News from Syria, China and Russia

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on February 4, 2014

SYRIA – Assad flattens pro-rebel districts


The devastation is seen in this before (left) and after (right) pictures of the devastated neighborhood.

BEIRUT | The Syrian government used controlled explosives and bulldozers to raze thousands of residential buildings, in some cases entire neighborhoods, in a campaign that appeared designed to punish civilians sympathetic to the opposition, a human-rights group said Thursday.

The demolitions took place between July 2012 and July 2013 in seven pro-opposition districts in and around the capital, Damascus, and the central city of Hama, according to a 38-page report by Human Rights Watch [HRW].

The New York-based group said the deliberate destruction violated international law.

“Wiping entire neighborhoods off the map is not a legitimate tactic of war,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher for HRW. “These unlawful demolitions are the latest additions to a long list of crimes committed by the Syrian government.”

HRW said thousands of families have lost their homes because of the destruction.

It said officials in President Bashar al-Assad’s government and state media have described the demolitions as part of urban planning or an effort to remove illegally constructed buildings. But HRW said it found military forces supervised the demolitions, which each targeted areas recently hit by fighting and known to be pro-opposition.

The report includes satellite images of the neighborhoods before and after the demolitions. 

Residents told HRW the government bulldozers directed by the military moved in after the rebels retreated from the area.

HRW said it based its report on 14 satellite images, interviews with 16 witnesses and owners of razed homes. It also reviewed media reports, government statements and videos posted online.

CHINA – Government bans cigarettes from schools

China has banned smoking in schools, state media reported last week, the latest step in a government drive to kick the country’s pervasive tobacco habit.


Despite years of campaigning by health activists, China is the world’s largest consumer of cigarettes and smokers can be spotted everywhere, even in schools and hospitals Photo: Getty Images

Despite years of campaigning by health activists, China is the world’s largest consumer of cigarettes and smokers can be spotted everywhere, even in schools and hospitals.

But with a huge public health burden looming ever larger, China has recently intensified efforts to stamp out smoking.

The State Council, or cabinet, is aiming for a nationwide ban on smoking in public places this year, and several cities have already introduced anti-smoking regulations.

But critics say authorities only enforce bans sporadically, if at all, and it is common to see people puffing away in front of no smoking signs.

The latest ban, imposed by the Ministry of Education, covers kindergartens, elementary and middle schools, and vocational schools. Universities must set up smoking areas and forbid lighting up in academic buildings.

Anti-tobacco efforts have been hampered by the country’s powerful tobacco monopoly, health campaigners say, which pays hundreds of billions of yuan in taxes every year.

Schools can no longer seek sponsorship from cigarette brands or post tobacco advertisements on campus, the ministry said in a notice. School principals must enforce the ban by installing smoke alarms or surveillance cameras to spot offenders. School stores must also stop selling tobacco. Schools that do not crack down properly will be punished, the ministry said.

As part of the battle against smoking, the government had earlier urged Communist Party cadres and government officials to stop smoking in schools, workplaces, stadiums, and on public transport and elsewhere to set a good example.

RUSSIA – Thousands of anti-Putin protesters march in Moscow

MOSCOW | Several thousand protesters marched through central Moscow on Sunday to call for the release of 20 people who were arrested after clashes between police and demonstrators in May 2012.

RUSSIA-POLITICS-PROTESTSome of those jailed face up to 10 years in prison if convicted for the protest, held on Bolotnaya Square on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration to a third term as Russia’s president.

Putin’s return to the presidency saw the passing of new laws aimed at cracking down on anti-government protests and restricting non-governmental organizations.

The protesters marched Sunday with portraits of the jailed protesters and a banner stretching across the street reading: “Freedom to the Bolotnaya heroes, the hostages of Putin.”

Some also carried Ukrainian flags to show their support for the anti-government protesters in neighboring Ukraine, where demonstrations have been going on for more than two months.

Of the 28 people rounded up in the Bolotnaya case, eight were recently freed on amnesty. Several defendants have been under house arrest, but most of the others have been in jail for more than a year and a half.

Only three of the cases have been decided: Two defendants received light sentences after cooperating with investigators and a third was sent for forced psychiatric treatment. That man, Mikhail Kosenko, who was convicted of beating a policeman, had a history of schizophrenia, but rights activists charged the court was reviving the Soviet-era practice of [forced psychiatric treatment] against dissidents [who didn’t need it].

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at NY Post on Jan. 31, London’s Daily Telegraph on Jan. 29 and YahooNews on Feb. 2.)