With Nigerian elections postponed, Catholic leaders stress peace

Catholic leaders photoCredit: Labrador Photo Video/Shutterstock

Lagos, Nigeria,(CNA/EWTN News) Catholic leaders have voiced disappointment at a last-minute delay in Nigerian elections, but called for Christians to remain peaceful and participate in the postponed vote next weekend.

Just before polls were set to open Feb. 16, election officials announced that the presidential and national assembly elections were being postponed until Feb. 23.

Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), said the decision was due to a delay in the delivery of ballots, and not a political move.

“Our decision was entirely taken by the commission. It has nothing to do with security, nothing to do with political influence, nothing to do with availability of resources,” said Yakubu, according to Africa News.

Catholic Action Nigeria said the delay places a burden on citizens, especially those who underwent difficult travels to vote. The group asked Yakubu to consider resignation if the delay continues.

“INEC had four whole years to plan for this election. No matter the excuses being bandied now, the postponement makes us doubt the readiness, sincerity and capacity of INEC to give Nigerians a free and fair and credible election they truly deserve, even in the coming week,” the statement read, according to NAIJ.

At the same time, Catholic Action encouraged Nigerians to vote in the rescheduled election. The group said residents cannot quit working for a better nation.

Electors should “vote in a government that will put Nigeria and Nigerians first and uphold the values and dignity of human life as espoused through the social teachings of the Catholic Church,” the group said in its statement.

Catholics in the country also offered prayers for the future of their nation.

Father Ben Alozie challenged parishioners at Saint Peter and Saint Paul Catholic Church in Lagos to entrust the upcoming election to God’s providence.
“As a church, we are first Nigerians before being members of our congregation; therefore, we need to take that which is of concern to our country to God in the same way we take our individual needs to God for a solution,” he said Feb. 17, according to NAIJ.

“Saturday’s elections will determine to a large extent the fate of our dear country in the next four years; so, no amount of supplication is enough to God in order for us to have a peaceful country after the polls.”

Africa Independent Television reported that Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor of Awka asked Nigerians to take the rescheduling in good faith and not give up on INEC.

He disagreed with the call for Yakubu’s resignation, saying this would only lead to confusion at a time when the nation needs unity and a focus on a successful election.

The election in Nigeria comes as crashing oil prices leave the country facing economic uncertainty. The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria for years has faced attacks and kidnappings by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Over the weekend, 11 people were killed in an attack by the group south of Maiduguri, the BBC reported.

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/with-nigerian-elections-postponed-catholic-leaders-stress-peace-54372

Venezuela moves to replace US executives on Citgo board

Citgo photoCitgo is facing unprecedented challenges to its finances and management after the US imposed sanctions on PDVSA [File: Reuters]

Venezuela’s state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) is taking steps to remove at least two American executives from the board of directors of its United States’ refining subsidiary, Citgo Petroleum Corp, according to people close to the matter.

Citgo is facing unprecedented challenges to its finances and management after the US government last week imposed tough sanctions on PDVSA designed to prevent oil revenue from going to leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

The US and dozens of other nations have refused to recognise Maduro, viewing his re-election last year to another six-year term as fraudulent.

Venezuelan’s self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido is setting up bank accounts with US help that would take income accrued by Citgo, Venezuela’s top foreign asset, to finance an interim government.

Maduro has denounced Guaido as a US puppet who is seeking to foment a coup.

The board of Houston-based Citgo includes at least two US citizens, Art Klein and Rick Esser, as well as Venezuelans Asdrubal Chavez, Frank Gygax, Nepmar Escalona, Simon Suarez and Alejandro Escarra, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

Citgo also has an executive board that includes the refiner’s general managers, its corporate treasurer and the controller, and other vice presidents.

PDVSA and Citgo did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Esser and Klein did not immediately reply to emails and phone calls seeking comment on their status, the news agency said.

It was unclear if PDVSA’s board has already approved the changes at Citgo’s board and who would replace the American executives.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/venezuela-moves-replace-executives-citgo-board-190209175503677.html

Democrats push for a Green New Deal to combat climate change

Democrat photoAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during a march organised by the Women’s March Alliance [File: Caitlin Ochs/Reuters]

Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Senator Ed Markey on Thursday laid out the goals of a Green New Deal to transform the US economy to combat climate change while creating thousands of jobs in renewable energy.

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey say the plan will achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, setting a high bar for Democrats who plan to make climate change a central issue in the 2020 presidential race.

The resolution is the first formal attempt by politicians to define the scale of legislation to create large government-led investments in clean energy and infrastructure to transform the US economy.

