Russia successfully tests hypersonic missile on Putin’s birthday

Russia successfully tests hypersonic missile on Putin’s birthday
Vladimir Putin has pledged to beef up Russia’s military presence in the Arctic. (AFP)
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Updated 07 October 2020

Russia successfully tests hypersonic missile on Putin’s birthday

Russia successfully tests hypersonic missile on Putin’s birthday
  • Vladimir Putin has pledged to beef up Russia’s military presence in the Arctic

MOSCOW: Russia successfully test launched a Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile in the Barents Sea on Tuesday, a senior Russian commander told Vladimir Putin on the Russian leader’s 68th birthday.
Speaking to Putin by video conference, Valery Gerasimov, chief of the army’s general staff, said the test strike had been carried out from the Admiral Gorshkov vessel which was located in the White Sea.
Putin has pledged to beef up Russia’s military presence in the Arctic.


Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy
Updated 8 min 10 sec ago

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy
  • At least 738 people killed and 3,300 in jails as political prisoners
  • “The world must act immediately to address this humanitarian catastrophe”
YANGON: The Myanmar military junta’s crackdown on anti-coup protesters has displaced close to a quarter of a million people, a United Nations rights envoy said Wednesday.
The military has stepped up its use of lethal force to quash mass demonstrations against a February 1 coup which ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 738 people have been killed and 3,300 are languishing in jails as political prisoners, according to a local monitoring group.
“Horrified to learn that... the junta’s attacks have already left nearly a quarter (of a) million Myanmar people displaced, according to sources,” UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews tweeted on Wednesday.
“The world must act immediately to address this humanitarian catastrophe.”
Free Burma Rangers, a Christian aid group, estimated last week at least 24,000 people were displaced in northern Karen state amid military ground attacks and airstrikes earlier in the month.
Karen National Union brigade five spokesperson Padoh Mann Mann said Wednesday that more than 2,000 Karen people have now crossed Myanmar’s border into Thailand and that thousands more are internally displaced.
“They all hide in the jungle nearby their villages,” he said.
Amid mounting violence, South East Asian leaders and foreign ministers are set to hold talks on the Myanmar crisis in Jakarta on Saturday.
Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing’s expected involvement in the summit has angered activists and human rights groups.
“Min Aung Hlaing, who faces international sanctions for his role in military atrocities and the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, should not be welcomed at an intergovernmental gathering to address a crisis he created,” Human Rights Watch’s Brad Adams said.
Overnight, authorities released freelance video journalist Ko Latt, who had been held in custody for a month in the capital Naypyidaw.
At least 70 reporters have been arrested since the coup and 38 are in detention, according to Reporting ASEAN.
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South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo
Updated 21 April 2021

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo
  • Activists representing sexual slavery victims denounced the decision
  • Japan insists compensation issues were settled under the 1965 treaty

SEOUL: A South Korean court on Wednesday rejected a claim by South Korean sexual slavery victims and their relatives who sought compensation from the Japanese government over their wartime sufferings.
The Seoul Central District Court based its decision on diplomatic considerations and principles of international law that grant states immunity from jurisdiction of foreign courts. This appeared to align with the position maintained by Tokyo, which had boycotted the court proceedings and insists all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations with South Korea.
Activists representing sexual slavery victims denounced the decision and said the Seoul Central District Court was ignoring their struggles to restore the women’s honor and dignity. They said in a statement that the plaintiffs would appeal.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling would affect relations between the estranged US allies. They spent years escalating their feud in public over issues stemming from Japan’s brutal occupation of Korea through end of World War II before facing pressure from the Biden administration to mend ties and coordinate action in the face of threats from China and North Korea.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katunobu Kato noted the decision conflicted with a previous ruling on a separate case that found the Japanese government responsible for compensating sexual slavery victims.
Kato said he wouldn’t comment on the new ruling before examining the details more closely, but he added that Tokyo’s stance on the sexual slavery issue remains unchanged. He said the previous ruling violated international law and was unacceptable.
“Japan continues to strongly ask South Korea to take appropriate steps in order to correct the state of international violation,” he said.
The 20 plaintiffs, who had sued Japanese government in 2016, included 11 women who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels during World War II and relatives of other women who have since died.
The court said international law and previous rulings from South Korea’s Supreme Court make it clear that foreign governments should be immune from civil damage suits in respect of their sovereignty.
“If we go against the (principles) of current customary international law regarding the immunity of states and deny immunity for the defendant, a diplomatic clash with the defendant will become unavoidable following the verdict and the process to forcibly execute it,” the court said in a statement.
One of the plaintiffs – 92-year-old Lee Yong-soo – has been campaigning for South Korea and Japan to settle their decades-long impasse over sexual slavery by seeking judgment from the UN’s International Court of Justice.
She has said it has become clear the issue cannot be resolved through bilateral talks or rulings by South Korea’s domestic courts that have been repeatedly rejected by the Japanese government, and that the friction between governments has hurt friendships between civilians.
“Regardless of the verdict, we will go to the International Court of Justice,” she told reporters after Wednesday’s ruling.
The same court in a largely symbolic ruling in January had called for the Japanese government to give 100 million won ($89,000) each to a separate group of 12 women who sued in 2013 over their wartime suffering as sex slaves.
Tens of thousands of women across Japanese-occupied Asia and the Pacific were moved to front-line brothels used by the Japanese military. About 240 South Korean women registered with the government as victims of sexual slavery by Japan’s wartime military – only 15 of whom are still alive.
Japan insists compensation issues were settled under the 1965 treaty, in which Tokyo provided $500 million in economic assistance to Seoul.
Amnesty International in a statement called Wednesday’s ruling a “major disappointment that fails to deliver justice to the remaining survivors of this military slavery system and to those who suffered these atrocities before and during World War II but had already passed away, as well as their families.”
Referring to the January court ruling, Arnold Fang, Amnesty International’s East Asia researcher, said, “What was a landmark victory for the survivors after an overly long wait is again now being called into question.”
The ruling came as the Asian US allies struggle to repair their relations that sank to post-war lows in recent years over history, trade, and military issues.
Their recurring animosity could possibly complicate President Joe Biden’s efforts to bolster three-way cooperation with US regional allies, which declined under years of President Donald Trump’s “America first” approach, to coordinate action in face of China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear threat.
Besides the impasse over sexual slavery, South Korea and Japan have feuded over South Korean court rulings that called for Japanese companies to compensate Koreans who were forced to work in factories during the war.
The countries have made little progress in repairing their relations despite South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s vow last month to build “future-oriented ties” with Tokyo. Those comments came after Moon during a January news conference described that month’s ruling on the sexual slavery survivors as “honestly a complicating” development for government efforts to improve bilateral relations.
Moon’s office didn’t immediately comment on Wednesday’s ruling. Aside from the history issues, fresh tensions have risen after Japan confirmed it would release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.
In 2015, South Korea’s previous conservative government reached a deal with Japan to “irreversibly” resolve the sexual slavery dispute. Under that deal, Japan agreed to fund a foundation to support victims in return for South Korea ceasing its criticism of Japan over the issue.
But Moon’s government took steps to dissolve the foundation after he took office in 2017, saying the 2015 deal lacked legitimacy because officials failed to properly communicate with victims before reaching it.


