US Pushing for Cease-fire After Turkey’s Push Into N. Syria

The United States says diplomatic efforts are on “high gear” to press for a cease-fire after Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, as Washington tries to get the situation under control, according to a senior State Department official.

“Goal number one is to carry out diplomacy to try to find a cease fire. Get the situation under control. It’s very, very confusing.  It’s dangerous for our troops. It’s placing the fight against ISIS at risk. It’s placing at risk the safe imprisonment of almost 10,000 detainees,” the official said, using an acronym for the Islamic State terror group.

The official noted that there has not been “any major successful breakout so far of detainees,” referring to imprisoned IS fighters and their families.  Syrian Kurdish officials have said hundreds of suspected IS prisoners have escaped.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House, Oct. 14, 2019, in Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump has announced sanctions against Turkish officials over the military operation and he plans to send a delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence to Ankara for talks to resolve the situation.

“I can just tell you that it’s (Pence’s trip) going to be launched very quickly,” the State Department official told reporters Tuesday. “And again our first goal is to basically have a heart to heart talk with the Turks.”

President Donald Trump speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Oct. 12, 2019.

President Trump has faced harsh criticism in the week since the White House announced Turkey was going forward with its long-held plans to try to carve out a buffer zone along its border with Syria free from the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters it accuses of being terrorists linked to separatist Kurds in Turkey. The U.S. military has long said its Kurdish allies have been instrumental in the fight against IS, and the elimination of IS’s caliphate.

“We’re very concerned about their [Turkey’s] actions and the threat that they presented to peace, security, stability, and territorial integrity of Syria, of our overall political plans, and the risk of humanitarian disaster, and human rights violations, some of which we’ve seen not by Turkish troops, but by what we call the TSO-Turkish supported Syrian opposition elements, armed opposition elements, who are responsible for those horrible pictures you saw,” the U.S. official said Tuesday.

Turkey’s incursion pushed the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces to reach an agreement with the Syrian government that has brought Syrian troops back into the northeastern part of the country for the first time in years, including on Monday reaching the town of Manbij.

A U.S. military spokesman said Tuesday American troops left the town of Manbij as part of their withdrawal from the area.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to his ruling party officials, in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 10, 2019.

Trump spoke Monday with both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and General Mazloum Kobani, the head of the mostly Kurdish SDF that the United States has relied on to battle Islamic State militants in Syria.

In addition to the call to halt the military operation, the United States raised steel tariffs and halted negotiations on a $100-billion trade deal with Turkey.

U.S. Democrats and Republicans have faulted the Trump administration for what is unfolding, saying the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the area cleared the way for the U.S. ally SDF to be put in danger as well as the potential for Islamic State militants under SDF detention to break free and stage a resurgence.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., reads a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 24, 2019.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Trump’s “erratic decision-making is threatening lives, risking regional security and undermining America’s credibility in the world.”

She said both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate will proceed this week with “action to oppose this irresponsible decision.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that while Turkey does have legitimate security concerns linked to the Syrian conflict, the operation against the U.S.-backed Kurds jeopardizes the progress won against IS.

“Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS,” McConnell said.  “And such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States’ strategic interests.”

A senior administration official rejected criticisms against Trump in the call with reporters Monday, saying only Erdogan’s actions are to blame.

The official said Turkish President Erdogan “took a very, very rash, ill-calculated action that has had what, for him, were unintended consequences.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 11, 2019.

Earlier Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Erdogan “bears full responsibility” for what happens.

He called the Turkish offensive “unnecessary and impulsive,” and said it has undermined what he called the successful multinational mission to defeat Islamic State in Syria.

Esper said he plans to go to Brussels next week to press other NATO allies to apply sanctions on Turkey.

Nike Ching contributed to this report.

From: MeNeedIt

Dutch Police Investigate Family Living in Isolation on Farm

Dutch authorities were Tuesday trying to piece together the story of a family found living isolated from the outside world in the rural east of the Netherlands.

