US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot

US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot
In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo police hold off supporters of Donald Trump who tried to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP)
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Updated 23 June 2021

US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot

US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot
  • A new select committee would put majority Democrats in charge of the investigation

WASHINGTON: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is signaling that she is poised to create a new committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, pushing closer to a partisan investigation of the attack after Senate Republicans blocked the creation of an independent probe.
A person familiar with the matter said after a meeting with Democrats that Pelosi had told her colleagues that she would create a select panel. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private remarks. But Pelosi later denied that, telling reporters, “No, I did not make that announcement.”
The new committee would come after the Senate voted earlier this month to block legislation to form a bipartisan, independent commission investigating the attack by former President Donald Trump’s supporters. Pelosi said afterward that the House would step up investigations of the riot, in which a violent mob overran police, broke into the building and hunted for lawmakers to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
A new select committee would put majority Democrats in charge of the investigation. More than three dozen Republicans in the House and seven Senate Republicans said they wanted to avoid a partisan probe, and they supported the legislation to form a commission, which would have been modeled after a similar panel that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Still, those numbers weren’t strong enough to overcome GOP opposition in the Senate, where support from 10 Republicans is needed to pass most bills if all Democrats vote yes. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said he may hold a second vote after the legislation failed to advance last month, but there’s no indication that Democrats can win the necessary support from three additional Republicans.
Pelosi said earlier this month that the House “can’t wait any longer” and would proceed with a probe. She said then that she was considering a select committee or having an existing committee conduct the investigation.
Many Republicans have made clear that they want to move on from the Jan. 6 attack, brushing aside the many unanswered questions about the insurrection, including how the government and law enforcement missed intelligence leading up to the rioting and the role of Trump before and during the insurrection.
Some Republicans have gone so far as to downplay the violence, with one suggesting the rioters looked like tourists and another insisting that a woman, Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed that day while trying to break into the House chamber through a window was “executed.”
Last week, 21 Republicans voted against giving medals of honor to Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police to thank them for their service that day. Dozens of those officers suffered injuries, including chemical burns, brain injuries and broken bones.
Seven people died during and after the rioting, including Babbitt, three other Trump supporters who died of medical emergencies and two police officers who died by suicide in the days that followed. A third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters, but a medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.


NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan
Updated 42 sec ago

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan
  • Country faces a ‘deeply challenging’ security situation as foreign troops leave
BRUSSELS: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday reiterated calls for a “negotiated settlement” with the Taliban in Afghanistan, admitting the country faced a “deeply challenging” security situation as foreign troops leave.
“The security situation in Afghanistan remains deeply challenging, and requires a negotiated settlement. NATO will continue to support Afghanistan, including with funding; civilian presence; and out-of-country training,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter after speaking to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law

Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law
Updated 27 July 2021

Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law

Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law
  • Verdict closely watched for indications as to how similar cases will be dealt with in future
  • Defense lawyer: Impossible to prove that Tong Ying-kit was inciting secession merely by having used the slogan

HONG KONG: The first person to be tried under Hong Kong’s sweeping national security law was found guilty of secessionism and terrorism on Tuesday.

The Hong Kong High Court handed down the verdict in the case of Tong Ying-kit, age 24. He’s accused of driving his motorcycle into a group of police officers while carrying a flag bearing the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” on July 1 last year, a day after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on Hong Kong following months of anti-government protests in 2019.

The verdict was closely watched for indications as to how similar cases will be dealt with in future. More than 100 people have been arrested under the security legislation.

Tong pleaded not guilty to charges of inciting secession, terrorism and an alternative charge of dangerous driving. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty.

The trial, which ended July 20, was held in the High Court with no jury, under rules allowing this exception from Hong Kong’s common law system if state secrets need to be protected, foreign forces are involved or if the personal safety of jurors needs to be protected. Trials are presided over by judges handpicked by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

Tong’s defense lawyer has said it’s impossible to prove that Tong was inciting secession merely by having used the slogan.

The defense also said there is no evidence that Tong committed the act deliberately, that he avoided crashing into officers and that his actions couldn’t be considered terrorism since there was no serious violence or harm to society.

While Hong Kong has its own Legislative Council, Beijing’s ceremonial legislature imposed the national security law on the semiautonomous city after it determined the body was unable to pass the legislation itself because of political opposition.

That followed the increasingly violent 2019 protests against China’s growing influence over the city’s affairs, despite commitments to allow the city to maintain its own system for 50 years after the 1997 handover from British rule.

China’s legislature has mandated changes to the makeup of the city’s Legislative Council to ensure an overwhelming pro-Beijing majority, and required that only those it determines “patriots” can hold office.

Authorities have banned the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” stating that it has secessionist connotations. Library books and school curricula have also been investigated for alleged secessionist messages.

Hong Kong’s last remaining pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced out of business last month and a court denied bail for four editors and journalists held on charges of endangering national security as part of the widening crackdown.

Beijing has dismissed criticisms, saying it is merely restoring order to the city and instituting they same type of national security protections found in other countries.


Koreas restore communication channels, agree to improve ties

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. (AP file photo)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. (AP file photo)
Updated 27 July 2021

Koreas restore communication channels, agree to improve ties

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. (AP file photo)
  • Some experts earlier said North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the United States or South Korea if its economic difficulties worsen

SEOUL, South Korea: North and South Korea have restored suspended communication channels between them and their leaders agreed to improve ties, both governments said Tuesday, despite a 2 ½ year-stalemate in US-led diplomacy aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear weapons.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reached the agreement during several exchanges of letters since April, the presidential office in Seoul said.
The two leaders agreed to “restore mutual confidence and develop their relationships again as soon as possible,” Blue House spokesman Park Soo Hyun said in a televised briefing. Park said the two Koreas subsequently reopened communication channels on Tuesday morning.
North Korea’s state media quickly confirmed the South Korean announcement.
“Now, the whole Korean nation desires to see the North-South relations recovered from setback and stagnation as early as possible,” the official Korean Central News Agency said. “In this regard, the top leaders of the North and the South agreed to make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines through the recent several exchanges of personal letters.”
Last year, North Korea cut off all communication channels with South Korea in protest of what it calls South Korea’s failure to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their border. Some experts said the North Korean action signaled the North had grown frustrated that Seoul has failed to revive lucrative inter-Korean economic projects and persuade the United States to ease sanctions.
The nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have made little headway since early 2019, when the second of three summits between Kim and then-President Donald Trump collapsed. Kim has since threatened to bolster his nuclear arsenal and build more sophisticated weapons unless the Americans lifts policies the North considers hostile — believed to refer to the longstanding U.S-led sanctions.
Some experts earlier said North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the United States or South Korea if its economic difficulties worsen. Mismanagement, storm damage and border shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic have further depleted North Korea’s economy and Kim in recent speeches called for his people to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions. While his remarks may indicate the potential for a worsening economic situation, outside monitoring groups haven’t seen signs of mass starvation or social chaos in the country of 26 million people.
Tuesday marks the 68th anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. The Koreas remain split along the world’s most heavily fortified border since the war’s end.
About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.


Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19 in Afghanistan

Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19 in Afghanistan
Updated 39 min 33 sec ago

Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19 in Afghanistan

Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19 in Afghanistan
  • Afghan public health chief: Escalation of violence will have long-term effect

KABUL: The escalation of violence in Afghanistan has led to the spread of the coronavirus and severely hampered the government’s drive against the pandemic, according to the country’s public health minister.

This will have a long-term impact on Afghanistan, Wahid Majrooh told Arab News in an interview on Sunday.

“War affects all aspects of life, and service delivery and vaccination of COVID-19 cannot be an exception, especially when there is ongoing conflict when the health facilities happen to be caught in the middle of the battlefield,” Majrooh said.

“When people are displaced and their life priorities change, these all affect our vaccination program in different parts of the country, our healthcare service delivery; it has a very detrimental effect. It will have short and long-term impacts and consequences.”

Fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan government has intensified in the past two months after international troops pulled out of the country. Militant groups since then have made rapid gains, capturing government territories in rural areas and taking over main border crossings with Afghanistan’s neighbors.

According to a UN report released on Monday, more than 783 civilians were killed and 1,609 injured during May and June this year, a 47 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020.

Estimates by various government institutions calculate that more than 40,000 families have been displaced by the fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces since May when US-led troops began withdrawing their remaining forces from Afghanistan.

The total number of displaced people due to battles in recent years stands at 3 million, officials say.

Majrooh could not provide an exact figure of how many people had been deprived of COVID-19 vaccinations but thought several million may have been affected.

“War has caused the concentration of people in small spaces like tents. Displaced people do not have the facility to use masks, do not have access to sanitation facilities. There is no doubt that the displacement and war have affected the spread and growth of COVID-19,” he said. The Taliban and Afghan government agreed during their talks in Qatar last week to allow safe access to vaccines for people across the country and to ensure the safety of medical workers.

Health Ministry figures as of Sunday showed that 144,285 Afghans have been infected by the coronavirus and 6,477 had died. However, officials said that the actual numbers for both could be higher as almost all Afghans quickly bury their dead without knowing the cause of death, and possibly thousands of COVID-19 affected patients may have died without reaching health facilities.

Majrooh said that the ministry’s data showed that Afghanistan had lately passed through the peak of UK and delta types of the virus and the trend was declining. 

However, he added there were fears of another spike “given the lack of attention of people to public health measures we have proposed to the society.”

He said that authorities on Sunday had begun the gradual lifting of a two-month lockdown, mostly applied to schools, universities, wedding halls and swimming pools.

The minister warned that the curb would be reimposed as officials detected that the virus was spreading in an impoverished society where many, particularly in rural and war-affected regions, have less access to health services.

Majrooh thanked the world for offering “generous” support in cash, technical and health equipment and vaccines to foreign-aid reliant Afghanistan, which has been affected by a long drought and continual fighting.

However, he said that “COVAX failed to fulfill its commitment” of sending the millions of jabs the country was promised this year, adding they would be delivered in 2022.

“We are planning to vaccinate about 60 percent of our population. If it is a single dose, we need 24 million, if it is a double dose, we need 48 million doses,” he said.

So far Afghanistan has received more than four and half millions of doses of vaccine, 3.3 million of them (Johnson and Johnson) provided by the US, ministry officials told Arab News.

Majrooh warned that the escalation of war would severely impact Afghanistan and outlined the issues the country faced. “The context is deteriorating war, and inaccessibility issues of logistics in insecure provinces are huge challenges for the health sector. The health sector is overburdened with mass casualties caused by the ongoing conflict.”

Other challenges included people not following health recommendations, budgetary shortages and lack of oxygen, he said.


Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen

Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen
Updated 27 July 2021

Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen

Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen
  • Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the one-week extension of restrictions in a press statement on Sunday

JAKARTA: Small and medium-sized businesses in Indonesia have been given the green light to resume limited operations despite a government decision to extend coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions for another week.

Partial lockdowns imposed on Indonesia’s most populated island of Java and neighboring Bali began in early July amid a surge in virus infections triggered by the highly contagious delta variant and had been due to end on Sunday.

The latest move by Jakarta was aimed at balancing public safety with the need to restart economic activity.

The curbs, which had ordered the closure of nonessential public places such as shopping malls, for all office employees to work from home — except for those working in sectors listed as essential or critical — and included a ban on in-restaurant dining, have now been expanded to other cities on the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Papua where there has been a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the one-week extension of restrictions in a streamed press statement on Sunday and pointed out that the decision was taken in consideration of health and economic aspects and social dynamic.

“But we will make some adjustments in regard to people’s activities and mobility in stages and they will be executed extra carefully,” he said.

The leeway for smaller businesses, the informal sector, and its workers who rely on a daily income, to resume operations will allow eateries with open-air settings to take dine-in customers for 20 and 30 minutes, and markets selling non-essential goods to open for limited hours, depending on local infection rates.

Indonesia has applied a four-tier system for identifying levels of infection based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The capital Jakarta is among 21 regions in Java currently classed in the most severe category level four.

Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a senior minister in charge of the Java and Bali restrictions, said on Sunday that the continuation of preventative measures was necessary to slow the spread of the delta variant while “ensuring that the small (businesses) can still operate.”

Public health professor, Tjandra Yoga Aditama, former director of the WHO’s southeast Asia regional office, told Arab News that the devil was in the detail when implementing COVID-19 curbs.

“What is necessary is to find a balance for the informal sector to remain operating while the formal sector continues to work from home.

“Markets should also be the main target for testing and tracing and the informal sector workers should be encouraged to contact the local health officers to get tested should they feel any symptoms,” he said.

Indonesia has become the latest global COVID-19 hotspot after a recent jump in virus infections which since mid-July has seen the number of deaths per day rise to more than 1,000, with many patients unable to get treatment in overstretched hospitals.

On Monday, the country reported 28,228 new cases — taking the national tally to more than 3.1 million — and 1,487 new deaths, putting at 84,766 the total number of COVID-19-related fatalities. Daily infection rates are still way above the target set by authorities for the partial lockdown to reduce numbers to 10,000 per day.

In a recent situation report on Indonesia, the WHO said that the country’s very high transmission rate was “indicative of the utmost importance of implementing stringent public health and social measures, especially movement restrictions, throughout the country.”