India has tightened security in its northeastern states bordering Myanmar in view of people escaping the turmoil in that country after the recent military coup.
India shares a long land border of more than 1,600 km with Myanmar as well as a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Four northeastern Indian states -- Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram -- share an international boundary with Myanmar.
Quoting senior government officials, local media reports said that at least 20 people, including some security forces personnel, have crossed over to Mizoram's Lungkawlh village from Myanmar since March 3.
“They have been put up at a community hall in Lungkawlh village -- some 8 km from Myanmar -- after the mandatory Covid-19 tests,” local administration chief Abhishek Kumar told The Hindu newspaper.
"We are providing food and shelter to the people. We have also sent a report to the Home Department and are awaiting instructions on what to do with the refugees. However, we cannot confirm right now whether or not some of the refugees are policemen," he added.
A senior police official told UNB over the phone from Mizoram that security has been tightened in the districts bordering Myanmar. "We are not taking chances and have raised vigil to ensure that militant groups don't intrude into this country," he said.
Also read: 1 month in Myanmar under military control
According to him, Manipur, another state, has also increased vigilance along the border areas. In 2015, the Indian Army attacked rebel camps inside Myanmar, days after at least 20 of its soldiers were killed in an ambush on a troop convoy in Manipur.
Since the February 1 military coup, Myanmar has been rocked by mass protests. Some 54 people have been killed by security forces in the protests so far, according to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Wednesday was the bloodiest day since the coup, with 38 protesters killed across the country. Among them was a 19-year-old youth.
Last month, India expressed “deep concern” at the military coup. “India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar. We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld,” the Foreign Ministry said.
In Iraq, two decades of back-to-back conflicts have left ancient Christian communities that were once a vibrant and integral part of the landscape scattered and in ruins.
Iraq was estimated to have nearly 1.5 million Christians before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. They date back to the first centuries of the religion and include Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian and Armenian churches.
Now, church officials estimate only a few hundred thousand, or even less, remain within Iraq’s borders. The rest are scattered across the globe, resettling in far-flung places like Australia, Canada and Sweden, as well as neighboring countries.
Many of those who remain in Iraq feel abandoned, bitter and helpless, some wary of neighbors with whom they once shared feasts and religious celebrations, Muslim and Christian alike.
The Vatican for years has voiced concern about the flight of Christians from the Middle East, driven out by war, poverty, persecution and discrimination. Pope Francis hopes that by visiting Iraq — the first visit by a sitting pontiff — he will be sending a message of hope and solidarity.
Here’s a look at disasters Iraq’s Christians have endured, from Saddam’s ouster to the brutal campaign by Islamic State militants:
U.S. INVASION AND RISE OF MILITANCY
Christians in Iraq enjoyed protection and near-equal rights with Iraq’s Muslim majority under Saddam but were among the first groups targeted amid the breakdown in security and sectarian bloodbath that prevailed for years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that overthrew him.
The U.S. occupation and the chaotic years that followed ushered in the rise of religious militancy, with the al-Qaida terror network taking the lead. Killings, kidnappings and bombings became an everyday occurrence, sometimes with multiple bombings on the same day.
A Chaldean Catholic archbishop was found dead in 2008 after being abducted by gunmen. Churches around the country were bombed repeatedly by Sunni militants, terrorizing the community and setting off an exodus that continues to this day.
BAGHDAD CHURCH MASSACRE
On October 31, 2010, Islamic militants seized a Baghdad church during Sunday evening mass, killing dozens of people, including two priests, in a terrifying four-hour siege. It was the deadliest single assault ever recorded against Iraq’s Christians.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an offshoot of al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack at the Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church, where Pope Francis is expected to pray this weekend. The carnage deepened the mistrust between the beleaguered community and its Muslim neighbors and fueled the Christian flight from Iraq.
To this day, the memory of the massacre is etched in the minds of Iraq’s Christian community.
ISLAMIC STATE JUGGERNAUT
In the summer of 2014, fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant swept over the northern city of Mosul and seized a broad swath of the country, including towns and villages in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq.
Thousands of Christians found themselves fleeing once again the militants’ advance, taking refuge in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region or leaving the country. Over the next few years, the extremists killed thousands of Iraqi civilians from a variety of religions. They also destroyed buildings and ruined historical and culturally significant structures they considered contrary to their interpretation of Islam. Militants from the Islamic State group demolished religious and historic sites, including monasteries, mosques, tombs, shrines and churches in Syria and Iraq.
The IS juggernaut and the long war to drive the militants out left ransacked homes and charred or pulverized buildings across the north. Christians in the Nineveh plains fled the IS onslaught and many of those who returned dream of resettling abroad.
