Well, it's Friday:
In March 2015 fourteen people were killed and more than 70 injured when two Taliban suicide bombers attacked two separate churches in Lahore during Sunday prayers, sparking mob violence in which two other suspected terrorists died. Up to 4,000 Christians later took to the streets, many armed with clubs as they smashed vehicles and attacked a city bus station in a rare show of anger.
42 Christians were subsequently charged with lynching the suspected terrorists. Now it transpires that the prosecutor has told them he could guarantee their freedom if they converted to Islam.
“Taking advantage of their presence at ATC-1 Lahore, Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah gathers the accused outside the courtroom and asks them to embrace Islam,” said Joseph Franci, a rights activist who was involved in providing legal assistance to the accused in the case. “He asks them if they embrace Islam, he can guarantee them their acquittal in this case,” Joseph said.
The activist said they [the accused] remained silent and were dumbfounded and added that one, Irfan Masih, had spoken out and said that he was ready to be hanged if he embraced Islam.
Naseeb Anjum Advocate, counsel for some of the accused, told The Express Tribune said that the public prosecutor’s offer was not new and added that he had also given this offer to some of the accused about six months back but they simply ignored it.
“They [lawyers] believe in independence of the court, but why is the DDPP blackmailing them?”
“The government should get rid of such elements that bring bad name to the state by such acts.”
Syed Anees Shah, when contacted, at first said that he did not ask them to embrace Islam, but conceded that he offered them a choice when he was told that the accused have video recording of what he said. Later, he disconnected the call in an attempt to avoid discussing the issue.
John Jackson was one of those blues musicians who'd given up playing (by the end of the 1940s in his case) before being "rediscovered" in the Sixties blues boom, and going on to make a decent living out of recording and live appearances. Here he is in 1997, well into his seventies:
Jackson played the Piedmont style, in the tradition of Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller.
And here's a nice interview with the man from 1993 by Elijah Wald.
He died in 2002.
In response to Russian police arresting hundreds of people in anti-corruption protests across the country on March 26, including the largest demonstration in Moscow in five years, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The protests targeted corruption that has mushroomed under the authoritarianism of President Putin and his government, which showed their intolerance of dissent by declaring the protests illegal,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Russia under Putin has created the template for modern dictatorships by taking control of the media and demonizing the independent voices that remain, treating civil society as a threat to the state, and trying to suppress the fundamental right to speak freely and to protest without fear of arrest. Putin’s would-be admirers and apologists should recognize him as a model of authoritarianism and a grave threat to fundamental freedoms.”
Meanwhile, in Germany:
A British-Jewish family in Berlin has been forced to pull their 14-year-old son out of his school after he was subjected to months of antisemitic bullying.
The boy was sent to Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule, a school they were attracted to initially because of its diverse pupils, many of whom are from an Arab or Turkish background. However, when the son mentioned he was Jewish, one pupil said to him “Listen, you are a cool dude but I can’t be friends with you, Jews are all murderers”.
The mother said that verbal abuse quickly escalated into physical violence, and this month “he was attacked and almost strangled, and the guy pulled a toy gun on him that looked like a real gun. And the whole crowd of kids laughed. He was completely shaken”.
The mother had approached the Headteacher of the school, asking whether he could bring in an organisation to educate the children about antisemitism, as well as other forms of xenophobia and racism, but despite him appearing open to the idea, no action was taken. The mother’s parents are Holocaust survivors who have spoken at the school....
[T]he Moses Mendelssohn Jewish High School in Berlin receives 6 to 10 applications each year from Jewish students who have similarly been forced out of other schools by antisemitism, indicating a huge problem in the city’s schools. Aaron Eckstaedt, the school’s headteacher, says that parents are often concerned with the lack of formal response from those schools, and that the complaints are often centred around students of an Arab or Turkish background.
A welcome surprise down in the Bow Back Rivers area at the bottom end of the Lea Valley: the Long Wall Path from the Greenway at Abbey Mills, along Abbey Creek round to Three Mills Lock, has finally been re-opened. [Google map - though they don't even show the lock]. It was closed by Thames Water way back in 2007 as part of the Three Mills Lock construction, and it's taken all this time to get it back, In fact it opened back in October (Diamond Geezer, inevitably, had it covered), but it's not been till now, with the warmer weather, that I've been down this way. And reacquainted myself with the low tide mud, and views of the Twelvetrees gasometers:
It's not, perhaps, the most scenic location, but it has a certain gloomy estuarine charm - and you're certainly not much troubled by other users.
