Manila summons Chinese envoy over reef dispute

Manila summons Chinese envoy over reef dispute
Manila reiterated its demands for China to ‘ensure the immediate departure of all its vessels’ from maritime zones of the Philippines. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 April 2021

Manila summons Chinese envoy over reef dispute

Manila summons Chinese envoy over reef dispute
  • Accuses Beijing of stoking tensions with the ‘illegal presence’ of Chinese vessels

MANILA: The Philippines said on Tuesday it had summoned the Chinese ambassador over the “illegal lingering presence” of Chinese militia vessels in the disputed waters of the Whitsun Reef, which Manila said was “stoking tensions in the region.”

In a statement on Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it had summoned the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, to reiterate the government’s demands for China to “ensure the immediate departure of all its vessels” from the Whitsun Reef (local name Julian Felipe) and other maritime zones of the Philippines.

“The DFA expressed displeasure over the illegal lingering presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef,” it added.

The latest move comes weeks after the Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest against China over the issue.

During the meeting, DFA Acting Undersecretary Elizabeth Buensuceso told Huang that the reef “lies within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Republic of the Philippines” and that “the continuing presence of Chinese vessels around the reef is a source of regional tension.”

She also reiterated a 2016 ruling by a UN tribunal dismissing China’s claim to virtually all of the South China Sea, although Beijing has refused to recognize the decision.

Beijing claims the Chinese vessels are fishing boats “escaping rough seas by moving within the lagoon, which Beijing calls Niu’e Jiao and claims as part of its territory.

“Due to maritime situation, some fishing boats have been taking shelter from the wind near Niu’e Jiao, which is quite normal. We hope relevant sides can view this in a rational light,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told the media last week.

In a separate message to reporters, the DFA said that “both sides agreed to lower the tensions and handle the issue diplomatically,” but added that “we have yet to see the complete removal of ships.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. tweeted on Tuesday that the National Task Force on West Philippines Sea had told him there were only nine ships at Whitsun Reef. The task force had previously said the Chinese vessels were manned by the Chinese maritime militia.

“While it may well be traditional fishing grounds, tradition yields to law and the law on the matter is UNCLOS (UN Convention for the Law of the Sea) and the Arbitral Award and the common rules of statutory construction,” he said in another tweet, before telling China it was “time to go.”

Monday’s meeting is the second time the DFA had summoned a Chinese envoy, with a similar issue raised in 2019 when a Filipino fishing boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel, leaving the fishermen stranded at sea.

Amid the escalating feud between the two countries, a Filipino MP expressed resentment against China’s “bullying and increasingly aggressive territorial expansion in the region” before demanding that the “Chinese completely vacate” the reef.

“Why are they still there? China is becoming the region’s biggest bully,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros told a media forum hosted by the

Philippine Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

“She (China) exploited a global health crisis by executing a series of coordinated incursions into the WPS and insisting her presence even after several diplomatic actions from our end,” Hontiveros said.

The senator added that the latest intrusion “shows China will do what she wants for her own selfish interest, even if it means

threatening peace and stability in the region; even if it means attacking already vulnerable countries, including the Philippines.”

The senator explained that the Philippines’ Department of National Defense (DND) had ordered all Chinese vessels to evacuate Philippine territory after over 200 ships gathered at the Julian Felipe Reef in March.

The DFA vowed to lodge a diplomatic protest every day until China’s vessels vacated the Philippines waters.

“At first, the Chinese Embassy claimed the vessels were just parking due to inclement weather. But Philippine authorities said there was no storm. Then it went as far as insisting that Julian Felipe Reef is Chinese territory. When will the lies, deception, and hypocrisy stop?” Hontiveros asked.

“Our coast guard should also immediately inspect what the Chinese vessels are doing there to see if our environmental and fisheries laws are being observed,” the senator added.

