Philippine military spots ‘illegal’ structures in South China Sea

Philippine military spots ‘illegal’ structures in South China Sea
1 / 2
Chinese vessels are gathered near a disputed reef in the South China Sea in this handout satellite imagery taken on March 23, 2021. (Maxar Technologies/AFP)
Philippine military spots ‘illegal’ structures in South China Sea
2 / 2
Chinese vessels anchored at Whitsun Reef, some 320 kilometers west of Palawan Island, in the South China Sea, March 27, 2021. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 01 April 2021

Philippine military spots ‘illegal’ structures in South China Sea

Philippine military spots ‘illegal’ structures in South China Sea
  • Man-made structures were discovered in Pagkakaisa Banks within the Kalayaan Islands group, Palawan province
  • US reaffirms its mutual defense pact with the Philippines in the South China Sea

MANILA: The Philippine military on Thursday said that it had documented “illegal” structures being built in the northeastern section of the Spratly Islands in the eastern part of the South China Sea.

The man-made structures were discovered in Pagkakaisa Banks (Union Banks) within the Kalayaan Islands group, Palawan province, on Wednesday during an aerial patrol over the waters that are claimed by the Philippines in a South China Sea dispute with Beijing.

While he did not directly accuse the Chinese of raising the structures, the country’s armed forces chief, Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, said that their presence was “prejudicial to peace.”

“These structures are illegal,” Sobejana said. “The Law of the Sea gives the Philippines indisputable and exclusive rights over the area. These constructions and other activities, economic or otherwise, are prejudicial to peace, good order and security of our territorial waters.”

“We have already updated our higher civilian authorities such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of National Defense about these offenses to our sovereignty,” he said.

The military has been closely monitoring activity in the area as the National Task Force on West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) says Chinese maritime militia vessels have been entering it.

“The Philippines calls on China to immediately withdraw these vessels flying its flag. NTF-WPS stands by its observation that these so-called ‘fishing’ vessels are maritime militia,” the task force said in a report on Wednesday, adding that the build-up and massing formation of the vessels from the Whitsun Reef to other areas of the Kalayaan Island group is “hazardous to navigation and safety of life at sea.”

Video footage released by the military showed boats spread around the Whitsun Reef, a large boomerang-shaped submerged feature located at the northeast tip of Pagkakaisa Banks area.

The islands and reefs of this part of the sea are among the world’s most contested features, with parties to the South China Sea dispute — Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia — raising structures and artificial islands in the strategic and resource-rich waterway to assert their territorial claims.

As last week the NTF-WPS recorded more than 200 fishing vessels in the Whitsun Reef, believed to be manned by Chinese militias, the Philippines has sought the support of the US against China rapidly expanding its claim in the region.

US and Philippine national security advisers discussed their concerns over Chinese activity in the South China Sea on Wednesday.

As US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke by phone with Philippine National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, the White House said, he “reaffirmed the applicability of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the South China Sea.”

Under the defense pact signed by Washington and Manila in 1951, both nations would extend military support to each other if either of them is attacked by an external party.


British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans

British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans
Updated 36 sec ago

British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans

British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans
  • Islamophobic campaigns include filming refugees, making baseless accusations, lobbying MPs
  • Extremism monitor: Far right ‘reviving and refining similar attacks used during Syria crisis’

LONDON: Thousands of Afghans housed temporarily in British hotels have faced increasing harassment by far-right groups, according to organizations monitoring the activities of extremists.

Campaigners said the groups are drawing on Islamophobic narratives to whip up hate against the refugees.

Britain First is one of the most notorious and prominent groups involved in the campaign, and according to its own website, it has made more than a dozen unsolicited visits to hotels housing refugees across England in recent weeks.

Right-wing extremism monitor Hope Not Hate said the resettlement schemesfor Afghans have become a focal point for many far-right groups.

It said the arrival of the refugees has led to the far right “reviving, and refining, similar attacks used during the Syria crisis.”

The far right, it added, is using ideas rooted in Islamophobia such as the “Muslim takeover of Europe,” or framing refugees as potential terrorists or sex offenders, to incite hatred against them.