Three Mills Lock was originally planned to allow building material from the Olympic site to be carried downstream by barge, but it was completed too late to be of much use in that regard. At the moment they reckon it's used by about one barge a week, which makes it something of a white elephant. It does, however, ensure that some of the Bow Back Rivers upstream, round the Olympic Park, are no longer tidal, and therefore fit for happy boaters to use without ending up resting on the mud every twelve hours.
Quite why they didn't build a lock right down by the Thames, so that the whole of the Bow Back Rivers would no longer be tidal - including Abbey Creek here - is a subject I explored in this 2011 post.
Michael Totten, on the latest prospective addition to NATO - Why Vladimir Putin Covets Montenegro. Basically, he needs a Mediterranean beachhead. In 2013 Russia suugested that a couple of Montenegran ports could be used as a base for their warships. The Montenegrans weren't interested. Then last year there was a Russian-backed plot to assassinate the Prime Minister and install a pro-Russian party. They're serious about this.
“In the Balkans there were no states founded on rule of law, democracy, freedom,” Prime Minister Marković told Sohrab Ahmari at the Wall Street Journal in January. “We want to escape from this vicious circle that has been going on for so many centuries, and move toward NATO.”
If the Assad regime falls in Syria, Russia may lose its only Mediterranean port. And since Montenegro is gearing up to join NATO, Russia could be stuck without a backup forever because it’s the only place along the entire northern shore of that sea that doesn’t already belong to the West.
“They are ready to admit even the North Pole to NATO just for the sake of encircling Russia,” Russian Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov said in 2015. Moscow doesn’t get it, though. If Russia were a friendly country like Canada, the West would treat it like Canada. The reason the West doesn’t—and won’t—is because Russia invades and butchers its neighbors and annexes sovereign territory at gunpoint.
What will the West gain when Montenegro’s membership in NATO becomes official? Not much. Barely half a million people live there. The Boise, Idaho, metropolitan area is more populated than that. With roughly 2,000 soldiers, its miniscule army will hardly boost NATO’s military capacity by an iota.
Vladimir Putin wants it and needs it much more than we do, badly enough to assassinate an elected head of state and instigate a regime-change. That’s precisely why he shouldn’t have it.
For years now, the Kremlin has been violently expanding its power, its influence and even its territory in Europe and Asia. Every time Putin racks up a victory and gets away with it, he grows more confident that he can take more. That’s how it goes with expansionist dictators everywhere. So if you don’t want to go to war against Russia—and only an insane person would—the fewer wins in Putin’s column, the better.
Montenegro sees its future as part of the West. So does its neighbour Albania - already a NATO member (since 2009). Joshua Stanton, in a post on the Human Rights Council:
I believe that it is usually in our long-term interest to take the side of persecuted peoples, because people tend to have long memories about who supported them in the darkest days of their histories. A case in point here is....Albania. (Our successes are seldom as well-publicized as our failures.) Once one of the world’s most despotic states, Albania now enjoys friendly relations with the United States. Pro-American sentiment is strong, largely because its people remember the U.S. role in ending the slaughter in Kosovo. As a partial consequence of this, Albania has become a valuable ally. While not a perfect democracy, it has evolved rapidly into a representative government with regular free elections. Its human development index has risen steadily in recent years, to the point where it is now considered a middle-income country. Albania is an example of a nation whose long memories paid long-term dividends in creating a friendly government and friendly policies.
For Jeremy Corbyn, of course, it's NATO's expansion which is fueling tensions in Europe. It should be scrapped.
From the official North Korean news:
DPRK Ambassador Kim Chang Ryop presented his credentials to Filipe Jacinto Nwussi, president of the Republic of Mozambique, on March 22.
On the occasion the president said: The long-standing friendly and cooperative relations between Mozambique and the DPRK will as ever grow strong.
We thank the government and people of the DPRK for having always supported and rendered material and moral support to the Mozambican government and people. We hope for the Korean people's success in the efforts to build a socialist power and reunify the country under the guidance of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.
Rodong News Team
Hmm. Reunite Korea under Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un? It may just be diplomatic niceties, but this is surely not what anyone wants to hear from the president of another country, never mind the president of a Commonwealth country. Shouldn't someone (the Queen?) have a word?
