Gunmen kill 4 Pakistani police near border with Afghanistan

Gunmen kill 4 Pakistani police near border with Afghanistan
File photo showing Pakistan Army troops patrol along the fence on the Pakistan Afghanistan border at Big Ben hilltop post in Khyber district. (AP)
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Updated 27 October 2021

Gunmen kill 4 Pakistani police near border with Afghanistan

Gunmen kill 4 Pakistani police near border with Afghanistan
  • Pakistan has witnessed scores of such terrorist attacks in recent years

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Unidentified gunmen attacked a police patrol overnight in northwest Pakistan, killing four before fleeing the scene, a police official said Wednesday.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack in Lakki Marwat, a town in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. Police official Umar Khan said a search operation for the culprits was still underway.
Khan provided no further details and only said the funeral of slain officers was held Wednesday morning.
Pakistan has witnessed scores of such terrorist attacks in recent years, most of which have been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban and the Daesh group. Both organizations have been emboldened by Taliban resurgence in neighboring Afghanistan, where Pakistani militants are still believed to be hiding.
Before the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan often accused each other of turning a blind eye to militants operating along their porous border.


UN fears sectarian violence that could ‘fracture’ Ethiopia

UN fears sectarian violence that could ‘fracture’ Ethiopia
Updated 16 sec ago

UN fears sectarian violence that could ‘fracture’ Ethiopia

UN fears sectarian violence that could ‘fracture’ Ethiopia
  • In an interview with AFP, Martin Griffiths expressed deep concern for the stability of a nation of 115 million people
  • Griffiths, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, said the conflict in Ethiopia has sparked perhaps the world’s most worrying humanitarian crisis
GENEVA: Ethiopia risks descending into sectarian violence and experiencing a chaotic Kabul-style exodus if the year-long conflict spreads to the capital Addis Ababa, the UN aid chief warned.
In an interview with AFP, Martin Griffiths expressed deep concern for the stability of a nation of 115 million people composed of more than 80 ethnic groups.
Griffiths, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, said the conflict in Ethiopia has sparked perhaps the world’s most worrying humanitarian crisis.
He warned that a battle in the capital Addis Ababa and increasing communal violence could worsen the situation “exponentially.”
Humanitarian organizations have been scrambling to respond to soaring needs in Ethiopia, and laying contingency plans in case the crisis deepens.
“The worst I think from a humanitarian perspective (would be) if there is a battle for Addis or turmoil around there, leading to increased communal violence across the country,” Griffiths said.
“If that were to happen, we’re facing something I don’t think we have faced before for many, many years: We’re facing a fracture ... of the fabric of Ethiopia.”
The chaos flowing from such a situation would be far worse than what has happened in the last 13 months.
Thousands of people have been killed, two million displaced and hundreds of thousands driven into famine-like conditions since the conflict erupted in November 2020, according to UN estimates.

The conflict began when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — a move he said came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.
The rebels mounted a comeback, recapturing most of Tigray by June before expanding into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar.
The conflict took a sharp turn around a month ago, when the TPLF claimed to have captured strategic towns on a key highway to the capital.
But last week Abiy himself deployed to the conflict zone, and the government has since claimed it is back in control of several towns including the UNESCO World Heritage site Lalibela.
Griffiths called for an end to the violence.
Even if fighting approaches the Ethiopian capital, he insisted “major targets should be avoided,” including the airport and the city itself, with a population of over five million, “where it is unimaginable to think of a battle like that.”
He said: “The real, elemental worry is if the conflict mutates into communal violence across different parts of the country, as opposed to conflict between the government and specific groups... That would make everything exponentially worse.”

