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Entries in International Committee of the Red Cross (3)


Thailand Latest: Curfew and Ultimatum (AP and BBC)

The Associated Press updates this morning on the Thai Government's imposition of a curfew in Bangkok. A BBC report, issued at the same time, focuses on a Government "ultimatum" against the main opposition camp and protestors gathering elsewhere in Bangkok:

Associated Press

Thailand will impose a curfew Sunday and send Red Cross workers to evacuate women and children from Bangkok's deadly protest zone where 25 people have been killed in four days of street battles between anti-government demonstrators and troops.

Thailand: The Latest in the Crisis; At Least 16 Dead (Mydans and Szep/Ahuja)

A towering column of black smoke rose over the city Sunday as protesters facing off with troops set fire to tires serving as a barricade. Elsewhere, they doused a police traffic post with gasoline and torched it as sporadic gunfire rang out.

The government said a curfew has become necessary to stop the armed members of the so-called Red Shirt protest movement. Journalists have seen some of them carrying guns, but most have used homemade fire bombs and fireworks.

''We cannot let people with weapons in their hands walk around here and there,'' army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.

''Terrorist groups have tried to create a situation where shots are fired at military and police officers to instigate misunderstanding among them that officers are attacking each other,'' he said.

The timing and the exact locations of the curfew will be announced later, he said.

The spiraling violence has raised concerns of sustained, widespread chaos in Thailand -- a key U.S. ally and Southeast Asia's most popular tourist destination that promotes its easygoing culture as the ''Land of Smiles.''

Speaking on his weekly television program, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva insisted he was left with no choice but a military operation to end the country's two-month-old crisis.

''Overall, I insist the best way to prevent losses is to stop the protest. The protest creates conditions for violence to occur. We do realize at the moment that the role of armed groups is increasing each day,'' he said.

The Red Shirts have occupied a 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometer) zone, barricaded by tires and bamboo spikes, in one of the capital's ritziest areas, Rajprasong, since mid-March to push their demands for Abhisit to resign immediately, dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

The Red Shirts, drawn mostly from the rural and urban poor, say Abhisit's coalition government came to power through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military, and that it symbolizes a national elite indifferent to the poor.

Sansern said the government will send the Red Cross and voluntary organizations into the protest zone to ''invite or persuade people, especially women, children and older people to leave the area.''

About 5,000 people are believed camped in the zone, down from about 10,000 before fighting started Thursday after a sniper shot and seriously wounded a Red Shirt leader, a former army general who was the Red Shirt military strategist. His condition worsened Sunday, doctors said.

After his shooting, fighting quickly spread to nearby areas, which became a no-man's land as the army set up barriers in a wider perimeter around Rajprasong. The area already resembles a curfew zone with no public transport or private vehicles. Most shops, hotels and businesses in the area are shut. The government has shut off power, water and food supplies to the core protest zone. Schools were ordered shut Monday in all of Bangkok.

At least 54 people have been killed and more than 1,600 wounded since the protests began mid-March, according to the government. The dead include 25 killed since Thursday.

''I'm asking Abhisit not to shoot children, women and old people. Come kill us (men) instead,'' said a Red Shirt leader, Jatuporn Prompan. ''Once the authorities stop shooting at protesters, the death toll will stop rising.''

On Saturday, soldiers blocked major roads and pinned up notices of a ''Live Firing Zone'' in one area of Bangkok. Demonstrators dragged away the bodies of three people from sidewalks in that area -- shot by army snipers, they claimed.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch on Saturday called on the Thai government to revoke the fire zones and negotiate an end to the fighting.

''It's a small step for soldiers to think `live fire zone' means `free fire zone,' especially as violence escalates,'' the rights watchdog said in a statement.

The clashes are the most prolonged and deadliest bout of political violence that Thailand has faced in decades despite having a history of coups -- 18 since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

The crisis appeared to be near a resolution last week when Abhisit offered to hold elections in November, a year early. But the hopes were dashed after Red Shirt leaders made more demands.

The political uncertainty has spooked foreign investors and damaged the vital tourism industry, which accounts for 6 percent of the economy, Southeast Asia's second largest.

The Thai Red Cross said its blood supplies are running low and invited people to donate blood.

The Red Shirts especially despise the military, which forced Thaksin Shinawatra, the populist premier favored by the Red Shirts, from office in a 2006 coup. Two subsequent pro-Thaksin governments were disbanded by court rulings before Abhisit became prime minister.


Bangkok since March, calling on women and the elderly to leave the camp by Monday afternoon.
The Red Cross has been asked to help coax people out of the camp, where protesters are calling on PM Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign.

One protest leader said Thailand was close to "civil war" after clashes with soldiers killed at least 25 people.

Several hundred protesters are gathering in another part of the city.

Soldiers have taken up positions beside a road leading to the camp, where witnesses say they are firing live rounds, apparently targeting anyone who comes near them.

