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Sudan: A Year On, Justice Needed for Crackdowns

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(Nairobi) – Sudans transitional government should accelerate efforts to investigate and prosecute crimes against protesters by government security forces since December 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. December 2018 was the start of the wave of protests triggered by price increases that forced president Omar al-Bashir to step down on April 11, 2019.

“Scores of protesters, including teenagers and children, paid with their lives to force al-Bashir out, but a year on, the families of those killed are still searching for justice,” said Jehanne Henry, East Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Sudanese authorities should step up their efforts to do right by these victims. Justice should not be denied or delayed.”

Government security forces, particularly the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS), used lethal, excessive force including live ammunition to break up the protests, killing dozens of unarmed protesters every month. While the exact death toll of protesters is not known, independent groups estimated that over 100 people were killed between December 2018 and April 11, 2019, and Amnesty International verified at least 77 killings during that period.

On April 11, a transitional military council took power and announced that al-Bashir and several of his allies in the ruling National Congress Party were in detention. Salah Gosh, the former head of the NISS, was not detained and reportedly fled to Egypt in May.

Protesters remained at the sit-in demanding that military authorities hand over the government to civilian rule. On June 3, security forces violently dispersed the sit-in, killing over 120 protesters between June 3 and 18, according to doctors groups. The security forces were led by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which have a documented record of abuses and attacks on civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile.

On August 17, opposition groups and the military agreed on a transitional government, forming a sovereign council composed of military and civilian leaders but led by military for the first 22 months, with a civilian prime minister and cabinet. Gen. Abdelfattah al-Bourhan and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, “Hemedti,” commander of the RSF, are chair and deputy chair of the sovereign council respectively. Dr. Abdalla Hamdok, a former United Nations official, is prime minister.

Human Rights Watch concluded after documenting the events on June 3 and the following days that the killings and abuses could qualify as crimes against humanity because they were part of a government policy of using excessive, lethal force against unarmed protesters. Human Rights Watch recommended that the authorities should establish an independent entity to investigate abuses committed since December 2018, including sexual violence.

Despite the transitional governments promises to ensure justice, it has made slow progress in the face of many serious problems, including a collapsing economy. In September, the authorities appointed a committee to investigate the June 3, 2019 crackdown. However, the committee has attracted wide criticism for its slow pace and inaccessibility, especially for victims of gender-based violence.

The authorities have not established a body specifically to address the crimes against protesters since December 2018, but are handling cases alleging violations against protesters in an ad hoc manner, if and when victims families come to them with evidence. Legal aid groups told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors, who lack resources and technical capacity, do not actively investigate but rather rely on victims families to collect evidence.

“It is very disappointing to protesters, victims, and their families, to see that justice is not moving one step further one year after ousting al-Bashir,” said Rifat Makkawi, a prominent human rights lawyer and director of PLACE legal aid center.

Almost 5 million Americans have already traveled by plane before Thanksgiving

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Almost 5 million Americans have already traveled by plane ahead of Thanksgiving — a pandemic-era high, according to the latest data.

Airport security screened 4.8 million people from Friday to Tuesday, the TSA said.

That’s still 59 percent less than the same period in 2019, when nearly 12 million people passed through American airports.

But it’s an uptick compared to earlier in the year, when some days saw as little as 90,000 or fewer trips, according to TSA figures.

Amtrak, meanwhile, has seen ridership drop 80 percent compared to last Thanksgiving, spokesman Jason Abrams said.

Only 27 percent of Americans plan to have a mixed-household Thanksgiving dinner amid the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a survey commissioned by the New York Times.

Fifty million Americans are expected to travel for Thanksgiving, according to a forecast from AAA and IHS Markit. The vast majority of those trips — 95 percent — were expected to be made by car.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned Americans against traveling for the holidays amid rising coronavirus rates.

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The pandemic is changing Hollywood, maybe forever

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“No New ‘Movies’ Till Influenza Ends” blared a New York Times headline on Oct. 10, 1918, while the deadly second wave of the Spanish Flu was unfolding.

