Philippines’ Duterte eyes arms deals on Israel trip

In this Tuesday, June 11, 2018, file photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while addressing the crowd at the 120th Philippine Independence Day celebrations south of Manila, Philippines. (AP)
Updated 02 September 2018

Philippines’ Duterte eyes arms deals on Israel trip

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrives on Sunday for a visit to Israel and Jordan, pursuing a pivot away from his nation’s long-time reliance on American military hardware and support.
The four-day visit to Israel will be the first by a Philippine leader in more than 60 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations, even though the links between their people go back to Manila’s sheltering of Jews during the Holocaust.
Duterte’s visit has generated much attention, powered both by his penchant for foul-mouthed statements — including likening himself to Hitler — and his internationally condemned drug crackdown that has killed thousands.
Duterte, accompanied by an entourage including soldiers and police, will sit down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hold an event with some of the thousands of Filipino migrant workers in Israel.
“We assign great importance to this visit, which symbolizes the strong, warm ties between our two peoples,” Israel’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Duterte has pivoted the Philippines away from its former colonial master the United States and toward warmer diplomatic and business ties with China and Russia.
The US and Canada have both seen military hardware deals fall apart with the Philippines due to concerns over Duterte’s drug war. But so far sales with Israel have gone smoothly.
“(The visit) is for President Duterte to look for an alternative market for... weapons for our armed forces as well as for the police,” Henelito Sevilla, an international relations expert at the University of the Philippines, told AFP.
Israel is among the world’s top arms dealers, with nearly 60 percent of its defense exports going to the Asia-Pacific region, according to Israeli defense ministry data.
The Philippines emerged as a significant new customer in 2017 for Israel, with sales of radar and anti-tank equipment worth $21 million.
Manila says the trip is expected to yield agreements on defense as well as labor, which is one of the Philippines’ top exports.
Some 10 million Filipinos work abroad and send home money that is a lifeline for the economy. Manila is keen to sign agreements on protections for the workers.
Although the Philippines has a special bond with Israelis for giving refuge to some 1,300 Jews fleeing the Holocaust, Duterte drew global condemnation for comparing himself to Hitler in 2016.
“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I’d be happy to slaughter them,” he said. Most mainstream historians say six million Jews died in the Holocaust.
Duterte later apologized for his remarks, which he said were aimed at critics who had likened him to the Nazi leader.
Just over a year later the Philippines abstained from a UN vote rebuking the United States for moving its embassy to Jerusalem. Palestinians see the eastern part of the disputed city as the capital of their future state.
Duterte on Sunday expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We shall be guided by our constitution and laws as well as our international commitments in support of efforts and initiatives including the two-state solution,” he told reporters.
Netanyahu says he wants the Palestinians to govern themselves, but has recently declined to specify whether that would mean an independent Palestinian state or some diluted form of autonomy, which many right-wing Israelis advocate.
Duterte heads to Jordan on September 5, where he is expected to meet King Abdullah II.


10,000 homeless after fire razes Bangladesh slum

Updated 9 min 46 sec ago

10,000 homeless after fire razes Bangladesh slum

  • The fire broke out at in Dhaka’s Mirpur neighborhood late on Friday and razed around 2,000 mostly tin shacks
  • Experts say fires are frequent in Dhaka due to lax safety measures
DHAKA: At least 10,000 people are homeless after a massive fire swept through a crowded slum in the Bangladesh capital and destroyed thousands of shanties, officials said Sunday.
The fire broke out at in Dhaka’s Mirpur neighborhood late on Friday and razed around 2,000 mostly tin shacks, fire services official Ershad Hossain said.
“I could not salvage a single thing. I don’t know what will I do,” 58-year-old Abdul Hamid, who ran a tea stall inside the slum, said as he broke down in tears.
Authorities eventually got the blaze under control and no-one was killed, although several people had minor injuries, firefighters said.
Many residents — largely low-income garment factory workers — were not in the slum as they had left their homes to celebrate the Muslim Eid Al-Adha holiday with their families.
“Otherwise, the damage would have been bigger,” local police chief Golam Rabbani said.
Around 10,000 people have taken refuge in crammed camps at nearby schools closed for the weeklong holiday, according to Hossain.
“We are providing them with food, water, mobile toilets, and electricity supply,” municipal official Shafiul Azam said, adding that authorities were trying to find permanent accommodation.
Some families have erected tarpaulins to shelter them from bouts of rain during the monsoon season, but the wet conditions have turned the fields muddy.
Experts say fires are frequent in Dhaka due to lax safety measures.
At least 100 people have been killed so far this year in building fires across the densely populated metropolitan city.
In 2012, a fire swept through a nine-story garment factory near Dhaka killing 111 workers. An investigation found it was caused by sabotage and that managers at the plant had prevented victims from escaping.
A 2010 fire in Nimtoli, one of the most densely populated districts of the capital, killed 123 people.