Indonesia, Singapore sign key defense, extradition agreements

 Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 January 2022

Indonesia, Singapore sign key defense, extradition agreements

 Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
  • The agreements were signed during President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s annual leaders’ retreat
  • Lee said they represent a ‘major step forward’ in bilateral relations

JAKARTA: Indonesia and Singapore signed on Tuesday a series of agreements covering extradition, defense and airspace management in what is seen as a “major step forward” in relations between the two Southeast Asian neighbors.

The deals were signed by senior cabinet ministers following a meeting between President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Indonesia’s Bintan island as part of their annual leader’s retreat.

“Today, our bilateral relations take a major step forward,” Lee said during a joint press statement aired on Indonesia’s State Secretariat YouTube channel.

Both countries agreed to realign the boundary of their respective flight information regions while further strengthening cooperation and fostering closer interaction between their armed forces through a defense cooperation agreement.

“Going forward, we hope that the cooperation in law enforcement, aviation safety, as well as defense and security of the two countries will continue to be strengthened based on the principle of mutual benefit,” Widodo said.

Fitri Bintang, a researcher at the Center for Strategic International Studies in Jakarta, told Arab News that today’s milestones are “signs of maturing relations” between Indonesia and Singapore.

The two countries also inked an extradition agreement, under which they can grant the extradition of fugitives for a comprehensive list of offenses committed up to 18 years ago.

“The extradition treaty will enhance cooperation in combating crime and send a clear, positive signal to investors,” Lee said.

Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said in a statement that the extradition treaty will act as a deterrent for criminals in Indonesia and Singapore.

“If the two countries ratify the extradition treaty soon, then the law enforcement agencies of both countries can make use of this treaty to prevent and combat transnational crimes like corruption and terrorism,” he added.

Indonesia has already signed similar treaties with other countries in the region, including Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and China.

Indonesia and Singapore must now conclude their respective domestic processes to ratify and bring the agreements into force, which for these three agreements in particular, officials agreed must occur simultaneously.


krainian troops evacuate from Mariupol, ceding control to Russia

After nightfall Monday, several buses pulled away from the steel mill accompanied by Russian military vehicles. (REUTERS)
After nightfall Monday, several buses pulled away from the steel mill accompanied by Russian military vehicles. (REUTERS)
Updated 6 sec ago

krainian troops evacuate from Mariupol, ceding control to Russia

After nightfall Monday, several buses pulled away from the steel mill accompanied by Russian military vehicles. (REUTERS)
  • All of the evacuees will be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia

KYIV/NOVOAZOVSK, Ukraine: Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday it was working to evacuate all remaining troops from their last stronghold in the besieged port of Mariupol, ceding control of the city to Russia after months of bombardment.
The evacuation likely marked the end of the longest and bloodiest battle of the Ukraine war and a significant defeat for Ukraine. Mariupol is now in ruins after a Russian siege that Ukraine says killed tens of thousands of people in the city.
With the rest of Mariupol firmly in Russian hands, hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians had holed up beneath the city’s Azovstal steelworks. Civilians inside were evacuated in recent weeks, and more than 260 troops, some of them wounded, left the plant for Russian-controlled areas late on Monday.
“The ‘Mariupol’ garrison has fulfilled its combat mission,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in a statement announcing evacuations.
“The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel... Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time,” it added. Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said 53 injured troops from the Azovstal steelworks were taken to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, some 32 kilometers (20 miles) to the east.
Another 211 people were taken to the town of Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said. All of the evacuees will be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia, she added.
It was not clear how many troops remained in Azovstal. Ukraine’s military said efforts were under way to evacuate those still inside.
Reuters saw five buses carrying troops from Azovstal arrive in Novoazovsk late on Monday. Some of the evacuated troops were wounded and carried out of the buses on stretchers. Some 600 troops were believed to have been inside the steel plant.
“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an early morning address. “There are severely wounded ones among them. They’re receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive.”
Arriving in Novoazovsk in a bus marked with Z, a symbol for Russia’s invasion, men could be seen stacked on stretchers on three levels. They stared out the windows without reacting. One man was wheeled out, his head tightly wrapped in thick bandages.
Since Russia launched its invasion in February, Mariupol’s devastation has become a symbol both of Ukraine’s resistance and of Russia’s willingness to devastate Ukrainian cities that hold out.
The first evacuations late on Monday came hours after Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers to a medical facility in Novoazovsk.

