IAEA chief to visit Chernobyl next week

IAEA chief to visit Chernobyl next week
A Russian firing position sits near a shelter adjacent to the containment structure covering the damaged reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Chernobyl, on Saturday. (AP File/Photo)
Short Url
Updated 22 April 2022

IAEA chief to visit Chernobyl next week

IAEA chief to visit Chernobyl next week
  • Chernobyl fell into Russian hands on the first day of the country's invasion of Ukraine, and suffered a power and communications outage
  • Rafael Grossi will arrive on April 26 with a team of experts from the UN body to carry out radiation checks and deliver essential kit

VIENNA: The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency will visit Chernobyl next week as the organization ramps up efforts to “prevent the danger of a nuclear accident,” a statement said Friday.
Chernobyl, the scene of the worst nuclear disaster in history, fell into Russian hands on the first day of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, and suffered a power and communications outage.
Russian soldiers withdrew from the plant at the end of March, Kyiv said. Since then, the situation has gradually returned to normal, according to daily reports from the IAEA based on information from the Ukrainian regulator.
However, in mid-April, Ukrainian authorities said they could not restore radiation monitoring at the site.
Rafael Grossi will arrive on April 26, the anniversary of the 1986 disaster, with a team of experts from the UN body to carry out radiation checks and deliver essential kit.
“Based on our scientific measurements and technical evaluations, we will be able to better understand the radiological situation there,” he said.
The plant’s staff, who were forced to work non-stop for weeks, are now on rotation. But damaged bridges and de-mining activities have made it difficult to operate in the area, Ukraine told the IAEA this week.
Grossi praised staff and said he looked forward to being able to speak with them.
“They have been through more than we can imagine, and they deserve our full respect and admiration for preserving the safety and security of the site despite the dire situation,” he said.
During their visit, the experts will also repair remote monitoring systems that stopped sending data back to the agency’s headquarters in Vienna.
In March, Grossi traveled to Ukraine to lay the groundwork of an agreement for providing technical help. He visited a nuclear power plant in the south of the country, before meeting senior Russian officials in Kaliningrad.
“The military conflict is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger,” he warned at the time.
Ukraine has 15 reactors in four operating plants, as well as waste repositories such as Chernobyl. The IAEA plans further inspections in the coming weeks.
The Zaporizhzhia power plant, the largest in Europe, is still occupied by the Russians. Artillery strikes in early March caused a fire in nearby buildings and raised fears of a catastrophe.

Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli govt, ex-diplomats say

Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli govt, ex-diplomats say
Updated 12 sec ago

Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli govt, ex-diplomats say

Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli govt, ex-diplomats say
  • Washington Post op-ed calls for ‘unprecedented’ action to curb annexation of West Bank, support two-state solution
  • Daniel Kurtzer, Aaron David Miller warn US: ‘Have no dealings with Ben-Gvir, Smotrich’

LONDON: US President Joe Biden has been urged by two former diplomats to halt arms shipments to Israel if the weapons are used in an offensive capacity against Palestinians.

Describing the incoming administration of Benjamin Netanyahu as “the most extreme government in the history of the state,” Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel, and Aaron David Miller, a US Middle East peace negotiator, wrote in the Washington Post that Biden should take the “unprecedented and controversial” decision to reconsider Washington’s military support for Israel.

They warned that Netanyahu’s government could seek to annex or “change the status of the West Bank,” and “build infrastructure for settlers that is designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution,” adding: “Israel should be told that, while the US will continue to support its ally’s legitimate security requirements, it will not provide offensive weapons or other assistance for malign Israeli actions in Jerusalem or the occupied territories.”

The pair also wrote that Biden should end Washington’s protection of Israel in international diplomatic forums, such as the UN Security Council, where it regularly vetoes motions that criticize Israel.

They said this break with protocol was justified as Netanyahu had “brought to life the radical, racist, misogynistic and homophobic far-right parties” to form his coalition, including Itamar Ben-Gvir as national security minister, whom they described as a “convicted inciter of hatred and violence” who will have “far-reaching authority for the West Bank, Jerusalem and mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel proper” as part of his remit.

The elevation of Bezalel Smotrich to a potential role overseeing the Civil Administration was also criticized given that he “has called for the expulsion of Arabs” and will have a say in the running of the West Bank.

“Biden should also make it clear to Israel that his administration will have no dealings with Ben-Gvir, Smotrich or their ministries if they continue to espouse racist policies and actions,” Kurtzer and Miller said.

“For a US president to put pressure on a democratically elected Israeli government would be unprecedented and controversial. But Israel has never before embarked on such a dangerous course. Political will matters, and this is a moment for Biden to show American strength and resolve.”

Ben-Gvir’s presence in the government has drawn widespread criticism at home and abroad, with outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warning that the US-armed Israeli border police could be used as a “private army” in the occupied territories.

The Washington Post article added that the White House should not focus solely on Israel, adding that the administration need to apply pressure the Palestinians to “curb violence and terrorism,” and pave the way to holding open and fair elections.

