US lauds Philippines’ decision to delay termination of military deal

US lauds Philippines’ decision to delay termination of military deal
Mark Esper
Short Url
Updated 15 June 2020

US lauds Philippines’ decision to delay termination of military deal

US lauds Philippines’ decision to delay termination of military deal
  • It follows a U-turn by Manila on June 3 citing COVID-19 crisis as the core reason

MANILA: US Defense Secretary Mark Esper welcomed the Philippines’ decision to suspend the termination of a vital defense pact between the two countries, reiterating his support for a strong and enduring military alliance between Washington and Manila.

It follows a phone call between Esper and his Filipino counterpart, Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, on Friday, during which he greeted the latter on Independence Day and “expressed his support for the Philippines government decision ... to suspend the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) termination,” said a statement released by the Pentagon.

The two also discussed a range of regional security issues, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the South China Sea, counterterrorism cooperation, and the Philippines military’s modernization plan.

The Philippines’ Defense Department (DND) confirmed the conference call between the two officials on Sunday, adding that Esper “expressed his appreciation for (Lorenzana’s) support for the Philippine government’s decision to suspend the termination of the ... VFA.”

Esper also talked about the US making “very good progress” in the development of a COVID-18 vaccine, and Washington’s willingness to share it with US allies and partners, including the Philippines, once available.

Lorenzana, for his part, took the opportunity to share the Philippines’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and expressed appreciation for the medical assistance and donations of medical supplies provided by the US government.

Both sides reiterated their commitment to sustaining dialogue amid the pandemic and strengthening cooperation between the two defense establishments.

On Feb. 11, the Philippines government informed the US Embassy in Manila of its intent to terminate the VFA on Aug. 9, 180 days from the date of notification.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has long been critical of the US, announced the unilateral decision after the Department of State canceled the visa for one of his political allies, Senator Ronald Dela Rosa.

On June 3, the Philippines announced it was temporarily suspending the termination of the VFA, with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. saying that the pandemic and “heightened superpower tensions” had prompted the presidential U-turn.

Signed in 1998 and entering into force in 1999, the VFA governs the legal status of US military forces operating in the Philippines and establishes rules by which US troops, vessels, and aircraft may enter the country.

The VFA, and all other bilateral military agreements and activities between the US and the Philippines are supplemental to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951, which serves as the foundation for the bilateral security relationship between the two countries and requires each to come to the other’s aid if attacked by a third party.

A report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in March noted that “while the termination of the VFA would not abrogate the MDT, it would complicate the Department of Defence’s ability to fulfill its obligations under the treaty.”

Abrogation of the VFA “raises uncertainties about the future of US-Philippine military cooperation, an essential part of the US security posture” in Asia, according to the CRS.

“The Philippines is a US treaty ally, and the termination of the VFA would not change that status... However, broad aspects of US-Philippine cooperation, including military exercises and US access to Philippine military facilities could be made difficult or impossible without the legal protection of the VFA,” the CRS report said.

Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, said in February that without the VFA, the US “ability to help the Philippines and their counter-violent extremist fight in the (Mindanao) [and] (US) ability to train and operate within the Philippines and with Filipino armed forces would be challenged.”


Turkey conference in doubt amid international efforts to engage Taliban

Turkey conference in doubt amid international efforts to engage Taliban
Updated 52 min 41 sec ago

Turkey conference in doubt amid international efforts to engage Taliban

Turkey conference in doubt amid international efforts to engage Taliban
  • Group boycotting all peace talks until foreign troops exit Afghanistan

KABUL: The Taliban confirmed on Tuesday that officials from the US, UN, Qatar, and Turkey had recently held talks with the group to persuade them to take part in a crucial conference on the Afghan peace process.

Last week the Taliban said it would boycott the meeting in Turkey later this month — and future talks on the peace process — until all US-led foreign troops had withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Earlier this month US President Joe Biden delayed the deadline for a total troop withdrawal from May 1 to Sept. 11. 

The withdrawal was a key condition and basis for an historic agreement that was signed between President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban more than a year ago.

“Delegates of the US, Turkey, Qatar and the UN have been holding meetings with our office in Qatar for settling the issue,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News on Tuesday. “It is not clear if these meetings, which are ongoing, will produce any result or not. But such meetings do not mean we are backing away from our stance.”

