UK: Gandhi statue to stand in Parliament Square

Mahatma Gandhi, the civil rights leader who led India to freedom from British rule, is to be celebrated with a statue in London’s Parliament Square, UK Chancellor George Osborne has announced.

The spiritual leader will stand alongside former South African president Nelson Mandela and wartime leader Winston Churchill, who once called Gandhi a ‘half-naked fakir’.

Announcing the tribute during a trip to India to help improve relations between the countries, Mr Osborne said: ‘As the father of the largest democracy in the world, it’s time for Gandhi to take his place in front of the mother of parliaments. He is a figure of inspiration, not just in Britain and India, but around the world. New Indian prime minister Narendra Modi invoked his memory in his inaugural speech to parliament. I hope this new memorial will be a lasting and fitting tribute to his memory in Britain, and a permanent monument to our friendship with India.’

Sculptor Philip Jackson has been approached to create the statue, which will be funded by sponsors and charitable donations. It is hoped it will be in place next year — the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s return to India to begin the battle for an end to British rule.

Pakistan: Imran Khan urges aid for Waziristan refugees

Politician Imran Khan has said that the army should allow aid agencies into Pakistan’s north-west to help those displaced by the military operation against the Taliban.

Without such assistance his party’s government in the region would not be able to cope. He described the events of recent weeks as an ‘unfolding human tragedy’.

Officials say 750,000 people have left their homes since the offensive began in mid June. The aim of the campaign is to drive the insurgents from their sanctuaries in North Waziristan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave the go-ahead for the offensive after a deadly attack last month on Karachi airport, claimed by an Uzbek militant group and the Pakistani Taliban.

The military has said that tanks and troops are also being sent in for a full-scale operation to target Taliban and foreign militant networks based near the Afghan border. The army says dozens of militants have been killed since it began air strikes but there is no way of confirming the figures independently.

Meanwhile, refugees have been streaming out, finding shelter in the town of Bannu and with relatives in Pakistan as well as over the border in Afghanistan.

China cracks down on state secrets disclosure

China will toughen curbs on journalists disclosing state and commercial secrets, a top media regulator said on July 8, in the latest effort by President Xi Jinping’s government to muzzle critical speech, both in traditional media and online.

News outfits must tighten up on oversight of material obtained by journalists and other employees containing national and commercial secrets and information that has not yet been made public, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said in a statement. News organisations must also require employees to sign pledges that they will not disclose secrets.

News employees must not store, copy or record secrets, the notice added. Disclosing secrets in personal communications or via personal blogs and social media accounts is also forbidden. Journalists are also barred from providing the information to foreign media groups.

The Chinese press is already heavily censored — only last month the regulator said reporters must not publish critical reports without prior approval — and China’s state secrets law is notoriously broad, covering everything from capital punishment statistics to industry data. Information can be labelled a state secret retroactively.

Israel bombs Gaza in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks

Israel has launched air and sea strikes on more than 50 targets in the Gaza Strip to quell the rocket and mortar attacks over the border by Hamas militants.

The Israeli military said the campaign — dubbed ‘Operation Protective Edge’ — could form part of an extended offensive on the Hamas-ruled territory and is in retaliation for the attacks against it. Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner also said that additional reservists were being recruited for a possible ground invasion of Gaza.

Among the sites targeted by the aerial and naval assaults were four homes of alleged Hamas operatives, concealed rocket launchers, militant compounds and training bases. There was also a suggestion that one of the houses targeted was of a senior Hamas military-wing figure.

The Israeli military said close to 100 rockets had been fired at southern Israel on July 7 alone. Israel responded with dozens of airstrikes and eight Palestinian militants were killed. Palestinian media reported at least 15 people, including a child, had been injured.

Hamas warned Israel had ‘crossed a red line’ and would pay the price, threatening an ‘earthquake’ in response to the attacks.

Tensions in the region have been inflamed following the recent kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers — Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach — and the suspected revenge killing of 16-year-old Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khadair.

 Militants threaten Middle East stability, warns Egypt’s al-Sisi

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has warned world powers that Islamist militants are ravaging the Middle East and pose a threat to everyone’s security. In a televised speech on July 8 he said: ‘Be alert to what is happening in the region … This matter concerns not just the Arab world. It concerns the entire world,’ he added, naming the United States, Russia, China and Europe.

Militants have long challenged pro-Western Arab countries, and Egypt itself faces an Islamist insurgency based in the Sinai peninsula. But a lightning advance by the Islamic State through major oil producer Iraq has rung alarm bells from Cairo to Washington.

The al Qaeda offshoot declared itself a ‘caliphate’ last month, weeks after overrunning the northern city of Mosul and seizing swathes of land north and west of the capital.

