NATO warns Russia over troop buildup close to Ukraine

NATO warns Russia over troop buildup close to Ukraine
A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a position on the frontline with Russia backed separatists near small city of Marinka, Donetsk region on April 12, 2021. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 April 2021

NATO warns Russia over troop buildup close to Ukraine

NATO warns Russia over troop buildup close to Ukraine
  • Stoltenberg said that “NATO stands with Ukraine”
  • Stoltenberg called the latest military buildup the biggest since 2014

BRUSSELS: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Moscow on Tuesday not to push its troop buildup along the frontier with Ukraine, and expressed the alliance’s “unwavering” support for Russia’s neighbor.
In a news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Stoltenberg said that “NATO stands with Ukraine,” and added that the Russian movements were “unjustified, unexplained and deeply concerning.”
The comments come amid a surge of cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a conflict since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Stoltenberg called it the biggest military buildup since then. “Russia has moved thousands of combat troops to Ukraine’s borders, the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Over the last days, several Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in eastern Ukraine,” he said.
Kuleba sounded defiant toward Moscow and said Ukraine and its Western partners were better prepared than 7 years ago. “Should Moscow take any reckless move or start a new spiral of violence, it will be costly in all senses,” Kuleba said.
Stoltenberg will be joined by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday to assess the Russian troop buildup, among other issues.
“Russia must end this military buildup in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and de-escalate immediately,” Stoltenberg said.
“Russia has moved thousands of combat troops to Ukraine’s borders, the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Over the last days, several Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in eastern Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.


India reports record for single-day coronavirus deaths

India reports record for single-day coronavirus deaths
Updated 40 min 37 sec ago

India reports record for single-day coronavirus deaths

India reports record for single-day coronavirus deaths
  • India has recorded nearly 280,000 virus deaths since the pandemic began
  • The government on Monday announced that 17 new labs will help track variants

NEW DELHI: India’s total virus cases since the pandemic began swept past 25 million as the country registered more than 260,000 new cases and a record 4,329 fatalities in the last 24 hours.
The numbers reported Tuesday follow a trend of falling cases after infections dipped below 300,000 for the first time in weeks a day earlier.
Active cases in the country also decreased by more than 165,000 on Tuesday – the biggest dip in weeks. But deaths have continued to rise and hospitals are still swamped by patients.
India has recorded nearly 280,000 virus deaths since the pandemic began. Both the number of deaths and total reported cases are thought to be vast undercounts.
The government on Monday announced that 17 new labs will help track variants, boosting India’s genome sequencing abilities as concern grows over a potentially worrisome variant first detected here. The variant may spread more easily but the country has lagged behind in doing the testing needed to track it and understand it better.
The variant first identified in India has prompted global concern – most notably in Britain, where it has more than doubled in a week, defying a sharp nationwide downward trend in infections.


127 missing after vessel sinks in India cyclone: navy

127 missing after vessel sinks in India cyclone: navy
Updated 18 May 2021

127 missing after vessel sinks in India cyclone: navy

127 missing after vessel sinks in India cyclone: navy
  • The vessel was carrying 273 people when it started drifting on Monday

MUMBAI: Some 127 people were missing Tuesday after a vessel adrift off Mumbai’s coast sank during Cyclone Tauktae, the Indian navy said as two ships and helicopters were deployed to assist in the search.
The vessel was carrying 273 people when it started drifting on Monday as strong winds battered India’s western coast, sending huge waves crashing onto its shores and turning roads into rivers.


