Blasts rock Marawi as Philippines marks Independence Day

Blasts rock Marawi as Philippines marks Independence Day
A soldier prays during a flag raising ceremony at the Lanao Del Sur provincial capital of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on Monday. Embattled Philippine troops struggling to force out Islamist militants from a southern city raised the national flag for Independence Day on June 12, in a tearful ceremony dedicated to the scores killed during the conflict. (AFP / NOEL CELIS)
Updated 12 June 2017

Blasts rock Marawi as Philippines marks Independence Day

Blasts rock Marawi as Philippines marks Independence Day

MARAWI CITY, Philippines: Bomb blasts rocked Marawi City in the southern Philippines on Monday as the national flag was raised to mark independence day, almost three weeks after hundreds of militants overran the town and hunkered down with civilians as human shields.
Rescue workers, soldiers and firemen sang the national anthem and listened to speeches as three OV-10 attack aircraft darted through the cloudy sky, taking it in turns to drop bombs on areas where fighters are still holed up.
“To our Muslim brothers there, we want to tell them to stop their meaningless fight because we are all Muslims,” Vice Provincial Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. told the gathering.
Flag ceremonies are normally performed twice a week, but this was the first in the mainly Muslim town since May 23, the first day of the siege, when the militants killed and abducted Christians, and torched a cathedral.
Almost the entire population of about 200,000 fled from the lakeside town on the Philipppines’ southernmost island of Mindanao, but beyond the checkpoints fencing it off there are still some 500-1,000 civilians trapped or being held hostage.
As of Saturday the number of security forces killed in the battle for Marawi stood at 58. The death toll for civilians was 20 and more than 100 had been killed overall.
The seizure of Marawi by fighters allied to Daesh, including some from the Middle East, has alarmed Southeast Asian nations which fear the ultra-radical group — on a backfoot in Iraq and Syria — is trying to set up a stronghold on Mindanao that could threaten their region.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday he had not expected the battle for Marawi to be as serious as it has turned out, adding it had now emerged “that Baghdadi himself, the leader of the Daesh, has specifically ordered terroristic activities here in the Philippines.”
Duterte did not say how he knew that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi had given instructions for the attack on Marawi.
Foreign Affairs Minister Allan Peter Cayetano said in an independence day speech in Manila that the militants’ had planned to take over at least two or three cities in Mindanao.
Their plot was foiled because troops made a preemptive raid on Marawi to capture Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf group and Daesh’s “emir” of Southeast Asia.
“We want to coordinate very well with Indonesia and Malaysia so they won’t also suffer in the hands of extremists,” he said.
“But the president knew at the start of his term that, as the allies become more successful in Syria and Iraq, they (Daesh) will be looking for a land base, and Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will be a potential target to them.”
Washington said at the weekend it was providing support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to clear the militants from pockets of Marawi. Manila said this was technical assistance and there were no US “boots on the ground.”
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said support included aerial surveillance and targeting, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance and training. A US P-3 Orion surveillance plane was seen over the town on Friday.
The cooperation between the longtime allies in the battle is significant because Duterte, who came to power a year ago, has taken a hostile stance toward Washington and has vowed to eject US military trainers and advisers from his country.
The Pentagon has no permanent presence in the Philippines but for years has kept 50 to 100 special forces troops in the south of the country on rotational exercises.
Duterte said on Sunday he had not sought support from Washington to end the siege and had not been aware that US special forces were assisting.
Cayetano said the government did not need to be involved in decisions on US participation because of a bilateral visiting forces agreement and, with “events happening real time,” such matters are left to the armed forces and defense department.


Kremlin says would welcome Biden’s efforts to extend New START arms control treaty

Kremlin says would welcome Biden’s efforts to extend New START arms control treaty
Updated 20 January 2021

Kremlin says would welcome Biden’s efforts to extend New START arms control treaty

Kremlin says would welcome Biden’s efforts to extend New START arms control treaty
  • The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) accord limits the numbers of strategic nuclear warheads
  • A failure to extend New START could fuel a potential arms race and tensions between Moscow and Washington

MOSCOW: The Kremlin said on Wednesday it remained committed to extending the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the United States and would welcome efforts promised by the administration of US President-elect Joe Biden to reach agreement.
The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) accord, which was signed in 2010 and expires in February, limits the numbers of strategic nuclear warheads, missiles and bombers that Russia and the United States can deploy.
“Russia and its president are in favor of preserving this agreement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. “If our American colleagues will in fact demonstrate a political will to preserve this pact by extending it, this can only be welcomed.”
Biden’s choice for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday that the incoming US administration would seek to extend the pact and decide how long an extension to pursue.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last year called on Washington to extend the last major nuclear arms pact between the two countries for a year without any conditions.
A failure to extend New START could fuel a potential arms race and tensions between Moscow and Washington.