Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia

Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia
Above, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, center, attends the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders summit. (Australian Prime Minister’s Office via AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2021

Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia

Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia
  • Pact would further strengthen Australia’s diplomatic and security ties in the fast-growing region
  • China has also sought an agreement on the same strategic level with ASEAN

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed at a summit on Wednesday to establish a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” a sign of Canberra’s ambition to play a bigger role in the region.
The pact would further strengthen Australia’s diplomatic and security ties in a fast-growing region that has become a strategic battleground between the United States and China.
While concrete strategic objectives of the partnership were not immediately announced, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised Australia would “back it with substance.”
“This milestone underscores Australia’s commitment to ASEAN’s central role in the Indo-Pacific and positions our partnership for the future,” he said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Marise Payne. “Australia supports a peaceful, stable, resilient, and prosperous region, with ASEAN at its heart.”
Brunei, serving as chair of ASEAN, said the agreement “marked a new chapter in relations” and would be “meaningful, substantive and mutually beneficial.”
After the announcement, Australia said it would invest $154 million in projects in Southeast Asia on health and energy security, counter-terrorism, fighting and transnational crime, plus hundreds of scholarships.
China has also sought an agreement on the same strategic level with ASEAN. Premier Li Keqiang met ASEAN leaders on Tuesday, and the bloc’s leaders will meet China’s President Xi Jinping in November at a special summit, to be held virtually, two diplomatic sources told Reuters.
Australia already has bilateral strategic partnerships of various levels with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam.
STABILITY AND SECURITY
Morrison also sought to reassure ASEAN that a trilateral security pact agreed last month between the United States, Britain and Australia, under which Australia will get access to nuclear-powered submarines, would be no threat to the region.
One ambassador to ASEAN, who asked not to be identified, said Australia clinching the comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN was “quite something” in the wake of regional reservations over its new AUKUS pact with Washington and London.
“Kudos to Australia,” the ambassador said.
AUKUS has raised some concerns in Southeast Asia that China could see it as a move by the West to challenge its growing influence in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.
The United States and allies have increased patrols to challenge Beijing’s vast maritime fleet which it deploys to buttress its claims to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.
“AUKUS adds to our network of partnerships that support regional stability and security,” Morrison said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday said he was concerned AUKUS “could spark rivalry in the region,” according to his foreign minister, Retno Marsudi.
US ally the Philippines has backed AUKUS but its president, Rodrigo Duterte, on Wednesday said it “must complement and not complicate our working methods for cooperation.”
Military analysts have said the nuclear submarines Australia will purchase from the United States have unmatched stealth and underwater longevity. China has opposed the pact and said it could be damaging and intensify an arms race.
US President Joe Biden was due to join the virtual East Asia Summit later on Wednesday, with leaders of China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and South Korea, Japan and ASEAN members.
In an earlier meeting, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stressed to Southeast Asian leaders his country’s strong opposition to challenges to a free and open maritime order, underscoring regional concerns about China’s growing military clout.


Russian missile strike hits crowded shopping mall in Ukraine

Russian missile strike hits crowded shopping mall in Ukraine
Updated 28 June 2022

Russian missile strike hits crowded shopping mall in Ukraine

Russian missile strike hits crowded shopping mall in Ukraine
  • The casualty figures were difficult to determine as rescuers searched the smoldering rubble

