Mali anti-gov’t rally turns violent as national TV goes off air

Mali anti-gov’t rally turns violent as national TV goes off air

Thousands of demonstrators rally in Bamako to demand security and economic reforms in the country.

10 Jul 2020 20:46 GMT

    A protester holds a sign that reads ‘Ibrahim Boubacar Keit get out’ [Matthiew Rosier/Reuters]

    A large anti-government demonstration in Mali has descended into chaos as protesters tried to occupy buildings including the national assembly, the national broadcasting house and two major bridges, while police fired tear gas to disperse them.

    The protest against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, organised by an opposition coalition, is the third such demonstration in two months – significantly escalating pressure on the embattled leader.

    Thousands initially gathered in a square in the capital, Bamako, on Friday to demand Keita resigns over the country’s long-running security issues, economic woes and perceived government corruption.

    Led by influential scholar Mahmoud Dicko, the so-called June 5 movement is channelling deep-seated frustrations in the war-torn West African state

    Keita this week unsuccessfully floated political reforms in a bid to appease opponents, but did not concede to demands from the political opposition to dissolve the parliament and form a transition government.


    Supporters of an opposition coalition took to the streets of the capital, Bamako [Matthieu Rosier/Reuters]

    Civil disobedience

    Leaders of the protest had called on supporters to occupy buildings including the prime minister’s office and other locations at the start of a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing Keita to resign.

    Mali’s national television ORTM went off air on Friday after hundreds of protesters entered the broadcaster’s building in the capital.

    A journalist inside the ORTM building told Reuters news agency by telephone that she was preparing her newscast when protesters stormed the building and that people were asked to barricade themselves in their offices.

    A few kilometres away, other protesters pelted the national assembly with rocks, shattering its glass facade.

    Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Hague, reporting from neighbouring Senegal, said Mali police tried to disperse the crowd by firing tear gas as they attempted to force protesters out of the ORTM building.

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    “The situation has turned from bad to worse,” he said.

    “What we are saying right now is that the protesters have taken over the main areas of the capital with police trying to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd that is defying. They have taken control of the two main bridges of the capital and have cut off the national television channel,” he said.

    “Their grievances range from teachers not being paid for months to people that are being displaced because of the ongoing violence in Mali, and other accusing the government and the President himself of using the state coffers for their personal gain.”

    ‘Enough is enough’

    Thousands of protesters had earlier filled the city’s Independence Square, chanting and waving banners with slogans including: “Enough is Enough” and “IBK, clear off”, referring to the president.

    The impasse is a growing concern for Mali’s neighbours and outside powers, who worry it could further destabilise the country and jeopardise a joint military campaign against armed groups in the West African Sahel region.

    Mali protesters slam gov’t over growing conflict, violence (2:18)

    Dicko told France24 television the opposition coalition had dropped the demand for the president to resign but want further gestures from him.

    “This is because we think it (the resignation) will cause more problems than it will resolve,” Dicko said.

    “Mali’s problem is not about a government of national unity. It is a problem of governance.”

    However, some protesters are still calling on the president to step down.

    Keita was re-elected in 2018 for a second five-year term, but his leadership has faced mounting opposition amid a surge in armed violence and an economic crisis.

    Doctors, teachers push back against Trump calls to reopen schools

    Doctors, teachers push back against Trump calls to reopen schools

    Trump on Friday threatened to re-examine federal funding and tax-exempt status for schools that resist opening.

    10 Jul 2020 20:19 GMT

      Graduating high school students watch former US President Barack Obama deliver a virtual commencement address to millions of high school seniors who will miss graduation ceremonies due to the coronavirus. Schools across the country are now debating how and whether to reopen later this year [File: Bing Guan/Reuters]

      Groups representing the nation’s doctors, teachers and top school officials on Friday pushed back against pressure from President Donald Trump to fully reopen schools in the United States despite a surge in coronavirus cases, saying science must guide the decisions.

      “Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics,” the American Academy of Pediatrics, two national teachers’ unions and a school superintendents’ group said, following days of threats by Trump to choke off federal education funds if schools do not open their doors for the upcoming academic year.

      “We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it,” AAP, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the School Superintendents Association said in a joint statement.

      For our country to truly value children, elected leaders must come together to appropriately support schools in safely returning students to the classroom and reopening schools.

      Read the full statement here: https://t.co/EdPVL4Jfyb @NEAToday @AmerAcadPeds

      — AFT (@AFTunion) July 10, 2020

      Their call was echoed by two medical groups – the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association.

      Trump ramped up his threat on Friday, saying the Treasury Department would re-examine schools’ tax-exempt status and their federal funding if they resisted opening.

      Will the coronavirus change higher education forever? | The Bottom Line (25:27)

      His push to reopen schools comes as cases of the novel coronavirus surge in some of the country’s most populous areas, prompting some state and local authorities to roll back plans to relax restrictions.

      School administrators are weighing the risk of opening their buildings to students and staff as US cases have topped three million this week. Some universities have announced online-only instruction plans, while others may change their calendars. New York City schools, the nation’s largest public school district, announced a hybrid plan mixing both on-site and online classes.

      Trump has accused Democrats of exploiting the pandemic for political gain by refusing to reopen schools and businesses to hurt the economy and his re-election prospects, even as health experts caution against easing restrictions too quickly.

      Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education. Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status…

      — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2020

      It was not immediately clear how Treasury could restrict funds, and the department could not be immediately reached for comment. Most primary and secondary school funding is local.

      In their statement, AAP and the other groups urged Congress to provide more money to schools so they could reopen safely, calling the idea of withholding funds a “misguided approach”.

      Democrats have said they want students to return to in-person classes but only if it is safe. Trump’s likely rival in the November election, former Vice President Joe Biden, has said online instruction is probably needed for a little while longer.

      Even some of Trump’s fellow Republicans have dismissed his heavy-handed push to reopen schools.

      The federal government does not decide if NYS schools reopen — the state does.

      We will make that decision based on the science and the data.

      A decision will be announced in the first week of August.

      — Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) July 8, 2020

      Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Friday said local administrators would decide the best plan for schools in his state and that much of what happens depends on people adopting face masks and other measures now.

      “What we do in the fall … is going to depend to a great extent on what we do in the next 30 days,” he told CNN.

      “We’re not going to be bullied or threatened by the president,” Maryland’s Larry Hogan, another Republican governor, told MSNBC this week.

      World reacts to Turkey reconverting Hagia Sophia into a mosque

      World reacts to Turkey reconverting Hagia Sophia into a mosque

      UNESCO, Greece, Cyprus and church leaders among others express concern about changing status of the sixth-century site.

      10 Jul 2020 19:55 GMT

        The Hagia Sophia is a landmark of Istanbul, once serving as Christian cathedral, later as a mosque, then as a museum [Reuters]

        President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia open to Muslim worship on Friday after a top court ruled the building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.

        Erdogan made his announcement, just an hour after the court ruling was revealed, despite international warnings not to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument, revered by Christians and Muslims alike.

        “The decision was taken to hand over the management of the Ayasofya Mosque … to the Religious Affairs Directorate and open it for worship,” the decision signed by Erdogan said.

        The UNESCO World Heritage Site in Istanbul, a magnet for tourists worldwide, was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

        The court decision was followed quickly by Erdogan saying that the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Istanbul would be reopened for Muslim worship.

        The Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, unanimously cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision and said Hagia Sophia was registered as a mosque in its property deeds.

        The United States, Greece and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the huge sixth-century building, converted into a museum in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

        Below is a round-up of international reaction to Friday’s decisions.

        Church leaders

        The Russian Orthodox Church expressed dismay at Turkey’s decision to revoke the museum status of Hagia Sophia, accusing it of ignoring voices of millions of Christians.

        “The concern of millions of Christians has not been heard,” Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida said in comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax.

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        “Today’s court ruling shows that all calls for the need for extreme delicacy in this matter were ignored,” Legoida said.

        The Russian Orthodox Church previously urged caution over calls to alter the status of the historic former cathedral, and Russian Patriarch Kirill said he was “deeply concerned” about such a potential move and called it a “threat to the whole of Christian civilisation”.

        Previously, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it into a mosque would disappoint Christians and would “fracture” East and West.