LVIV EXPLOSIONS, KHARKIV FIGHTING
Moscow calls its nearly three-month-old invasion a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.
Russia’s invading forces have run into apparent setbacks, with troops forced out of the north and the environs of Kyiv in late March. A Ukrainian counterattack in recent days has driven Russian forces out of the area near Kharkiv, the biggest city in the east.
Areas around Kyiv and the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border, have continued to come under Russian attack. A series of explosions struck Lviv early on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
On Monday, Ukraine’s defense ministry troops had advanced all the way to the Russian border, about 40 km north of Kharkiv.
The successes near Kharkiv could let Ukraine attack supply lines for Russia’s main offensive, grinding on further south in the Donbas region, where Moscow has been launching mass assaults for a month yet achieving only small gains.

PUTIN CLIMBDOWN OVER NATO
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared on Monday to climb down from threats to retaliate against Sweden and Finland for announcing plans to join the US-led NATO military alliance.
“As far as expansion goes, including new members Finland and Sweden, Russia has no problems with these states — none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries,” Putin said.
The comments appeared to mark a major shift in rhetoric, after years of casting NATO enlargement as a direct threat to Russia’s security, including citing it as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine itself.
Soon before Putin spoke, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Finland and Sweden were making a mistake that would have far-reaching consequences: “They should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it.”
Putin said NATO enlargement was being used by the United States in an “aggressive” way to aggravate an already difficult global security situation, and that Russia would respond if the alliance moves weapons or troops forward.
“The expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response. What that (response) will be — we will see what threats are created for us,” Putin said.
Finland and Sweden, both non-aligned throughout the Cold War, say they now want the protection offered by NATO’s treaty, under which an attack on any member is an attack on all.
“We are leaving one era behind us and entering a new one,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said, announcing plans to formally abandon militarily non-aligned status — a cornerstone of national identity for more than 200 years.


Online diary: Buffalo gunman plotted attack for months

Online diary: Buffalo gunman plotted attack for months
Updated 13 min 47 sec ago

Online diary: Buffalo gunman plotted attack for months

Online diary: Buffalo gunman plotted attack for months
  • The author of the diary posted hand-drawn maps of the grocery store along with tallies of the number of Black people he counted there

BUFFALO, New York: The white gunman accused of massacring 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket wrote as far back as November about staging a livestreamed attack on African Americans, practiced shooting from his car and traveled hours from his home in March to scout out the store, according to detailed diary entries he appears to have posted online.
The author of the diary posted hand-drawn maps of the grocery store along with tallies of the number of Black people he counted there, and recounted how a Black security guard at the supermarket confronted him that day to ask what he was up to. A Black security guard was among the dead in Saturday’s shooting rampage.
The diary taken from the chat platform Discord came to light two days after 18-year-old Payton Gendron allegedly opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle at the Tops Friendly Market. He was wearing body armor and used a helmet camera to livestream the bloodbath on the Internet, authorities said.
He surrendered inside the supermarket and was arraigned on a murder charge over the weekend. He pleaded not guilty and was jailed under a suicide watch. Federal authorities are contemplating bringing hate crime charges.
Copies of the online materials were shared with The Associated Press by Marc-André Argentino, a research fellow at the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence.
A transcript of the diary entries was apparently posted publicly sometime ahead of the attack. It was not clear how many people might have seen the entries. Experts said it was possible but unlikely the diary could have been altered by someone other than the author.
The FBI’s top agent in Buffalo, Stephen Belongia, indicated on a call with other officials Monday that investigators are looking at Gendron’s Discord activity, citing posts last summer about body armor and guns and others last month in which he taunted federal authorities. Belongia gave no details in the call, a recording of which the AP obtained.
But in an April 17 post apparently by Gendron, he exhorted readers to kill agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Messages seeking comment were left with Gendron’s lawyers. No one answered the door at his family’s home.
The violence spread grief and anger in Buffalo and beyond.
Former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr., who lost his 86-year-old mother, Ruth Whitfield, in the shooting, asked how the country could allow its history of racist killings to repeat itself.
“We’re not just hurting. We’re angry,” Whitfield said at a news conference with civil rights attorney Ben Crump and others. “We treat people with decency, and we love even our enemies.”
“And you expect us to keep doing this over and over and over again — over again, forgive and forget,” he continued. “While people we elect and trust in offices around this country do their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal.”
The victims also included a man buying a cake for his grandson; a church deacon helping people get home with their groceries; and a supermarket security guard.
The online diary details a March 8 reconnaissance visit the writer made to Buffalo, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Gendron’s home in Conklin, New York.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said at a news conference that there was information indicating Gendron was in Buffalo in March, but Gramaglia declined to say more.
The commissioner said numerous investigators are working to obtain and review Gendron’s online postings.
“There’s a lot of social that’s being looked at, or that’s being verified, captured,” Gramaglia said. “Some of that takes warrants that have to be served on various social media platforms.”
The author of the diary talked about checking out targets including the Tops Friendly Market and said a security guard asked what he was doing after his second visit of the day. He gave an excuse about collecting data and soon left — “a close call,” he wrote.
A 180-page document purportedly written by Gendron said the attack was intended to terrorize all nonwhite, non-Christian people and get them to leave the country. Federal authorities said they are working to confirm the document’s authenticity.
Gendron had briefly been on authorities’ radar last spring, when state police were called to his high school for a report that the then-17-year-old had made threatening statements.
Belongia, the FBI agent, said Gendron had responded to a question about future plans by saying that he wanted to commit a murder-suicide.
A December Discord post that Gendron apparently made said he had given that answer to a question about retirement in an economics class and ended up spending “one of the worst nights of my life” in a hospital.
Gramaglia said Gendron had no further contact with law enforcement after a mental health evaluation that put him in a hospital for a day and a half. On the call with Belongia, Gramaglia said state police “did everything within the confines of the law” at that time.
It was unclear whether officials could have invoked New York’s “red flag” regulation, which lets law enforcement, school officials and families ask a court to order the seizure of guns from people considered dangerous.
Federal law bars people from owning guns if a judge has determined they have a “mental defect” or they have been forced into a mental institution. An evaluation alone would not trigger the prohibition.
At the White House, President Joe Biden, who planned a visit Tuesday to Buffalo, paid tribute to the slain security guard, retired police officer Aaron Salter.
Salter fired repeatedly at the attacker, striking his armor-plated vest at least once before being shot and killed. Biden said Salter “gave his life trying to save others.”
Authorities said that in addition to the 10 Black people killed, three people were wounded: one Black, two white.
Zeneta Everhart said her son, supermarket employee Zaire Goodman, was helping a shopper outside when he saw a man get out of a car in military gear and point a gun at him. Then a bullet hit Goodman in the neck.
“Mom! Mom, get here now, get here now! I got shot!” he told his mother by phone. Goodman, 20, was out of the hospital and doing well Monday, his mother said.
In livestreamed video of the attack circulating online, the gunman trained his weapon on a white person cowering behind a checkout counter, but said, “Sorry!” and didn’t shoot. Screenshots purporting to be from the broadcast appear to show a racial slur against Black people scrawled on his rifle.


