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No leaks detected so far in fuel-laden ship that sunk off Tunisia | News

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Divers have inspected the hull of the tanker that sank off Tunisia’s coast with 750 tonnes of diesel.

Divers have inspected the hull of a tanker loaded with 750 tonnes of fuel that sank off southeastern Tunisia, with no leak detected so far, officials said.

The crew of the Xelo had made a distress call on Friday evening and sought shelter in Tunisian waters from bad weather before going down, authorities said.

The Equatorial Guinea-flagged Xelo was travelling from Egypt to Malta when it went down.

Images released by the environment and defence ministries showed divers heading for the site in the Gulf of Gabes, and then getting into the water at the scene that has been sealed off by Tunisia’s military.

“With the improvement in weather conditions, a team of divers accompanied by the ship’s captain and engineer who know its layout are on site to examine the hull,” Mohamed Karray, spokesman for the court in Gabes city, which is investigating Saturday’s sinking, told the AFP news agency on Sunday.

Defence ministry photos showed the vessel largely submerged.

Environment Minister Leila Chikhaoui, who travelled to the port of Gabes on Saturday to help oversee the response, said the situation was “under control”.

“We think the hull is still watertight and there is no leakage for the moment,” she told AFP.

As a precaution, protective booms to contain any oil slick have been placed around the wreck.

Tunisia ship accident
A merchant fuel ship sinks off the coast of Gabes, Tunisia [Reuters]

Some countries have offered to help Tunisia prevent damage to the environment, the Tunisian defence ministry said on Sunday.

Local media reports said Italy had offered to help and that it was expected to send a naval vessel specialised in dealing with marine disasters.

The Tunisia branch of the World Wildlife Fund expressed concern over another “environmental catastrophe” in the region, an important fishing zone which has already suffered from pollution.



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Jailed Kashmir rights activist Khurram Parvez in Time’s 100 list | Human Rights News

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Kashmiri rights activist Khurram Parvez, jailed by India since November last year on “terrorism” charges, has been named as one of the 100 most influential people of 2022 by the United States-based Time magazine.

Parvez, 44, is chairman of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a prominent rights group in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan who govern over parts of it but claim it in its entirety. Most residents on the Indian side either want an independent state or a merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan.

An armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule began in Indian-administered Kashmir in the late 1980s. To suppress the revolt, India deployed nearly half a million troops in the valley, making it one of the most militarised conflict zones in the world.

Global rights groups have accused the Indian forces of large-scale human rights abuses in the region, including killings, rapes, arbitrary arrests, and the suppression of media and other fundamental rights.

For the last two decades, Parvez had been highlighting such abuses by the Indian forces and seeking accountability from the government.

One of the major disclosures made by the JKCCS, led by Parvez, was the presence of more than 2,000 unmarked graves in the northern part of Indian-administered Kashmir in 2008. The report shook the region.

“He had to be silenced, for his was a voice that resounded around the globe for his fierce fight against human-rights violations and injustices in the Kashmir region,” Time magazine said, calling Parvez a “modern-day David who gave a voice to families that lost their children to enforced disappearances, allegedly by the Indian state”.

“The attacks against him speak volumes of the truth he represents at a time when the world’s largest democracy is being called out for its persecution of the more than 200 million Indian Muslims,” said the citation, written by leading Indian journalist Rana Ayyub.

“Khurram is the story and the storyteller of the insurgency and the betrayal of the people of Kashmir.”

By “betrayal”, the magazine meant Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripping Indian-administered Kashmir of its special status guaranteed by the Indian constitution in a controversial move in 2019.

Parvez was arrested in November last year under a stringent terrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), for “criminal conspiracy and waging war against the government”.

The UAPA is vaguely worded legislation that effectively allows people to be held without trial indefinitely. Convictions under the law are rare.

The United Nations has issued multiple statements since Parvez’s arrest, demanding his release and amendments to the UAPA to bring it in line with the international human rights law and standards.

Parvez’s family said his appearance in the Time list “is a moment of pride for them” and “means a lot” to them.

“We are really proud of him. It shows his contribution in the two decades and the body of work that he created. These are the platforms that are acknowledging his work and offering us solidarity in such hard times,” one of Parvez’s family members told Al Jazeera, requesting anonymity over fears of reprisal by the Indian government.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera “it is extremely unfortunate that Indian authorities are jailing human rights defenders or peaceful protesters”.

“Parvez has worked to draw attention to human rights violations in Kashmir, and instead of addressing those allegations, the government is punishing him,” she said.

The Time 2022 list also includes Indian lawyer Karuna Nundy, business tycoon Gautam Adani, and Chief Justice of Pakistan, Umar Ata Bandial.



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Sri Lanka hikes fuel prices, hires financial and legal advisers | Business and Economy News

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Sri Lanka has increased fuel and transport prices, a long-flagged move to combat its debilitating economic crisis, but the hikes are bound to exacerbate galloping inflation, at least in the short term.

Power and energy minister Kanchana Wijesekera said in a message on Twitter on Tuesday that petrol prices would increase by 20-24 percent while diesel prices would rise by 35-38 percent with immediate effect.

“Cabinet also approved the revision of transportation and other service charges accordingly,” he said.

Wijesekera said also that people would be encouraged to work from home “to minimize the use of fuel and to manage the energy crisis” and that public sector officials would work from office only when instructed by the head of the institution.

Food and transport price increases will flow through to food and other goods, economists said.

Annual inflation in the island nation rose to a record 33.8 percent in April compared with 21.5 percent in March, according to government data released on Monday.

