Monthly Archives: May 2019

‘Some dead’ as Algeria hostage crisis ends in turmoil

Algerian special forces on Thursday launched a rescue operation on a desert gas complex, killing fleeing Islamists and an unknown number of their hostages, the communication minister said.


Communication Minister Mohamed Said said a number of kidnappers had been “neutralised” as they tried to flee, in the first official comment on the operation, but admitted that “some” hostages were killed or wounded.

He did not give any casualty figures from the operation which ended late on Thursday, according to Algeria’s APS news agency, amid reports that scores of people had died.

According to a source quoted by Reuters, eight Algerians, two Japanese, two Britons and one French national were among those killed. This has not been confirmed.

Earlier, one of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamists said “warplanes and ground units” had begun an operation “to take the complex by force,” and threatened to “kill all the hostages if the Algerian forces succeed in entering the complex.”

He said 34 hostages and 15 kidnappers were killed in an army air strike, a claim that could not be verified.

APS said the army freed four foreigners — two Britons, a Frenchman and a Kenyan — and 600 Algerian workers held hostage at the In Amenas plant in southeastern Algeria.

The communication minister said that a peaceful solution to the crisis would have been preferred, but accused the heavily armed Islamists of “brinkmanship.”

He said the attack on the major gas complex, jointly operated by BP, Statoil and Sonatrach, was the work of a “multinational terrorist” organisation that wanted to “implicate” Algeria in the Mali conflict and destroy its economy.

Late on Wednesday, Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia had insisted that Algiers would not negotiate with the “terrorists.”

On Thursday, he told the online edition of Algeria’s Arab-language daily Echorouk the hostage-takers had come from Libya.

The Islamists launched their attack at dawn on Wednesday, killing two people, including a Briton. They also took scores of Algerians and 41 foreigners hostage, among them American, British, French, Irish, Norwegian and Japanese.

The gunmen said their attack was in retaliation for Algiers supporting French air strikes in Mali, and demanded that 100 radical Islamists held in Algeria be released and sent to northern Mali in exchange for the hostages.

The Islamists on Thursday called on the army to pull out of the area to allow negotiations to begin, and said Algerian snipers had fired at the site where the hostages were held, wounding a Japanese.

On Thursday morning a Briton, a Japanese and an Irishman, identified as hostages, appeared on Al-Jazeera, demanding the withdrawal of Algerian troops.

Foreign governments voiced growing concern about the rescue operation which a foreign diplomat in Algiers said “did not go too well for the hostages.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron postponed a major EU speech planned for Friday because of the crisis and warned that Britain should brace itself for “the possibility of bad news.”

Norway said it had no news on nine of its citizens, and Japan, whose engineering firm JGC had said five of its workers were believed to have been seized, demanded that the rescue mission be stopped “immediately.”

Dublin said an Irish passport-holder from Belfast was free and in good health.

APS reported that some 30 Algerians managed to escape, while private TV channel Ennahar said 15 foreigners, including a French couple, had also escaped.

E Timor gets new president

As the impoverished half-island nation of 1.


1 million prepares to celebrate the anniversary, the dusty, potholed streets of its capital Dili are being spruced up to welcome VIP guests including Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Australia’s governor-general and Portugal’s president.

This is a crucial year for the country also known as Timor-Leste. It will choose a new prime minister and government in general elections on July 7, then at year’s end will bid goodbye to UN forces stationed since 1999.

Taur Matan Ruak is due to take over the largely ceremonial post of president, which enjoyed a high profile under Ramos-Horta, at 11:30 pm (1430 GMT) Saturday.

Ruak, a former armed forces chief and ex-guerrilla fighter, won a run-off election last month that was widely lauded as peaceful and fair.

He takes over a country that is hobbled by extreme poverty, corruption and an over-reliance on energy revenues.

But the unstable nation has now enjoyed several years of peace.

“I would sum up the challenges and two priorities of our country as security and the well-being and prosperity of our people,” Ruak, 55, told AFP.

“This is what people voted for and yearn for as demonstrated in the elections.”

The UN has said that peacekeepers, stationed since 1999, will pull out as planned by year’s end if the general elections are also peaceful.

The former Portuguese colony voted for independence in a UN-supervised referendum in 1999, after Indonesia’s 24-year occupation had left up to 183,000 people dead from fighting, disease and starvation.

The Indonesian military and anti-independence militias went on a savage campaign of retribution after the vote, ravaging the new nation’s infrastructure and killing more than 1,000 people.

The UN administered East Timor until May 20, 2002, when sovereignty was formally handed to its first president.

Since then the nation has suffered bouts of violence — a political crisis in 2006 killed 37 people and displaced tens of thousands, and Ramos-Horta was lucky to survive an assassination attempt in 2008.

There has been no major political unrest since then, and government spending has increased dramatically in line with East Timor’s increased energy income.

Still, the grinding poverty is visible everywhere.

In Dili, away from the venues for the weekend celebrations, mud canals flood slum neighbourhoods after rains, barely clothed children play in the streets, and infrastructure is limited to a few paved roads, a single port and a tiny airport.

The International Monetary Fund calls East Timor the “most oil-dependent economy in the world” after the discovery of large fields of oil and natural gas at sea.

Petroleum products account for more than 90 percent of total government revenue. A special fund, geared for development spending now and to cushion the next generation, recently swelled to $10 billion.

Facebook racial hate page ‘taken down’

A Facebook page filled with racially abusive messages about Indigenous people has been taken down, after hundreds of people campaigned to have it removed.


SBS reported yesterday on the Facebook page, which allows posts with racially abusive “memes” about Indigenous people. The page was temporarily removed, before re-appearing on the site with a tag noting that the content contained “controversial humour”.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy weighed into the debate, saying he thought it should be taken down.

