a cultural event it was to hold jointly with the South.

Meanwhile, although Seoul and Washington have agreed to delay the annual big joint military exercises which always enrage the North, they will still go ahead at the end of the Paralympics.

Source: BBC

Greece Macedonia: Name dispute draws mass protest in Athens

At least 140,000 Greeks have taken to the streets of Athens in a protest about the decades-long dispute over the name Macedonia.

Many Greeks object to the country of the same name calling itself Macedonia, saying it implies a territorial claim on Greece’s northern Macedonia region.

Protesters oppose Greek government proposals on resolving the issue.

Celebrated Zorba The Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, 92, was among those addressing the crowds.

Anarchists daubed red paint over his home on Saturday but he was unfazed, declaring, “I am calm and ready.”

How high are passions in Athens?

Demonstrators carrying Greek flags chanted “hands off Macedonia” and “Macedonia is Greece”, as they assembled in Syntagma Square outside parliament.

“Macedonia was, is and will forever be Greek,” Mr Theodorakis told the huge crowds, adding that any suggestion of a name to resolve the dispute must be put to a referendum.

“If a government considers signing on behalf of our country… there is no doubt it must first ask the Greek people.”

He said the neighbouring northern state was “illegitimate”.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias recently received death threats when he said he expected the dispute to be resolved within months.

“Here are the borders,” said protester Rania Mainou from Xanthi in northern Greece. “This is Macedonia. Here, these are Slavs, they are not Macedonians, we are Macedonians. Macedonia is Greek, no one can take this name, no one can use it.”

It is the second such protest in a fortnight. Some 90,000 demonstrators rallied in Thessaloniki, the capital of the Macedonia region, on 21 January.

Organisers of Sunday’s protest estimated that 1.5 million people had attended but police said turnout was less than one tenth of that.

How long has this row been rumbling?

The dispute has simmered since Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and it has held up its attempts to join Nato and the EU.

Greece’s left-wing Syriza government says the issue is a diplomatic obstacle it wants resolved and has proposed agreeing to a composite name for the country which would include the word Macedonia but ensure a clear differentiation from the Greek region.

Macedonia argues that its people can be traced back to the ancient kingdom of Macedon, once ruled by Alexander the Great, and that the name “Macedonia” is therefore the logical option.

However, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said last month that Macedonia would change the name of its airport from Skopje Alexander the Great airport, to show good will.

The Greek Orthodox Church backs the campaign to stop Macedonia using any variant of the name.

What names are being mooted?

In organisations such as the UN, where talks have been under way, the country is officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)

At home, the Macedonian government calls the country it administers simply “Republic of Macedonia”.

UN mediator Matthew Nimetz has suggested alternatives such as “Republic of New Macedonia”.

A proposal to name it “Republic of Macedonia-Skopje” was reportedly accepted by Greece but rejected by Macedonia.

source: BBC

Lady Gaga halts tour due to ‘severe pain’

Lady Gaga has cancelled the last 10 dates of the European leg of her world tour due to “severe pain”.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the pop star apologised to fans and said she was “devastated”, but needed to put “myself and my well-being” first.

The Grammy award-winning singer has fibromyalgia, a long-term condition which can cause pain all over the body.

Shows in London and Manchester are among those affected.

In the statement, it said the “tough decision” had been made on Friday night with “strong support from her medical team”.

“I’m so devastated I don’t know how to describe it,” Lady Gaga, 31, wrote. “All I know is that if I don’t do this, I am not standing by the words or meaning of my music.”

The announcement comes after she started the UK leg of her tour at Birmingham Arena.

The European leg of her Joanne World Tour had already been rescheduled due to her condition and followed a decision to pull out of a performance at Rock In Rio in Brazil in September, after she was hospitalised with “severe physical pain.”

The Born This Way singer was due to perform in Zurich, Cologne, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris and Berlin in the coming weeks.

At the end of last year, the star announced a two-year residency in Las Vegas, starting late in 2018.

But many are disappointed.

Alice Outten had bought tickets for a London show as a birthday treat.

“I have train tickets and hotels booked in London,” the 23-year-old, from Llandudno, said.

“I love Lady Gaga – she has been my idol for over 10 years, but this is just such a disappointment when I’ve been saving and saving to afford this trip and I was so excited.”

