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Five killed in Myanmar protests as junta cracks down on online critics

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Myanmar security forces opened fire on pro-democracy protests on Saturday killing five people, a protester and media said, as the military reinforced its bid to end dissent with arrest warrants for online critics and internet blocks.

Despite the killing of more than 550 people by the security forces since the Feb. 1 coup, protesters are coming out every day, often in smaller groups in smaller towns, to voice opposition to the reimposition of military rule.

Security forces in the central town of Monywa fired on a crowd killing thee people, the Myanmar Now news service said, while one man was shot and killed in another central town, Bago, and one in Thaton to the south, the Bago Weekly Journal online news portal reported.

“They started firing non-stop with both stun grenade and live rounds,” the protester in Monywa, who asked not to be named, told Reuters via a messaging app. “People backed off and quickly put up … barriers, but a bullet hit a person in front of me in the head. He died on the spot.”

Police and a spokesman for the junta did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group said earlier on Saturday the security forces had killed 550 people, 46 of them children, since the military overthrew an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The demonstrations that drew tens of thousands of people in the early days of defiance in big cities have largely stopped with opponents of the coup adopting “guerrilla rallies” – small, quick shows of defiance before security forces can respond.

People also gather at night for candle-lit vigils.

The authorities are waging a campaign to control information. They had shut down mobile data and on Friday ordered internet providers to cut wireless broadband, depriving most customers of access, though some messages and pictures were still being posted and shared on social media.

Authorities issued warrants for 18 celebrities, including social media influencers and two journalists, under a law against material intended to cause a member of the armed forces to mutiny or disregard their duty, state media reported late on Friday.

All of them are known to oppose military rule. The charge can carry a prison term of three years.

Actress Paing Phyoe Thu said she would not be cowed.

“Whether a warrant has been issued or not, as long as I’m alive I’ll oppose the military dictatorship who are bullying and killing people. The revolution must prevail,” she said on Facebook.

Paing Phyoe Thu regularly attended rallies in the main city of Yangon in the weeks after the coup. Her whereabouts were not immediately known.

SILENCING THE VOICES?

State broadcaster MRTV announced the warrants for the 18 with screenshots and links to their Facebook profiles.

While the military has banned platforms like Facebook, it has continued to use social media to track critics and promote its message.

MRTV maintains a YouTube channel and shares links to its broadcasts on Twitter, both of which are officially banned.

The United States condemned the internet shutdown.

“We hope this won’t silence the voices of the people,” State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told a briefing.

The coup has rekindled old wars with autonomy-seeking ethnic minority forces in the north and the east.

Myanmar’s oldest insurgent group, the Karen National Union (KNU), has seen the first military air strikes on its forces in more than 20 years, after it announced its support for the pro-democracy movement.

The KNU said more than 12,000 villagers had fled their homes because of the air strikes. It called for an international embargo on arms sales to the military.

“Their inhuman actions against unarmed civilians have caused the death of many people including children and students,” the group said in a statement.

Media has reported that about 20 people were killed in air strikes in KNU territory in recent days, including nearly a dozen at a gold mine run by the group.

The KNU signed a ceasefire with the government in 2012 to end their 60-year insurgency.

Fighting has also flared in the north between the army and ethnic Kachin insurgents. The turmoil has sent several thousand refugees fleeing into Thailand and India.

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Naira redesign hardships: We’ll reconvene before elections if… – Gbajabiamila

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Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila
The speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said that the House would have no option but to reconvene before the February 25 elections if the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, failed to address the hardships Nigerians face due to the currency swap policy.
A statement by the spokesman for the speaker, Lanre Lasisi, Mr Gbajabiamila said the House would continue to monitor the CBN’s implementation of the policy closely following the Green Chamber’s meeting with the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, on the issue.
Speaking during a town hall meeting with some ethnic groups in Surulere, Lagos, on Sunday, Mr Gbajabiamila said he was on the verge of signing an arrest warrant against Emefiele following his initial failure to appear before an ad hoc panel of the House.
“The House of Representatives intervened on several occasions. We summoned the CBN governor the first time and again, but he refused to answer, because we had many hard questions for him.
“It was until I issued the threat of warrant of arrest before he came, and I would’ve signed that warrant; it would’ve been the first time in the history of National Assembly that a CBN governor would be arrested. I would’ve done it.
“Many have argued on the independence of CBN, the autonomy of CBN. That does not make CBN above the law. The constitution gives the House the power to issue an arrest warrant against anyone, we can summon anybody, and that was exactly what the House was going to do until the CBN governor came.
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“So, we are watching, and we are monitoring very closely. If need be, we will reconvene the House, even though we’ve all been away for our elections. I will call the House back, if need be.”
Mr Gbajabiamila also said that amidst the ongoing hardship, the presidential candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has identified with Nigerians and faulted the implementation of the policy at this time, which necessitated the extension of the deadline for the collection of the old currency.
“On the currency swap, let me explain something to you. We are all very intelligent people. Many are suffering, we have paid your salary, and you cannot withdraw it; people cannot eat, what kind of thing is that?
“But I have news for you. There’s one man who is running for president of this country, and that man has courage and audacity. This man came out boldly and identified the problem, that the fifth columnists, in cooperation with the PDP are the ones trying to sabotage this election.
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“Many have said he’s talking about Buhari, but he told them ‘no, I’m not talking about Buhari; I’m talking about fifth columnists.’ If you don’t know the meaning of fifth columnists, go and check your dictionary. Fifth columnists infiltrate people, they even infiltrate families, otherwise how do you explain this type of policy?
“The president, being a compassionate person that he is, has asked for a few more days to look at everything that is going on and see if anything could change. We pray that things will change. If nothing changes, we will intervene again, but be sure of one thing: that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu stands with you and stands with Nigerians in their suffering.
“He was the first to shout that what is going on? He has cried, he has begged, he has screamed that people are suffering, what did the PDP candidate say? He said, ‘no, CBN don’t listen to them; you must not extend this thing; let people continue to suffer.’ That is what the PDP candidate said. He said it publicly.
“So, you have the tale of two presidential candidates: one who stands with the people and says this currency swap must stop; the second one says,’ no, it cannot stop, it’s a good policy. CBN, don’t listen to him. Let the people continue to suffer.’ I leave the rest to you to determine who is with you and who is against you.”
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Osinbajo picks holes in naira redesign policy, says scarcity of notes ‘is disturbing’