China eases some COVID-19 controls

China eases some COVID-19 controls
Updated 01 December 2022

China eases some COVID-19 controls

China eases some COVID-19 controls
  • Major cities are easing testing requirements and controls on movement
  • With a heavy police presence, there is no indication of protests

BEIJING: More Chinese cities eased some anti-virus restrictions as police patrolled their streets to head off protests Thursday while the ruling Communist Party prepared for the high-profile funeral of late leader Jiang Zemin.
Guangzhou in the south, Shijiazhuang in the north, Chengdu in the southwest and other major cities announced they were easing testing requirements and controls on movement. In some areas, markets and bus service reopened.
The announcements didn’t mention last weekend’s protests in Shanghai, Beijing and at least six other cities against the human cost of anti-virus restrictions that confine millions of people to their homes. But the timing and publicity suggested President Xi Jinping’s government was trying to mollify public anger after some protesters made the politically explosive demand that Xi resign.
With a heavy police presence, there was no indication of protests. Notes on social media complained that people were being stopped at random for police to check smartphones, possibly looking for prohibited apps such as Twitter, in what they said was a violation of China’s Constitution.
“I am especially afraid of becoming the ‘Xinjiang model’ and being searched on the excuse of walking around,” said a posting signed Qi Xiaojin on the popular Sina Weibo platform, referring to the northwestern region where Uyghur and other Muslim minorities are under intense surveillance.
Protesters have used Twitter and other foreign social media to publicize protests while the Communist Party deletes videos and photos from services within China.
On Thursday, the government reported 36,061 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, including 31,911 without symptoms.
Meanwhile, Beijing was preparing for the funeral of Jiang, who was ruling party leader until 2002 and president until the following year. The party announced he died Wednesday in Shanghai of leukemia and multiple organ failure.
No foreign dignitaries will be invited in line with Chinese tradition, the party announced. It has yet to set a date for the funeral or announce how it might be affected by anti-virus controls.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the disruption of its “zero COVID-19” strategy by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But it says it will stick to restrictions that have repeatedly shut down schools and businesses and suspended access to neighborhoods.
The protests began Friday after at least 10 people were killed in a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi in Xinjiang. That prompted questions about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus for public frustration.
The government says it is making restrictions more targeted and flexible, but a spike in infections since October has prompted local officials who are threatened with the loss of their jobs if an outbreak occurs to impose controls that some residents say are excessive and destructive.

Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs

Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs
Updated 01 December 2022

Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs

Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs
  • An “envelope with pyrotechnic material” addressed to Sanchez was received on Nov. 24
  • The device was “similar” to subsequent packages sent to Ukrainian embassy, a Spanish arms firm and air force base

MADRID: Spain has stepped up security at public and diplomatic buildings after a spate of letter-bombs were sent to targets including the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the Ukrainian embassy, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.
The ministry said that an “envelope with pyrotechnic material” addressed to Sanchez was received on Nov. 24 and disarmed by his security team.
The device was “similar” to subsequent packages received by the Ukrainian embassy and a Spanish arms firm on Wednesday, it said, and a device intercepted at Spain’s Torrejon de Ardoz air force base in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The first letter-bomb was received and opened by a security officer at the Ukrainian embassy on Wednesday lunchtime and exploded, causing minor injuries to the official.
Ambassador Serhii Pohoreltsev told the Ukrainian news site European Pravda that the suspicious package addressed to him was handed to the embassy’s Ukrainian commandant.
“The package contained a box, which raised the commandant’s suspicions and he decided to take it outside – with no one in the vicinity – and open it,” Pohoreltsev was quoted as saying.
“After opening the box and hearing a click that followed, he tossed it and then heard the explosion...Despite not holding the box at the time of the explosion, the commandant hurt his hands and received a concussion.”
After the first incident, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ordered all of Kyiv’s embassies abroad to “urgently” strengthen security and urged Spain to investigate the attack, a Ukrainian ministry spokesperson said.
A second package was confirmed to have been received on Wednesday night at the headquarters of Spanish weapons manufacturer, Instalaza in Zaragoza, in northeastern Spain, police said.
Instalaza manufactures the C90 rocket launcher that Spain has supplied to Ukraine.
Spanish security forces found a third suspected explosive device hidden in an envelope mailed to a European Union satellite center located at an air force base in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, the defense ministry said.
After scanning the envelope by X-ray, air force security officers determined it contained “a mechanism,” the ministry statement said.
The satellite center supports the EU’s common foreign and security policy by gathering information from space intelligence devices, according to its website. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell described such systems as “the eyes of Europe” in September.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that another device had been sent to Spain’s Ministry of Defense in Madrid, but this has not yet been confirmed by the authorities.
Spain’s High Court, which specializes in terrorism offenses, has opened a probe into the attack.

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel
Updated 01 December 2022

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel
  • Rolls-Royce, BAE, Hewlett-Packard, Booking.com identified
  • Firms’ military supplies killing Palestinians, say activists

LONDON: Students at universities across the UK and beyond have called on their institutions to divest from companies complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

The move coincided with Tuesday’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and has also garnered support from students in the US.