Mayor Roger de Groot said that the six-member family is believed to have lived for nine years on a farm in Ruinerwold, 130 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Amsterdam.

Drone images of the farm showed a cluster of buildings with a large vegetable garden on one side. The small property appeared to be ringed by a fence and largely obscured by trees.

Dutch media reported that the family was made up of five adult siblings and their father.

De Groot told reporters the siblings were aged from 18-25. He said their mother is believed to have died “a number of years ago.”

Local police said in a tweet that officers visited the farm after being alerted by somebody “concerned about the living conditions” of its residents.

Police said they arrested a 58-year-old man who rented the property, but it wasn’t immediately clear why or what his relationship was to the family. Police said he wasn’t the father.

Police investigating the farm found “a number of improvised rooms where a family lived a withdrawn life,” De Groot said in a statement.

Local bar owner Chris Westerbeek told broadcaster RTV Drenthe that he called police after a man “with a confused look in his eyes,” with unkempt hair, a long beard and old clothes walked in to his bar and ordered five beers for himself.

“He said where he came from, that he’d run away and that he needed help urgently,” Westerbeek said.

De Groot said the police investigation is looking into “all possible scenarios,” but didn’t elaborate.

He said the family was now “in a safe place receiving appropriate care and attention.”

 

From: MeNeedIt

Dye Artisans Keep Ancestors’ Traditions Alive

Dodging waves at low tide, a barefooted, shirtless Mixtec man is carefully walking along the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. He navigates his way through the gray rocks on a quest to catch a particular kind of snail, Purpura pansa. When he catches one, he presses just the right part of the snail’s foot to encourage it to secrete a neurotoxin directly onto a skein of cotton yarn. The milky liquid stains the yarn in a greenish color. As it oxidizes, the color turns blue and finally becomes a brilliant reddish-purple hue.

FILE – A laborer collects thread that has been dyed and left to dry in the sun, in Calcutta, India, June 1, 2005.

Extracting colors from snails is an ancient dyeing method that the Mixtec people have been practicing for around 1,500 years. Like their ancestors, Mixtec dyers do not hurt the snails. They carefully return them to their habitat. They give them time to recover and recharge. They also stay away from the snails during the mating season.

This group of Mixtec dyers is among more than two dozen artisans whom author Keith Recker profiled in his book, True Colors — World Masters of Natural Dyes and Pigments.

FILE – Vendors sell marigold flower garlands in Allahabad, India, Oct. 19, 2017.

Recker is interested in natural dyes because he finds them fascinating.

“There is usually more than one thing happening in the union between the natural coloring substance and fiber,” he says. “I think the eye is much more entertained by this complexity than it is by chemical simplicity where you only have one weave length, one vibe coming to your eye from the fiber.”

To explore traditional techniques and personal approaches to natural dyeing, Recker embarked on a journey and met with artisans from all over the world, from West Africa to Bangladesh to China to Northern California to Mexico to Uzbekistan.

“Before 1856, when the first synthetic dye was invented in England by a chemist who made a beautiful purple color out of tar, all colors were natural. They were made in some vividly amazing ways,” Recker notes. “Dyes were mostly extracted from plants, but in some cases from animals.”

Most of these artisans not only keep their ancestors’ handmade natural dyeing techniques alive, they pass them to younger generations as they train other artisans in their communities.

Colorful journey

Artisans come from different artistic and cultural backgrounds, however, their work is similar in many ways.

FILE – Pigment extracted from the cochineal insects are displayed at a Cochineal Campaign lab in Nopaltepec, state of Mexico, Sept. 30, 2014.

Audrey Louise Reynolds, for instance, is an artisan living in Upstate New York. She extracts beautiful colors from turmeric, while Rupa Trivedi in Mumbai, India, creates a range of colors from marigold, hibiscus and rose flowers and coconut husks. With much trial and error and online research, the self-taught artist understood the principles of natural dyes and started her business 15 years ago.