Sisi did not name the Islamic State in his speech, but the mention of ‘countries that are being destroyed and divided in the name of religion’ was a clear reference to their actions in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Before his election in May Sisi said that Egypt needed US support to combat militants, who have stepped up attacks on Egyptian security forces since the army toppled President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood just over a year ago, killings hundreds in bombings and shootings.

The government has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group, but the Brotherhood says it is a peaceful movement.

The former army chief warned that the Sinai could turn into a base for ‘terrorism’, destabilising Egypt and the region.

Iran: Khamenei calls for more nuclear capacity

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country would need to significantly increase its number of centrifuges, underlining a gap in positions between Tehran and world powers as they hold talks aimed at clinching a nuclear accord.

Iran and six major powers have to reach an agreement on the future scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme and other issues if they are to meet a self-imposed July 20 deadline for a deal.

On July 8 negotiators continued talks that had been resumed in Vienna the previous week, but there has been no immediate sign of any substantive progress.

Iran’s enrichment capacity lies at the centre of the nuclear stalemate and is seen as the hardest issue to resolve. Iran insists it needs to expand its capacity to refine uranium to fuel a planned network of atomic energy plants. The powers say Tehran must sharply reduce the capacity to prevent it being able to quickly produce a nuclear bomb.

‘Their aim is that we accept a capacity of 10, 000 (centrifuges). Our officials say we need 190,000 centrifuges. Perhaps this is not a need this year or in two years or five years, but this is the country’s absolute need,’ Khamenei said in a statement published on his website late on July 7.

Tehran says its programme is solely for civilian purposes such as electricity generation and denies any plan to build an atomic bomb.

Ending the decade-long dispute with Iran is seen as central to defusing tensions and averting a new Middle East war. A Western diplomat made clear the uphill task negotiations face if they are to hammer out an agreement: ‘We’re still far from a deal,’ he said, but added, ‘the deadline is July 20 and that’s what we’re working towards.’

Sri Lanka visit by South Africa’s deputy president

South Africa’s deputy president and special envoy to Sri Lanka arrived in the country on July 7 in an apparent bid to broker the resumption of power-sharing talks between the government and ethnic Tamil leaders.

Cyril Ramaphosa, named special envoy by South African President Jacob Zuma, met with Foreign Minister Gamini Peiris, according to the ministry. He was scheduled to meet with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and ethnic Tamil leaders during his two-day visit.

Media reports say that Ramaphosa is expected to try to persuade the Sri Lankan government and Tamil political leaders to discuss power sharing in the Tamil-majority Northern Province. Government and Tamil leaders have previously visited South Africa to study the country’s post-apartheid truth commission.

Rajapaksa’s government is accused of reneging on its promises to share power with ethnic minority Tamils since militarily defeating Tamil rebels five years ago. The civil war from 1983-2009 ended in carnage with both the government and Tamil Tiger rebels accused of perpetrating serious human rights violations.

According to a UN report, tens of thousands of Tamil civilians may have been killed in just the final months of the fighting. The UN human rights chief last month appointed a three-member panel to advise an ongoing investigation looking into possible war crimes.

 UN pushes for migrants to US to be called refugees

United Nations officials are pushing for many of the Central Americans fleeing to the US to be treated as refugees displaced by armed conflict, a designation meant to increase pressure on the United States to accept tens of thousands of people currently ineligible for asylum.

Officials with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said they hoped to see a regional agreement on that status on July 10 when migration and interior department representatives from the US, Mexico and Central America met in Nicaragua to discuss updating a 30-year-old declaration regarding the obligations nations have to aid refugees.

While such a resolution would lack any legal weight in the United States, the agency said it believes ‘the US and Mexico should recognize that this is a refugee situation, which implies that they shouldn’t be automatically sent to their home countries but rather receive international protection.’

Most of the people widely considered to be refugees by the international community are fleeing more traditional political or ethnic conflicts like those in Syria or the Sudan. Central Americans would be among the first modern migrants considered refugees because they are fleeing violence and extortion at the hands of criminal gangs.

The United States has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Central American migrants crossing into its territory, particularly children travelling without any adult guardian. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended since October. Three quarters of them are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and most say they are fleeing pervasive gang violence and crushing poverty.

Asked whether the Obama administration viewed the situation at the border as a refugee crisis, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was ‘a humanitarian situation that requires urgent attention.’

France hopes July talks will end CAR violence

France said on July 8 that it was pinning its hopes on regional peace talks to halt violence in Central African Republic, a day after officials said rebels and armed Muslim civilians killed at least 24 civilians in a cathedral compound.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking during a visit to the former French colony, said its interim president Catherine Samba-Panza was politically ‘isolated’ as foreign troops struggled to stop recurrent violence between Muslims and Christians.

Central African Republic is one of the world’s poorest countries despite its deposits of gold, diamonds and other minerals. It borders some of the continent’s most unstable nations, including South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.