“The Green New Deal fully tackles the existential threat posed by climate change by presenting a comprehensive, 10-year plan that is as big as the problem it hopes to solve while creating a new era of shared prosperity,” according to a summary of the resolution released by the politicians on Thursday.

Ocasio-Cortez said she will immediately begin to work on legislation that would “fully flesh out the projects involved in the Green New Deal”.

Republicans have already criticised the initiative, waving off any kind of proposal as heavy-handed. The Trump administration does not believe action on climate change is necessary and is focused on increasing production of oil, gas and coal on federal and private land.

Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, said at a climate change hearing in the House natural resources committee on Wednesday that the policy was akin to a “Soviet five-year plan”.

The non-binding resolution outlines several goals for the United States to meet in 10 years, including meeting 100 percent of power demand from zero-emissions energy sources.

It also calls for new projects to modernise US transportation infrastructure, de-carbonise the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, make buildings and homes more energy efficient and increase land preservation.

Ditching fossil fuel
The Green New Deal also aims to create an economic safety net for “front-line” communities that will be affected by a radical shift away from fossil fuel use.

“We … need to be sure that workers currently employed in fossil fuel industries have higher-wage and better jobs available to them to be able to make this transition, and a federal jobs guarantee ensures that no worker is left behind,” according to a summary of the plan.

The Green New Deal was put into the media spotlight by a youth coalition called the Sunrise Movement and Ocasio-Cortez, 29, the youngest woman to serve in Congress.

Markey, a veteran Congressman from Massachusetts, introduced sweeping climate change legislation a decade ago, which passed in the House but was blocked in the Senate.

At least a half dozen Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls have said they would adopt Green New Deal policies, without offering specifics.

The Green New Deal would be paid for “the same way we paid for the original New Deal, World War II, the bank bailouts, tax cuts for the rich and decades of war – with public money appropriated by Congress”, Ocasio-Cortez said.

The government can take an equity stake in Green New Deal projects “so the public gets a return on its investment”, she added.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/democrats-push-green-deal-combat-climate-change-190207152008741.html

 

Kurds in Iraq say US withdrawal from Syria a mistake

Iraq photoPeshmerga fighters say they captured these ISIL armoured vehicles that were filled with explosives [Jennifer Glasse/Al Jazeera]

by Jennifer Glasse

Mala Qara Village, Iraq – A pair of armoured vehicles parked in a corner of the Peshmerga headquarters in northern Iraq form a stark reminder of the threat the region is facing by ISIL.

“They were full of explosives when we captured them,” Kurdish Peshmerga commander General Sirwan Barzani said, as he discussed the battle his forces fought two years ago against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

ISIL fighters came within 25km of Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, before the Peshmerga got the upper hand in continuous battles, retaking control of towns in the region from 2014 to 2016.

While ISIL has since been driven from Mosul and other towns and villages in northern Iraq, they are still active in the area, Barzani said.

The current Kurdish-run Peshmerga front line is situated along the high ridge running north from the town of Makhmur, about 65km southwest of Erbil to Gwer, behind which ISIL fighters are hiding in the caves and on cliff faces on steep hills, Barzani said; it is terrain that makes it difficult to dislodge them.

A military operation last year to rid the area of ISIL was only partially successful, Barzani said, blaming constraints placed on his battle plan by Iraqi officials and US and coalition forces.

Barzani says there are other pockets of ISIL fighters to the south and west of the Peshmerga front lines, but the areas are controlled by Iraqi forces, so there is nothing he can do about them.

There is an uneasy cooperation between the Iraqi military and the Kurdish-run Peshmerga. They worked together against their common enemy, ISIL, but relations soured in October 2017 when Iraqi forces backed by Iranian militias retook control of oil-rich Kirkuk and other contested areas that Kurdish forces had held since 2014.

The Iraqi offensive came in the wake of a Kurdish referendum on independence that the Iraqi leadership in Baghdad and much of the rest of world dismissed as illegal.

The US, a long-time ally of the Iraqi Kurds, did nothing to stop the Iraqi military advance.

With the announcement by the Trump administration about the US withdrawal from Syria, Barzani said he is concerned the US will abandon the Syrian Kurds, who have been essential in the fight against ISIL.

US withdrawal
Major General Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the Peshmerga ministry, said, “It is very important that the US stays in both Iraq and Syria and keep playing the leadership role in the global coalition against ISIS.”

Yawar denied Iraq’s Peshmerga work with their Syrian counterparts, often called the Rojava Peshmerga named after the Kurdish region in eastern Syria.