A century later, during another pandemic, movies — quotes no longer necessary — are again facing a critical juncture. But it’s not because new films haven’t been coming out. By streaming service, video-on-demand, virtual theater or actual theater, a steady diet of films have been released under COVID-19 every week. The Times has reviewed more than 460 new movies since mid-March.

Yet until recently — with only a few exceptions — those haven’t been the big-budget spectacles Hollywood runs on. Eight months into the pandemic, that’s changing. Last month, the Walt Disney Co. experimented with the $200 million “Mulan” as a premium buy on its fast-growing streaming service, Disney+ — where the Pixar film “Soul” will also go on Dec. 25. WarnerMedia last week announced that “Wonder Woman 1984” — a movie that might have made $1 billion at the box office in a normal summer — will land in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously next month.

Much remains uncertain about how the movie business will survive the pandemic. But it’s increasingly clear that Hollywood won’t be the same afterward. Just as the Spanish Flu, which weeded out smaller companies and contributed to the formation of the studio system, COVID-19 is remaking Hollywood, accelerating a digital makeover and potentially reordering an industry that was already in flux.

“I don’t think the genie will ever be back in the bottle,” says veteran producer Peter Guber, president of Mandalay Entertainment and former chief of Sony Pictures. “It will be a new studio system. Instead of MGM and Fox, they’re going to be Disney and Disney+, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, HBO Max and Peacock.”

Many of the pivots in 2020 can be chalked up to the unusual circumstances. But several studios are making more long-term realignments around streaming. WarnerMedia, the AT&T conglomerate that owns Warner Bros. (founded in 1923), is now run by Jason Kilar, best known as the former chief executive of Hulu. Last month, Disney chief executive Bob Chapek, the Robert Iger heir, announced a reorganization to emphasize streaming and “accelerate our direct-to-consumer business.”

Universal Pictures, owned by Comcast, has pushed aggressively into video-on-demand. Its first major foray, “Trolls,” kicked up a feud with theater owners. But as the pandemic wore on, Universal hatched unprecedented deals with AMC and Cinemark, the largest and third-largest chains, respectively, to dramatically shorten the traditional theatrical window (usually about three months) to just 17 days. After that time, Universal can move releases that don’t reach certain box-office thresholds to digital rental.

While the nation’s second largest theater chain, Regal Cinemas, has resisted such deals, there’s widespread acknowledgement that the days of 90-day theatrical runs are over. It’s something the studios have long sought for the potential benefit of covering both platforms with one marketing campaign. Many see the pandemic as accelerating a decades-long trend.

“Windows are clearly changing,” says Chris Aronson, distribution chief for Paramount Pictures. “All this stuff that’s going on now in the business was going to happen, the evolution is just happening faster than it would have. What would have taken three to five years is going to be done in a year, maybe a year and a half.”

That condensed period of rapid change is happening at the same time as a land rush for streaming market share, as Disney+, HBO Max, Apple and Peacock wrestle for a piece of the home viewing audience dominated by Netflix and Amazon. With theme parks struggling and worldwide box office down tens of billions, streaming is a bright spot for media companies, and the pandemic may offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lure subscribers. “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Soul” are essentially very expensive advertisements for those streaming services.

Each studio, depending on their corporate ownership and streaming positioning, is taking a different approach. Paramount, like Sony Pictures, doesn’t have a streaming service to offload films to. Both have held back their tentpole releases while selling more midsized films to streamers. For Paramount, “A Quiet Place: Part II,” “Top Gun Maverick” and “Mission: Impossible 7” are waiting for 2021 while “The Trial of the Chicago 7” fetched a reported $56 million from Netflix and Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America 2” went to Amazon Prime Video for a reported $125 million.

