UN chief: World worse now due to COVID-19, climate, conflict

UN chief: World worse now due to COVID-19, climate, conflict
Secretary-general Antonio Guterres says his appeal for peace he issued on his first day in the UN’s top job has not changed. (AP)
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Updated 21 January 2022

UN chief: World worse now due to COVID-19, climate, conflict

UN chief: World worse now due to COVID-19, climate, conflict
  • ‘The secretary-general of the UN has no power. We can have influence. I can persuade. I can mediate, but I have no power’

UNITED NATIONS: As he starts his second term as UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres said Thursday the world is worse in many ways than it was five years ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and geopolitical tensions that have sparked conflicts everywhere — but unlike US President Joe Biden he thinks Russia will not invade Ukraine.
Guterres said in an interview that the appeal for peace he issued on his first day in the UN’s top job on Jan. 1, 2017 and his priorities in his first term of trying to prevent conflicts and tackle global inequalities, the COVID-19 crisis and a warming planet haven’t changed.
“The secretary-general of the UN has no power,” Guterres said. “We can have influence. I can persuade. I can mediate, but I have no power.”
Before he became UN chief, Guterres said he envisioned the post as being “a convener, a mediator, a bridge-builder and an honest broker to help find solutions that benefit everyone involved.”
He said Thursday these are things “I need to do every day.”
As an example, the secretary-general said this week he spoke to the African Union’s envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, twice with Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, and once with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his attempt to get a cessation of hostilities in Ethiopia between the government and forces in the embattled Tigray region.
“I hope that we are in a situation in which it might become soon possible to have a cessation of hostilities and that is where I’m concentrating most of my efforts,” Guterres said.
As another example, Guterres said he has also been on the phone to try to get Mali’s military leaders who recently delayed elections scheduled for next month to 2026 to reduce the timetable. He said he spoke to Mali’s military ruler, President Assimi Goita, three presidents from the 15-nation West African regional group ECOWAS, Algeria’s prime minister and the African Union’s leader about “how to make sure that in Mali, there is an acceptable calendar for the transition to a civilian government.”
Guterres said he hopes Mali’s military leaders will understand that they need to accept “a reasonable period” before elections. The secretary-general believes voting should be held in “a relatively short amount of time,” and said: “All my efforts have been in creating conditions for bridging this divide and for allowing ECOWAS and the government of Mali to come to a solution with an acceptable delay for the elections.”
Guterres said the UN Security Council, which does have the power to uphold international peace and security including by imposing sanctions and ordering military action, is divided, especially its five veto-wielding permanent members. Russia and China are often at odds with the US, Britain and France on key issues, including Thursday on new sanctions against North Korea.
On the issue on every country’s front burner now — whether Russia, which has massed 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, will invade the former Soviet republic — Guterres said, “I do not think Russia will invade Ukraine, and I hope that my belief is correct.”
What makes him think Moscow won’t invade when Biden and others believe Russian President Vladimir Putin will send troops into Ukraine?
“Because I do not believe in a military solution for the problems that exists, and I think that the most rational way to solve those problems is through diplomacy and through engagement in serious dialogue,” Guterres said, stressing that an invasion would have “terrible consequences.”
The secretary-general said “we have been in contact, of course” with top officials in Russia, though the UN is not directly engaged in the Ukraine crisis.
Guterres is scheduled to deliver a speech to the 193 UN member nations in the General Assembly on Friday on his priorities for 2022.
He singled out three immediate priorities that “are worrying me enormously”: the lack of vaccinations in large parts of the world, especially in Africa; the need to reduce emissions by 45 percent in this decade to try to meet the international goal of trying to limit future global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit); and the “extremely unjust” financial situation in the world that favors rich countries.
Many developing countries have very few resources, high debts that are growing and they pay much higher interest rates than in Europe or North America, have no vaccines, and disproportionately “suffer the impacts of climate change,” Guterres said.
“We need a deep reform in our international financial system in order to make sure that there is more justice in the way resources are available to allow for the recovery (from COVID-19) to be possible everywhere,” he said.
On another major issue, Guterres stressed that the Afghan people can’t be collectively punished for “wrong things that are done by the Taliban,” so it is absolutely essential to massively increase humanitarian aid “because the Afghans are in a desperate situation with the risks of deaths by hunger” and disease in a frigid winter with COVID-19.
“More than half the population is in desperate need of humanitarian aid,” he said, and money needs to be injected into the economy to ensure Afghan banks operate and doctors, teachers, engineers and other workers are paid to prevent the country’s economic collapse.
The issue of recognition of the Taliban government is up to member states, Guterres said, but the UN has been pressing the Taliban, which took power in August as US-led NATO forces were departing after 20 years, to ensure human rights, especially women’s rights to work and girls’ education, and to make the government more inclusive and reflective of Afghanistan’s diverse population.
The secretary-general said he will be attending the Beijing Olympics in February “which is not a political act” but “to be present when all the world comes together for good — for a peaceful message.”


Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case
Updated 57 min 46 sec ago

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case
  • The orders, enacted in the capital during various states of emergency, included shortened operating hours and a ban on alcohol sales

TOKYO: Japan’s “Kill Bill” restaurant operator prevailed in a court case on Monday that declared Tokyo’s now defunct COVID-19 infection curbs were illegal.
The orders, enacted in the capital during various states of emergency, included shortened operating hours and a ban on alcohol sales, though there was a compensating government subsidy. Businesses that didn’t comply were subject to fines.
Global-Dining Inc, which runs more than 40 restaurants, defied the restrictions, taking the city government to court over the matter.
The district court said the Tokyo government had not provided a “rational explanation” for the measures. The court determined they had been illegal but it denied Global-Dining’s claim for $0.80 (¥104) in damages.
The restrictions ended in March. Whether this ruling would inhibit the city government in acting against any renewed COVID-19 outbreak is unclear.
In a statement, Global-Dining president Kozo Hasegawa, said the case revealed the “injustice and sloppiness of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.” His company crowd-funded more than 25 million yen to fight the case.
Global-Dining’s Gonpachi restaurant, with a cavernous inner courtyard, inspired the fight scene in Quentin Tarantino’s first “Kill Bill” film. It was the site of a dinner between then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then US President George W. Bush in 2002.


Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14
Updated 16 May 2022

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14
  • The bus was returning from a trip to Central Java’s Dieng Plateau, a popular mountain resort

SURABAYA, Indonesia: A tourist bus with an apparently drowsy driver slammed into a billboard Monday on a highway on Indonesia’s main island of Java, killing at least 14 people and injuring 19 others, police said.
The bus, carrying Indonesian tourists from Surabaya, the capital of East Java province, was returning from a trip to Central Java’s Dieng Plateau, a popular mountain resort, when it hit the billboard on the Mojokerto toll road just after dawn, East Java traffic police chief Latief Usman said.
Television news showed police and medical personnel removing victims from the bus, which crashed just 400 meters before the highway exit.
Usman said police are still investigating the cause of the accident, but that the driver reportedly appeared drowsy before the crash.
He said police haven’t yet questioned the driver, who suffered severe injuries. Nineteen people were being treated in four hospitals in Mojokerto, mostly for broken bones.
Road accidents are common in Indonesia because of poor safety standards and infrastructure.


Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border

Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border
Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border. (Reuters)
Updated 16 May 2022

Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border

Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border
  • Ukraine said troops defending Kharkiv had repelled Russian forces and advanced as far as the border with Russia

KYIV: Ukraine said on Monday troops defending the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, had repelled Russian forces and advanced as far as the border with Russia.
Reuters could not immediately verify Ukraine’s battlefield account and it was not clear how many troops had reached the Russian border and where.
If confirmed, it would suggest a Ukrainian counter-offensive is having increasing success in pushing back Russian forces in the northeast after Western military agencies said Moscow’s offensive in the Donbas region had stalled.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a Facebook post that the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of Ukraine’s armed forces had reached the border with Russia, adding: “Together to victory!”
Kharkiv region governor Oleh Sinegubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app that troops of the 227th Battalion had restored a sign on the state border.
“We thank everyone who, risking their lives, liberates Ukraine from Russian invaders,” Sinegubov said.
Ukraine has scored a series of successes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, forcing Russia’s commanders to abandon an advance on the capital Kyiv before making rapid gains around Kharkiv.
Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.


French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change
Updated 16 May 2022

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change
  • Burkini seen as a symbol of creeping Islamism by its critics and an affront to France’s secular traditions

