News, July 10th

Columbia, SC protesters resilient in the face of police repression

Protesters, activists and community members in Columbia, South Carolina are facing severe repression following protests against racism and police terror at the end of May.

So far, more than 80 people have been arrested, protesters and bystanders alike. That number continues to grow as the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and Columbia Police Department seek to “make an example” out of protesters arrested on false and trumped-up charges, setting bail as high as $200,000, and publishing “wanted” lists to stir up fear in the community. In spite of this, organizers have come together to set up a bail fund to help free their fellow community members and to continue the fightback in the streets in ongoing protests.

On May 30, thousands of people took to the streets of South Carolina’s capitol city in a mass demonstration to express outrage over the brutal police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of racist police terror. Protesters marched to the state capital building, chanting “Black Lives Matter!” and “No Justice, No Peace!” Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation amplified these chants, and carried the red, black, and green banner of Black Liberation, along with picket signs with the peoples’ demand to arrest and prosecute killer cops.

Protesters of all backgrounds then marched on the Police Headquarters under the youthful leadership of a new generation of Black organizers and activists.  At the police headquarters, protesters formed networks to relay water, food, and first aid supplies to each other to remain strong despite the intense heat.

Within hours, however, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin (D) would unleash the full force of state repression on the protesters. The police escalated the situation by erecting barricades and repeatedly taunting the protesters. Cops in full riot gear were deployed, equipped with shields, batons, and rifles.

Following the leadership of Black activists, non-Black protesters linked arms and formed a protective first line of defense. After several hours, the police began to use tactics to wrangle and disperse the crowd, taking advantage of the actions of a white-supremacist provocateur to divide and surround protesters, before pushing the people and moving the barricades in the midst of the confusion.

As the people began to reposition and reorient themselves, a column of heavily armed police forces marched past the barricades and into the streets. The cops fired tear gas on protesters and began arresting people without warning. For many, it was only after their hands had been zip tied behind their back and they were in a prison transport van that they were told that they had been arrested for “violating curfew” – a curfew called by Benjamin at 6:00 pm,  which most were completely unaware of.

Liberation News spoke with one protester, Fez Jacobs, who was arrested while standing arm-in-arm with others in the street across from the police station.

“After the police retroactively instituted their curfew all of us just got grabbed. The police took it upon themselves to start locking up any Black person in that general area; these were people who were just witnessing the events or going back and forth from work… When we arrived at the jail, the police were bickering amongst themselves trying to figure out which force arrested us and what our charges were. This was no assault on ‘crime’ but a concerted effort to subdue any resistance to the current regime.”

Jacobs also spoke about the conditions of the jail that the protesters were held in, the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. People were thrown into cramped holding cells, some for over 24 hours, as they awaited their bond hearings.

“While inside, we dealt with guards who laughed at and taunted us with quips like ‘look at our political prisoners.’ There were also guards who tried to play nice and soften us towards the system we were locked up for fighting against.”

Some organizers remained on the frontlines delivering supplies and first aid in the curfew zone, while others immediately leaped into action and began to assemble a bail fund for those arrested during the protests. Overnight, a coalition of organizations established the Soda City Bail Fund. By the next morning, thousands of dollars were raised to help free the members of the community who were arrested, and allies joined the Party for Socialism and Liberation – Columbia for a protest outside of Alvin S. Glenn. Signs read “Free Them All!” as a delegation was allowed entry into the jail to pay bail and help orchestrate the release of the political prisoners. Organizers offered water, food, transportation, and contact with legal aid to people as they were released.

Now, more than five weeks after the initial protests, the police state is coming down harder than ever on protesters. Jacobs commented on the increasing intensity of police repression: “Columbia Police had more up their sleeves when they figured out that the community had come together through the Soda City Bail Fund to pay the ransoms for protesters and people who were picked up at random. They started hiking up the degree of charges being filed. That, along with the substantially higher bails associated with them, were meant to make an example out of people.”

