DR Congo police use tear gas on protesters outside parliament

Police in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) capital have fired tear gas for a second straight day to break up violent protests outside parliament over proposed changes in the judiciary.

The demonstrators, some armed with petrol bombs, blocked traffic outside parliament in Kinshasa on Wednesday, erecting barriers and burning tyres.

Police first fired warning shots and then used tear gas to disperse them, AFP news agency reported.

The protesters were mainly motorcycle taxi drivers and supporters of President Felix Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party.

The UDPS is in an uneasy coalition with forces close to Tshisekedi’s long-serving predecessor, Joseph Kabila. Only a third of the government ministers are from the UDPS.

The contested legal changes include proposals to define the powers of judges, which critics say is a ploy to muzzle the judiciary.

The proposals come from the Common Front for Congo (FCC), a coalition close to Kabila, who remains a behind-the-scenes force in national politics.

FCC chief Nehemie Mwilanya on Wednesday warned “those who think they have a monopoly on disorder and violence”.

“Careful!” he said. “They must realise that everyone knows how it starts, but not how it ends.”

Mwilanya also questioned the “inaction” of the interior minister, who is from Tshisekedi’s party, without naming him, saying he failed to understand why some people were following “scorched earth politics”.

Former parliament speaker Aubin Minaku, one of the people behind the proposed amendments, said the “aim is to define the authority the justice ministry exercises over the judges”.

But Tshisekedi’s party on Monday lambasted it as a ploy to “undermine the independence of the judiciary and increase the power of the justice ministry”.

The opposition Lamuka coalition also said the proposals would “deal a death blow to the concept of separation of powers”.

Separately, four influential grassroots organisations on Wednesday issued a joint statement warning that the country’s next presidential elections in 2023 were at risk of “manipulation” because of moves to appoint a new head of the national electoral commission.

The present head of the electoral panel, Corneille Nangaa, whose assets have been frozen by the United States on suspicion of corruption, is stepping down.

Nangaa’s organisation notably validated the results of the December 2018 presidential elections, which opposition leader Martin Fayulu said denied him of victory.

The joint statement warned against any attempt by the FCC-dominated parliament to push through Nangaa’s successor, and called on the public to oppose “any Machiavellian plan aimed at thrusting us into endless electoral crises”.

Its signatories comprise a highly influential Catholic group called the Lay Coordination Committee as well as the civil rights groups Lucha, Filimbi and Congolais Debout (Congolese, Stand Up).

Their supporters carried out a wave of anti-Kabila protests in late 2017 and early 2018 that were bloodily repressed by security forces, killing about 15 people.

SOURCE: AFP NEWS AGENCY

N Korea’s Kim suspends plans for military action against S Korea

North Korea has announced it will suspend “military action plans” against South Korea, after a meeting of the governing party’s Central Military Commission presided over by leader Kim Jong Un, the official KCNA news agency said on Wednesday.

The video conference meeting on Tuesday also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country”, KCNA reported.

The committee members “took stock of the prevailing situation” before deciding to suspend the plans, the report said, without elaborating.

Political tensions between the two Koreas have been rising over Pyongyang’s objections to plans by defector-led groups in South Korea to fly propaganda leaflets across the border. North Korea is also suffering under economic sanctions that it wants eased as part of denuclearisation talks that have been stalled for months.

North Korea claims the defectors’ campaigns violate an agreement between the two aimed at preventing military confrontation, and has accused them of insulting the dignity of North Korea’s supreme leadership.

In recent weeks, North Korea has blown up a joint liaison office on its side of the border, declared an end to dialogue with South Korea, and threatened military action.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, warned last week of retaliatory measures against South Korea that could involve the military, although she did not elaborate.

The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army later said it had been studying an “action plan” that included sending troops into joint tourism and economic zones, reoccupying border guard posts that had been abandoned under an inter-Korean pact, taking steps to “turn the front line into a fortress”, and supporting plans for North Korea to send its own propaganda leaflets into South Korea.

North Korea’s military was seen putting up loudspeakers near the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a military source told Reuters on Tuesday. Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday that the loudspeakers were being removed.

Yoh Sang-key, spokesman of South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said Seoul was “closely reviewing” North Korea’s report but did not elaborate further. He also said it was the first report in state media of Kim holding a video conferencing meeting.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Seoul in South Korea, said the North’s actions follow a now-familiar pattern of “increase in tensions with a lot of vitriol, rhetoric and threats only for it all to be dialled down”.

“It seems North Korea has achieved its interim objective, in terms of getting international attention and reminding the United States where the Korean Peninsula is. It has certainly unnerved South Korea – that may lead to more humanitarian aid, which South Korea can give despite international sanctions,” he said.