Hontiveros expressed outrage and anger at what she said was a “deliberate, reckless, and unlawful campaign of the Chinese government to use its military and economic might to deprive the Filipino people of the full use of the waters comprising the country’s EEZ and continental shelf.”

“This is a direct challenge to the international rules-based order that has maintained stability in the region for so long,” she

stressed, urging the DND to deploy more naval assets, including the coast guard, to “provide a protective umbrella for

fisherfolk who want to venture out to sea.”

Hontiveros said that the government must assure fishermen that the nation’s defense forces would be able to “safeguard their means of subsistence.”

“We cannot allow ourselves to be kicked out of our own backyard. The West Philippine Sea is part of the patrimony of the Filipino

people — our national dignity is at stake,” she said, urging the government to rethink its “allegiances.”

“We must be consistent and firm in standing up for our national interests. We should hold China accountable for the damage she has

done to fragile marine ecosystems within our EEZ,” she said.

She added that the government must ensure that Philippines environmental laws, not China’s, are being implemented and enforced in the West Philippine Sea.

Hontiveros also expressed her indignation against China’s “deliberate, reckless, and unlawful campaign of the Chinese government to use its military and economic might to deprive the Filipino people of the full use of the waters comprising the country’s EEZ and continental shelf.”

“The Chinese like to tell others to refrain from irresponsible behavior, but their recent behavior has been far from honest or responsible,” she said.

Hontiveros further said that President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration should stop tolerating China’s “duplicitous strategy.”

She said that to convince Filipinos of its good intentions, China has given the country its vaccines — “possibly for free, or perhaps, as many people fear, in exchange for our waters.”

Hontiveros added: “We must not allow China to shake our hands on vaccines and procurement, but stab us in the back on the West Philippine Sea. But Malacanang has tolerated China’s duplicitous strategy.

“This isn’t how a friend treats you. This isn’t even the act of a good neighbor. China is the bully pretending to be your best friend. 

It’s time to say enough is enough. Our government must rethink its current alliances — and perhaps its allegiances. We must be

consistent and firm in standing up for our national interests,” she said.


Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU
Updated 44 min 18 sec ago

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU
  • Sweden now has among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, said health official
  • With 1,002,121 covid19 cases recorded since the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data

STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Thursday announced it had recorded over one million cases of Covid-19, nearly a tenth of the population, as the Nordic nation struggles to rein in a third wave of the virus.
“In Sweden we now have among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe,” Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of microbiology at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told a press conference.
Tegmark Wisell noted however that there had been a downward trend in recent weeks.
With 1,002,121 cases of the novel coronavirus recorded since the start of the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data compiled by AFP.
The Public Health Agency published a series of projections, with the most likely scenario showing the virus spread starting to subside in mid-May before reaching “very low levels” in July and August.
The Scandinavian country has famously never imposed the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe, controversially relying on mostly non-coercive measures.
It has however gradually tightened restrictions since November, including a ban on alcohol sales after 8:00 p.m. and on public gatherings of more than eight people.
Since March, cafes, bars and restaurants have also been required to shut their doors by 8:30 pm.
Despite being in the midst of a third wave of cases, the rise in deaths has been much slower in recent weeks, with 156 deaths in the last seven days, which authorities say is the result of the rollout of vaccines among vulnerable groups.
The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 since the start of pandemic reached 14,158 on Thursday, putting Sweden in the middle of the pack in Europe, although well ahead of its Nordic neighbors Finland, Norway and Denmark,
European mortality statistics however also show that Sweden had a lower than average excess mortality in 2020, compared to the rest of Europe.


Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances
Updated 06 May 2021

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances
  • Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the healthcare system
  • Delhi government and a non-profit organization kitted out over 12 autorickshaws with sanitizers and masks while oxygen cylinders are provided based on need

NEW DELHI: It’s not the most conventional way to get to hospital, but with Delhi running short of ambulances, authorities have turned some of the city’s ubiquitous three-wheeled autorickshaws into makeshift ambulances to ferry COVID-19 patients.
Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the health care system.
Families have had to make their own arrangements including paying exorbitant amounts to private ambulance operators to take the sick to hospital.
The Delhi government, in association with a non-profit organization, has kitted out more than a dozen autorickshaws with hand sanitizers and face masks, while oxygen cylinders are provided on a need basis. The service, which began officially on Tuesday, is free.
Autorickshaw driver Raj Kumar has taken patients to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Delhi’s largest facility, which is overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
“We must all help each other out at this time of need to get out of this situation,” said Kumar, who wears a PPE suit. There is a plastic partition between him and the passengers at the back.
“If everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to help those in need?“
Mohit Raj, founder and executive director of the Turn Your Concern into Action foundation, said the response so far had shown the scheme needed more vehicles.
“Now we are getting calls not just of COVID patients but from front-line workers who are unable to find patient conveyance, as well as from people with other ailments,” he said.
Raj added he has received requests from other parts of the country to start services there.


Ramadan business picks up for London’s Arab eateries as coronavirus restrictions ease

Pistachio and Honey have managed to weather the storm and opened their second, larger branch a few months ago. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
Pistachio and Honey have managed to weather the storm and opened their second, larger branch a few months ago. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
Updated 28 min 42 sec ago

Ramadan business picks up for London’s Arab eateries as coronavirus restrictions ease

Pistachio and Honey have managed to weather the storm and opened their second, larger branch a few months ago. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)