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Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo

Osinbajo on Friday urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to engage financial technology companies (fintechs) as well as mobile money agents to address the issue of getting new naira notes across the country.

Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, the second man in the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, has described as “disturbing” the inability of Nigerians to have access to the new naira notes and the ongoing naira scarcity which has caused protest nationwide.

Osinbajo on Friday urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to engage financial technology companies (fintechs) as well as mobile money agents to address the issue of getting new naira notes across the country.

Osibanjo, in a meeting with some fintech stakeholders, expressed worries over the difficulty in getting new naira notes and advised the CBN and commercial banks to address the situation immediately.

“You need cash to pay for transport. For instance, in Abuja, how do you take ‘drop or along’ or use a Keke NAPEP without cash, or buy foodstuff on the road or in canteens, or even buy recharge cards?” Osinbajo said, according to a release by Laolu Akande, his spokesperson.

“Parents with kids in public schools give money daily to their children for lunch, most commerce is informal, so you need cash for most things.

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“It seems to me that banks must engage their mobile money operators. Fintechs with mobile money licenses and many of them have micro-finance bank licenses now and already have a network of mobile money agents or human banks or human ATMs (as they are sometimes called) who are responsible for them and they can supervise themselves. They can do currency swaps and open bank accounts.”

Speaking further on the redesign of the naira notes, Osinbajo lamented the scarcity of the new notes.

“More disturbing is the fact that after depositing your old notes, there are no new notes, so people everywhere in the urban areas and rural areas simply have no money,” he said.

“There are logistical challenges that have to be addressed by the CBN and the banks, especially from the point of view of the average Nigerian and those in the hinterland who hardly use any electronic platforms.”

Osinbajo also said while there has always been a certain failure rate in online banking and money transactions, they have become even more difficult now with the increase in the number of transactions congesting the system.

 “So where in the past you used POS or any of the electronic platforms, you had maybe 20 percent to 30 percent failure rate, now because everyone is trying to get on those platforms, obviously, the failure rate is much more and the problems are much more pronounced,” the Vice President noted.

“We really need to make progress even as we make efforts to deal with some of these issues confronting us today,” he said. SR

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Senate gives Aregbesola 24hrs to defend N700m collected to monitor Edo, Ondo elections

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Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola

THE Senate has given the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola twenty- four hours ultimatum to appear before it and defend the N700 million the ministry  collected from Service Wide Votes, SWV for the monitoring of Ondo and Edo Governorship elections.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Matthew Urhoghide gave the directive to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry , Dr Shuaib  Belgore due to excuse by the Ministry that the N700 million would  be accounted for by the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps (NSDC).

According to the Committee, from the record, the money was released in two batches, N400 million for Ondo Governorship election and N300 million for Edo Governorship Election.

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This is contained in the Authority to Incur Expenditure (AIE), a document produced by the office of the Accountant General of the Federation which shows that  N400 million was released  to the Ministry of Interior for logistics and operational support in respect of forthcoming Ondo state gubernatorial election.

The second release read that N300 million was released to the Ministry of Interior for logistics and operational support in respect of forthcoming Edo state gubernatorial election.

According to the Permanent Secretary, it is the NSDC that will account for the money, we only make request on behalf of the NSDC.

Not satisfied with the defence of the Permanent Secretary, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Urhoghide  said that the excuse was  not tenable because the NSDC did not collect the money , it was the Ministry that collected the money.

Urhoghide who noted that the NSDC will only come before the Committee to account for the money requested personally from Service Wide Votes, said, ” NSDC has their own queries , they are coming before the Panel to respond to the one that bears their names, they have the money given to them directly.

“From our records, it is your ministry that will defend the expenditures not NSDC.”

The Chairman who  thereafter gave the Ministry 24 hours to defend the N700 million for the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, said, ” You have 24 hours to make your report available to us, we must get explanation from you.”

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