Robert Miller, from Derby, has also been left out of pocket.

“My husband originally bought me tickets for us both to go for my birthday for the date in London last year costing £150 each,” he said.

“We’d booked hotels and travel for then and couldn’t cancel. It’s happened again and we’ve been left with yet another costly trip to London for nothing.”

Source: BBC

Russia condemns US nuclear bomb plans

Moscow has condemned US military proposals to develop new, smaller atomic bombs mainly to deter any Russian use of nuclear weapons.

Russia’s foreign minister called the move “confrontational”, and expressed “deep disappointment”.

The proposals stem from concerns that Russia may see current US nuclear weapons as too big to be used.

This could mean, according to the US military, that those weapons are no longer an effective deterrent.

Russia’s counterblast

The Russian foreign ministry accuses the US of warmongering in its statement, issued less than 24 hours after the US proposals were published.

The latest thinking was revealed in a Pentagon policy statement known as the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

Russia says it will take “necessary measures” to ensure Russian security.

“From first reading, the confrontational and anti-Russian character of this document leaps out at you,” the statement says.

A foretaste of Mr Lavrov’s anger came in a statement on Friday from the Russian senator and defence expert Frantz Klintsevich, who dubbed it “a very dangerous bet on breaking up the world strategic balance of forces” in favour of the US.

What is behind the US proposals?

They are not just about Russia.

The US military is worried about the nuclear arsenal becoming obsolete and potential threats from countries such as China, North Korea and Iran.

But a major US concern is over Russian perceptions. The document argues that smaller nuclear weapons – with a yield of less than 20 kilotons – would challenge any assumption that US weapons are too massive to serve as a credible deterrent.

Such bombs would have the same explosive power as the one dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki at the end of World War Two, killing more than 70,000 people.

“Our strategy will ensure Russia understands that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is unacceptable,” the document says.

The proposed “tactical” nuclear weapons would not increase America’s arsenal, which is already considerable, but would repurpose existing warheads.

Critics have accused the Trump administration of challenging the spirit of non-proliferation agreements.

What is the US doing to its nuclear weapons?

  • Land-based ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and air-delivered weapons – to be extensively modernised as begun under ex-President Obama
  • Proposed modification of some submarine-launched nuclear warheads to give a lower-yield or less powerful detonation
  • Return of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles.


Italy Macerata drive-by attack: Foreigners targeted, say police

At least six people have been wounded in a series of drive-by shootings in a town in central Italy, and one man has been arrested, police and media say.

Those targeted in Macerata were black immigrants, media said.

The suspect, named locally as Luca Traini, 28, had an Italian flag wrapped around his neck when he was detained.

He had taken part in regional elections for the anti-immigration Northern League last year and reportedly made a fascist salute when he was captured.

Italy votes in national elections on 4 March, with immigration one of the key issues.

Link to teenager’s killing?

Mr Traini, who is from the surrounding Le Marche region, did not resist when he was detained after fleeing from his car near the town’s war memorial. He is now being questioned. Police found a gun in his car.

The shooting had begun two hours earlier at about 11:00 local time (10:00 GMT), La Repubblica website reports.

The mayor had warned people to stay indoors during the incident, which saw shootings across a number of locations.

The victims are being treated in hospital. At least one of them is said to be in a serious condition.

Video of the moment the suspect was apprehended was published by local website, Il Resto del Carlino, showing a white bald man draped in an Italian tricolour being escorted away by police.

Italian police also tweeted a photo of the moment of capture, saying one of the wounded had required surgery.

Shots had been fired in the Via Spalato and Via dei Velini parts of town, two key areas in an investigation into the murder of an 18-year-old girl whose body was found dismembered and hidden in two suitcases last Wednesday.

A 29-year-old Nigerian male migrant has been detained over the killing of Pamela Mastropietro.

Several racist comments calling for revenge attacks were posted on the Facebook page of the victim’s mother in the run up to Saturday’s shootings, Ansa reports.

Local reports are linking the two incidents.

Right-wing politicians have been using Pamela Mastropietro’s killing to promote their anti-migrant message as part of their campaign for the general election.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has temporarily suspended campaigning over the shootings.