From Relief to Recovery: PNG’s Economy in the Time of COVID-19

Papua New Guinea’s economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis due to weaker demand and less favorable terms of trade, according to the latest World Bank economic update for the country.

From Relief to Recovery, the World Bank’s Economic Update for Papua New Guinea for July 2020 projects that the country will experience an economic contraction in 2020, with pandemic-related global and national movement restrictions weakening external and domestic demand and affecting commodity prices. These impacts are also expected to lead to wider financing gaps for the government and the central bank, and higher unemployment and poverty than previously anticipated in early 2020.

It is estimated that PNG’s real GDP will shrink by 1.3 percent in 2020, the current account surplus will narrow to about 15 percent of GDP, and the fiscal deficit will reach 6.4 percent of GDP.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the PNG government has mobilized domestic resources and is engaging development partners and the private sector for additional support for the people and the economy of PNG.

“The World Bank welcomes the swift actions by the PNG authorities to manage the COVID-19 shock by protecting the lives of the people of PNG and supporting livelihoods of vulnerable households and small businesses,” said Michel Kerf, World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific. “While the focus of the authorities is currently on crisis mitigation, it is important to also look beyond the current year to a more robust and resilient recovery over the medium term.”

The report emphasizes that a COVID-19-related revenue shortfall, increased emergency health spending and an economic support package have created an unanticipated fiscal gap of over US$400 million (1.8 percent of GDP) in 2020. The capital budget is expected to be hit harder than the recurrent budget and the government will have to trim non-essential spending.

In addition to the economic analysis, the report contains an additional section dedicated to physical infrastructure development in PNG.

The section recommends that the government’s pre-COVID-19 infrastructure investment plans should be amended amid the current crisis, which may result in the government having to resume its “Connect PNG” infrastructure development program once the pandemic is over while keeping the overall fiscal framework under control.

It also highlights the importance of more equitable access to quality infrastructure once the country moves to the recovery and resilience phase of COVID-19 response as well as the need to improve the balance between infrastructure investment and maintenance with greater emphasis needed on the latter.

The report concludes that PNG can significantly improve its infrastructure situation by strengthening policy design, investment planning, and coordination among agencies and with development partners. However, it will be vital for the government to set the stage for more sustainable and inclusive development by strengthening macroeconomic management and accelerating structural reforms while protecting the vulnerable.

General Council Chair Walker announces timelines for next stages of DG selection process

General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand has announced timelines for the next phases in the selection process to choose a successor to departing Director-General Roberto Azevêdo.

On 14 May Director-General Azevêdo informed the 164 WTO members that he would be stepping down from his post on 31 August 2020, one year before the expiry of his mandate. Under guidelines agreed by the General Council in December 2002, the General Council Chair is required to begin consultations with members on DG selection as soon as possible and “may establish expedited deadlines as necessary in consultation with Members.”

Following consultations with members, Amb. Walker announced on 20 May that a one-month timeframe had been agreed during which members could submit nominations for their candidates. That deadline expired on 8 July.

In recent weeks, Amb. Walker has been consulting with members on the next stages of the process. Under normal circumstances, the second phase of the process in which the candidates “make themselves known to members” would take three months. But following his discussions with members it has been agreed that the phase two “campaigning” phase will be shortened by one month and will expire on 7 September.

On that date, the third and final phase of the process will begin. Under this phase, Amb. Walker, together with the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body (Dacio Castillo of Honduras) and Trade Policy Review Body (Harald Aspelund of Iceland), will consult with all WTO members to assess their preferences and seek to determine which candidate is best placed to attract consensus support. This phase may involve more than one stage of consultations as members seek to narrow the field of candidates. Amb. Walker informed members that, as spelled out in the guidelines, the third Phase would last no more than two months.

“In order to provide clarity for both the candidates and the Membership regarding these timelines, we will therefore proceed with Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the appointment process following the expedited deadlines,” said Amb. Walker.

The General Council Chair said he will discuss with members the specific procedures for Phase 3 in the coming weeks.