Maria Elena Pompo, who moved from Venezuela to the United States and from engineering to fashion design, also developed her natural dyeing technique through experimentation.

“She colors her clothing with recycled avocado pits,” Recker says. “She goes around Brooklyn, collecting avocado pits from Mexican restaurants and uses them in a very precise way to create a whole range of blushes and yellowy apricots and pink browns. It is very low impact because they’re things that would otherwise go to trash.”

FILE – A man crushes a cochineal insect to show its red color in Huejotzingo, Mexican state of Puebla, Sept. 25, 2014.

Red is one of basic colors artisans use in dyeing fabrics, but they extract it from different resources.  

In southwestern Mexico, the Gutierrez Contreras family members who are weaving textiles using old Zapotec traditions are famous for working with cochineal.

“Cochineal is a red color that comes from dried beetles,” Recker explains. “That sounds terrible, but the body of these dried beetles is made of carminic acid, which is still the safest red colorant we’ve known of.”

Carpetmakers Fatillo Kendjeav and his family, in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, extract a variety of red shades from madder roots. They use other natural ingredients to deepen the authenticity of their carpets, such as walnut hulls to create deep browns, and pomegranate skins to create a beautiful bronze green. They also use onion skins, apple, grape and mulberry leaves to create different shades of yellow.
 
Recker notes that these artisans tend to use such natural plants not only as colorants, but also as food and medicine.

True color advocates
            
As many people have become more conscious about natural foods and healthy eating habits, some see wearing naturally dyed fabrics as another step toward a healthier lifestyle. These dyeing techniques also have a lower impact on the environment as they encourage recycling and reusing practices, says Recker.

“If you learn how to use natural ingredients available around you, you can easily refresh an old, tired T-shirt, or a scarf, or a sheet and give it a new life instead of throwing them away,” adds the author.

Even if he does not inspire readers to do it themselves, Recker hopes raising awareness about natural colors will press the fashion industry worldwide to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
 

From: MeNeedIt

Remains of Kenyans Killed in Ethiopian Airlines Crash Return Home

The remains of 28 of the 32 Kenyans killed in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March have arrived in Nairobi. 

Hearses lined up at the VIP section of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport early Monday morning as family members streamed in. A somber mood engulfed the airport as victims’ families, most dressed in black, waited to receive their loved ones.

Kenya’s Cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, Monica Juma, was among the top government officials greeting the families.

“We have had a chance to meet with the families,” Juma said. “We have had a chance to give them a final service, interdenominational service, so that they can bring closure to seven months of grieving, of sorrow, of sadness.”

She said all the bodies of Kenyans killed in the crash have been accounted for; the four bodies not returned Monday were either cremated or interred privately by their families.

Pallbearers receive coffins of the victims of the March 10 plane crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, as they arrive at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, Oct. 14, 2019.

After prayers Monday at the airport, the victims’ remains were turned over to family members.

Three hours later, a funeral was held for 34-year-old Abdulahi Ibrahim at his home in the Kibera section of Nairobi. Ibrahim had worked for a dairy company in Saudi Arabia and was on his way home for vacation when he died in the plane crash.

His friends carried his casket to a Muslim cemetery, as they marched the same streets where they had played football as children.

His father, Ibrahim Mohammed, said that now, he could probably start to heal.

“For this 7 months, I have been traumatized,” he said. “When they handed over my son’s body, I was thankful and felt some relief because that’s my son and I have buried him now, so I feel relieved and I believe now my health will start to improve.”

Imam Ahmed Idriss led the prayers at Ibrahim’s send off, saying, “We thank God that Ibrahim’s remains are home and he is now buried next to his grandparents and great great grandparents. … Now the parents can finally have peace because their son is buried here next to his family and according what the Muslim religion dictates.”

A total of 157 people died when the Boeing 737 Max aircraft crashed March 10 in the town of Bishoftu, Ethiopia.  

Last month, Boeing announced it had set up a $50 million fund to compensate victims of the crash and another involving a 737 Max in Indonesia last year.

