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Conservative climate plan will impose a $20-per-tonne carbon charge on fuel

The Conservatives argue their new charge is not a carbon tax because the money will go into a ‘personal low carbon savings account’

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OTTAWA — Conservative leader Erin O’Toole released a climate platform on Thursday that puts a $20-per-tonne carbon charge on fuel —  a major change for a party that has repeatedly attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal carbon price on fuels.

The Conservatives argue their new charge is not a carbon tax because the money will go into a “personal low carbon savings account,” a change from the Liberal program that sees the money collected by the federal government and redistributed to consumers through tax rebates.

However, the Conservative plan will still see a surcharge applied to fuel that consumers pay. The plan says it will rise to a maximum of $50-per-tonne.

“Canadians will pay into their Personal Low Carbon Savings Account each time they buy hydrocarbon-based fuel,” the document says. “They will be able to apply the money in their account towards things that help them live a greener life. That could mean buying a transit pass or a bicycle, or saving up and putting the money towards a new efficient furnace, energy efficient windows or even an electric vehicle.”

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The document compares the savings account to a rewards program, saying it could be managed “by a consortium of companies as the INTERAC system is.” It does not includes an estimate how much it will cost to set up and run this new program.

The Conservative plan will keep a separate carbon pricing program in place for large emitters, as the Liberal plan does.

“We will assess progress after two years and be prepared to set industrial carbon prices on a path to $170/tonne by 2030, but only if the combination of adopting a price based on that of our major trading partners and working with the U.S. on North American standards has not assured us that we are on a path to our Paris commitment,” the document says, referring to the Paris Agreement.

The plan also says it will:

  • introduce a “zero emission vehicle mandate based on British Columbia’s, requiring 30% of light duty vehicles sold to be zero emissions by 2030”
  • study “the potential for introducing new taxes on frequent flyers, non-electric luxury vehicles and second homes to deter activities that hurt the environment”
  • “study the imposition of a carbon border tariff which would reflect the amount of carbon emissions attributed to goods imported into Canada”
  • introduce “a Renewable Natural Gas Mandate, based on British Columbia’s policy, requiring 15% of downstream consumption to be renewable by 2030”
  • “finalize and improve the Clean Fuel Regulations to reduce carbon emissions from every litre of gasoline,” aiming to achieve “a 20% reduction in carbon intensity for transport fuels”
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Industry groups call on Freeland to abandon $100B stimulus plan in light of improved jobs market

Many economists and executives are warning that faster-than-expected economic growth have make those plans obsolete, and could harm longer-term growth

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OTTAWA — Industry representatives are urging Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to back away from plans to spend $100 billion in additional stimulus, saying it would needlessly swell public debt levels and could risk overheating the economy.

In her fiscal update last November, Freeland said the $100 billion in new spending would be pegged to the jobs market, which now serves as a “fiscal guardrail” to guide future spending plans. But many economists and business executives are warning that faster-than-expected economic growth and a vastly improved labour market have deemed those plans obsolete, and could instead harm the longer-term growth prospects of the country.

“I’m concerned that the minister may not have remembered what her own words were in the fall economic statement,” Goldy Hyder, chief executive of the Business Council of Canada, said in an interview Wednesday. “We don’t need the stimulus if unemployment is not a problem.”

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His comments come as observers including bank executives and the Parliamentary Budget Officer question the necessity of Liberal spending plans. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has long framed the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to expand Canada’s social safety net, while at the same time saying his government would not introduce permanent spending measures that might lock Canada into endless deficits.

Unemployment in Canada peaked in May 2020 at 13.7 per cent, but has since come down to just 7.5 per cent, or only slightly higher than the 5.8 per cent posted before the global pandemic took hold. Those numbers are expected to continue improving in coming months as Canadians are vaccinated and restrictions gradually lifted.

At the same time, Canada’s economic growth projections have also gained steam: the government estimated a 2021 growth rate of 4.8 per cent when Freeland tabled her fiscal update on Nov. 30, but economists now peg that figure closer to six per cent.

“We believe the economy is going to slingshot out of the gate come summer, once we’ve all got at least one vaccine [dose] in us,” Hyder said.

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Adding to concerns over higher projected economic growth, Canadian households are also sitting on record high levels of cash following more than a year of lockdowns, and in part due to the generous relief programs dolled out by the Liberal government. Freeland herself has referred to the sizeable household savings levels as “pre-loaded stimulus” that would be automatically unleashed once pandemic restrictions are lifted.

But adding to the anticipated flood of household spending only threatens to push interest rates higher, Hyder said. U.S. President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion stimulus package, which is expected to spillover into the Canadian economy, is yet another reason to ease off Freeland’s plans.

“You’ve got all this liquidity in the hands of businesses and in the hands of Canadians, and you’re going to have government go out there and do more? That runs the risk of inflation,” he said.

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The Business Council of Canada is also calling on Freeland to abandon any plans to re-introduce the debt-to-GDP ratio as the government’s main fiscal anchor, saying it would not enforce fiscal restraint in the near term. His group is instead calling for a measure that would ensure government set aside 10 per cent of revenues for the purpose of debt servicing costs, similar to a policy laid out by former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge.