Hong Kong temporarily suspends operations at representative office in Taiwan

Hong Kong temporarily suspends operations at representative office in Taiwan
Updated 18 May 2021

Hong Kong temporarily suspends operations at representative office in Taiwan

Hong Kong temporarily suspends operations at representative office in Taiwan
  • Tensions between the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government and Taiwan have risen since pro-democracy protests erupted in Hong Kong in 2019

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s representative office in Taiwan has temporarily suspended operations, a Hong Kong government spokesperson said on Tuesday, adding only that the decision was not related to the rise in coronavirus cases there.
Tensions between the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government and Taiwan have risen since pro-democracy protests erupted in Hong Kong in 2019 and China imposed a sweeping national security law last year to quell the unrest, prompting many activists to leave the city.
Taipei has criticized the law and opened a local office to help people who may want to leave Hong Kong.
Last year, Taiwanese officials in Hong Kong were told their visas would not be renewed unless they signed a document supporting Beijing’s claim to Taiwan under its “one China” policy, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau announced the decision to suspend the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office in Taiwan without providing an explanation. It said requests for assistance would be handled through hotlines and via the Hong Kong government website.
“The suspension is not related to the pandemic situation in Taiwan. We do not have anything further to add,” a Hong Kong government spokesperson said.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said it was working on a response on the matter.


Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition

Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition
Updated 18 May 2021

Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition

Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition
  • Group insists final negotiations to end Afghanistan war are held in Doha

KABUL: Afghan Taliban delegates were on Monday reportedly ready to take part in US-sponsored talks with the Kabul government in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

A Taliban spokesman confirmed the negotiators’ position, making a U-turn on the group’s recent decision to boycott the long-awaited discussions.

Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News: “The talks should not pave the ground for interference from any side.

“This matter is under deliberation ... we, without doubt, say that the Istanbul meeting should be conducted in conformity with the wishes of the Afghan people and should have no imposition aspect.”

However, he said that the final negotiations should be held in Doha, Qatar where both sides resumed stalled discussions on the peace process several days ago.

“This is an opportunity for peace, and we will participate in it on the basis of our conditions ... continuation of the talks in Doha is a good point for ending the war,” he added.

The development follows the group’s decision to snub the Turkey talks after American President Joe Biden said he would be extending the US-led foreign troops’ presence in Afghanistan until Sept. 11.

Initially, all troops were to have left the country by May 1 based on a key condition for a landmark accord signed between the Taliban and US delegates in Doha more than a year ago.

Mujahid did not elaborate on the conditions for the talks to resume and said that the Taliban leadership was “pondering over them.”

He pointed out that the two conditions demanded by the group for participation in future discussions included the “release of the remaining 7,000 Taliban inmates held by Kabul and delisting of their leaders from the UN blacklist.”

Mujahid added that the Taliban had discussed the conditions with Washington which had “pledged to facilitate” the group on both issues, although no date had yet been set for the talks. Fatima Morchal, a spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, welcomed the news.

HIGHLIGHT

A Taliban spokesman confirmed the negotiators’ position, making a U-turn on the group’s recent decision to boycott the long-awaited discussions.

“It is a good thing; we have always said we will participate. The agenda and timing of the meeting have yet to be finalized, and we will attend it,” she told Arab News.

The Istanbul talks were rescheduled for April 24, before the Taliban announced that they would not participate in any meetings on Afghan peace until all foreign forces withdrew from Afghanistan.

Under Biden’s announcement, US-led troops will leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, ending the most protracted conflict in America’s history, which began nearly 20 years ago with the Taliban’s ousting in 2001.

The group has accused Washington of breaching the deal by delaying the troops’ exit, resulting in an escalation of violence across Afghanistan – with hundreds of lives lost, including civilians – which both the Taliban and the Kabul government have blamed each other for.

Fighting resumed on Monday in a number of major Afghan provinces at the end of a three-day ceasefire announced by the Taliban during the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday.

Two weeks ago, US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of the Doha deal with the Taliban, warned that Washington would abandon its push to form an interim government to replace Ghani if the Taliban insisted on boycotting the Istanbul talks.

The Istanbul meeting, under the auspices of the UN, seeks to draw a roadmap to end more than four decades of conflict in Afghanistan, ahead of the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

Wahidullah Ghazikhail, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Arab News that recently Washington had “secretly shown flexibility to the Taliban” on the date of departure for the remaining troops and could “complete the pullout process either in June or July.”

The Taliban, in return, had to “express leniency for attending the Istanbul meeting,” he said.

