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Inger Andersen: ‘Environmental injustice leads to refugee crises’ | Climate Crisis

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From: Talk to Al Jazeera

The UN environment chief discusses if all efforts to fight climate change are failing.

Every year on April 22, the world commemorates Earth Day. The goal is to create awareness about climate change and its effects on every nation.

This year’s theme is “Invest in Our Planet”. But the world has been marking Earth Day for more than 50 years and not much seems to have changed, despite countless warnings, scientific studies and various agreements.

Are all efforts failing? And what else can be done to achieve a significant investment in our planet?

The United Nations Environment Programme executive director, Inger Andersen, talks to Al Jazeera.



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The ‘new’ PM will not be a panacea to Sri Lanka’s problems | Opinions

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This week saw the most serious unrest in Sri Lanka since the aftermath of the Easter Bombing in 2019. A month-long protest in Colombo, calling on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign, was attacked by pro-government mobs.

Protesters retaliated swiftly, chasing down those who took part in the attacks, with videos and photos of stripped and beaten Rajapaksa supporters circulating on social media. Eight people died in the ensuing violence across the Sinhala-majority south of the island, with more than 100 properties torched, mostly those linked to the president’s party.

The president’s brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned in the aftermath, fleeing to a navy camp, a notorious torture site, in the Tamil-majority northeast.

He has now been replaced by another old face – the United National Party’s (UNP) Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has occupied the premiership on no fewer than five previous occasions but has never seen out a full term. Wickremesinghe himself has been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption and scuttling opportunities for addressing the decades-old ethnic conflict during his prior stints.

The Rajapaksas’s stunning fall from grace was precipitated by an economic crisis, caused by decades of fiscal mismanagement and exacerbated by their populist policies.

Not even two years ago, Sri Lanka’s most prominent family swept parliamentary elections in a landslide victory, winning a two-thirds majority. The Rajapaksas ruled the roost. President Gotabaya, who also won with a significant majority in 2019, strengthened his powers and consolidated the family’s position in state structures and the economy of the country, amid celebrations by the Sinhala population. His brother, and former president, Mahinda won the premiership, and several other members of the family took control of key ministries. The UNP was reduced to one seat. The Rajapaksa victory was almost absolute, with the vast majority of the Sinhala vote going to their party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, which ran on a populist and racist platform, promising prosperity, splendour and the preservation of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy on the island.

After their election victories in 2019 and 2020, the Rajapaksas wasted no time in strengthening their grip on the state and imposing measures that disadvantaged Tamils and Muslims. From increasing militarisation of Tamil areas, harassment of Tamil journalists and NGOs, to issues such as the forcible cremation of Muslim COVID victims, the Rajapaksa government seemed to be intent on showing non-Sinhala communities that they were second-class citizens.

The protests in the Sinhala-majority South, however, did not erupt because of the longstanding human rights concerns and accountability demands, but the economic hardships that the government’s economic policies brought upon them.

The Rajapaksas promised “vistas of splendour” and instead brought poverty and destitution. This resulted in an unprecedented backlash against the government. The continuing protection and promotion of the Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony that has underpinned Sri Lanka’s economic policies since independence, means that successive governments have made fiscal policy decisions that are motivated by the desire to maintain the Sinhala-Buddhist ethnocracy, rather than what is in the best interest of the country’s economy and prosperity of all its citizens.

After the assault on protesters and the ensuing backlash, the state deployed tactics that are tried and tested among the Tamil population in the northeast, including emergency regulations granting the military and police extraordinary powers. Military vehicles can be seen patrolling Colombo, amid empty streets due to an on-and-off island-wide curfew, with soldiers at checkpoints stopping vehicles.

Tensions remain, with the military and police warning they will shoot violent protesters on sight. Criticism of the government’s response came swiftly – the US State Department expressed concern about the deployment of the military and condemned the violence against protesters.

Amnesty International demanded the immediate rescinding of emergency regulations. Protesters dug in, defying the curfew and rebuilding the encampments that were destroyed by the pro-government goons. Sinhala civil society and opposition parties condemned the government’s actions and reaffirmed their solidarity with the protesters.