All 737 Max planes remain grounded while the company investigates reports that faulty sensors were to blame for both tragedies.
 

From: MeNeedIt

Nigerian Police Rescue 67 From ‘Inhuman’ Conditions at Islamic ‘School’

Police in northern Nigeria rescued nearly 70 men and boys from a second purported Islamic school where they were shackled and subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatments.”

The raid in Katsina, the northwestern home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, came less a month after about 300 men and boys were freed from another supposed Islamic school in neighboring Kaduna state where they were allegedly tortured and sexually abused.

“In the course of investigation, sixty-seven persons from the ages of 7 to 40 years were found shackled with chains,” Katsina police spokesman Sanusi Buba said in a statement.

Men and boys are pictured after being rescued by police in Sabon Garin, in Daura local government area of Katsina state, Nigeria, Oct. 14, 2019.

“Victims were also found to have been subjected to various inhuman and degrading treatments.”

The raid occurred on Oct. 12 in Sabon Garin in the Daura local government area of Katsina state. Police issued a statement Monday and said they were working to reunite the victims with their families.

Police arrested one man, 78-year-old Mallam Bello Abdullahi Umar, for running what they called an “illegal detention/remand home.”

Lawai Musa, a trader who lived near the center, told Reuters by phone that families sent unruly men and boys there believing it was an Islamic teaching facility that would straighten them out and teach them Islamic beliefs.

“The way he is treating the children is un-Islamic” he said. “We are not happy, they were treated illegally.”

Islamic schools

Islamic schools, known as Almajiris, are common across the mostly Muslim north of Nigeria. Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), a local organization, estimates about 10 million children attend them.

In June, President Buhari, himself a Muslim, said the government planned to ban the schools, but would not do so immediately. After the incident in Kaduna, the president issued a statement calling on traditional authorities to work with government to expose “unwanted cultural practices that amount to the abuse of children.”

Buhari’s office declined to immediately comment on the Katsina raid, saying it would issue a statement after a full briefing from police.

“The command enjoins parents to desist from taking their children/wards to illegal, unauthorized or unapproved remand/rehabilitation centers,” the police statement said.
 

From: MeNeedIt

California Regulator Sanctions Utility Over Power Outages

California’s top utility regulator blasted Pacific Gas and Electric on Monday for what she called “failures in execution” during the largest planned power outage in state history to avoid wildfires that she said “created an unacceptable situation that should never be repeated.”
 
The agency ordered a series of corrective actions, including a goal of restoring power within 12 hours, not the utility’s current 48-hour goal.

“The scope, scale, complexity, and overall impact to people’s lives, businesses, and the economy of this action cannot be understated,” California Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer wrote in a letter to PG&E CEO Bill Johnson.
 

FILE – Pacific Gas and Electric employees work in the PG&E Emergency Operations Center in San Francisco, Oct. 10, 2019.

PG&E last week took the unprecedented step of cutting power to more than 700,000 customers, affecting nearly 2 million Californians. The company said it did it because of dangerous wind forecasts but acknowledged that its execution was poor.
 
Its website frequently crashed, and many people said they did not receive enough warning that the power was going out.
 
“We were not adequately prepared,” Johnson said at a press conference last week.

PG&E spokespeople did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment on the sanctions.

In addition to restoring power faster, the PUC said the utility must work harder to avoid such large-scale outages, develop better ways to communicate with the public and local officials, get a better system for distributing outage maps, and work with emergency personnel to ensure PG&E staff are sufficiently trained.
 
She ordered the utility to perform an audit of its performance during the outages that began Wednesday, saying the utility clearly did not adopt many of the recommendations state officials have made since utilities was granted the authority to begin pre-emptive power shutoffs last year. The review is due by Thursday, and she ordered several PG&E executives to appear at an emergency PUC hearing Friday.

Governor’s criticism
 
Gov. Gavin Newsom has also criticized PG&E for its performance during the outage, blaming what he called decades of mismanagement, underinvestment and lousy communication with the public. On Monday the Democratic governor urged the utility to compensate affected customers with a bill credit or rebate worth $100 for residential customers or $250 for small businesses.

