Deadly Jalalabad protests as Taliban consolidate Islamist rule

KABUL (Reuters) -At least three people were killed in anti-Taliban protests in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, witnesses said, as the militant group tried to set up a government and Western countries stepped up evacuations of diplomats and civilians.

More than a dozen people were injured after Taliban militants opened fire on protesters in the eastern city, two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters.

The Taliban have promised peace following their sweep into Kabul, saying they will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

The witnesses said the deaths took place when local residents tried to install Afghanistan’s national flag at a square in the city, some 150 km (90 miles) from the capital on the main road to Pakistan.

Taliban spokesmen were not immediately reachable for comment.

As the Taliban consolidated power, one of their leaders and co-founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, returned to Afghanistan for the first time in more than 10 years. A Taliban official said leaders would show themselves to the world, unlike in the past when they lived in secret.

“Slowly, gradually, the world will see all our leaders,” the senior Taliban official told Reuters. “There will be no shadow of secrecy.”

But thousands of Afghans, many of whom helped U.S.-led foreign forces over two decades, are desperate to leave the country.

More than 2,200 diplomats and civilians have been evacuated from Afghanistan on military flights, a Western security official said on Wednesday.

“We are continuing at a very fast momentum, logistics show no glitches as of now,” the Western security official told Reuters.

The Taliban held their first news briefing since their return to Kabul on Tuesday, suggesting they would impose their laws more softly than during their harsh 1996-2001 rule.

“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s main spokesman, told reporters.

Women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam”, he said.

During their rule, also guided by sharia religious law, women were prevented from working, girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out and then only when accompanied by a male relative.

‘TIME WILL TELL’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, echoing leaders of other Western countries, said the Taliban would be judged on their actions.

“We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes, and by its actions rather than by its words, on its attitude to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access and the rights of girls to receive an education,” Johnson told parliament.

Britain has said it will welcome up to 5,000 Afghans during the first year of a new resettlement program that will prioritize women, girls and religious and other minorities.

Many Afghans are skeptical of the Taliban promises. Some said they could only wait and see.

“My family lived under the Taliban and maybe they really want to change or have changed but only time will tell and it’s going to become clear very soon,” said Ferishta Karimi, who runs a tailoring shop for women.

Mujahid said the Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and government officials, and were granting an amnesty for ex-soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.

“Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors,” he said, adding that there was a “huge difference” between the Taliban now and 20 years ago.

The Taliban, who have fought to expel foreign forces since they were overthrown in 2001, seized Kabul on Sunday as U.S.-led Western forces withdrew under a deal that included a Taliban promise not to attack them as they leave.

U.S. forces running the airport had to stop flights on Monday after thousands of frightened Afghans swamped the airfield looking for a flight out. Flights resumed on Tuesday as the situation came under control.

Seventeen people were wounded on Wednesday in a stampede at a gate to the airport, a NATO security official said, adding that civilians seeking to leave had been told not to gather unless they had a passport and visa to travel. He said he had not heard any reports of violence by Taliban fighters at the airport.

Britain said it had managed to bring out about 1,000 people a day while Germany flew 130 people out. France said it had moved out 25 of its nationals and 184 Afghans, and Australia said 26 people had arrived on its first flight back from Kabul.

“Everyone wants out,” said one Afghan man who arrived in Frankfurt on Wednesday with his wife and son on a flight via Tashkent. “We saved ourselves but we couldn’t rescue our families.”

(Reporting by Kabul newsroom; Writing by Robert Birsel and Jane Merriman; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Nick Macfie and Catherine Evans)

Myanmar security forces kill nine as Indonesia, envoys call for end to violence

(Reuters) – Security forces killed at least nine opponents of Myanmar’s Feb. 1 coup on Friday, a funeral service and media said, as Indonesia urged an end to violence and Western ambassadors condemned what they called the military’s immoral, indefensible actions.

Police and soldiers have used increasingly violent tactics to suppress demonstrations by supporters of detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but that has not deterred the protesters and crowds turned out again on Friday.

