Biden pushes back amid mounting crisis over border

A crew works on constructing a tall chain link fence that will surround a facility for migrant children and teenagers from the southern border of the US  on March 20, 2021 south of Midland, Texas. (Eli Hartman/Odessa American via AP)
A crew works on constructing a tall chain link fence that will surround a facility for migrant children and teenagers from the southern border of the US on March 20, 2021 south of Midland, Texas. (Eli Hartman/Odessa American via AP)
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Updated 22 March 2021

Biden pushes back amid mounting crisis over border

Biden pushes back amid mounting crisis over border
  • “Now is not the time to come," says Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
  • US expecting 2 million undocumented migrants arrive this year

WASHINGTON: “The border is closed“: With those words, a top Biden administration official on Sunday pushed back against fast-mounting criticism that it has bungled immigration policy, spurring an influx of migrants in the biggest crisis to emerge under the new president.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the administration’s message to would-be border-crossers was simple: “Now is not the time to come. Do not come. The journey is dangerous.
“We are building safe, orderly and humane ways to address the needs of vulnerable children,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“Do not come.”
But with an estimated 15,000 migrant children or teenagers already in federal custody — roughly a third of them in facilities meant for adults — and with the United States on pace to see two million undocumented migrants arrive this year, the problem has become impossible to ignore.
Biden himself vowed on Sunday to visit the border and said he was stepping up the message to migrants to stay home.
“We’re in the process of doing it now, including making sure that we reestablish what existed before, which was — they can stay in place and make their case from their home country,” he told reporters.
Many Republicans, but also a growing number of Democrats, have criticized the administration’s border policies.




US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. (AP Photo)

Mayorkas, appearing on three television networks, insisted that the administration was doing everything it could to address the influx, but said the task was complicated by policies inherited from the Trump administration and by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have a plan. We are executing on our plan and we will succeed,” the Havana-born Mayorkas said on ABC. “But one thing is also clear, that it takes time.”
Mayorkas repeatedly placed blame on Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who imposed an array of anti-immigration policies.
“The entire system ...was dismantled in its entirety by the prior administration” and had to be rebuilt, Mayorkas said.
He said three new facilities had been opened to handle border arrivals just last week.
But Republicans flatly rejected that analysis, with Michael McCaul, a Texas lawmaker, calling Mayorkas’s comments “very irresponsible.”
“They’ve created the crisis. He says he has a plan. I haven’t seen a plan,” he said, also on ABC.
“They talk about humane conditions, humanitarian. They have created a humanitarian crisis down here at this border.”
A bipartisan group of US lawmakers visited immigration facilities in the El Paso, Texas area last week and several emerged with sharp criticism.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said he saw hundreds of children packed into a “big, open room,” and “fought back tears” as he listened to a 13-year-old girl who was distraught after being separated from her grandmother.
Mayorkas, who traveled with the group to El Paso, said that under the previous administration, such a girl would have been “turned away and turned into the desert of Mexico or sent back to the very country from which she fled, by reason of fear or prosecution.”
Mayorkas also faced criticism for refusing, so far, to grant access to journalists to visit the immigration facilities.
“We’re working on providing access so that individuals will be able to see what the conditions in a Border Patrol station are like,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“But first things first, we are in the midst of a pandemic and we’re focused on operations and executing on our plans. That’s our highest priority.”
Biden said early on that he wanted to roll back some of the harsher policies imposed by Trump, but that first he needed to impose “guardrails” to prevent a huge influx of migrants.
But in a departure from the previous administration, he began allowing unaccompanied children into the country.
More than 10,000 unaccompanied children are now in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Customs and Border Protection agency is caring for 5,000 others.
The influx had begun to grow even before Biden came to office in January, propelled partly by deteriorating conditions in parts of Central America.
And in January, Mexico stopped taking back some families being expelled by the United States.


Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads

Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads
Updated 19 sec ago

Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads

Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads
  • Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, popularly known as Farmajo, Italian for cheese, inherited a deeply unstable nation where Al-Shabab extremists still hold swathes of countryside
  • Mohamed Hussein Roble, the Swedish-trained civil engineer, is seen by many as a straight talker who understands Somalia’s complex makeup and is ready to discuss issues openly
MOGADISHU: When Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was elected president of Somalia in February 2017, his supporters hoped he could be the answer to corruption and extremism in Africa’s most notorious failed state.

But the veteran diplomat triggered a political crisis when he extended his mandate and failed to hold elections, and is now locked in an escalating standoff with Mohamed Hussein Roble, the man he appointed premier just a year ago.

The 59-year-old father of four is popularly known as Farmajo, a name derived from the Italian word for cheese, although it is unclear why he earned this nickname.

He spent several years studying and working in the United States but gave up his American citizenship in 2019.

Farmajo was elected president by MPs in a converted aircraft hangar after a six-month voting process marred by widespread allegations of vote-buying and corruption.

He inherited a deeply unstable nation where Al-Shabab extremists still hold swathes of countryside despite being routed from the capital Mogadishu in 2011.

“This is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation, the beginning of the fight against Shabab and corruption,” a triumphant Farmajo said.

Born in Mogadishu to activist parents from the Darod clan, the politically savvy Farmajo was welcomed by many Somalis who wanted change after a series of Hawiye presidents in a country where clan divisions dominate politics.

He himself had served as prime minister for a brief stint in 2010-11 when he notably implemented the first monthly stipends for soldiers and established an anti-corruption commission.

In 2011, after months of infighting over the staging of a presidential election, a deal was struck to postpone the vote in exchange for Farmajo’s resignation.

He agreed to step down as premier in “the interest of the Somali people.”

The following year Farmajo and members of his former cabinet set up the Tayo (Quality) party, but after he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency he stepped back from politics for several years.

As president since 2017, he has adopted a strong nationalist stance, and at one stage broke off diplomatic ties with Kenya — an approach that earned him support from some Somalis, although he has also made plenty of enemies.

A supporter of a strong central state, Farmajo has been accused of meddling in several state elections by attempting to place his allies in power there.

In April 2021, parliament extended Farmajo’s term after a failure to agree on terms for new elections, setting off an unprecedented constitutional crisis and street battles in Mogadishu.

One rival described him as a “dictator” who wanted to stay in power by force.

Mohamed Hussein Roble won the unanimous approval of parliament in 2020 to become premier despite being a political neophyte, and has won over even the opposition with his even-keeled approach to organizing the long-delayed elections.

While lacking the oratory skills of his predecessor Hassan Ali Khaire, the Swedish-trained civil engineer is seen by many as a straight talker who understands Somalia’s complex makeup and is ready to discuss issues openly.

The 57-year-old technocrat, who had worked at the UN’s International Labour Organization in Nairobi, initially took a back seat to Farmajo.

But the two men increasingly clashed as the premier took on a more high-profile role and challenged his boss on several key issues.

After the crisis over the delayed polls descended into violence this year, he vowed to lead the country into “just, free, fair and transparent elections.”

“I have no personal interest in this election and I have no one to be allied to — all I am working for is justice for all,” was his lofty declaration in June.

People who know Roble describe him as a man of simple tastes but who likes doing things his own way.

But some say his lack of experience and tendency to hasty decisions could make him vulnerable to exploitation by more powerful players.

German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat

German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat
Updated 16 September 2021

German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat

German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat
  • On Wednesday afternoon, police had cordoned off the synagogue after receiving tips about a possible attack
  • Dozens of police officers secured the building overnight and were still on the scene Thursday morning