“As Peshmerga forces, we have no connection with Rojava or any interference whatsoever. For us, it is the matter of another country, Syria, and we have no hand in any of it,” Yawar said.

He said Iraqi Peshmerga have fought inside Syria only once.

“During the ISIS attack on Kobane we were formally asked to send reinforcements, which we did with the coordination from the coalition forces and the Peshmerga stayed there for a year,” Yawar told Al Jazeera.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed a so-called “safe zone” inside Syria running east of the Euphrates river to the border.

Barzani said that will force Syria’s Kurdish fighters, who so far have been allied with the United States, to make a deal with Damascus.

“The fighters they will go to [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], they will have an agreement with him, of course, it’s very clear,” Barzani said.

The US announcement, which came as a surprise to its allies, could undermine any leverage US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) might have had with Assad.

There are no details yet of who will be in charge of the safe zone, but Erdogan has said he will establish it himself if he does not get international support.

‘Fighting for land’
Barzani said Erdogan will use the buffer zone drive Kurds out, as they did in the Syrian Kurdish town of Afrin last March.

“If the fighters belonging to Turkey and the terrorists belonging to Erdogan will be there, they will be fighting for the land. It’s not a safe zone, it’s a warzone,” Barzani said.

Privately, Kurdish politicians said they are concerned any Turkish advance in Syria could cause another influx of refugees into Iraq’s Kurdish region, which currently hosts about 250,000. They note Erdogan’s “security zone” includes all Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates and a US pullout would be considered a defeat in the eyes of Syrian allies Russia and Iran.

The Peshmerga say the most convincing argument for the US to stay is the continued presence of ISIL in the region.

“For us, the Peshmerga, ISIS is not finished. They still carry out terrorist acts especially in areas called disputed territories in Kirkuk, Diyala, Salahaddin, Makhmour and around Mosul. They carry out daily attacks and they have even grown in strength,” Yawar said.

“Even Syrian Democratic Forces SDF say that the US forces should stay. ISIS is still a global terrorist organisation. It may have lost the land and the caliphate, but it still exists and it is dangerous.”

 

 
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/kurds-iraq-withdrawal-syria-mistake-190201120707894.html

Catholic Nuns Express Worry Over Violation Of Children’s Rights In Enugu, Nigeria

nun photo

Catholic Church reverend sisters under the aegis of Africa Faith and Justice Network, Nigeria say they are worried by the continuous violation of the rights of children in Enugu State. The nuns said that their concern was heightened by the fact that the Child’s Right Act had been passed in the state. Rising from a four-day delegates workshop on Thursday in Enugu, the group undertook to raise awareness in rural communities of the state and across the country. The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the Catholic nuns paid advocacy visits to the state Commissioner for Gender Affairs, Peace Nnaji.

The spokesperson for the group, Rev. Sr. Fidelia Alao, said it was sad that some children in the state were still exposed to all forms of dangers both at home and on the streets. Alao said that the passage of the law in the state was seen as a relief from some of the ills perpetrated against children.

Alao said: “We are, however, aware that in spite of this legislation, children are still exposed to all forms of danger, violence, abuse and exploitation in our homes and on the streets. “We continue to see children who should be in school hawking on the streets. “Children as young as 12 years and below are given into domestic servitude, an act that is against the law. “We see very young children carrying heavy loads to earn money, especially in Ogbete Market, Abakpa, Garki and many other locations in the state. “Our babies are treated as goods and sold to the highest bidder.”

Alao described such acts an aberration and inimical to the future of communities. She said: “As women and conscientious individuals, we know the important role holistic development of a person plays in the life of our communities and our country.” Alao appealed to the state government to institute measures to enlighten residents of the state on the Child’s Right Law.

She also called for a study of the conditions of rehabilitation centres within the state to ensure that inmates were not warehoused and abused. She said: “We want government to commission the inspection of government primary schools to evaluate the health environment and ensure that the necessary basic requirements are met.”

Alao urged the state government to initiate a statewide mechanism that would enable abused victims to seek help without fear of reprisals. Responding, Nnaji said that the state government had instituted measures to check the violation of children’s rights.

She said that state government had zero tolerance for child trafficking, adding that a committee responsible for child adoption was in place. Nnaji said that the government was doing its best to put in good shape the Rehabilitation Centre in Emene abandoned by the Federal Government.

The commissioner said that there were three Magistrates’ Courts and three state High Courts dedicated to handling cases related to child abuse. The commissioner thanked the group for its concern on the issue and collaboration in stamping out child abuse in the state. NAN further reports that reverend sisters and delegates of Catholic Women Organisation across the country participated in the workshop, facilitated by Africa Faith and Justice Network, Washington D.C.