“We don’t even want that as the mechanism, we think that would be a free pass for them for a decade or two, not having to worry about deficits and debts,” Hyder said, adding that he was concerned the government might “get cute” with a fiscal anchor measure that gives them years of leeway.

Officials in Freeland’s office have defended their plan for stimulus, saying the economy would still be at greater risk should the government fall short with its spending measures, particularly after a year of deep retrenchment.

“Given the uncertainty of the virus — and that many provinces are facing the threat of a third wave — it is premature for anyone to project exactly how the recovery will play out. In 2020 alone, Canada’s economy contracted 5.4 per cent, the largest decline ever recorded in Statistics Canada’s quarterly reports,” Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokesperson for Freeland, said in a written statement.

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David McKay, chief executive of Royal Bank of Canada, made headlines last week when he called for restraint in Freeland’s spending plans, cautioning that “we don’t want to overdo this.”

In December, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux warned that “the size and timing of the planned fiscal stimulus may be miscalibrated,” saying that employment levels were likely to return to pre-pandemic levels well before the $100-billion in funds has run its course. The spending is expected over a three-year period.

“In other words, it could be too much and too late,” he told reporters at the time.

The C.D. Howe Institute, a Toronto-based think tank, also said in a report last week that the Trudeau government should abandon its stimulus plans, and even consider tax hikes in some areas to fill the fiscal gap.

Robert Asselin, vice-president of policy at the Business Council, said the Liberal government’s propensity for stimulus measures points to a deeper belief system that has taken hold in the economics community, in which public spending measures are viewed as healthy and necessary regardless of the broader context of that spending.

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“I think there’s a lack of reason here,” he said, citing the willingness of various governments during the pandemic to pump more money into the economy than was ever lost to begin with.

For the Trudeau government in particular, Hyder said, there appears to be a strong preference for redistribution over expanding Canada’s economic productivity, which could hinder growth opportunities years down the line.

“It seems that there’s only emphasis on one side of the ledger,” he said. “It’s all spending. If you add the phrase ‘-acare” after any program, it’s a good idea. But who’s going to pay for it?

• Email: jsnyder@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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Health official alleges ‘sexual slavery’ in Tigray

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ADIGRAT — The young mother was trying to get home with food for her two children when she says soldiers pulled her off a minibus in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, claiming it was overloaded.

It was the beginning of an 11-day ordeal in February, during which she says she was repeatedly raped by 23 soldiers who forced nails, a rock and other items into her vagina, and threatened her with a knife.

Doctors showed Reuters the bloodstained stone and two 3-inch nails they said they had removed from her body.

The woman, 27, is among hundreds who have reported that they were subjected to horrific sexual violence by Ethiopian and allied Eritrean soldiers after fighting broke out in November in the mountainous northern region of Ethiopia, doctors said.

Some women were held captive for extended periods, days or weeks at a time, said Dr Fasika Amdeselassie, the top public health official for the government-appointed interim administration in Tigray.

“Women are being kept in sexual slavery,” Fasika told Reuters. “The perpetrators have to be investigated.”

Reports of rape have been circulating https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-ethiopia-conflict-rape/choose-i-kill-you-or-rape-you-abuse-accusations-surge-in-ethiopias-war-idUSKBN29S0BG for months. But Fasika’s assertion, based on women’s accounts, marks the first time an Ethiopian official – in this case, a top regional health officer – has made a sexual slavery accusation in connection with the conflict in Tigray.

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In addition, eight other doctors at five public hospitals told Reuters that most of the rape victims described their attackers as either Ethiopian government soldiers or Eritrean troops. It was more common for women to report sexual violence by Eritrean soldiers, the doctors said.

The Eritreans have been helping Ethiopia’s central government fight the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in the conflict plaguing the Horn of Africa nation.

Taken together, the descriptions paint the most detailed picture to date of the sexual violence against women in Tigray and the military’s alleged involvement in it.

Most people interviewed for this article declined to be identified. They said they feared reprisals, including possible violence, by soldiers who guard the hospitals and towns.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged in a speech to parliament on March 23 that “atrocities were being committed by raping women” and promised that the perpetrators would be punished. He did not identify the alleged perpetrators.

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He said then for the first time that Eritrean soldiers had entered the conflict in Tigray in support of the Ethiopian government after the TPLF attacked military bases across the region in the early hours of Nov. 4. Ethiopia’s government had previously denied this, and the Eritrean government still does not acknowledge their troops’ presence. The TPLF was the dominant power in the central government when Eritrea fought a bloody border war with Ethiopia a generation ago.

Neither the Ethiopian nor the Eritrean governments responded to Reuters’ questions about specific cases raised by women and their doctors, or about the accusation of sexual slavery. No charges have been announced by civilian or military prosecutors against any soldiers. However, officials in both countries emphasized that their governments have zero tolerance for sexual violence – a point Abiy’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, said the prime minister reiterated recently in discussions with military leaders.