        UNESCO

        UNESCO said its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia’s status, saying it was “regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialog nor notification beforehand”.

        “UNESCO calls on the Turkish authorities to open a dialog without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session,” the United Nation’s cultural body said in a statement.

        The European Union

        The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the decision “regrettable”.

        “The ruling by the Turkish Council of State to overturn one of modern Turkey’s landmark decisions and President Erdogan’s decision to place the monument under the management of the Religious Affairs Presidency is regrettable,” he said in a statement.

        Cyprus

        Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, a Greek Cypriot, posted on his official Twitter account that Cyprus “strongly condemns Turkey’s actions on Hagia Sophia in its effort to distract domestic opinion and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations”.

        United States of America

        “We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia,” Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokesperson, said in a statement.

        “We understand the Turkish Government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.”

        Greece

        Greece branded Turkey’s move an “open provocation to the civilised world”.

        “The nationalism displayed by Erdogan … takes his country back six centuries,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.

        Mendoni further said the court ruling “absolutely confirms that there is no independent justice” in Turkey.

        Russia

        Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian upper house of parliament, called the action “a mistake”.

        “Turning it into a mosque will not do anything for the Muslim world. It does not bring nations together, but on the contrary brings them into collision,” he said.

        US Federal forces sent to cities to police and protect monuments

        US Federal forces sent to cities to police and protect monuments

        Local officials say they did not request the assistance and did not coordinate efforts with the federal government.

        10 Jul 2020 19:24 GMT

          Officers in tactical gear have been deployed from more than half a dozen federal law enforcement agencies, joining local police in Portland, Oregon amid continuing racial justice protests [File: Anadolu/John Rudoff]

          Protesters who have clashed with authorities in the Pacific Northwest are not just confronting local police.

          Some are also facing off against federal officers whose presence reflects President Donald Trump’s decision to make cracking down on “violent mayhem” a federal priority.

          The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has deployed officers in tactical gear from around the country, and from more than half a dozen federal law enforcement agencies and departments, to Portland, Oregon, as part of a surge aimed at what a senior official said were people taking advantage of demonstrations over the police killing of George Floyd to commit violence and vandalism.

          “Once we surged federal law enforcement officers to Portland, the agitators quickly got the message,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing operation.

          Toppled statues amid anti-racism protests (1:51)

          The deployment represents somewhat of a departure for DHS, which was created after the September 11, 2001 attacks and is primarily focused on threats from abroad and border security. During the Trump presidency, its focus has been largely on carrying out the president’s tough immigration agenda. Now it is in the role of supporting Trump’s law-and-order campaign, raising questions about overstepping the duties of local law enforcement.

          Portland Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis said his department did not request the assistance and did not coordinate efforts with the federal government amid often chaotic clashes that have ranged across several downtown blocks after midnight for weeks.

          “I don’t have authority to order federal officers to do things,” Davis said. “It does complicate things for us.” 

          Continuing protests

          The DHS officers’ presence comes at an incredibly tense moment for Portland. After Floyd’s death, the city for days saw marches and rallies that attracted more than 10,000 generally peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters to the downtown area. The police took a “mostly hands-off approach” to those events because they were orderly, Davis said.

          Civil liberties advocates and activists have accused federal authorities of overstepping their jurisdiction and excessive use of crowd-control measures, including using tear gas and patrolling beyond the boundaries of federal property. Portland police are prohibited from using tear gas under a recent temporary court order unless they declare a riot.

          “DHS should go back to investigating the rise of white supremacist activity and actors who are seeking to cause violence against these peaceful protests, that is under the purview of the agency’s mission,” said Andrea Flores, the deputy director of immigration policy at the American Civil Liberties Union who was a DHS official during the Obama administration. 

          Trump issued an executive order on June 26 to protect monuments after protesters tried to remove or destroy statues of people considered racist, including a failed attempt to pull down one of Andrew Jackson near the White House.


          Protesters have sought to topple Confederate statues across the country [File: Lee Storrow/Reuters]

          The president has denounced the Black Lives Matter movement and protests calling for the removal of statues honouring racist figures, associating peaceful protests with the sporadic outbursts of vandalism and looting at some demonstrations. He referred to “the violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats,” as well as the “merciless campaign to wipe out our history”, in his July 3 Mount Rushmore speech.

          Following the executive order, DHS created the Protecting American Communities Task Force and sent officers from Customs and Border Protection and other agencies to Washington, DC, Seattle and Portland. Others were ready to deploy elsewhere if needed.

          Improving coordination among law enforcement agencies is part of DHS’s mission. It also oversees the Federal Protective Service (FPS), which guards federal government buildings around the nation.

          But the FPS does not have the resources to respond to the kind of sustained attacks that have taken place in Portland and elsewhere on the margins of protests over the May 25 killing of Floyd in Minneapolis.

          Federal Protective Service Officer David Underwood was shot and killed outside a federal building in Oakland during a protest in May. Authorities charged an Air Force staff sergeant affiliated with the far-right, anti-government “Boogaloo” movement with his murder.


          Demonstrations have continued in Portland, Oregon since the killing of George Floyd in May [File: Gillian Flaccus/The Associated Press]

          As local governments in Washington, DC, and Portland have stepped back to allow space for peaceful demonstrations, the Trump administration has stepped up its effort against what the senior official called “opportunistic criminals”.

          Attorney General William Barr says there have been more than 150 arrests on federal charges around the country, with about 500 investigations pending related to recent protests. There were at least seven in Portland in recent days.

          Portland police officials say the cycle of nightly attacks, which have shut down much of the downtown, has been unprecedented. Early Thursday, a man in a four-wheel drive fired several times into the air as he drove away from protesters who had surrounded his car. “We’ve never seen this intensity of violence and focused criminal activity over this long period of time,” Davis said. 

          Elite border patrol deployed

          Among the federal forces deployed in Portland are members of an elite Border Patrol tactical team (BORTAC), a special operations unit that is based on the US-Mexico border and has been deployed overseas, including to Iraq and Afghanistan.

          BORTAC members, identifiable by patches on their camouflage sleeves, are mixed in with Federal Protective Service outside the court. Others in the unit, which includes snipers, have been stationed in “overlook” positions on the courthouse’s ninth floor, where a protester in a black hoodie shined a green laser into the eyes of one of the officers on Monday, according to court documents.


          Members of an elite Border Patrol tactical team (BORTAC), a special operations unit that is based on the US-Mexico border, have been deployed amid continuing protests in Portland [File: Adrees Latif/Reuters]

          The night before, a BORTAC agent tackled and arrested a demonstrator suspected of pointing a laser at him and others from a park across the street from the court. 

          A former DHS official said BORTAC agents were viewed as “highly trained, valuable, scarce resources” and would typically be used for domestic law enforcement in extraordinary circumstances. “These units don’t normally sit around idle,” said the official, who spoke on condition anonymity because he no longer works at the agency, after serving under Trump and President Barack Obama, and is not authorized to discuss operations.

          “What did they get pulled off of in order to watch over statues?”

          Russia, China veto approval of cross-border aid for Syria

          Russia, China veto approval of cross-border aid for Syria

          Thirteen members of UNSC vote to extend approval for aid to be delivered into Syria across two border crossings.

          10 Jul 2020 19:13 GMT

            The remaining 13 UNSC members voted in favour of the German-Belgian draft on Friday [File: Carlo Allegri/Reuters]

            Russia and China have vetoed a last-ditch attempt by members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to extend approval – which expires on Friday – for humanitarian aid to be delivered across two border crossings into Syria from Turkey for the next six months.

            The UN says millions of Syrian civilians in the mostly rebel-held northwest of the country depend on the humanitarian aid delivered from Turkey, describing it as a “lifeline”.

            The remaining 13 council members voted in favour of the German-Belgian draft resolution on Friday. The UN authorisation, which allows the body to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without needing permission from Damascus, is due to expire later in the day.

            Third failed vote

            The 15-member council has been split, with most members pitted against Syrian allies Russia and China, who want to cut the number of border crossings to one, arguing those areas can be reached with humanitarian help from within Syria.

            This was the third failed vote on the issue by the council and the second veto by Russia and China this week.

            The UNSC first authorised the cross-border aid operation into Syria six years ago, which also included access from Jordan and Iraq. Those crossings were cut in January due to opposition by Russia and China.