Security forces opened fire in a confrontation in the central town of Aungban as they tried to clear a protesters’ barricade, media and a witness reported.

“Security forces came to remove barriers but the people resisted and they fired,” the witness, who declined to be identified, said by telephone.

An official with Aungban’s funerary service, who declined to be identified, told Reuters eight people were killed, seven on the spot and one wounded person who died after being taken to hospital in the nearby town of Kalaw.

The spokesman for the junta was not immediately available for comment but has previously said security forces have used force only when necessary. Critics have derided that.

One protester was killed in the northeastern town of Loikaw, the Myanmar Now news portal said. One person was shot and killed in the main city of Yangon, social media posts showed. Reuters could not confirm that death.

Police ordered people in some Yangon neighborhoods to dismantle barricades and have been hunting for protest leaders, residents said. Video on social media showed police forcing a man to crawl down on a street on all fours.

Demonstrators were also out in the second city of Mandalay, the central towns of Myingyan and Katha, and Myawaddy in the east, witnesses and media reported.

Ambassadors of Western countries condemned the violence as “immoral and indefensible”, in particular in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar industrial district, where dozens were killed over several days after Chinese-owned garment factories were torched last weekend.

“Internet blackouts and suppression of the media will not hide the military’s abhorrent actions,” they said in a statement.

The total number of people killed in weeks of unrest has risen to at least 234, based on a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

‘NO MORE VICTIMS’

Myanmar’s Asian neighbors, led by Indonesia, have offered to help find a solution but failed to make headway.

The 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has long held to the principle of not commenting on each other’s internal affairs, but there are growing signs that the Myanmar crisis is forcing a reassessment of that.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo made some of the strongest comments yet from a regional leader on the crackdown.

“Indonesia urges that the use of violence in Myanmar be stopped immediately so that there are no more victims,” Jokowi, as he is known, said in a virtual address.

“The safety and welfare of the people must be the top priority. Indonesia also urges dialogue, that reconciliation is carried out immediately to restore democracy.”

Myanmar’s coup leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, took part in a video conference with regional defense chiefs on Thursday, his first international engagement since seizing power, state television showed.

At the meeting, the head of Indonesia’s armed forces, Hadi Tjahjanto, expressed concern over the Myanmar situation, the Indonesian military said on its website.

Singapore’s military chief, Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong, also expressed “grave concern” and urged Myanmar to avoid lethal force, the Singapore defense ministry said.

INTERNET RESTRICTIONS

Authorities have tightened restricted on internet services, making information increasingly difficult to verify, and also clamped down on private media.

The U.N. human rights office said this week about 37 journalists had been arrested so far. Two more were detained in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Friday while covering a hearing for an arrested member of Suu Kyi’s party, said the Mizzima news portal, the former employer of one of them, Than Htike Aung.

The other detained reporter was Aung Thura of the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC). The BBC said they were taken away by unidentified men and it called on authorities to help find its accredited journalist and confirm he was safe.

Suu Kyi, 75, faces accusations of bribery and other crimes that could see her banned from politics and jailed if convicted. Her lawyer says the charges are trumped up.

The army has defended its takeover, saying its accusations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election swept by Suu Kyi’s party were ignored by the electoral commission. It has promised a new election but not set a date.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Stephen Coates, Clarence Fernandez and Frances Kerry)

Man charged in shooting of two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies

(Reuters) – Los Angeles prosecutors on Wednesday said they charged a suspect with attempted murder in the shooting of two sheriff’s deputies earlier this month.

Deonte Lee Murray, 36, was charged in the shootings, which took place on Sept. 12 when he allegedly walked up to a car and opened fire on two sheriff’s deputies.

Video footage showed a man walk up to a parked patrol car at a transit station in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton and fire a pistol into the passenger side of the squad car. The man then ran away.

Both deputies received serious head wounds, but both survived and have been discharged from the hospital. The deputies, who have not been identified by name, were described as a 31-year-old female officer who is a mother and a 24-year-old man, police said.

