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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Saudi Police Begin Expatriate Arrests

Saudi officials arrested thousands of workers living in the Arabian peninsula without documentation today as part of a nationwide campaign ostensibly aimed at creating employment opportunities for locals. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has an estimated 11 million foreigners working throughout the country, mostly employed as unskilled labor or domestic help. Roughly two million of those were in the country without explicit sanction, often overstaying a visa. Seven months ago, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz told expatriates that if they did not fix their legal status by June 4th, they were to leave the country or face jail.

Nearly a million people, mostly from East Asia, took advantage of the amnesty, which was extended four months to November 4th, and fled the country. A number of countries sent diplomats to ensure their citizens’ civil rights and expedite their departure. India successfully regularized the work status of the vast majority of its citizens. Citizens from other countries were not so fortunate, for the second day in a row, Saudi police raided businesses, markets, and residential areas to catch workers whose visas are invalid because they are not working for the company that ‘sponsored’ their entry into the kingdom.

M23 Ends Military Resistance in DRC

Earlier today, M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa announced his group would disarm and pursue political talks. This comes on the heels of a massive military and diplomatic push which removed the rebels from the vast majority of the cities and forts that had been occupied in the preceding years. Yesterday, African leaders, including Congolese Defense Minister Alexandre Luba Ntambo, sought an announcement, as a precondition to a peaceful cessation of hostilities. Bisimwa said in a statement, “The chief of staff and the commanders of all major units are requested to prepare troops for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration on terms to be agreed with the government of Congo.”

Nearly one million people have been displaced from their homes since the M23 began their latest offensive last year, but a number of other armed groups still operate in the mineral-rich eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congolese army announced it will now pursue other rebel groups that do not disarm.

Mass Conviction of Mutinous Bengali Soldiers

More than 150 soldiers in Bangladesh were sentenced to death today for their part in a series of murders, rapes, and arson during a 2009 mutiny. “The convicts will be hanged by the neck until death,” ruled Mohammad Akhteruzzaman, a senior judge at the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Court. A further 157 people, largely border guards, were given life in prison for their role in the 30-hour mutiny, while another 271 soldiers were acquitted.

In 2009, several thousand armed soldiers of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) unit occupied their own headquarters in Dhaka for two days, torturing and killing scores of people, including officers of the Bangladesh Army who were stationed with the BDR. According to government inquiries, 823 soldiers allegedly took part in the killing of 74 people, which they then dumped in sewers and shallow graves. As Akhtaruzzaman said before he read his verdict, “the atrocities were so heinous that even the dead bodies were not given their rights.”

The mass arrests and trials that followed the mutiny have drawn outrage from a number of human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, whose Asia Director Brad Adams said, “It is impossible to try hundreds of people at the same time and expect anything resembling a fair trial. The massacre shocked Bangladesh, but each of the accused should only be found guilty if the government provides specific evidence against them.”

Starfish Turn to ‘Goo’

A mysterious disease is killing starfish along the United States’ western coast, and baffling scientists. The affliction, called sea star wasting disease, has killed up to 95 percent of the stars in some tide pool populations ranging from southeast Alaska to Santa Barbara in a manner similar to scenes from a horror movie. Ill starfish develop white lesions that expand, turning ulcerous, then the stars start losing arms and finally degenerate into what some observers have described as “goo.” “Their flesh deteriorates and there’s nothing to hold them together,” Donna Gibbs, diver and taxonomist at the Vancouver Aquarium. “That’s as technical as it gets right now.”

“Imagine a wound on your finger that you never treated,” said Pete Raimondi, a professor at UC Santa Cruz who has been tracking the seastar crisis. “The bacteria would continue to build up and just eat away the flesh until it fell off. That’s how this disease goes.” He added, “They essentially melt in front of you.” Raimondi also noted the disease hit Southern California in 1983-84, but it wasn’t as widespread as it is now. Joe Gaydos, a veterinarian from the SeaDoc Society at UC Davis, suggested the disease may be a sign of a larger problem. “Every population has sick animals,” Gaydos said. “Are we just seeing sick animals because we’re looking for it, or is it an early sign of a large epidemic that may come through and wipe out a lot of animals?”

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