            On Tuesday, Russia and China vetoed a bid to extend for a year-long approval which would have allowed for the maintenance of two crossing points on the Turkish border – at Bab al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.

            UNSC: Russia, China veto cross-border aid extension to Syria (2:28)

            Russia then failed to win enough support on Wednesday for its proposal to authorise one crossing for six months.

            Germany and Belgium, two non-permanent Council members responsible for the humanitarian aspect of the UN’s Syria dossier, presented the draft on Thursday that was put to vote on Friday.

            “We categorically reject claims that Russia wants to stop humanitarian deliveries to the Syrian population in need,” Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy wrote in a tweet ahead of the vote.

            A ‘death sentence for many’

            The council was expected to vote on a second Russian draft text to approve aid deliveries for one Turkish crossing for one year.

            Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays reporting from the UN said if nothing is agreed on by the end of Friday, there would be no aid crossing the border for a time.

            UN director Louis Charbonneau reacting to the vote said on Twitter: “Russia and China again cynically vetoed renewal of Syria UN cross-border aid mandate, this time hours before it expires.

            “They politicise humanitarian aid like they accuse others of doing elsewhere. Millions of Syrians rely on aid. This could be virtual death sentence for many.”

            .@hrw: #Russia & #China again cynically vetoed renewal of #Syria UN cross-border aid mandate, this time hours it before expires. They politicize humanitarian aid like they accuse others of doing elsewhere. Mlns of Syrians rely on aid. This cld be virtual death sentence for many. pic.twitter.com/4gH1MPXQ6S

            — louis charbonneau (@loucharbon) July 10, 2020

            According to a statement from the Chinese ambassador, Bays said China would like some sanctions relief for the Assad regime in the resolution.

            “That’s one thing that would potentially make them change their position,” Bays said.

            But because the council is operating virtually during the coronavirus pandemic, members have 24 hours to cast a vote so a decision would not be known until Saturday.

            The NGO Oxfam warned that stopping cross-border aid would be “a devastating blow to the millions of Syrian families who rely on this aid for clean water, food, health care and shelter”.

            Russia and China argue the UN authorisation violates Syria’s sovereignty, and aid can increasingly be channelled through Syrian authorities.

            Concession

            In the only concession to Moscow, the new draft asked for just a six-month extension of cross-border aid authorisation, instead of one year. But Germany and Belgium still wanted both border crossings kept open.

            According to Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, keeping only one border crossing open would cut off 1.3 million people living north of Aleppo from humanitarian aid.

            David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, described the veto as a “dark day” for Syrian civilians and the UN.

            He added it “defies logic or humanity to dismantle a system designed to bring life-saving aid to Syrians in the form of food, health supplies, vaccines, and now critical COVID-19 provisions”.

            Russia has vetoed 16 council resolutions on Syria since Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on protesters in 2011, leading to civil war. For many of those votes, Moscow has been backed in the council by China.

            Sudan ratifies law criminalising female genital mutilation

            Sudan ratifies law criminalising female genital mutilation

            In April, Sudan’s cabinet approved amendments to the criminal code that would punish those who perform FGM.

            10 Jul 2020 18:50 GMT

              Nearly nine out of 10 girls in Sudan fall victim to FGM, according to the United Nations [Reuters screenshot]

              Sudan’s highest governing body has ratified a law criminalising female genital mutilation (FGM), the justice ministry announced, three months after the cabinet approved amendments to the criminal code that would punish those who perform it.

              The sovereign council, comprising military and civilian figures, approved a series of laws on Friday, including the criminalisation of the age-old practice known as FGM, or genital cutting, that “undermines the dignity of women”, the ministry said in a statement.

              FGM is a widespread ritual in the African country.

              “The mutilation of a woman’s genital organs is now considered a crime,” the justice ministry said, punishable by up to three years in prison. 

              It added that doctors or health workers who carry out the practice would be penalised, and hospitals, clinics or other places where the operation was carried out would be shut down.

              What is Female Genital Mutilation?

              Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok hailed Friday’s decision.

              “It is an important step on the way to judicial reform and in order to achieve the slogan of the revolution – freedom, peace and justice,” he tweeted.

              Nearly nine out of 10 girls in Sudan fall victim to FGM, according to the United Nations.

              Rights groups have for years decried as barbaric the practice, which can lead to a myriad physical, psychological and sexual complications and, in the most tragic cases, death.

              In its most brutal form, it involves the removal of the labia and clitoris, often in unsanitary conditions and without anaesthesia.

              The wound is then sewn shut, often causing cysts and infections and leaving women to suffer severe pain during sex and childbirth complications later in life.

              “It is a very important step for Sudanese women and shows that we have come a long way,” women’s rights activist Zeinab Badreddin said in May.

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              The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also welcomed the move.

              “This practice is not only a violation of every girl child’s rights, it is harmful and has serious consequences for a girl’s physical and mental health,” said Abdullah Fadil, the UNICEF Representative in Khartoum.

              The UN says FGM is widespread in many countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, affecting the lives of millions of girls and women.

              Sudan’s anti-FGM advocates came close to a ban in 2015 when a bill was discussed in Parliament but then shot down by former President Omar al-Bashir who caved in to pressure from some Muslim leaders.

              Yet many religious leaders have spoken out against genital cutting over the years.

              Dutch gov’t to take Russia to European rights court over MH17

              Dutch gov’t to take Russia to European rights court over MH17

              Boeing 777 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a missile from rebel-held eastern Ukraine in 2014.

              10 Jul 2020 18:09 GMT

                The Dutch move is intended to support individual cases being brought to the European court by relatives of some of the 298 people who were killed [Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters]

                The Dutch government is taking Russia to the European Court of Human Rights for its alleged role in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine six years ago.

                A Buk surface-to-air missile, fired from territory controlled by pro-Moscow Ukrainian rebels, destroyed the Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flight in July 2014.

                The Dutch move, announced by the foreign minister on Friday, is intended to support individual cases being brought to the European court by relatives of some of the 298 people who were killed.

                “Achieving justice for 298 victims of the downing of Flight MH17 is and will remain the government’s highest priority,” Foreign Minister Stef Blok said. “By taking this step today … we are moving closer to this goal.”

                By launching the case against Russia, the Dutch authorities can share evidence with the Strasbourg-based European court so it can be considered in individual relatives’ cases.

                “As a government, we have information and evidence that leads us to the conclusion of the involvement of the Russian Federation,” Blok told The Associated Press news agency.

                “Of course, the relatives themselves do not have all this information so we can help them by starting this procedure.”

                Moscow has repeatedly denied involvement in the downing of the Boeing 777.

                Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia sees Friday’s announcement “in connection with the disaster of the Malaysian Boeing as another blow to Russian-Dutch relations”.


                Local workers transport a piece of wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 at the crash site [Antonio Bronic/Reuters]

                Zakharova said throughout the case, the Netherlands has acted “exclusively within the framework of anti-Russian logic, to which both technical and criminal investigations were subordinated”.

                An international team of prosecutors investigating the case has, however, charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with involvement in bringing down the plane and the murder of all on board.

                The men are on trial in a Dutch court, although none has been extradited to the Netherlands to face justice.

                Blok said much of the evidence the government will submit to the human rights court also is part of that criminal case.

                Al Jazeera’s Step Vassen, reporting from Amsterdam, said the move shows the Dutch government is expressing its full support to give justice to those people on board the Malaysia Airlines flight 17.

                “Basically what the government is trying to do is to support the individual lawsuits that more than 400 relatives of the passengers onboard have filed at the European Court of Human Rights. It is part of the very broad and wide judicial fight the Netherlands is fighting at the moment to give justice to those people onboard that plane,” She said.

                “The relatives of the victims have said that they really want those in the higher ranks, referring to Moscow, probably the Kremlin, to be held responsible.”

                Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, called the Dutch move “a strange initiative from every aspect” in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency.

                “The investigation isn’t over yet, there have been no court verdicts on the national level yet and, finally, what does the European Court for Human Rights have to do with it?” Kosachev said.

                Ghislaine Maxwell ‘vigorously denies’ sex-trafficking charges

                Ghislaine Maxwell ‘vigorously denies’ sex-trafficking charges

                Maxwell has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a jail in Brooklyn, New York since her arrest.