 

 

https://theeagleonline.com.ng/catholic-nuns-express-worry-over-violation-of-childrens-rights-in-enugu/

Rubio: Blocking aid to Venezuela is a ‘crime against humanity’

Rubio photoSen. Marco Rubio. Credit: Rich Koele_Shutterstock

Washington D.C., (CNA) – Sen. Marco Rubio has called the humanitarian and political impasse in Venezuela “unsustainable,” and compared a blockade stopping food and medical aid from entering the country to a war crime.

The senator said leaders of the country’s security forces must choose between their orders and the needs of their families, neighbors and fellow citizens.

In a Feb. 8 interview with CNA, Rubio said that orders to prevent aid from crossing the border are illegitimate and should be refused by officers.

“They are being asked to do something that is illegitimate, they are being asked to do something that – if this were an armed conflict – would be a war crime,” Rubio said.

“Under the Geneva Conventions, the denial of the transit of food and medicine to civilian populations would be a war crime – that’s what they are being asked to participate in.”

The Republican senator from Florida is a key strategist and advisor to the Trump administration on the U.S. response to the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Rubio said that while international support is important, the escalating humanitarian and political crisis can only be ended by Venezuelan leadership.

“Ultimately it falls upon the Venezuelan people, and by that I include members of the National Guard, the armed forces, and the police forces, to decide their own destiny and their own future.”

“The international community is here to help and support, but this is their cause.”

On Jan. 23, President Donald Trump recognised opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of the country. Nicolas Maduro has refused to recognize Guaidó, and clings to power through his control of the military.

Maduro succeeded Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2013. In 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department called Maduro “a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people.”
Rubio told CNA that Maduro must relinquish power to bring stability to a country that has seen more than 3 million people flee the country since 2015 amid spiralling inflation, food shortages and mass demonstrations.

The circumstances under which Maduro might be persuaded to abandon power are unclear, the senator said.

“Do I think Maduro is going to exit power eventually? Absolutely. Do I think he is going to do it willingly? I don’t know. But a lot of that depends on the people holding him up,” the senator said.

“Here’s the bottom line: the rank and file military does not support Maduro, but they are not willing to face the very grave consequences of breaking with him.”

These leaders, Rubio said, have the opportunity and responsibility to allow aid into the country.

“There are four or five senior military leaders, starting with the defense minister [Vladimir Padrino López], who if they were to recognize the interim government, that would be the end of the Maduro regime.”

If military leaders recognize the interim government, Rubio told CNA, they could also benefit from amnesties offered by the interim government but “that window is closing, on them and on the country.”

“The further this goes, the likelier it is that senior military leaders like [defense minister Vladimir] Padrino will disqualify themselves from the ability to receive domestic and international amnesty: because they deny food and medicine and thereby commit a crime against humanity; because they try to follow orders and attack unarmed protestors and civilians.”

“It’s in their hands, they can decide to change the trajectory of Venezuela.”

In the meantime, protests continue in the country and, according to Rubio, the Venezuelan people “are well aware” that the Maduro and his loyalists stand between them and the flow of foreign aid into the country.

“There is no way, if current trends continue, that Maduro holds on to power,” Rubio said. “The question becomes: how does he leave? Does he leave through a negotiated exit or does some other even occur that forces his hand?”

Earlier this week, Maduro issued a request for Pope Francis to act as a mediator in resolving the political standoff.

While the pope said that such a request for mediation would have to come from “both sides,” Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, Apostolic Administrator of Caracas, appeared to pour cold water on the notion of papal intervention, telling Argentina’s Radio Continental Feb. 6 that the suggestion was “non-viable.”

Rubio told CNA the request for papal mediation is a delaying tactic on the part of Maduro.

“He’s already done this before, the Vatican tried to mediate [in 2016] and it was a fiasco – they walked away from it knowing that he wasn’t sincere.”

“Maduro has a very simple plan: to buy time until he can fracture the opposition and the world’s attention is diverted to some other crisis and away from Venezuela.”

“That’s the model he has followed and he’s trying to pull it off one more time.”

The Venezuelan standoff began Jan. 10, when Maduro was inaugurated at the start of his second term. Both the National Assembly and the Venezuelan bishops’ conference declared at that time Maduro’s 2018 reelection to be invalid. Guaidó declared himself the nation’s interim leader Jan. 23.
Rubio paid tribute to Guaidó and other opposition leaders in the country, noting the real dangers they face.