HBO Max has had a bumpier rollout than Disney+, so “Wonder Woman 1984” is an especially critical gambit for WarnerMedia following the audacious release of “Tenet.” As the first tentpole to test theaters reopened with safety protocols and reduced capacities, it has made about $350 million worldwide — a lot considering everything but far less than originally hoped for. Credit Suisse analyst Douglas Mitchelson called the “Wonder Woman” plans — which include rolling theatrical runs in China, Europe and elsewhere — “a grand experiment that could have-lasting implications if successful.”

Director Patty Jenkins acknowledged the simultaneous release was a kind of sacrifice, not just to HBO Max but to families stuck at home. “At some point you have to choose to share any love and joy you have to give, over everything else,” Jenkins wrote on Twitter.

It can be easy to cheer such moves, even if their financial performance remain cloudy (no studio has been transparent about its viewership numbers or digital grosses) and their long-term viability uncertain. Can you replicate $1 billion in box office in new subscriptions? And for how long will the one-time bounce of a new movie (unlike a series staggered over weeks or months) drive subscribers once streaming services are closer to tapping as many homes as they can?

“The whole thing is more complicated than people want it to be,” says Ira Deutchman, the veteran independent film producer and Columbia University professor. “The way movies are made and distributed, certainly at the studio level, has been really in need of change and hopefully this will bring it on. But when people hear that, it’s like: The pandemic is the straw that broke the camel’s back and now theatrical is dead. I personally feel that’s garbage.”

Deutchman considers the idea that people, after a year of quarantines and lockdowns, won’t want to leave their living room “ludicrous.” But he does imagine continued mergers and acquisitions, and “a new equilibrium” for distributors and theater owners.

So what could that mean on the other side of COVID, if moviegoers are once again comfortable sitting in packed theaters on opening weekend? It will almost certainly mean the months-long runs of films like “Titanic” or “Get Out” are a thing of the past. It could mean variable pricing on different nights. It could mean an even greater division between the franchise films of the multiplex and the boutique art house, with everything in between going straight to streaming.

But after decades of slow but steady decline in attendance, most think movie theaters will have to innovate in a way other than raising ticket prices.

“The outlook is pretty dire in terms of being a major theatrical exhibitor,” says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. He imagines shortened windows will mean few films — even the Marvel releases — ascending to $1 billion in worldwide box office. He can see some studios, like Disney, operating their own theaters as “mini-theme parks” with merchandising stuffing the lobbies.

In the meantime, theaters are hoping for much-needed relief from Congress. With the virus surging, about 40% of U.S. theaters are open; in New York and Los Angeles, they’ve stayed shut since March. Chains have taken on loans to stay afloat and avert bankruptcy. Cineworld, owner of Regal Cinemas (currently entirely closed) on Monday announced a deal for a $450 million rescue loan.

It will be a very different holiday season — usually the most lucrative corridor in theaters — for the movie business. How different 2021 and beyond will be remains to be seen. Some things, though, may never change.

“If you’re going to be in this business, no matter what you do or where it plays, whether it’s streaming or in cinemas, you’re going to make hits and you’re going to make flops,” says Guber. “The idea is to make more hits than flops.”

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UAE spy detained by Turkey kills self in prison, reports say

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One of the two UAE spies apprehended by Turkey earlier this month committed suicide in Silivri prison, reports said early Monday.[contfnewc] Turkey arrested the two intelligence operatives, who confessed to spying on Arab nationals on behalf of the UAE, in Istanbul on April 15. One of them is suspected of having connections to the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed more than six months ago by a Saudi hit squad.[contfnewc] The two UAE nationals were detained as part of an investigation led by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and the two were referred to a court to be arrested on charges of military, political and international espionage.[contfnewc] Reports say the suspects identified as S.S. and Z.H. also said that the aim of the spy ring was to create an anti-Turkey structure. S.S. came under the radar of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) for his meetings and was taken under physical and technical surveillance, according to government officials. The MIT also detected that he was gathering information from his contacts in exchange for money. [contfnewc] [contfnewc] Read From Source[contfnewc] [contfnewc] [contfnewc] [contfnewc] [contfnewc]

Russia to deny US planes overnight stays at 3 airfields amid observation flights row

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Moscow is set to cancel several agreements with Washington under the Open Skies Treaty, in response to the US creating obstacles for Russian observation activities, the Foreign Ministry said.[contfnewc]

Russia will cancel overnight stops at three airfields for US observation planes, as well as scrap a number of bilateral agreements that were made to facilitate observation flights, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday. The measures will take effect on January 1.