LONDON: During Ramadan last year, the pandemic took a heavy toll on the famed Arab restaurants and food stores in west London.
This year, however, a combination of shrewd business decisions and the gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions has contributed to a sharp increase in trade for many and brought hope that the worst of the pandemic might be over.
“People can’t practice Ramadan as usual but we tried to make it in a different and safer way...and this year, we are more prepared and organized,” Khaled Alghorani, the manager of Dimashqi, a Syrian supermarket in Shepherd’s Bush, told Arab News.
The store is extremely popular; it stocks standard food items alongside delicacies from the Middle East, making it a favored Syrian spot. Like other business owners in the area, however, Alghorani has had to adapt the services he provides in response to the realities of the pandemic.
“We have new special offers and we introduced an online service, so customers can place orders for groceries, halal meats and desserts and we can deliver anywhere in the UK in chilled packages so they receive the food as fresh as it is in the supermarket,” said Alghorani.
The holy month, which began on April 13, has been somewhat of a blessing, he added. Shelves are restocked daily after iftar so customers can shop with ease during the day while adhering to preventative measures. Popular items include soups, drinks, sweets, dates, apricot paste (Qamar Al-Din) and maarouk, a traditional brioche-like bread filled with dates that is only made during Ramadan.
“Because of the pandemic we had a shortage of some products and we had delays as well, but by the end we managed to get most of the stock for Ramadan,” said Alghorani.
The supermarket shares its space with Ayam Zaman, one of the top Syrian and Middle Eastern restaurants in the city. It has managed to remain open throughout the pandemic but has had to restrict its services and is not offering as wide a variety of special Ramadan dishes as it usually does.
“People prefer to dine in a restaurant than sitting at home, especially on Eid. But unfortunately because of the lockdown, which is going to end on May 17, we are going to continue with takeaway orders only, with new offers on desserts,” said Alghorani.
“Before COVID-19, Ramadan used to be the busiest time; we had better services, better sales and the restaurant wouldn’t have any reservations (available) — we were fully booked, because people like to sit and break their fast together.”
The restaurant also normally supplies iftar for office employees during Ramadan but because the majority of staff is still working from home, that service has taken a huge hit and the restaurant is instead relying on private functions.
The UK’s third national lockdown was partially lifted on April 12; non-essential shops were allowed to reopen, outdoor dining is permitted at restaurants and cafes, and up to 15 people from three households can meet and socialize outdoors.
“The lockdown (eased) and the weather was good, so people were happy and I think everybody’s in the mood to go outside, do shopping and even eat outside,” Moussa Mehri, general manager of the Naama restaurant and butcher’s shop in Shepherd’s Bush, told Arab News.
He said business is picking up and this year is much better than last. People appear calmer, less scared of the disease and are spending money but no longer panic buying, he added.
He said Naama is not focusing on iftar as it normally does during Ramadan because most people are eating at home, but that the restaurant is receiving a surprising amount of delivery orders. Like Ayam Zaman, Naama is still restricting its service to takeaways and deliveries, to protect the health of its staff.
The well-established restaurant, which opened in 2003, specializes in Lebanese cuisine. One of its specialties is a whole lamb on a bed of rice, garnished with toasted nuts.
“People are now gathering a lot. It’s not like last year,” said Mehri. “This year it’s different — people are holding iftars (and) I am receiving big orders for large amounts of money. I think they had enough from the last lockdown.
“It’s a blessed month and it’s to do with the environment and providing good service to people who are fasting. It’s good for business, don’t get me wrong, but the main concept is to help people and I think everybody is trying and helping in their own way.”
Bosses at cafe and bakery Pistachio and Honey also said that they are finding business easier this Ramadan compared with last year.
“People got to know more about the coronavirus, they got to know more about how to socialize and how to social distance,” director Anas Sheekh Aly told Arab News.
Aside from being scared to leave their houses last year, people were also scared to eat sugar, he said, due to the uncertainty about the disease and the limited information that was available.
A year on and many people have received a vaccine or caught the virus and recovered, Aly said, and the lockdown is also less strict. However the economic effects of the pandemic mean that a lot of people have less money to spend on non-essentials and are put off by high prices, he added, which has affected his business.
Sweets and desserts are a major part of the Ramadan table, and certain varieties are only made during the holy month, particularly qatayef, awama (luqaimat), namoura, madlouka, maghshousha and halawet el-jibn. The bakery makes all of these from scratch, along with its flagship product: qishta (a type of clotted cream). Aly has acquired the only license in the UK to make qishta from raw cow’s milk in the traditional, authentic way.
“It’s quite a hard process but this helps us get the real taste coming from our countries,” said Aly. “But our prices are very cost-effective, our sweets are healthy — we use less sugar, pure butter ghee and pure flour — and we are using all of the finest ingredients.”
The area around the cafe is always fragrant with the scent of fresh-baked kanafeh, which it makes from scratch using akawi, baladi and Nabulsi cheese to get the authentic taste, unlike some other bakeries that use mozzarella.
Originally from Syria, Aly opened the first branch of his business on March 25 last year, a day before the first lockdown was imposed. By the time the restrictions eased and he could reopen, most of his stock had expired. Although he suffered heavy losses as additional lockdowns were imposed, he managed to weather the storm and opened his second, larger branch: like the first, in Acton — a few months ago.
“Ramadan is a month of blessing and you don’t even know how livelihood will come to you,” said Aly. “For business it’s very good; even if you don’t do anything you will get business in Ramadan.” But he added that the true spirit of the month is felt in one’s heart and we should appreciate what we have.
“There are refugees all over the world that don’t have food or water to drink,” he said. “It gets you to feel more about them, it gets you to feel more about people who are starving and thirsty, and so you do more religion and you appreciate what you have more — and this is what we teach our kids as well when we get them to fast.”


Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan

Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan
Updated 06 May 2021

Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan

Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan
  • Former TV present Nimat Rawan was shot at noon by two assailants who escaped with his mobile phone
  • Security officials have told several other journalists in the area that extremists are targeting them as well

KABUL: Gunmen killed a former Afghan TV presenter on Thursday as he was traveling in the southern city of Kandahar, a provincial official said, adding to fears for press freedom in the war-wrecked country.
Nimat Rawan was shot at noon, provincial spokesman Baheer Ahmadi said, by two assailants who were able to escape with his mobile phone.
Security officials have told several other journalists in the area that extremists are targeting them as well, he added.
The killing heightens worries over the fate of Afghan journalists as US troops pullout. Many fear violence will spike and reprisals will be taken out against those who worked with foreign forces.
Rawan was a former presenter for the well-known local channel Tolonews. He had been working in the Finance Ministry’s media office, media watchdog Nia said in a statement.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it comes a day after the Taliban issued a threat to Afghan journalists it considered too close to US-backed security agencies.
In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned Afghan journalists against giving “one-sided news in support of Afghanistan’s intelligence,” or otherwise “face the consequences.”
Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. Since 2006, as many as 76 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan, according to UNESCO.
Last year alone at least 15 were killed, and earlier this year, three women employed by media outlets were killed in eastern Afghanistan. The Daesh group has claimed responsibility for some of the killings, including that of the three women. The majority of the targeted journalists have been women.
The government blames a resurgent Taliban — who now control or hold sway over half the country — for many of the targeted killings. The insurgents, meanwhile, claim the Afghan intelligence service is carrying out these attacks so as to blame the Taliban.


UK urged to intervene to stop illegal Israeli evictions

UK urged to intervene to stop illegal Israeli evictions
A Palestinian demonstrator is blindfolded and surrounded by Israeli security forces during protests against the forced evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. (AFP)
Updated 06 May 2021

UK urged to intervene to stop illegal Israeli evictions

UK urged to intervene to stop illegal Israeli evictions
  • Council for Arab-British Understanding: ‘The forcible transfer of an occupied population constitutes a war crime’
  • ‘The international community continues to condemn such violations, yet little or no action is ever taken’

LONDON: The Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) has urged the UK government and the international community to take political action to prevent the forced eviction, displacement and dispossession of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem.

“The UK government is well aware that the forcible transfer of an occupied population constitutes a war crime under international law,” CAABU said in a statement issued to Arab News.

“The international community continues to condemn such violations, including Israel’s illegal annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, forcible transfer of Palestinian populations and settlement expansions, yet little or no action is ever taken.”

Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, a district of East Jerusalem, have been fighting an Israeli court order — which CAABU calls “discriminatory” — that declared settler organizations the owner of numerous Palestinian homes, forcing the occupants out of their homes or into an arrangement that would see them pay rent to the settlers in exchange for the right to remain in place.

The UK should immediately intervene politically to prevent these evictions and dispossessions, CAABU said.

“A clear political demand that should be asked is a moratorium on evictions for Palestinians based on discriminatory law and that Israel stops applying such discriminatory laws,” it added.

Last week, the UK’s consul general in Jerusalem said: “The UK position on this is clear. East Jerusalem is occupied and it has been illegally annexed. The restitution and planning laws here, and their implementation, are unfair and they breach Israel’s obligations as an occupying power.”

CAABU welcomed the consul general’s statement, but warned that for Palestinians, “such words will do little to convince them that justice for them will be taken seriously unless the egregious human rights abuses related to their forced eviction and dispossession also come with actions and consequences for the occupying power, Israel.”

Joseph Willits, a parliamentary officer at CAABU, told Arab News: “There’s a lack of willingness by the (British) government to go further than issuing standard pro forma statements which issue condemnations, talk of a two-state solution and a peace process — but effectively, there’s no action.”

Willits echoed the demands made by over 80 British MPs in an open letter in February, which said: “All measures should be considered including reducing diplomatic engagement and banning trade in settlement products in full conformity with international law obligations in order to challenge the settler economy that profits from the occupation.”  

He said: “There’s a willingness from so many quarters, including among so-called progressives in the UK, to justify, ignore or remain tacitly complicit in such egregious human rights abuses. We need to begin to call this anti-Palestinian racism out for what it is.” 

He added: “If we’re unable to stand with, or speak up for, Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere, to help save Sheikh Jarrah, then human rights abusers globally will continue to rub their hands with glee.”