Murray is expected to be arraigned on Wednesday and prosecutors said in an emailed statement that they were recommending bail be set at $6.15 million. He has been in custody since Sept. 15, when he was arrested in connection with a different shooting and armed carjacking.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks, Editing by Franklin Paul and Chizu Nomiyama)

Timeline: From reform hopes to brutal crackdown – China’s Tiananmen protests

FILE PHOTO: Hundreds of thousands of people fill Beijing's central Tiananmen Square, China, May 17, 1989 in front of the Monument to the People's Heroes and Mao's mausoleum. REUTERS/Ed Nachtrieb/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) – Next Tuesday, June 4, marks 30 years since China bloodily suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations in and around central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, when Chinese troops opened fire on their own people.

The event remains a taboo topic of discussion in China and will not be officially commemorated by the ruling Communist Party or government.

FILE PHOTO: Student protesters construct a tent to protect them from the elements in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, May 26, 1989. REUTERS/Shunsuke Akatsuka/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Student protesters construct a tent to protect them from the elements in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, May 26, 1989. REUTERS/Shunsuke Akatsuka/File Photo

Here are some landmark dates leading up to the demonstrations and the crackdown that followed:

1988: China slides into economic chaos with panic buying triggered by rising inflation that neared 30 percent.

April 15, 1989: A leading reformer and former Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang, dies. His death acts as a catalyst for unhappiness with the slow pace of reform, as well as corruption and income inequality.

April 17: Protests begin at Tiananmen Square, with students calling for democracy and reform. Crowds of up to 100,000 gather, despite official warnings.

April 22: Some 50,000 students gather outside the Great Hall of the People as Hu’s memorial service is held. Three students attempt to deliver a petition to the government, outlining their demands, but are ignored. Rioting and looting take place in Xian and Changsha.

April 24: Beijing students begin classroom strike.

April 27: Around 50,000 students defy authorities and march to Tiananmen. Supporting crowds number up to one million.

May 2: In Shanghai, 10,000 protesters march on city government headquarters.

May 4: Further mass protests coinciding with the anniversary of the May 4 Movement of 1919, which was another student and intellectual-led movement for reform. Protests coincide with meeting of Asian Development Bank in Great Hall of the People. Students march in Shanghai and nine other cities.

May 13: Hundreds of students begin a hunger strike on Tiananmen Square.

May 15-18: To China’s embarrassment, protests prevent traditional welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People for the state visit of reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Students welcome Gorbachev as “The Ambassador of Democracy”.

May 19: Party chief Zhao Ziyang visits students on Tiananmen Square, accompanied by the hardline then-premier Li Peng and future premier Wen Jiabao. Zhao pleads with the students protesters to leave, but is ignored. It is the last time Zhao is seen in public. He is later purged.

May 20: Li declares martial law in parts of Beijing. Reviled by many to this day as the “Butcher of Beijing”, Li remained premier until 1998.

May 23: Some 100,000 people march in Beijing demanding Li’s removal.

May 30: Students unveil the 10-metre (33 ft) high “Goddess of Democracy”, modeled on the Statue of Liberty, in Tiananmen Square.

May 31: Government-sponsored counter-demonstration calls students “traitorous bandits”.

June 3: Citizens repel a charge towards Tiananmen by thousands of soldiers. Tear gas and bullets used in running clashes a few hundred meters (yards) from the square. Authorities warn protesters that troops and police have “right to use all methods”.

June 4: In the early hours of the morning tanks and armored personnel carriers begin their attack on the square itself, clearing it by dawn. About four hours later, troops fire on unarmed civilians regrouping at the edge of the square.

June 5: An unidentified Chinese man stands in front of a tank convoy leaving Tiananmen Square. The image spreads around the world as a symbol of defiance against the crackdown.

June 6: Chinese State Council spokesman Yuan Mu says on television that the known death toll was about 300, most of them soldiers with only 23 students confirmed killed. China has never provided a full death toll, but rights groups and witnesses say the figure could run into the thousands.

June 9: Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping praises military officers, and blames the protests on counter-revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the party.

Sources: Reuters, Chinese state media.

(Writing by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina, and David Cutler, Reuters archive in London; Editing by Neil Fullick)