Gambian President Barrow wins re-election; opposition cries foul

Gambia's president-elect Adama Barrow waves to his supporters after he gives a victory speech in Banjul, Gambia December 5, 2021. Picture taken December 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
Gambia's president-elect Adama Barrow waves to his supporters after he gives a victory speech in Banjul, Gambia December 5, 2021. Picture taken December 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 06 December 2021

Gambian President Barrow wins re-election; opposition cries foul

Gambia's president-elect Adama Barrow waves to his supporters after he gives a victory speech in Banjul, Gambia December 5, 2021. Picture taken December 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • Barrow’s first term provided a welcome change for many to Jammeh’s brutal tenure

BANJUL: Gambian President Adama Barrow has comfortably won re-election, the electoral commission said on Sunday, though he may face a legal challenge from opposition candidates who rejected the results because of unspecified irregularities.
The vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former President Yahya Jammeh, who was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.
Jammeh’s despotic 22-year rule over the small West African nation of 2.5 million people, which began with a 1994 coup, was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents.
Saturday’s peaceful election was seen by many as a victory for democracy that helped draw a line under that troublesome period.
Once cowed by Jammeh’s omnipresent secret police, crowds of people hit the streets of Banjul on Sunday night to celebrate, or drove around in their cars, honking horns. Hundreds gathered in a park opposite the presidential palace to listen to Barrow speak.
“Democracy has taken its course,” Barrow told the cheering crowd after the results were announced. “I have been the lucky person to be chosen by you. I’ll use all the resources to make Gambia a better place for all.”
Barrow’s first term provided a welcome change for many to Jammeh’s brutal tenure. But progress was hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.
In the run-up to the election, Jammeh had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.
But he failed to dent Barrow’s following. The president received around 53 percent of Saturday’s vote, far outstripping his nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, who won about 28 percent.
As results came in on Sunday, representatives from all opposition parties signed off on nearly all the tally sheets read to the election commission.
But later in the day, Darboe and two other candidates, Mama Kandeh and Essa Mbye Faal, said they would not accept the results because the results took longer than expected and because of problems at polling stations.
They did not provide specifics or evidence of wrongdoing.
“We are concerned that there had been an inordinate delay in the announcement of results,” their statement said. “A number of issues have been raised by our party agents and representatives at the polling stations.”
The statement did not say what they would do now, only stating that “all actions are on the table.”


Sudan to establish anti-terrorism force — Sovereign Council

Sudan to establish anti-terrorism force — Sovereign Council
Updated 5 sec ago

Sudan to establish anti-terrorism force — Sovereign Council

Sudan to establish anti-terrorism force — Sovereign Council
Sudan’s Sovereign Council is to establish an anti-terrorism force to counter “potential threats,” it said in a statement on Monday.
Huge crowds have regularly taken to the streets demanding a return to civilian rule since a military coup on Oct. 25 ended a power-sharing arrangement that began after Islamist autocrat Omar Al-Bashir was toppled by a popular uprising in 2019.

At least 12 killed in Afghan earthquake: District official

At least 12 killed in Afghan earthquake: District official
Updated 4 min 8 sec ago

At least 12 killed in Afghan earthquake: District official

At least 12 killed in Afghan earthquake: District official

HERAT: At least 12 people were killed after an earthquake hit western Afghanistan on Monday, an official said.
The victims died when roofs of their residential houses collapsed in Qadis district in the western province of Badghis, district governor Mohammad Saleh Purdel told AFP.
The quake was magnitude 5.3, according to the US Geological Survey, who originally recorded the magnitude as 5.6.
"Several people were also injured in today's earthquake," Purdel said, adding that the victims included women and children.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
Earthquakes can cause significant damage to poorly built homes and buildings in impoverished Afghanistan.