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine: Russian long-range bombers fired a missile that struck a crowded shopping mall in Ukraine’s central city of Kremenchuk on Monday, raising fears of what President Volodymyr Zelensky called an “unimaginable” number of victims in “one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history.”
Zelenskky said more than 1,000 civilians were inside the mall, with many managing to escape. Images from the scene showed giant plumes of black smoke, dust and orange flames, with emergency crews rushing in to search broken metal and concrete for victims and put out fires. Onlookers watched in distress.
The casualty figures were difficult to determine as rescuers searched the smoldering rubble. The regional governor, Dmytro Lunin, said at least 13 people were dead and more than 40 wounded.
At Ukraine’s request, the UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss the attack.
The missile strike unfolded as Western leaders pledged continued support for Ukraine, and the world’s major economies prepared new sanctions against Russia, including a price cap on oil and higher tariffs on goods. Meanwhile, the US appeared ready to respond to Zelensky’s call for more air defense systems, and NATO planned to increase the size of its rapid-reaction forces nearly eightfold — to 300,000 troops.
Zelensky said the mall presented “no threat to the Russian army” and had “no strategic value.” He accused Russia of sabotaging “people’s attempts to live a normal life, which make the occupiers so angry.”
In his nightly address, he said it appeared Russian forces had intentionally targeted the shopping center and added, “Today’s Russian strike at a shopping mall in Kremenchuk is one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history.”
Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers flying over Russia’s western Kursk region fired the missile that hit the shopping center, as well as another that hit a sports arena in Kremenchuk, according to Ukrainian officials.
The Russian strike carried echoes of attacks earlier in the war that caused large numbers of civilian casualties — such as one in March on a Mariupol theater where many civilians had holed up, killing an estimated 600, and another in April on a train station in eastern Kramatorsk that left at least 59 people dead.
“Russia continues to take out its impotence on ordinary civilians. It is useless to hope for decency and humanity on its part,” Zelensky said.
Kremenchuk Mayor Vitaliy Maletskiy wrote on Facebook that the attack “hit a very crowded area, which is 100 percent certain not to have any links to the armed forces.”
The United Nations called the strike “deplorable,” stressing that civilian infrastructure “should never ever be targeted,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Group of Seven leaders issued a statement late Monday condemning the attack and saying that “indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account.”
The attack happened as Russia was mounting an all-out assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province, “pouring fire” on the city of Lysychansk from the ground and air, according to the local governor. At least eight people were killed and more than 20 wounded in Lysychansk when Russian rockets hit an area where a crowd gathered to obtain water from a tank, Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said.
The eastern barrage was part of Russian forces’ intensified offensive aimed at wresting the eastern Donbas region from Ukraine. Over the weekend, the Russian military and their local separatist allies forced Ukrainian government troops out of Lysychansk’s neighboring city, Sievierodonetsk.
To the west of Lysychansk on Monday, the mayor of the city of Sloviansk — potentially the next major battleground — said Russian forces fired cluster munitions, including one that hit a residential neighborhood. Authorities said the number of victims had yet to be confirmed. The Associated Press saw one fatality: A man’s body lay hunched over a car door frame, his blood pooling onto the ground from chest and head wounds. The blast blew out most windows in the surrounding apartment blocks and the cars parked below, littering the ground with broken glass.
“Everything is now destroyed,” said resident Valentina Vitkovska, in tears as she spoke about the blast. “We are the only people left living in this part of the building. There is no power. I can’t even call to tell others what had happened to us.”
Before Monday’s attacks, at least six civilians were killed and 31 others wounded as part of intense Russian shelling against various Ukrainian cities over the past 24 hours — including Kyiv and major cities in the country’s south and east, according to Zelensky’s office. Shelling on Monday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, killed at least five people and wounded 15.
Russian forces continued to target the key southern Black Sea port of Odesa. A missile attack destroyed residential buildings and wounded six people, including a child, Ukrainian authorities said.
In Lysychansk, at least five high-rise buildings and the last road bridge were damaged over the past day, Haidai said. A crucial highway linking the city to government-held territory to the south was rendered impassable. The city’s prewar population of around 100,000 has dwindled to fewer than 10,000.
Analysts say that Lysychansk’s location high on the banks of the Siverskiy Donets River gives a major advantage to Ukrainian defenders.
“It’s a very hard nut to crack. The Russians could spend many months and much effort storming Lysychansk,” said military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.
In other developments, in Germany’s Bavarian Alps, leaders of the G7 countries unveiled plans to seek new sanctions and pledged to continue supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes.” In a joint statement Monday after they held a session by video link with Zelensky, the leaders underlined their “unwavering commitment to support the government and people of Ukraine in their courageous defense of their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Elsewhere, Washington was expected to announce the purchase of an advanced surface-to-air missile system for Ukraine.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced plans to greatly expand the alliance’s rapid-reaction forces as part of its response to an “era of strategic competition.” The NATO response force currently has about 40,000 soldiers. NATO will agree to deliver further military support to Ukraine — including secure communication and anti-drone systems — when its leaders convene in Spain for a summit later this week, Stoltenberg said.
Britain’s defense ministry said Russia is likely to rely increasingly on reserve forces in the coming weeks. Analysts have said a call-up of reservists by Russia could vastly alter the balance in the war but could also come with negative political consequences for President Vladimir Putin’s government.