The Rajapaksas managed to push even those on the fence to the side of the protesters. They hold the unique record of being the most universally despised government in Sri Lanka’s history: despised by Tamils because of the genocidal attacks during the war and continuing oppression; despised by Muslims for enacting discriminatory policies and engineering ethnic riots against them; and now, despised by the Sinhalese for bringing economic disaster upon them.

The appointment of Wickremesinghe as prime minister is widely seen as a move to allow President Gotabaya to continue in his position in the hope that the protests will eventually dissolve. But this is unlikely to appease the activists, who are standing firm on their demand for the president’s resignation.

For Tamils, Wickremesinghe is a familiar foe, and indeed the main Tamil nationalist parties have slammed his return. The former current prime minister has rejected accountability for war crimes and even claimed that he “saved Mahinda Rajapaksa from the electric chair” and protected state officials from being dragged in front of the International Criminal Court.

He supports the foremost place that Buddhism occupies in the Sri Lankan constitution and is on the record rejecting federalism as a solution to the ethnic conflict – all key grievances of the Tamil people. When it comes to addressing the root causes of the ethnic conflict and the ongoing demands of Tamils for a political settlement, Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksas are not that different.

The limited inclusion of Tamil political rights, demilitarisation of the Tamil-majority northeast and accountability for war crimes in the protest demands has played a part in the relatively lukewarm participation of Tamils.

As the population in the south of the country sees a new face of the Sri Lankan state, many Tamils are somewhat bemused by the Sinhalese community’s shock that the all-Sinhala military is pointing its guns at its own. Tamil member of Parliament Gajen Ponnambalam, in a prescient speech in Sri Lanka’s parliament in 2020, predicted that the state would turn on the Sinhala population, too. However, the state’s use of force against these largely Sinhala protesters is restrained compared to what Tamils have faced in the northeast. The military is ubiquitous in the northeast, enmeshed in the day-to-day life of the Tamil people. The troops, more than 300,000 of them, are spread across seven regional commands, of which five have bases in the Tamil-majority northeast – less than a third of the island. Loathed by Tamils due to decades of violence meted out against them, the military has become a permanent and sinister presence in the northeast since the end of the war.

On May 18, Tamils will observe Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day. Traditionally this day is marked with gatherings across the northeast. Last year, ten Tamils were arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act for holding remembrance events, with many more reporting intimidation and harassment by security forces. A memorial to the Tamils who had died was destroyed. This year, police are already exploiting the emergency regulations passed to respond to the anti-Gota protests, to intimidate Tamils in Mullaithivu, which has not seen any unrest related to the anti-Gota protests. The police threaten Tamil civilians saying they have orders to shoot those gathered illegally. As preparations for commemorations of the Tamil war dead are underway across the northeast, stakes are high and it will be an early test of Wickremesinghe’s premiership.

The reaction to the anti-Gota protests on May 18, usually marked by “victory” celebrations in the Sinhala south, will also be a crucial indicator of how receptive the protesters are to the concerns raised by Tamils, particularly if as expected the military continues to harass and intimidate those commemorating the day. With an old prime minister occupying the post for the sixth time, what was obvious to Tamils should be obvious to the rest of the population – without a fundamental restructuring of the state that addresses the root causes of the ethnic conflict, and justice and accountability for the mass atrocities that occurred during the war, Sri Lanka is doomed to repeat its past, and stability and prosperity for all its citizens will remain elusive.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.





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Israel ‘investigating soldier’ in journalist Abu Akleh’s killing | Israel-Palestine conflict News

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The Israeli military is increasingly accepting the possibility that one of its soldiers killed veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, with reports emerging that Israel is investigating the likelihood that one of its soldiers shot her during a raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

The Palestinian-American Abu Akleh was in Jenin on Wednesday reporting on the raid when she was killed by Israeli forces, according to Al Jazeera, as well as multiple witnesses at the scene, who said that there was no confrontation with Palestinian fighters at the time of the shooting.

