Friday, 5 December 2014

South Africa marks Mandela death anniversary



Events to mark Nelson Mandela's first death anniversary include interfaith prayer service and a cricket match.


South Africans have started marking the first anniversary of the death of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who died last year at the age of 95.

Official ceremonies to mark the passing of the former South African leader will include an interfaith prayer service early on Friday, followed by a wreath-laying commemoration by veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle, as well as a cricket match.

Bells, hooters, and traditional horns called vuvuzelas, will be sounded for three minutes and seven seconds, followed by three minutes of silence, combined to equal a six-minute and seven-second ceremony designed to symbolise Mandela's 67 years of public service.

Many other events are due to take place over the weekend and beyond, including widespread artistic performances, as a way of remembering and celebrating the former president who led the country out of the apartheid era after enduring 27 years in prison.

Fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu called on South Africans to emulate Mandela's example in a statement to mark the anniversary.

"Our obligation to Madiba is to continue to build the society he envisaged, to follow his example," Tutu said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.

"A society founded on human rights, in which all can share in the rich bounty God bestowed on our country. In which all can live in dignity, together. A society of better tomorrows for all."

'Honour Mandela's legacy'

Friday's wreath-laying ceremony in Pretoria will start events to mark one year since Mandela passed away after a long illness. His death was met with a worldwide outpouring of grief.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will lead the three-minute moment of silence at 0800 GMT, followed by a friendly cricket match, dubbed the Mandela Legacy Cup, between South Africa's national rugby and cricket teams at 1300GMT.

Over the weekend, artists and performers will hold centre stage at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which has launched an exhibition in honour of the life and work of its namesake.

Motorcyclists across the country have also been called on to dedicate their traditional Sunday morning rides to the anti-apartheid hero.

Madiba set South Africa on a course towards reconciliation after he emerged unbowed from nearly three decades in prison in 1990 and became the country's first president to be elected by universal suffrage in 1994.

His one-time jailer FW de Klerk, who served as the country's State President and who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993 for his part in ending apartheid, called on South Africans to honour his legacy.

"Although Nelson Mandela is no longer physically with us his legacy remains to guide us," he said in a statement marking the anniversary.

US protesters decry chokehold death verdict



Thousands march against grand jury's decision not to charge white NY police officer for the death of Eric Garner.


Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in US cities for a second night to protest against a grand jury's decision not to charge a white New York City police officer accused of killing an unarmed black man in a chokehold.

The case of Eric Garner - combined with the decision by a grand jury last week not to charge the white officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri - have re-ignited debate over a US law enforcement system widely perceived to unfairly target and African Americans and other minorities.

Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey, reporting from New York on Thursday, said thousands had gathered in lower Manhattan for a rally amid a massive police presence, with helicopters monitoring the crowds from the air.

"Emotions have been running high at the protests and there is concern that things could run out of control," she said. "What was initially a minority issue has become a national movement."

Police said 83 people were arrested a day earlier, mostly on disorderly conduct charges, in protests held after the grand jury's decision was announced.

In Washington, DC, protesters blocked a major highway, and at a university campus in Austin, around 200 protesters held a so-called "die-in" demonstration, simulating being dead.

Garner, 43, was killed in July in an apparent chokehold by police officer Daniel Pantaleo after he stopped him on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, which is illegal.

The incident was captured in a video that showed Garner pressed on the ground by police officers while Pantaleo wrapped his arm around Garner's neck.

Garner kept groaning "I can't breathe" as police officers firmly held him to the ground.

Rights leaders critical

About 20 civil rights leaders met behind closed doors on Thursday at the New York City headquarters of Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network to plan a response to the jury's decision.

Sharpton, one of the country's most outspoken civil rights activists, said a civil rights summit would be held following a December 13 march in Washington on racial justice.

National Urban League President Marc Morial said the lack of an indictment in Garner's death was "a travesty of justice".

US Attorney General Eric Holder has pledged a Justice of Department investigation into the case that he said would be "independent, thorough, fair and expeditious".

The investigation will likely focus on whether Pantaleo employed a chokehold, banned by New York Police Department regulations, in restraining Garner

Stuart London, the police officer's lawyer, said in an interview that Pantaleo testified to the grand jury that he never put pressure on Garner's neck. Instead, Pantaleo said he used a proper takedown technique, London said.

That account was echoed by Patrick Lynch, the president of the patrolmen's union, who called Pantaleo a "model" officer at a press conference.

The city's medical examiner has said police officers killed Garner by compressing his neck and chest, adding that Garner's asthma and obesity had contributed to his death.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office in January promising to improve relations between minority New Yorkers and police, told reporters on Thursday the city's thousands of patrol officers would undergo extensive retraining.