Newsom said the shutoffs affected too many customers for too long, and it is clear PG&E implemented them “with astounding neglect and lack of preparation.”

Batjer’s letter also said that PG&E’s service territory, design of its transmission lines and distribution network and “lack of granularity of its forecasting ability” mean it can’t do pre-emptive power shut-offs as strategically as some other utilities, but she said it must work harder to reduce the number of customers affected by future outages.
 

From: MeNeedIt

US Defense Secretary Blasts Erdogan for ‘Unnecessary’ Syria Incursion

Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “bears full responsibility” for the resurgence of Islamic State, a growing humanitarian crisis, and possible war crimes.

This was the Pentagon’s strongest condemnation so far of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Esper calls Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds “unnecessary and impulsive.” He says it has undermined what he calls the “successful” multinational mission to defeat Islamic State in Syria by allowing “many dangerous ISIS detainees” to flee detention camps that had been guarded by the Kurds.

FILE – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 11, 2019.

Esper says U.S. relations with Turkey have been damaged. He says he plans to go to Brussels next week to press other NATO allies to slap sanctions on Turkey.

Turkish forces entered into northern Syria last week after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the pull out of the approximately 1,000 U.S. forces in the area. They will be redeployed elsewhere in the Middle East to “monitor the situation,” according to Trump.

The U.S. had been fighting side-by-side with the Kurds in Syria to defeat Islamic State. The extremists were just one rebel faction trying to overthrow the Syrian government.

Turkey regards the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish separatists inside Turkey.

Vice President Mike Pence says Trump is sending him to the Middle East in an apparent attempt to push Turkey and the Kurds to the negotiating table.

Pence says Trump spoke to Erdogan on Monday, calling for an immediate end to the military operation.

The U.S. is “simply not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion of Syria any longer,” Pence said.

‘Irresponsible’ actions 

Syrian Kurds say they feel forsaken by the United States. They also believe much of the Arab world and the U.N. Security Council are ignoring them.

FILE – Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prepare to join the front against Turkish forces, near the northern Syrian town of Hasakeh, Oct. 10, 2019.

But Esper says Turkey’s “irresponsible” actions have created an unacceptable risk to U.S. forces in northern Syria, including the possibility of the U.S. getting “engulfed in a broader conflict.”

Trump continued Monday to defend his decision to order the U.S. out of the area against strong criticism from both parties and European allies.

“Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey?” Trump tweeted. “Never ending wars will end! The same people who got us into the Middle East mess are the people who most want to stay there!”

Trump said he is raising tariffs on Turkish steel imports and is stopping trade talks with Turkey while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions on the Turkish defense, interior, and energy ministers and their departments.

“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” he said.

‘Gravely concerned’

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called on the entire House to pass a resolution condemning Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria. But she also agrees that Turkey must be condemned for its actions.

FILE – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 17, 2019.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he is “gravely concerned” about the Turkish offensive, contending it will jeopardize “years of hard-won progress” in destroying Islamic State.

But the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, says the sanctions Trump and Mnuchin announced “do not go far enough to punish Turkey for its egregious offenses in Syria.”

In Syria, government forces entered a town near the Turkish border Monday, a day after reaching an agreement with Syrian Kurds to move into the region in an attempt to counter the Turkish onslaught.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported Monday’s troop movement in Tal Tamr, about 20 kilometers from the border, saying it was done to “confront the Turkish aggression” and was welcomed by the people there.

The fighting since the Turkish operation began nearly a week ago has killed dozens of civilians, observers say.

The U.S. State Department has condemned reports of pro-Turkish fighters executing civilians.
 

From: MeNeedIt

Margaret Atwood, Bernardine Evaristo Share Booker Prize

A panel of judges rebelled against the rules of a prestigious literary award by naming both Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo the winners of the 2019 Booker Prize in London.

