Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’

Taiwanese and Lithuanian flags are displayed at the Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Jan. 20, 2022. (REUTERS/File Photo)
Taiwanese and Lithuanian flags are displayed at the Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Jan. 20, 2022. (REUTERS/File Photo)
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Updated 29 January 2022

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’
  • China downgraded its diplomatic ties with Lithuania after Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius last year

WASHINGTON: A senior US official will visit Lithuania next week to discuss enhancing economic cooperation with the small Baltic nation, which has faced pressure from China for boosting ties with Taiwan.
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Jose Fernandez will be in Vilnius from Sunday to Tuesday, and in Brussels from Wednesday to Friday, where he will also discuss efforts to counter economic “coercion” with EU officials, the State Department said in a statement.
In Vilnius, he will discuss bilateral economic cooperation, and US “strong support for Lithuania in the face of political pressure and economic coercion from the People’s Republic of China,” the statement said.
Fernandez will be accompanied by US Export-Import Bank officials to discuss implementation of a $600 million memorandum of understanding to expand opportunities for US exporters and Lithuanian buyers in areas such as high-tech manufacturing, business services and renewable energy, according to the statement.
In Brussels, Fernandez will discuss transatlantic trade and investment through the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, the statement said.
The United States, which is seeking to push back against growing Chinese influence worldwide, has backed Lithuania in its dispute with China over Taiwan, a self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own.
China downgraded its diplomatic relationship with Lithuania and pressed multinationals to sever ties with the country after Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius last year called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, rather than using the word Taipei as is more common.
EU authorities launched a challenge at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Thursday, accusing China of discriminatory trade practices against EU member Lithuania that they say threaten the integrity of the bloc’s single market.
Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it hopes its trade dispute with China will be solved with consultations between China and the EU.
Commenting on the WTO case, Taiwan’s Cabinet’s Office of Trade Negotiations said late Friday it “fully supports” the EU and Lithuania and opposes China’s “inappropriate economic coercion.”
“Our country will work with other like-minded partners such as Lithuania and the EU to prevent China from using coercive economic and diplomatic measures, to maintain a rules-based international trading system,” it added in a statement.


Kabul mediates between Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, cease-fire agreed until May 30

Kabul mediates between Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, cease-fire agreed until May 30
Updated 7 sec ago

Kabul mediates between Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, cease-fire agreed until May 30

Kabul mediates between Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, cease-fire agreed until May 30
  • Last truce between militants and government ended in December 2021
  • Pakistani Taliban have fought for years to overthrow government in Islamabad

PESHAWAR: Pakistan’s local Taliban outfit, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, on Wednesday announced a cease-fire agreement with the government until May 30 after Kabul mediated talks, the Afghan Taliban government said.

The TTP,  a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban, have fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with their own brand of Islamic law. In December 2021, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire, accusing the government of breaching terms, including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.

Following the breakdown of talks between the two sides, the Pakistan army resumed operations against the banned outfit early this year, after which the TTP announced the launch of its Al-Badar operation on March 30 to target law enforcement agencies.

There has since been a surge in militant attacks in tribal districts and southern regions of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan.

“Talks were held in Kabul between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban Movement of Pakistan with the mediation of the Islamic Emirate (Afghan Taliban government),” Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet on Wednesday, adding that “in addition to making significant progress on related issues during the talks, a temporary cease-fire was also agreed upon.”
 

In a separate post, Mujahid said the Kabul government “strives for the goodwill of the negotiating process, and wishes both sides tolerance and flexibility.”

Separately, the TTP said in a statement that a 32-member committee of Mehsud tribesmen and another 16-member committee of elders from the Malakand division had held meetings with the TTP’s peace committee on the directives of the Pakistan government.

“Facilitated by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, talks are being held between the committees of the government of Pakistan and the Tehrik-e-Taliban,” the statement read.

The two committees recommended in the meetings that both sides declare a cease-fire as long as peace talks were taking place.  

“Keeping in view their demand, both sides agreed to a cease-fire till May 30,” the banned outfit said.

Hassan Khan, a senior journalist and analyst, told Arab News the modus operandi of latest peace talks was “totally different” from past negotiations due to the involvement of tribal elders and the government’s committee.