                10 Jul 2020 18:02 GMT

                  Ghislaine Maxwell, who faces up to 35 years on sex-trafficking charges, speaks at the Arctic Circle Forum in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2013 [File: The Arctic Circle/Handout via Reuters]

                  Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend and longtime associate of the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, on Friday forcefully denied charges she lured underage girls so he could sexually abuse them, and said she deserves bail.

                  Maxwell filed her request in the United States District Court in Manhattan eight days after being arrested in New Hampshire, where authorities said she had been hiding at a sprawling property she bought while shielding her identity.

                  The 58-year-old Maxwell “vigorously denies the charges, intends to fight them, and is entitled to the presumption of innocence”, the filing said.

                  Maxwell has been held since Monday at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a jail in Brooklyn, New York.

                  She said her detention there put her at “serious risk” of contracting the COVID-19 disease.

                  She also said she is not a flight risk, citing her lack of a prior criminal records and her remaining in the US after Epstein’s arrest last July.

                  Prosecutors have called Maxwell an “extreme risk of flight” who should remain in jail until trial.

                  Her arraignment is on July 14, and she faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.

                  Jeffrey Epstein confidante Ghislaine Maxwell arrested by FBI (3:35)

                  The arrest of Maxwell, the daughter of late British publishing magnate Robert Maxwell, came nearly one year after Epstein pleaded not guilty to charges he sexually abused women and girls in Manhattan and Florida.

                  Epstein died last August 10 at age 66 by hanging himself in jail. He had before his arrest socialised over the years with many prominent people including British royal family member Prince Andrew, US President Donald Trump and former US President Bill Clinton.

                  Prosecutors accused Maxwell of recruiting girls as young as 14 for Epstein from 1994 to 1997.

                  Maxwell faces six criminal charges, including four related to transporting minors for illegal sexual acts, and two for perjury in depositions about her role in Epstein’s abuses.

                  Ethiopia arrests suspects over Haacaaluu Hundeessaa killing

                  Ethiopia arrests suspects over Haacaaluu Hundeessaa killing

                  The shooting of Oromo musician Haacaaluu Hundeessaa sparked protests last week in which at least 239 people were killed.

                  10 Jul 2020 17:41 GMT

                    A member of the Oromo Ethiopian community in Beirut, Lebanon lights a candle to protest the death of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa [Anwar Amro/AFP]

                    Ethiopian authorities said they have arrested two suspects over the killing of a popular political singer, whose death last week sparked protests in which hundreds of people were killed.

                    The shooting of Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, a musician widely revered among his Oromo ethnic group, ignited protests in Addis Ababa and the surrounding Oromiya region. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed described his killing as “an evil act”.

                    In a televised statement aired on Friday, Attorney General Adanech Abebe said the attacker was acting on the orders of an anti-government group, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF-Shene).

                    The two men who were arrested included the suspected attacker and an accomplice. A third suspect was still at large, Adenech said.

                    “We have arrested those who killed him, and those who collaborated in the killing,” Adanech said in the statement. “We will continue to ensure the rule of law.”

                    “The assassination was intended to be a cover to take power from the incumbent by force,” Adanech said, without providing details.

                    The suspects have not yet been charged.


                    Members of the Oromo community march in St. Paul, Minnesota in protest following the death of musician and revolutionary Hachalu Hundessa [Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP]

                    ‘Disobey this rebellion call’

                    Haacaaluu sang in Oromo, the language of Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group. His killing tapped into grievances heightened by decades of government repression and what the Oromo describe as their long exclusion from political power.

                    Abiy, himself an Oromo, came to power in 2018 as the first modern Ethiopian leader from that ethnic group, after months of violent demonstrations led to his predecessor’s resignation.

                    The unrest last week was the deadliest since Abiy took office. At least 239 people were killed, according to police figures. The prime minister has initiated a broad package of political and economic reforms in what has long been one of the most tightly controlled countries in Africa, and won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea.

                    Ethiopian singer Hachalu Hundessa shot dead in Addis Ababa (2:36)

                    But the increased freedoms under his leadership have also been accompanied by a rise in ethnic violence, and some Oromo figures say he has not done enough to address their long-standing grievances.

                    Oromo nationalists accuse him of insufficiently championing their interests since taking office, a complaint echoed by many protesters last week.

                    The internet remained shut off Friday for an 11th consecutive day, though Addis Ababa remains calm and Abiy’s office issued a statement saying the surrounding Oromia region had “returned to calm and citizens have resumed normal activities”.

                    In her statement, however, Adanech said unnamed agitators were calling for additional protests and road blockages in the coming days.

                    “There are those that have hidden themselves in nice places but are calling on Ethiopian youth to fight each other, close roads and to cease working as part of a rebellion call,” the attorney general said.

                    “Above all we call on our people to disobey this rebellion call and to thwart it.”

                    Inside Story

                    Can Ethiopia bridge its ethnic divide?

                    Turkey reconverts Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque

                    Turkey reconverts Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque

                    President Erdogan declares iconic cultural site reopen to Muslim worship after a court ruling.

                    10 Jul 2020 17:32 GMT

                      The 1,500-year-old monument is revered by Christians and Muslims alike [Anadolu]

                      Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia open to Muslim worship after a top court ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.

                      Erdogan made the announcement on Friday an hour after the court ruling was revealed, despite international warnings not to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument, revered by Christians and Muslims alike.

                      “The decision was taken to hand over the management of the Ayasofya Mosque … to the Religious Affairs Directorate and open it for worship,” the decision signed by Erdogan said.

                      200701162019199

                      Erdogan had previously proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a focal point of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.

                      Earlier, a top Turkish court revoked the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum. The Council of State, which was debating a case brought by a Turkish religious organisation, cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision that defined the sixth-century building as a museum.

                      “It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally,” Turkey’s top administrative court said in the ruling.

                      “The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said.

                      Erdogan shared on his Twitter feed a copy of the decree he had signed which said the decision had been taken to hand control of the Ayasofya Mosque, as it is known in Turkish, to the country’s religious directorate and reopen it for worship.

                      Hayırlı olsun. pic.twitter.com/MzP6nzn9Jc

                      — Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) July 10, 2020

                      Reporting from Istanbul, Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu said the decree was not a surprise as Erdogan had previously stated that he would like to see Hagia Sophia open for Muslim prayers on July 15, the anniversary of a failed coup attempt.

                      Koseoglu said that in four hours Erdogan was expected to make a speech on the importance of the Hagia Sophia, and its status being altered to a mosque again.

                      “There are dozens of people in front of Hagia Sophia museum. As soon as the court decision was announced … they have been here chanting, they have been celebrating since then, and we spoke to them, they are very impatient to be able to pray inside Hagia Sophia,” Koseoglu said.

                      International concerns

                      Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

                      In 1935, in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it became a museum.

                      The organisation which brought the court case, the latest in a 16-year legal battle, said the Hagia Sophia was the property of the Ottoman leader who captured the city in 1453 and turned the already 900-year-old Byzantine church into a mosque.

                      Erdogan threw his weight behind the campaign to convert the building before local elections last year. He is due to speak shortly before 9pm (1800 GMT), his head of communications said.

                      In response to the ruling, the Russian Orthodox Church on Friday said the decision could lead to even greater divisions.

                      The United States, Russia and Greece, along with UNESCO, had expressed concerns ahead of the ruling.

                      UNESCO said its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia’s status, saying it was “regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialog nor notification beforehand”.

                      “UNESCO calls on the Turkish authorities to open a dialog without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session,” the United Nation’s cultural body said in a statement.

                      Erdogan earlier this month rejected international criticism as an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty.

                      Inside Story

                      Will Hagia Sophia become a mosque again?

                      Trump postpones rally planned in storm-threatened New Hampshire

                      Trump postpones rally planned in storm-threatened New Hampshire

                      Trump’s team is attempting to reset after a scantly attended June rally in Oklahoma, the first amid the coronavirus.

                      10 Jul 2020 17:20 GMT

                        Trump will hold his second campaign rally amid the coronavirus pandemic in New Hampshire on Saturday [Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press]

                        United States President Donald Trump is postponing his planned rally on Saturday in New Hampshire, the White House has said, citing a tropical storm threatening parts of the mid-Atlantic and southern New England.

