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1968, a year of uprisings and dashed hopes

Wednesday, 21 March 2018 00:00 Published in Commentary

Paris, France — The United States facing defeat in Vietnam. Moscow defied in Czechoslovakia. Student uprisings in Berlin, Paris and Mexico. Fifty years ago the world was rocked by revolt and dashed hopes.
Here is a look back at the dramatic year of 1968.
Vietnam: US backs down
Washington had been pouring troops into Vietnam since the early 1960s to back the South Vietnamese against Viet Cong guerrillas supported by the communist North.
But a major guerrilla offensive in early 1968 forces it to reassess.
Starting from the Vietnamese New Year holiday Tet in late January, thousands of communist forces attack southern towns, including the cities of Hue and Saigon.
The surprise coordinated assault is ultimately beaten back but it turns public opinion against US involvement in the conflict.
By late March, US President Lyndon B. Johnson announces a partial halt in US bombardments of the North.
It is the start of a long process of US disengagement from Vietnam, which culminates with the fall of the Southern capital Saigon in 1975 and the reunification of Vietnam in 1976 under the North.
Talks open in Paris in May, as the French capital is rocked by student protests.
Youths rebel
Anti-war demonstrations that had started in the mid-1960s on university campuses in the United States and Europe with chants of “US, go home!” take on a new dimension in 1968.
Youths pour into the streets around the world to vent anger at the war and the capitalist status quo, but also to demand sexual freedom, feminism and — even then — protection of the environment.
In Germany, the attempted assassination in April of radical leftist student leader Rudi Dutschke unleashes a riot in Berlin. The unrest spreads to dozens of German cities.
In France, students demonstrate in Paris on May 10, battling police through the night. Two days later, workers join in and a strike paralyses the country for weeks.
President Charles de Gaulle dissolves the National Assembly on May 30 but his party comes back even stronger than before in June legislative elections.
The social movement is echoed in Italy, Turkey and Japan.
Spring crushed
The winds of revolt reach communist Czechoslovakia, where Alexander Dubcek becomes head of the ruling party in January and tries to introduce reforms for “Socialism with a human face”.
But the Prague Spring is unacceptable to Moscow, which still dominates communist Eastern Europe. In August, it sends in tanks and soldiers, including from its communist allies, that crush hopes for change.
Poland has its own “spring” in March, a student revolt that is swiftly repressed by the harsh communist regime. As several of the student leaders are Jewish, the authorities launch an anti-Semitic campaign which sees thousands quit the country.
Mexico Olympics, a stage
In Mexico, police crack down on protesting students just ahead of the October Olympic Games. Many are killed: officials put the toll at 33, while foreign witnesses give a figure of between 200 and 300.
There is more defiance at the Games: medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists on the podium in a Black Power salute that puts the spotlight on discrimination against African-Americans.
It is a dark year for the fight against the racial segregation plaguing the United States. Martin Luther King, a black pastor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, is assassinated on April 4 by a white escaped convict.
His murder unleashes demonstrations across the country. Soon afterwards the president, Johnson, signs one of the last laws on civil rights demanded by the celebrated activist, an act that ends discrimination in housing.
On June 5, another political assassination rocks the United States: presidential hopeful Bobby Kennedy is shot by a Palestinian immigrant. The younger brother of president John F. Kennedy — himself assassinated in 1963 — dies the following day.
Biafra disaster revealed
In 1968, the world awakens to the humanitarian disaster in Biafra, which is battling Nigeria to maintain the independence it declared the previous year.
Images of starving Biafrans emerge and mobilize a new kind of international humanitarian effort, leading soon afterwards to the formation of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).
The 30-month conflict and a Nigerian blockade eventually claim a million lives, many from starvation.