Why are North Korea and Mozambique so friendly, anyway? Well, the North Koreans provided some military support for the national liberation struggle against Portuguese colonial rule, and after independence some Mozambican officers received military training there. The North Koreans were active at that time in supporting newly independent African leaders - most famously for their part in the Matabeleland massacres in the 1980s, when Mugabe's Shona thugs killed thousands of their Ndebele rivals to consolidate ZANU's grip on power.
There's more, though. From a Zambian newspaper last year:
According to a study just released by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, the country [Mozambique] is incapable of disrupting the criminal syndicates that have turned it into a major trans-shipment point for rhino horn, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and dagga. The value of illegal drug trade in Mozambique, it claims, is probably greater than all foreign aid combined.
Global Initiative rhino investigator Julian Rademeyer found that the corruption permeating every level of the Mozambique state and the country’s leaky ports, airports and borders made it a smuggler’s paradise. Of great concern is what he describes as “dodgy diplomats”, particularly North Koreans, using this weakness to smuggle illicit products.
Smuggling illicit products? Yep, that sounds like North Korea.
Once hailed as a post-civil war success story, Mozambique, he says, is a country in crisis, paralysed by rampant corruption, a weak judiciary, an ineffectual and criminally compromised police force, and powerful criminal syndicates with tentacles reaching into every level of the state.
Many of Mozambique’s political elite, according to Global Initiative, have grown fat on the proceeds of the patronage networks that grew and festered for a decade under the country’s former president, Armando Guebuza.
“His successor, Filipe Nyusi, is still grappling with Guebuza’s toxic legacy and, more than a year since he took office, has yet to solidify control over the state and Frelimo, the ruling party.”
Added to Mozambique’s problems is its role as a key regional money-laundering hub, a dramatic increase in kidnappings-for-ransom and a series of high profile assassinations that, among others, have claimed the lives of a judge, journalists and, most recently, a prosecutor....
The Global Initiative report highlights the increasing role and impunity of North Korean diplomats in criminal activities in the southern African region. An example was the arrest, in Maputo in May 2015, of a North Korean diplomat and a Taekwon-Do instructor after 4.5kg of rhino horn and $100,000 was found in their vehicle. Police detained them and impounded the vehicle.
Within hours of learning of the incident, the North Korean ambassador to South Africa, Yong Man-ho, was on a flight from Johannesburg to Maputo. The diplomats were released after paying $30,000 and the vehicle was returned to them....
Since the mid-1970s, North Korea’s involvement in transnational organised crime – particularly drug and cigarette trafficking, weapons smuggling and the production of counterfeit US currency – has grown steadily, peaking during the severe economic crisis and famine the country faced in the early and mid-1990s.
North Korean embassy officials have been implicated in 16 of the 29 smuggling cases involving diplomats that Global Initiative identified in a variety of sources dating from 1986.
A 2007 assessment of illicit activity and smuggling networks concluded that “North Korea possesses sophisticated smuggling capabilities developed from years of transnational criminal activity, driven by economic necessity and justified with ideological veneer”. These illicit activities are said to be controlled by a shadowy agency known as Division 39....
With most of the planet’s rhinos in Kruger Park, which borders on Mozambique, the future of the species remains extremely tenuous unless South Africa and the world takes action to hold Maputo and North Korea to account.
Nor should we too sanguine about the new president Nyusi's attempts to come to grips with his predecessor Guebuza's "toxic legacy".
Although Nyussi was regarded as relatively obscure compared to the other candidates, he was the candidate most closely identified with President Guebuza. It was generally believed that the selection of Nyussi as Frelimo's candidate would enable Guebuza, who was required to step down due to term limits, to retain substantial power after leaving office.
And let's not forget the heroic statue of Frelimo leader and national hero Somora Machel, in the centre of Independence Square, Maputo:
President Nyusi was in Japan earlier this month:
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday sharply condemned North Korea for its nuclear programme.
A joint statement issued in Tokyo after talks between the two leaders said they “condemned in the strongest terms North Korea's nuclear tests and repeated missile launches and underlined the need to maintain peace, security and stability in the region by fully implementing the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.”...
This is the first public condemnation of North Korea's nuclear tests by a Mozambican leader. Mozambique has longstanding relations with North Korea.
Confusing signals, then. But he had to say that when visiting Japan. His later comments to the DPRK ambassador suggest that nothing much has really changed.