People smuggler sentenced to 7 years in jail in Austria

People smuggler sentenced to 7 years in jail in Austria
Updated 27 June 2022

People smuggler sentenced to 7 years in jail in Austria

People smuggler sentenced to 7 years in jail in Austria
  • The 19-year-old Latvian was found guilty of people smuggling and causing fatal injuries, but was not found guilty of murder

VIENNA: An Austrian court on Monday sentenced a people smuggler to seven years in prison over the deaths of two Syrians who suffocated in the crammed minivan he was driving, Austria’s news agency reported.
The bodies of the two men were discovered last October when Austrian authorities stopped and searched a van at the border with Hungary.
Thirty people in total were crammed in the vehicle, whose driver fled the scene but has later arrested in Latvia and extradited.
The 19-year-old Latvian was found guilty of people smuggling and causing fatal injuries, but was not found guilty of murder, APA reported.
He said he would accept the verdict, but the prosecution can still appeal it, APA said.
A court spokeswoman could not immediately be reached by AFP.
Austria’s interior ministry announced in May that police had smashed a group believed to have smuggled tens of thousands of mostly Syrians, including the two found suffocated, from Hungary to Austria.
A total of 205 people suspected to be linked to the group have been arrested in central and eastern Europe, the ministry said.
Those smuggled, including children, were trying to reach western European countries, including Germany and France.
The October discovery of the dead men recalled a dire event in August 2015 when 71 people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan suffocated in the back of an air-tight van where they had been hidden by people smugglers.
The bodies, including those of three children and a baby, were discovered in Austria but they had died while still on the other side of the border.
Almost four years later, the Hungarian courts sentenced their smugglers to life imprisonment.
The emotion aroused by that tragedy triggered a brief opening of the borders to hundreds of thousands of people wishing to reach Western Europe.
But Austria and other European countries have since fortified borders to stop people smuggling.


AU urges probe into deaths of Africans at Spain-Morocco border

AU urges probe into deaths of Africans at Spain-Morocco border
Updated 27 June 2022

AU urges probe into deaths of Africans at Spain-Morocco border

AU urges probe into deaths of Africans at Spain-Morocco border
  • AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat: I express my deep shock and concern at the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants attempting to cross an international border
  • Spain’s enclaves in Morocco, Melilla and Ceuta, are the only land borders the European Union shares with Africa

NAIROBI: The African Union Commission chief has voiced his shock at the “violent and degrading” treatment of African migrants trying to cross from Morocco into Spain after 23 people died, and called for an investigation into the incident.
About 2,000 migrants stormed the heavily fortified border between the Moroccan region of Nador and the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Friday.
At least 23 migrants died and 140 police officers were wounded in the ensuing violence, according to Moroccan authorities. It was the heaviest toll in years from such attempts to cross the frontier at Melilla.
“I express my deep shock and concern at the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants attempting to cross an international border from Morocco into Spain,” AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a statement on Twitter late Sunday.
“I call for an immediate investigation into the matter and remind all countries of their obligations under international law to treat all migrants with dignity and to prioritize their safety and human rights, while refraining from the use of excessive force.”
Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Martin Kimani, said a UN Security Council meeting would be held behind closed doors on Monday to discuss the violence African migrants face in Melilla.
Kenya, Gabon and Ghana — the African non-permanent members of the Security Council — called for the meeting, he said.
“Migrants are Migrants: whether from Africa or Europe, they do not deserve to be brutalized in this way,” Kimani wrote on Twitter.
Speaking at a regular press briefing, UN chief Antonio Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “We very much deplore this tragic incident and the loss of life.”
Spain on Monday thanked Morocco for its “collaboration” in the defense of Spanish borders and once again blamed “international mafias that traffic human beings” for the incident.
But calls for a probe have increased, with around 50 migrant rights groups calling the Melilla deaths “the tragic symbol of European policies to externalize the European Union’s borders.”
“The death of these young Africans... alerts us to the deadly nature of the security cooperation on migration between Morocco and Spain,” they added.
Spain’s rights ombudsman said it accepted a complaint from several NGOs on the incident and has requested information from the relevant administrative bodies.
The migrant rush in Melilla came after Madrid and Rabat normalized their diplomatic relations following an almost year-long crisis centered on the disputed Western Sahara territory.
For Spain, the main objective of the diplomatic thaw was to ensure Morocco’s cooperation in controlling illegal immigration.
Spain’s enclaves in Morocco, Melilla and Ceuta, are the only land borders the European Union shares with Africa.


