Indonesian forces storm Papua rally

Indonesian security forces have stormed a pro-independence assembly in eastern Papua province, firing tear gas and warning shots, and rounding up hundreds, witnesses and reports said.

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Hundreds of paramilitary police and army troops surrounded the estimated 5,000 participants at the Papuan Congress, held at an open field in Abepura outside the provincial capital Jayapura, witnesses said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, as police dispersed a diverse crowd which included youths and human rights activists as well as tribal and religious leaders.

“They got in and started firing tear gas, trampling and beating up the crowd with their bare fists and rifle butts until they were black and blue,” rights activist Paskalis Tonggap told AFP.

Another witness, Markus Haluk, a leader of a Papuan youth organisation, said that police and troops had surrounded the congress with anti-riot trucks since morning and fired warning shots.

The participants were attending the Third Papuan Congress, a pro-democracy gathering for the remote eastern region’s indigenous Melanesian majority, last held in May 2000.

For decades, ethnic Papuans have rejected the region’s special autonomy within Indonesia and demanded a referendum on self-determination for Papua’s estimated 3.6 million population.

“They committed violations, such as raising the Morning Star flag. We fired warning shots to disperse them,” Papuan police spokesman Wachyono told reporters.

Under Indonesian law, even peaceful political acts such as displaying the Morning Star flag of Papuan independence are punishable by lengthy prison terms. The region is off limits to foreign journalists and rights workers.

“We arrested several perpetrators who were the brains behind the congress,” Wachyono said, adding that there were no casualties in the crackdown.

The independent MetroTV showed paramilitary police beating the crowd with batons and bare fists, as military vehicles surrounded the area. It said hundreds were rounded up and packed into military trucks as they were taken for questioning.

The region’s special autonomy status, introduced in 2001 after the fall of former president Suharto’s military dictatorship, has seen powers including control of most tax revenue from natural resources devolved to the provincial government.

However many Papuans say it has failed to improve their rights and activists accuse the Indonesian military of acting with brutal impunity against the Melanesian population.

Egypt islamists rally to show strength

Hundreds of thousands of Islamists packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday in a show of force that angered secularists as clashes in Sinai between security and apparent Islamists killed four, including a military captain.

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Islamists from across the country flocked into the central square to defend what they called “Egypt’s Islamic identity” in the country’s largest protest since a revolt ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.

Smaller rallies took place elsewhere across the country.

In the northern Sinai town of El-Arish, a peaceful protest earlier gave way to armed clashes between police and roughly 150 masked men in trucks carrying banners that read “There is no God but Allah.”

The gunmen stormed through the city and tried to force their way into a police station but were confronted by policemen and soldiers, sparking a gunfight.

A military officer and three civilians, one of them a 13-year-old boy, were killed in that incident. The official MENA news agency identified the dead officer as a captain.

Twelve police conscripts were wounded, a health ministry official told state television.

Witnesses said the armed men had also tried to destroy a statue of former president Anwar Sadat, whom Islamists killed in 1981.

The rally in Cairo, organised by hardline Salafi groups and the influential Muslim Brotherhood, came as tensions grow between secular activists and the military on the one hand and Islamists on the other.

“The people demand the application of God’s law,” thousands chanted under the searing sun, many of them carrying umbrellas or pouring water on their heads to counter the heat.

The rally officially started after the Muslim noon prayer, but thousands had already made their way to the square overnight and by morning chants calling for an “Islamic state” rang across Tahrir.

Islamist groups have been organising the rally for weeks, sparking fears of clashes with secular protesters who have been camped out in the square since July 8.

After two days of meetings, the secular and Islamist groups agreed to try to put their differences aside and focus on the common goals in order to save the revolution that toppled Mubarak, organisers said.

But the agreement quickly unravelled with more than two dozen groups announcing their withdrawal from the protest because of the Islamist slogans.

“We had an agreement that it would be a day of unity, but it turned into something else,” said Mohammed Waked, a member of the Front for Justice and Democracy.

The sheer size of the protest appeared to have intimidated secular activists, some of whom took to Twitter to deride the protest as “Tahriristan.”

One protester, Tareq Ahmed, said he travelled from the province of Fayoum to attend the rally.

“I want unity for all the factions, but at the same time I reject principles that will be binding on a constitution,” he said, referencing one of the main disputes between Islamists and some of their secular opponents.

Liberal activists such as Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog chief turned anti-Mubarak dissident, want the military rulers to accept a declaration of guiding principles for a new constitution.

The Islamists fear that such a document, which the military has said it would be willing to accept, might threaten the second article in Egypt’s old constitution, which says Islamic law is the main source of law.

“There is a fear that Article 2 will be removed,” said another protester, Mohammed Sayid, who identified himself as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The secularists and liberals want to remove it; also some of our Coptic (Christian) brothers don’t like it,” he said.

