Bangladesh

FILE PHOTO: Asian Development Bank President Takehiko Nakao attends the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: Asian Development Bank President Takehiko Nakao attends the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, China January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

April 25, 2019

MANILA (Reuters) – The Asian Development Bank sees value in continuing to lend to China, its president said on Thursday, in response to calls for the institution to stop granting loans to the world’s second-largest economy.

ADB President Takehiko Nakao also said the multilateral financial institution’s lending to China “is not huge” so it will not crowd out borrowers from poorer countries.

“There is merit in lending to China. One we can have influence over such policies like climate change and the environment, which might have a positive impact on developing countries and to the region,” Nakao told reporters.

The Japanese government, which is a founding member of the ADB, has urged the Manila-based lender to stop lending to China on the grounds that it is rich enough to “graduate” from aid, the Nikkei has reported.

But while China’s share in ADB lending has been declining, Nakao said there are no plans of “letting China graduate immediately”.

Nakao said ADB earns from its loans to China and this income could also be used to support its operations in poorer countries.

China has been the bank’s second-largest sovereign borrower and is a major contributor to the institution’s development finance and knowledge sharing initiatives, the ADB said.

ADB’s committed loans to China have fallen to 12 percent of its total in 2018 from 19 percent in 2013, Nakao said.

Founded in 1966 with a mandate to lift hundreds of millions of Asians out of poverty, the Japanese-led ADB has 67 member countries ranging from struggling Bangladesh and Pakistan to booming China and India, with its largest donors Japan and the United States.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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Shahzadi Rai, 29, a transgender woman and activist, poses during an interview with Reuters in Karachi
Shahzadi Rai, 29, a transgender woman and activist, poses during an interview with Reuters at her home in Karachi, Pakistan April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

April 24, 2019

By Syed Raza Hassan

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Transgender people in Pakistan’s Sindh province will be able to serve as regular duty police officers, the police chief said, adding it was time to offer more opportunities to a group relegated to menial jobs in government.

After years of sometimes brutal persecution, transgender Pakistanis gained recognition in 2009 when the Supreme Court granted them special status with rights equal to other citizens.

While discrimination still persists, the move to allow transgender police recruits would be a significant step for the community, activists say.

“We will make them part of Sindh police,” Syed Kaleem Imam, Inspector General of the Sindh police told Reuters in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province.

“They are good God-gifted people. Citizens like us. We should stand by them,” said Imam, who as a junior officer became aware of the discrimination against the community.

As in neighboring India and Bangladesh, transgender Pakistanis have faced widespread discrimination for decades. Many live in secluded communities, earning a living as dancers or forced into sex work or begging.

A 2017 census counted 10,418 transgender people in the country of 207 million, but rights group Charity Trans Action Pakistan estimates there are at least 500,000.

‘TRANS-FRIENDLY’

In a major step forward in 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that transgender people could receive national identity cards as a “third sex” and in 2017, the government issued its first passport with a transgender category.

While some transgender people have achieved celebrity as news anchors or fashion models, entry into the police force would be a major development for the community.

“Police behavior and their complaint mechanism is not trans-friendly. I will try to make police trans-friendly and educate colleagues when I join the police,” said Shahzadi Rai, a 29-year-old transgender activist who hopes to join the force.

“When we go to lodge any report at the police station, their behavior and questions hurt us. They don’t ask questions about the case, but about our gender,” Rai said.

Zehrish Khan, a program manager at Gender Interactive Alliance, a transgender rights group, said the community had always sought inclusion and was now seeing the fruits of the 2009 Supreme Court ruling.

“If we are inducted into the police, we’ll show we can work harder compared to men and women,” Khan told Reuters.

It could be months before the first transgender police officers are hired, Imam said, but they will have the same opportunities as other recruits and perform regular duties in the field.

“We will give them space, facilitate them so that they can come into the mainstream,” the police chief said.

(Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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FILE PHOTO: Amit Shah, president of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party addresses party workers in Ahmedabad
FILE PHOTO: Amit Shah, president of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) addresses party workers in Ahmedabad, India, February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo

April 12, 2019

By Devjyot Ghoshal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The head of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party took his invective against illegal Muslim immigrants to a new level this week as the general election kicked off, promising to throw them into the Bay of Bengal.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah referred such illegal immigrants as “termites”, a description he also used last September, when he drew condemnation from rights groups. The U.S. State Department also noted the remark in its annual human rights report.

“Infiltrators are like termites in the soil of Bengal,” Shah said on Thursday at a rally in the eastern state of West Bengal, as voting in India’s 39-day general election started.

“A Bharatiya Janata Party government will pick up infiltrators one by one and throw them into the Bay of Bengal,” he said, referring to illegal immigrants from neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Shah nevertheless reiterated the BJP’s stance on giving citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs from Bangladesh and Pakistan.