The admission that an Israeli soldier could be responsible is evidence that the Israelis are backtracking from their initial position that it was likely that Palestinian fighters in Jenin killed Abu Akleh.

A video widely disseminated by the Israeli government, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, which showed Palestinians firing in Jenin has now been proven to have not been filmed in Abu Akleh’s vicinity when she was killed.

Israel is conducting an investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing, Israeli army sources told the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post newspapers.

According to the Washington Post, a senior Israeli army official on Thursday said that the military was investigating three separate incidents involving its soldiers during the time of Abu Akleh’s killing.

“A soldier with a rifle and a very good aiming system was shooting towards a terrorist with an M16, in very good condition, very clear picture, that was shooting on our troops. What we are checking now is the location of Shireen,” the official told the Washington Post, adding that “this was the most probable [scenario] to be involved in the death of Shireen”.

The official also said that military investigators had taken rifles from Israeli soldiers involved in the fighting to make them available for ballistic testing.

Meanwhile, a senior Israeli military official also told the Wall Street Journal that the army was investigating one incident in which there was a possibility of an Israeli soldier’s bullet being responsible for Abu Akleh’s killing.

The official “acknowledged a bullet could have deflected off the ground or a wall and struck Ms. Abu Akleh”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Family, friends and colleagues of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh carry her coffin to a hospital
Family, friends and colleagues of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh carry her coffin to a hospital in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah [Mahmoud Illean/AP Photo]

Journalists who were with Abu Akleh, including one who was shot and wounded, said Israeli forces fired upon them even though they were clearly identifiable as reporters.

Israel is also calling for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority (PA), which administers parts of the West Bank and cooperates with it on security.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas angrily rejected that proposal, saying “we hold the Israeli occupation authorities fully responsible for killing her”.

“They cannot hide the truth with this crime,” Abbas said in an address as her body lay in state with a Palestinian flag draped over it in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority has its headquarters.

“They are the ones who committed the crime, and because we do not trust them, we will immediately go to the International Criminal Court,” Abbas said.

The European Union has urged an “independent” probe while the United States demanded the killing be “transparently investigated”, calls echoed by United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

In a statement, Al Jazeera said that Abu Akleh had been “assassinated in cold blood” and called on the international community to hold Israeli forces responsible.

Aside from Abu Akleh, another Al Jazeera journalist, Ali al-Samoudi, was also wounded by a bullet to the back at the scene. He is now in a stable condition.

Abu Akleh is to be laid to rest on Friday in her hometown of Jerusalem, after her body was carried in a procession from Jenin to Jerusalem, via Nablus and Ramallah, over the three days since Wednesday.



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China’s tech workers face layoff bloodbath amid crackdown, losses | Technology

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Beijing, China – Rather than a pink slip from his boss, Zhang Wei found out he was about to lose his job at Chinese video streamer iQiyi via a work group chat.

Zhang’s supervisor only confirmed the news after the cuts at the Beijing-headquartered company last December leaked to the media.

“Although I knew in advance, I still couldn’t believe it,” Zhang, who asked to use a pseudonym, told Al Jazeera.

Zhang is just one of tens of thousands of workers in China’s tech scene who have been laid off following Beijing’s stock price-hammering regulatory crackdown on private enterprise and years of aggressive expansion within the sector that analysts say left some firms overstretched.

Nearly 73,000 workers were let go between July and mid-April alone, according to research by TechNode, a media outlet that covers China’s technology and startup scene. Later in April, lifestyle app Xiaohongshu, often described as China’s version of Instagram, fired about 10 percent of its workforce.

“The causes of not only these layoffs, but also the frozen headcount in many divisions, terminated current hiring and paused internships, are a combination of poor macroeconomic outlook, pressure to focus on profits and cut out unprofitable businesses, and greater regulatory oversight in the sector,” Rui Ma, an angel investor and the founder of the Tech Buzz China podcast, told Al Jazeera.

Worse may be yet to come.

Alibaba and Tencent, the two titans of the Chinese internet, are making plans to let go of tens of thousands of employees combined this year, according to a report published in March by Reuters, which cited anonymous sources close to the firms.

