Indonesian Protesters, Police Clash in Second Night of Post-election Unrest

A clash between Indonesian security forces and protesters angry over the result of last month’s presidential election raged for a second night on Wednesday, turning central Jakarta into a battlefield of tear gas, rubber bullets, rocks and firecrackers.

Protesters tore up slabs of pavement, destroyed street signs and set fire to food stalls and security posts but their numbers  thinned as the night wore on.  Indonesian TV showed dozens of riot police trying to sleep on debris-strewn streets.

The capital’s governor, Anies Baswedan, said six people were killed in the first night of rioting, which was concentrated in the sprawling textile market neighbourhood of Tanah Abang.

State news agency Antara reported that three hospitals had so far  treated more than 350 people for injuries.

The unrest followed an announcement on Tuesday by the General Election Commission confirming that President Joko Widodo had beaten his challenger, former general Prabowo Subianto, in the April 17 poll.

Widodo won more than 85 million of 154 million votes cast but Prabowo alleged “massive cheating and irregularities” and refused to concede defeat. The election supervisory agency has said there was no evidence of systematic cheating, and independent observers have said the poll was free and fair.

‘Paid mobs’

A crowd of protesters swelled outside the supervisory agency’s headquarters on Wednesday, some carrying wooden poles and some with toothpaste smeared around their eyes to mitigate the effects of tear gas.

Many left peacefully, but as night fell others hurled firecrackers and other objects at officers and set blazes as they tried to breach barbed wire separating them from police.

Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. Medics were seen treating dozens of protesters affected by tear gas and using oxygen to revive some who had passed out.

Many of the protesters appeared to have come from outside Jakarta and police found envelopes containing money on some of the people they searched, national police spokesman Muhamad Iqbal told a news conference on Wednesday.

“This is not a spontaneous incident, this is something by design. There are indications that the mobs are paid and bent on causing chaos,” he said.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla called on Prabowo and his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, to rein in their supporters.

“When there is rioting the losses affect us all, the economy as a whole and the people. Remember, what happened in 1998 could happen,” he said in televised remarks, referring to rioting in Jakarta two decades ago in which about 1,000 people were killed.

Prabowo has called for peaceful protests and restraint.

“I urge all sides, the people who are expressing their aspirations, the police, the military and all sides to refrain from physical abuse,” he told a briefing on Wednesday.

His political party, Gerindra, said on Twitter: “We saw efforts to herd public opinion so that the peaceful protest would look like disturbing acts, with an end goal of discrediting Mr. Prabowo.”

Legal challenge

A Prabowo campaign official said his camp planned to contest the result of the election — which gave Widodo a 55.5% share of votes against 44.5% for his challenger — in the Constitutional Court on Thursday.

Prabowo also launched an unsuccessful legal challenge after he was defeated by Widodo in the 2014 election.

Analysts have said Widodo’s double-digit margin of victory means the opposition does not have a strong case to claim rigging. However, Islamist supporters of Prabowo could cause considerable disruption.

Islamist groups have in the past been able to mobilize mass support.

They organized a series of massive protests from late 2016 against then-Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the first ethnic-Chinese Christian to hold the job, who was subsequently jailed for insulting the Koran.

Authorities say 40,000 police and soldiers have been put on duty across Jakarta to maintain security this week. The government has also temporarily blocked some social media functions to prevent inflammatory hoaxes and fake news that could fan unrest.

Jakarta police tweeted on its official account a short video of topless men, some with heads shaven, squatting in two lines, with a caption that described them as “hundreds of rioters” who had been arrested.

At a news conference, police displayed suspects in orange jumpsuits as well as petrol bombs, makeshift arrows, sickles and cash in envelopes.

Police chief Tito Karnavian, showing reporters a sniper rifle with silencer and two revolvers that were seized from people arrested days before the rioting broke out, said: “There is an effort to provoke, to create martyrs, blame the authorities and invoke public anger.”

 

 

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New Jersey Man Charged in Threats to Pro-Israel Rally, Trump Tower

A 20-year-old New Jersey man accused of threatening on social media to “shoot everybody” at a pro-Israel march and bomb the Trump Tower skyscraper in New York City was arrested Wednesday on a string of federal charges, prosecutors said.