India is already working on deporting an estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims living in the country after fleeing Buddhist-majority Myanmar. New Delhi considers them a security threat.

The comments from Shah, the right-hand man of Modi, drew criticism from the main opposition Congress party as well as minority groups. On Twitter, some users likened his speech to a suggestion of ethnic cleansing.

“The statement is a direct attack on the identity and integrity of the nation as a secular state,” the Kerala Christian Forum, a group from the southern state, said in a statement. It demanded an apology from Shah.

A BJP spokesman declined to comment on the speech.

Congress spokesman Sanjay Jha said Shah’s remarks were a deliberate attempt to polarize voters along sectarian lines.

“The political business model of the BJP is to raise the communal temperature, keep it at a boil, and to keep India in a permanent religious divide,” Jha said.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Additional reporting by Munsif Vengattil; Editing by Krishna N. Das)

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File photo of a Chevron gas station sign in Del Mar, California
FILE PHOTO: A Chevron gas station sign is seen in Del Mar, California, in this April 25, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Blake/FileS/File Photo

April 11, 2019

By Ross Kerber and Jennifer Hiller

BOSTON/HOUSTON (Reuters) – Chevron Corp will put a focus on human rights in Myanmar under an agreement with an investor group that had urged it to pay more attention to violence in the Asian nation where the U.S. oil company has operations.

Chevron will undertake steps including social investment reviews in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, donate to humanitarian organizations for Rohingya refugees, and help develop practices for companies operating amid risks of crimes against humanity, according to a letter signed by a company executive.

Azzad Asset Management, an activist investor that submitted a shareholder resolution calling on Chevron to report on its business with governments complicit in genocide or crimes against humanity, agreed to withdraw the proposal, according to a copy of the agreement viewed by Reuters.

“Chevron appreciates Azzad’s constructive engagement and commends them for recognizing our actions related to human rights,” Mary Francis, Chevron’s governance officer who signed the letter, said in an emailed statement. Francis declined to be interviewed.

A similar resolution was opposed by the company at previous shareholder meetings and last year won support from just 7% of votes cast according to a securities filing.

Joshua Brockwell, investment communications director at Virginia-based Azzad, which describes itself as “a faith-based socially responsible investment firm offering halal investment portfolios,” said the agreement “demonstrates positive steps forward after years of dialogue.”

Rakhine State came to global attention in 2017 when the Myanmar army drove about 730,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims across the border and into neighboring Bangladesh, following attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police posts. U.S. and United Nations officials have decried the crackdown as a form of genocide.

More recently, the military has been battling another armed rebel group, the Arakan Army, which draws recruits mostly from the ethnic Rakhine population, who are mainly Buddhists, and is fighting for greater autonomy for the western state.

Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent more than 15 months in detention since they were arrested in December 2017 while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslim civilians involving Myanmar soldiers.

Chevron, the second-largest U.S.-based oil producer, does business in Myanmar through a subsidiary, Unocal Myanmar Offshore Co, according to Chevron’s website. Its projects there include a minority interest in natural gas production and in a pipeline company.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston and Jennifer Hiller in Houston; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Reuters journalist Wa Lone arrives at Insein court in Yangon
Reuters journalist Wa Lone arrives at Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar September 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang

April 11, 2019

By Simon Lewis

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – Myanmar’s Supreme Court heard the appeal on Tuesday of two Reuters journalists imprisoned for breaking a colonial-era official secrets law, in a case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress towards democracy.

Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent more than 15 months in detention since they were arrested in December 2017, while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslim civilians involving Myanmar soldiers.

Law officer Ko Ko Maung, representing the government, said they had been found in possession of secret documents that could have harmed national security.

Outlining their grounds of appeal, the reporters’ lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, cited lack of proof of a crime and evidence that the pair were set up by police. A policeman had told a lower court last year that officers had planted secret documents on the two reporters.

A district court judge in Yangon found the two journalists guilty under the Official Secrets Act last September and sentenced them to seven years in prison. The Yangon High Court rejected an earlier appeal in January.

Both remain separated from their young daughters. The wife of 32-year-old Wa Lone gave birth to their first child last year while Wa Lone was behind bars. Kyaw Soe Oo celebrated his 29th birthday in Yangon’s Insein jail this month.

The journalists were not present at Tuesday’s hearing, but their families had traveled to the capital Naypyitaw, about 370 km (230 miles) north of Yangon, to attend.

“We are expecting to reunite as a family as soon as possible,” Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, told reporters outside the Supreme Court compound.

The reporters’ convictions were heavily criticized by press freedom advocates and Western diplomats, putting additional pressure on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who took power in 2016 amid a transition from military rule.

Suu Kyi said in September, the week after their conviction, that the reporters’ case had nothing to do with press freedom as the men had been jailed for handling official secrets, not because they were journalists.