Opinion polls suggest a centre-right bloc, including the Northern League, Forza Italia and the far-right Brothers of Italy, will win the most seats but not a working majority.

With about 28% support in the opinion polls, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement is the most popular single party. This suggests there could be tough coalition negotiations, or even another election, after 4 March.

source: &

‘I was 12 when I married a 35-year-old’

All too often girls in countries across sub-Saharan Africa can be married off an early age, trapping them in a cycle that is almost impossible to escape.

They can be held by poverty, sexual and domestic violence, and social stigma.

But a charity, Camfed, is working to keep girls in school, in the belief that education can be the best protection against child marriage.

Camfed works in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Ghana, and says child marriage is both a consequence of poverty and perpetuates it.

“Most child brides have lost one or both parents, and face a daily struggle for food,” explains Angeline Murimirwa, Camfed’s executive director for Africa.

“Elderly grandparents or other family members don’t have the financial means to look after them, and often find themselves pushed to consider marriage as the best option for the girl.”

Lifting families from poverty

In Africa, there are 125m child brides, with 39% of all girls in the sub-Saharan region married before the age of 18.

Although many families believe child marriage provides a financial benefit, it often only exacerbates the situation.

In poor communities, any spare money is often spent on sending boys to school, as they are seen as having a higher chance of securing work, and don’t face the same safety risks as girls on long journeys to school.

But that means families losing the earnings that could have come from keeping girls in school.

Women often reinvest their earning in their families, paying to educate their children, siblings and relatives, meaning one educated girl has the potential to lift her entire family out of poverty.

But when girls are married off their education usually ends there.

Many child brides hope marriage will provide the opportunity to go to school, however they typically end up falling pregnant soon after, or being kept at home to carry out household chores.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 75% of girls start primary school, but only 8% finish secondary school. A report from Unicef projected the number of girl brides will double by 2050 if no action is taken.

Married at 12

Gloria – not her real name – was 12 when her father died, leaving her mother to care for 10 children alone. Living in one of the poorest provinces of rural Zambia, there were few options available for the family.

“I cried because I was too young to get married,” Gloria recalled. “I did not want to. I did not understand the meaning of marriage. I was so scared.”

After Gloria’s wedding, she stopped going to school and instead had to spend her days taking care of the house and looking for work.

Six months into the marriage, Gloria became pregnant, and was forced to marry her husband’s brother after her husband suddenly died. Routinely subjected to domestic violence, she miscarried.

A few years later, Gloria fell pregnant again, and was still carrying the baby when her second husband died, leaving her to give birth alone.

“I had no knowledge of how to deliver a baby. I delivered at home, and the neighbour heard me. That’s when they came to help me.”

Like millions of other child brides, Gloria was left trapped in the poverty cycle, having left school with no qualifications.

Camfed came to Gloria’s aid, after hearing of her situation through its network of former students who had been supported through education by Camfed.

This alumni network, the Camfed Association, was started by Angeline Murimirwa, after she became one of Camfed’s first scholars.

Struggling to pay for school

“I remember wearing a torn dress to primary school, having no shoes and not enough to eat. I felt guilty when my parents sold maize to buy me school supplies and I used to wash dishes for the teacher just to get hold of a pencil,” said Angeline.

Born in Zimbabwe, Angeline’s parents couldn’t afford to send her to secondary school, despite her achieving one of the best exam results in the country.

“Without money for school fees or clothing, I had no hope of going, even though my mother wanted me to.”


Uzbekistan reforms: President Mirziyoyev sacks security chief

Uzbekistan’s veteran security chief has been removed after 23 years in the post.

Rustam Inoyatov was one of the most powerful figures in the country.

But he was replaced at a meeting on Wednesday chaired by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, state and private media said.

President Mirziyoyev, 60, has been implementing wide-ranging reforms since coming to power in 2016, following the death of longtime leader Islam Karimov.

They include liberalising the currency, improving relations with neighbours, freeing some political prisoners and calling on mass media and others to adopt a more critical stance.

Last December, he signalled that the National Security Service (SNB) would undergo major changes by the end of this year, such as a new law curtailing its powers.