While the UN was intent on staying to provide aid regardless, he said fears abound among expatriates like diplomats and others in Addis that the country could witness scenes reminiscent of the chaotic airport evacuation after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August.
They worry “the same thing might happen that happened in Kabul,” he said.
Asked if he believed that really might happen, he said: “I think it could, but I hope it won’t.”
Speaking to AFP ahead of the launch of the international humanitarian communities annual global appeal, Griffiths pointed out that the nearly $3 billion requested to address aid needs in Ethiopia next year was dramatically higher than in previous appeals “because of the likelihood that these needs will grow.”
The UN’s World Food Programme said last week that the number of people requiring food aid in Ethiopia’s war-torn north had surged to more than nine million, while drought has also deepened food insecurity in other regions.
The UN has warned that 400,000 people in the north of the country were at risk of famine, but Griffiths said a lack of fuel and access to assess the situation on the ground meant a full-blown famine had yet to be confirmed.
With improved access and more available fuel, UN agencies are now aiming to make the assessment within weeks.
Asked if there was a risk of a repeat of the devastating famine conditions that killed more than a million people in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s, Griffiths said he hoped not.
“I just hope to God that we’re not going to see that kind of misery.”

Omicron could become dominant in France by end of January -government advisor

Omicron could become dominant in France by end of January -government advisor
Updated 5 min 23 sec ago

Omicron could become dominant in France by end of January -government advisor

Omicron could become dominant in France by end of January -government advisor
  • The local health body for the Ile de France region said in a statement that a case of omicron variant had been found in a person who returned from Nigeria

PARIS: The omicron coronavirus variant could become the dominant strain in France by the end of January, but meanwhile it should be possible to have a good Christmas if steps are taken to curb the delta strain, France’s top scientific adviser said on Thursday.
Jean-Francois Delfraissy told BFM television the “true enemy” for now was still delta, spreading in a fifth wave.
“We should see a progressive rise of the omicron variant, which will take over from delta,” possibly by the end of January, he said.
“Christmas is not at risk if the population and decision-makers are all very cautious,” he said, reiterating that social distancing and a third, booster shot of vaccines were key weapons in the fight against COVID-19.
France recorded nearly 50,000 new conformed COVID-19 cases over 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.
There were 1,886 people in intensive care units with COVID-19 on Wednesday, a level Delfraissy said was not yet a peak, particularly when compared to 6,000-7000 at the height of the second wave in France last autumn.
The local health body for the Ile de France region of greater Paris said in a statement on Thursday that a case of omicron variant had been found in a person who returned from Nigeria, the first confirmed case in Metropolitan France.


Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat

Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat
Updated 02 December 2021

Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat

Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat
  • Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy government
  • Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup, and faces a catalogue of charges that could see her jailed for decades

YANGON: Myanmar’s junta on Thursday slammed a UN decision to deny its chosen representative a seat at the world body and keep in place an envoy appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government.
The committee responsible for approving nominations of ambassadors to the New York body met Wednesday but deferred a decision over the rival claims to Myanmar and Afghanistan’s seats, diplomats said.
The deferral keeps in place envoys appointed to the body by both governments before they were toppled — by a coup in Myanmar in February and the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan in August.
“This decision does not reflect the reality on the ground and existence of our country,” Myanmar junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told AFP.
“We will continue submitting (to the UN) as usual according to diplomatic procedure and the right to representation in accordance with international and local laws,” he added.
The deferral leaves Kyaw Moe Tun, appointed by Suu Kyi’s government, in place as Myanmar’s envoy.
He made headlines shortly after the putsch by flashing the three-finger salute of democracy protesters from his UN chair, brazenly defying the junta’s insistence that he no longer represents the country.
In August US prosecutors said they had charged two Myanmar citizens in a plot to attack him.
The junta has denied any involvement and chosen former soldier Aung Thurein as its envoy to the body.
The Taliban in September asked the UN to accept its former Doha-based spokesperson Suhail Shaheen to succeed Ghulam Isaczai, a cabinet member of ousted President Ashraf Ghani.
Isaczai continues to occupy Afghanistan’s offices at the UN headquarters and even participated in a recent Security Council meeting in which he openly criticized the Taliban.
There was “consensus” within the credentials committee to delay the decision, two diplomats told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“China, Russia and the United States were in the same position,” one of them said.
The nine-member committee is due to submit its report next week to the General Assembly, which will be left to decide via a possible vote if its 200 members fail to reach a consensus, diplomats said.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy government, sparking huge democracy protests which have triggered a bloody crackdown from the junta.
NLD lawmakers make up the majority of a shadow “National Unity Government” which is working to overturn the military regime, which the junta has branded “terrorists.”
Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup, and faces a catalogue of charges that could see her jailed for decades.