The alleged sexual violence has drawn international attention.

Billene said the United Nations, the African Union and Ethiopia’s state-appointed human rights commission have been authorized to carry out joint investigations into alleged abuses by all sides in the conflict. That includes the “criminal clique,” she said, referring to the TPLF.

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An Ethiopian military spokesman and the head of a government task force on the Tigray crisis did not respond to phone calls and text messages seeking comment. Reuters could not reach military leaders in either country.

Asked about the reports that Eritrean troops have committed rapes in Tigray and are keeping women in sexual slavery, the country’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, accused TPLF activists of “coaching ‘sympathizers’ to create false testimonies.”

“All the fabricated stories – which are alien to our culture and laws – are peddled to cover up the crimes of the TPLF which started the war,” he told Reuters in a written response.

Reuters was unable to reach a TPLF spokesman.

RECORDS OF ABUSE

Fasika, the health official, said at least 829 cases of sexual assault have been reported at the five hospitals since the conflict in Tigray began.

Those cases were likely “the tip of the iceberg,” Fasika said. Rape is underreported https://www.reuters.com/article/ethiopia-conflict-un/men-forced-to-rape-family-members-in-ethiopias-tigray-says-un-idUSL1N2LN2GR in Ethiopia because it carries a huge stigma. Also, most of the region’s health facilities are no longer functioning, and travel between towns remains dangerous, he said.

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Most of the women who have come forward are either pregnant or sustained severe physical injury from the rapes, Fasika said.

Reuters interviewed 11 women who said they had been raped by soldiers from Eritrea, Ethiopia or both. Four said they were kidnapped, taken to military camps and gang raped, in some cases alongside other women. The women did not know the camp names but said they were located near Mekelle and the towns of Idaga Hamus, Wukro and Sheraro.

Five other women said they were held in fields or deserted houses for up to six days. And two said they were raped in their own homes.

Reuters could not independently verify their accounts. However, all told similar stories of being beaten and brutalized. Healthcare providers confirmed that the 11 women’s injuries were consistent with the events they described, and they showed Reuters medical records for three of the women detailing their conditions.

The healthcare providers also shared details of nine other cases of sexual assault, including the ordeals of two 14-year-old girls.

Although Ethiopia’s government declared victory over the TPLF in November, fighting continues in some areas, and medical workers say new rapes are reported at the region’s health facilities every day.

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“This is being done to dishonor the women, to break their pride,” said a doctor at Ayder Referral Hospital, in Mekelle, citing the brutality of the attacks and humiliation of victims. “This is not for sexual gratification. The rapes are to punish Tigray.”

‘TELL MY STORY’

The 27-year-old mother said uniformed soldiers from Eritrea pulled her off a minibus on the road from Mekelle to the city of Adigrat on Feb. 6. They tied her up and marched her through fields to a bush camp, she said. After 11 days of rapes and beatings, she said, the soldiers forced nails, cotton, plastic bags and a rock into her vagina and left her alone in the bush.

Villagers found her unconscious and brought her to a nearby hospital.

She said she was still bleeding from severe internal injuries and could not control her urine, walk without a crutch or sit up for long periods. One leg was broken, she said.

She also described a different kind of pain: While in the hospital, she has no way to speak to her 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter because the Eritrean soldiers took her cell phone. She had left the children with her mother to search for food and never returned. At the time, the family had less than a week’s worth of bread.

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“I don’t know anything, if they are dead or alive,” she said. “The enemy destroyed my life.”

A 32-year-old mother in Mekelle told Reuters that soldiers removed her from a minibus on the same road at the end of February. They were dressed in Ethiopian uniforms, she said, but spoke with an Eritrean accent and had traditional facial scarification typical of the neighboring country. She said they shot her 12-year-old son dead in front of her, then brought her to a camp where she was held with other female captives and repeatedly raped for 10 days.

“Tell my story,” she said. “This is happening to women out there right now. I want this to end with me.”

A 28-year-old house cleaner said soldiers grabbed her from a street in Mekelle on the afternoon of Feb. 10 and took her to a field outside a military base where she was raped by more than 10 men wearing Ethiopian or Eritrean uniforms.

Wiping away tears, she said that during her two-week ordeal, soldiers doused her with alcohol and mocked her as they assaulted her. She escaped when her captors were distracted by gunfire, she said.

SHOT FOR RESISTING

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The government has set up a task force separate from the human rights commission to investigate the reports of sexual violence. Its head, Mebrihit Assefa, said the body includes representatives from the regional health bureau, the attorney general’s office and federal police.

The task force plans to set up five centers where rape survivors can file reports with law enforcement and receive medical and psychosocial support.

“Our prosecutors (and) police officers are there to investigate all crimes committed, including sexual violence,” said Awol Sultan, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.

He did not respond to questions about the women alleging they were raped during captivity, or whether prosecutors were in touch with either the Eritrean or Ethiopian militaries. The results of the criminal investigations will be released publicly at an unspecified date, he said.