“This has been important also for the individuals involved. We’ve had Kim Yo Jong coming to the fore and increasing her stature on the Korean Peninsula and the world stage. It has allowed Kim Jong Un, in his first statement in all of this, to appear as the voice of reason and dial things down – really doing a kind of good-cop bad-cop routine, with Kim Jong Un emerging as a good cop on the day before an important anniversary.”

Thursday marks 70 years since the start of the Korean War. The fighting ended in 1953 with an armistice. A formal peace treaty has never been signed.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Kosovo’s President Thaci, nine others indicted for war crimes

Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci and nine other people have been indicted by a court investigating war crimes committed during and after Kosovo’s independence war with Serbia.

A statement issued on Wednesday by the Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) in The Hague, the Netherlands, said Thaci and the others suspects were “criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders” of Kosovar Albanian, Serb and Roma people.

Other charges include enforced disappearance, persecution and torture.

The indictment is “the result of a lengthy investigation and reflects the SPO’s determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” the office said in a statement.

Thaci commanded fighters in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the 1998-1999 war.

The indicted group also includes Kadri Veseli, former Parliament speaker and leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo.

Thaci was preparing for a summit at the White House on Saturday with Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, and local media reports suggested he had already left for the US.

But US special envoy to Serbia and Kosovo Richard Grenell, who organised the White House meeting, said in a tweet that Thaci had cancelled going to the summit following the charges in The Hague.

“I respect his decision not to attend the discussions until the legal issues of those allegations are settled,” Grenell said, adding talks will now go ahead with Kosovo’s new Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, who has moved to ease friction with Serbia.

‘A surprise to many in Kosovo’

Reporting from Pristina, Al Jazeera’s Avni Ahmetaj said Thaci has been confronted many times in the past regarding allegations of war crimes but has always denied any wrongdoing.

“The news came as a surprise to many in Kosovo,” Ahmetaj said. “[KLA veterans] say the KLA did not commit any crimes, that they were defending their families during the war and the only army that committed war crimes during the war in 1999 was the Serbian army.”

The indictment issued on Wednesday was the first by the special tribunal based in The Hague. The court has been operating since 2015 and has questioned hundreds of witnesses.

According to the statement, the indictment is being reviewed by a pretrial judge who will decide whether to confirm the charges.

The prosecutor accused Thaci and Veseli of repeated efforts “to obstruct and undermine the work” of the tribunal.

“Thaci and Veseli are believed to have carried out a secret campaign to overturn the law creating the Court and otherwise obstruct the work of the Court in an attempt to ensure that they do not face justice,” the statement said.

“By taking these actions, Mr. Thaci and Mr. Veseli have put their personal interests ahead of the victims of their crimes, the rule of law, and all people of Kosovo,” it added.

The war left more than 10,000 dead and 1,641 are still unaccounted for. It ended after a 78-day NATO air raid.

Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. Serbia and Kosovo have been engaged in European Union-brokered negotiations since 2011 to normalise relations as a condition for bloc membership.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

US Democrats, Republicans far apart on police reform

Facing a watershed political moment, a divided United States Congress is struggling to respond to massive nationwide public demonstrations for police reform as Democrats in the Senate rejected a Republican policing proposal.

The Republican bill was opposed by a broad coalition of US civil rights groups and fell short of a 60-vote threshold needed to advance in the Senate by a 55-45 vote largely on party lines.

At the same time, a Democrat-backed police reform bill is moving rapidly towards passage in the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives over the opposition of Republicans and President Donald Trump.

Whether Republicans and Democrats can find enough common ground to reach a bipartisan legislative agreement is unclear. Political pressure from the protests is building and public opinion is swinging in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. But the two US parties are far apart on policy and there is a lack of trust between key leaders who have been trading angry rhetoric.

President Trump mocked the Democrats in a campaign speech in Arizona on Tuesday for sympathising with the Black Lives Matter protesters.

Whether Republicans and Democrats can find enough common ground to reach a bipartisan legislative agreement is unclear. Political pressure from the protests is building and public opinion is swinging in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. But the two US parties are far apart on policy and there is a lack of trust between key leaders who have been trading angry rhetoric.

President Trump mocked the Democrats in a campaign speech in Arizona on Tuesday for sympathising with the Black Lives Matter protesters.

When Trump first heard the protesters’ slogan “Defund the Police”, Trump said his first thought was: “Oh great, I just won the election.”

Trump and most members of Congress face re-election in November. More than 1,000 Americans are shot and killed each year by police in the US.

Trump said the “20 most dangerous cities in America” are run by Democrats who, he implied, are weak on crime. Murder rates in Chicago and Baltimore are “tougher than Afghanistan, all run by Democrats”, Trump said.