Once the most influential opposition movement under Mubarak, the Brotherhood is now accused by critics of siding with the ruling military which faces accusations of human rights abuses.

The military has accused the protesters holding the 21-day sit-in the square of trying to throw Egypt into instability, an accusation echoed by the Islamist groups who are preparing to flex their muscle in the upcoming elections.

Parliamentary elections have been announced for autumn, to be followed by the drafting of a new constitution and then a presidential election.

Secular groups feared that an early election would benefit the well-entrenched Brotherhood, which would then have too much influence in drawing up the new constitution.

Pulitzer winning journalist ‘illegal immigrant’

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who covered the Virginia Tech massacre for the Washington Post has gone public with a secret he has been keeping for nearly two decades:

He is an illegal immigrant.

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Jose Antonio Vargas, whose mother sent him from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in California when he was 12, says that now he wants to push Congress to pass a bill called the DREAM Act that would allow people like him to become citizens if they go to college or serve in the military.

‘DONE RUNNING’

“I’m done running. I’m exhausted,” Vargas wrote in a New York Times Magazine essay posted online on Wednesday. “I don’t want that life anymore.”

Vargas referred a request for comment from The Associated Press to his public relations team, which did not immediately make him available on Wednesday. He also spoke to ABC News in interviews that will air on Thursday and Friday.

He says he didn’t know about his citizenship status until four years after he arrived in the US, when he applied for a driver’s permit and handed a clerk his green card.

“This is fake,” a Department of Motor Vehicles clerk said, according to Vargas’ account. “Don’t come back here again.”

GRANDFATHER BOUGHT FAKE DOCUMENTS

Vargas confronted his grandfather, who acknowledged he purchased the green card and other fake documents.

“I remember the very first instinct was, OK, that’s it, get rid of the accent,” Vargas told ABC. “Because I just thought to myself, you know, I couldn’t give anybody any reason to ever doubt that I’m an American.”

He convinced himself that if he worked hard enough and achieved enough, he would be rewarded with citizenship, Vargas wrote in the magazine piece.

His grandfather imagined the fake documents would help Vargas get low-wage jobs. College seemed out of reach, until Vargas told Mountain View High School principal Pat Hyland and school district superintendent Rich Fisher about his problem.

They became mentors and surrogate parents, eventually finding a scholarship fund for high-achieving students that allowed him to attend San Francisco State University.

Vargas was hired for internships at The San Francisco Chronicle and the Philadelphia Daily News.

He was denied an internship at The Seattle Times because he didn’t have all the documents they required.

But he kept applying and got an offer from The Washington Post.

‘NETWORK’ HELPED GET DRIVERS LICENCE

The newspaper required a driver’s licence, so Vargas said his network of mentors helped him get one from Oregon, which has less stringent requirements than some other states.

Once hired full-time at the Post, he used the licence to cover Washington events, including a state dinner at the White House, Vargas recalled.

He wrote that he was nearly paralysed with anxiety that his secret would be found out at the Post.

He tried to avoid reporting on immigration policy, but at times, it was impossible. At one point, he wrote about then-senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s position on driver’s licences for illegal immigrants.

Vargas eventually told his mentor, Peter Perl, now the newspaper’s training director.

MENTOR KEPT SECRET

Perl told him that once he had accomplished more, they would tell then-editor Leonard Downie Jr and Post chairman Don Graham together. They kept the secret until Vargas left the paper.

On Wednesday, Washington Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti condemned their actions.

“What Jose did was wrong. What Peter did was wrong,” Coratti said, declining to comment further on personnel matters. “We are also reviewing our internal procedures, and we believe this was an isolated incident of deception.”

An email seeking comment was sent to Perl.

The Post originally planned to publish Vargas’ story, but decided not to. Coratti would not say why.

“We think it is a really interesting first-person account, and we’re glad he found a place to share his story,” she said.

NO COMMENTS FROM US IMMIGRATION

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Cori W. Bassett would not comment specifically on Vargas’ case on Wednesday but said the agency prioritises cases that pose the most significant threat to public safety.

William Perez, a professor at California’s Claremont Graduate University who has written about the DREAM Act, said “coming out” as an illegal immigrant can provide some protection for a young person facing deportation by drumming up support and public outcry.

It also raises awareness that many in the same situation can’t simply apply for citizenship in the US. They would have to go back to their countries and start the process from scratch, which could take years.

WON PULITZER FOR VIRGINIA TECH COVERAGE

Vargas shared a Pulitzer Prize for the Post’s coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.

A 2006 series he wrote on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Washington inspired a documentary film.

Last year, he wrote a profile of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for The New Yorker.

Most recently, Vargas was a senior contributing editor at Huffington Post. He said he left after less than a year and was worried professionally about a looming deadline: the expiration of his eight-year-old Oregon driver’s licence.

Just before he turned 30 this year, Vargas said he obtained a Washington state driver’s licence, which would have given him a five-year reprieve – and meant five more years of lying.