Mr Abhisit has postponed the new school term in the city for a week, but a planned curfew has been cancelled.

Thai television has shown footage of women and children leaving the protest site.

Live rounds

The fighting flared on Thursday as the army moved to isolate a fortified protest camp.

Thousands of people who say Mr Abhisit came to power undemocratically remain behind makeshift barricades of rubber tyres, sandbags and bamboo stakes in the Ratchaprasong commercial district.

The protesters are known as red-shirts, after the colour they have adopted.

They want the prime minister to step down to make way for new elections.

Red-shirt leaders have been calling for reinforcements, but protesters coming from elsewhere in the country have been unable to breach the military cordon, and are congregating nearby.
Several hundred red-shirt suppporters have gathered around a mobile stage set up in central Bangkok's Klong Toey area, and protest leaders have called for a rally at another mobile stage in the north of the city.

Army "prepared"

In a televised address on Saturday, Mr Abhisit said the army would not back down in its operation to clear the protesters.

"We cannot leave the country in a situation where people who don't obey the law are holding hostage the people of Bangkok, as well as the centre of the country," he said.

"We can't allow a situation where people set up armed groups and overthrow the government because they don't agree with it."

Mr Abhisit has said that a few armed "terrorists" are among the protesters.

An army spokesman said the military was planning to enter the protesters' camp if they did not disperse, but gave no timetable.

"There is a plan to crack down on Ratchaprasong if the protest does not end," said the spokesman, Col Sunsern Kaewkumnerd.

"But authorities will not set a deadline because without effective planning there will be more loss of life."

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Bangkok says the army's actions are like squeezing a balloon full of water - they are just pushing protesters into a different part of the city.

Black smoke drifted into the air over Bangkok on Sunday morning but the streets were mostly quiet after three days of fierce battles that saw soldiers fire live rounds and rubber bullets at protesters who threw stones, petrol bombs and shot fireworks in return.

The army has declared live fire zones in some areas as it attempted to cut off the camp from supplies and reinforcements.

Around 200 people have been injured since the latest violence broke out on Thursday, and 27 people have been sent to jail, each given six-month sentences. All the fatalities have been civilians.

More than 50 people have been killed and at least 1,500 wounded in total since the protests began in mid-March, Thai officials have said.

Despite claims by the Thai government that the situation was under control and its soldiers had only fired in self-defence, army snipers have been accused of targeting protesters. Footage from Bangkok on Saturday showed red-shirts dragging gunshot victims to safety.

The violence escalated on Thursday after a renegade general who supports the protests was shot in the head by an unknown gunman.

Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol, better known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), is in a critical condition.

National divisions

The latest clashes have raised questions about the stability of Thailand, South-East Asia's second-largest economy.

"The current situation is almost full civil war," said one of the protest leaders, Jatuporn Prompan. "I am not sure how this conflict will end."

Many of the protesters are from poor rural areas in northern Thailand where support is still strong for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

They say Mr Abhisit was put into power in a parliamentary vote by an alliance of the Bangkok elite and the military and want him to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections.

He had offered polls in November - but the two sides failed to agree a deal because of divisions over who should be held accountable for a deadly crackdown on protests last month.

Mr Thaksin has called on the government to withdraw troops and restart negotiations. He is living abroad to avoid a jail term on a corruption conviction.

Afghanistan: Revealing the US "Black Site" Prison at Bagram (Fisher)

Max Fisher writes for The Atlantic:

In November, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported the existence of a secret "black site" prison at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The site, unconfirmed by the military and separate from the main prison at Bagram, was reported based on interviews with human-rights workers and people who claimed to be former detainees.

Afghanistan Analysis: Is the “Kandahar Offensive” Crumbling? (Porter)

Now the BBC reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed the site's existence with the military. The US official in charge of Afghanistan detention, Vice Admiral Robert Harward has denied that the prison, reportedly called the Tor Jail after the Urdu word for "black," exists. What do we know?

  • Tor Jail Conditions BBC's Hilary Andersson reports, "In recent weeks the BBC has logged the testimonies of nine prisoners who say they had been held in the so-called 'Tor Jail'. They told consistent stories of being held in isolation in cold cells where a light is on all day and night. The men said they had been deprived of sleep by US military personnel there." The cells are filled with a constant noise and guards regularly wake prisoners to prevent them from sleeping.

  • Tor Jail Detainee Speaks: Andersson records an account from one detainee. "Mirwais was watering his plants one night when American soldiers came to get him. He is still missing half a row of teeth from the beating he says he got that night and he says he cannot hear properly in one ear. US troops accused him of making bombs and giving the Taliban money."

  • The Sketchy Timeline: The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman explores, "Months ago, I asked Vice Adm. Robert Harward, the chief U.S. military officer responsible for detentions operations in Afghanistan if all detainees had access to the Red Cross, and he answered, 'All detainees under my command have access to the International [Committee of the] Red Cross.' According to the ICRC, that's been the case since August 2009 (which precedes Harward’s November arrival in Afghanistan). But how long was Tor open before detainees had ICRC access?"