Alibaba headquarters
Alibaba and Tencent are reportedly preparing to let go of tens of thousands of employees [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

Gao “Noah” Zihao,  co-founder of Beta, a headhunting firm that has worked with China’s major tech players, said many tech companies had overstretched themselves by attempting to “duplicate their business models” in new industries, pointing to food delivery platform Meituan’s retail push and e-commerce platform Jindong’s foray into groceries as examples.

“These moves were too aggressive to make money, leaving companies with few options other than to cut the departments not making money,” Gao told Al Jazeera.

Gao added that qualified tech candidates are finding it increasingly difficult to get job interviews as companies advertise fewer and fewer openings.

iQiyi, Jindong and Meituan did not respond to requests for comment.

Yuwan Hu, associate director at Daxue Consulting, said China’s tech sector is now undergoing a period of transition after confronting the limits of one-time growth engines such as e-commerce.

“Previously, China’s biggest technology companies were focused on gaming, e-commerce and other traditional ‘big internet’ businesses that had a huge increase in users three to five years ago,” Hu told Al Jazeera, adding that the rapid growth led to a lopsided focus that neglected infrastructure.

‘Market maturations’

Workers “can see the ceiling, due to market maturations,” Hu said. “And government policies are now not that favourable to big internet. It’s just not very stable … Now, government policy is more favourable to what we call ‘hard-core’ emerging technical industries like AI, cloud computing, biotech and other infrastructure.”

The importance of one such nascent industry, big data, is evident in the Chinese government’s “14th Five-Year Plan for the development of the big data industry”, published in November, which describes the field as a “new driving force for economic transformation and development”.

With workers suffering the consequences of ill-judged business expansions, authorities have sought to push the “big internet” industry towards areas that Beijing considers more sustainable.

“Officials now seem to be saying: ‘We have a different strategy. We care about actual employment, and internet companies can’t produce that,’” Gao said. “Those internet companies tried very hard and poured a lot of money into the US stock market. The pandemic showed everyone that the virtual economy is not, and cannot, be the only growth driver.”

Such growth is impossible without growing pains, according to Ashley Dudarenok, coauthor of New Retail: Born in China Going Global.

“The industry is young and ever-changing at China speed, hence we are just entering a teenager stage, where there will inevitably be crises created by management and overconfident expansion,” Dudarenok told Al Jazeera.

“Tech ecosystems will continue developing, figuring out even better what’s their superpower and how to both best compete and collaborate with each other.”

After a difficult few years for the sector, there are nonetheless some hopeful signs on the horizon.

Chinese state media has in recent weeks signalled it will offer greater support to the beleaguered tech firms, raising expectations of a winding down or relaxation of the regulatory blitz that began in 2020.

Meituan
Food delivery platform Meituan is among the Chinese startups that have attempted to branch out into other business areas [File: Aly Song/File Photo

Ma said she remains optimistic that tech jobs will remain attractive to workers, though perhaps less so than in the past.

“So far it [the tech sector] is still giving out some of the highest salaries in China … Stock packages have taken a big hit of course, but that is also a global phenomenon,” Ma said. “Most of these jobs are going to be good jobs, but not necessarily a ticket to financial freedom like they were at the beginning of the last decade.”

Despite the recent pain, big tech’s maturation is likely to benefit skilled workers in the long term, Gao said.

“People who can code, or the key account managers who actually have clients, will always be able to find a good job,” he said, expressing less optimism about the prospects of “fancy project managers, who tell stories with Powerpoint presentations”.

Hu expressed similar hopes for the future.

“The short term will be hard,” she said. “But within a year or so, there will be two types of personnel: those without the right tech backgrounds, who might need to focus on other industries. And then, there’ll be people who have relevant digital skills … They could develop newer skills to have upgraded jobs within tech.”

For tech workers like Zhang, the sector’s tumult has come as a wake-up call.

“The updating of technology is very fast. We need to keep learning so that we will not be eliminated,” he said. “Not only the technology industry but also any industry. I think we need to keep learning all the time.”



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