He said he couldn’t deal with that.

“In my heart, I’m an American,” Vargas told ABC. “I am one of many, many people, and we are not who you think we are. We don’t just mow your lawns and babysit your kids and serve you tacos…. We do a really good job doing that, but we do other things, and we are a part of this society.”

On Wednesday, Vargas launched a campaign called Define American to use stories of immigrants like him to urge Congress and the Obama administration to pursue immigration reform. His high school principal and superintendent have signed on as board members.

Multicultural inquiry stirs emotions in Melbourne

The Federal Government’s inquiry on multiculturalism has been told that it should give more support to key aspects of Islamic life, such as mosques, schools and its food.

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But the inquiry has sparked a call from a leading Jewish organisation for all new arrivals to demonstrate an acceptance of what it calls ‘Australian values’.

Turkish born Huseyein Yazaci is the second generation proprietor of Melbourne’s first ever Halal butchery.

He’s considered opening a second store in an outer suburb, but says it’s still cost prohibitive and would need to form part of a co-ordinated expansion.

“You have to have all those things over there, like Mosques or Islamic schools or Islamic shops,” says Mr. Yazaci.

That’s precisely what the Federation Of Islamic Councils is proposing, they say the muslim community is driven to the very “enclaves” which often draw criticism.

“There has been instances where we have applied on good planning grounds for a mosque or a school to be built in certain areas that those facilities are not approved and certain road-blocks are put in,” Iqbal Patel from the Federation of Islamic Councils told SBS.

The proposal is gaining support in Melbourne’s multiculural north, with residents saying there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be integrated.

Mr Patel is even encouraging Australian governments to consider some funding for islamic-oriented infrastructure.

“If you don’t like the Muslim community to live in enclaves, or for that matter any community, then allow for those services to be opened up in areas out of these so-called enclaves.”

The Executive Council Of Australian Jewry has also made a submission to the federal multiculturalism inquiry wanting a strengthened test of so-called ‘Australian values’ for all immigrants.

“That’s something that has to be earned. Australian citizenship is an honour and a responsibility – it’s not something to be given away lightly,” Executive Director Peter Wertheim says.

The council says all new arrivals should be scrutinised closely for attitudes it feels are unacceptable.

“Regardless of their religious or cultural background, if they’re involved in promoting violent or racist or totalitarian ideology they’re not fit subjects for citizenship”

The federal inquiry is continuing to receive submissions.

Hague calls for more reform in Burma

Britain’s foreign secretary has called for “much more” work to be done in Burma before sanctions on the isolated nation could be lifted, after a historic meeting with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

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William Hague, the first British foreign minister to visit Burma in over half a century, met with Suu Kyi for about one-and-a-half hours following a dinner with her and meetings with senior government members yesterday.

After the talks in Rangoon, he praised promising steps that have been made since the nominally civilian government took power in March but said “much more needs to be done” if restrictive European Union measures are to be lifted.

He called in particular for the release of political prisoners, free and fair by-elections in April and improved humanitarian access to ethnic conflict areas.

“It is very important that we do not relax the pressures prematurely,” he said on the last day of his trip, describing himself as a “great admirer” of the Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi and her struggles for freedom and democracy.

“This is a very exciting time because there is a chance that what she and her colleagues have hoped and longed for for so long will actually take place in this country.”

Burma has played host to a series of top international envoys in recent months after controversial 2010 elections heralded the end of decades of direct military rule.

Suu Kyi, who has grown cautiously positive about Burma’s future recently, said she expected to live to see a “full democratic election” in Burma, in comments to the BBC before her dinner meeting with Hague.

After meeting with him again on Friday, she said she looked forward to the time when Britain and Burma’s relationship improves and becomes “mutually beneficial”.

The Nobel laureate is on course to run in April 1 by-elections after her National League for Democracy (NLD) was officially allowed to register as a political party on Thursday.

Suu Kyi, who was freed from seven straight years of house arrest days after a November 2010 election, could be propelled into parliament by the upcoming poll, although the majority held by the army and ruling military-backed party will not be threatened.

Since taking office last year Thein Sein — himself a former junta general — has surprised observers by holding talks with Suu Kyi, suspending an unpopular Chinese-backed dam project and indicating a desire to reach out to the international community.

Some political prisoners have also been released but the government this week caused disappointment when it announced reduced jail terms for inmates but failed to issue a much-anticipated amnesty for detained dissidents.

Hague’s trip, the first by a European Union foreign minister since the new government took power, is the latest round of international diplomacy aimed at urging on the budding reforms.

“I made clear that the British government stands ready to respond positively to evidence of further progress towards that lasting improvement in human rights and political freedom that the people of Burma seek,” he said in a UK Missions statement following talks with the president.

Hague’s visit echoes that of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who met Thein Sein and Suu Kyi during a trip to Myamar at the end of last year.

British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell travelled to the country in November and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba visited in December.