“I have tremendous admiration for the risk that they are taking,” Rubio said. “They have always been at risk, there are a significant number of opposition leaders dead, in jail, or in exile as a result of this regime.”

But, he said, those committed to seeing genuine democracy in Venezuela recognize that they have had no other practical option than to put themselves at risk.

“As they themselves will tell you, the alternative would be for them to surrender and give in and live under this tyranny or have to leave their country.”

The senator told CNA that direct intervention by U.S. personnel – military or otherwise – remains “a controversial concept.”

“What there is a strong international consensus behind is that Maduro should not stand in the way of humanitarian relief reaching people who are literally dying,” Rubio said, but the moral imperative lay primarily on those carrying out Maduro’s orders.

“If Maduro is going to order that aid be blocked, then it is incumbent upon those that he is ordering not to follow those orders.”

“The military and its leaders are going to have to choose: do we follow these illegitimate orders that are hurting our own people or do we actually help them to reach the starving people of Venezuela, in many cases their own parents, their own siblings, their own families, their own neighbors.”

Rubio said that direct intervention is not something currently being contemplated in Washington. But, the senator noted, it remains an option to protect American personnel, including those trying to deliver food, medicine, and other aid to the country.

“Any U.S. personnel who comes in danger as a result of actions of the Maduro security forces- there will be grave consequences for it, they are well aware of it and they should govern themselves accordingly.”

“The plan here is not to have a caravan of American soldiers or aid workers entering Venezuela, the plan is to hand this over to whoever the interim government directs so that they can distribute in a non-political way.”

“The goal is to distribute the aid through non-governmental, non-political organizations inside Venezuela, for them to distribute through Caritas for the Catholic Church, the Red Cross and other NGOs that are operating within the country.”

Maduro’s security forces, who have erected roadblocks to prevent aid from entering the country, stand between food and medicine stockpiled across the Colombian border and Venezuelan organizations ready to distribute it.

Rubio said that while international pressure and consensus is important, responsibility for resolving the impasse lies with the soldiers blocking aid from entering the country. The senator suggested they should stand down.

“The choice is theirs.”

 

 
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/rubio-blocking-aid-to-venezuela-is-a-crime-against-humanity-21754

Boochani: Asylum seeker on Manus wins Australian literature prize

Asylum photo                                Boochani has been held on Manus Island for more
                               than five years [Facebook]

A Kurdish asylum seeker has won one of the most important
Australian literature prizes, the Victorian Prize for
Literature.

However, Iranian Kurd Behrouz Boochani was unable to accept
the award personally in Melbourne because he is being kept on
Manus Island.

Boochani won the award, which comes with a monetary prize of
100,000 Australian dollars (approximately $73,000), for his
book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.
It was written in Farsi while he was held in the now-closed
detention centre on the island.

It comprises of text messages sent mostly through WhatsApp to
his translator.

The book also won the Non-Fiction Prize, worth 25,000
Australian dollars (approximately $18,000)

Boochani has been living on Manus Island since 2013 and, like
all detainees, is not allowed to leave.

“It’s a paradoxical feeling,” said Boochani.

“I don’t want to celebrate this achievement while I still see
many innocent people suffering around me,” he told The Age
daily. “Give us freedom. We have committed no crime, we are
only seeking asylum.”

He fled Iran as he was in danger of being arrested by
authorities over his journalism work.

Boochani attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia
twice.

On the first attempt, the boat sank and Boochani was rescued
by Indonesian fishermen.

In July 2013, his boat, which held 75 asylum seekers, was
intercepted by the Australian Navy and he was transferred to
the Manus Island detention centre.

Manus is a territory belonging to Papua New Guinea but has
been used by Canberra since 2013 as a place to send asylum
seekers who try to reach Australia.

The practice has been denounced as contravening the human
rights of the refugees and migrants detained there.

Many congratulated Boochani on Twitter but also criticised
Australia’s “hypocrisy” and “cognitive dissonance”.

“I think it’s so great that Behrouz Boochani won the VPLA for
nonfiction tonight, but I’m also struggling with the cognitive
dissonance of a nation celebrating the story, the work, of a
man we’re still torturing,” author Omar Sakr wrote on Twitter.

“[He] is still imprisoned, and kept stateless by us. We must
free them.”

“Does anyone else see the jarring hypocrisy of a country that
is applauding a literary achievement with one hand and
torturing the author with the other?” another wrote.

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2019/01/boochani-
asylum-seeker-manus-wins-australian-literature-prize-
190131153103650.html