                        Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters travelling to Florida with the president on Friday the event – slated to be held in an aircraft hangar in Portsmouth – would be delayed by a week or two. She cited the threat of Tropical Storm Fay, which is expected to bring rain to the region.

                        “The rally scheduled for Saturday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire has been postponed for safety reasons because of Tropical Storm Fay,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “It will be rescheduled and a new date will be announced soon.”

                        The event was to mark Trump’s first political rally after a multiweek hiatus caused by a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases and after his planned comeback in Oklahoma turned into a debacle.


                        The Tulsa fire marshal said 6,000 people attended President Donald Trump’s rally in Oklahoma, despite the campaign saying a million ticket requests had been received [Evan Vucci/The Associated Press]

                        Trump, trailing in the polls, is eager to signal that “normal” life can resume despite a rampaging coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 130,000 Americans. He is to hold his first in-person fundraiser in a month on Friday in Florida.

                        The Portsmouth rally was scheduled after aides spent weeks studying what went wrong in Tulsa three weeks ago. The Tulsa event was billed as a massive, defiant return to the political stage but instead produced a humiliating sea of empty seats and questions about the campaign’s ability to attract people to large events in a pandemic.

                        Trump’s Friday fundraiser takes him to a terrain where COVID-19’s surge threatens his hold on a must-win state and raises questions about Republican aims to hold their nominating convention in Jacksonville next month. Trump will also hold a small event supporting the people of Venezuela and visit US Southern Command in Miami to highlight a reduction in the flow of illegal drugs into the US, though much of the credit belongs to the pandemic, which has paralyzed economies, closed borders and severed supply chains.

                        Unlike the one in Tulsa, which was held indoors where the virus more easily circulates, the rally in Portsmouth was to be partially outdoors, held in an aeroplane hangar open on one side with the crowd spilling out onto the tarmac before Air Force One.

                        “All of Donald Trump’s rallies and all of his events are electric,” said campaign spokesperson Hogan Gidley. “The president wants to go in there and talk about all the accomplishments he’s done in his first term and how he’s made people’s lives better.”

                        US election campaigns: Biden stays online, Trump plans rallies (2:12)

                         

                        Despite the risks, the Trump campaign believes it needs to return to the road, both to animate the president, who draws energy from his crowds, and to inject life into a campaign that is facing a strong challenge from Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

                        “The campaign feels he needs to be out there, but every time he speaks in front of crowds, there is a chance the virus spreads,” said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. “But it’s just as bad if he comes out to an empty crowd, which could be a sign that people are not enthused or they are scared.”


                        Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has been unapologetic about following coronavirus restrictions [File: Matt Slocum/The Associated Press]

                        On Friday, Biden pointed to Florida’s rising coronavirus cases, saying: “It is clear that Trump’s response – ignore, blame others, and distract – has come at the expense of Florida families.”

                        The Trump campaign has also been eager to return to the road to draw a contrast with Biden, whom it has painted as being marooned in the basement of his Delaware home. Biden has travelled by car around Delaware or nearby Pennsylvania for a handful of events, and, in a contrast to Trump, wears a mask and observes social distancing guidelines.

                        Biden has been unapologetic about following recommendations from public health officials amid the pandemic. He has conducted regular online fundraisers and campaign events from makeshift television studios at his house, while sitting for remote video interviews with national networks and local stations in battleground states. He holds regular telephone, video and some in-person meetings with advisers.

                        Taliban says Afghan intelligence behind Russia rewards scandal

                        Taliban says Afghan intelligence behind Russia rewards scandal

                        Taliban accuses Afghan intelligence of conspiring to keep foreign forces in Afghanistan.

                        by 10 Jul 2020 16:24 GMT

                          In an exclusive interview, an official with the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar has denied allegations that Russia offered money to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.

                          Khairullah Khairkhwa was released from Guantanamo in exchange for a United States soldier.

                          The Taliban says the group is against attacks on hospitals and funerals.

                          They say the intelligence in the Afghan government is responsible for killing innocent people.

                          Khairkhwa says the Taliban is ready for intra-Afghan talks as soon as the government releases 5,000 inmates.

                          They acknowledge the change in Afghanistan in the last 20 years and promise to safeguard women’s roles and youth’s aspirations.

                          Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid spoke to the Taliban’s Khairullah Khairkhwa about the reports.

                          Libyan government gathers war crimes evidence against Haftar

                          Libyan government gathers war crimes evidence against Haftar

                          More than 200 bodies, including those of women and children, have been found in several mass graves since the beginning of June.

                          10 Jul 2020 16:18 GMT

                            Libya’s internationally-recognised government says it is gathering evidence of alleged war crimes committed by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

                            Mass graves have been discovered in one of his former strongholds.

                            Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed reports from Tarhuna, where many of the atrocities are said to have taken place.

                            Whistle-blower protection: Calls to defend those who speak up

                            Whistle-blower protection: Calls to defend those who speak up

                            Experts say for reform to be meaningful, it must reach the top of law enforcement leadership.

                            by 10 Jul 2020 16:13 GMT

                              As protesters continue to demand police reform across the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, ethics experts argue police whistle-blowers need greater protection.

                              In the city of Denver, an internal affairs investigator says she is paying the price for speaking up against police misconduct.

                              Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro reports.

                              Which US states require face masks in public?

                              Which US states require face masks in public?

                              Some states have mandated mask-wearing in public, while others have left it to counties and cities to issue rules.

                              10 Jul 2020 15:56 GMT

                                A transit worker hands out free hand sanitiser and face masks at Grand Central Station in New York City, where masks are required for anyone in public over the age of two who is not able to practice social distancing [File: Angela Weiss /AFP]

                                With COVID-19 cases on the rise in 42 states across the United States, federal health officials recommend that all Americans over the age of two wear cloth face coverings in public to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

                                The guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has changed since the start of the pandemic, distinguishes between cloth and medical-grade masks. The latter are in limited supply and should be reserved for front-line healthcare workers, the agency says.

                                Some of the 50 states have taken the federal recommendation a step further and mandated mask-wearing, while others have left it to counties and cities to implement requirements.

                                Here are the rules around cloth face coverings in selected states:

                                California

                                As of June 18, California requires masks to be worn in indoor public spaces, including public transit, and outdoors when social distancing is not feasible. The state’s rule exempts people with certain medical conditions and children under 2.


                                A man and little boy walk hand in hand while wearing masks at the Galleria mall in Dallas, Texas, where masks are required in any county with 20 or more COVID-19 cases [File: LM Otero/AP Photo]

                                Florida

                                While cases have repeatedly leaped by more than 10,000 per day in the last week, the state does not mandate mask-wearing but strongly advises it. Several counties have issued mandates, including Miami-Dade, which requires face coverings in all public settings, outdoor and indoor.

                                Georgia

                                Governor Brian Kemp has strongly encouraged, but not mandated, mask-wearing in his state, where cases have increased by more than 18,000 in the last week. Some cities have implemented their own requirements.

                                Kentucky

                                From Friday, residents of the state will be required to wear masks when in public. Governor Andy Beshear says the increased case counts from the last few days along with an “explosion” in other states prompted him to issue the executive order.

                                Michigan

                                Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has mandated that people must wear masks both indoors and outside if they cannot consistently keep six feet away from non-household members. A mask also is needed while using public transportation, a taxi or a ride-sharing vehicle, with some exceptions. She also has ordered that usinesses open to the public deny service or entry to customers who refuse to wear a mask.

                                Mississippi

                                Mississippi’s Governor Tate Reeves on Thursday issued an executive order requiring people in 13 counties to wear face masks and banning indoor social gatherings larger than 10 people, and outdoor gatherings of more than 20 people, among other restrictions on businesses.


                                Participants on the beach wear masks as San Diego’s Junior Lifeguard Program officially reopens. California requires masks both indoors and outdoors when social distancing is not possible [File: Mike Blake/Reuters]

                                Nebraska

                                Masks are required for patrons and providers in the personal services industry, including nail salons and tattoo parlors, as well as for employees at bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and clubs.

                                New Mexico

                                Masks are required in New Mexico at all times during any activity outside residents’ home, even while exercising. People who refuse to wear a mask are subject to a $100 fine.