General election held with caution in Singapore amid pandemic

Twenty minutes prior to the opening of the polling station at the Dunearn Secondary School in northwestern part of Singapore, some 20 voters have already formed a queue all wearing face masks and staying one-meter distance.

This is one of the 1,100 polling stations island-wide to cater for 2.65 million eligible voters from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Friday. Conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the general election is different from previous ones with precautionary measures taken and paramount issues to tackle.

Most of the voters in the line are elderly, as Singapore’s Elections Department (ELD) has allotted the time slots from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. to the seniors aged 65 and above, some of whom came with walking sticks or on wheelchairs.

Sherwin Chong, 36, also turned up, for he is in the government service and needs to work at the recommended voting time band even though Friday is a public holiday, so that his colleagues may rotate and cast their votes.

After temperature checks, he was directed into the polling area, which is set up in the school canteen dining area. Besides red markings on the floor to remind voters of social distancing, there are also yellow stickers with numbers on to indicate the voting procedures.

Chong handed in his identity card and polling card to the polling officer to verify and operate the e-registration, pulling down his mask briefly to make his face visible. He then sanitized his hands with hand sanitizers and put on disposable gloves before receiving the ballot paper. He went to the polling booth afterwards to mark his ballot paper and dropped it in the ballot box.

At the polling booth, voters may use their own pen or a new self-inking pen, which allows them to easily mark an “X” for their choices.

“Quite a number of preventive measures are put in place and the voting is well-organized, taking me five or 10 minutes,” said Chong, who has taken part in the general election for the third time.

Voters under 65 years of age are advised to head to the ballot box from 12:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The last hour from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. is set for voters on compulsory Stay-Home Notice or medical certificate for acute respiratory infection or are having a fever. COVID-19 patients and voters who are on Quarantine Order for COVID-19 are not allowed to vote.

Besides, 6,570 overseas voters may vote in 10 overseas polling stations worldwide.

As of 12:00 noon, 840,000 voters, or 31 percent of the total, have already casted votes, ELD said.

According to ELD, cleaners are deployed at the polling station to clean items and areas such as the self-inking pens and polling booths. In addition, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., this polling equipment will be sanitized after each use by voters, and the election officials will enhance their gear of surgical masks and gloves to isolation gowns, N95 masks and surgical gloves.

Voters were also very careful, especially the elderly who were more vulnerable to the deadly virus. Some wore plastic face shields above their face masks, some wore their own gloves or brought their own pens.

As of Thursday noon, the total confirmed cases in the country stood at 45,423 since the first case recorded on Jan. 23.

Amid the spread of the virus, Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob dissolved the parliament and issue the Writ of Election on June 23. For this year’s election, the lion city is divided into 14 single-member constituencies and 17 group representation constituencies. A total of 191 representatives from 11 political parties and one independent candidate joined in the competition for 93 seats of the parliament on June 30. The polling day falls on a cloudy Friday after nine-day campaigning and a cooling day on July 9.

Singapore Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the People’s Action Party Lee Hsien Loong told reporters earlier that this is a general election for the most important issues concerning the country at the moment of the crisis, which is the most serious for the city state since its independence in 1965.

For Chong, as some of his fellow Singaporeans lose jobs as companies hit by the coronavirus lay off employees, the most outstanding issue is to ensure Singaporeans maintain their jobs or be given new employment opportunities once jobless so as to tide over the crisis towards the future.

German convicted of murder in shooting of 6 family members

A court in southern Germany has convicted a 27-year-old man of murder for killing six members of his family earlier this year.

German news agency dpa reported that the regional court in Ellwangen sentenced the defendant Friday to 15 years imprisonment for fatally shooting his parents, two half-siblings, uncle and aunt during a family gathering in the town of Rot am See.

It also convicted the German man, identified only as Adrian S. due to privacy restrictions, of attempted murder for seriously injuring two other people in the January attack.

The defendant had claimed he wanted to take revenge on his mother, alleging she had abused and tried to poison him with female hormones. He did not provide evidence to support those claims.

