Hong Kong airport bans transit flights from more than 150 countries: statement

Update Hong Kong airport bans transit flights from more than 150 countries: statement
Passengers from more than 150 nations will be banned from transiting through Hong Kong. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Hong Kong airport bans transit flights from more than 150 countries: statement

Hong Kong airport bans transit flights from more than 150 countries: statement
  • Hong Kong currently classifies more than 150 countries and territories as high risk
  • In recent weeks, authorities have tightened quarantine restrictions on air crew and reintroduced curbs on social life

HONG KONG: Hong Kong will suspend for a month transit flights from around 150 countries and territories considered high risk because of the coronavirus, deepening the global financial hub’s isolation.
The move comes as the city has seen around 50 cases of the fast-spreading omicron variant since the end of last year.
Prior to the outbreak, which authorities said could be traced back to two aircrew members of Cathay Pacific Airways , the city had had no local transmissions for over three months.
Hong Kong International Airport said in a statement on Friday that any persons who have stayed in places classified as high risk by health authorities in the 21 days before traveling cannot transit through the city from Jan. 16 until Feb. 15.
The measure was taken “in order to control the spread of the highly infectious omicron variant,” it said.
Hong Kong currently classifies more than 150 countries and territories as high risk.
Last week, it banned incoming flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the United States, including interchanges.
The Chinese-ruled city has followed mainland China’s policy in adopting a zero-tolerance toward local COVID-19 cases even as much of the world shifts toward living with the coronavirus.
In recent weeks, authorities have tightened quarantine restrictions on air crew and reintroduced curbs on social life.
Fifteen type of venues, including bars and clubs, cinemas, gyms and beauty salons were ordered to close, while dining in restaurants is banned after 6.00 pm. Primary schools and kindergartens have also shuttered.
The government is expected to announce later on Friday that the restrictions will be extended through the Lunar New Year holiday at the start of February. 


‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets

‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets
Updated 7 sec ago

‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets

‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets
  • Ken Rhee signed up the moment President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for global volunteers
  • Former South Korean Navy SEAL was born in South Korea but raised in the United States
SEOUL: A former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who risked jail time to leave Seoul and fight for Ukraine says it would have been a “crime” not to use his skills to help.
Ken Rhee, an ex-special warfare officer, signed up at the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul the moment President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for global volunteers and was fighting on the front lines near Kyiv by early March.
To get there, he had to break South Korean law — Seoul banned its citizens from traveling to Ukraine, and Rhee, who was injured in a fall while leading a special operations patrol there, was met at the airport by 15 police officers on his return.
But the celebrity ex-soldier, who has a YouTube channel with 700,000 followers and documented much of his Ukraine experience on his popular Instagram account, says he has no regrets.
“You’re walking down the beach and you see a sign by the water saying ‘no swimming’ — but you see someone drowning. It’s a crime not to help. That’s how I see it,” he said.
Rhee was born in South Korea but raised in the United States. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and planned to join the US Navy SEALS, but his father — a “patriot,” he says — convinced his son to return to South Korea to enlist.
He served for seven years, undergoing both US and Korean SEAL training and doing multiple stints in war zones in Somalia and Iraq before leaving to set up a defense consultancy.
“I have the skillset. I have the experience. I was in two different wars, and going to Ukraine, I knew I could help,” he said, adding that he viewed breaking South Korea’s passport law to leave as equivalent to a “traffic violation.”
But the reaction in South Korea — where Rhee shot to fame as a trainer in the popular YouTube series “Fake Men” — was swift and unforgiving.
“It was instant. People in Korea, they just criticized me about breaking the law,” said Rhee.
His critics claim the 38-year-old’s decision was criminally irresponsible, and point to his posting of war footage on his YouTube and Instagram accounts as evidence of showboating.
Rhee says he tries not to let the furor get to him. “I think it’s pretty obvious who the good guys are and who the bad guys are,” he said of Russia and Ukraine.
On his first day on the frontline in Irpin — which he describes as “the Wild West” and “chaos” — he says he witnessed Russian war crimes.
“I saw a civilian get shot. He was driving... and they shot him through the windshield and he died in front of us,” he said.
“It was like: there’s my proof. There’s definitely war crimes going on. It reminded me and my teammates what we were doing and why we were there,” he said.
Because of his military training, Rhee was told to set up his own team, so he recruited other volunteers with combat experience and set up a multi-national special operations group.
“I was eating Canadian MREs. My gun was from the Czech Republic. I have a Javelin missile from the United States. I have a rocket that’s from Germany... but nothing is Korean,” he said.
He tried to take his Korean-made night vision goggles but was not given government export permission. Seoul has provided non-lethal aid to Kyiv, but Rhee said they could do more.
“Korea has state-of-the-art equipment... they’re very good at making weapons,” he said.
Russia said earlier this month that 13 South Koreans had traveled to Ukraine — including four who were killed. Seoul said it was trying to verify the claims.
Although Rhee did not know the fate of all his teammates, he said “a lot of my friends have died.”
“I don’t want my friends’ sacrifices to be forgotten,” he said, adding that he plans to write a book — and maybe a screenplay — about his team’s experiences.
But first, he needs to deal with the official repercussions of his trip. He is quietly optimistic South Korea’s new conservative administration won’t put him in jail.
Rhee is not allowed to leave the country until his case is resolved, and is receiving treatment for his injuries. But he hopes one day to fight alongside his teammates again, for a cause they believe in.
The joke as people left the frontline was: “See you in Taiwan,” he said, referring darkly to the risk that Beijing will follow Moscow’s lead and invade a neighboring democracy.