  • Karzai Already Emphasizing Bagram: Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin notes the timing: Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington to meet with Obama. "One request that Karzai and friends brought to town is that the Obama team confirm and then speed up their promise to hand over control of the Bagram prison to the Afghan government. Bagram, sometimes called 'Obama's Guantanamo' because of the secretive procedures use to detain and interrogate prisoners there, held 645 prisoners captured on the battlefield as of September 2009."

The President began his administration with a big series of presidential orders that supposedly ended the Bush administration’s policy of torturing prisoners, and shut down the CIA’s black site prisons. But as we know now, not all the black site prisons were shut down. Nor was the torture ended. Whether it’s beatings and forced-feedings at Guantanamo, or the kinds of torture described at Bagram, it’s obvious that torture has not been rooted out of U.S. military-intelligence operations. In fact, by way of the Obama administration’s recent approval of the Bush-era Army Field Manual on interrogations, with its infamous Appendix M, which allows for much of the kind of torture practiced at Bagram, the White House has institutionalized a level of torture that was introduced by the previous administration.

UPDATED Iran: Tehran, Defender of Rights (Don't Mention Boobquake), Joins UN Commission on Status of Women

UPDATED 1 MAY: There have been numerous public statements denouncing the vote for Iran's membership of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Two examples:

Mission Free Iran
: "While hundreds of our sisters suffer in prison because they stood up for their own rights, the UN Commission on the Status of Women dares to stand against them by allowing the Islamic regime a seat at the table."

How Iran News is Made: Adultery, Earthquakes, and the BBC
The Latest from Iran (30 April): The Heaviness of the Atmosphere

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center: "The women of Iran and the rest of the world deserve better. The United Nations and the
world must not let Mr. Ahmadinejad and the government he leads continue to violate the human rights of Iranians.

UPDATED 30 APRIL: The incomparable Tom Lehrer said that, when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, "It was the day satire died."

Well, satire may have been slain again. From Wednesday's report of the United Nations Economic and Social Council:

The Council elected 11 new members to fill an equal number of vacancies on the Commission on the Status of Women for four-year terms beginning at the first meeting of the Commission’s fifty-sixth session in 2011 and expiring at the close of its fifty-ninth session in 2015. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Zimbabwe were elected from the Group of African States; Iran and Thailand were elected from the Group of Asian States; Estonia and Georgia were elected from the Group of Eastern European States; Jamaica was elected from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States; and Belgium, Netherlands and Spain were elected from the Group of Western European and Other States.

In the category of You Really Couldn't Make This Up:

Iranian authorities have confirmed reports of their withdrawal from membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council and announced their candidacy for the International Commission for Protection of Women's Rights. [This is probably a reference to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.]

Beyond the implication of "Well, if we're not allowed to represent humans, we'll take the second-best of representing women", Iranian officials might ponder the juxtaposition of applying for the ICPWR when dozens of women's rights activists are being protected through detention in Iran's prisons.

In making their application, they might consult Shirin Ebadi (living in exile, threatened with confiscation of her Nobel Peace Prize and closure of her Centre for the Defence of Human Rights), Shadi Sadr (defense lawyer of Shiva Nazar Ahari, human rights activists and member of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters,who has been detained since 14 June), or Zahra Rahnavard (surrounded and attacked by plainclothes forces on 11 February), or Bahareh Hedayat (nominated for the 2010 Students Peace Prize but sitting in Evin Prison).

Still, this is far from the first proclamation of the Iranian regime that it is the true protector of women. When Tehran realised that activists and groups inside and outside Iran were making statements for International Women's Day (8 March) that inconveniently mentioned not only equality but also justice and rights, the Supreme Leader belatedly brought out a Valentine card, recycling his statement of 14 February on "women's rights and role in society".

So perhaps Iran can offer bona fides for its new campaign with an endorsement of Boobquake. The humourous Facebook response to the messages by Hojatoleslam Seddiqi and Ayatollah Jannati at Tehran Friday Prayers --- immorality causes earthquakes; what immorality? why, wearing inappropriate dresses, leading on young men, encouraging sinful thoughts --- has now escalated into rallies on Monday from New York City to Washington DC to West Lafayette, Indiana.

That's a long way for the Supreme Leader to travel, and I've heard it's a bit difficult getting a permit to march in Tehran these days. But perhaps Ayatollah Khamenei might put on a fetching "Boobquake 2010: Who Says Science Has to Be Boring?" T-shirt (50% of profits to the International Red Cross; 50% to the James Randi Educational Foundation). Or maybe noted wordsmith President Ahmadinejad can offer a quip about "weapons of mass destruction".

But at least, the Iranian officials who are sharpening up that application for the UN might add this to their dossier: how many "immoral" women do you think will be detained and held without charge on Monday?