US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons
Updated 02 December 2021

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons
  • China’s growing military muscle and its drive to end American predominance in Asia triggers unease in Washington

SEOUL: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons “increases tensions in the region” and vowed the US would maintain its capability to deter potential threats posed by China.
Austin made the remarks in Seoul following annual security talks with his South Korean counterpart that focused on challenges from China and North Korea and other issues facing the allies.
“We have concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue. Again, the pursuit of those capabilities increases tensions in the region,” Austin said referring to China’s latest hypersonic weapons test in July and using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China, the country’s official name.
“It just underscores why we consider the PRC to be our pacing challenge,” Austin said. “We’ll continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a range of potential threats from the PRC to ourselves and to our allies.”
China’s growing military muscle and its drive to end American predominance in Asia has triggered unease in Washington. China’s efforts to accelerate its military capabilities were highlighted by its July test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting the Earth before reentering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable path to its target.
Experts say the weapons system is clearly designed with a purpose of evading US missile defenses, although China insisted it was testing a reusable space vehicle, not a missile.
On North Korea, Austin said he and South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook discussed a wide range of topics including bilateral unity in the face of the threat from the North. The two agreed that North Korea’s advancement of its missile and other weapons programs “is increasingly destabilizing for regional security,” Austin said.
The US and South Korea remain committed to a diplomatic approach to North Korea, he added.
Suh said the allies share an understanding that “diplomacy and dialogue based on previous commitments between South and North Korea and between North Korea and the United States is essential for achieving permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Despite severe pandemic-related economic hardships, North Korea has continuously rebuffed US offers to resume talks, saying Washington must first abandon its hostility toward the North. The Biden administration maintains that international sanctions on North Korea will stay in place unless the country takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon released the results of a global posture review that directs additional cooperation with allies and partners to deter “potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North Korea.” The review also informed Austin’s approval of the permanent stationing of a previously rotational attack helicopter squadron and artillery division headquarters in South Korea.


Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms

Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms
Updated 02 December 2021

Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms

Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms
  • The ministry said Thursday it has retracted the request after receiving criticisms that the ban was too strict and tantamount to abandoning its own people
  • A limit remains in place because the daily cap of 3,500 arrivals is being maintained

TOKYO: Japan says it has retracted a ban on new incoming international flight bookings to defend against the new variant of the coronavirus only a day after the policy was announced, following criticisms that it was an overreaction.
The transport ministry on Wednesday issued a request to international airlines to stop taking new reservations for flights coming into Japan until the end of December as an emergency precaution to defend against the new omicron variant.
The ministry said Thursday it has retracted the request after receiving criticisms that the ban was too strict and tantamount to abandoning its own people.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the quick reversal of the policy took into consideration Japanese nationals’ traveling needs. Kishida has been pushing to take strong precautionary measures after his predecessor Yoshihide Suga virtually lost his leadership position amid public criticism that his virus measures were too limited and too slow.
“I have instructed the transport ministry to fully pay attention to the needs of Japanese citizens to return home,” Kishida said.
The request had aimed to reduce Japan’s daily international arrivals to 3,500 from an earlier level of 5,000 to tighten border controls as the new variant spread around the world, officials said.
“The request, issued as an emergency precaution, triggered confusion,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Thursday. He said the transport ministry has retracted the request for a uniformed stoppage on new bookings.
But a limit remains in place because the daily cap of 3,500 arrivals is being maintained. New bookings can be made as long as there is room under this cap, said transport ministry official Hitoshi Inoue.
Japan has already banned entry of foreign nationals from around the world, except for spouses of Japanese nationals, those with permanent residency permits and others subject to special considerations.
Japan has reported two cases of the omicron variant, which was first reported in South Africa last week.
Japan had been easing social and economic restrictions after infections rapidly slowed since September.
The booking ban request was a disappointment for many people who were planning trips during the holiday season, including Japanese citizens living overseas hoping to return home for the New Year period.
Many on social media criticized the measure as too strict, and one user compared it to Japan’s feudal-era national isolation policy.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.