GRENOBLE, France: The Alpine city of Grenoble is set to reignite one of France’s recurring summer debates on Monday when it votes to authorize the “burkini” in state-run swimming pools.
The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, has become almost as topical as ice cream and sun hats during the holiday season in recent years.
Seen as a symbol of creeping Islamism by its critics and an affront to France’s secular traditions, many right-wingers and some feminists would like to ban it outright.
It is prohibited in most state-run pools — for hygiene, not religious reasons — where strict swimwear rules apply to all, including men who are required to squeeze into tight-fitting trunks.
Grenoble’s city council, dominated by the EELV green party, is set to scrap its bathing dress code on Monday, effectively authorizing long body coverings, beach shorts and topless bathing.
“Our intention is to remove all of the abnormal clothing restrictions,” mayor Eric Piolle said recently. “The issue is not being for or against the burkini specifically.”
Opponents see it differently, including the influential conservative head of the wider Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, who has promised to withdraw funding from the city.
“I am convinced that what Mr.Piolle is defending is a dreadful dead end for our country,” Wauquiez said at the beginning of May, accusing him of “doing deals with political Islam” to “buy votes.”
The regional spat has put the burkini back in the headlines nationally, animating French talk shows and the political class ahead of parliamentary elections next month.
The issue of how people dress for the pool touches on highly sensitive topics in France, including fears about the influence of Islam and threats to the country’s cherished secularism.
The right to worship freely is constitutionally protected, but the French state is also bound by law to be neutral in religious matters, including inside institutions.
“The burkini aims, purely and simply, to impose Islamist values at the heart of bathing areas and public leisure pursuits,” an open letter written by opposition councillors in Grenoble said last week.
Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.
The rules, introduced after a string of terror attacks in France, were eventually struck down as discriminatory.
Three years later, a group of women in Grenoble caused a splash by forcing their way into a pool with burkinis, leading the prime minister at the time to insist that the rules should be followed.
French sports brand Decathlon also found itself at the center of a similar row in 2019 when it announced plans to sell a “sports hijab” enabling Muslim women to cover their hair while running.
Monday’s vote in Grenoble “is an important moment for everyone concerned and their allies, but also in the fight against Islamophobia and control over women’s bodies,” local campaign group Citizens’ Alliance wrote on its Facebook page.
Demonstrations supporting and opposing the move are also planned in the city following the council meeting where mayor Piolle is expected to succeed in pushing through the change.
French feminists are split, with some seeing the burkini as a symbol of male oppression and others such as Caroline De Haas writing that “no one should be stigmatized in a pool because of their choice of swimwear.”
Grenoble would not be the first to change its rules, however.
The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.
The debate about the burkini comes as French Muslim women footballers are battling to overturn a ban on the wearing of religious symbols during competitive matches.
The French Football Federation currently prevents players from playing while wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols such as the Muslim hijab or the Jewish kippa.
A women’s collective known as “les Hijabeuses” launched a legal challenge to the rules in November last year.


Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs
Updated 16 May 2022

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs
  • Last week brought Pyongyang’s first acknowledgment of an ‘explosive’ outbreak
  • Kim: Drugs procured by the state were not reaching people in a timely and accurate way

SEOUL: Leader Kim Jong Un has ordered North Korea’s military to stabilize distribution of COVID-19 medicines in the capital, Pyongyang, in the battle on the country’s first confirmed outbreak of the disease, state media said.
Last week brought the North’s first acknowledgment of an “explosive” outbreak, with experts warning it could wreak devastation in a country with limited medical supplies and no vaccine program.
Drugs procured by the state were not reaching people in a timely and accurate way, Kim told an emergency politburo meeting on Sunday, before visiting pharmacies near the capital’s Taedong River, state news agency KCNA said.
Kim ordered immediate deployment of the “powerful forces” of the army’s medical corps to “stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City,” it added.
Although authorities had ordered distribution of national reserves of medicine, pharmacies were not well-equipped to perform their functions smoothly, Kim added, the agency said.
Among their shortcomings were a lack of adequate drug storage other than showcases, while salespeople were not equipped with the proper sanitary clothing and hygiene in their surroundings fell short of standards, the leader said.
He criticized the “irresponsible” work attitude, organization and execution by the cabinet and the public health sector, it added.
Neighbouring South Korea will spare no effort to help the North fight its outbreak, President Yoon Suk-yeol told parliament on Monday, saying it was ready to provide COVID-19 vaccines and other medical support if Pyongyang agrees.
South Korea’s unification ministry has offered to hold working-level talks with North Korea on offering support for its neighbor, which is battling its first confirmed outbreak of COVID-19, the ministry said on Monday.
The ministry, charged with maintaining relations between the two nations, said it had expressed willingness to provide medicines, from vaccines to test kits, as well as technical co-operation, based on the South’s experience with quarantine.

North Korea’s tally of the fever-stricken stood at 1,213,550, with 50 deaths by Sunday, after KCNA reported 392,920 more cases of fever, and eight more deaths. It did not say how many suspected infections had tested positive for COVID-19.
The North has blamed a large number of the deaths on people who were “careless in taking drugs” because of a lack of knowledge about the omicron variant of coronavirus and its correct treatment.