Abera Nigus, the head of Tigray’s justice bureau, said the legal process was likely to be complicated because most courts are not functioning in Tigray, and many rape victims cannot identify their assailants.

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Knowing their rapists are still at large also has discouraged women from seeking help, doctors said.

Many of the women who sought treatment at hospitals had vaginal and anal tears, sexually transmitted diseases and injuries that rendered them incontinent, said the Ayder hospital doctor, an obstetrician gynecologist. The doctor shared notes from 11 cases the hospital had treated involving women raped by soldiers.

One woman had been gang raped on three separate occasions, according to the hospital notes.

Another was five months pregnant when she was raped, the notes indicate. Two 14-year-old girls were sexually assaulted in front of their families. One girl had a hand and foot amputated.

She had been shot for resisting her assailant.

(Reporting by Katherine Houreld. Writing by Silvia Aloisi. Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Julie Marquis)

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Chinese man with Down syndrome murdered in body swap plot

The family, from Shanwei in Guangdong province, spent nearly pounds 12,000 in 2017 to get a substitute for cremation. The man they hired was identified only by his surname, Huang

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A Chinese man with Down’s syndrome was murdered in an attempt to circumvent a ban on traditional burials.

Cremation is enforced in some densely populated areas of China, but in an effort to defy the order, one family paid a man to provide them with a body to swap with that of their dead relative.

It later emerged that the body was that of a murder victim killed by the man they had hired – an event the family insist they were unaware of.

The family, from Shanwei in Guangdong province, spent nearly pounds 12,000 in 2017 to get a substitute for cremation. The man they hired was identified only by his surname, Huang.

According to court documents, Huang spotted Lin Shaoren, 36, picking litter and asked him into a car before giving him alcohol until he fell unconscious.

Huang put the man’s body into a coffin, nailed it shut and passed it onto the family a few days later. The family had the coffin cremated, pretending it was their own deceased relative.

This left them free to hold a traditional burial in secret.

The crime was not uncovered until more than two years after the victim was reported missing.

Huang was handed a suspended death sentence after authorities tracked him down. The punishment will be commuted to life in prison if he does not reoffend after two years.

The family avoided a prison sentence, but were found guilty of “insulting a corpse”.

There are strong traditional beliefs in China, influenced by Buddhism, that burial is the only way to bring peace to the deceased and that the souls of the dead protect their descendants.

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From remote part of India, Myanmar’s ousted lawmakers work on challenging junta

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In a spartan hillside room in India furnished only with a thin sleeping mat, the Myanmar member of parliament spends much of his days attentively listening to Zoom conference calls and tapping away messages on his smartphone.

The short, soft-spoken man is among roughly a dozen ousted Myanmar MPs who have fled across the border to India’s remote northeastern region after the military’s Feb. 1 coup and lethal crackdown on dissent.

Reuters spoke to two of the lawmakers and to a Myanmar politician, all involved with the CRPH, a body of ousted lawmakers that is attempting to re-establish the civilian government and displace the military.

The three said the group was supporting demonstrations, helping distribute funds to supporters and holding negotiations with multiple entities to quickly form a civilian administration nationwide. They asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families.

Most of the ousted lawmakers are from deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) that overwhelmingly won a November 2020 election, which the military has annulled.

The coup has been met with a fierce pro-democracy movement and tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets, despite the crackdown.

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Security forces have killed over 700 people, and more than 3,000 have been detained, including more than 150 lawmakers and members of the former government. Mobile and wireless internet services have been shut down.

The fear of detention and inability to rebuild a civilian government without internet connectivity has driven some Myanmar lawmakers involved in the resistance to work from India, the two MPs elected to Myanmar’s parliament said.

“There is no time,” one of them, who is from the country’s western Chin state, told Reuters. “People are dying in our country.”

A spokesman for the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, did not answer calls seeking comment.

It has accused the CRPH, or Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, of treason. The group is working to set up a national unity government to challenge the military’s authority.

‘CAN’T RELY ON CHINA’

Since fleeing to India around two weeks ago, the lawmaker said he had been holding regular discussions with colleagues to set up a parallel administration in Chin state, under directions from the CRPH.

The process is complex, involving building consensus between elected representatives, political parties, ethnic armed groups, civil society bodies and civil disobedience movement leaders, the two lawmakers and the politician said.

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The CRPH is also keen on opening communications with India, where at least 1,800 people from Myanmar are already sheltering, and it will seek New Delhi’s blessings for the parallel government it is attempting to form, the politician said.

“We can’t rely on China, Thailand and other neighboring countries,” he said. “The only country where refugees are being welcomed is India.”

India’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

This week, NLD lawmakers from Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region held an online conference call, but only 26 out of 49 representatives dialed in, according to the second member of parliament, who attended the meeting from India.

“We don’t know where the rest are,” the federal lawmaker said, adding two party officials were now trying to track down the missing colleagues.