China’s No. 2 leader set a healthy economic growth target Friday and vowed to make the nation self-reliant in technology amid tension with the U.S. and Europe over trade and human rights. Another official announced plans to tighten control over Hong Kong by reducing the public’s role in government.
The ruling Communist Party aims for growth of “over 6%” as the world’s second-largest economy rebounds from the coronavirus, Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech to the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial legislature. About 3,000 delegates gathered for its annual meeting, the year’s highest-profile political event, under intense security and anti-virus controls. It has been shortened from two weeks to one because of the pandemic.
The party is shifting back to its longer-term goal of becoming a global competitor in telecoms, electric cars and other profitable technology. That is inflaming trade tension with Washington and Europe, which complain Beijing’s tactics violate its market-opening commitments and hurt foreign competitors.
Li promised progress in reining in climate-changing carbon emissions, a step toward keeping President Xi Jinping’s pledge last year to become carbon-neutral by 2060. But he avoided aggressive targets that might weigh on economic growth.
The NPC meeting focuses on domestic issues but is overshadowed by geopolitics as Xi’s government pursues more assertive trade and strategic policies and faces criticism over its treatment of Hong Kong and ethnic minorities. The ruling party has doubled down on crushing dissent as Xi tries to cement his image as a history-making leader reclaiming China’s rightful place as a global power.
An NPC deputy chairman, Wang Chen, said a Hong Kong Election Committee dominated by businesspeople and other pro-Beijing figures will be given a bigger role in choosing the territory’s legislature. Wang said the Election Committee would choose a “relatively large” share of the now 70-member Legislative Council.
That came after a spokesman for the legislature on Thursday said Beijing wants “patriots ruling Hong Kong,” fueling fears opposition voices will be shut out of the political process.
Li, the premier, said Beijing wants to “safeguard national security” in Hong Kong.
Also Friday, the government announced a 6.8% rise in military spending to 1.4 trillion yuan ($217 billion) amid territorial disputes with India and other neighbors and ambitions to match the United States and Russia in missile, stealth fighter and other weapons technology.
That is less than the double-digit increases of earlier years but a marked rise in real terms when inflation is close to zero. Foreign analysts say total military spending is up to 40% more than the reported figure, the world’s second-highest after the United States.
China became the only major economy to grow last year, eking out a multi-decade-low 2.3% expansion after shutting down industries to fight the virus. Growth accelerated to 6.5% over a year earlier in the final quarter of 2020 while the United States, Europe and Japan struggled with renewed virus outbreaks.
The 6% target is higher than expectations for the United States and other major economies but less than the 7%-8% forecasters expected Li to announce.
That suggests Beijing is “shifting focus from quantity to quality of economic growth,” said Chaoping Zhu of J.P. Morgan Asset Management in a report.
Also read: China to mull improving HK electoral system
Beijing might allocate resources to environmental protection and other initiatives “to boost China’s long-term growth potential,” Zhu said.
Li vowed to “work faster” to develop tech capabilities seen by Communist leaders as a path to prosperity, strategic autonomy and global influence. Those plans are threatened by conflicts with Washington over technology and security that prompted then-U.S. President Donald Trump to slap sanctions on companies including telecom equipment giant Huawei, China’s first global tech brand.
The ruling party’s latest five-year development blueprint says efforts to make China a self-reliant “technology power” are this year’s top economic priority.
The party sees “technological self-reliance as a strategic support for national development,” Li said.
Li promised to pursue “green development” following Xi’s pledge last year to ensure China’s carbon emissions peak by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. That will require sharp increases in clean energy in an economy that gets 60% of its power from coal and is the world’s biggest source of climate-changing industrial pollution.
He promised to reduce carbon emissions per unit of economic output by 18% over the next five years. That is in line with the previous five-year period’s goal, but environmentalists say Beijing needs to do more.
“It defers some of the most important questions to the future,” said Li Shuo of Greenpeace.
Li repeated official promises to promote “peaceful growth of relations” with Taiwan but announced no initiatives toward the self-ruled island that split with the mainland in 1949 after a civil war.
Beijing claims Taiwan as its territory and has threatened to invade if it tries to make its de facto independence official. Li said the mainland will “resolutely deter” any activity “seeking ‘Taiwan independence.’”
This year’s legislative meeting is being held mostly by video links to keep Chinese leaders, delegates and reporters separate as an anti-virus measure.
The ruling party earlier announced it achieved its goal of doubling economic output from 2010 levels by last year, which required annual growth of 7%. Xi has talked about doubling output again by 2035, which would imply annual growth of about 5%, still among the highest for any major economy.