                                New Jersey

                                Governor Phil Murphy said on Wednesday that he would sign an executive order requiring people to wear face coverings outdoors whenever social distancing is not possible, in addition to the state requirement that they be worn in indoor public spaces.

                                New York

                                Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a face-covering order effective April 17 that applies to anyone over the age of two who is in “a public place and unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance.”

                                Ohio

                                On Tuesday, Governor Mike DeWine issued a mandate that applies to seven counties where COVID-19 is on the rise, requiring that residents there wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors when social distancing is not possible.

                                Meltdowns over masks amid coronavirus outbreak go viral (1:28)

                                South Carolina

                                Cities have imposed their own mask mandates with Governor Henry McMaster’s approval, as he has said the state will not impose a universal requirement.

                                Texas

                                Governor Greg Abbott imposed a mask-wearing requirement on July 2 that applied to every county with 20 or more COVID-19 cases. Under his order, Abbott said violators would first get a verbal warning and then could face up to $250 in fines.

                                West Virginia

                                Governor Jim Justice has ordered able-bodied residents over the age of nine to wear face coverings, but only in “indoor public places where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.” The order does not apply while driving or eating in restaurants.

                                UN warns 10 million face acute food shortages in Yemen

                                UN warns 10 million face acute food shortages in Yemen

                                World Food Programme says it needs $737m to avert a famine in the war-torn country.

                                10 Jul 2020 15:45 GMT

                                  A malnourished boy lies on a bed outside his family’s hut in al-Tuhaita district of the Red Sea province of Hodaida, Yemen [Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters]

                                  Nearly 10 million people are facing acute food shortages in Yemen and urgent action is needed to avert a famine, the United Nations’s World Food Programme (WFP) has said.

                                  The WFP said on Friday it needed $737m to the end of the year to keep its aid programme running in the war-torn country, which is gripped by what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

                                  “The humanitarian situation is deteriorating at an alarming rate, pushing people to the edge,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told a virtual briefing in Geneva.

                                  “We must act now. If we wait for famine to be declared, it will already be too late as people will already be dying.”

                                  She said the famine warning signs were already present.

                                  “Yemen is facing a crisis on multiple fronts. Imports have declined, food prices are soaring, the riyal is in freefall, and foreign currency reserves are nearing total depletion,” said Byrs.

                                  The spokeswoman said more than 20 million people were food insecure in Yemen, of which 13 million receive humanitarian food assistance.

                                  Meanwhile two million children, plus a million pregnant or breastfeeding women, require treatment for acute malnutrition.

                                  Byrs said WFP distributions were down to once every other month in the north of the country and the UN agency hoped it would not have to do the same elsewhere.

                                  Yemen’s war between Houthi rebels and pro-government troops escalated in March 2015, when a Saudi-led military coalition intervened against the rebels who control large parts of Yemen including the capital, Sanaa.

                                  Tens of thousands have been killed, an estimated four million displaced and 80 percent of the country’s 29 million people are dependent on aid for survival.

                                  The coronavirus pandemic is also raging unchecked in the country.

                                  The UN raised only about half the required $2.41bn in aid for Yemen at a June donor conference co-hosted by Saudi Arabia.

                                  The Stream

                                  Is the world abandoning Yemen?

                                  What are the 10 stages of genocide?

                                  What are the 10 stages of genocide?

                                  Examining what led to the massacre of thousands of Bosniaks, on the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.

                                  10 Jul 2020 15:42 GMT

                                    Family members mourn at the mass funeral for newly-identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide [File: Matej Divizna/Getty Images]

                                    July 11 marks the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, the worst atrocity on European soil since the Holocaust.

                                    In July 1995, Serb forces systematically killed more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys in the so-called UN-protected enclave in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

                                    But what led to the massacre?

                                    In the nineties, American genocide scholar Gregory H Stanton, examined the stages of genocide, which eventually became his “10 stages of genocide” theory.

                                    Genocide is not committed by a small group of individuals, rather a large number of people and the state all contribute to genocide.

                                    At each stage, preventive measures can stop the situation from deteriorating further, Stanton noted.

                                    200503133620219

                                    Bosnian Australian anthropologist Hariz Halilovic later added an eleventh stage particular to Bosnia’s case – “trumphalism”.

                                    Here is how Stanton’s 10 stages – and Halilovic’s eleventh – relate to the Srebrenica genocide:

                                    Stages one, two, three: Classification, symbolisation and discrimination

                                    The idea of a Greater Serbia (including the territories of Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, Montenegro and other neighbouring countries) dates back to the 19th century, and was revived following the death of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980.

                                    With the decline of the Communist bloc, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbian nationalists saw a chance to mobilise the masses in support of establishing a homogenous Serbian state.

                                    In Milosevic’s famous address to a crowd in Belgrade in 1989, he presented himself as the saviour of Serbdom and Europe. It enforced the notion of “us [Serbs] vs them”.

                                    Bosniaks were typically called Turks, Balije (a slur for a Bosnian Muslim) and branded as “terrorists” and “Islamic extremists”.

                                    Stage four: Dehumanisation

                                    Many Serbs dehumanised Bosniaks, regarding them as Muslims who posed a threat to the Serbian hegemonist project.

                                    “In order to mobilise domestic public opinion against the Muslims and to justify future acts against them in the eyes of the West, the Serbian leadership needed an image of Islam as a totalitarian, inherently violent, and culturally alien system on European soil,” writes Fikret Karcic, professor at the University of Sarajevo, in his paper, Distorted Images of Islam: the case of former Yugoslavia.

                                    191110133224396

                                    “Such a distorted image had been provided by some influential Serbian orientalists, the Orthodox Church, and some historians.”

                                    Just as Nazis identified the Jews during the Holocaust, Biljana Plavsic, a genetic biologist who served as president of Republika Srpska (Bosnia’s Serb-run entity) and is now a convicted war criminal, claimed in the early nineties Bosnian Serbs were racially superior to Bosniaks.

                                    In 1994 she said she and other leaders of Republika Srpska were unable to negotiate with Bosniaks due to their genetic deformity.

                                    Plavsic said: “It was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now of course, with each successive generation it simply becomes concentrated. It gets worse and worse. It simply expresses itself and dictates their style of thinking, which is rooted in their genes. And through the centuries, the genes degraded further.”

                                    Stage five: Organisation

                                    A plan to destroy Bosnia and “completely exterminate its Muslim people” was drawn up as early as the 1980s by the General Staff of the Yugoslav People’s Army, according to Vladimir Srebrov, a politician who co-founded the SDS party with convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic.

                                    Known as the RAM (frame) plan, its aim was to carve up Bosnia into a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia.

                                    In the plan, the officers explained how artillery, ammunition and military equipment would be stored in strategic locations in Croatia and Bosnia.

                                    A secret police force was planned to arm and train local Serbs to create police and paramilitary units in Bosnia.

                                    One document, written by the army’s special services including experts in psychological warfare, stated the most effective way to create terror and panic among the Bosniak population would be by raping women, minors, and even children.

                                    Stage six: Polarisation

                                    Serbian and Bosnian Serb media regularly broadcasted polarising propaganda, to dehumanise victims and marginalise the opposition to war.

                                    In one case, while Serb forces held Sarajevo under siege, state-run Belgrade TV aired a false story intended to drive hatred, including the line: “Muslim extremists have come up with the most horrifying way in the world of torturing people. Last night they fed the Serb children to the lions in the city’s zoo.”

                                    This was reported on the evening news and was watched by several million viewers.

                                    Stage seven: Preparation

                                    Organised from Belgrade, Serbia, weapons were distributed to the Serb population by the truckload throughout 1990 and 1991 in Bosnia.

                                    “Weapons and military equipment were even flown in by military helicopters to Serbian military officers. It is said that by the end, almost no Serbian house was without an automatic gun,” according to a UN report from 1994.

                                    “The pretext for the arms deliveries and the rearmament was that this was necessary for the defence against ‘the enemies of the people’ – the Muslim extremists.”

                                    Stage eight: Persecution

                                    Across Bosnia, influential, intellectual Bosniaks were often among the first to be executed, with their names drawn up in death lists.