Peter Florence, the head of the judges, said they had been told “quite firmly” that they could only pick one winner. “The more we talked about them, the more we found we loved them both so much we wanted them both to win,” he said at a news conference Monday.

Evaristo, the first black woman to win the coveted prize, was recognized for her novel “Girl, Woman, Other.”  

Atwood won for “The Testaments,” the follow-up to her dystopian 1985 masterpiece “The Handmaid’s Tale.” At 79, Atwood is the oldest to win a Booker. This is her second nod by Booker judges. She also won in 2000 for “The Blind Assassin.”

The duo will split the $63,000 prize.

As the two came to the stage to accept the prize, Atwood said to Evaristo, “Neither of us expected to win this. I’m very surprised. I would have thought that I was too elderly. And I kind of don’t need the attention, so I’m very glad that you’re getting some.”

This is not the first time the prize has been shared. In 1992, “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje shared it with Barry Unsworth’s “Sacred Hunger.” The rules were changed after that.

The Booker is awarded to the best English-language novel published in Britain and Ireland.

This year’s other contenders were: Elif Shafak’s “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World”; Salman Rushdie’s “Quichotte”; Lucy Ellmann’s “Ducks, Newburyport”; and Chigozie Obioma’s “An Orchestra of Minorities”.
 

From: MeNeedIt

As Cambodia’s Opposition Leader Plans Return, Government Cracks Down

To protect her family, Him Taing Or lied to local authorities that she and her husband had divorced.

Her husband, Oun Srean is a deputy head of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in Cambodia’s northwest Uddar Meanchey province, on the border with Thailand.

To protect his family, Oun Srean fled Cambodia when Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017 dissolved the CNRP, which represented a growing challenge to Hun Sen, the prime minister for more than three decades. His ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) oversaw a purge of more than 5,000 local CNRP representatives who lost their positions after the party’s dissolution. They were banned from political activity.

The result was that after billions of dollars spent in international effort to build democracy in Cambodia since the early 1990s, Hun Sen won all 125 seats in parliament in the July 2018 national election, and now enjoys an increasingly authoritarian one-party rule.

And for the past month, the Hun Sen government has been doubling down on CNRP supporters because the self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy announced on August 18 that he plans to return to Cambodia on November 9. The official position is that this amounts to “plotting a coup.” The government has made clear that that anyone who supports Rainsy will face legal action.

Dozens of opposition members have been arrested since Rainsy’s announcement. Local TV news programs, all on stations controlled by the government or its allies, feature file footage of demonstrations against Hun Sen in 2013, when the opposition questioned election results that kept him and the CPP in power.

In Cambodia, where 1.7 million people died between 1975 and 1979 as the Khmer Rouge attempted to create a Marxist agrarian paradise, there’s a wariness of anything that might trigger instability. The TV footage in regular rotation shows government forces keeping the peace by shooting water cannons at the protestors.

Soeung Sen Karona, a spokesman for the Cambodian human rights group Adhoc, which has followed the threats against the opposition, said the situation has worsened since Sam Rainsy’s announcement. Adhoc has received written and verbal complaints from activists who have fled and from their families. “Activists and supporters are now scared,” said Soeung Sen Karona.

Police visit

Before the government dissolved the CNRP, “Police came to my house several times,” said Him Taing Or. “So, I told them I have divorced [my husband],” she told VOA Khmer in a recent interview at a restaurant in Anlong Veng, a onetime Khmer Rouge stronghold now best known as the gravesite of Pol Pot, the regime’s mastermind who died in 1998.

“I went to Thailand to live with my husband for a while in July 2018 and then came back in November,” said Him Taing Or, 47, the mother of two children.

“I told local authorities a year ago that I have divorced,” she said.

Him Taing Or, who earns about $5 a day packing rice cookies made in her village, is afraid of giving an interview at her home because she believes she is under surveillance by local authorities.