It is part of the ongoing #Divest4Palestine student movement, which is a growing campaign on campuses globally, said pro-Palestinian NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa. The group is concerned with defending the human rights of Palestinians and protecting the Al-Aqsa Sanctuary in Jerusalem, considered sacred by Muslims.

“Students will ask their vice-chancellors to divest from four main companies, Rolls-Royce PLC, BAE Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Booking.com,” the UK-based organization said. “Some will also call for divestment from Samsung and HSBC.”

The FOA said Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems supply military equipment used by Israel to kill Palestinian civilians in Gaza. It added that Israel killed 17 Palestinian children in its most recent bombardment on Gaza in August, leading UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet to describe Israel’s actions as “unconscionable.”

BAE makes the drones and Rolls-Royce makes parts of the fighter planes used by Israel to attack Gaza, it also stated.

“It’s time to hold our vice-chancellor to account,” said Hannaa, a second-year student. “Our university’s investments must be ethical. Money from this institution should absolutely not contribute to the killing of fellow students in Gaza.”

Students will also call on their institutions to divest and cut all ties with HP and Booking.com, as it believes HP provides hardware for Israeli prisons and the Israeli police, and Booking.com advertises accommodation in illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

“Feeling the impacts of the ongoing global campaign to divest, Booking.com has lately started labelling accommodation in illegal Israeli settlements as existing on ‘occupied’ Palestinian land, but the online travel agency must go a step further and stop listing this accommodation entirely,” the FOA said.

Shamiul Joarder, head of public affairs at the FOA, said the “action shows the strength of support for Palestine on campuses.”

“Across the UK and beyond, students are demanding real change. They won’t accept their universities’ complicity in Israeli war crimes any longer.”

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal
Updated 01 December 2022

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal
  • United Nations: 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year
  • UN aid chief Martin Griffiths: ‘next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program’ the world has ever seen

GENEVA: The UN appealed for record funds for aid next year, as the Ukraine war and other conflicts, climate emergencies and the still-simmering pandemic push more people into crisis, and some toward famine.
The United Nations’ annual Global Humanitarian Overview estimated that 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year — a staggering 65 million more people than the estimate a year ago.
“It’s a phenomenal number and it’s a depressing number,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva, adding that it meant “next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program” the world has ever seen.
If all the people in need of emergency assistance were in one country, it would be the third-largest nation in the world, after China and India, he said.
And the new estimate means that one in 23 people will need help in 2023, compared to one in 95 back in 2015.
As the extreme events seen in 2022 spill into 2023, Griffiths described the humanitarian needs as “shockingly high.”
“Lethal droughts and floods are wreaking havoc in communities from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa,” he said, also pointing to the war in Ukraine, which “has turned a part of Europe into a battlefield.”
The annual appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations said that providing aid to the 230 million most vulnerable people across 68 countries would require a record $51.5 billion.
That was up from the $41 billion requested for 2022, although the sum has been revised up to around $50 billion during the year — with less than half of that sought-for amount funded.
“For people on the brink, this appeal is a lifeline,” Griffiths said.
The report presented a depressing picture of soaring needs brought on by a range of conflicts, worsening instability and a deepening climate crisis.
“There is no doubt that 2023 is going to perpetuate these on-steroids trends,” Griffiths warned.
The overlapping crises have already left the world dealing with the “largest global food crisis in modern history,” the UN warned.
It pointed out that at least 222 million people across 53 countries were expected to face acute food insecurity by the end of this year, with 45 million of them facing the risk of starvation.
“Five countries already are experiencing what we call famine-like conditions, in which we can confidently, unhappily, say that people are dying as a result,” Griffiths said.
Those countries — Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Somalia and South Sudan — have seen portions of their populations face “catastrophic hunger” this year, but have not yet seen country-wide famines declared.
Forced displacement is meanwhile surging, with the number of people living as refugees, asylum seekers or displaced inside their own country passing 100 million — over one percent of the global population — for the first time this year.
“And all of this on top of the devastation left by the pandemic among the world’s poorest,” Griffiths said, also pointing to outbreaks of mpox, previously known as monkeypox, Ebola, cholera and other diseases.
Conflicts have taken a dire toll on a range of countries, not least on Ukraine, where Russia’s full-scale invasion in February has left millions in dire need.
The global humanitarian plan will aim to provide $1.7 billion in cash assistance to 6.3 million people inside the war-torn country, and also $5.7 billion to help the millions of Ukrainians and their host communities in surrounding countries.
More than 28 million people are meanwhile considered to be in need in drought-hit Afghanistan, which last year saw the Taliban sweep back into power, while another eight million Afghans and their hosts in the region also need assistance.
More than $5 billion has been requested to address that combined crisis, while further billions were requested to help the many millions of people impacted by the years-long conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
The appeal also highlighted the dire situation in Ethiopia, where worsening drought and a two-year-conflict in Tigray have left nearly 29 million people in desperate need of assistance.
Faced with such towering needs, Griffiths said he hoped 2023 would be a year of “solidarity, just as 2022 has been a year of suffering.”