Japan PM dissolves lower house for Oct. 31 national election

Japan PM dissolves lower house for Oct. 31 national election
Japan's Prime Minister and the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Fumio Kishida and his ministers interact after the dissolution of the lower house was announced at the Parliament in Tokyo, Japan October 14, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 October 2021

Japan PM dissolves lower house for Oct. 31 national election

Japan PM dissolves lower house for Oct. 31 national election
  • The last lower house election was held in 2017 under Shinzo Abe

TOKYO: Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida dissolved the lower house of parliament Thursday, paving the way for elections Oct. 31 that will be Japan’s first of the pandemic.
At stake will be how Japan faces a potential coronavirus resurgence and revives its battered economy, and if or how Kishida’s government can leave the shadow of the nearly nine years of Abe-Suga rule some describe as dominating to the point of muzzling diverse views.
Kishida said he is seeking a mandate for his policies after being elected prime minister by parliament only 10 days ago.
He replaced Yoshihide Suga, who lasted just a year as prime minister and whose support was battered by his perceived high-handed approach in dealing with the coronavirus and insistence on holding the Tokyo Olympics despite rising virus cases.
Kishida, tasked with rallying support for the ruling party, has promised to pursue politics of “trust and empathy.”
Tadamori Oshima, the speaker of the house, announced the dissolution at a plenary session. The 465 lawmakers in the more powerful lower chamber stood up, shouted “banzai” three times and left. Official campaigning for all 465 newly vacant seats begins Tuesday.
The last lower house election was held in 2017 under Shinzo Abe, a staunch conservative who pulled the long-ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party further to the right while serving as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
In the earlier lower house vote, the LDP and its coalition partner New Komeito together won 310 seats, or two-thirds of the chamber.
Four main opposition parties have agreed to cooperate on some policies, such as addressing gaps between the rich and the poor that they say have widened during Abe’s government and worsened by the pandemic.
Despite weaker public support for the LDP under Suga, opposition parties have struggled to win enough votes to form a new government after the brief rule of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan in 2009-2012.
Kishida, earlier Friday, visited offices of senior LDP members and expressed his determination of an election victory.
In his first policy speech last week, Kishida promised to strengthen the country’s pandemic response, revive the economy and bolster defenses against threats from China and North Korea. He also sought to gradually expand social and economic activities by using vaccination certificates and more testing.


UK troops kill 2 suspected Daesh fighters in first Mali clash

UK troops kill 2 suspected Daesh fighters in first Mali clash
Updated 6 sec ago

UK troops kill 2 suspected Daesh fighters in first Mali clash

UK troops kill 2 suspected Daesh fighters in first Mali clash
  • Soldiers came under attack while on patrol as part of UN mission

LONDON: British troops have fatally shot two Islamist fighters, believed to belong to Daesh, in Mali.

The shooting is the first contact experienced by regular UK forces since combat operations in Afghanistan drew to a close in 2014.

The soldiers came under attack while on patrol as a part of a UN mission in Mali, where local forces have required support from Western allies — predominantly France — to counter a fierce insurgency.

The UN’s role in the Sahel nation is considered to be the most dangerous peacekeeping mission to which it deploys troops. It is continuing alongside a counterinsurgency operation led by French soldiers.

The sudden firefight between the Britons and the suspected Daesh fighters took place in a remote area in the east of the country where troops from the Queen’s Dragoon Guards — a light cavalry unit — were scouting for alternative routes after popular roads had been subject to improvised explosive devices.

The gunmen opened fire on the troops who were traveling in light armored vehicles between Indelimone — a town where a Malian military base had recently fallen to Islamist attackers — and Menaka, a regional hub.

The British soldiers reportedly chased down the Islamists in a 20-minute exchange, which ended when the gunmen were pinned down in some undergrowth on Wednesday morning.

The British troops from the Long Range Reconnaissance Group are taking part in Operation Newcombe under UN rules of engagement, which makes room for appropriate action in self-defense.

The British military said its intended action was to detain the two gunmen, who fired in excess of 100 rounds.

“Today’s action demonstrates exactly what the UK is bringing to the UN’s most dangerous peacekeeping mission — a long-range force that doesn’t just find those who harm civilians, but acts as well,” said Lt. Col. Will Meddings, the commanding officer of the deployment.

“Results like this come from patrolling huge distances, day and night, in places where ISGS (a term for Daesh in the Greater Sahara) feel they have the freedom to extort and murder, and proving to them that they cannot act with impunity.”