As Xi has sought to cement his image, China has doubled down on repression of dissent in ways that could stifle innovation.
The ruling party’s desire for the prosperity produced by free-market competition also clashes with its insistence on playing a dominant role in the economy and strategic goals of reducing dependence on other countries.
Beijing will promote “domestic circulation,” Li said, a reference to official pressure on industries to use more Chinese-supplied components and technology and rely less on foreign inputs, even if that increases costs.
That emphasis on self-reliance and the conflict with Washington has fueled fears the world might split into separate U.S., Chinese and other industrial spheres with incompatible technologies, less competition and higher costs.
The goal of “decoupling them from foreign technology” is “more likely to harm productivity than help it,” Mark Williams of Capital Economics said in a report this week.
Two firefighters loaned to Washington for the day were the only medics on the Capitol steps Jan. 6, trying to triage injured officers as they watched the angry mob swell and attack police working to protect Congress.
Law enforcement agents were “being pulled into the crowd and trampled, assaulted with scaffolding materials, and/or bear maced by protesters,” wrote Arlington County firefighter Taylor Blunt in an after-action memo. Some couldn’t walk, and had to be dragged to safety.
Even the attackers sought medical help, and Blunt and his colleague Nathan Waterfall treated those who were passing out or had been hit. But some “feigned illness to remain behind police lines,” Blunt wrote.
The memo is one of hundreds of emails, texts, photos and documents obtained by The Associated Press. Taken together, the materials shed new light on the sprawling patchwork of law enforcement agencies that tried to stop the siege and the lack of coordination and inadequate planning that stymied their efforts.
The AP obtained the materials through 35 Freedom of Information Act requests to law enforcement agencies that responded to the Capitol insurrection.
“We were among the first mutual aid teams to arrive and were critical to begin the process of driving protestors off the Capitol,” wrote Blunt.
Five people died in the attack, including a police officer. Two other officers killed themselves after. There were hundreds of injuries and more than 300 people, including members of extremist groups Proud Boys and Oathkeepers, have been charged with federal crimes. Federal agents are still investigating and hundreds more suspects are at large. Justice Department officials have said they may charge some with sedition.
The Arlington firefighters ended up at the Capitol because, two days earlier, Washington Metro Police Chief Robert J. Contee had formally asked the Arlington County Police Department, along with police departments from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, and Arlington County in Virginia, to lend them some officers trained for protests and riots, according to the documents.
Arlington’s acting police chief Andy Penn said they’d send help for the “planned and unplanned first amendment activities,” according to emails.
At the time, the Capitol Police department had issued a security assessment warning that militia members, white supremacists and other extremists were heading to Washington to target Congress in what they saw as a “last stand” to support President Donald Trump.
Federal agencies not responding were also preparing for potential violence. On Jan. 4, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said staff should try to telework for the week.
Two days later, it was 3:39 p.m. when Penn emailed county officials that he had “just been notified” that Arlington officers were responding to the Capitol attack and had been absorbed into the overall response led by Capitol Police.
That was almost 90 minutes after the mob first busted into the Capitol and more than an hour after the medics began treating injured police on the steps.
Members of Congress, who were locked down or rushed to safety that day as the attackers approached the House and Senate chambers, are holding hearings this week to get to the bottom of what went wrong with the law enforcement response that allowed the crowd to enter and ransack the Capitol building.
One question they are looking to answer is why the Capitol Police didn’t have more help on hand early in the day, before the rally near the White House devolved into insurrection at the Capitol.
The emails obtained by AP — hastily written and including misspellings and incomplete sentences — show that nearby police agencies were alerted two days earlier that there might be trouble and were prepared to help.
The night before the breach, after hours of rallies and speeches across the city, Federal Protective Service officers, who protect federal property, had noticed protesters trying to camp out on federal property and were “being vigilant for any suspicious activity,” according to an email from the agency.
They were expecting large crowds, and by the next morning they were monitoring them closely.
At 9:45 a.m. a protective service liaison to the Capitol Police wrote, “Good morning Sir, what I have is the Ellipse is permitted for 30k but they expecting for there to be much more. Freedom Plaza original permit was 5k and it was raised to 30k, the permit outside Sylven Theater is permitted for 15K.”
The agents were particularly interested in the right wing extremist group, Proud Boys. They noted how many were in Washington, that they were staying at a downtown hotel, and what they planned.
In a briefing at noon on that day, just as Trump was encouraging supporters to “ fight like hell,” a Federal Protective Service email said about 300 Proud Boys were at the U.S. Capitol.