Some of the fiercest resistance to the junta has come from Sagaing. In the last two months, around 2,000 families involved in the civil disobedience movement in one part of the region have been given financial assistance of around 17 million Kyat ($12,143), the lawmaker from Sagaing said.

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INDIAN POSITION

For the Indian government, the presence – and activities – of escapee Myanmar lawmakers could pose a diplomatic quandary, particularly given New Delhi’s close ties with the Tatmadaw.

But, in recent weeks, India’s position on the Myanmar crisis itself appears to have somewhat shifted, which has also been acknowledged by some CRPH representatives.

At an United Nations Security Council meeting on April 10, Indian diplomat K. Nagaraj Naidu said New Delhi is pushing for a return to democracy in Myanmar.

“The first, and most immediate step, in this regard is the release of detained leaders,” Naidu said.

However, India is concerned around internal divisions within the CRPH that could hobble its functioning, a source with knowledge of New Delhi’s thinking said.

Still, the politician involved with the CRPH said he was hopeful that India will engage with the group.

“If democracy wins in Myanmar, it is also a win for India,” he said. (Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Myanmar security forces arrest prominent leader of anti-coup campaign

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Myanmar security forces arrested on Thursday one of the main leaders of the campaign against military rule after ramming him with a car as he led a motorbike protest rally, friends and colleagues said.

Opponents of a Feb. 1 coup that ousted an elected government led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi have kept up their campaign against the military this traditional New Year week with marches and various other displays of resistance.

“Our brother Wai Moe Naing was arrested. His motorbike was hit by an unmarked police car,” Win Zaw Khiang, a member of a protest organizing group, said on social media.

Wai Moe Naing, a 25-year-old Muslim, has emerged as one of the most high-profile leaders of opposition to the coup.

Earlier, Reuters spoke to Wai Moe Naing by telephone as he was setting off to lead the rally in the central town of Monywa, about 700 km (435 miles) north of the main city of Yangon.

Video posted on social media showed an oncoming car swerving into a group of motorbikes. Reuters was not able to verify the footage.

The license plate of the black car shown in two videos swerving into the rally did not match the vehicle model listed for that plate number on Myanmar’s vehicle database.

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A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.

Monywa has been one of main centers of the pro-democracy campaign with big rallies day after day and repeated crackdowns by the security forces.

Some colleagues said they feared for Wai Moe Naing’s safety.

The Swedish embassy said it was following his case and urged that all detainees be allowed proper health care and their human rights be respected.

Another protest leader, Tayzar San, said on Facebook: “We have to continue the fight by doubling our energy for Ko Wai Moe Naing, for the truth, for the present and future of the country.”

PROTESTING MEDICS

In the main city of Yangon, security forces detained Myo Aye, director of the Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar, activist Ei Thinzar Maung said on Facebook. Myo Aye has also played a major role in organizing the protests.

The coup has plunged Myanmar into crisis after 10 years of tentative steps toward democracy, with, in addition to the daily protests, strikes by workers in many sectors that have brought the economy to a standstill.

An activist group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, says the security forces have killed 715 protesters since the ousting of Suu Kyi’s government.

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Earlier on Thursday, soldiers opened fire in the city of Mandalay to disperse protesting medical workers and one man was killed and several wounded when security forces fired in a nearby neighborhood, media reported.

Medical workers, some of whom have been at the forefront of the campaign against the coup, gathered early in the second city but troops soon arrived, opening fire and detaining some people, witnesses and the BBC’s Burmese-language service said.

The BBC and other news outlets did not have details of casualties or arrests at the protest but Khit Thit media said a man was shot and killed in the compound of a nearby mosque as security forces broke up the medics’ protest.

“There was no protest here. The soldiers came and seemed to be searching for someone,” a resident of the neighborhood where the mosque is located said by telephone, declining to be identified.

The five-day New Year holiday, known as Thingyan, began on Tuesday but pro-democracy activists canceled the usual festivities to focus on their opposition to the generals.

Hundreds of people joined protests marches and motorbike rallies in several towns, according to pictures posted by media outlets.

The military says the protests are dwindling but the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that “rioters” had been committing an increasing number of “terrorist acts,” attacking security forces with grenades, planting “homemade mines” and starting fires. (Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Simon Cameron-Moore and Toby Chopra)

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Are the Olympics canceled? Japan official’s comments sow doubts

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TOKYO — A senior Japanese ruling party official said on Thursday that canceling this year’s Olympics in Tokyo remains an option if the coronavirus crisis becomes too dire, dropping a bomb on a hot-button issue and sending social media into a frenzy.

The Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee responded with a statement saying all those involved in preparing for the Games remained fully focused on hosting them in the summer.

“If it seems impossible (to host the Olympics) any more, then we have to stop it, decisively,” Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said in comments to broadcaster TBS.

Cancellation is “of course” an option, he said, adding: “If the Olympics were to spread infection, then what are the Olympics for?”

With Japan in the midst of a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, doubts over whether Tokyo would be able to host the Summer Games – already an unpopular idea with the public – have resurfaced in recent weeks.