The latest violence stems back to the takeover of the majority Christian country last year by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group. Christian militia sprung up in response, saying they were defending their communities against Seleka attacks.

The rebels stepped down earlier this year under intense international pressure and an interim government took over.

Le Drian said there was a ‘ray’ of hope after regional leaders agreed to bring the country’s main players to the negotiating table at the end of July in the Congo Republic capital Brazzaville to try and agree a ceasefire.

‘The French government is putting a lot of hope in this conference, which should help reach a more pacified solution,’ Le Drian said, adding that if the next few months went to plan, Paris would begin withdrawing troops by the end of the year.

Saudi Arabia: mortar bombs land near Iraq border

Three mortar bombs landed inside Saudi Arabia on July 7 close to its northern border with Iraq, where Islamist militants have grabbed land in a lightning advance, officials reported.

The mortars caused no casualties but will stoke security fears in Saudi Arabia, which is also facing militants on its southern border with Yemen, where at least 10 people died in an al Qaeda raid into the kingdom on July 4 and 5.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer, said they were still looking into who fired the mortar rounds, which landed near a block of flats outside the northern town of Arar.

Saudi King Abdullah has said he is stepping up security following the advance in Iraq by the militant Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate on land up to his border.

Saudi authorities fear the gains in Iraq made by Islamic State — an al Qaeda offshoot which has shortened its name from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — could radicalise their citizens.

Bringing down the al-Saud ruling family is one of the main goals of al Qaeda, which wants to establish a cross-border caliphate in Islam’s holy city of Mecca, located in western Saudi Arabia.

French and US leaders seek Ukraine ceasefire

French President Francois Hollande and US President Barack Obama are pressing for a meeting ‘as quickly as possible’ to negotiate a bilateral cease-fire in Ukraine, Hollande’s office announced July 7.

Hollande’s office said in a statement that the two leaders spoke by phone on July 7 and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to press separatists to accept dialogue with Ukrainian authorities.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko had promised to start talks on a new cease-fire the previous week. A contact group for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe met in Kiev on July 6 to discuss the situation in Donetsk, but no representatives from the rebels attended and no breakthroughs were announced.

Hollande and Obama agreed that a ‘durable solution… can only be political,’ the statement said.

The White House said Obama told Hollande that in the absence of meaningful efforts by pro-Russian separatists to pursue peace talks or stick to a ceasefire, the US respects Ukraine’s responsibility to maintain order and protect the country’s population.

 News in Brief

Germany unearths second US spy suspect
German politicians have reacted angrily to news of a suspected US spy in the defence ministry, which came days after the arrest of a German foreign intelligence agency worker as a suspected CIA informant. After the federal prosecutors said authorities had conducted searches in connection with a second spying case, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partners said Washington should remove any US embassy staff involved and cease spying on its ally. Security sources said the latest suspect to face investigation was from the military and worked in the Defence Ministry in Berlin, but no arrest appeared to have been made.

Iraqi parliament brings forward session date in ‘national interest’
Iraq’s parliament officially rescheduled its next session for July 13 instead of August 12 after facing criticism over an announced five-week break to give leaders time to agree on a new government. Acting parliament speaker Mahdi al-Hafidh said in a statement on July 8 that the session had been brought forward in consideration of ‘national interests’. Al-Hafidh warned that any delay in forming a new government ‘will jeopardize Iraq’s security and democracy.’ Lawmakers are under pressure to quickly form a new government that can confront the militants who have overrun much of the country’s north and west.

Pakistan court charges five over Lahore honour killing
A Pakistani court has charged five men, including a father and two brothers, with the murder of a woman beaten and stoned to death outside a Lahore court for marrying without their consent. Farzana Parveen, who was three months pregnant, was pelted with bricks and bludgeoned to death. Witnesses were told to deliver statements before the Lahore High Court on July 7.The killing triggered fury in Pakistan because of its cruel and brazen nature. It was all the more controversial because Ms Parveen’s husband alleged that police had done nothing to save her.

Hillary Clinton says US and Europe must ‘nurture ties’
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says that Europe and the United States must nurture their ties because ‘there is no more important force for progress, prosperity and peace than the trans-Atlantic alliance’. Clinton, who was in Paris on July 7 for the publication there of her book Hard Choices, said at a gathering hosted by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that ‘we have to constantly be nurturing [the alliance], helping it to stay on course’.

Indonesia: two candidates claim presidential election win
Both candidates in Indonesia’s presidential election have claimed victory. Jakarta Gov. Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo said he won the poll based on independent counts of more than 90 per cent of the votes, while Prabowo Subianto, a former general, claimed he won based on a count from different pollsters. A check by Reuters of eight vote-counting agencies found that two of the agencies have Subianto winning by 1 to 2 percentage points, while the other six agencies have Jokowi winning by some 5 percentage points. The result will not fundamentally alter Indonesia’s national strategy.