UK knew last year Taliban would seize Afghanistan: Official

UK knew last year Taliban would seize Afghanistan: Official
Updated 56 min 32 sec ago

UK knew last year Taliban would seize Afghanistan: Official

UK knew last year Taliban would seize Afghanistan: Official
  • London only miscalculated how long it would take: National security adviser
  • Stephen Lovegrove: ‘We certainly did not have the speed of the collapse as the central scenario, in fact nobody did’

LONDON: Britain expected Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban from the moment the US signed its withdrawal deal with the group 18 months ago, a senior official has admitted.

Stephen Lovegrove, the UK’s national security adviser, told a parliamentary committee that the government only miscalculated how long it would take for the group to retake Afghanistan.

“There was a central assessment that ultimately what would happen would be that there would be a government which is either entirely Taliban or dominated by the Taliban,” Lovegrove told a joint committee convened to examine claims that the government failed to heed warnings by the British ambassador about the group’s advances.

“We thought that there was a considerably lower likelihood — though not negligible likelihood — of civil war,” said Lovegrove. 

“But when we were thinking about the Taliban-dominated government and how quickly that would come to pass, we certainly did not have the speed of the collapse as the central scenario, in fact nobody did. The Taliban didn’t, the Afghan government didn’t, the Americans didn’t.”

The rapid fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban this year appeared to catch world powers off guard.

But Lovegrove’s admission is the first time a British official has acknowledged that the UK acted in expectation of a Taliban takeover, rather than their entry into a democratic or power-sharing government.

World powers are still coming to terms with Afghanistan’s new government, and most have not yet recognized the Taliban as the official rulers of the country.


Baku frees Iranian truck drivers as ties thaw with Tehran

Baku frees Iranian truck drivers as ties thaw with Tehran
Updated 21 October 2021

Baku frees Iranian truck drivers as ties thaw with Tehran

Baku frees Iranian truck drivers as ties thaw with Tehran
  • Standoff between the countries was sparked by allegations from Tehran that its sworn enemy Israel maintained a military presence in Azerbaijan

BAKU: Azerbaijan released Thursday two Iranian truck drivers whose arrest last month on charges of illegally crossing into the country strained ties between Baku and Tehran.
The move marks a thaw between Azerbaijan and Iran a week after their foreign ministers agreed to resolve a crisis in ties through dialogue.
Azerbaijan’s customs department said Thursday it had handed over the drivers to the Iranian side in a decision “guided by principles of humanitarianism, mutual respect and good neighborliness.”
The standoff between the countries was sparked by allegations from Tehran that its sworn enemy Israel maintained a military presence in Azerbaijan. Baku denied the claims.
Iran vowed to take any necessary action and staged military drills near its border with Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov spoke last week by phone with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and the pair agreed to resolve differences through dialogue.
Israel is a major arms supplier to Azerbaijan, which late last year won a six-week war with neighbor Armenia for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Azerbaijan and Iran have long been at loggerheads over Tehran’s backing of Armenia in the decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The war last year ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire that saw Armenia cede swathes of territory — including a section of Azerbaijan’s 700-kilometer (430-mile) border with Iran.
Baku said the drivers entered Azerbaijan through that territory, bypassing border control to avoid customs duties it had imposed recently — to Iran’s fury — on cargo transit to Armenia.
Tehran has long been wary of separatist sentiment among its ethnic Azeri minority, who make up around 10 million of Iran’s 83 million population.


Malaysia urges ASEAN ‘soul-searching’ on non-interference

Malaysia urges ASEAN ‘soul-searching’ on non-interference
Updated 21 October 2021

Malaysia urges ASEAN ‘soul-searching’ on non-interference

Malaysia urges ASEAN ‘soul-searching’ on non-interference
  • Myanmar accused the bloc of violating its decades-old policy of not meddling in each others’ domestic affairs
  • Myanmar has been a thorn in ASEAN’s side since it joined in 1997