“This time there is a lot of pressure on the TTP, both from the Afghan government and the involvement of the tribal jirgas. I think peace talks between Pakistan and the TTP will yield some results this time around if both sides keep following up on their negotiations,” Khan said.

On Tuesday, security forces killed two TTP commanders in a shootout in North Waziristan, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed

Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed
Updated 18 May 2022

Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed

Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed
  • Gandhi was killed by an ethnic Tamil suicide bomber while campaigning in an election in the southern Indian town of Sriperumbudur in 1991
  • His killing was seen as an act of retaliation after he sent Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka in 1987

NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of A.G. Perarivalan, who was convicted of involvement in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Gandhi was killed by an ethnic Tamil suicide bomber while campaigning in an election in the southern Indian town of Sriperumbudur in May 1991. His killing was seen as an act of retaliation after he sent Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka in 1987.
Perarivalan was convicted in 1991 of purchasing the batteries used to detonate the bomb that killed Gandhi.
In May 2021, the Tamil Nadu state government allowed Perarivalan to leave on parole, using a provision in the Tamil Nadu Prison manual.
The Supreme Court took a lenient view of Perarivalan, saying he was 19 years old at the time of arrest and had been jailed for over 30 years, including 16 years on death row and 29 years in solitary confinement.
Speaking to the Indian Express newspaper on Wednesday, Perarivalan recalled years spent in a cramped 6 feet (1.8 m) by 9 feet (2.7 m) cell during his time in solitary confinement.
“A room in which I had nothing but empty walls to look at,” he said, describing obsessively counting bricks on the wall, measuring the door and bolts and imagining smells he craved.
Six others people, including a woman, are still in jail and are awaiting a verdict in the case.
The court said Perarivalan was released after considering his “satisfactory conduct in jail and during parole” and “chronic ailments.”
Gandhi’s widow, Sonia, is head of India’s main opposition Congress party while their son, Rahul, has been leading its campaign for elections. A Congress party spokesman said on Wednesday the party was deeply saddened by the court’s decision.
Many in the state of Tamil Nadu celebrated the verdict as a victory for human rights.
“My best wishes and warm welcome to Perarivalan who is set to fully breathe the air of liberation after more than 30 years of imprisonment,” Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin tweeted.


Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters

Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters
Updated 18 May 2022

Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters

Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters
  • Detectives detained SLPP MPs Milan Jayathilake, Sanath Nishantha and four other high-ranking officials on Tuesday
  • Suspects allegedly involved in deaths of demonstrators from the ‘Gota go gama’ and ‘Myna go gama’ movement who seek change in crisis-hit nation

COLOMBO: Two Sri Lankan ruling party lawmakers have been arrested on charges of involvement in attacks on anti-government protesters, a top police official said on Wednesday.

For over a month, citizens have been protesting across Sri Lanka, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his prime minister brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom they blame for the country’s worst economic crisis.

The prime minister resigned last week, after supporters of the Rajapaksas attacked demonstrators in Colombo. The violence left nine people dead and wounded nearly 300, leading to days of unrest.

The two lawmakers from President Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party were arrested, after a criminal investigation, on Tuesday evening and have been remanded by the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s court until May 25.

“As a result of the investigations, the detectives arrested SLPP MPs Milan Jayathilake and Sanath Nishantha on Tuesday,” Senior Superintendent of Police Nihal Thalduwa told Arab News.

He added that another four high-ranking officials were also detained “over their involvement in the attacks on the ‘Gota go gama’ and ‘Myna go gama’ peaceful protest sites.”

“Gota go gama” and “Myna go gama” are popular slogans among protesters. “Gota” is a reference to President Rajapaksa, while “Myna” to his ex-PM brother. The “go gama,” literally “go village,” is a call on them to leave and go home.

Thalduwa said 883 people have been arrested over the violence that shook the island nation between May 9 and May 11, leading to the deployment of troops in many parts of the country to impose a curfew that was only lifted on Wednesday morning.

Protesters continued to demonstrate outside the president’s office in Colombo, demanding he resign, as the country is struggling with its worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

Acute shortages of food, fuel, and essential medicines have been accompanied by record inflation and long power cuts for the past few months.

The new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed last week, said in a televised speech on Monday evening that the country urgently needed about $75 billion to help provide the nation with essential items, but its treasury was struggling to find even $1 billion.


Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India

Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India
Updated 18 May 2022

Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India

Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India
  • At least 8 people have been killed in the deluge
  • More heavy rain is expected in the region this week

NEW DELHI: More than 400,000 people in northeastern India have been hit by deadly floods triggered by pre-monsoon downpours, authorities said on Wednesday, as they brace for more heavy rain.

Rescue and evacuation efforts were ongoing as incessant rains and landslides affected communication lines, as well as road and railway networks in most of Assam state in the last few days.

At least eight people have been killed by the floods, according to local media reports.

“The total number of people impacted is around 4 lakh (400,000),” Gyanendra Dev Tripathi, chief executive at the Assam State Disaster Management Authority, told Arab News.

“Hopefully, we will be able to tackle this situation,” he added. “We are ready for the worst possible scenario.”

The flooding has been worst in the districts of Cachar and Hojai.

“In Hojai district alone, at least 100 villages are submerged, which means more than 50 percent of villages are under water. At least 40,000 to 50,000 people in this area are impacted,” Ashraful Amin, a social worker in the region, told Arab News.

He estimated that around 70 percent of the people were still trapped in the flood zone. The military has already joined the rescue operation.

“Since yesterday, we have been trying to reach out to the affected people on wooden boats,” he said. “The army has started rescuing people today.”

Landslides have cut off the southern part of the state from rail connectivity.

“We have 50 bridge points where landslides have damaged the tracks,” Sabyasachi De, spokesperson for North Eastern Frontier Railway, said. “These are unprecedented landslides, cloudbursts and flash floods. We have not seen anything like this so far.”

India’s weather agency has issued a red alert notice for Assam, as heavy rain is expected in the region for the next three days.

More rainfall is expected as monsoon downpours are yet to hit the region, R. K. Jenamani, a senior scientist at the India Meteorological Department, told Arab News.

“The havoc has been caused by flash floods. It’s not the normal monsoon,” he said. “The monsoon has yet to hit India.”


Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah
Updated 18 May 2022

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah
  • Biker, vlogger Abrar Hassan has traveled to over 80 countries, 13 on his motorcycle
  • “Warm welcome” received in Makkah, Madinah compelled him to explore other Saudi cities

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan had already traveled to more than 80 countries, at least 12 of them on his motorcycle, by the time he decided this year it was time to pursue possibly his greatest dream — a bike ride to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.

On Feb. 9, Hassan set out from his hometown of Nankana Sahib in Pakistan’s Punjab province, embarking on a journey that entailed crossing three continents and riding for 50 days before he arrived in Madinah on March 27. From there, he went to Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, and performed Umrah.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan visits the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, on April 5, 2022. (Abrar Hassan)

“It was always my dream (to travel to Saudi Arabia on a motorbike) and it came true this year,” Hassan, a mechanical engineer with a German automotive company, told Arab News in video messages from Madinah.

“There are probably some feelings you can’t describe in words ... So, everything has been surreal for me, and I absolutely loved every single moment of it.”

Hassan, who has loved adventure and photography since he was a child, said it was an “amazing experience” to cross multiple borders and meet so many people along the way. But he pointed out that the special blessing was to arrive in Madinah just a few days before the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan and keep the first fast of the year there.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan visits Wadi Al-Baida in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, on May 10, 2022. (Abrar Hassan) 

And he thanked the people of Saudi Arabia for the “warm welcome” given to him and the love he had received. He noted that one memorable experience had taken place soon after he entered the Kingdom and involved a group of women selling tea.

“When they came to know that I was traveling on a motorcycle from Pakistan to perform Umrah, they didn’t take any money from me and said, ‘you are our guest,’” he said.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan passes through the Iraqi city of Uruk on his way to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on March 11, 2022. (Abrar Hassan)

A video of Hassan’s interaction with the women went viral on the internet and gained him fame in the country. “Whenever I go out with my motorcycle ... the support and love I am receiving right now is just incredible,” he added.

The affection compelled Hassan to extend his stay in the Kingdom and explore other cities.

“I have visited Riyadh, Madinah, and Makkah so far, but in the next few days I am starting my travel to different cities of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I am going to Jeddah, Abha, Al-Bahah, Jazan, and AlUla near the Jordan border.”