But government and organizing officials have consistently said the Games would go ahead, and the fact that a ruling party heavyweight made the remark was enough to give his comments top billing on domestic news. “Olympics Cancelled” was trending on Twitter in Japan with nearly 50,000 tweets from users as of Thursday afternoon.

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“If this person says it, Olympics cancellation looks like a reality,” tweeted @marumaru_clm in reference to Nikai, who is a key backer of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and is known for his frank comments.

“Yay! This is great! Finally, it’s canceled, canceled, canceled!” tweeted another user, @haruha3156.

Nikai later issued a written statement to explain his stance.

“I want the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to succeed,” the statement said. “At the same time, to the question of whether we would host the (Games) no matter what, that is not the case. That’s what I meant by my comments.”

INFECTIONS SURGE

Asked about Nikai’s comments, the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee said in a statement: “Prime Minister Suga has repeatedly expressed the government’s commitment to holding the Tokyo 2020 Games.

“All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) are fully focused on hosting the Games this summer.”

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Japan is grappling with rising COVID-19 infections, with new cases in Tokyo jumping to 729 on Thursday, the most since early February. Tokyo, Osaka and several other prefectures entered a quasi-state of emergency this month, asking bars and restaurants to shorten their hours.

Still, the government is pushing ahead with preparations incorporating social distancing measures and other restrictions for the postponed Games, which are set to begin on July 23 and will be held without international spectators. A scaled-back torch relay is already underway.

“We’ll hold (the Games) in a way that’s feasible,” Taro Kono, a popular minister in charge of Japan’s vaccination drive, said on a separate TV program, according to Kyodo News. “That may be without spectators,” he added.

Japan’s top medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, acknowledged the pandemic had entered a fourth wave, driven by mutant strains, with Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura urging in a magazine commentary that the Olympics be postponed.

Akira Koike, an opposition lawmaker with the Japanese Communist Party, reacted to Nikai’s comments on Twitter saying that holding the event was already “impossible” and that a swift decision on cancellation should be made.

Canceling or postponing the Games would probably not hurt Japan’s economy much but would have a larger effect on Tokyo’s service sector, a senior International Monetary Fund official said on Wednesday. (Reporting by Sam Nussey, Chang-Ran Kim, Mari Saito, Rocky Swift, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Sakura Murakami, Daiki Iga and Yoshifumi Takemoto; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim, Editing by Stephen Coates, Simon Cameron-Moore, Lincoln Feast and Gareth Jones)

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Mi’kmaq fisher argues feds becoming more aggressive in seizures of Indigenous gear

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HALIFAX — A Mi’kmaq man who has been battling for Indigenous fishing rights says the recent seizure of his crab traps suggests Ottawa is becoming more aggressive on the water.

Robert Syliboy said in an interview Tuesday that Fisheries Department officers in a Canadian Coast Guard vessel confiscated two of his $400 traps set in waters off Sherbrooke, N.S., last weekend.

The 27-year-old fisherman from Sipekne’katik First Nation says his chief had authorized the setting of the 10 traps as a food, social and ceremonial fishery for the community in central Nova Scotia.

“I told fisheries officers I was fishing under the chief and council’s authority, and all the fish was going for food,” Syliboy said. “They disregarded the treaty I was fishing under.”

The Indigenous band has cited Supreme Court of Canada rulings, including the Sparrow case in 1990, as affirmations of the Mi’kmaq practice of harvesting fish for ceremonies, food and gatherings.

Last fall, Syliboy was among the more prominent Mi’kmaq fishers who attempted to launch a self-regulated lobster fishery off southwest Nova Scotia. One of his vessels caught fire at the wharf and was damaged beyond repair.

The federal Fisheries Department says it believes existing law means Sipekne’katik requires a communal licence for fishing snow crab under provisions of the federal Fisheries Act. Spokeswoman Megan Gallant said by email that the band doesn’t have such a licence.

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The department says on its website that it retains the right to regulate Indigenous fisheries for conservation purposes under both the Sparrow decision and the more recent Donald Marshall Jr. decision, which allowed Indigenous fishing in pursuit of a moderate livelihood.

Gallant said on Wednesday that fishery officers first warned Syliboy against fishing in an April 6 phone call, and that his snow crab traps were seized the following weekend.

“These operations are part of routine gear inspections by fishery officers to ensure compliance with the Fisheries Act and associated regulations,” she wrote.

Syliboy said he disagrees with the federal interpretation of the Supreme Court’s rulings, arguing he retains the right to operate without a federally approved licence if his band has authorized him to fish.

As the possibility of another season of unrest off southwestern Nova Scotia approaches, the fisher said he believes the enforcement action signals Ottawa will not tolerate self-regulated Indigenous fisheries.

“The (coast guard vessel) was very close to my vessel. It was more intimidation than anything, I think. They were on a 100-foot vessel doing circles around me,” he said.

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“I believe it’s getting worse for Mi’kmaq fishers and not better. It’s becoming harder to access waters.”