From pariah to president: Marcos Jr takes over Philippines’ top job

From pariah to president: Marcos Jr takes over Philippines’ top job
Updated 32 min 34 sec ago

From pariah to president: Marcos Jr takes over Philippines’ top job

From pariah to president: Marcos Jr takes over Philippines’ top job
  • His campaign was bolstered by teaming up with Sara Duterte as well as the backing of other political elites

MANILA: Ferdinand Marcos Jr has reached the end of a decades-long campaign to rehabilitate the family brand: the presidency.
Marcos Jr, known by his nickname “Bongbong,” will succeed Rodrigo Duterte in the top job on Thursday after his landslide victory in last month’s elections.
In the 36 years since a popular uprising toppled the patriarch and chased the family into US exile, the Marcoses have been rebuilding their political fortunes.
After narrowly losing the vice presidential race to Leni Robredo in the 2016 election, he was determined their rematch in the presidential contest on May 9 would end differently.
Vowing to unify the country, Marcos Jr made sweeping promises on the campaign trail to boost jobs and tackle rising prices in the lower-middle-income country.
Marcos said last month he was “humbled” by his success at the ballot box and vowed to “always strive to perfection.”
“I want to do well, because when a president does well the country does well, and I want to do well for this country,” he told reporters after Congress formally ratified the results.
Growing up in the presidential palace in Manila, Marcos Jr wanted to be an astronaut before he followed his father’s footsteps into politics.
He served as vice governor and twice as governor of the family’s northern stronghold of Ilocos Norte province, and also had stints in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
His 92-year-old mother, Imelda, said she had dreamed of him becoming the country’s leader.
Marcos Jr’s links to his father, whose rule was marked by the bloody repression of the martial law years, have made him one of the nation’s most polarizing politicians.
He has benefited from a deluge of misinformation on social media targeting a largely young electorate with no memory of the corruption, killings and other abuses committed during the elder Marcos’s 20-year rule.
His campaign was bolstered by teaming up with Sara Duterte — who won even more votes than Marcos to easily secure the vice presidency — as well as the backing of other political elites.
While he describes his father as a “political genius,” Marcos Jr has distanced himself from the charges of pillaging state coffers and economic mismanagement that later impoverished the nation.
“To the world, he says: Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions,” Vic Rodriguez, a close aide, said in a statement after Marcos Jr claimed victory.
After the fallen dictator’s death in Hawaii in 1989, the Marcoses returned home and began their remarkable revival, getting elected to a succession of higher positions.
The family’s turnaround has been aided by public disenchantment over an enduring gulf between rich and poor, and graft allegations that marred post-Marcos administrations.


Russian forces turn sights on Lysychansk in battle for eastern Ukraine

Russian forces turn sights on Lysychansk in battle for eastern Ukraine
Updated 27 June 2022

Russian forces turn sights on Lysychansk in battle for eastern Ukraine

Russian forces turn sights on Lysychansk in battle for eastern Ukraine
  • Russian missiles strike Kyiv for first time in weeks as G7 countries meet in Germany
  • US expected to announce advanced medium to long range SAM defense system for Ukraine

KYIV/POKROVSK, Ukraine: Russian forces were fighting on Monday to achieve one of their strategic objectives in Ukraine as Moscow-backed separatists said they were pushing into Lysychansk, the last major city still held by Ukrainian troops in eastern Luhansk province.
Lysychansk’s twin city of Sievierodonetsk fell on Saturday in a victory for Moscow’s campaign to seize the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk on behalf of pro-Russian separatists.
Tass news agency on Sunday quoted a separatist official as saying Moscow’s forces had entered Lysychansk from five directions and were isolating Ukrainian defenders. Reuters could not confirm the report.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Russian forces were using artillery to try to cut off Lysychansk from the south but made no mention of separatists entering the city.
Elena, an elderly woman from Lysychansk, was among dozens of evacuees who arrived in the Ukrainian-held town of Pokrovsk by bus from frontline areas. 