India COVID-19 surge hits new record as oxygen runs short

India COVID-19 surge hits new record as oxygen runs short
Updated 21 April 2021

India COVID-19 surge hits new record as oxygen runs short

India COVID-19 surge hits new record as oxygen runs short
  • India dealing with a second wave of infections blamed on lax government rules and a new ‘double mutant’ virus variant

NEW DELHI: India’s brutal new COVID-19 outbreak set new records on Wednesday with more than 2,000 deaths in 24 hours as hospitals in New Delhi ran perilously low on oxygen.
India has been in the grips of a second wave of infections blamed on lax government rules and a new “double mutant” virus variant, adding almost 3.5 million new cases this month alone.
Health ministry data on Wednesday showed 295,000 new cases in 24 hours and 2,023 fatalities, among the world’s biggest daily totals of the pandemic and on a par with numbers seen in the United States in January.
In an address to the nation on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the country of 1.3 billion people was “once again fighting a big fight.”
“The situation was under control till a few weeks back, and then this second corona wave came like a storm,” Modi said.
There had been hopes that despite its packed cities and poor health care, India had managed to dodge largely unscathed a pandemic that has killed more than three million people around the world.
Recent weeks have seen mass gatherings including millions attending the Kumbh Mela religious festival, political rallies as well as lavish weddings and cricket matches against England.
Production of key coronavirus drugs slowed or even halted at some factories and there were delays inviting bids for oxygen generation plants, according to press reports.
Now distraught relatives are being forced to pay exorbitant rates on the black market for medicine and oxygen and WhatsApp groups are awash with desperate pleas for help.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who on Tuesday went into self-isolation after his wife tested positive, tweeted late Tuesday that some hospitals in the capital “are left with just a few hours of oxygen.”
The health minister of the megacity of around 25 million inhabitants, Satyendar Jain, urged the federal government to “restore oxygen supply chain to avert a major crisis.”
Hospitals in the western state of Maharashtra and its teeming capital Mumbai, the epicenter of the surge, were also experiencing dire shortages, press reports said.
“Normally we would shift some patients to other hospitals... none in the city have spare oxygen,” NDTV quoted one doctor in the state as saying.
“The (central government), states and private sectors are trying to ensure every needy patient gets oxygen,” Modi said in his address.
States across India have imposed restrictions, with Delhi in a week-long lockdown, all non-essential shops shut in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh set for a weekend shutdown.
Delhi’s lockdown prompted tens of thousands of migrant workers to flee the mega-city, in scenes reminiscent of the national shutdown a year ago that inflicted economic and human misery.
The United States now advises against traveling to India, even for those fully vaccinated, while Britain has added India to its “red list.” Hong Kong and New Zealand have banned flights.
India has administered more than 130 million shots so far and from May 1 all adults will be eligible for a shot.
Some local authorities have however been running short of supplies, and India has put the brakes on exports of the AstraZeneca shot.
“I think in the coming week or two we will have a more quantitative estimate of and if any effect of this variant on the vaccine,” Rakesh Mishra from the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology said.
In total India has recorded 15.6 million cases, second only to the United States, and more than 180,000 deaths.


Turkey conference in doubt amid international efforts to engage Taliban

Turkey conference in doubt amid international efforts to engage Taliban
Updated 21 April 2021

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 21 April 2021

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.