US-Philippine war games open under China-leaning Duterte

Philippine military exercise director Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, left, and US Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of the 3rd US marine expeditionary force, unfurl the joint US-Philippines military exercise flag at a ceremony in Manila on Monday, May 7. (AFP)
Updated 07 May 2018
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US-Philippine war games open under China-leaning Duterte

MANILA: The US and Philippine militaries launched major exercises Monday aimed at fighting global terrorism, while staying mostly quiet on Beijing’s reported installation of missiles in the disputed South China Sea.
The annual maneuvers are the second to be held under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has set aside long-simmering friction over competing claims to the waters in order to court Chinese trade and investment.
The 12-day exercises began less than a week after US network CNBC reported that the Chinese military had over the past month installed anti-ship and air-to-air defenses on islands also claimed by the Philippines.
“This exercise was scheduled whether those missiles were there or not,” US Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson told reporters in Manila.
“The exercises really have very little to do with recent developments in the area,” said Nicholson, the US director of the “Balikatan” (“shoulder-to-shoulder“) maneuvers.
The South China Sea issue has been brewing for years, with Vietnam, Malaysia and others also staking claims to waters with vital global shipping routes and what are believed to be significant oil and natural gas deposits.
Nicholson’s Filipino counterpart, Lt. General Emmanuel Salamat, sidestepped the issue while highlighting the need to improve the capabilities of Filipino forces to fight terrorism.
Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, had used the exercises to boost the Philippine military’s capability to deter China, which claims most of the South China Sea.
Duterte refocused the joint exercises after he was elected in 2016, steering them toward addressing domestic problems.
Last year Balikatan focused mainly on honing humanitarian responses to the Philippines’ frequent natural disasters.
This year’s terror focus comes after Daesh group supporters seized the southern Philippine city of Marawi in May last year, triggering a five-month battle with US-backed Filipino troops that killed some 1,200 people.
“This is focusing mostly on countering terrorism ... that will allow us to respond to a similar scenario in the future,” Salamat said.
The US and Australia have pledged to provide more training and assistance to Filipino troops, who struggled in Marawi’s urban battleground after decades fighting low-intensity rural-based communist and Muslim insurgencies.
Most of the 5,000 Filipino troops and 3,000 US counterparts taking part in the maneuvers are from special operations units who will train in mock urban terrain to respond to “crises and calamities, either natural or man-made,” Salamat said.
Australia and Japan are also sending a total of 42 military observers to Balikatan, he added.


Singapore celebrates Ramadan with bazaars and biryani

Updated 23 May 2019
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Singapore celebrates Ramadan with bazaars and biryani

  • The vibrant Kampong Glam neighborhood comes alive during the holy month
  • Sultan Mosque was designated a national monument in 1975

KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore’s Sultan Mosque is a focal point for Muslims in the cosmopolitan city-state and the vibrant Kampong Glam neighborhood comes alive during the holy month of Ramadan when people from all walks of life flock to its bustling bazaars.

Kampong Glam is Singapore’s “Muslim Quarter” with a mix of Malay, South Asian and Middle Eastern elements. Around 14 percent of Singapore’s 5.6 million population is Muslim, according to the latest official data.

Arab Street — an area that includes Bussorah Street, Haji and Bali Lanes and Muscat Street — is a hub for hipsters, vivid murals, Persian rug stores, shisha bars, perfumeries and textile shops, as well as being home to the distinctive golden domes of the Sultan Mosque. There is even an ornate archway welcoming people to explore the neighborhood and its distinctive shophouses, buildings that were used for working and living in. 

“We are more like brothers and sisters, rather than businesses. I know most of the customers and they know me too,” a 36-year-old biryani hawker who gave his name as Nareza told Arab News as he served a line of hungry clients.

Nareza said his stall’s signature dish was mutton biryani, made from a family recipe handed down through generations from his late grandmother. 

FASTFACT

Around 14 percent of Singapore’s 5.6 million population is Muslim

“Dum biryani is a process of mixing meat and rice together in one pot, so the rice has a bit of the masala taste while the meat has a bit of the basmati rice fragrance,” he said, adding that he sold more than 300 portions of biryani a day. “I learned to make biryani from my father, who used to do charity work in the mosque. We make our own spices, we do not buy them from outside vendors. That is why the taste is different.”

The bazaar is packed with places selling food, drinks, decorations and homeware. The fare reflects Singapore’s international status, with eateries and stores selling kebabs, sushi and local Malay goodies.

But Singapore has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world and having a fast-paced lifestyle, leading some to focus on preserving culture and heritage for future generations.

“We want to create awareness about the significance of Sultan Mosque to the Muslim community,” juice stall owner Riduan told Arab News, saying all sale proceeds were donated to the Sultan Mosque. “Arab Street is unique because you see a lot of different races coming here and it is also a tourist attraction. This is where we demonstrate we are Singapore society. Singapore is not just limited to skyscrapers such as Marina Bay Sands.”