Oun Srean has been a wanted man since October 7 when he was charged with “plotting” because he backed Sam Rainsy’s return. Him Taing Or found out authorities has issued an arrest summons for her husband when her father called with the news.

“I am worried that he will be arrested and jailed,” she said, knowing that the Uddar Meanchey provincial municipal court asked local police to arrest him.

Oun Srean is just one of dozens of activists who have been charged with “plotting.”

The opposition activists arrested this month and who have been charged with “plotting” face prison terms of up to 10 years if found guilty. Others are in hiding or have fled the country.

“The political situation is still dire for the opposition in Cambodia,” said Ear Sophal, an associate professor in diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College, Los Angeles, California. “Phnom Penh loves power and money more than freedom and democracy.”

Unafraid activist

Chhun Vean, a former deputy CNRP commune chief from the Kdey Run commune in Siem Reap province, now works in construction in Thailand. “I am not scared or willing to stop my work for democracy in Cambodia,” he said.

A banner of outlawed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, hung at Chek Chhun’s house in Siem Reap province’s Kdey Run commune, October 11, 2019.

The Siem Reap provincial court issued a summons dated October 8 for the opposition activist in Pouk district’s Kdey Run commune. VOA obtained a copy of the summons.

Chhun Vean joined a precursor to the CNRP in 2008, a year marked by CPP-dominated national elections. He became active in commune politics. “That is why they want to intimidate me, to stop me.”

 “Cambodia’s courts are a tool politicians use to threaten their opponents,” said Chhun Vean, the 30-year-old father of a six-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. His wife is with him in Thailand, and the children are with their grandparents in Cambodia.

The summons allows him to confess. If he does, he will be released and the charges dropped.

The government has been making good on this promise. When Seng Sokhun, a former CNRP commune chief in Phnom Penh, confessed on video on October 10, the government dropped charges. Local media featured the story which lit up social media.

On Friday, as VOA spoke with Chhun Vean’s 67-year-old father Chek Chhun, police vehicles drove by his house in Tapang village of Siem Reap province’s Pouk district’s Kdey Run commune.

“They may come and question me,” said Chek Chhun, who was once active in the opposition and now worries about his son. “There are no equal political rights. I don’t know what to say now.”

More arrests threatened

Hun Sen has threatened to deploy the military if CNRP leaders and supporters return from exile with Sam Rainsy. On Monday, he threatened to arrest opposition activists living in Thailand.

“Those who are in Bangkok, it is not certain that you will be safe,” he said. “I will arrest and bring you all back.”

His threat is not empty. Cambodia and Thailand signed an extradition agreement in 2001, and Thai authorities have handed over opposition activists in the recent past.

“Under the military guided government of [Prime Minister] Prayut Chan-ocha, it’s clear Thailand is no longer safe for opposition activists,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch in an email.

“There’s no doubt Thailand is prepared to sell or barter Cambodian asylum seekers and refugees in exchange for favors from Phnom Penh,” he added.

The Thai government did not respond to a request for comment.

Mork Vanvuthy, a former CNRP council member in Bansayrak commune, is also wanted by Hun Sen’s government and living outside Cambodia.

“I have not done anything illegal. We expressed our opinion,” said Mork Vanvuthy, 47, adding that if he remained in Cambodia, “I would die or be jailed.”

Sok Thai, 37, a villager in Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province, said her husband, Nou Phoeun was arrested early in September because he expressed his political opinions and criticized the government about the price of rice in their neighborhood and online. Three other Kampong Thom province activists were arrested at the same time, she said.

Increased violence

Human rights advocates are concerned that more activists will be arrested and violence against CNRP sympathizers will increase as Rainsy’s return date nears.

“Cambodia is intensifying its campaign of repression against CNRP activists because they want to prevent the return of Sam Rainsy and the other senior CNRP leaders in exile,” said Robertson. “It’s likely it will get even worse the closer we get to November 9.”

On September 22, Sam Rainsy’s bodyguard, Pouk Chanda, was beaten on a Phnom Penh street. He suffered head injuries.