Syliboy said he would be pleased to go to court and argue against the seizures, as he feels existing judicial rulings support his view.

However, Colin Sproul, a spokesman for the Unified Fisheries Conservation Alliance — a lobby group representing various non-Indigenous, commercial fishers — said Ottawa’s right to regulate remains a key part of Supreme Court of Canada decisions.

“The Sparrow decision is very clear that the right of First Nations are administered through the federal government and the minister, and that she has the ultimate authority for conservation,” he said.

Asked whether setting 10 traps for a community feast poses a conservation issue, Sproul responded, “there is a conservation issue on every single pound of fish taken out of the ocean.” He said all uses of the resource need to be accounted for “so that all the participants can make responsible management decisions.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2021.

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Minnesota officer faces manslaughter charge over shooting of Black man

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MINNEAPOLIS — The white suburban police officer who fatally shot a young Black motorist during a traffic stop in Minnesota, igniting several nights of civil unrest, was charged with manslaughter on Wednesday, a day after the officer turned in her badge.

Daunte Wright, 20, was pulled over Sunday in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center for what police said was an expired vehicle registration, then struggled with police and was shot dead by officer Kimberly Potter, 48, who had threatened to stun him with a Taser but fired her handgun instead.

The shooting escalated tensions in a region already on edge over the ongoing trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the use of deadly force last May against George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was suspected of passing a bogus $20 bill.

Potter, a 26-year department veteran, was taken into custody by agents of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension at its office in nearby St. Paul, authorities said.

She was jailed on a charge of second-degree manslaughter but released hours later after posting $100,000 bond, according to jail records. Her first court appearance was set for Thursday at 1:30 p.m. (1830 GMT).

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4TH NIGHT OF CLASHES

Hundreds of protesters massed outside Brooklyn Center police headquarters for a fourth night on Wednesday, attending a rally that was mostly peaceful as darkness fell, with organizers urging the crowd to remain orderly.

Groups of demonstrators, however, persisted in taunting sheriff’s deputies lined up behind a chain-link fence in front of the building, throwing objects over the barrier. The officers in turn periodically approached the fence to douse those on the other side with pepper spray.

Similar activity on Tuesday night ended with deputies abruptly advancing on protesters with volleys of tear-gas, non-lethal rounds and flash-bang devices to disperse the crowd, two hours before a 10 p.m. curfew went into effect.

Responding to criticism that officers used heavy-handed tactics unnecessarily, Mayor Mike Elliott said on Wednesday that the county sheriff’s office, rather than city police, was handling crowd control.

“Gassing, in my opinion, is not a humane way of policing,” Elliott told reporters. He also urged demonstrators to remain peaceful, saying: “The eyes of the world are on Brooklyn Center.”

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As a curfew took effect on Wednesday night, law enforcement backed by National Guard troops moved again to break up the crowds with pepper spray and flash-bangs, though no tear gas appeared to have been immediately used.

About two dozen people were arrested on Wednesday night on charges including curfew violations. The police said the protests remained smaller and more peaceful than Tuesday night, when 72 people were arrested.

Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matt Langer told a late media briefing that after the curfew was imposed the group protesting “largely scattered and it was almost uneventful.”

GUN VS. TASER

To convict Potter of second-degree manslaughter under Minnesota law, prosecutors must show that she was “culpably negligent” and took an “unreasonable risk” in her actions against Wright. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

In a police video of the shooting, Potter shouts: “Taser, Taser, Taser!” as she draws her weapon and opens fire on Wright in his car after he had just pulled away from a fellow officer, then she is heard to say: “Holy shit, I just shot him.”

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City Police Chief Jim Gannon, who also resigned on Tuesday, has said the shooting appeared to have been accidental.

The Washington County Attorney’s Office, which brought the case, said Potter was acting as her partner’s field training officer at the time of the shooting.

“Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer,” Imran Ali, head of the county attorney’s major crimes unit, said in a statement.

Prosecutors will seek to prove that Potter “abrogated her responsibility to protect the public when she used her firearm rather than her Taser,” he said. “Her action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright, and she must be held accountable.”

Potter’s handgun and Taser were holstered on opposite sides of her belt in such a way that she would have had to use her left hand to draw the electric-stun device, the county attorney’s office said. Instead, she pulled her Glock 9mm pistol with her right hand.

The prosecutors also said Potter’s partner officer, Anthony Luckey, had determined after stopping Wright that he had an outstanding warrant for a “gross misdemeanor weapons charge.”

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‘THIS WAS NO ACCIDENT’

Wright died of a single gunshot wound to the chest, the coroner concluded in an autopsy that ruled the case a homicide.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, representing Wright’s family, said the case brought against Potter fell short of fulfilling a greater need for police reform in the United States.

“This was no accident. This was an intentional, deliberate, and unlawful use of force,” Crump said in a statement. “Driving while Black continues to result in a death sentence.”

Potter is at least the third U.S. law enforcement officer to face charges after claiming they mistakenly killed someone with a gun when they meant to use a Taser.