                                    In a few months Serb paramilitary formations in the broader areas of towns of Doboj, Bijeljina, Brcko, Visegrad, Zvornik, Bratunac, Vlasenica, Rogatica, Foca, Prijedor & Sanski neutralized the influence of the local non-Serb elites by elimination, prosecution or imprisonment. 7)

                                    — Riada Ašimović Akyol (@riadaaa) April 19, 2020

                                    As Serb troops arrived in each town, they killed non-Serbs, often after torturing them. Bosniak properties were confiscated.

                                    As many as 50,000 Bosniak and Croat women, girls and young children were raped in Bosnia from 1992- 1995.


                                    A woman walks through the cemetery in Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Wednesday, March 20, 2019 [Marko Drobnjakovic/AP]

                                    In Prijedor, a city in western Bosnia, Bosniaks were forced to wear white armbands to be clearly identified and tie white flags to their doors.

                                    180711151335396

                                    Across the country, 200,000 people were deported to concentration camps where they were tortured, starved and killed.

                                    Others living under siege, such as in Sarajevo and Mostar, starved while being targeted by snipers and heavy shelling.

                                    Srebrenica, which was known as the world’s biggest detention camp, was under siege for three years, before it fell to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.

                                    Serb troops separated boys and men aged between 12 and 77 from the rest of the population and took them to fields, schools and warehouses to be executed.

                                    Stage nine: Extermination

                                    On July 11 at 16:15 General Ratko Mladic (now a convicted war criminal) entered Srebrenica with Serb forces, including paramilitary units from Serbia, claiming the town for Serbs. Strolling through the streets with the TV cameras rolling, Mladic announced there will be “revenge against the Turks”.

                                    Ratko Mladic sentenced to life in prison for genocide (2:36)

                                    Panicked residents in the enclave fled to the UN Dutch Battalion base only to find the 400 lightly-armed peacekeepers were unable to defend them.

                                    Serb forces had inherited much larger resources of the former Yugoslav army, the fourth largest in the world at the time.

                                    On that day, some 15,000 Bosniak men and boys start to make their escape through the woods, forming a column and hiking more than 100km (62 miles) in an attempt to reach free territory controlled by the Bosnian army.

                                    The journey was known as the Death March, as they were ambushed, shot at and attacked by Serb forces. Less than a quarter of them survived.

                                    Over the ensuing days, more than 8,000 Bosniaks were killed. Women and small children were deported.


                                    Authorities stand by a mass grave exhumation site near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina [File: Laurent Van der Stockt/Getty Images]

                                    Stage 10: Denial

                                    In an attempt to conceal the killings, Serb forces transported the dead bodies with bulldozers and trucks and buried them in numerous locations, leaving the victims’ remains fragmented and crushed.

                                    Human bones can be found as far as 20km (12.4 miles) apart, making it difficult for families to give their loved ones a proper burial.

                                    191209094413616

                                    According to an Al Jazeera Balkans poll from 2018, 66 percent of Serbs in Republika Srpska deny the genocide.

                                    Genocide denial is common in academic and political circles in Republika Srpska and Serbia.

                                    The genocide is denied by high-ranking politicians including Milorad Dodik, a Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency and by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.

                                    Bosnian Serb mayor of Srebrenica, Mladen Grujicic, also denies the genocide.

                                    “[Denial] is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres,” Stanton wrote.


                                    Mladic supporters demonstrate in Belgrade against Ratko Mladic’s arrest [Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images]

                                    Stage 11: Triumphalism

                                    Convicted war criminals today are respected and honoured as war heroes.

                                    According to the 2018 poll, 74 percent of Serbs in Republika Srpska consider Bosnian Serb convicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, guilty of genocide and war crimes to be a hero.

                                    Exclusive: Facebook used extensively to spread neo-Nazi music

                                    Exclusive: Facebook used extensively to spread neo-Nazi music

                                    An Al Jazeera investigation identified some 120 pages belonging to bands with openly white supremacist and racist views.

                                    by 10 Jul 2020 15:21 GMT

                                      Facebook has removed several pages belonging to music groups espousing white supremacist ideology following an investigation by Al Jazeera into the prevalence of such bands on the social media platform.

                                      Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit identified more than 120 pages from mostly heavy metal groups and record labels with direct ties to white supremacy. The pages had gained a total of more than 800,000 likes and some have been online for more than 10 years.

                                      After sending five examples to Facebook, the platform initially removed three of the pages of such bands, adding that the two others were under review. Later, one other page was removed.
                                       
                                      The four removed pages of the SoldierSS of Evil, Whitelaw, Frakass and Frangar groups all violated Facebook’s policies, according to the social media giant.

                                      However, other pages identified by Al Jazeera are still online in breach of the company’s policies on hate speech.

                                      The news comes the same week Facebook released an internal audit that heavily criticised the company’s record on addressing civil rights and preventing hate speech.

                                      The findings also come two weeks after more than 500 companies, including Coca-Cola and Starbucks, pledged to no longer advertise on Facebook as long as it does not take concrete steps to block hate speech amid a national and international reckoning over racism following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of white police in the United States.

                                      Anti-semitic lyrics and swastikas

                                      Al Jazeera discovered the majority of the pages have been online for years, with many actively posting news on upcoming performances, music releases and advertising for merchandise, sometimes using white supremacist imagery.

                                      One of the more popular pages belongs to M8l8th, a black metal music act from Ukraine, whose full name means Hitler’s Hammer. 

                                      The two 8s refer to the letter H, the eighth letter in the alphabet. Both 88 and the double H are common shorthand in neo-Nazi circles for Heil Hitler. 

                                      In its songs, M8l8th uses parts of a speech by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels and the Horst Wessel-Lied, the official anthem of the Nazi Party from 1930 to 1945.

                                      Have a tip for Al Jazeera that should be investigated? Find out how to get in touch with us on our Tips page

                                      The band’s founder, a Russian national named Alexey Levkin, is closely linked to Ukraine’s far-right nationalist Azov Battalion, which is currently fighting in Ukraine’s continuing conflict against Russian-backed separatists.

                                      Levkin is also one of the organisers of Asgardsrei, a neo-Nazi music festival held annually in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. Festivalgoers have been seen waving swastika flags and making Nazi salutes. 

                                      Al Jazeera identified Facebook pages belonging to bands that have performed at Asgardsrei, including Goatmoon, a Finnish black metal band whose page has more than 12,000 likes.

                                      Despite denying links to white supremacy, an image posted on the band’s Facebook page shows a picture of one of the guitarists with a tattoo blurred. Uncensored pictures indicate that the tattoo is of a swastika.


                                      The blurred picture on the left was posted on Goatmoon’s Facebook page, the one on the right was taken at the same festival. [Facebook/Instagram]

                                      Ku Klux Klan hood

                                      Another popular Facebook page is that of French metal band Peste Noire, also known as KPN (Kommando Peste Noire), which uses an altered version of the White Aryan Resistance neo-Nazi organisation as its logo.

                                      Although Peste Noire claims to be nationalist anarchist, not white supremacist, the band has released songs called Aryan Supremacy and Les Camps de la Mort (The Death Camps), which contains the lyrics – “Before leaving this Earth/I want their death/A pure f*cking genocide/for the ultimate revenge”.

                                      Peste Noire last year released an album depicting the band’s singer donning a Ku Klux Klan hood while holding a noose around another pictured man – also the singer – wearing blackface.


                                      French band Peste Noire has an album cover depicting a lynching of a character in blackface [Al Jazeera]

                                      “White supremacists have always used extreme music, from punk to black metal, as a recruitment opportunity,” Nick Spooner, who works for anti-racist and anti-fascist advocacy group HOPE not hate, told Al Jazeera.

                                      “But social media has completely changed the ways people come in contact with far-right material,” Spooner explained. 

                                      “Before social media, you’d have to go to a show or meet someone to get in touch with these types of bands. Social media has completely changed that, it’s now just a few clicks away.”

                                      Auschwitz album cover

                                      Although some of the bigger bands do not openly post controversial content, others are more blatant.

                                      Volrisch, a band from Mexico, uses an album cover showing the entry gate to Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau as its Facebook page cover photo. The album cover shows a tracklist, with songs named Jewish Plague and New Holocaust clearly visible.