Sim Bona, a former CNRP commune chief in Phnom Penh’s Koh Dach commune was attacked September 25 by an unidentified man wielding an iron pipe.

“They tried to beat my head but I had a helmet,” he told VOA Khmer at his home in Koh Dach commune the day after the assault. Sim Bona, 59, defended himself at a cost: the attacker broke his left arm in three places.

Others in the opposition told VOA the beatings may have been a form of political retribution or intimidation.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, said making accusations against the government is the CNRP “culture.”

“Whenever there are victims, [they say] it is political,” he said. “I don’t want to have a prejudgment. Let’s wait for the investigation.”

Back in Anlong Veng, Him Taing Or, who takes herbal medicine daily for diabetes and high blood pressure, is hopeful that her husband will be able to return without fear of arrest or jail.

“Life is difficult since we are separated,” said Or. “I hope that my husband can come back and we live together.”

From: MeNeedIt

Biles Dazzles on Floor to Win Record 25th World Championship Medal

American Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history on Sunday when she won the beam and floor finals to take her career tally to 25 medals.

Soon after securing a convincing victory on the beam in Stuttgart to overtake Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo’s record tally of 23 world medals, the 22-year-old Biles successfully defended her floor title to win medal number 25.

The four-time Olympic champion is now the owner of 19 gold medals across four championships against 12 for Scherbo, who competed in five world events between 1991 and 1996.

Making her final appearance of the week in front of a raucous crowd, Biles wasted no time as she landed a superb triple-twisting double back flip — known as the Biles II – on her first pass.

Biles’s double layout with a half turn — another skill named after her — put her out of bounds for a 0.1 penalty but she did enough to post a winning score of 15.133.

“Honestly, I just couldn’t move. I was so tired,” Biles said of her final pose on the stage.

“This is really the best worlds performance I have ever put out.”

The Americans took a one-two finish as Sunisa Lee finished with 14.133 for the silver medal, while Russian Angelina Melnikova came third.

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>FILE - US gymnyst Simone Biles poses with her gold medal for artistic gymnastics during the victory ceremony at the Rio Olympic Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 16, 2016.
Olympic Champ Simone Biles Says She was Abused by Doctor

Simone Biles watched as her friends and former Olympic teammates came forward to detail abuse at the hands of a now-imprisoned former USA Gymnastics team doctor.Drawing in part from their strength, the four-time gold medalist acknowledged Monday she is among the athletes who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar.Biles, who won five medals overall at the 2016 Olympics, released a statement via Twitter outlining that abuse.

BEAM BRILLIANCE

Earlier, Biles delivered a polished routine on the beam before a full twisting double tuck dismount for an impressive 15.066.

Although Biles had twice before won the world beam title, in 2014 and 2015, it has not always been plain sailing for her on the apparatus.

Her slip on the landing of a front tucked somersault at the 2016 Rio Olympics meant she had to settle for a bronze in the event. Last year again, she dropped off the beam during the women’s all-around final at the world championships.

But she has regained her swagger this week, under the watchful eyes of balance beam coach Cecile Landi, and posted top scores in all four attempts — qualifying, the team and all-around finals and Sunday’s apparatus final.

“It meant a lot because Cecile has really been working on bringing my confidence back up to where it used to be on the beam,” Biles said.

“To go out there and nail the routine, just like I do in practice, it felt really good and I knew she was really proud.”

As another title-winning score was announced in the arena, Biles punched the air in jubilation before joining celebrations with the U.S. team.

“I was really excited,” she added. “I thought it was going to be at least 14.8, 14.9, but to see 15, I was like well that’s pretty crazy, so I was very proud.”

Last year’s winner Liu Tingting of China took silver with 14.433, while team mate Li Shijia won the bronze.

Biles finished her campaign in Stuttgart with five gold medals from six events to mark ideal preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Her barnstorming run included a record fifth all-around gold, an individual vault title, as well as helping the U.S. to a fifth straight world team title.

 

From: MeNeedIt