Bangui, Central African Republic — For a few months each year, the Ubangi, a tributary of the mighty River Congo, dries up and a cluster of ephemeral islands emerge from its torrents before the skies darken and seasonal downpours return.
The river, also spelled Oubangui, marks the border between Central African Republic (CAR) and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and most of the islands are barren and deserted.
But a handful host temporary communities, with dozens of makeshift straw huts and tarpaulins stretched out along their sandy banks, as villagers, displaced from their homes in CAR, take refuge on their isolated, transient shores.
Fisherman Matthias Kongba is one of the hundreds to have sought sanctuary.
He comes from the Satema region 300 kilometers upstream but he moved to one of the temporary islands three months ago, tending to his nets and his battered wooden canoe because, he says, “the evil came back”.
The evil he speaks of is a militia called the anti-Balaka, a band of Christian and animist fighters that rose up after mostly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew the government of President Francois Bozize, a Christian, in 2013.
The Seleka’s short-lived but brutal rule ended in 2014 after intense international pressure and a military intervention led by France, leaving the Muslim population to face bloody reprisals from the anti-Balaka.
Since then CAR has descended into further turmoil and thousands have been killed in inter-communal violence. Amid murder, rape and retaliatory attacks, the conflict has forced a million people to leave their homes, and more than half the population is in dire need of assistance.
“The anti-Balaka were robbing, torturing, committing crimes. We fled to Congo, it’s a disaster,” says Kongba, who left his wife and nine children in the DRC and now represents displaced fishermen on the island.
His family are among the almost 200,000 people from CAR who have registered as refugees in DRC, according to UN refugee agency figures.
Nearly 500 people have settled on the river islet, which faces the village of Bagobolong 2 (80 km east of the capital, Bangui), to escape the anti-Balaka.
“They gradually arrived between December and January. They settled between here and Zawara,” says Francois Kokayeke, village head of Bagobolong 2, noting it is the first time fishermen have lived on the island.
Along the Ubangi, traders and fishermen are routinely subjected to the racketeering of the anti-Balaka militia, that has posts along the length of its banks.
Many fishermen have stories of friends or family who have been kidnapped or ransomed. Others have been forced to join the militia, through a bloody scarification ritual that they call “vaccination”.
The process involves scarring several parts of the body during a ceremony that can involve whipping and cutting — it’s supposed to make a person invincible to bullets.
“Anti-Balaka catch the fishing boats. They want to ‘vaccinate’ us. If you refuse, they ‘vaccinate’ you by force,” says Kongba, his voice full of anger.
Another fisherman, Aran Bambindo, who is also living on the island after anti-Balaka forces looted and burned the houses of his village, Satema, says family members have been scarred.
“The anti-Balaka take our fish, they whip us and force us to be ‘vaccinated’. It is to force us to fight with them,” Bambindo says.
“Before the ‘vaccination’, they tie you down and give you hemp. This lasts three hours. Some people agree to fight with them and they are ‘vaccinated’ with their children.”
“Others refuse and flee,” he adds.
Bambindo points to his nephew, who does not speak, his eyes staring at the ground.
He has dozens of scars that have cut into the flesh on his arms, chest and back.
Internally displaced
As the numbers of displaced on the islands have grown, so too have the problems, including food shortages.
Village chief Kokayeke returns from a fishing trip but his nets are almost empty.
“The fishing is not good because there are too many fishermen now,” explains Kokayeke.
“Some are using the small mesh nets that catch the small fish, so it reduces the reserves even further,” he adds.
The local fishermen association says it has tried to distribute unused nets to new arrivals but that there are too many people.
In the dry season, the Ubangi runs at about five meters, but during the rains its swollen waters can rise up to 12 meters.
Unable to fish, the island inhabitants hang around the tiny entrances to their straw huts, aware that their temporary homes will submerge under the river once the rainy season returns in May.
“It’s (because of) poverty,” says Kongba, in a torn blue T-shirt.
“We can not eat well, we have no drinking water, no care, not enough fishing equipment,” he says, before returning to his fishing net. 

Alibaba doubles stake in Lazada

Tuesday, 20 March 2018 00:00 Published in Business

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba said yesterday it will appoint one of its founders as head of Lazada and inject another $2 billion into Southeast Asia’s leading online shopping firm, boosting its regional expansion.
Alibaba, which already owns 83 percent of Lazada with two investments totalling $2 billion as of June last year, has been trying to acquire both online and offline assets to further bolster its business.
Lazada operates in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and has 560 million consumers in the region.
One of Alibaba’s founders, Lucy Peng, will take over as CEO of Lazada. Peng is already chairwoman of the Southeast Asia firm.
“With a young population, high mobile penetration and just 3 percent of the region’s retail sales currently conducted online, we feel very confident to double down on Southeast Asia,” Peng said.
Lazada founder Max Bittner said Alibaba’s “new commitment of capital and resources is good for Lazada and good for the Southeast Asia e-commerce market”.
Peng is also the chairwoman and chief executive of Alibaba’s affiliate Ant Financial, which is planning a separate public offering. 






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