SINGAPORE: Southeast Asia’s regional bloc should do some “soul-searching” on its policy of not interfering in members’ internal affairs to deal effectively with issues like the Myanmar crisis, Malaysia said Thursday.
The comments came after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last week excluded Myanmar’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from a forthcoming leaders’ summit, a rare rebuke.
The junta has been accused of failing to stick to a roadmap drawn up with ASEAN aimed at defusing the bloody crisis that erupted after a February coup.
Following the snub, Myanmar accused the bloc of violating its decades-old policy of not meddling in each others’ domestic affairs — which critics say has made the grouping toothless.
Saifuddin Abdullah, foreign minister of member state Malaysia, said he understood that the policy is “almost sacrosanct” in ASEAN and had been “useful and practical” in the past.
“But when we are faced with situations like the one that is currently occurring in Myanmar, then perhaps ASEAN should actually do some soul-searching,” he said at a virtual dialogue on human rights in Myanmar.
“As much as the issue in Myanmar is local and national ... it has impact on the region and we should also recognize the concerns of the other nine member states,” he said.
The junta leader was excluded after authorities refused to allow an ASEAN special envoy to meet with ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar, mostly ruled by the military since a 1962 coup, has been a thorn in ASEAN’s side since it joined in 1997.
Elections in 2015 overwhelmingly won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party ushered in the start of civilian rule — but this was cut short by the most recent coup.
The Southeast Asian bloc has been under international pressure to address unrest and the junta’s brutal crackdown on dissent.
Diplomatic sources said key ASEAN members like Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore pushed for tough action to stop the group’s credibility being tarnished.


Melbourne eases months-long COVID-19 lockdown restrictions

Melbourne eases months-long COVID-19 lockdown restrictions
Updated 21 October 2021

Melbourne eases months-long COVID-19 lockdown restrictions

Melbourne eases months-long COVID-19 lockdown restrictions
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday confirmed the state had reached that target, with more restrictions set to ease as inoculations hit 80% and 90%

MELBOURNE: One of the world’s most locked-down cities will reopen late Thursday, with Melbourne residents hoping this sixth bout of stay-at-home restrictions will be their last.

Five million people in Australia’s second-biggest city have endured lockdowns totalling more than 260 days since the beginning of the pandemic.

But now that 70 percent of eligible people in Melbourne and surrounding Victoria state are fully vaccinated, restrictions that began on August 5 will be lifted.

“When the clock strikes midnight tonight, the lockdown is over,” state deputy premier James Merlino said, hailing the state’s “extraordinary efforts.”

“I hope everyone enjoys those first reunions with their families, the first footy, netball, cricket training with the kids, the first pot and parma (beer and chicken parmesan) at the pub.”

Half a dozen lockdowns have taken their toll on the once-buzzing city, which prided itself on a vibrant arts scene and cafe culture.

In 2021, it lost the mantle of Australia’s most liveable city amid violent anti-lockdown protests and a small exodus of residents to Covid-free regional towns.

Authorities on Thursday announced a fresh boost to mental health funding and services, in a nod to the burden placed on Melbourne residents.

Multiple studies have found elevated levels of psychological distress during the pandemic, official government research shows.

David Malaspina, owner of loved Melbourne eatery Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, said lingering Covid-safe rules were “exceptionally challenging” but he was excited to welcome back customers.

“Our city’s great because of the people that are here. We would like to see our people back,” he said.

While fully vaccinated Melbourne residents will enjoy increased freedoms from midnight, they cannot leave the city and retail shops must remain closed until the double-dose rate lifts to 80 percent — likely within weeks.

Limits on patrons at cafes, bars and restaurants will remain in place, squeezing business owners who are also grappling with staff shortages caused by international border closures.

Australia’s ABC News reported on Thursday that Victoria will also lift quarantine requirements for international travelers at the end of the month. Sydney and surrounding New South Wales state are also set to scrap the requirements on November 1.

While varying rules make it difficult to directly compare lockdowns — Toronto eateries were reportedly closed to diners for more than 360 days while Buenos Aires was under harsh restrictions for much of 2020 — Melbourne has spent among the most days under stay-at-home orders.

Praising the reopening as well as Australia’s soaring vaccination rates, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared “victory is in sight” in what he described as the “battle of our generation.”

“You’re about to start reclaiming your lives,” he wrote in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper.

“It’s a new chapter, as you begin to open up safely. And stay safely open.”

Australia so far has been spared the worst of the pandemic, recording about 150,000 cases and 1,500 deaths in a population of 25 million.

Authorities in Victoria have warned hospitals will likely come under “intense pressure” as a result of the decision to reopen even as Covid surges there, with 2,200 new cases recorded Wednesday.

But after pursuing “Covid zero” for much of the pandemic, Melbourne has followed Sydney’s lead in abandoning the strategy after failing to contain the highly infectious Delta variant.

Tony Kay, owner of Melbourne restaurant CopperWood, said he was confident the vibrant city would “be back better than ever.”

“Even better, as soon as the restrictions are lifted,” he said. “Melbourne is very resilient.”