Jonathan Xie, of Basking Ridge, was taken into custody on charges of attempting to provide material support to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip and which the United States designates as a terrorist organization, making false statements and transmitting threats over interstate commerce, according to federal prosecutors.

“Homegrown violent extremists like Xie are a serious threat to national security,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a statement. “The actions that he took and planned to take made that threat both clear and present.”

Threats

According to the charging documents, Xie appeared in an Instagram Live video in April 2019 wearing a black ski mask and displayed a handgun as he expressed the desire to attack demonstrators at a pro-Israel rally.

“I want to shoot the pro-Israel demonstrators … you can get a gun and shoot your way through or use a vehicle and ram people … all you need is a gun or vehicle to go on a rampage. … I do not care if security forces come after me, they will have to put a bullet in my head to stop me,” Xie said in the video, according to the court papers.

That same month Xie was spotted outside of Trump Tower, headquarters of the businesses owned by U.S. President Donald Trump. He later posted photos of the building on Instagram along with a poll asking if he should bomb it.

“Okay, so I went to NYC today and passed by Trump Tower and then I started laughing hysterically … I forgot to visit the Israeli embassy in NYC … I want to bomb this place along with trump tower,” Xie said in a separate post detailed in the court documents.

Army hopes

In February 2019 Xie said he wanted to join the U.S. Army in hopes of learning “how to kill” and applied for a security clearance as a first step, prosecutors say.

He is also accused of sending money to an individual in the Gaza Strip aligned with a faction of Hamas that has carried out attacks against civilian targets in Israel.

It was not immediately clear if Xie, who faces more than 30 years in federal prison if convicted on all charges, had retained an attorney.

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Senator: Trump May Use Iran Threat to Sell Bombs to Saudis

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration plans to use a loophole and rising tensions with Iran to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia, even though Congress blocked such sales for months over concerns about civilian deaths in the war in Yemen, Senator Chris Murphy said Wednesday.

Congressional aides said there are provisions of the Arms Control Act, which sets rules for international arms transactions, that would allow a president to approve a sale without congressional review in case of a national emergency.

In this case, they said the Republican president would cite rising tensions with Iran as a reason to provide more military equipment to Saudi Arabia, which he sees as an important U.S. partner in the region. Trump has touted arms sales to the Saudis as a way to generate U.S. jobs.

Trump previously declared an influx of immigrants a national emergency to bypass Congress and get $6 billion to build his wall along the Mexican border. Both Democrats and his fellow Republicans voted to block the move, forcing Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency.

​Resistance in Congress

It was not immediately clear what equipment would be sold to Saudi Arabia or when any sale might go ahead.

However, any such plan would run into resistance in Congress, from Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats like Murphy, even in the Senate, where Republicans have a slim majority.

A handful of Republicans recently voted with Democrats in a failed effort to override Trump’s veto of a resolution that would have ended U.S. support for the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen’s devastating civil war. 

Many lawmakers from both parties have also expressed anger over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s closest congressional allies, told CNN he would oppose the administration if it decided to go around Congress, citing Khashoggi’s killing.

“We are not going to have business as usual until that issue is dealt with,” Graham said.

The State Department declined comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Defensive weapons

The top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees, who review major international weapons deals, have been approving sales of defensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

But they have been blocking the sale of offensive weapons like bombs, anti-tank missiles, small-diameter rockets and large mortars.

Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Foreign Relations Democrat, has been blocking the sale of Raytheon Co’s precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for about a year over concerns about the war in Yemen.

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US Disappointed Ex-Mozambique Finance Chief Won’t Face US Trial

The United States says it is greatly disappointed with South Africa’s decision to send a former Mozambican finance minister home instead of to the U.S. to stand trial on fraud charges.

Manuel Chang is accused of a money laundering scheme that plunged Mozambique into its worst financial crisis in history.

South African authorities arrested him in December at the request of the U.S., which accuses him of cheating American investors.

“We urge the government of South Africa to send Mr. Chang to the United States to stand trial for these alleged crimes, which victimized U.S. citizens and robbed the government of Mozambique of over $700 million,” the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria said Wednesday.