“Lysychansk, it was a horror, the last week. Yesterday we could not take it any more,” she said. “I already told my husband if I die, please bury me behind the house.”
The RIA agency quoted a separatist official as saying separatist forces had evacuated more than 250 people, including children, on Sunday from Sievierodonetsk’s Azot chemical plant.
The industrial area was the last part of Sievierodonetsk held by Ukrainian forces before they withdrew on Saturday after weeks of heavy fighting which left the town in ruins.

Kyiv hit again
Russian missiles struck an apartment block and close to a kindergarten in Kyiv on Sunday as world leaders gathered in Germany to discuss further sanctions against Moscow.
Deputy Mayor Mykola Povoroznyk said one person was killed and six wounded in the first Russian attack on the capital in weeks.
In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said a wounded seven-year-old girl was pulled from the rubble of a nine-story apartment block. The girl’s father was killed in the strike, he said.
“She was not threatened by anything in our country. She was completely safe, until Russia itself decided that everything was equally hostile to them now — women, children, kindergartens, houses, hospitals, railways,” Zelensky said.
A Ukrainian air force spokesperson said the strike was carried out with four to six long-range missiles fired from bombers more than 1,000 km (621 miles) away in southern Russia.
US President Joe Biden called the strikes acts of “barbarism,” as leaders from the Group of Seven nations gathered for a summit in Germany. Russia denies targeting civilians.

Demonstrator march in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on June 26, 2022 in support of Ukraine as G7 leaders meet in the nearby Bavarian alpine resort of Schloss Elmau castle. (REUTERS)

Other G7 leaders mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin as they gathered for a group photograph at the summit.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested the leaders bare their chests and “show them our pecs” in reference to Putin’s shirtless poses over the years, including on horseback.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “We’re going to get the bare-chested horseback riding display.” European Union President Ursula von der Leyen replied: “Oh yes. Horseback riding is the best.”
Britain, Canada, Japan and the United States proposed a ban on imports of gold from Russia, aimed at wealthy Russians who have been buying safe-haven bullion to reduce the financial impact of Western sanctions.
The leaders gathered in the Bavarian Alps are also expected to discuss a possible price cap on Russian oil and efforts to tackle soaring global food and energy prices.
The United States is likely to announce this week the purchase of an advanced medium to long range surface-to-air missile defense system for Ukraine, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday.

Missiles hit central city
Russian missiles also on Sunday struck the central city of Cherkasy, which until now had been largely untouched by bombardment, according to authorities who said one person was killed and five others wounded.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said the attack also hit a strategic bridge linking western Ukraine and the eastern battlefields.
“They are trying to limit the transfer of our reserves and Western weapons to the east,” he told Reuters.
Russia’s defense ministry said it had used high-precision weapons to strike military training centers in the regions of Chernihiv, Zhytomyr and Lviv, an apparent reference to strikes reported by Ukraine on Saturday. There was no immediate comment about Sunday’s strikes on Kyiv or Cherkasy.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what the Kremlin called a “special military operation” to rid the country of far-right nationalists and ensure Russian security.
Kyiv and the West dismiss that as a baseless pretext for a war of choice that has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing Ukraine and destroyed cities.
The conflict has driven up gas, oil and food prices, pushed the European Union to reduce reliance on Russian energy, and prompted Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.
Russia edged closer to a default on Sunday amid little sign that investors holding its international bonds had received payment, heralding what would be the nation’s first default in decades.