Wright was shot just miles from the Minneapolis courthouse where the trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-policeman charged with murdering Floyd, is taking place.

Floyd, who died in handcuffs with his neck pinned to the street under Chauvin’s knee, became the face of a national movement against racial injustice and police brutality as protests against his killing swept the United States last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

(Reporting by Nick Pfosi in Minneapolis, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Peter Szekely in New York, Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey, and Tim Reid and Gabriella Borter in Washington; Additional reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Writing by Gabriella Borter and Steve Gorman; Editing by Howard Goller, Peter Cooney, Michael Perry and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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NHL Standings | National Post

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Apr 15 (Stats Perform) – Standings from the NHL games on Wednesday

East Division

W L OTL GF GA PTS

1. Washington Capitals 28 11 4 152 127 60

2. New York Islanders 27 11 4 125 98 58

3. Pittsburgh Penguins 27 13 2 146 118 56

4. Boston Bruins 22 12 6 112 106 50

5. New York Rangers 20 16 6 136 112 46

6. Philadelphia Flyers 19 17 6 123 154 44

7. New Jersey Devils 14 21 6 103 135 34

8. Buffalo Sabres 10 25 7 100 147 27

West Division

W L OTL GF GA PTS

1. Colorado Avalanche 30 9 4 154 101 64

2. Vegas Golden Knights 29 11 2 138 96 60

3. Minnesota Wild 25 13 3 124 111 53

4. St. Louis Blues 19 17 6 122 132 44

5. Arizona Coyotes 19 20 5 118 139 43

6. San Jose Sharks 18 20 4 114 141 40

7. Los Angeles Kings 16 20 6 114 127 38

8. Anaheim Ducks 14 23 7 101 138 35

North Division

W L OTL GF GA PTS

1. Toronto Maple Leafs 28 11 4 143 112 60

2. Winnipeg Jets 26 14 3 139 115 55

3. Edmonton Oilers 25 15 2 134 120 52

4. Montreal Canadiens 18 13 9 123 114 45

5. Calgary Flames 19 21 3 115 127 41

6. Vancouver Canucks 16 18 3 100 120 35

7. Ottawa Senators 14 26 4 118 164 32

Central Division

W L OTL GF GA PTS

1. Carolina Hurricanes 27 10 4 133 102 58

2. Tampa Bay Lightning 28 12 2 143 108 58

3. Florida Panthers 27 12 4 136 117 58

4. Nashville Predators 24 19 1 119 123 49

5. Chicago Blackhawks 20 18 5 122 135 45

6. Dallas Stars 15 14 12 113 107 42

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7. Columbus Blue Jackets 15 20 9 112 145 39

8. Detroit Red Wings 15 23 6 99 140 36

Thursday, April 15 schedules (EST/GMT)

New York Islanders at Boston Bruins (1900/2300)

Nashville Predators at Carolina Hurricanes (1900/2300)

New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers (1900/2300)

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins (1900/2300)

Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning (1900/2300)

Winnipeg Jets at Toronto Maple Leafs (1900/2300)

Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals (1900/2300)

Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings (1930/2330)

Columbus Blue Jackets at Dallas Stars (2030/0030)

Friday, April 16 schedules (EST/GMT)

Calgary Flames at Montreal Canadiens (1800/2200)

New York Islanders at Boston Bruins (1900/2300)

San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild (2000/0000)

Edmonton Oilers at Vancouver Canucks (2100/0100)

Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche (2100/0100)

Vegas Golden Knights at Anaheim Ducks (2200/0200)

Saturday, April 17 schedules (EST/GMT)

New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers (1230/1630)

Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers (1230/1630)

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Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffalo Sabres (1500/1900)

Ottawa Senators at Montreal Canadiens (1600/2000)

St. Louis Blues at Arizona Coyotes (1800/2200)

Toronto Maple Leafs at Vancouver Canucks (1900/2300)

Nashville Predators at Carolina Hurricanes (1900/2300)

Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings (1900/2300)

Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning (1900/2300)

Columbus Blue Jackets at Dallas Stars (2000/0000)

San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild (2000/0000)

Edmonton Oilers at Winnipeg Jets (2200/0200)

Sunday, April 18 schedules (EST/GMT)

Washington Capitals at Boston Bruins (1200/1600)

Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffalo Sabres (1500/1900)

New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils (1500/1900)

Vegas Golden Knights at Anaheim Ducks (1600/2000)

New York Islanders at Philadelphia Flyers (1830/2230)

Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche (2100/0100)

Monday, April 19 schedules (EST/GMT)

Columbus Blue Jackets at Florida Panthers (1900/2300)

Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning (1900/2300)

Detroit Red Wings at Dallas Stars (1930/2330)

Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators (2000/0000)

Minnesota Wild at Arizona Coyotes (2100/0100)

Toronto Maple Leafs at Vancouver Canucks (2100/0100)

Ottawa Senators at Calgary Flames (2100/0100)

Montreal Canadiens at Edmonton Oilers (2100/0100)

San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights (2200/0200)

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