There has been no comment from the South African government.

Chang is accused of taking out about $2 billion in loans on behalf of the government of Mozambique when he was finance minister between 2005 and 2015 and receiving millions in kickbacks.

The government knew about some of the loans, but not others. When the debt was revealed to the public, international donors cut off much of their aid to Mozambique and the country’s currency became almost worthless.

Chang has denied the charges.

Authorities in Mozambique have arrested several other officials allegedly involved in the scheme, but it is unclear whether Chang has been charged.

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Voice of America

IS Militants Target Kurdish Farmers in Disputed Iraqi Territories

VOA’s Ahmed Zebari contributed to this report. 

WASHINGTON — In a bid to extort revenues from local farmers during the harvest season, Islamic State (IS) militants are threatening to set fire to thousands of acres of wheat fields in territories disputed between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan region, according to local officials. 

The militants, hiding mostly in caves and mountains of a large territory between the Iraqi forces and Kurdish peshmerga, pour into small towns and villages at night and ask local residents to pay a religious tax known as zakat or find their crops destroyed the next day, peshmerga Maj. Gen. Ziryan Shex Wasani told VOA. 

“IS fighters have told farmers and workers to give them 15% of their harvest revenues or their wheat fields and hay will be set to fire,” said Wasani, adding that hundreds of acres of land have already been set ablaze in Makhmour town, 60 kilometers (37 miles) southwest of Irbil governorate. 

Wasani said IS is taking advantage of the security gap created by the lack of cooperation between the Iraqi forces and Kurdish peshmerga in the disputed areas. 

Disputed territories

The vast disputed territories, consisting of Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh, Saladin and Diyala provinces, have been a point of contention between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for decades as both sides claim ownership over them.

The Kurdish peshmerga held the area during IS emergence in 2014 but were forced out shortly after a Kurdish referendum for independence was held in September 2017. The two sides then stopped joint counter-IS operations.

Kurdish officials say they fear the continuation of the fires could ignite violent clashes between Kurdish and Arab residents of the area, especially as the Kurdish farmers say only their fields are targeted while Arab farmers’ fields are spared.

WATCH: Unknown Militants Target Kurdish Farmers

​According to the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture, about 500 hectares (1,185 acres) of farmland have been scorched in recent weeks across the disputed territories as well as al-Najaf and al-Diwaniyah governorates. 

Opposing statements 

The ministry has not disclosed any information about the mysterious fires in the disputed territories. In a statement, however, it said the scorches in al-Najaf and al-Diwaniyah governorates were prescribed burns performed to improve the quality of the land.

Authorities use terms such as “prescribed burns” or “controlled burns” to refer to intentional fires set to fields in order to manage weeds, reduce wildfire risks and restore nutrients.

“The ministry asserts that these agricultural practices are not within the framework of sabotage or damage to the national agricultural economy or food security, but practices based on scientific aspects, where the residue of the burned grass is used to add nutrients for the other crop, such as rice,” the ministry said in its statement Monday.

Shortly after the ministry’s statement, the Iraqi parliament’s agriculture committee denied the fires were controlled burns, adding they were “obvious sabotage and terrorism.”

“The local agricultural products have been subjected to fierce attacks recently, with the latest being arson against wheat and barley fields in six provinces in a systematic manner,” Salam al-Shamari, the head of the committee, said in a press conference Monday. 

Al-Shamari claimed the fires were directed in a “foreign conspiracy” against Iraq and urged the government to thoroughly investigate “the new terrorism against the Iraqi economy.” He added local farmers’ eggs, dairy products and fish were targeted several months ago.

​The numbers

Earlier in the spring, the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture predicted its grain production would rebound significantly because of abundant rain and snowmelt in 2019, following a difficult and dry 2018. The ministry says it has so far purchased about 883,000 tons of wheat from local farmers in nine provinces. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates Iraq’s wheat production for this year will reach 4.97 million tons, an increase of 32% from last year. It also says that wheat consumption for 2019-20 will reach 6.9 million tons, an increase of 3.5% from the previous year.

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