The Turkey meeting was proposed by Washington DC. weeks ahead of Biden’s move to delay the withdrawal process to prevent a total collapse of US-sponsored talks in Qatar, which began between the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators last September but have failed to make progress.

The meeting, which has already been delayed once, is seeking to facilitate a future political roadmap for Afghanistan, including the formation of an interim government that would also include the Taliban and end President Ashraf Ghani’s second term in office, which is set to expire in 2024.

Dr. Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Qatar office, told Arab News that there was “no change” on the group’s part regarding its participation in the Turkey meeting.

“There is nothing new in this regard,” he said.

The Taliban accuses Washington D.C. of infringing the deal by extending the troops’ presence in Afghanistan. The deal was designed to end the longest conflict in US history which began with the Taliban’s removal from office in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

Observers said that Biden’s move led to a loss of the Taliban’s trust in Washington D.C., with several commenting that it had also put the Taliban political leaders in Qatar in a dilemma.

“It is unlikely that the group will attend Turkey’s meeting,” former Taliban commander Said Akbar Agha told Arab News. “The Taliban now do not and cannot trust America. After nearly two years of tough talks, you (the US) agree on a deal, and then you break one key part of it. The Taliban seem to have lost any trust in America after this.” 

Wahidullah Ghazikhail, a Kabul-based analyst, said that some Taliban leaders had been holding meetings with the group’s field commanders “to seek their view” on the extension of foreign troops’ presence in the country and participation in the Turkey meeting.

“So far, these meetings have produced no result,” he told Arab News. “The Taliban political leaders can find a justification for the pull-out deadline and Turkey’s talks provided, possibly, the remaining 7,000 Taliban prisoners are freed and names of Taliban are removed from the blacklist. The Taliban waited for 20 years for America to go. They can wait for some more months too perhaps.”

Former government adviser Torek Farhadi doubted that any pressure would work on the Taliban unless they got everything they wanted immediately which, he said, was impossible.

“The US will do the conference without the Taliban,” he told Arab News. “After they leave, they have said it is up to all Afghans (to decide on their future and make peace).”

He said that once the foreign troops had left the US would no longer be offering any guarantees for Kabul except to finance the national forces, but not to keep Ghani in power.

“After the foreign troops’ departure, other political leaders will agree to a truce with the Taliban. Ghani will look odd wanting to defend his presidency. It is not sure at that point the local troops would fight to keep Ghani in the palace.”


India driving global virus surge with more than 10k cases per hour

India driving global virus surge with more than 10k cases per hour
Updated 56 min 7 sec ago

India driving global virus surge with more than 10k cases per hour

India driving global virus surge with more than 10k cases per hour
  • The unprecedented surge in cases has added extra pressure on frontline workers

NEW DELHI: India is registering more than 10,000 COVID-19 infections and 70 deaths per hour, according to official data, with the government describing the alarming surge in cases as “very difficult” to manage for the country of 1.39 billion people.

On Wednesday alone, India had recorded 10,798 cases and 73 deaths per hour on average, taking the overall total to 259,170 infections and 1,761 fatalities – a significant jump from the 72,330 infections and 459 deaths reported on April 1.

Some media reports said that India’s latest data accounts for one in three new cases worldwide.

“The situation is tough ... a very difficult situation for India,” Dr. Rajni Kant, spokesperson for the government’s premier medical research body, the Indian Council for Medical Research, told Arab News on Tuesday.

On Monday, the government announced a week-long lockdown in the capital, New Delhi, with several states following suit to address the health crisis, which has been amplified by a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen and medical supplies.

“We are all working to address the situation through the limited lockdown that New Delhi has introduced and the lockdowns and night curfews imposed by some of the state governments,” Kant said, adding: “Nobody can predict what is going to happen and when the situation is going to peak.”

The unprecedented surge in cases has added extra pressure on frontline workers, most of whom are working round the clock on coronavirus duty.

Some doctors said that they are not only putting their lives at risk, but “exposing family members to the virus by working long hours with infected patients.”

Dr. Shariva Randive, based in the financial capital Mumbai, has been working for more than 10 hours a day, four times a week, at a health facility for coronavirus patients.

She used to work for eight hours, and found the time to strike a healthy work-life balance.

“We have our masks on all the time. It’s tough. The second wave is more worrisome than the first, and the fear is more this time, among doctors,” Randive told Arab News on Tuesday.