“The Taliban would have been blamed by ordinary Afghans for refusing to participate in the Istanbul talks. They now have a condition, want to begin the initial talks in Istanbul, but that the serious decisions and last decisive decisions be taken in Doha,” Ghazikhail added.

Torek Farhadi, an adviser for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told Arab News: “The Taliban are making sure they have a diplomatic presence in the (Istanbul) talks because the process of delisting them from the UN sanctions list requires to continue talks and for freeing their 7,000 prisoners.”

He said that Kabul also wanted to attend the Istanbul meeting to “give people hope that peace talks are continuing,” but added that in reality “the positions are so far apart that peace talks might continue for years. Both sides are preparing for more war. But it is clear that both sides have actors in the peace theaters as well … the sad part is civilians will suffer.”


Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests

Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests
Updated 18 May 2021

Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests

Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests
  • Precautionary measure follows the death of a 22-year-old man one day after receiving jab

JAKARTA: Indonesia has temporarily suspended the use and distribution of an Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine batch pending sterility and toxicity tests by the Drug and Food Monitoring Agency (BPOM), the Health Ministry said on Sunday.

The ministry announced the move following advice from the National Commission on Post-Immunization Accidents to carry out the tests.

It follows the death of a 22-year-old man in East Jakarta, who suffered from a high fever and eventually died after receiving his first jab earlier this month.

Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a Health Ministry spokesperson for the national COVID-19 vaccination program, said that the suspension of the batch would not deter the use of other AstraZeneca batches in the jabs program, which began four months ago.

“We continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine because it provides a much greater benefit. The suspension is the government’s precautionary measure to ensure the safety of the vaccine,” Tarmizi said, adding that the test results are expected to be released no later than two weeks.

The commission recommended the drug monitoring agency conduct the tests. Its chairman, Hindra Irawan Satari, said that the commission “did not have enough data to determine” whether the man’s death was related to the vaccine from the suspended batch, which he received a day before his demise.

The batch consisted of 448,480 doses and is part of the 3,852,000 doses Indonesia received from the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility’s vaccine distribution scheme on April 26.

The ministry said that the vaccine batch in question had been distributed in the capital city, Jakarta, among the military, and in the North Sulawesi province.

Tonang Dwi Ardyanto, an epidemiologist of the clinical pathologist association PDS PatKlin said while the suspension was necessary, it would slow down the national vaccination progress.

“We hope the test results will come out soon so that the matter is clear,” he told Arab News on Monday.

“We are well aware that there is no vaccine or medicine that is 100 percent safe, but we just have to look for the ones with the least possible risks,” he added.

Indonesia received 6.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which were distributed to seven provinces, with Bali and East Java getting a majority of the share.

The Oxford jab is a small fraction compared to more than 68 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine used in the government’s vaccination program.

A study conducted by the Health Ministry from January to March on health workers who received the Sinovac vaccine showed that it is “almost 100 percent effective in protecting them from infections, hospitalization, and death.”

Pandji Dhewantara, the ministry’s lead researcher, said last week that two shots of the Sinovac vaccine “provided 98 percent protection against death” in the 128,290 health workers who were monitored for the study.

Dhewantara added that the vaccine was 94 percent effective in protecting health workers from being infected with COVID-19 and 96 percent effective in preventing them from being hospitalized.

“We can conclude from this study that vaccination is important to reduce the risks of someone being infected by COVID-19,” he added.

A private vaccination scheme, coordinated by the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, through which private entities can pay to inoculate their employees and families, will be using China’s Sinopharm and CanSino vaccines, with Russia’s Sputnik expected to be added.

The scheme is expected to commence on Tuesday, with almost 18,000 private entities registered to inoculate about 8.6 million people from labor-intensive manufacturing companies to micro-enterprises with as few as three employees.

Indonesia aims to inoculate 181.5 million people out of its 270 million population, which it expects to complete by the end of the year. But four months into the program, only 8.8 million people have received the second dose of their vaccines, just five percent of the targeted population.