In the videos, far-right activists are seen filming themselves showing up at hotels and trying to find and film refugees, who they incorrectly describe as illegal immigrants.

They usually say they are filming for social media instead of identifying their organization, and are often escorted from the premises by staff.

Banned from traditional social media, some of Britain First’s videos on Telegram of the hotel harassment have accrued views of up to 40,000.

Many of the Afghans who have been evacuated to the UK were taken out of their country because they worked closely with British forces during the two-decade war. Around 8,500 people were evacuated from Afghanistan to Britain in total.

Far-right groups cite the alleged financial burden on the British taxpayer of resettling Afghans, and claim that they will also hurt British wallets because of the increased unemployment costs of new migration.

They have also made baseless accusations in the past that male refugees were harassing local schoolgirls — a claim discredited by police.

One group, Patriotic Alternative — a white nationalist political group — is promoting a “write to your MP” action to its followers to protest the resettlement of Afghans in Britain. They have also unfurled banners with the words “we will not be replaced” to protest the resettlement of Afghans in Britain, including one in Home Secretary Priti Patel’s constituency.

A spokesperson for Hope Not Hate told The Guardian: “It’s grimly predictable to see the far-right harassing Afghan refugees where they are living. Immigration has long been a focus of the far-right, but they have capitalized on the Afghan resettlement scheme to bring together Islamophobic tropes with anti-migrant hate.

“They are using Islamophobic narratives of a ‘Muslim takeover of Europe,’ framing refugees as potential terrorists or sexual predators, and underpinning these with a rejection of the political system to offer a hateful alternative.”


Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone

Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone
Updated 16 min 30 sec ago

Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone

Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone
  • An official said it was difficult to say whether Sweden has an unusually high excess mortality due to the virus
  • Denmark has recorded 2,703 deaths, Norway 895 and Finland nearly 1,150

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Sweden which has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic, has passed the threshold of 15,000 deaths with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to official figures released Tuesday.
Thomas Linden of the National Board of Health and Welfare, told Swedish public radio that it was difficult to say whether Sweden has an unusually high excess mortality due to the virus.
“Internationally, Sweden has not had a higher mortality rate. But if you compare with the other Nordic countries, we are significantly higher,” Linden told SR.
In comparison, Denmark has recorded 2,703 deaths, Norway 895 and Finland nearly 1,150. Each of those countries has slightly over half as many people as Sweden.
According to the Public Health Agency of Sweden, 15,002 people — 6,793 women and 8,209 men — have died with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sweden had opted for keeping large sections of society open. It has not gone into lockdowns or closed businesses, relying instead on citizens’ sense of civic duty to control infections.


Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations
Updated 26 October 2021

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations
  • "The disruption at the refuelling system of gas stations... in the past few hours, was caused by a cyberattack," state broadcaster IRIB said
  • The disruptions came ahead of the second anniversary of a November 19 increase in fuel prices

DUBAI: A cyberattack disrupted the sale of heavily subsidised gasoline in Iran on Tuesday, state media reported, causing long lines at gas stations across the country.
“The disruption at the refueling system of gas stations... in the past few hours, was caused by a cyberattack,” state broadcaster IRIB said. “Technical experts are fixing the problem and soon the refueling process...will return to normal.”
The disruptions came ahead of the second anniversary of a November 19 increase in fuel prices which led to widespread street protests in which hundreds were reported to have been killed by security forces.
The oil ministry said only sales with smart cards used for cheaper rationed gasoline were disrupted and clients could still buy fuel at higher rates, the ministry’s news agency SHANA reported.
Videos posted on social media showed apparently-hacked street signs carrying messages such as “Khamenei, where is our gasoline?,” in a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Reuters could not independently authenticate the videos.
In the past, Iran has been targeted by a series of cyberattacks such as one in July when the website of the transport ministry was taken down by what state media said was a “cyber disruption.”
Iran says it is on high alert for online assaults, which it has blamed in the past on the United States and Israel.
The United States and other Western powers meanwhile have accused Iran of trying to disrupt and break into their networks.


Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’
Updated 26 October 2021

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

TOKYO: Japan signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to provide Libya with 198 million yen ($1.8 million) grant aid for supporting local election programs.

The agreement was reached on Oct. 24 at the Japanese embassy in Tripoli and signed by Yuki Tenji, the Japanese temporary deputy ambassador, the special coordinator of Libya Mark Andre Franche, and the UNDP Libya Office.

According to the foreign ministry in Tokyo, this aid will help conduct smooth, free, and fair national elections scheduled throughout Libya for December and will be the first step in establishing a legitimate unified government representing the Libyan people.   

The aid will provide the National Electoral Commission with ballot boxes and other election-related equipment, thus contributing to the realization of a peaceful and safe society.

Libya covers an area of ​​1.76 million square kilometers, has a population of about 6.78 million and has a per capita gross national income of US $7,640, the ministry said.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases
Updated 26 October 2021

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases
  • Beijing imposed strict border controls after the coronavirus was first detected in China in late 2019
  • The latest outbreak has been linked to the highly contagious Delta variant

BEIJING: China placed a city of four million people under lockdown on Tuesday, ordering them not to leave home except in emergencies, in a bid to eradicate a COVID-19 cluster of just a few dozen confirmed cases.
Beijing imposed strict border controls after the coronavirus was first detected in China in late 2019, slowing the number of cases to a trickle and allowing the economy to bounce back.
But as the rest of the world opens up and tries to find ways to live with the virus, China has maintained a zero COVID-19 approach that has seen harsh local lockdowns imposed over handfuls of cases.
Tuesday’s fresh restrictions came as China reported 29 new domestic infections — including six in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province in the country’s northwest.
The latest outbreak has been linked to the highly contagious Delta variant, with the tally hitting 198 cases since October 17.
Thirty-nine have been in Lanzhou.
Residents of the city will now be required to stay at home, authorities said in a statement, with the “entry and exit of residents” strictly controlled and limited to essential supplies or medical treatment.
Bus and taxi services had already been stopped in the city, and state media said Tuesday that Lanzhou station had suspended more than 70 trains, including on key routes to Beijing and Xi’an.
A Southern Airlines representative said that all its flights from Beijing’s Daxing airport to Lanzhou were canceled due to public safety, with no resumption date given.
Health officials have warned that more infections may emerge as testing is ramped up in the coming days to fight the outbreak, which has been linked to a group of domestic tourists who traveled from Shanghai to several other provinces.
Strict stay-at-home orders have already been imposed on tens of thousands of people in northern China.
In Beijing — which reported three new cases Tuesday — access to tourist sites has been limited and the prominent Lama Temple was shuttered, while residents were advised not to leave the capital unless necessary.
About 23,000 residents in one housing compound in Changping district have been ordered to stay indoors after nine cases were found there in recent days, local outlet Beijing News reported.
Community mahjong and chess rooms have been closed, and residents have been told to reduce large gatherings.
Organizers on Sunday indefinitely postponed a marathon at which 30,000 runners were expected.
Mass testing is under way in 11 provinces and authorities have suspended many inter-provincial tour groups.
While the country’s case numbers are extremely low compared with elsewhere in the world, authorities are determined to stamp out the latest outbreak with the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing just over 100 days away.
As part of China’s strict enforcement of the zero COVID-19 policy, those deemed to have failed in controlling COVID-19 are often dismissed from their posts or punished.
On Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the party secretary of Ejin Banner in the northern Inner Mongolia region had been sacked, “due to poor performance and implementation in epidemic prevention and control.”
Hit by the latest wave, the city locked down about 35,000 residents from Monday.
Around 10,000 tourists were also placed under lockdown in Ejin, according to local media reports.
Six other officials were punished for their “slack response” to the latest flare-up, state media reported, and a local police bureau deputy director was removed from their position.
Beijing police have launched three criminal investigations into alleged COVID-19 safety breaches, deputy director of the city’s public security bureau said Sunday.