“We don’t want to live by the same standards that Facebook does,” Mr Conroy said. “I think it’s an offence. It’s been reclassified but I think it should be taken down.”

Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke warned the page could be a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“[The page] potentially does insult and offend, but it probably does more than that. I think the depiction of these images on Facebook actually moves more in to vilifying.”


“It is an openly racist page that is encouraging hate towards Aboriginal people. I find it incredible that Facebook would refuse to remove this page,” says Jacinta.


The social media site has responded to complaints with the message: “After reviewing your report, we were not able to confirm that the specific page you reported violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”

When contacted by SBS, Facebook responded with this email message:

“We have nothing to share at this time but will let you know if that changes,” Facebook spokesperson Mia Garlick replied.


The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has now launched an investigation into the page. The content has also been formally submitted to the Classification Board for classification.

“The ACMA is currently investigating specific URLs that contain the online content noted in the SBS story after receiving a complaint yesterday,” an ACMA spokesperson told SBS in an email today.

“The ACMA investigates online content upon receipt of valid complaints from Australian residents or a body corporate that carries on activities in Australia. Investigations are conducted using powers under schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992,” the statement said.

The page has caused outrage among many Facebook users.

The page uses internet jokes or “memes” to racially vilify Indigenous Australians, with text referencing colonialism and substance abuse placed against photos of Indigenous people without their consent.


Last night the words “(Controversial Humour)” were added and the page has now gathered more than 4000 “likes”.

SBS believes the site was created and is maintained by a 16-year-old Perth boy.

A post made to the site yesterday by the site’s moderator reads “this page aint racism, its the truth, keep passin the petrol cuzzins”.

Facebook user Mike Gurrieri said he reported it to the social network via the “report” tab.

“I reported the page for hate speech against a race, and I think the page should be taken down immediately,” he said.

ACMA’s stance on its role regarding the page has changed.

Asked yesterday by SBS about Facebook users’ claims they had reported the page to ACMA, a spokesperson said it was not their jurisdiction, despite it being the government agency responsible for regulating the internet.

“It’s a policy area. Our jurisdiction lies in preventing terrorism, online child pornography, national security and educating the public on how to stay safe,” the spokesperson said yesterday.

UPDATE: The page has been removed as of 6pm 8/8 2012.

Seize the moment, Obama tells US

President Barack Obama inaugurated his second term Monday with an ardent call for unity, but warned his foes their ‘absolutism’ must not thwart action on climate, immigration and gun control.


Obama was publicly sworn in for another four White House years before a flag-waving crowd of hundreds of thousands, then delivered an inaugural address in which poetic power veiled clear signs of a liberal governing agenda.

“We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few,” Obama said, from the Stars and Stripes-draped West Front of the US Capitol building, the epicenter of America’s political divides.

The 44th president repeatedly used the “We the People” preamble to the US Constitution to suggest how to reconcile America’s founding truths and the current discord and dysfunction of its embittered political system.

“Decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay,” said Obama, flexing the freedom of a leader who no longer needs to face voters, and the urgency of a president who knows that second-term powers soon wane.

“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” Obama declared.

Though his speech was watched across the globe, Obama sketched over foreign policy, disdaining “perpetual war” and promising diplomatic engagement backed with military steel — though he did not dwell on specific crises like Iran.

“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

While reaching for a soaring note of national unity, Obama’s address was laced with liberal ideology, and policy certain to enrage Republicans.

“Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune,” Obama said.

“Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.

While irking Republicans, Obama’s signs of intent on issues like gun control and climate change may also worry Democrats from conservative territory running in 2014 mid-term polls, who may hold the fate of his agenda in their hands.

In an apparent bid to frame his legacy, Obama said America must shield the weak, the poor and those lacking health care and demanded equality for all races and gay rights, and security from gun crime for children.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama said.

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” he said, signaling a policy drive on a deeply contentious issue.

And in an oblique reference to his bid to end the scourge of gun violence, Obama said: “our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”

Obama also vowed the meet the threat of global warming, despite skepticism on climate change among some Republicans and daunting political and economic barriers to meaningful action.

Obama’s Republican foes welcomed his reach for unity but like the president, hinted at ideological divides.

“The president’s second term represents a fresh start when it comes to dealing with the great challenges of our day; particularly, the transcendent challenge of unsustainable federal spending and debt,” said Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.

Defeated Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan congratulated Obama saying, “we serve the same country, one that is still in need of repair.”

Earlier, the president raised his right hand and rested his left on Bibles once owned by Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln, below the gleaming white dome of the Capitol.

“I Barack Hussein Obama…” the 44th president said, vowing to faithfully execute his office and to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution,” led in the oath of office by black-robed Chief Justice John Roberts.

Speaking to AFP, Republican senator John McCain, who lost the White House race to Obama in 2008, damned the address with faint praise.

“I thought it was an excellent speech, delivery was obviously excellent,” McCain said. “I didn’t hear any conciliatory remarks associated with it.”

Obama, his smile flashing bright, appeared more relaxed than at his first inauguration four years ago, when he took office as an untested leader as an economic depression threatened.

After his speech, Obama dined on bison and lobster with VIP members of Congress before heading back to the White House on the inaugural parade route.

One Obama supporter, the Reverend Ruddie Mingo, 54 — who donated time and money to the president’s winning campaign against Republican Mitt Romney — admitted the festivities were less mobbed than four years ago.

“My hope is that his next four years we can get more stuff accomplished on both sides,” he said.

Obama took the oath for a first time Sunday in a private ceremony at the White House because the constitution states that US presidential terms end at noon on January 20.

Poignantly, Obama took his second, second term oath of office on the federal holiday marking civil rights pioneer King’s birthday.

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