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Bangladesh elections: Millions to vote amid threats of violence | Bangladesh News

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Dhaka, Bangladesh – Millions of Bangladeshis are set to vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections amid concerns expressed by rights bodies over “restrictive electoral environment”.

Voting will start at 8 am local time (0200 GMT) and conclude at 4 pm (1000 GMT) across more than 40,000 polling stations. Counting will begin soon after the voting ends.

More than 104 million registered voters will exercise their franchise to elect 300 representatives to parliament, known as Jatiya Sangshad.

A total of 1,841 candidates from the Grande Alliance, led by the ruling Awami League (AL) party, and the opposition alliance, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), are competing in the elections that have been marred by violence and accusations of intimidation.

Around 600,000 security personnel, including the army, have been deployed across the country in a bid to contain violence during the 11th general elections.

Internet has been completely shut down until midnight of Sunday to prevent “rumours”, the English language newspaper, the Daily Star, reported.

Electronic Voting Machines will be used for the first time in select constituencies.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda on Saturday asked the law enforcing agencies to act with an iron fist to check violence.

“If we find any negligence or insincerity during poll-time duty, we will take legal action against them after investigation,” the CEC said during a press conference at the Nirbachan Bhaban in the capital, Dhaka.





PM Sheikh Hasina is seeking a record fourth term [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

Rights groups slam government

Rights organisations have criticised the government for “cracking down on civil society, the opposition and the media”.

A statement issued by 16 human rights organisations, including Asian Human Rights Commission and Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), said on Saturday that at least five persons have been killed and 2,682 others injured in election-related violence since December 10.

“These attacks are meant to instill fear in the minds of Bangladeshi voters, and thus undermining the prospects of a level electoral playing field,” the rights bodies said.

Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland also urged Bangladesh to conduct “free, fair, inclusive and participatory” elections.

Golam Mawla Rony, a BNP candidate in the polls, said he was confined in his house because ruling party members would not let him go out.

Rony, who is running from Patuakhali 3 constituency in the country’s south, said he was attacked on Friday by AL members when he ventured out for prayers.

“One hundred of my supporters have been arrested. Police and Awami League people are going from house to house and threatening BNP supporters to not come out on Sunday to vote,” Rony told Al Jazeera over phone.

“The situation is terrifying. I could never imagine that such a situation can exist during an election,” Rony said.

Al Jazeera reached out to police to seek their response, but could not receive a reply until the time of publication.

Allegations ‘exaggerated’

Gowher Rizvi, the International Affairs adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said the opposition’s claims of police harassment and restrictions on their movement are “exaggerated”.

“A lot of these things are exaggerated. It’s despicable; it’s really worrying that there is violence. But if you look at the last seven days, seven people have been killed – all from Awami League. This is real violence, people have lost their lives,” he told Al Jazeera.

He asked the media to investigate the veracity of these claims.

“Yes there are some isolated incidents, I have no doubt. It has happened in the past, it’s happening now. But do not accept it without corroboration,” he said.

Afsan Chowdhury, a political analyst and a journalist, said we “haven’t had such a conflict ridden election before”.

“This election has the highest stake ever. I have not seen an election, which is so intense,” he said.

“The political parties don’t see each other as political rivals. They look upon each other as enemies,” he added.

“Interestingly, this is the first election under a civilian government in 18 years, since the 2008 election was under martial law and the 2014 election was boycotted by the opposition.”





Opposition BNP has alleged intimidation by government [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

Hasina’s contentious rule

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has become the South Asian nation’s longest ruling leader, is seeking a third consecutive term on the back of high economic growth during her 10-year rule.

“I request the voters to cast their votes, I request the candidates to collect the result-sheets having the signatures of presiding and returning officers,” Hasina was quoted as saying by the Daily Star.

Hasina has led the ruling AL party, founded by her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s founding leader, since 1981.

She has been globally hailed for her handling of the Rohingya crisis last year, when about one million Muslim minority sought refuge in Bangladesh fleeing a military offensive in Myanmar.

Her tenure also saw the beginning of the controversial War Crimes Tribunal trial against those involved in atrocities committed during the country’s liberation war against Pakistan in 1971.

AL’s Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif highlighted the record economic growth the South Asian nation of 160 million witnessed in the past 10 years.

“Economic growth increased from 5.57 percent to 7.28 percent. Per capita income increased from $500 dollars to nearly $1,800 now. Export income increased from $16bn to $35bn,” Hanif said.

Professor Chowdhury, who teaches at Brac university, said “Hasina’s achievements are quite extensive”.

“Nobody has achieved as much as she has done. She has carried out socio-economic development,” he said. “The lower class has benefited most under her. This is her great power base and that has not changed.”

“BNP’s support base is those that are unhappy with the Awami League. It is the anti-incumbency party. It does not have its own support base. Not a significant one,” he said.

The opposition fight was no match to the high-decibel campaign led by the ruling AL party in the absence of the BNP leader and former Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, who is serving a 17-year jail term for corruption.

Her BNP party forged an alliance, Jatiya Oikya Front (National Unity Front), with a former Hasina ally and a well-respected jurist, Kamal Hossain, to mount a challenge to the prime minister.

On the eve of the elections, Hossain called on his supporters not to be intimidated by threats.

“Vote tomorrow. Don’t let them intimidate you. Evil forces will flee before you. They can’t fight people’s strength,” said Hossain, convenor of the Jatiya Oikya Front.

Jobs a major agenda for youth

Employment will be a big agenda on the minds of the young voters, who form nearly one fifth of the registered voters.

The youth joblessness stands at 11 percent as compared to the overall unemployment rate of 4 percent.

Earlier this year, thousands of students hit the streets against government quota in jobs. The government was forced to agree to their demands.

“There has been abuse of power by the police and Awami League leaders at the grassroots level,” said Ismail Zaman, a BNP supporter whose name has been changed on his request.

But Mohammad Yusuf, a student of Jahangir University and an AL supporter, disagrees.

“The big achievements of Sheikh Hasina have been poverty reduction, no corruption in appointments in government jobs and most notably, humane treatment of the Rohingya refugees.”

Additional reporting by Saqib Sarker from Dhaka





INTERACTIVE: Understanding Bangladesh elections 2018 [Al Jazeera]

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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