“The situation is bleak in Mumbai, and even the close relatives of doctors will have difficulty getting beds at hospitals now,” she said, adding: “It’s the sense of social responsibility which keeps us going for long hours.”

The western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, is the worst affected state in India, and registered almost 60,000 coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

“Patients keep on coming, and you have no breathing space,” Randive said, adding that her biggest fear “is the risk I am putting my parents into by staying with them.”

Just like many states, Maharashtra is facing an acute shortage of oxygen supply and hospital beds, with medical workers forced to work with limited resources.

It presents an additional factor for stress, said Delhi-based doctor Nirmalaya Mohapatra, who added that compared to last year, “doctors dealing with the second wave of the outbreak are under a lot of duress.

“The patient overload is very high, resources are limited and the virus mutant spreads very fast. Health workers are working on automation,” Mohapatra, who works at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi, told Arab News.

Adding insult to injury, local media reported on Tuesday that the government had decided to terminate an insurance scheme for health workers who die while on COVID-19 duty, with the medical fraternity saying it was “disappointed” by the move.

Last year, the government announced the almost $69,000 insurance scheme per person, which the health ministry said “reached its conclusion.”

Dr. Jayesh Lele, general secretary of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), said: “It is surprising to see the attitude of the government.

“We oppose this move and will write to the government. At a time when the doctors are going out of their way to serve people and forget their comfort, such a decision discourages medical practitioners.

“Doctors need encouragement more than money. Such a decision is mental harassment.”

According to the IMA, about 747 doctors died last year while on COVID-19 duty, of which only 287 had received insurance money.

“The government does not give insurance money to doctors who work in private hospitals. This is absurd. All doctors died treating coronavirus patients,” Lele said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Roy K. George, president of the Trained Nurses Association of India, said that the decision was a matter of “worry.”

He added: “We are experiencing the second wave, and most health workers are exposed. Therefore we are requesting the government to extend the cover for one more year.”

George said that 62 nurses had died, with most of their families waiting for the government to release the funds.


Derek Chauvin found guilty of all charges in death of George Floyd

Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in court. (Screenshot)
Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in court. (Screenshot)
Updated 3 min 58 sec ago

Derek Chauvin found guilty of all charges in death of George Floyd

Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in court. (Screenshot)