Amnesty accuses Lithuania of arbitrarily detaining migrants, subjecting them to inhumane treatment

Amnesty accuses Lithuania of arbitrarily detaining migrants, subjecting them to inhumane treatment
Updated 27 June 2022

Amnesty accuses Lithuania of arbitrarily detaining migrants, subjecting them to inhumane treatment

Amnesty accuses Lithuania of arbitrarily detaining migrants, subjecting them to inhumane treatment
  • Treatment of refugees from Iraq, Syria and other regions in stark contrast to the treatment of refugees from Ukraine white_check_mark eyes raised_hands

LONDON: Amnesty International has accused Lithuanian authorities of arbitrarily detaining thousands of migrants in military centers, subjecting them to “inhumane treatment” and torturing them.

Amnesty International released a report detailing how refugees and migrants have been held for months in prison-like facilities in Lithuania, where they are denied fair asylum procedures and subjected to serious human rights violations.

Amnesty International conducted interviews with dozens of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Many have reported being beaten, insulted and subjected to racially-motivated intimidation and harassment by guards.

They also complained of insufficient access to sanitary facilities and healthcare.“In Iraq, we hear about human rights and women’s rights in Europe. But here there are no rights”, said a Yazidi woman who was detained in the Medininkai detention center to Amnesty.

This treatment stands in stark contrast to the treatment of people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

“While Lithuania has rightly extended a warm welcome to tens of thousands of people fleeing Ukraine, the experience of the detainees we spoke with could not be more different. This raises serious concerns about institutional racism embedded within Lithuania’s migration system.” said Nils Muižnieks, Europe Regional Director of Amnesty International.

In July 2021, lawmakers passed new legislation mandating the detention of people who irregularly crossed into Lithuanian territory.

In order to escape EU legal safeguards against arbitrary detention, Lithuanian authorities described such detention as “temporary accommodation”.

The detainees interviewed by Amnesty International reported the aggressive behavior of the center’s guards when they protested against the appalling detention conditions.

Authorities retaliated by beating them with batons, spraying them with pepper spray, and using taser guns.

A psychologist who worked at the center is being investigated for alleged sexual violence against detainees in his care.

Amnesty International also documented how racialized detainees, particularly Black men and women, were subjected to profoundly offensive racist slurs.

Despite the overwhelming evidence released today by Amnesty and other international organizations and local groups over the last year, the European Parliament claims that there is no hard evidence of these international and EU law violations.

Speaking to Euronews, Lithuanian interior minister Agne Bilotaite said the report “tends to reflect the views and testimonies of only one side,” and that Lithuania had “continuously cooperated with all human rights institutions and organisations and adhered to the principle of open dialogue and the rule of law.”


UK to remove visa requirement for GCC nationals visiting from 2023

UK to remove visa requirement for GCC nationals visiting from 2023
Updated 27 June 2022

UK to remove visa requirement for GCC nationals visiting from 2023

UK to remove visa requirement for GCC nationals visiting from 2023
  • ETA is part of the British government’s plan to fully digitize its border by the end of 2025
  • ETA is akin to a multi-travel visa covering extended stays

LONDON: Gulf Cooperation Council nationals will no longer be required to apply for a visa before visiting Britain from 2023, the UK government announced today.

Under Britain’s new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme, rolling out next year, nationals from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will join Americans and Canadians in benefiting from visa-free travel.

Home secretary Priti Patel said: “This move means that Gulf states will be among the first countries in the world to benefit from ETAs and visa-free travel to the UK.

“Our number one priority is the security of the UK border and by launching ETAs we can ensure that everyone wishing to travel to the UK has permission to do so in advance of travel and refuse those who pose a threat.”

The ETA is part of the British government’s plan to fully digitize its border by the end of 2025 and mirrors the list of nationals who do not currently require visas for short stays or transiting.

Once granted, the ETA is akin to a multi-travel visa covering extended stays but until its introduction, GCC nationals will continue to benefit from access to the Electronic Visa Waiver scheme, which can be completed online before visits to Britain.

Describing the ETA process as “straightforward,” the Home Office said the scheme will “act as an additional security measure allowing the government to block threats” but would also provide individuals “more assurance at an earlier point in time about their ability to travel.”