[contfnewc]

The post Russia to deny US planes overnight stays at 3 airfields amid observation flights row appeared first on News Wire Now.

Nadia Hijab on what we’re fighting for, against, and growing our power

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On Saturday 27th January, Nadia Hijab, Executive Director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, joined PSC members at the Annual General Meeting. Below is the transcript of her talk.

It’s an honor to be speaking to the group that’s made it on to Israel’s top 20!

In my talk today I want to focus on three things:

1) How to get our framing right in terms of what we’re fighting against;

2) How to put forward a compelling vision of what we’re fighting for; and

3) How to stay strategic in growing all our sources of power so we can achieve our goals.

This may all sound pretty basic but there’s a lot of confusion both among Palestinians and among Palestine solidarity activists. And the reason for confusion is that we don’t have a fully representative leadership that is providing clear direction – and that’s putting it mildly.

So first, the question of what we’re fighting against. There’s a lot of debate, particularly in academic circles about the framework of analysis we should apply to the Palestinians. Is it settler colonialism? Or ethnic cleansing? Or racial discrimination? Or apartheid? In fact you could make a case for any one of those and more.

But what we need is a common framing to make it crystal clear not only what we are fighting against – but also what we are fighting for. And we need that framing so we can be clear about the strategies we need to succeed. My Al-Shabaka colleague Ingrid Jaradat and I reviewed all these frameworks in a recent policy paper. We identified apartheid as the most strategic framework – in other words, as the one most useful in our struggle.

For example, although the settler colonial framework is strategic in many ways it was not expressly prohibited by international law at the time Israel was established. That means it would only be applicable to Israel’s settler colonial enterprise in the OPT. Thus, it could not be used to address the rights of the refugees or equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel. In addition, although it was prohibited, it was not criminalized.

North Korea: South proposes Olympics delegation talks

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South Korea has offered high-level talks with North Korea next Tuesday to discuss its possible participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

The North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said earlier he was considering sending a team to Pyeongchang in South Korea for the Games in February.

He said the two sides should “urgently meet to discuss the possibility”.

South Korea’s president said he saw the offer as a “groundbreaking chance” to improve relations.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Moon Jae-in also said the North’s nuclear programme would be the backdrop of any sporting discussions.

The post North Korea: South proposes Olympics delegation talks appeared first on News Wire Now.

Thousands fleeing new Congo violence, Uganda refugee facilities dangerously stretched

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This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Around 7,500 Congolese refugees have arrived in Uganda since the start of June, placing strain on already badly overstretched facilities.

Renewed clashes between opposing Hema and Lendu groups in north-eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are driving people across the border into Uganda at a rate of 311 a day, more than double the rate of refugee arrivals in to May (145 per day).

Recent arrivals speak of extreme brutality. Armed groups are said to be attacking villages, torching and looting houses, and killing men, women and children. Most people are fleeing to Uganda via Lake Albert from Ituri province, where displacement since early June is now estimated at 300,000.

Some refugees are arriving with significant belongings, fearing they will not be able to return home for some time. Others who have fled imminent danger have little more than the clothes on their backs. Nearly two thirds are children, below 18 years in age.

The refugees are telling us that more people are likely to arrive in Uganda soon. However, some are reportedly being prevented from leaving DRC by armed groups, while others struggle to afford the fee for the boat journey – a sum equivalent to less than $6.00.