“No incidents at this time,” the email said. But then it warned, “The Proud Boys are threatening to shut down the water system in the downtown area, which includes government facilities.”
The email noted there was a man in a tree with what appeared to be a rifle near the Ellipse, and about 25,000 people were around the White House, including some who were hiding bags in bushes outside the building.
“Together we stand!” the officer signed off.
About 20 minutes later, a protective service officer whose name was redacted sent an email that read, “POTUS is encouraging the protesters to march to capitol grounds and continue protesting there.” POTUS stands for president of the United States.
In a series of emails that followed, protective service officers messages offered a blow-by-blow account of the march to the Capitol from the rally where Trump spoke.
“Protesters moving towards the capitol down Pennsylvania, Constitution and Madison in numbers estimated 10-15,000,” read an email sent at 12:28 p.m.
The officers tracked them across the city and at 12:57 p.m. a message read, “Large group just breached the USCP barricade on the West Front,” referring to the Capitol Police barriers on west side of the Capitol Building.
About a half hour later, they reported several police officers were injured, and then at 2:14 a message screamed “CAPITOL HAS BEEN BREACHED. PROTESTERS ARE NOW INSIDE THE CAPITOL.” Two minutes later they reported the House and Senate chambers were being locked down.
“Shots fired 2nd floor house side inside the capitol,” read a message at 2:45, probably the moment when a Capitol Police officer fatally shot Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter who tried to hurl herself through a broken interior window into the Speaker’s Lobby just outside the House chamber where lawmakers were taking cover.
Intelligence agents used Facebook to monitor dozens of protests planned for Jan. 6 and beyond, according to emails. These rallies had names such as the “Yugest Trump Parade of All (45 Exclamation Points)!,” “Fight for President Trump and Your Rights,” and “Wild Protest for Donald Trump (The Republican Mandate).” Some events were permitted, others were not.
Officers in the Virginia suburb of Vienna were already on edge two days before the Capitol breach after a video of a small, half-hour protest at the home of Republican Sen. Josh Hawley __ a Trump supporter __ attracted more than 100,000 pageviews.
“They claim they are coming back tonight,” Vienna Deputy Chief Daniel Janickey said in Jan. 5 emails to Fairfax County officials.
“WE will have some officers out there tonight monitoring in case (the) group shows up,” Janickey wrote. “Hawley and his staff have hired armed private security for (the) next 48 hours.”
Those protesters didn’t return. But within 24 hours, Fairfax County, Virginia, officials realized their Washington counterparts had much more trouble on their hands.
At 3:10 p.m. on Jan. 6, Fairfax County’s deputy county executive, Dave Rohrer, emailed more than 25 county officials: “Subject: Awareness - Police Mutual Aid Request U.S. Capitol Police.”
That was about two hours after the first windows had been broken.
The U.S. Capitol had been breached, he said.
“It is obvious to me based on my experience and knowledge that an emergency exists,” said Rohrer. He said he had authorized the Fairfax County Police Department to send Civil Disturbance Unit officers and commanders “to assist gaining control for safety reasons.”
He added that they were monitoring the deployment closely. The redacted email refers to an early June episode when police from several jurisdictions used tear gas to violently break up a peaceful and legal protest in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House.
On Jan. 6, Rohrer said he reminded commanders on the scene “that they are to cease operations if at any point they determine they are being used in an inappropriate, unethical, illegal manner, or are not under a competent authority... Maintaining life safety, regaining and establishing a safe perimeter, etc., should be the initial focus.”
Just 12 minutes later, Rohrer had an update: They were suspending any fire, rescue or emergency service transportation to hospitals in the District of Columbia and “upgrading response and command structure.”
For hours, Fairfax County’s police monitored Metro stations and acted as back up to Washington police, according to the emails. They were also checking with hotels where some in the mob were staying. Rohrer noted that many had been staying in Alexandria and Arlington..
The hotels “reported some problems with crowds and disorderly conduct the past few nights,” he said.
That evening, at 8:31 p.m., a Federal Protective Service memo alerted “there is a report of an armed militia group headed to dc from west Virginia. Query ongoing.”
As midnight approached, Rohrer emailed again. Although the Capitol was quiet, “Intel will be monitored throughout the night and, unfortunately, PD and US Capitol Police are investigating several threats targeting residences of Capitol VIPs or family members received late tonight.”
By Jan. 7, Fairfax County Police Department Major Shawn Bennett was bristling at Capitol Police Chief Terry Gainer’s critique of the police response.
“Gainer throws a lot of shame but he doesn’t offer any answers to what ‘specifically’ he would have done differently to keep the initial group from breaking down the barriers,” emailed Bennett.