During the trial, S. told the court that he had carefully planned the shooting, including by joining a gun club in order to legally acquire a firearm, but later regretted his actions, dpa reported.

Judges ordered the defendant held in a psychiatric ward.

Now China warns of ‘unknown pneumonia’ deadlier than COVID-19 in Kazakhstan

China has warned its citizens living in Kazakhstan of a local “unknown pneumonia” which, it said, has a “much higher” fatality rate than the COVID-19 disease.

The “unknown pneumonia in Kazakhstan caused 1,772 deaths in the first six months of the year, including 628 people in June alone”, the Chinese embassy in the central Asian country said in a statement on its WeChat platform on Thursday, adding that the fatalities also included Chinese citizens.

The fatality rate of the disease is much higher than COVID-19,” state-run Global Times quoted the embassy’s statement on Friday.

Many organizations including Kazakhstan’s health department are studying the “virus of this pneumonia”, the embassy said.

There has not been any indication whether this disease is related to the COVID-19.

Some Chinese experts said that measures should be taken to prevent the pneumonia from spreading into China.

Kazakhstan borders China’s northwest Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The embassy is reminding the Chinese citizens in Kazakhstan to raise their awareness of measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

It quoted local media as saying that since mid-June, almost 500 people have been infected with the pneumonia in three regions of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s healthcare minister on Wednesday said that the number of patients sickened by the pneumonia is two to three times more than those who have been infected with the COVID-19, the report quoted Kazakh media as saying.

The minister said that it has planned to publish accurate tallies of confirmed cases as early as next week, noting that while it is not necessary to publish the number, the public needs to know the true situation, Kazakh international news agency Kazinform reported.

Kazakhstan has reported 51,059 cases of COVID-19, including 264 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus resource center.

The US and many countries have accused China of hiding the COVID-19 data from the world.

However, China has denied covering up the extent of its coronavirus outbreak and accused the US of attempting to divert public attention.

Rapid City recognized by state agency for water system

The state has recognized Rapid City’s public water system and the system’s operation specialists for excellence in water system management and maintenance.

According to a news release, the city received the Secretary’s Award for Drinking Water Excellence by the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources. With the award, the city is recognized for 17 consecutive years of meeting the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the state of South Dakota’s regulations.

Mayor Steve Allender said the recognition reflects the city and staff’s commitment to citizens.

“This recognition by the state underscores the hard work, dedication and commitment of the city public works department and water division staff to our community and its citizens to an efficient, quality operation that provides safe drinking water,” Allender said.

The state also recognized Rapid City’s 28 system operations specialists.

Singapore sees 191 new Covid-19 cases in 24 hours

Singapore reported 191 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally of infections to 45,613 cases.

According to brief noon data released by its Ministry of Health (MOH) today, 16 of the new cases comprise seven Singaporeans or permanent residents and nine work pass holders; while the rest are foreign workers residing in dormitories.

In its full data released late yesterday, Singapore classified 608 of its cases as imported, 2,011 as community infections, and 42,803 as dorm residents.

As of noon yesterday, 41,645 or about 92 per cent of patients had fully recovered and were discharged from hospitals or community care facilities.

There were 197 confirmed cases still in hospital yesterday, with one in the intensive care unit.

The statement added that 3,554 patients who have symptoms or are clinically well but still test positive for Covid-19 have been isolated and are being cared for at community facilities.

So far, 26 people have died in the city-state from complications due to Covid-19, with the first two fatalities reported on March 21.

The Platform for Collaboration on Tax Publishes its Progress Report 2020

The Platform for Collaboration on Tax (PCT) – a joint initiative of the IMF, OECD, UN and the World Bank – published today its Progress Report 2020, which gives a snapshot of the world’s four leading multilateral organizations’ cooperation in the area of domestic resource mobilization, including in their responses to COVID-19.