BERLIN:German security officials said Thursday they had detained four people, one of them a 16-year-old, in connection with a suspected plan to attack a synagogue in the western city of Hagen.
The detentions took place on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, and two years after a deadly attack in another German city on the Yom Kippur holiday.
“One of the four people was a teenager living in Hagen,” police spokeswoman Tanja Pfeffer in nearby Dortmund told The Associated Press. She declined to comment on a report by news magazine Der Spiegel saying the teenager was a Syrian national.
Without identifying sources, newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that a foreign intelligence service tipped off German security officials abut the threat.
It said the teenager told someone in an online chat that he was planning an attack with explosives on a synagogue, and the probe led investigators to the 16-year-old, who lived with his father in Hagen.
The detentions Thursday were preceded by police searches of several homes in Hagen, police said.
The interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where Hagen is located, confirmed that there was an attack threat, news agency dpa reported.
Speaking to young police officers in the city of Cologne, Herbert Reul said: ”Your colleagues probably prevented” an attack.
On Wednesday afternoon, police had cordoned off the synagogue after receiving tips about a possible attack. Dozens of police officers secured the building overnight and were still on the scene Thursday morning.
The threat came as Jews were preparing for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. Following the threat, a festive service planned for Wednesday night at the synagogue was canceled, dpa reported.
Hagen police said Wednesday night that they were in close contact with the Jewish community.
Two years ago on Yom Kippur, a German right-wing extremist attacked a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle. The attack on is considered one of the worst anti-Semitic assaults in the country’s post-war history.
The attacker repeatedly tried, but failed, to force his way into the synagogue with 52 worshippers inside. He then shot and killed a 40-year-old woman in the street outside and a 20-year-old man at a nearby kebab shop as an “appropriate target” with immigrant roots.
He posted an anti-Semitic screed before carrying out the Oct. 9, 2019, attack in the eastern German city of Halle and broadcast the shooting live on a popular gaming site.
German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht sharply condemned the foiled Hagen attack.
“It is intolerable that Jews are again exposed to such a horrible threat and that they cannot celebrate the start of their highest holiday, Yom Kippur, together,” the minister said.


China fully vaccinates more than 1 billion people

China fully vaccinates more than 1 billion people
Updated 16 September 2021

China fully vaccinates more than 1 billion people

China fully vaccinates more than 1 billion people
  • The government has not publicly announced a target for vaccination coverage
  • Chinese vaccines have nearly 60 percent efficacy against the Delta strain

BEIJING: China has fully vaccinated more than one billion people against the coronavirus — 71 percent of its population — official figures showed Thursday.
The country where the virus was first detected has mostly curbed the virus within its borders, but is racing to get the vast majority of its population vaccinated as a new outbreak flickers in the southeast.
“As of September 15, 2.16 billion vaccine doses have been administered nationwide,” said National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng at a press briefing.
Chinese health authorities said late last month that 890 million people in China had been fully vaccinated and two billion doses administered.
The government has not publicly announced a target for vaccination coverage, but top virologist Zhong Nanshan said last month that the country is likely to have 80 percent of its population inoculated by the end of the year, reaching herd immunity.
China is currently battling an outbreak of the Delta variant in the southeastern province of Fujian that has infected almost 200 people so far in three cities, dozens of whom are schoolchildren.
The Fujian cluster is the biggest rebound in weeks and comes after the country declared the Delta variant under control, in a test of China’s “zero-case” approach to the pandemic.
China reported 49 new domestic transmissions on Thursday, the vast majority in Fujian.
Authorities said the cluster’s suspected patient zero was a man who had recently returned from Singapore to the city of Putian, and developed symptoms after completing a 14-day quarantine and initially testing negative for the virus.
The man’s 12-year-old son and a classmate were among the first patients detected in the cluster last week, shortly after the new school term began.
The variant then raced through classrooms, infecting more than 36 children including 8 kindergartners, city authorities said Tuesday, in the first major school-linked spread the country has seen since the start of the pandemic.
Despite rolling out its vaccine campaign to include minors aged 12-17 in July, most young children remain unvaccinated in China, sparking fears that the latest Fujian outbreak could hit the most vulnerable people in the country disproportionately.
Authorities have rushed to quash the outbreak with targeted lockdowns, travel restrictions, mass testing and school closures before the upcoming October 1 public holiday, a week-long tourism peak.
Chinese vaccines have nearly 60 percent efficacy against the Delta strain, with antibodies rising with a booster shot, Zhong previously said.
The country is also racing to produce its own mRNA vaccine — whose technology is believed to be more effective against the Delta variant — with candidates by state-owned Sinopharm and domestic firm Walvax Biotechnology currently in development.