                                      200704070209421

                                      Wotanorden, which hails from the US, celebrated 1,488 likes on its page, with 88 referencing Heil Hitler and 14 referencing the so-called “14 words” slogan, a rallying cry common amongst white supremacists; “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

                                      Then there are bands such as Leibstandarte, Kristallnacht and Einsatzgruppen referencing respectively the Waffen-SS military arm of the Nazi Party, the Kristallnacht pogrom organised by the Nazis and the Einsatzgruppen death squads responsible for killing millions of Jews during World War II.


                                      Volrisch’s Facebook page contains an image showing the gates to Auschwitz death camp and the song ‘Jewish Plague’ [Al Jazeera]

                                      Zero tolerance

                                      In response to questions, a Facebook spokesperson told Al Jazeera the company does not allow hate speech on its platform, including white supremacist content.

                                      “Unfortunately zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero incidents. We have removed three of these Pages for breaking our rules and are reviewing the remaining two against our policies,” the spokesperson said. 

                                      “We will continue to improve our technologies, evolve our policies, and work with experts to identify and remove hate from our platform.”

                                      On Wednesday, Facebook released a two-year audit into civil rights and the company’s attempts to curb the spread of hate speech on the platform.

                                      Exclusive: The I-Unit has found more than 120 #Facebook pages belonging to white supremacist music groups, totaling more than 800,000 likes. @Facebook has said it would crackdown on hate speech, but some have been online for over a decade.
                                      Link: https://t.co/wkEcx6NhII pic.twitter.com/r6srFOt8YS

                                      — Al Jazeera Investigations (@AJIunit) July 10, 2020

                                      200505182330583

                                      The 89-page report (PDF) by civil rights experts heavily criticised Facebook, saying it needs to do more about anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish and other hate speech.

                                      “In our view Facebook’s approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal,” the report concluded.

                                      Before the report’s release, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company “stands firmly against hate”, acknowledging it has issues with hate speech and that it would incorporate some of the advice issued in the report.

                                      Last year, Facebook announced it would no longer allow white supremacist content on its platform, claiming, “these concepts are deeply linked to organized hate groups and have no place on our services”.

                                      ‘Living hell’: Brazil capital a COVID-19 hotspot after reopening

                                      ‘Living hell’: Brazil capital a COVID-19 hotspot after reopening

                                      Under pressure from Jair Bolsonaro, mayors and governors are loosening restrictions even as confirmed infections spike.

                                      10 Jul 2020 15:04 GMT

                                        Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, has more infections per capita than other major city in the country [Adriano Machado/Reuters]

                                        When an 80-year-old woman collapsed last week in the streets of the Brazilian capital’s poorest and most populous suburb, she was rushed to hospital and put on a ventilator, neighbours told local media.

                                        But this was not just any suspected COVID-19 case.

                                        Maria Aparecida Ferreira is the grandmother of Brazilian first lady Michelle Bolsonaro, who grew up in Ceilandia, a sprawling, dusty satellite city that has become a hot spot for coronavirus contagion around Brasilia.

                                        The modernistic capital was the first big Brazilian city to adopt social distancing measures to curb the spread of the pandemic in March and was weathering the crisis well, until the lifting of quarantine rules triggered a surge in cases, health experts say.

                                        Among the city’s spate of high-profile patients is President Jair Bolsonaro himself, who said on Tuesday he tested positive for the novel coronavirus after running a fever. In an online video on Thursday, Bolsonaro, who said he was working from home, again reiterated his position that economic crisis from the pandemic would be more dangerous than the virus itself.

                                        ‘Life goes on’: Brazil’s Bolsonaro tests positive for coronavirus (4:23)

                                        Under pressure from Bolsonaro, mayors and governors across Brazil are loosening isolation orders even as confirmed infections spike, with 1.75 million cases in the country, with nearly 70,000 deaths – the world’s worst outbreak outside the United States.

                                        Brasilia is a case study in the risks of reopening. The capital now has more infections per capita than any other major city in Brazil, with 2,133 confirmed cases per 100,000 people. That is more than two times higher than metropolitan Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, according to health ministry statistics.

                                        Some of that may come down to more testing in Brasilia, which has the country’s highest income per capita. But specialists say the recent explosion in cases has clearly been driven by a premature reopening.

                                        Gyms and beauty parlours reopened on Tuesday. Bars and restaurants will resume business next week under a decree by Federal District Governor Ibaneis Rocha.

                                        Inside Story: Will Brazil’s president be forced to take the coronavirus seriously? (25:00)

                                        “This measure will condemn to death thousands of Brasilia inhabitants,” said public health expert Rubens Bias, a member of the city’s health council.

                                        With rising deaths and its hospital system approaching collapse due to a lack of intensive care units, Brasilia should be in total lockdown, Bias said. He blamed the governor for ceding to Bolsonaro’s pressure to reopen for economic reasons. The president has said the economic effect of lockdowns is worse than the health risks of the disease itself.

                                        Brazil COVID-19: Protests over Bolsonaro’s handling of outbreak (2:10)

                                        On Wednesday, a judge suspended the decree reopening Brasilia and the city appealed the ruling. The governor then declared a lockdown for all but essential activities in Ceilandia and Sol Nascente, an adjacent shantytown hot spot.

                                        The governor’s office declined to comment.

                                        But the city’s development agency said the Federal District has done more testing in proportion to its population than the United States, Switzerland or Austria.

                                        It reported that coronavirus is still spreading in the city, though transmission has slowed to 1.2 people getting COVID-19 for every confirmed case, down from 2.1 in early April.

                                        ‘Living hell’

                                        Brazil’s third-largest city, with three million inhabitants, Brasilia reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 5 – a 52-year-old woman who had returned from Britain and Switzerland.

                                        In the two months after its first death, on March 24, Brasilia’s death toll climbed slowly to 100. But in the month after shopping malls reopened, on May 27, confirmed cases and deaths accelerated five-fold.

                                        On Monday, the death toll passed 726 and the city reported a record of 2,529 additional cases in 24 hours.

                                        “It’s chaos, a living hell. The cases don’t stop increasing,” said a nurse working in the emergency wing at Ceilandia’s main hospital, exhausted from 12-hour shifts.

                                        Brazil’s outbreak: Health workers struggle to reach remote areas (1:52)

                                        The nurse, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal by local government officials, said the hospital was short of doctors, nurses and ambulances to bring critical patients to the few beds available in intensive care units.

                                        The pandemic has moved from affluent Brasilia to the teeming outer suburbs where workers often spend an hour on crowded public transport to get to their jobs in the centre, said the health council’s Bias.

                                        “It is really tragic here. The number of cases has grown a lot in the last few days,” said Cilede Nogueira, a Sol Nascente resident.

                                        Nogueira, who works as a housekeeper in central Brasilia, said bars in her neighbourhood were packed with people not wearing masks, and neighbours were heedlessly partying on weekends.

                                        She said lines at banks were jammed with people collecting emergency payments from the government to supplement their incomes in the pandemic.

                                        “There are electoral and economic interests that are more concerned with making money than saving lives,” said Bias

                                        Aid for Syrians: Security Council vote awaited in camps

                                        Aid for Syrians: Security Council vote awaited in camps

                                        Aid agencies have warned of the catastrophic consequences of an outbreak of illness in overcrowded camps

                                        by 10 Jul 2020 14:59 GMT

                                          The United Nations Security Council is voting on the future of cross-border aid deliveries into northwest Syria.

                                          The existing mandate expires on Friday.

                                          Russia has pushed to limit the humanitarian supplies.

                                          But aid agencies are warning of dire consequences for millions of displaced Syrians if an agreement is not reached.

                                          Al Jazeera’s Priyanka Gupta reports.

                                          WHO virus investigation: Agency to trace COVID-19 origin in China

                                          WHO virus investigation: Agency to trace COVID-19 origin in China

                                          China’s leaders deny any cover-up and are unlikely to take responsibility for the spread of the pandemic.

                                          by 10 Jul 2020 14:00 GMT

                                            A team from the World Health Organization is making its third trip to China to investigate the origin of the coronavirus outbreak.

                                            It has been six months since the first infections were documented by the agency.

                                            And as Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu reports from Beijing, doctors there are now busy treating patients in new clusters.