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Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration employees Willie Townsend, left, and Joe Brown, attach a Mississippi state flag to the harness before raising it over the Capitol grounds in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, June 30, 2020. The two men raised about 100 flags, provided by the Secretary of State's office, for people or organizations that purchased a state flag that flew over the grounds.

Gov. Tate Reeves will sign a bill Tuesday evening retiring the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem during a ceremony at the Governor's Mansion.Rogelio V. Solis | AP

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill into law on Tuesday that will change the state flag by removing the Confederate battle emblem, first included 126 years ago.

Mississippi state legislators fast-tracked the measure over the weekend, with both chambers voting to suspend the rules Saturday, allowing for debate and a vote on the bill. It passed Sunday with a House vote of 91-23 that was quickly followed by a 37-14 Senate vote.

The bill calls for the formation of a commission to lead a flag redesign that eliminates the Confederate symbol but keeps the slogan "In God We Trust." A redesign approved by the committee would then be placed on the November ballot.

If voters reject the new design in November, the commission would try again for a new flag that would be presented to the Legislature during the 2021 session.

The current flag, featuring red, white and blue stripes with the Confederate battle emblem in the corner, was adopted in February 1894, according to the Mississippi Historical Society.

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Other attempts to change the flag have fallen short over the years, including a 2001 public referendum in which 64 percent voted against a redesign.

The new movement to take the Confederate symbol off the flag came as Mississippi was under growing pressure, including from the NCAA, whose Southeastern Conference warned earlier this month that championship games could be barred in the state if the flag weren't changed.

After the legislative votes Sunday, NCAA Commissioner Mark Emmert said in a  it was past time to change the flag that "has too long served as a symbol of oppression, racism and injustice."

Mississippi's decision to change the flag after more than a century comes during a new reckoning on racial inequality in America. In the weeks since the May 25 death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, protesters across the country have demanded systemic changes in policing while seeking to remove symbols of oppression.

Among the structures that have been targeted are statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Virginia, President Andrew Jackson in Washington, D.C., and Juan de Oñate, a conquistador, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Anti-terror bill sparks fears of Philippines descending into Duterte dictatorship

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approved tough anti-terrorism legislation on Friday that rights groups condemned as a weapon to target opponents and stifle free speech.

The law grants security forces sweeping powers to act to fight militants, while legal experts say broad articles could allow discriminatory enforcement, privacy infringements and suppression of peaceful dissent, including on social media.

Duterte’s approval comes after a United Nations report on the Philippines that singled him out for publicly inciting violence and encouraging rights abuses, mostly during a war on drugs in which he promised to kill 100,000 people and pardon police who shoot suspects dead.

His opponents fear a crackdown on challengers to his popular autocracy before he leaves office in 2022, among them journalists, lawmakers, priests and activists seeking his international indictment over thousands of drug war killings.

The law creates an anti-terrorism council appointed by the president, which can designate individuals and groups as terrorists and detain them without charge for up to 24 days. It allows for 90 days of surveillance and wiretaps, and punishments that include life imprisonment without parole.

U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet had urged Duterte not to sign it. Human Rights Watch called the law a “green light to the systematic targeting of political critics and opponents” and said Duterte had “pushed Philippine democracy into an abyss”.

Amnesty International called it “a new weapon to brand and hound any perceived enemies of the state”, which would “worsen attacks against human rights defenders.”

Philippine rights group Karapatan said Duterte was seeking to emulate the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos: “This monstrous piece of legislation is, without any doubt, the final puzzle piece in Duterte’s Marcosian delusions,” it said.

Elevated threat

Duterte, 75, had fast-tracked the anti-terrorism act through both houses of Congress during the coronavirus outbreak. His spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte had taken time to study it, “weighing the concerns of different stakeholders.”

The president made no mention of the law in a speech to soldiers on Friday.

The government says the law is based on legislation in countries that have successfully dealt with extremism.

Defense chiefs say it will enable a better response to domestic threats, such as piracy, kidnappings and extremism by groups influenced by Islamic State, who occupied a southern city in 2017 and are now increasingly carrying out suicide bombings.

The law’s approval comes as series of legal and regulatory cases move forward against journalists and media organizations.

Those include top media group ABS-CBN, ordered to cease broadcasts on free-to-air and cable channels, and news website Rappler, embroiled in tax evasion and illegal ownership cases. Rappler’s award winning chief Maria Ressa was convicted of libel last month in a ruling that prompted international dismay.

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