At the helm of the huge intelligence service that controlled virtually all aspects of life in the country was Mr Inoyatov. The only person who had served longer than him was Islam Karimov.

But on Wednesday Mr Inoyatov, 73, was “released from duty” and replaced by the former prosecutor-general Ikhtiyor Abdullayev, said local media.

Climax of a power struggle?

Analysis: BBC’s Abdujalil Abdurasulov

As the chief of the agency that was the KGB’s successor, Mr Inoyatov was at the centre of the repressive machine that existed under Islam Karimov.

Mr Inoyatov created a system of ever-present fear to control society. The SNB identified and punished anyone who criticised the government. No dissent was tolerated.

Mr Inoyatov was regarded as one of three candidates to succeed Islam Karimov after his death in 2016, along with then Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

Mr Mirziyoyev secured the job, but a hidden power struggle had been unleashed between the two opponents.

Facing Mr Inoyatov’s reported opposition to the new president’s reforms, Mr Mirziyoyev made an open call for reform of the organisation.

Some observers, however, warn that now his main opponent is out of the way, Mr Mirziyoyev may go down his predecessor’s path and try to consolidate all power in his own hands.


German Marcel Hesse jailed for ‘sadistic’ double killing

A German teenager who stabbed to death his neighbour’s nine-year-old son and then killed an ex-school friend while on the run has been jailed for life.

Marcel Hesse, now 20, lured the boy to his basement in the town of Herne last March, stabbing him 52 times.

He bragged of the murder online then stabbed the 22-year-old ex-school friend after he was confronted about the killing.

Prosecutors said the crimes were committed “to satisfy his sadism”.

Hesse, who lived with his parents, was unemployed and was described as socially withdrawn.

He lured the boy from a nearby family home by pretending to need help with a ladder.

He then stabbed the child before sending photos of the body to friends via WhatsApp.

Hesse then went on the run and stayed with a former school friend named only as Christopher W, who had not yet heard about the murder.

When he learned of it he confronted Hesse and was stabbed 68 times, the court heard.

Forensic investigators said Hesse killed Christopher W around 14 hours after the first murder.

Hesse remained at the flat for another two days before setting fire to it.

He then walked into a Greek restaurant and told staff to call the police.

He was arrested without putting up any resistance.

The head of the homicide department in the city of Bochum said Hesse’s confession was “cold and very emotionless”.

Hesse did not admit guilt during his five-month trial, instead preferring to stay silent.

The child’s mother was in court for the trial saying that she wanted to look Hesse in the eye.

Hesse’s defence lawyers had argued that he was not sufficiently mature to be tried as an adult.

But the court in Bochum decided against trying him as a minor, which is possible to the age of 21.

The usual maximum term served is 15 years but the ruling that this case was one of extraordinary severity could keep Hesse behind bars longer.

He will serve his detention on a psychiatric ward.


Tariq Ramadan: French police question scholar over rape claims

Prominent Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan is being questioned by French police investigating allegations of rape and sexual assault against him.

He was taken into custody in Paris over claims made by two women last year.

Mr Ramadan, 55, denies wrongdoing and is suing one of his accusers, Henda Ayari, a former radical Islamist who now heads a secular feminist group.

Mr Ramadan, a Swiss national, teaches Islamic studies at Oxford University, but took leave of absence in November.

How did the allegations emerge?

In a book published in 2016, Ms Ayari wrote about being raped in a Paris hotel four years earlier, but the book did not name the attacker.

In October 2017, she said the sexual assault scandal surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein had emboldened her to accuse Mr Ramadan explicitly.

“He literally pounced on me like a wild animal,” Ms Ayari told French TV.

Another woman, a convert to Islam who has remained anonymous, later accused him of raping her in 2009.

Four Swiss women have also accused the scholar of making sexual advances while they were students in Geneva. He says all the allegations are part of a “campaign of slander” by enemies.

Who is Tariq Ramadan?

A controversial and influential figure among Muslim scholars, he is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the Egyptian imam who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s.

Tariq Ramadan challenges Muslim fundamentalists and encourages dialogue between religions, but some critics accuse him of promoting political Islam.

Since 2009 he has been professor of contemporary Islamic studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford.

He has also sat on a UK Foreign Office advisory group on freedom of religion.