North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions
Updated 17 January 2022

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions
  • Two suspected “short-range ballistic missiles” were fired east from an airport in Pyongyang early Monday

SEOUL: North Korea fired two suspected ballistic missiles Monday, Seoul said, its fourth weapons test this month as Pyongyang flexes its military muscle while ignoring offers of talks from the United States.
Despite biting international sanctions, Pyongyang has conducted a string of weapons tests this year, including of hypersonic missiles, as leader Kim Jong Un pursues his avowed goal of further strengthening the military.
Reeling economically from a self-imposed coronavirus blockade, impoverished North Korea has not responded to Washington’s offers of talks, while doubling down on weapons tests and vowing a “stronger and certain” response to any attempts to rein it in.
The launches come at a delicate time in the region, with North Korea’s sole major ally China set to host the Winter Olympics next month and South Korea gearing up for a presidential election in March.
Two suspected “short-range ballistic missiles” were fired east from an airport in Pyongyang early Monday, the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, with Japan also confirming the launch.
Fired just before 9 am (0000 GMT), they flew 380 kilometers (about 240 miles) at an altitude of 42 km, the JCS added.
The frequent and varied tests this year indicate North Korea “is trying to improve its technology and operational capability in terms of covert actions,” Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters.
Pyongyang said it successfully tested hypersonic gliding missiles on January 5 and January 11, with the second launch personally supervised by Kim.
In response, the United States last week imposed fresh sanctions on five North Koreans connected to the country’s ballistic missile programs, prompting an angry reaction from Pyongyang.
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman described the move as a “provocation,” according to state news agency KCNA.
If “the US adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it,” the spokesman said hours before Pyongyang fired two train-launched missiles Friday.
Analysts said the Monday test also appeared to be an attempt to send the United States a message.
“It is signalling that it will forge ahead with tests despite criticism,” Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul told AFP.
Hypersonic missiles are a top priority in Pyongyang’s new five-year defense development plan, unveiled in January 2021, which it has pursued while dialogue with the United States remained stalled.
With the country battling major economic hardship domestically after years of Covid-induced isolation, Pyongyang may be looking to offer citizens a military victory ahead of key domestic anniversaries.
“It needs to present something to North Koreans,” said Cheong Seong-chang of the Center for North Korea Studies at the Sejong Institute.
“It now has become clear that it will be difficult for the North to score on the economic side.”
This weekend, a North Korean freight train crossed the Yalu River railroad bridge into China for the first time in over a year, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The move could signal the prospect of resumed China-North Korea land trade, which has been suspended since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
It is likely the missile launches will ease off ahead of the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies.
“As stability on the peninsula is a prerequisite for the successful Beijing Olympics, the North will not cross a red line,” Yang said.


Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities

Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities
Updated 17 January 2022

Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities

Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities
  • North Korea on Monday fired two possible ballistic missiles, which Japanese officials said landed off the North’s eastern coast