“Myanmar’s Supreme Court has the opportunity to correct the serious miscarriage of justice inflicted on Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for the last 15 months,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement.

“They are honest, admirable journalists who did not break the law, and they should be freed as a matter of urgency.”

‘DANGEROUS FOR THE COUNTRY’

Khin Maung Zaw, the reporters’ lawyer, told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the trial court had wrongly placed the burden of proof on the reporters, and the prosecution failed to prove they broke the official secrets act.

“The police planted the documents on Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo so their investigation of the massacre would be stopped,” he said.

Before their arrest, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.

The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to United Nations estimates.

During eight months of hearings prior to their conviction, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo testified that two policemen they had not met before handed them papers rolled up in a newspaper during a meeting at a Yangon restaurant on Dec. 12, 2017. Almost immediately afterwards, they said, they were bundled into a car by plainclothes officers.

A police captain, Moe Yan Naing, testified that, prior to the restaurant meeting, a senior officer had ordered subordinates to plant documents on Wa Lone to “trap” the reporter.

Ko Ko Maung, the government law officer, told the Supreme Court the police officer the reporters said handed them the papers, Lance Corporal Naing Lin, had denied doing so. He said the reporters were caught holding secret documents at a routine traffic stop.

“If these documents were received by an opponent or enemy of Myanmar, it could be dangerous for the country,” he said.

Supreme Court Justice Soe Naing adjourned the case at the end of Tuesday’s hearing, without giving a date for a ruling.

(Additional reporting by Shoon Naing, Editing by Alex Richardson and Sam Holmes)

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Dozens of people, believed to be Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who were dropped off from a boat are pictured on a beach near Sungai Belati, Perlis, Malaysia
Dozens of people, believed to be Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who were dropped off from a boat are pictured on a beach near Sungai Belati, Perlis, Malaysia in this undated handout photo released April 8, 2019. Royal Malaysian Police/Handout via REUTERS

April 8, 2019

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Thirty-seven people believed to be Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar were found on a beach in northern Malaysia on Monday, police said, the latest arrivals in what authorities fear could be a new wave of people smuggling by sea.

Dozens of Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh have boarded boats in recent months to try to reach Malaysia, which had seen a decline in arrivals after a 2015 crackdown on trafficking.

Last month, 35 migrants were found on Sungai Belati beach in the northern state of Perlis.

On Monday, 37 men were detained around the town of Simpang Empat after landing at the same beach in the early morning, state police chief Noor Mushar Mohamad told Reuters.

“We believe they were traveling on a much larger boat, before being transferred into smaller boats at sea and taken to different places,” he said, adding the men were in good health and have been handed over to immigration officials.

More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017 fleeing an army crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, according to U.N. agencies.

Myanmar regards Rohingya as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to sprawling camps in Rakhine since violence swept the area in 2012.

Officials believe the migrants found on Monday are from Myanmar or Bangladesh.

“We are still investigating where the boats are coming from, but we suspect human trafficking syndicates are involved,” Noor Mushar said.

An outbreak of sectarian violence in Rakhine in 2012 prompted tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee Myanmar by sea. The exodus peaked in 2015, when an estimated 25,000 people fled across the Andaman Sea for Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, many drowning in unsafe and overloaded boats.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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Firefighters attempt to extinguish a fire at a multi-storey commercial building in Dhaka
FILE PHOTO: Firefighters attempt to extinguish a fire at a multi-storey commercial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

March 31, 2019

DHAKA (Reuters) – Two of the owners of a high-rise commercial building that caught fire last week, killing 26 people in a blaze made worse by the lack of appropriate fire exits, have been arrested, Bangladesh police said on Sunday.

Authorities say the 22-storey building structure lacked adequate safety measures and was extended illegally, raising fresh questions about safety standards in one of the world’s most densely congested cities.

Seventy people were also injured in the blaze.

Lax regulations and poor enforcement have often been blamed for large fires in the South Asian nation that have killed hundreds of people in recent years, almost 100 in the past month alone.

Assistant police commissioner Abdul Baten told reporters that S.M.H.I. Faruq and Tasvirul Islam, who is a district leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party in the capital, Dhaka, were arrested for negligence and violations of a national building code that resulted in casualties.

He said police were also looking for the owner of the developers that constructed the building in the 1990s.

Helicopters joined 22 firefighting units in battling the blaze, along with police and armed forces, as some of those trapped in the building waved desperately for help from its windows and roof.

Foyzur Rahman, the head of an investigation team formed by the Ministry of Disaster Management, said testimony was being heard from survivors in an attempt to find the cause of the blaze.

“Their accounts will help us to come up with realistic recommendations to prevent such things in future,” he told reporters on Sunday.