MINNEAPOLIS: Former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murder and manslaughter for pinning George Floyd to the pavement with his knee on the Black man’s neck in a case that touched off worldwide protests, violence and a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the US
Chauvin, 45, could be sent to prison for decades.
The verdict set off jubilation around the city. People instantly flooded the surrounding streets downtown, running through traffic with banners, and cars blared their horns. Floyd family members gathered at a Minneapolis conference room could be heard cheering and even laughing.
The jury of six white people and six Black or multiracial people came back with its verdict after about 10 hours of deliberations over two days. Chauvin was found guilty on all charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
His face was obscured by a COVID-19 mask, and little reaction could be seen beyond his eyes darting around the courtroom. His bail was immediately revoked and he was led away with his hands cuffed behind his back. Sentencing will be in two months.
As the judge asked jurors if they reached a verdict, a hush fell on the crowd 300 strong in a park adjacent to the courthouse, with people listening to the proceedings on their cellphones. When the final guilty verdict was announced, the crowd roared, many people hugging, some shedding tears.
At the intersection where Floyd was pinned down, a crowd chanted, “One down, three to go!” — a reference to the three other fired Minneapolis police officers facing trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder in Floyd’s death.
Janay Henry, who lives nearby, said she felt grateful and relieved.
“I feel grounded. I can feel my feet on the concrete,” she said, adding that she was looking forward to the “next case with joy and optimism and strength.”
An ecstatic Whitney Lewis leaned halfway out a car window in a growing traffic jam of revelers waving a Black Lives Matter flag. “Justice was served,” the 32-year-old from Minneapolis said. “It means George Floyd can now rest.”
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, who pounded away at Chauvin’s witnesses during the trial, said the verdict sends a message to Floyd’s family “that he was somebody, that his life matters.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison commended the bystanders at Floyd’s slow-motion death who “raised their voices because they knew that what they were seeing was wrong,” and then ”told the whole world” what they saw.
Ellison read off the names of others killed in encounters with police and said: “This has to end. We need true justice. That’s not one case. That’s social transformation that says no one is beneath the law and no one is above it.”
The verdict was read in a courthouse ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops, in a city on edge against another round of unrest — not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a young Black man, Daunte Wright, in a Minneapolis suburb April 11.
The jurors’ identities were kept secret and will not be released until the judge decides it is safe to do so.
Floyd, 46, died May 25 after being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.
The centerpiece of the case was the excruciating bystander video of Floyd gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe” and onlookers yelling at Chauvin to stop as the officer pressed his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what authorities say was 9 1/2 minutes. Floyd slowly went silent and limp.
Prosecutors played the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, with Jerry Blackwell telling the jury: “Believe your eyes.” And it was shown over and over, analyzed one frame at a time by witnesses on both sides.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, demonstrations and scattered violence broke out in Minneapolis, around the country and beyond. The furor also led to the removal of Confederate statues and other offensive symbols such as Aunt Jemima.
In the months that followed, numerous states and cities restricted the use of force by police, revamped disciplinary systems or subjected police departments to closer oversight.
The “Blue Wall of Silence” that often protects police accused of wrongdoing crumbled after Floyd’s death: The Minneapolis police chief quickly called it “murder” and fired all four officers, and the city reached a staggering $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family as jury selection was underway.
Police-procedure experts and law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department, including the chief, testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training.
Medical experts for the prosecution said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him, a knee on his neck and his face jammed against the ground.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use.
Floyd had high blood pressure, an enlarged heart and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
Under the law, police have certain leeway to use force and are judged according to whether their actions were “reasonable” under the circumstances.
The defense also tried to make the case that Chauvin and the other officers were hindered in their duties by what they perceived as a growing, hostile crowd.
Chauvin did not testify, and all that the jury or the public ever heard by way of an explanation from him came from a police body-camera video after an ambulance had taken the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Floyd away. Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ‘cause he’s a sizable guy ... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The prosecution’s case also included tearful testimony from onlookers who said the police kept them back when they protested what was happening. Eighteen-year-old Darnella Frazier, who shot the crucial video, said Chauvin just gave the bystanders a “cold” and “heartless” stare.
She and others said they felt a sense of helplessness and lingering guilt from witnessing Floyd’s death.
“It’s been nights I stayed up, apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” Frazier testified, while the 19-year-old cashier at the neighborhood market, Christopher Martin, lamented that “this could have been avoided” if only he had rejected the suspect $20 bill.
To make Floyd more than a crime statistic in the eyes of the jury, the prosecution called to the stand his girlfriend, who told the story of how they met and how they struggled with addiction to opioids, and his younger brother Philonize. He recalled how Floyd helped teach him to catch a football and made “the best banana mayonnaise sandwiches.”


Third Taliban leader killed in Peshawar in past 4 months

Third Taliban leader killed in Peshawar in  past 4 months
Updated 21 April 2021

Third Taliban leader killed in Peshawar in past 4 months

Third Taliban leader killed in Peshawar in  past 4 months
  • The slain Taliban commander oversaw military deployments in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province

ISLAMABAD: A senior Taliban leader, Mullah Nek Muhammad Rehbar, was killed in Peshawar on Monday in an attack by two unidentified gunmen riding a motorbike, a police official and two Taliban leaders told Arab News.

“A probe has been launched to determine the motive behind the incident,” the police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Arab News.

Three others accompanying Rehbar, 35, were also injured in the attack, according to the police official.

The slain Taliban commander oversaw military deployments in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. Its governor, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, tweeted about the attack, which Daesh has claimed responsibility for.

Rehbar was scheduled to return to his native Afghanistan after he and other key commanders were summoned by top Taliban leaders to their respective areas in the war-torn country.

Rehbar’s brother, Maulvi Noor Muhammad, was also killed in Peshawar, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, during a shooting incident about 15 years ago.

Afghan analysts say the slain Taliban commander had fought against Daesh militants in Nangarhar, which could be the main reason behind the attack in Peshawar.

Zakir Jalali, a security analyst, said Taliban officials are easier to target when they live as refugees in other countries. Jalali told Arab News that Rehbar had resisted Daesh fighters in the Khogyani district of Nangarhar and the group decided to kill him because he was considered a “soft target” inside Pakistan.