Philippine government will not work with ICC ‘war on drugs’ probe

Philippine government will not work with ICC ‘war on drugs’ probe
Updated 16 September 2021

Philippine government will not work with ICC ‘war on drugs’ probe

Philippine government will not work with ICC ‘war on drugs’ probe
  • Government data shows 6,100 suspected drug dealers have been killed by security forces in anti-drug operations since Rodrigo Duterte took office in mid-2016

MANILA: The government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said it will not cooperate with an International Criminal Court (ICC) probe into his notorious war on drugs, or allow any investigators into the country.
Judges at the ICC on Wednesday approved a formal probe into Duterte’s bloody campaign, in which thousands of suspected drug peddlers have died, many executed by police, according to activists, who say law enforcement agencies have killed with tacit backing of the president.
Duterte and his police chiefs say killings were in self-defense, while his government insists the ICC has no right to meddle in the country’s affairs.
“If there are complaints, it should be filed in the Philippines because our courts are working. The ICC has no jurisdiction,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told a news briefing.
“When we became a party in the (ICC’s) Rome statute, we did not surrender our sovereignty and jurisdiction.”
Government data shows 6,100 suspected drug dealers have been killed by security forces in anti-drug operations since Duterte took office in mid-2016.
Rights groups say many thousands more were assassinated in slum communities, mostly users killed by mystery gunmen who were never caught, and accuse police of involvement.
Police reject that.
The judges in The Hague on Wednesday said prosecutors’ materials showed the anti-drug campaign “cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation,” but rather a systematic attack on civilians.
Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo on Thursday said ICC investigators would not be permitted to enter the country. Victims’ lawyers, however, say interviews can be conducted virtually.
The ICC was set up to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity and has jurisdiction if a member state is unable or unwilling to do so itself.
The popular Duterte, 76, has dared the ICC to put him on trial and publicly said he would happily “rot in jail” for killing people intent on destroying his country.
But in March 2018 he unilaterally canceled the Philippines’ ICC membership, a month after its prosecutor said a preliminary examination over the drugs war was underway. The ICC says it can investigate crimes committed while the Philippines was a member, up until 2019.
The investigation comes at a critical time for Duterte, who leaves office next year and cannot run for a second term.
He has confirmed he will seek the vice presidency while his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, a mayor, has this year been widely touted as a potential successor, moves critics believe are designed to insulate him from an indictment, at home or abroad.
“His best option is to support the candidacy of Mayor Sara,” said political analyst Temario Rivera.


Afghanistan could become base for Al-Qaeda: US intelligence

Afghanistan could become base for Al-Qaeda: US intelligence
Updated 16 September 2021

Afghanistan could become base for Al-Qaeda: US intelligence

Afghanistan could become base for Al-Qaeda: US intelligence
  • The CIA has said that Al-Qaeda has been depleted after years of drone strikes and intelligence disruption, but that the tide is starting to turn after the Taliban recaptured Kabul

LONDON: Afghanistan could be used as a base to train terrorists and launch attacks on America over the next two years, according to US intelligence reports. 

The CIA has said that Al-Qaeda has been depleted after years of drone strikes and intelligence disruption, but that the tide is starting to turn after the Taliban recaptured Kabul and imposed its new government.

“We’re already beginning to see indications of some potential movement of Al-Qaeda to Afghanistan,” said CIA Deputy Director David Cohen at a recent security conference. “But it’s early days, and we’ll obviously keep a very close eye on that.”

Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said: “The current assessment, probably conservatively, is one to two years for Al-Qaeda to build some capability to at least threaten the homeland.” Previous assessments for the group’s revival were given at a minimum of two years.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of a major militant group that operates in the border region with Pakistan, has been appointed interior minister responsible for implementing the promise not to allow Al-Qaeda to regroup. His network has had links with Al-Qaeda since the 1980s.