Also on Jan. 7, Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill was thanking his staff.
“Our Police Department’s Civil Disturbance Unit answered the call yesterday, and as much as I hated to activate you, it was an activation to preserve our republic,” he wrote. “I am hopeful we will never again see what we witnessed yesterday, but I am most hopeful that yesterday’s events will galvanize our county and our nation as we do our best to vaccinate, maintain calm and create a sense of unity.”
Pope Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday to urge the country’s dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution, brushing aside the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns to make his first-ever papal visit.
The pope, who wore a facemask during the flight, kept it on as he descended the stairs to the tarmac and was greeted by two masked children in traditional dress. But health measures appeared lax inside the airport despite the country's worsening coronavirus outbreak.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said Iraqis were eager to welcome Francis’ “message of peace and tolerance” and described the visit as a historic meeting between the “minaret and the bells.” Among the highlights of the three-day visit is Francis' private meeting Saturday with the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a revered figure in Iraq and beyond.
Francis' plane touched down at Baghdad's airport just before 2 p.m. local time (1100 GMT). A red carpet was rolled out on the tarmac in Baghdad’s international airport with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on hand to greet him. Francis was visibly limping in a sign his sciatica, which has flared and forced him to cancel events recently, was possibly bothering him.
A largely unmasked choir sang songs as both pope and premier made their way to a welcome area in the airport. People wandered around without masks, and the pope and the prime minister took theirs off as they sat down for their first meeting — seated less than two meters (yards) apart — and later stood next to each other shaking hands and chatting.
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Hundreds of people had gathered along the airport road with hopes of catching a glimpse of the pope’s plane touching down.
Iraqis were keen to welcome him and the global attention his visit will bring, with banners and posters hanging high in central Baghdad, and billboards depicting Francis with the slogan “We are all Brothers” decorating the main thoroughfare. In central Tahrir square, a mock tree was erected emblazoned with the Vatican emblem, while Iraqi and Vatican flags lined empty streets.
The government is eager to show off the relative security it has achieved after years of wars and militant attacks that nevertheless continue even today. Francis and the Vatican delegation are relying on Iraqi security forces to protect them, including with the expected first use of an armored car for the popemobile-loving pontiff.
Tahsin al-Khafaji, spokesman for Iraq's joint operations, said security forces had been increased.
“This visit is really important to us and provides a good perspective of Iraq because the whole world will be watching,” he said. The high stakes will give Iraqi forces “motivation to achieve this visit with safety and peace.”
Francis is breaking his year-long COVID-19 lockdown to refocus the world’s attention on a largely neglected people whose northern Christian communities, which date from the time of Christ, were largely emptied during the violent Islamic State reign from 2014-2017.
For the pope, who has often traveled to places where Christians are a persecuted minority, Iraq's beleaguered Christians are the epitome of the “martyred church" that he has admired ever since he was a young Jesuit seeking to be a missionary in Asia.
In Iraq, Francis is seeking to not only honor its martyrs but deliver a message of reconciliation and fraternity. The few Christians who remain in Iraq harbor a lingering mistrust of their Muslim neighbors and face structural discrimination long predating both IS and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that plunged the country into chaos.
“The Pope’s visit is to support the Christians in Iraq to stay, and to say that they are not forgotten,” the Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Luis Sako, told reporters in Baghdad this week. The aim of Francis’ visit, he said, is to encourage them to “hold onto hope.”
The visit comes as Iraq is seeing a new spike in coronavirus infections, with most new cases traced to the highly contagious variant first identified in Britain. The 84-year-old pope, the Vatican delegation and travelling media have been vaccinated; most Iraqis have not.
Ahead of the pope’s arrival Friday, dozens of men, women and children gathered in a Baghdad church, many not wearing masks or observing social distancing, before boarding buses to the airport to welcome the pontiff.
The Vatican and Iraqi authorities have downplayed the threat of the virus and insisted that social distancing, crowd control and other health care measures will be enforced. The Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said this week the important thing is for Iraqis to know that the pope came to Iraq as an “act of love.”
“I come among you as a pilgrim of peace, to repeat ‘you are all brothers,’” Francis said in a video-message to the Iraqi people on the eve of his visit. “I come as a pilgrim of peace in search of fraternity, animated by the desire to pray together and walk together, also with brothers and sisters of other religious traditions.”
Christians once constituted a sizeable minority in Iraq but their numbers began dwindling after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. They fell further when IS militants in 2014 swept through traditionally Christian towns across the Nineveh plains. Their extremist brand of Islam forced residents to flee to the neighboring Kurdish region or further afield.
Few have returned, and those who have found their homes and churches destroyed.