The slain commander was the third Taliban leader to be killed in Peshawar during the past four months. Maulvi Abdul Hadi, the Taliban governor for Laghman, was assassinated in Peshawar in February. In January, another Taliban leader, Abdul Samad Mullah Toor, was killed near the city.

Several senior Taliban commanders, including the group’s chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour, were also killed in US drone attacks in the past.

Unidentified gunmen shot dead Nasiruddin Haqqani, the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban deputy chief, near Islamabad in November 2013.

A former senior Taliban figure, Maulvi Abdul Raqeeb, who was known to be in favor of peace talks with the Hamid Karzai administration, was gunned down in Peshawar in February 2014.

Meanwhile, a former Taliban spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmayeen, died of COVID-19 in Peshawar in January. Mutmayeen had served as the Taliban spokesperson since 1994 after Mullah Omar launched the movement in Kandahar.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed Mutmayeen’s death and conveyed the insurgent group’s condolences to his family.


Indian capital running out of medical oxygen as pandemic surges

Indian capital running out of medical oxygen as pandemic surges
Updated 20 April 2021

Indian capital running out of medical oxygen as pandemic surges

Indian capital running out of medical oxygen as pandemic surges
  • PM Modi speaks of virus 'storm' overwhelming country as new daily infections exceed 200,000 for six days running
  • A local hospital with over 500 COVID-19 patients on oxygen has enough supplies for only four hours, Delhi's health minister

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities said Delhi hospitals would start running out of medical oxygen by Wednesday as PM Narendra Modi said a coronavirus “storm” is overwhelming India’s health system.
Major government hospitals in the city of 20 million people had between eight and 24 hours’ worth of oxygen while some private ones had enough for just four to five hours, said Delhi’s deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia.
“If we don’t get enough supplies by tomorrow morning, it will be a disaster,” he said, calling for urgent help from the federal government.
Modi said the federal government was working with local authorities nationwide to ensure adequate supplies of hospital beds, oxygen and anti-viral drugs to combat a huge second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The situation was manageable until a few weeks ago. The second wave of infections has come like a storm,” he said in a televised address to the nation, urging citizens to stay indoors and not panic amid India’s worst health emergency in memory.
“The central and state governments as well as the private sector are together trying to ensure oxygen supplies to those in need. We are trying to increase oxygen production and supply across the country,” he said.
Modi faces criticism that his administration lowered its guard when coronavirus infections fell to a multi-month low in February and allowed religious festivals and political rallies that he himself addressed to go ahead.
India, the world’s second most populous country and currently the hardest hit by COVID-19, reported its worst daily death toll on Tuesday, with large parts of the country now under lockdown amid a fast-rising second surge of contagion.
The health ministry said 1,761 people had died in the past day, raising India’s toll to 180,530 — still well below the 567,538 reported in the United States, though experts believe India’s actual toll far exceeds the official count.
“While we are making all efforts to save lives, we are also trying to ensure minimal impact on livelihoods and economic activity,” Modi said, urging state governments to use lockdowns only as a last resort.
DELHI RUNNING OUT OF OXYGEN
One local hospital with more than 500 COVID-19 patients on oxygen has enough supplies for only four hours, Delhi’s health minister Satyendar Jain said late on Tuesday.
Tata Group, one of India’s biggest business conglomerates, said it was importing 24 cryogenic containers to transport liquid oxygen and help ease the shortage in the country.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Protection has said https://bit.ly/2Qg99IY all travel should be avoided to India, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled a visit to New Delhi that had been scheduled for next week, and his government said it will add India to its travel “red list.”
Several major cities are already reporting far larger numbers of cremations and burials under coronavirus protocols than those in official COVID-19 death tolls, according to crematorium and cemetery workers, the media and a review of government data.
Delhi reported more than 28,000 fresh infections on Tuesday, the highest daily rise ever, with one in three people tested returning a positive result.
“The huge pressure on hospitals and the health system right now will mean that a good number who would have recovered, had they been able to access hospital services, may die,” said Gautam I. Menon, a professor at Ashoka University.
On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 259,170 new infections nationwide — a sixth day over 200,000 and getting closer to the peak of nearly 300,000 seen in the United States in January.
Total coronavirus cases in India are now at 15.32 million, second only to the United States, with epidemiologists saying many more infectious new variants of the virus were one of the main factors behind the latest surge in cases.