"The relationship between police and community has to change," he told a news conference. "People need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives."

Ukraine sets new truce date with rebels



New ceasefire beginning on December 9 will seek to establish a buffer zone between rebels and government troops.


Ukraine has announced a truce with pro-Russian rebels beginning on December 9 under the terms of an agreement aimed at ending one of Europe's bloodiest conflicts in decades.

The announcement on Thursday provides the latest glimmer of hope that fighting across Ukraine's eastern region was nearing to a close after eight months that saw 4,300 people killed and shattered Moscow's ties with the West.

The news also comes as members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) continue to meet on Friday, in the Swiss port city of Basel to address the Ukraine crisis.

The truce date disclosed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and separatist leaders was apparently agreed - but never disclosed - with the help of Russian and European envoys in the Belarussian capital Minsk on September 5.

Poroshenko said Kiev had prepared "measures that should ensure the implementation of the Minsk Agreement concerning a Day of Silence that is due to begin on December 9."

A source in Poroshenko's office said the president's statement meant Ukraine would begin withdrawing heavy weapons from the eastern frontline on December 10 - as long as the separatists also observed the truce.

The parliament speaker of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic confirmed the latest ceasefire was part of the Minsk deal.

"The (Minsk) group, which included our and Ukrainian military officials, as well as OSCE and Russian mediators, agreed to halt fire on December 9," Andrei Purgin told Russia's RIA Novosti state news agency.

But Purgin refused to say whether he thought this agreement would hold.

Buffer zone

The September 5 agreement was meant to establish a 30-kilometre (18-mile) buffer zone between the fighters and grant limited self-rule to the separatists.

Several truce deals announced in the course of the war were broken within days by both rebels and Ukrainian soldiers who refused to listen to their political leaders.

The Swiss president and OSCE chairman Didier Burkhalter have also cautioned that "there are a number of different points that are not clear for the time being" regarding the date of the truce.

Australia limits refugee settlement rights




New immigration law grants temporary visas that prohibits asylum seekers from permanent residence.


Australia has introduced controversial temporary visas for refugees and asylum seekers in a move aimed at tightening immigration laws.

The Migration Act amendments, which could prevent refugees from staying in the country for more than three years, passed the lower house on Friday after a long and intense debate in the upper house Senate over the legislation.

The new legislation says that refugees would be protected with settlement rights for up to three years and could be returned to their home country at the end of that period.

The government reintroduced the "temporary protection visas" [TPVs], used by previous right-wing administrations, to deal with a backlog of 30,000 asylum seekers who had arrived by boat.

However, Australia has also pledged to increase the overall refugee intake by 7,500 and free about 1,500 undocumented people, including hundreds of children, held in detention.

"This is a win for Australia," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

'Violates international law'

Australia has come under international pressure over the offshore detention of asylum-seekers on its Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island, where some children are held, and in Pacific island camps as well as for the turning back of asylum boats.

"We always said that three things were necessary to stop the boats - offshore processing, turning boats around and temporary protection visas and last night the final piece of policy was put in place," Abbott said.

But US-based human rights group Amnesty International warned that the tightened immigration legislation left no avenue for appeal and would see refugees returned to oppressive situations.

"It violates international law by removing any requirement to consider whether a person will be tortured or persecuted if returned home," said Graham Thom, Amnesty's refugee coordinator.

"It seems inevitable that these drastic changes to Australia's refugee processing system will see people in genuine need of protection returned to the hands of their persecutors."

Deadly raid on army camp in Indian Kashmir



Suicide attack ahead of visit to the region by Prime Minister Modi leaves three soldiers and two policemen dead.


An attack on an army camp in Indian-administered Kashmir has killed three soldiers and two policemen, as the state votes in local elections, according to Indian officials.

Two of the attackers also died during Friday's assault, described by officials as a suicide raid on the army camp in Uri, near the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the disputed Himalayan region.

The attack occurred ahead of a visit to the region on Monday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Al Jazeera's Karishma Vyas, reporting from New Delhi, said that the attack started before daw. She said the number of casualties could still rise, as the operation continues.

Uri is around 100km northwest of Srinagar, where Modi is due to campaign on Monday.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is holding provincial elections in phases, with results due on December 23.

"It's a highly sensitive time as the region holds several phases of local elections," our correspondent said.

Turnout was high for the first phase of voting on November 25, when more than 70 percent of the electorate cast their ballots in 15 constituencies.

About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence or to merge the territory with Pakistan. The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians.