British frigate sails through sensitive Taiwan Strait

British frigate sails through sensitive Taiwan Strait
Britain’s HMS Richmond had been deployed in the East China Sea taking part in United Nations sanctions enforcement operations against North Korea. (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2021

British frigate sails through sensitive Taiwan Strait

British frigate sails through sensitive Taiwan Strait
  • Britain’s HMS Richmond had been deployed in the East China Sea taking part in United Nations sanctions enforcement operations against North Korea

BEIJING: A British frigate was sailing through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Monday en route to Vietnam, according to an official tweet from the vessel, in a move likely to anger Beijing amid heightened tensions between China and Taiwan.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has stepped up military and political pressure to force the democratically ruled island to accept Chinese sovereignty.
While US warships pass through the strait on an almost monthly basis, despite Chinese opposition, US allies have generally been reluctant to follow suit.
Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng did not comment directly when asked about the British warship, saying he did not know what missions foreign ships in the Taiwan Strait were carrying out.
“When they pass through the Taiwan Strait our nation’s military will have a grasp of the situation, but will not interfere,” he told reporters in Taipei, adding they keep a close watch on all movements near Taiwan.
Britain’s HMS Richmond had been deployed in the East China Sea taking part in United Nations sanctions enforcement operations against North Korea.
China has been ramping up its exercises around Taiwan and flies air force aircraft almost daily into the southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defense zone.


Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical
Updated 07 December 2021

Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads in southern Africa and pops up in countries all around the world, scientists are anxiously watching a battle play out that could determine the future of the pandemic. Can the latest competitor to the world-dominating delta overthrow it?
Some scientists, poring over data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, suggest omicron could emerge the victor.
“It’s still early days, but increasingly, data is starting to trickle in, suggesting that omicron is likely to outcompete delta in many, if not all, places,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School.
But others said Monday it’s too soon to know how likely it is that omicron will spread more efficiently than delta, or, if it does, how fast it might take over.
“Especially here in the US, where we’re seeing significant surges in delta, whether omicron’s going to replace it I think we’ll know in about two weeks,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how much it might evade immunity from past COVID-19 illness or vaccines.
On the issue of spread, scientists point to what’s happening in South Africa, where omicron was first detected. omicron’s speed in infecting people and achieving near dominance in South Africa has health experts worried that the country is at the start of a new wave that may come to overwhelm hospitals.
The new variant rapidly moved South Africa from a period of low transmission, averaging less than 200 new cases per day in mid-November, to more than 16,000 per day over the weekend. omicron accounts for more than 90 percent of the new cases in Gauteng province, the epicenter of the new wave, according to experts. The new variant is rapidly spreading and achieving dominance in South Africa’s eight other provinces.
“The virus is spreading extraordinarily fast, very rapidly,” said Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute. “If you look at the slopes of this wave that we’re in at the moment, it’s a much steeper slope than the first three waves that South Africa experienced. This indicates that it’s spreading fast and it may therefore be a very transmissible virus.”
But Hanekom, who is also co-chair the South African COVID-19 Variants Research Consortium, said South Africa had such low numbers of delta cases when omicron emerged, “I don’t think we can say” it out-competed delta.
Scientists say it’s unclear whether omicron will behave the same way in other countries as it has in South Africa. Lemieux said there are already some hints about how it may behave; in places like the United Kingdom, which does a lot of genomic sequencing, he said, “we’re seeing what appears to be a signal of exponential increase of omicron over delta.”
In the United States, as in the rest of the world, “there’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “But when you put the early data together, you start to see a consistent picture emerge: that omicron is already here, and based on what we’ve observed in South Africa, it’s likely to become the dominant strain in the coming weeks and months and will likely cause a surge in case numbers.”
What that could mean for public health remains to be seen. Hanekom said early data from South Africa shows that reinfection rates are much higher with omicron than previous variants, suggesting the virus is escaping immunity somewhat. It also shows the virus seems to be infecting younger people, mostly those who are unvaccinated, and most cases in hospitals have been relatively mild.
But Binnicker said things could play out differently in other parts of the world or in different groups of patients. “It’ll be really interesting to see what happens when more infections potentially occur in older adults or those with underlying health conditions,” he said. “What’s the outcome in those patients?”
As the world waits for answers, scientists suggest people do all they can to protect themselves.
“We want to make sure that people have as much immunity from vaccination as possible. So if people are not vaccinated they should get vaccinated,” Lemieux said. “If people are eligible for boosters, they should get boosters, and then do all the other things that we know are effective for reducing transmission — masking and social distancing and avoiding large indoor gatherings, particularly without masks.”


Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister

Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister
Updated 07 December 2021

Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister

Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister
  • Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed

THE HAGUE: An appeals court in the Netherlands rules on Tuesday in a case alleging war crimes against Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is blamed by a Dutch Palestinian for the loss of six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.
Ismail Ziada filed the civil case against Gantz and another former senior Israeli military official, seeking unspecified damages under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules. His case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020.
Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed.
But the lower court ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.
Ziada appealed, arguing that universal jurisdiction should be applied in civil cases if the alleged conduct involved serious violations of international humanitarian law. He asked the appeals judges to reverse the decision, which effectively granted Gantz immunity from prosecution.
Gantz, a career soldier turned politician, was commander-in-chief of the Israeli armed forces during a war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when the incident took place.
About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians, in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Ziada said he lost relatives when his family home in Gaza was bombed during a June 2014 Israeli air strike. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed.
Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization. Israel says Hamas puts civilians in harm's way by deploying fighters and weaponry inside densely populated areas of Gaza.
Human rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes in the 2014 conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory since June 2014 by both Israeli defense forces and Palestinian armed groups.


WHO advises against blood plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients

This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows a doctor (R) who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection donating plasma in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows a doctor (R) who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection donating plasma in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2021

WHO advises against blood plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients

This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows a doctor (R) who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection donating plasma in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
  • A US-based trial was halted in March after it was found that plasma was unlikely to help mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Monday advised against using the blood plasma of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat those who are ill, saying current evidence shows it neither improves survival nor reduces the need for ventilators.
The hypothesis for using plasma is that the antibodies it contains could neutralize the novel coronavirus, stopping it from replicating and halting tissue damage.
Several studies testing convalescent blood plasma have shown no apparent benefit for treating COVID-19 patients who are severely ill. A US-based trial was halted in March after it was found that plasma was unlikely to help mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients.
The method is also costly and time-consuming to administer, the WHO said in a statement on Monday.
A panel of international experts made a strong recommendation against the use of convalescent plasma in patients with non-severe illness, the WHO said. They also advised against its use in patients with severe and critical illness, except in the context of a randomized controlled trial.
The recommendation, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is based on evidence from 16 trials involving 16,236 patients with non-severe, severe and critical COVID-19 infection.


Pakistani clock collector records passage of time

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time
Updated 07 December 2021

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time
  • Gul Kakar’s collection of 18th, 19th-century timepieces range from small pocket watches to grandfather clocks

QUETTA: Bells, whistles, chimes, and gongs sound every minute. Hands tick, pendulums swing.

Welcome to the museum of Gul Kakar, a 44-year-old Balochistan Levies Force officer, who has collected thousands of ancient clocks from around the world.

Housed in his small museum in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, the collection of 18th- and 19th-century timepieces includes exhibits ranging from small pocket watches to tall free-standing wooden case grandfather clocks accumulated over two decades.

“My passion toward antique clocks started when I found two old clocks in my house, which were in my father’s possession. After repairing them, I started my search for more antique clocks,” Kakar told Arab News.

“The majority of clocks in my museum have been acquired from people in the UK, Germany, Holland, France, and the US.

“I have a rare French-made Morbier grandfather clock, which was produced in 1850, and a pocket watch manufactured in 1820. When I learnt that a French family wanted to sell these rare clocks, I contacted a friend in France who purchased them for me and sent them six years ago.”

Kakar said he had not counted how many clocks he had but reckoned there were thousands in his two-room museum, located on the city’s Joint Road. There are no guided tours, but visitors are always welcome.

“I never thought that I would be able to build a museum. With the passage of time, my antiques including all forms of old clocks started arriving and turned my place into a clock museum,” he added.

HIGHLIGHT

Gathered from around world, Kakar has never counted, calculated value of his museum contents.

In a world increasingly oriented toward technology, Kakar said his museum had become a portal to another time. He also has a number of vintage radios and old gramophones in his collection.

“When I hear the sounds of these clocks or play songs on gramophones, it gives me immense comfort and pushes me into the historical lifestyle of the people back in the 18th and 19th centuries who had used these items. I am able to recognize the chimes of all clocks.”

The models he owns are unfamiliar to Pakistani clocksmiths, so Kakar has to carry out any repairs himself.

“I service them and wind them once a week, and I’m able to repair minor issues with my clocks,” he said.

And he has recently started looking into the history of some of his exhibits.

“I know the background of some of these clocks and I am in contact with some families in England and France and have asked them to share the histories of these clocks used by their great grandfathers during the 18th and 19th centuries. I am hopeful I will get more details in the coming months,” he added.

Kakar has not attempted to calculate how much his collection is worth. “I have never sold items from my collection to anyone. If I started counting the sum, I would not be able to carry on with my enthusiasm.”


Six countries including US urge Ethiopian government to cease illegal detentions

Six countries including US urge  Ethiopian government  to cease illegal detentions
Updated 07 December 2021

Six countries including US urge Ethiopian government to cease illegal detentions

Six countries including US urge  Ethiopian government  to cease illegal detentions

WASHINGTON: Six countries including the US expressed concern on Monday over reports of widespread arrests by Ethiopia of Tigrayan citizens based on ethnicity in connection with the country’s year-old conflict, urging the government to stop acts they said likely violate international law.

The US, Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands cited reports by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the rights group Amnesty International on widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans, including Orthodox priests, older people and mothers with children.

The countries said they are “profoundly concerned” about the detentions of people without charges, adding that the government’s announcement of a state of emergency last month offered “no justification” for mass detentions.

“Individuals are being arrested and detained without charges or a court hearing and are reportedly being held in inhumane conditions. Many of these acts likely constitute violations of international law and must cease immediately,” the six countries said in a joint statement.

They urged Ethiopia’s government to allow unhindered access by international monitors.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum and Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the statement.

The conflict between Ethiopian’s federal government and the leadership of Tigray has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions to flee their homes and made more than 9 million people dependent on food aid.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-largest nation and a regional diplomatic heavyweight, was once an ally for Western security forces seeking to counter Islamist extremism. Relations have soured amid increasing allegations of human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

The joint statement reiterated grave concern over human rights abuses including sexual violence and ongoing reports of atrocities committed by all sides.

“It is clear that there is no military solution to this conflict, and we denounce any and all violence against civilians, past, present and future,” the statement said.

Both sides in Ethiopia accuse each other of committing atrocities and both have denied the allegations.

The six countries in the statement called on the parties to the conflict to negotiate a sustainable cease-fire, reiterating calls from the United States and others for Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan forces to declare a cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to enter Tigray.