Sri Lanka is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since independence, as a dire shortage of foreign exchange has stalled imports and left the country short of fuel, medicines and hit by rolling power cuts.

The financial trouble has come from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic battering the tourism-reliant economy, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who resigned as prime minister this month.

Economists have said fuel and power price hikes will be necessary to plug a massive gap in government revenues, but agree that it will lead to short-term pain.

Dhananath Fernando, an analyst for Colombo based think-tank Advocata Institute, said prices of petrol have soared 259 percent since October last year and diesel by 231 percent. Prices of food and other essential goods have surged, he said.

“Poor people will be the most affected by this. The solution is to establish a cash transfer system to support the poor and increase efficiency as much as possible.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed in place of Mahinda Rajapaksa earlier this month after violence broke out between government supporters and protesters, said last week: “In the short term we will have to face an even more difficult time period. There is a possibility that inflation will increase further.”

INTERACTIVE_SRILANKA_ECONOMY_INFLATION

Renegotiate debt

The price hike comes at a time when Sri Lanka has hired heavyweight financial and legal advisers Lazard and Clifford Chance as it prepares for the difficult task of renegotiating its debts, Reuters reported, citing three unnamed sources as the talks are still private.

Spokespeople from Sri Lanka’s cabinet and Lazard, which has handled debt talks for dozens of crisis-strained countries in recent years, did not immediately reply to requests for comment while law firm Clifford Chance declined to comment.

Experts and economists have been waiting for the appointment as the country looks to restructure more than $12bn of overseas debt that had been building up for years but become unsustainable when COVID-19 hammered the economy.

INTERACTIVE_SRI_LANKA_FOREIGN DEBT

“By far the most important thing is to what extent the government will have the political will, and the ability, to deliver on the pre-conditions for the IMF programme,” said Gramercy’s co-head of sovereign research & strategy, Petar Atanasov.

“Governments are often willing to do the things that are required when their backs are completely against the wall.”

While there are hopes a deal can be struck to ease the economic crisis, it is unlikely to be straightforward.

A mix of loans from China, India and Japan, as well as all the bonds held by private investment funds mean long-resisted but now embraced talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) could be complex, especially if social unrest worsens.

A group of Sri Lanka’s largest sovereign dollar bondholders has hired Rothschild as its financial adviser and another legal firm, White & Case, as its legal adviser.

“I think the new cabinet would really have to show quick solutions to really pressing problems such as electricity and importation of goods to pacify the people,” said Carlos de Sousa, an emerging market strategist at Vontobel Asset Management which holds Sri Lanka’s bonds.

“They will try, but it is not clear to me whether they will be sufficiently successful. We will see.”





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Executions surge 20 percent in 2021 led by China, Iran: Amnesty | Death Penalty News

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Human rights group also notes continued secrecy in China, North Korea and Vietnam, and ‘alarming rise’ in use of death sentences in Myanmar.

The number of executions globally rose 20 percent in 2021, while the number of death sentences handed down increased by 40 percent, rights group Amnesty International has said.

Its annual report, Death Sentences and Executions, said at least 579 people were killed by states that retain capital punishment while at least 2,052 had a death sentence passed against them.

“The increase in executions was primarily driven by rises in the yearly figure for Iran (from at least 246 in 2020 to at least 314 in 2021, a 28% increase), which was the highest figure on record since 2017,” the report said. “The spike in Iran appeared particularly for executions of people convicted of drug-related offences (132), which represented 42% of the total and constituted a more than five-fold rise from 2020.”

The figures do not include China, where thousands are thought to be executed or sentenced to death each year in a system shrouded in secrecy. Amnesty said secrecy in North Korea and Vietnam, as well as the difficulty in accessing information on the use of the death penalty “continued to impair a full assessment of global trends”.

The rights group noted that executions in Saudi Arabia in 2021 were also more than double the number recorded in 2020, while countries including Bangladesh, India and Pakistan passed more death sentences.

Amnesty also noted that retentionist states had “resorted to the death penalty as a weapon in the armoury of state repression against protestors and minorities”.

In Myanmar, where the military seized power from the elected government in a coup in February 2021, the report noted an “alarming increase in the resort to the death penalty under martial law, where the military transferred the authority to try cases of civilians to special or existing military tribunals, through summary proceedings and without the right to appeal”.

Nearly 90 people were arbitrarily sentenced to death, it added, and some of those sentenced were not even present to hear the sentence.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam seated at a table and with activists and legislators standing behind him signs the law abolishing the death penalty
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signs a bill abolishing the death penalty surrounded by legislators and activists at Greensville Correctional Center last March [Steve Helber/AP Photo]

Despite the rising toll, Amnesty said the global trend remained in favour of the abolition of the death penalty, noting that just 18  countries were known to have carried out executions last year, the lowest since it began keeping records.

“It is an isolated minority of countries that still chose to resort to executions,” the report said.

In the United States, executions dropped to the lowest since 1988 while the federal administration adopted a temporary moratorium on executions. Virginia became the country’s 23rd state to abolish the death penalty in its entirety.

A number of countries continued to take steps to abolish the use of capital punishment or limit its use.

In July, Sierra Leone’s parliament voted unanimously to adopt a bill that would fully abolish the death penalty, while similar legislation became law in Kazakhstan in December.

Malaysia also continued with a moratorium on executions and the government said it would prepare legislative changes on the use of the death penalty by the third quarter of this year. Most people on death row in Malaysia have been convicted of drugs crimes.



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