“They want to abolish borders and abolish every police department in the country,” the president claimed.

The question of funding for police is one of the core points of departure between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the protesters and civil rights groups.

The Senate Republican bill would authorise nearly $7bn over five years in federal funding for training and grants to state and local police departments. By contrast, the House Democrats’ bill imposes new oversight conditions on federal monies for police and authorises more than $2.5bn for independent investigations of police abuse and federal oversight.

“The large amount of funding that is poured into policing in this country could be better spent on social services, including more community-based social workers, and investment in programs that address the problems that communities face,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

“We have to transform the system, not provide the system with more money and more power,” David said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

The Human Rights Campaign, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, People for the American Way and the National Urban League are among 138 civil rights groups that have come out strongly against the Senate bill.

“It is time now to reimagine public safety in a way that prioritises upfront investments in community-led solutions and resources that centre [around] dignity and respect for everyone,” said Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference.

“That means not just changing policing practices and culture, but also shrinking the footprint of the criminal legal system in Black and brown communities’ lives and investing in areas that truly make us safer,” Gupta said.

Democrats in the Senate said on Tuesday with civil rights groups vehemently opposed to the Republican bill, they could not agree to go forward with the debate. Instead, they want to use the House bill as a starting point.

“The truth as we know it is that people by the thousands are marching in the streets of America, of every race, every age and gender, in every geographic location, in all the 50 states, unified, demanding we act, demanding that finally something is actually done,” Senator Kamala Harris said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“There is an opportunity in this moment,” said Harris, who is one of three African Americans in the Senate. But she added: “I do not intend to be part of a discussion where some might suggest Democrats are trying to stand in the way of police reform.”

And yet that is what Republicans are saying as they lamented the unwillingness of Democrats to support even debating their proposed measure.

“The only thing that’s blocking this right now is the Senate Democrats,” said Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Democrats just “want to use this opportunity for nothing more than to score political points.”

Civil rights groups hope that after Democrats reject the Republican bill in the vote on Wednesday, that “McConnell will come back with another bill that has more accountability and things that the protesters want”, Ed Chung, vice president for criminal justice reform at the Center for American Progress, told Al Jazeera.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

Dem party insiders unsure if Biden even alive still

BeetPress Satire

WASHINGTON, DC – Admitting they haven’t seen or heard from the presidential candidate recently, democratic party insiders are questioning whether former Vice President Joe Biden is even alive still.

“I’ve been seeing ads here and there, but they are mostly made up of clips from Joe’s time as vice president or voice-overs from a speech he made back in April,” said democratic strategist Paul Begala, adding “his Twitter account has been pretty active, but those posts are made by someone from his campaign. I’ve asked around and no one has seen or heard from Biden since early June.”

Citing concerns over Covid-19, the campaign made the decision in May to suspend most public appearances and set up a makeshift studio in the basement of Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware home where he could participate in virtual interviews and make statements to the public by video, but these sessions have largely ceased or…

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Trump slams Guaidó while expressing openness to speaking with Maduro

The Most Revolutionary Act

Trump and Juan Guiado
By Paul Antonopoulos | June 22, 2020

In what potentially could be a radical change in Washington’s policy towards Venezuela, U.S. president Donald Trump confessed that he has had doubts about his decision to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president of the South American country. Trump revealed in an interview with Axios in the Oval Office what he thinks about the self-proclaimed wannabe president of Venezuela, Guaidó, and even confessed that he “would maybe think” of meeting personally with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has already publicly expressed his willingness to talk with the American president.

“Maduro would like to meet. And I’m never opposed to meetings — you know, rarely opposed to meetings. I always say, you lose very little with meetings. But at this moment, I’ve turned them down,” Trump said.

In a preview of the interview published by Axios, Trump revealed how little confidence he has…

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We Need to End Money Creation by Private Banks – Urgently

The Most Revolutionary Act

After 18 years with the New Zealand Green Party, I will be voting for the Social Credit Party in our parliamentary elections in September. Founded in 1954, Social Credit was NZ’s official third party for many years, winning 20-30% of the vote in the 1970s. They have consistently campaigned around ending the ability of private banks to create money. Contrary to popular belief, 97% of the money circulating in the global economy is created (out of thin air) by private banks when they issue loans. (See 97% Owned)

Given the impending dual crisis we face (post-COVID19 economic collapse and catastrophic climate change), the need to regain public control over our money system is more urgent than ever. New Zealand, like the US has embarked on massive Quantitative Easing (QE).  Under QE, money created by central banks is handed over to private banks to buy back Treasury bonds.* This influx…

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