US announces easing visa, family remittance restrictions for Cuba

A vintage car passes by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, October 30, 2020. Picture taken October 30, 2020. (REUTERS)
A vintage car passes by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, October 30, 2020. Picture taken October 30, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 May 2022

US announces easing visa, family remittance restrictions for Cuba

A vintage car passes by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, October 30, 2020. Picture taken October 30, 2020. (REUTERS)
  • To boost the flow of remittances, the US government will lift the current limit of $1,000 per quarter for each sender, and also allow non family remittances to “support independent Cuban entrepreneurs”

WASHINGTON: The United States said Monday it is easing restrictions imposed during former president Donald Trump’s administration on travel to Cuba and sending of family remittances between the United States and the communist island.
“The Cuban people are confronting an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and our policy will continue to focus on empowering the Cuban people to help them create a future free from repression and economic suffering,” the State Department said.
The loosening of the embargo on Cuba will see increased visa processing, including at the Havana consulate, but with most visas still handled at the US embassy in Guyana.
The statement said it will “facilitate educational connections” between the two countries, as well as support for professional research including “support for expanded Internet access and remittance process companies.”
To boost the flow of remittances, the US government will lift the current limit of $1,000 per quarter for each sender, and also allow non family remittances to “support independent Cuban entrepreneurs.”
Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, denounced the lifting of some restrictions, saying that the Cuban regime “continues its ruthless persecution of countless Cubans from all walks of life” following unprecedented street protests last year.
The easing of travel “risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons,” he said in a statement. “Those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial. For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed.”
The thaw comes in the wake of a series of mysterious illnesses suffered by US personnel and family members in Cuba in what has become to be known as “Havana Syndrome.”
US officials say they have yet to determine exactly what happened in the incidents but a senior official told reporters that there is an “appropriate security posture.”