NATO to pledge aid to Baltics and Ukraine, urge Turkey to let in Nordics

NATO to pledge aid to Baltics and Ukraine, urge Turkey to let in Nordics
Updated 27 June 2022

NATO to pledge aid to Baltics and Ukraine, urge Turkey to let in Nordics

NATO to pledge aid to Baltics and Ukraine, urge Turkey to let in Nordics
  • NATO summit over three days in Madrid; Turkey’s veto over Sweden, Finland application a big issue
  • NATO to agree new defenses for Baltic region; aid package to Ukraine aims for longer-term support

MADRID: NATO leaders will urge Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to lift his veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance when they meet for a three-day summit on Tuesday, as the West strives to send Russia and China a signal of resolve.
Taking place in the shadow of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Madrid gathering comes at a pivotal moment for the transatlantic bond after failures in Afghanistan and internal discord during the era of former US President Donald Trump, who threatened to pull Washington out of the nuclear alliance.
Negotiations among an often-fractious organization are still under way, diplomats said, but leaders also hope to agree to provide more military aid to Ukraine, increase joint defense spending, cement a new resolve to tackle China’s military rise and put more troops on stand-by to defend the Baltics.
Spain, whose king will host a dinner for leaders, is also pushing for more NATO focus on the southern flank to address migration and militant groups in the Sahel region of Africa.
The leaders of Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea are expected to attend part of the summit, part of a broader US strategy for a more assertive Western presence in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China.
“We will do more to ensure we can defend every inch of allied territory, at all times and against any threat,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a speech last week.

Although British and US officials have advised against a Baltic request for permanent multinational forces in the region, the summit is likely to settle on a compromise of promising rapid reinforcements.
Germany has already said it will put more troops at the ready to defend Lithuania should Russia seek to seize NATO territory and Britain is expected to do the same for Estonia, while Latvia is looking to Canada to pledge more troops there.

Turkey veto
NATO — created in 1949 to counter the Soviet threat — is under no treaty obligation to defend Ukraine, as the former Soviet republic is not a NATO member.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion has sparked a geopolitical shift as once neutral countries Finland and Sweden seek to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Ukraine has formally become a candidate to join the European Union.
If accepted, Finland and Sweden’s inclusion into NATO would bring about the expansion of the alliance that the Russian leader aimed to prevent.
“I think it sends an important message to Putin. And I think it would actually significantly strengthen the alliance,” US Senator Angus King said of Finland and Sweden, following a trip to Finland, Latvia and Turkey.
However, Turkey is also testing that unity, angered by what it says is Helsinki and Stockholm’s support for Kurdish militants and arms embargoes on Ankara.
A Turkish government official involved in the talks between the three countries and NATO’s Stoltenberg told Reuters it would be difficult to reach a deal at the summit, saying that Sweden and Finland must first address Turkish concerns.
“There were meetings, but unfortunately steps we expected are not being taken,” the official said.
Sweden has set up a process for ongoing consultations, diplomats said. But two senior NATO diplomats said the dispute was less about technical benchmarks and more about politics.
Erdogan’s stance has proved popular at home before a June 2023 presidential election as he seeks to challenge US and European priorities. In recent weeks, he has threatened more military operations in northern Syria, stoked tensions with fellow NATO member Greece and declined to join Western sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine war.
“I think there’s nearly zero chance that this issue will be resolved at the Madrid summit,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey analyst at the Washington Institute, a US think-tank.
US President Joe Biden could hold a meeting with Erdogan in the margins of the NATO summit to push for progress with Finland and Sweden, whose leaders will be in Madrid.
But Cagaptay added that Erdogan could try to use the situation to boost his popularity and call a possible snap election in November ahead of the official June 2023 vote. 


4 killed when stands collapse during Colombian bullfight

4 killed when stands collapse during Colombian bullfight
Updated 27 June 2022

4 killed when stands collapse during Colombian bullfight

4 killed when stands collapse during Colombian bullfight
  • The disaster took place in a stadium in the city of El Espinal in Tolima state during a traditional event called “corraleja”

BOGOTA, Colombia: Part of the wooden stands collapsed during a bullfight in central Colombia Sunday, sending spectators plunging to the ground and killing at least four people and seriously injuring about 30, authorities said.
The disaster took place in a stadium in the city of El Espinal in Tolima state during a traditional event called “corraleja” in which members of the public enter the ring to engage the bulls.
Videos taken during the bullfight show a three-story section of the stands collapsing as people screamed.
“We have activated the hospital network in Tolima,” Tolima Gov. José Ricardo Orozco told local Blu Radio. “Four people have died, as of this moment: two women, a man and a minor.”
Authorities said about 30 people had been seriously injured
Orozco said he had asked for the traditional “corralejas” to be suspended in Tolima earlier Sunday but this one was held anyway.
President-elect Gustavo Petro urged local officials to ban such events, noting that it was not the first time an incident like this had taken place.
“I ask mayors not to allow more events involving the death of people or animals,” he said.
Current President Iván Duque on Twitter announced an investigation of the disaster.
“We lament the terrible tragedy registered in El Espinal, Tolima, during the festivals of San Pedro and San Juan, with the collapse of the stands during a corraleja. We will call for an investigation.”