Last week’s blaze came a month after an inferno killed 71 people in an old neighborhood of the city.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Paul Tait)

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Building is seen where a fire broke out in Dhaka
A building is seen where a fire broke out in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

March 29, 2019

By Ruma Paul

DHAKA (Reuters) – A high-rise commercial building in the Bangladeshi capital where a blaze this week killed at least 25 people lacked proper fire exits, government officials said, prompting a senior minister to describe the incident as “murder”.

Lax regulations and poor enforcement have often been blamed for several large fires in the south Asian nation that have led to hundreds of deaths in recent years, at least 96 since last month.

Authorities have launched an investigation into the cause of Thursday’s fire, in which at least seven people, including a Sri Lankan, died after jumping off the 22-storey structure in one of the world’s most densely congested cities.

“There were no proper fire exits in the building that houses many offices and several restaurants,” Julfikar Rahman, director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, told Reuters.

“It the building had proper fire exits, people would have been able to come out. There was little fire-fighting equipment in the building and it was not in working condition.”

At just two feet (0.6 m) and four feet (1.2 m) wide, the building’s two exits were too narrow for people inside to leave smoothly, and were blocked by obstructions that made the task harder, he added.

Reuters could not ascertain who owns the building, and a telephone number for the purported owner was switched off.

The Dhaka development authority said it was investigating how the owner, who had permission only to build 18 stories, managed to extend them to 22.

“It’s not an accident, it’s murder,” Public Works and Housing Minister Rezaul Karim told reporters after visiting the site, where firefighters combed through the ashes.

“Legal action will be taken against those responsible for violating the building code, no matter how powerful they are.”

Helicopters had joined 22 firefighting units in battling the fire, along with police and armed forces, as some of those trapped in the building waved desperately for help from its windows and roof.

The blaze comes a month after an inferno killed 71 people in an old neighborhood of the city. [nL3N20F745]

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Krishna N. Das and Clarence Fernandez)

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A rescued person is taken to the ambulance as fire broke out at a multi-storey commercial building in Dhaka
A rescued person is taken to the ambulance as fire broke out at a multi-storey commercial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

March 28, 2019

DHAKA (Reuters) – A fire broke out on Thursday at a high-rise building in a commercial area of the Bangladeshi capital, trapping many people and prompting some to jump to safety, police and fire officials said.

More than a dozen people were injured and fire trucks were trying to douse the fire in the Banani area of Dhaka, where the building is located, among many structures close together.

“We have sent them to various hospitals,” said Enayet Hossain, a senior fire official, referring to the injured. “More than a dozen fire tenders are at the spot.”

Last month, a massive fire killed 71 people in an old neighborhood of the congested city.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Reuters journalist Wa Lone arrives at Insein court in Yangon
Reuters journalist Wa Lone arrives at Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar September 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang

March 26, 2019

By Simon Lewis

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – Myanmar’s Supreme Court was scheduled on Tuesday to hear the appeal of two Reuters journalists imprisoned for breaking a colonial-era official secrets law, in a case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress towards democracy.

Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent more than 15 months in detention since they were arrested in December 2017, while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslim civilians involving Myanmar soldiers.

A judge found the two guilty under the Official Secrets Act last September and sentenced them to seven years in prison.

Both remain separated from their young daughters. The wife of 32-year-old Wa Lone gave birth to their first child last year while Wa Lone was behind bars. Kyaw Soe Oo celebrated his 29th birthday in Yangon’s Insein jail this month.

Their convictions were heavily criticized by press freedom advocates and Western diplomats, putting additional pressure on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who took power in 2016 amid a transition from military rule.

Suu Kyi said in September, the week after their conviction, that the reporters’ case had nothing to do with press freedom as the men had been jailed for handling official secrets, not because they were journalists.

At the Supreme Court in the capital Naypyitaw on Tuesday, a judge will hear arguments for and against their appeal, alongside 17 other cases, according to a listing published on the court’s website.

“Myanmar’s Supreme Court has the opportunity to correct the serious miscarriage of justice inflicted on Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for the last 15 months,” Reuters said in a statement.

“They are honest, admirable journalists who did not break the law, and they should be freed as a matter of urgency.”

The appeal, submitted last month, cited lack of proof of a crime and evidence that the pair were set up by police.

During eight months of hearings, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo testified that two policemen they had not met before handed them papers rolled up in a newspaper during a meeting at a Yangon restaurant on Dec. 12. Almost immediately afterwards, they said, they were bundled into a car by plainclothes officers.

A police captain testified that, prior to the restaurant meeting, a senior officer had ordered subordinates to plant documents on Wa Lone to “trap” the reporter.

The prosecution said the reporters were caught holding secret documents at a routine traffic stop.

The high court in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon rejected an earlier appeal in January.

Before their arrest, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.

The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to United Nations’ estimates.

(Editing by Alex Richardson and Sam Holmes)

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