Sri Lanka proposes privatizing national airline amid crisis

Sri Lanka proposes privatizing national airline amid crisis
Updated 17 May 2022

Sri Lanka proposes privatizing national airline amid crisis

Sri Lanka proposes privatizing national airline amid crisis
  • President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister last Thursday in a bid to quell the island nation’s political and economic crisis

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s new prime minister on Monday proposed privatizing the country’s loss-making national airline as part of reforms aimed at solving the country worst economic crisis in decades.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a message to the people that he plans to propose a special relief budget that will take the place of the development-oriented budget earlier approved for this year, He said it would channel funds previously allocated for infrastructure development to public welfare.
He said the country’s financial health is so poor that the government has been forced to print money to pay the salaries of government workers and buy other goods and services.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister last Thursday in a bid to quell the island nation’s political and economic crisis.
The president’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, stepped down as prime minister on May 9 amid violence that left nine people dead and more than 200 wounded. Protesters have demanded the powerful Rajapaksa family resign to take responsibility for leading the country into the economic crisis.
For months, Sri Lankans have been forced to wait in long lines to purchase scarce imported essentials such as medicines, fuel, cooking gas and food because of a severe shortage of foreign currency. Government revenues have also plunged.
Wickremesinghe said Sri Lankan Airlines lost about $123 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which ended in March, and its aggregate losses exceeded $1 billion as of March 2021.
“Even if we privatize Sri Lankan Airlines, this is a loss that we must bear. You must be aware that this is a loss that must be borne even by the poor people of this country who have never stepped on an airplane,” Wickremesinghe said.
Sri Lankan Airlines was managed by Emirates Airlines from 1998 to 2008.
Sri Lanka is nearly bankrupt and has suspended repayment of about $7 billion in foreign loans due this year out of $25 billion to be repaid by 2026. The country’s total foreign debt is $51 billion. The finance ministry says the country currently has only $25 million in usable foreign reserves.
Wickremesinghe said about $75 billion is needed urgently to help provide people with essential items, but the country’s treasury is struggling to find even $1 billion.
Shortages of medicines are so acute that it is difficult to buy anti-rabies medicines and drugs to treat heart disease, he said.
“I have no desire to hide the truth and to lie to the public. Although these facts are unpleasant and terrifying, this is the true situation. For a short period, our future will be even more difficult than the tough times that we have passed,” Wickremesinghe said.
“We will face considerable challenges and adversity. However, this period will not be long,” he said, adding that countries with which he has spoken have pledged to help in the next few months.
Wickremesinghe is struggling to form a new Cabinet, with many parties reluctant to join his government. They say Wickremesinghe’s appointment goes against tradition and the people’s will because he was defeated in 2020 elections and joined Parliament only through a seat allocated to his party.
However, parties have said they will support positive measures by Wickremesinghe to improve the economy while they remain in the opposition.
The main opposition United People’s Force party has introduced a no-confidence motion against the president for “not having properly exercised, performed and discharged the powers of the president under the constitution.”
The motion, to be taken up Tuesday, accuses Rajapaksa of being responsible for the economic crisis by introducing untimely tax cuts and prohibiting the use of agrochemicals, which resulted in crop failures.
Passage of the motion would not legally bind Rajapaksa to quit, but his refusal to do so could intensify anti-government protests and rock negotiations with other countries on economic aid. A challenge of Wickremesinghe’s appointment could also endanger the negotiations, which he leads.


Somalia’s foreign partners hail peaceful election of president

Newly elected Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud waves after he was sworn-in, in Mogadishu, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Newly elected Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud waves after he was sworn-in, in Mogadishu, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2022

Somalia’s foreign partners hail peaceful election of president

Newly elected Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud waves after he was sworn-in, in Mogadishu, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
  • Somalia’s international partners had repeatedly warned the election delays were a dangerous distraction from the fight against Al-Shabab terrorists, who have been trying to overthrow the government for over a decade

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s international partners on Monday welcomed the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who takes office after months of political instability and faces crises including a violent insurgency and devastating drought.
Residents in Mogadishu raced through the streets banging metal cans and fired guns into the air in celebration as the result of the marathon poll was announced around midnight.
Many hope the vote — which concluded peacefully but was dogged by claims of irregularities — will draw a line under a political crisis that has lasted well over a year.
Outgoing President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed’s term ended in February 2021 without an election and the protracted tussle for power that followed turned violent at times and caused divisions at the highest levels of government.
Somalia’s international partners had repeatedly warned the election delays were a dangerous distraction from the fight against Al-Shabab terrorists, who have been trying to overthrow the government for over a decade.
On Monday, the UK’s minister for Africa congratulated Mohamud, who ruled Somalia between 2012 and 2017, and is the first president to win a second term in the troubled Horn of Africa nation.
The UK “looks forward to continuing its close work to support on building stability, tackling Al-Shabab and supporting those affected by the devastating drought,” Minister Vicky Ford tweeted.
Mohamud has promised to transform Somalia into “a peaceful country that is at peace with the world.”
The East African regional bloc IGAD said Mohamud’s victory was “a clear testimony of the trust and confidence that the people of Somalia have in his leadership qualities.”