Taiwan leader says island secure ahead of China drills

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (Sam Yeh/AFP)
Updated 17 April 2018
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Taiwan leader says island secure ahead of China drills

  • Chinese officials have suggested Wednesday’s military exercise is a warning to pro-independence advocates in Taiwan
  • Although a fully fledged democracy, Taiwan has never formally announced independence from the mainland and Beijing has warned of military action if it ever did

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen reassured residents that the island was secure Tuesday, a day before China is set to hold live-fire drills in the narrow strait that separates the two.
Tsai spoke to reporters as she left for Swaziland, one of Taiwan’s few remaining international allies that has not been wooed away by an ascendant Beijing as cross-strait relations deteriorate.
Chinese officials have suggested Wednesday’s military exercise is a warning to pro-independence advocates in Taiwan as Beijing steps up its rhetoric against any challenges to its sovereignty.
China sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory to be brought back into the fold and has not ruled out reunification by force.
Tsai said Monday she had told national security officials to closely monitor the “surrounding situation.”
“Please rest assured that we have the confidence and determination to safeguard the country’s security,” she said at Taoyuan International Airport.
Tsai added that maintaining a peaceful “status quo” across the strait was her government’s mission.
Although a fully fledged democracy, Taiwan has never formally announced independence from the mainland and Beijing has warned of military action if it ever did.
Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is traditionally pro-independence and her newly appointed premier William Lai is a long-standing independence advocate.
When asked if the upcoming military exercise was directed at Lai, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office director Liu Jieyi said on Monday it was “an action to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our motherland.”
Beijing has stepped up military patrols around the island and used diplomatic pressure to isolate Taiwan internationally since Tsai took office in May 2016, as she refuses to accept both sides are part of “one China.”
China has chipped away at Taiwan’s dwindling number of allies, with Swaziland one of the few not to have been convinced to give up official recognition of the island as a country.
On her four-day trip to Africa, Tsai will take part in celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence and the establishment of diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Observers say Wednesday’s planned drills also serve as a signal to Washington, which sent aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt through the disputed South China Sea last week.
The region has become a potential flashpoint, with the United States saying China’s aggressive activities in the area pose a threat to freedom of navigation.
Washington is also Taiwan’s most powerful — thought unofficial — ally and its biggest arms supplier.
Relations have warmed between Washington and Taipei in recent months, including the passage of a bill last month that promotes visits by officials at all levels.


At least one dead in multiple shooting in Dutch city of Utrecht

Updated 9 min 42 sec ago
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At least one dead in multiple shooting in Dutch city of Utrecht

  • Police are not ruling out terrorism as a possible motive
  • ‘Threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province’

DUBAI: At least one person is dead and multiple others injured in a shooting incident in Utrecht, in The Netherlands.

Police have not ruled out terrorism as a possible motive in the shooting that left several people “heavily injured” - the shooter remains at large. Police have erected a white tent over an area where a body appears to be lying next to a tram where the shooting happened, AP reported.

Utrecht Police tweeted an image of a man named Gökman Tanis, asking people for information on him in connection with the incident — but warned members of the public not to approach him.

The main counterterrorism unit in The Netherlands, the  National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), told the Dutch public broadcaster that the incident had all the characteristics of a terrorist attack.

Counter-terrorism forces have surrounded a building where the gunman may be located, local broadcaster NOS News reported.

There was gunfire at several locations in the city, the Dutch national counter-terrorism chief said.

“Shooting took place this morning at several locations in Utrecht,” Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg told a news conference in The Hague. “A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman.”

The Dutch anti-terror coordinator has raised the threat alert to its highest level around the central Dutch town of Utrecht following the shooting incident on a tram in the city, with the shooter still on the run.

Paramilitary police have increased security at airports, mosques and other vital public infrastructure. Police have also advised schools in the area to keep their doors closed.
Anti-terror coordinator Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg said in a statement that the “threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province,” referring to the highest level. 
“The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded,” he said in a Twitter message. He called on citizens to closely follow the indications of the local police. 
Dutch police say they are looking for a least one person who might have fled by car.

Spokesman Bernhard Jens did not exclude more people might be involved. 
“We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible,” Jens said.

A hotline to address queries about the situation. The Netherlands has one of the strictest gun laws and ownership is limited to law enforcement, hunters and target shooters.

 

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the government is currently holding crisis talks.

Aalbersberg earlier said on Twitter that he was having “crisis consultations”, adding: “Terrorist motive not excluded. Information not yet full.”

 

Local media reports have said counter-terrorism police were seen at the scene.

“Shooting incident... Several injured people reported. Assistance started,” the Utrecht police Twitter account said. “It is a shooting incident in a tram. Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help.”

The 24 Oktoberplein is a busy Utrecht traffic junction, with a tram stop. Tram traffic was temporarily stopped due to the incident, but the trams are currently running again between Zuilenstein, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.

(With AFP and Reuters)