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday said fighting the pandemic was a “top priority” in his speech opening this year’s parliamentary session, as the Tokyo region was hit by surging infections.
Kishida also named stepping up defense measures against rising regional threats as a priority, hours after North Korea test-fired two possible ballistic missiles — its fourth this year.
“I will devote my body and soul to win this fight against the coronavirus,” Kishida said in his speech before the lower house, which marked the start of its new 150-day session. He called on people to help each other to overcome “the national crisis” of the pandemic.
The Japanese capital reported 4,172 new cases on Sunday, raising the hospital bed occupancy rate to 19.3 percent. Tokyo authorities have said that when that rate breaches 20 percent, they will request the government place the area under pre-emergency status and move toward restrictions like working from home and shorter hours for eateries.
Kishida reiterated his plans to keep Japan’s stringent border controls in place, banning most foreign entrants until the end of February, while the country tries to speed up booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines and reinforce medical systems to support an increasing number of patients being treated at home.
The highly transmissible omicron variant has driven infections higher and started to paralyze medical and public services in some areas, as more people are forced to self-isolate. Japan last week trimmed the 14-day quarantine period to 10 days.
Kishida urged companies to promote remote work, and called on schools to use online classes flexibly. Booster shots only started last month with medical workers and so far less than 1 percent of the population has had their third jab.
Japan recently cut the wait between a second and third shot for elderly people to six months from eight. In part because of a shortage of imported vaccines, most younger Japanese are not expected to get their turn until March.
In his parliamentary speech, Kishida also addressed what he said was an “increasingly severe and complex” regional situation. “I’m determined to protect the people’s lives and daily life,” the premier vowed.
North Korea’s repeated and escalating test-firing of ballistic missiles “are absolutely not permissible and we should not overlook its significant progress of missile technology,” Kishida added.
North Korea on Monday fired two possible ballistic missiles, which Japanese officials said landed off the North’s eastern coast.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, along with China’s rapid military buildup, have already prompted Kishida’s government to raise Japan’s military budget.
Kishida repeated his plans to review Japan’s defense policy, and consider the development of a controversial pre-emptive strike capability, to “drastically strengthen defense power”.
Kishida is set to hold an online summit with Pesident Joe Biden on Jan. 21 as the two leaders seek to further strengthen bilateral ties, Tokyo and Washington announced Monday.
Kishida called the US alliance “the lynchpin of Japan’s diplomatic and security policies.”
Kishida, who is from the city of Hiroshima that the US attacked with an atomic bomb in World War Two, also said he sought “a world without nuclear weapons” and plans to launch a conference with former and serving world leaders on phasing out nuclear weapons. He said he hoped the initiative would have its first meeting in his hometown this year.
Kishida pledged to promote energy reforms to meet the target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. He said he supported the use of “innovative” nuclear energy, nuclear fusion technology as well as renewables to meet this goal.


Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads

Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads
Updated 17 January 2022

Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads

Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads
  • China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections
  • Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily trips during the holiday

BEIJING: Several Chinese cities went on high COVID-19 alert as the Lunar New Year holiday travel season started on Monday, requiring travelers to report their trips days before their arrival, as the omicron variant reached more areas including Beijing.
Authorities have warned the highly contagious omicron adds to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission as hundreds of millions of people travel around China for the Lunar New Year on Feb. 1.
Cities such as Luoyang in central China and Jieyang in the south said on Sunday travelers need to report to communities, employers or hotels their trips three days ahead of arrival.
The southwestern city of Yulin said on Saturday those who want to enter should fill in an online form, including their health credentials and trip details, one day in advance.
Over the weekend, the capital Beijing and the southern technology hub Shenzhen each detected one domestically transmitted omicron case.
The possibility that the omicron case in Beijing was infected through imported goods can’t be ruled out, Pang Xinghuo, an official at the city’s disease control authority, said on Monday.
Li Ang, vice director at the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said a local hospital had admitted nine omicron infections, with six still being treated. He did not say when the infections arrived or why they hadn’t been disclosed earlier.
The city of Meizhou in Guangdong province found one omicron infection linked to an outbreak in Zhuhai, state television said on Monday.
So far, at least five provinces and municipalities reported local omicron infections, while 14 provincial areas found the variant among travelers arriving from overseas.
China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections, despite a high vaccination rate of 86.6 percent. The strategy has taken on extra urgency in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, to be staged in Beijing and neighboring Hebei province starting Feb. 4.
Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily trips during the holiday, while dozens of international and domestic flights have been suspended.
China’s aviation regulator said on Monday it would suspend two flights from the United States over COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of canceled flights this year from the country, where omicron is spreading, to 76.
China reported 163 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptom for Sunday, official data showed on Monday, up from 65 a day earlier.
Sunday’s increase in infections was mainly driven by more cases in the cities of Tianjin and Anyang, where omicron has been found in local clusters.
Tianjin and Anyang reported slightly more than 600 local symptomatic infections from the current outbreaks, smaller than many clusters overseas, but authorities there still have limited movement within the cities and trips to outside.