The PCT Progress Report 2020 is the part of the PCT’s commitment to transparency by making its workplan and outputs publicly available to governments and relevant stakeholders. The report highlights activities that the PCT has carried out since June 2019 under three workstreams: cooperation and exchange of information in DRM capacity development activities, analytical activities, and outreach activities.

During the year, the report notes, the PCT has helped developing countries access good practices in international tax through its various knowledge and outreach activities. The release of its Toolkit on Taxation of Offshore Indirect Transfers, workshops on the Toolkit on Addressing Difficulties in Accessing Transfer Pricing Comparable Data, as well as public consultations on Transfer Pricing Documentation and Tax Treaty Negotiations are among the PCT products that have provided developing countries with capacity building support. Another key activity of the PCT is the Medium-Term Revenue Strategy (MTRS), a comprehensive approach to undertaking tax systems reform for boosting tax revenues over the medium term, through a country-led and whole-of-government approach. The PCT Partners have so far engaged with 23 countries in discussing, formulating, or implementing an MTRS – country updates can be found in the report.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the PCT facilitated the Partners’ cooperation in responding to the pandemic through blogs and a COVID-19 resource section on its website. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the PCT quickly adapted to a virtual delivery environment to support developing countries in building capacity to mobilize tax revenues. The MTRS approach will play a critical role in the PCT Partners’ efforts to support tax system reforms post-crisis, as countries focus on economic recovery and adjusting their tax system reforms in the light of new medium-term expenditure goals.

In addition, the recently launched PCT website is one of the highlights of the report. The new website serves as a global platform to engage with all interested stakeholders, especially tax officials from developing countries. The website hosts the Online Integrated Platform, an extensive database of tax-related projects of the PCT Partners, providing comprehensive information on their capacity development activities in developing countries.

Waiting to declare famine ‘will be too late for Yemenis on brink of starvation’

In Yemen, fears of famine have resurfaced as UN humanitarians also warned on Friday that 360,000 severely malnourished children could die unless they continue to get treatment and aid is stepped up. In an urgent appeal for funding, the World Food Program (WFP) said that it needs $200 million per month to maintain assistance in the war-torn country.

“If we wait for famine to be declared, it will already be too late as people will already be dying”, it said in a statement.

The UN agency has already had to limit distributions in the north of the country and fears that it may not be able to prevent people from starving, as it said it did last year.

Widely described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the country has been torn apart by more than five years of conflict between the forces of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi – supported by a Saudi-led international coalition – and mainly Houthi militia, for control of the Arab nation.

WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs told journalists in Geneva that the dire economic situation in Yemen caused by the conflict had led to reduced imports and soaring food prices in a country that imports almost everything it needs.

“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns and the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,”, she said. “Those people cannot go to find work, they have to stay home, they cannot feed themselves and their families.”

Day to day, vulnerable Yemeni families have been forced to reduce the number and quality of meals that they eat.

Breakfast “is no longer beans and bread but bread only, dinner is rice only instead of rice and vegetables”, Ms. Byrs said, noting that some 20 million people are food insecure nationally, with 13 million receiving food aid.

Nationwide, the conflict has displaced more than 3.65 million people and killed thousands.

Fewer than one in two health facilities are fully functioning and nearly half of all children have been left stunted by malnutrition, requiring treatment, according to WFP.

In total, two million children require treatment for acute malnutrition “of which around 360,000 are at risk of dying without treatment”, the agency said.

“Of course, we continue to treat them”, Ms. Byrs added, noting that the UN agency began distributing food assistance on alternate months in parts of Yemen in April “to stretch the limited resources”.

Insisting that WFP’s aim “is to maintain a safety net for people for as long as possible”, the spokesperson maintained that its nutrition treatment program for children under five and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers would continue at current levels.

But unless donors step up, the agency may have to reduce its prevention program, which provides blanket supplementary feeding to all children under two, as well as to pregnant or breastfeeding women, one million of whom require treatment for acute malnutrition.

“We would prioritize areas with the highest prevalence of malnutrition” in that case, Ms. Byrs explained.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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