In Uganda itself, transit and reception facilities are overwhelmed. People newly arrived are first taken to a transit centre in Sebagoro, a small fishing village on the lakeshore, where they undergo health screening. Refugees are then transported to the Kagoma reception centre a few kilometres away. The centre is currently home to some 4,600 new arrivals, 1,600 more than its maximum intended capacity.

Several hundred refugees have been given land plots close to the Kyangwali refugee settlement. However, the pace of new arrivals means needs far outstrip what humanitarians are able to deliver.

Shelter and basic relief items are the urgent priority. In addition, buses and trucks are needed to transport refugees from border point reception centres to settlement areas. Many refugees need immediate psycho-social care and counselling for trauma.

While screening facilities are in place at the collection points, transit centres and reception centres, health facilities are basic and need upgrading. Clinics are in need of more doctors and more medicines.

Qatar sues UAE, Saudi, Luxembourg banks over riyal ‘manipulation’

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Doha has accused the banks of currency manipulation in the months following the start of a blockade against Qatar.

Qatar has filed lawsuits in London and New York against three banks for allegedly plotting to undermine its currency and bonds.

The cases named the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), Saudi Arabia’s Samba Bank and Luxembourg-based Banque Havilland, a statement from Qatar’s government communications office said on Monday.

FAB is the largest lender in the UAE and Samba is one of the leading banks of Saudi Arabia.

Qatar said Banque Havilland tried to weaken its currency, the riyal, by submitting what the statement called fraudulent quotes to foreign-exchange platforms in New York allegedly intended to disrupt indices and markets where significant Qatari assets and investors are located.

[contfnewc]

The government statement did not go into details about the accusations against FAB and Samba Bank, saying only that they were “engaged in financial market manipulation”.

Later on Monday, Banque Havilland denied Qatar’s accusations, saying it had launched “an independent forensic investigation on the matter led by external legal counsel”.

“The investigation has established that the Bank did not engage in any transaction contemplated in the related articles published at the time,” the statement said.

FAB and Samba Bank are yet to comment. The extent of the damages being sought by Qatar is not clear.

Ongoing blockade

Qatar has been facing an economic and diplomatic blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt since 2017.

King Mohammed VI Sends Best Wishes to Qatar, Promises to Uphold Ties

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Rabat – King Mohammed VI has sent a message of good wishes and fraternity to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, several Moroccan news outlets have reported. The gesture is the latest in a series of similar moves towards other MENA countries.

The royal message, according to Moroccos official outlet Maghreb Arab Press (MAP), is consistent with the Moroccan monarchs insistence on the need for collective action to solve the MENA regions most urgent matters.

King Mohammed VIs “friendship and brotherly” message to the Qatari emir was carried to Doha by foreign minister Nasser Bourita, who has been on a tour in the Gulf to reiterate Rabats belief in regional geopolitics without internal conflicts.

[contfnewc]

King Mohammed VIs message is that the region needs concerted efforts to facilitate “collaboration on the most crucial issues of security and human and economic development,” reports have concurred.

While reports have so far not indicated the content of the sealed letter to the Qatari emir, it is understood that the message contains the usual Moroccan calls for more unified MENA responses on some of the “most crucial regional issues.”

On the bilateral front, King Mohammed VI expressed satisfaction at the strong ties between Rabat and Doha, promising the Qatari emir that Rabat wants to preserve the historical and cultural bonds between the two nations, MAP suggested.

In response, Qatar, which has increasingly been a source of financial and moral support for a number of Moroccan interests, promised to further the positives of the Rabat-Qatar cooperation.

So far, Bourita has attended audiences with the highest echelons of power in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and now Qatar. In all instances, MAP has stressed, the Moroccan minister “extended the Kings good wishes and brother greetings” to his hosts.

Rabats constructive neutrality

Bouritas meetings with many regional leaders in a brief time span fall within the frame of King Mohammed VIs insistent calls for basing regional politics on a culture of “shared responsibilities.”

Cohesion has been the distinctive mark of Moroccos “royal diplomacy” in the past decade, and Bouritas tour will come as no surprise to watchers of Moroccos foreign policy.

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