Beijing curbs public transport as COVID-19 in spreads in China

Beijing curbs public transport as COVID-19 in spreads in China
With dozens of new cases a day, Beijing is trying to avoid a full lockdown, instead hoping that mass testing will find and isolate the virus before it can spread. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 May 2022

Beijing curbs public transport as COVID-19 in spreads in China

Beijing curbs public transport as COVID-19 in spreads in China
  • Capital shut more than 40 subway stations, about a tenth of the network, and 158 bus routes, service providers said

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: The Chinese capital Beijing shut dozens of metro stations and bus routes on Wednesday in its campaign to stop the spread of COVID-19 and avoid the fate of Shanghai where millions of residents have been under strict lockdown for more than a month.
New evidence has emerged that China’s uncompromising battle against the coronavirus, believed to have emerged in a market in the city of Wuhan in late 2019, is undermining its growth and hurting the international companies invested there.
Late on Tuesday, another city announced work-from-home and other COVID-19 curbs for the coming week. The central city of Zhengzhou, home to 12.6 million people and a factory of Apple’s iPhone manufacturer Foxconn, joins dozens of big cities in full or partial lockdown.
The capital shut more than 40 subway stations, about a tenth of the network, and 158 bus routes, service providers said. Most of the suspended stations and routes are in the Chaoyang district, the epicenter of Beijing’s outbreak.
With dozens of new cases a day, Beijing is trying to avoid a full lockdown, as Shanghai also did initially, instead hoping that mass testing will find and isolate the virus before it can spread.
The city of 22 million people has closed schools as well as some businesses and residential buildings in high-risk areas, and many people are stocking up in case a full lockdown does come.
Twelve out of 16 Beijing districts were conducting the second of three rounds of tests this week, having done three mass screenings last week.
In Shanghai, there’s no end in sight for the lockdown.
After more than a month, most people in mainland China’s biggest city and its financial center are still not allowed to leave their housing compounds.
Some of Shanghai’s 25 million people have benefited from a tentative easing of precautions since Sunday, with usually just one member of a household allowed out for a quick stroll, some fresh air and a bit of shopping at supermarkets.
According to the latest data, Shanghai found 63 new cases outside areas under the strictest curbs, suggesting the city has a way to go to reach the goal of no cases for several days before curbs can ease significantly.
Authorities say the zero COVID-19 policy aims to save as many lives as possible, pointing to the millions of COVID-19 deaths outside China, where many countries are throwing off precautions to “live with COVID” even as infections spread.
But the policy is hurting domestic consumption and factory output, disrupting key global supply chains and shrinking revenues for some of the biggest international brands, such as Apple, Gucci-parent Kering and Taco Bell-owner Yum China.
Capital Economics estimates COVID-19 has spread to areas generating 40 percent of China’s output and 80 percent of its exports — all facing various degrees of restrictions.
“Recent mobility trends suggest that China’s growth momentum deteriorated significantly in April, with traffic congestion, subway passenger volume and other high-frequency indicators at their weakest since the initial outbreak,” Fitch Ratings said in a note.
Its analysts cut their 2022 growth forecast to 4.3 percent, from 4.8 percent, well below China’s official 5.5 percent target.
Starbucks Corp. suspended its guidance for the rest of its fiscal year on Tuesday mainly due to China’s COVID-19 curbs. Sales in China, where the chain has rapidly expanded in recent years, declined 23 percent, overshadowing 12 percent growth in North America.
Foxconn said on Wednesday it was continuing production in Zhengzhou.
Numerous factories were shut after Shanghai went into lockdown from March. While some have started reopening, getting workers back, while dealing with snarled supply chains, has proven difficult.
Shanghai authorities helped Tesla transport over 6,000 workers and carry out disinfection work to reopen its factory last month, according to a letter that Tesla sent to officials and seen by Reuters.
International trade is also facing disruption.
A study by Royal Bank of Canada analysts found that a fifth of the global container ship fleet was stuck in congestion at various major ports.
At Shanghai’s port, 344 ships were awaiting berth, a 34 percent increase over the past month. Shipping something from a warehouse in China to one in the United States takes 74 days longer than usual, they said.


Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community
Updated 53 min 35 sec ago

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community
  • Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country
  • The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group

KABUL: The Taliban killed one of their former leaders who was known as the first commander of the group hailing from the minority Shiite Hazara community, officials confirmed on Wednesday, adding that he had rebelled against the de facto government.
Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country, the defense ministry said in a statement.
Mahdi’s appointment as a commander some years ago was touted as an example of the Taliban’s changed on stance on minorities. He was in the spotlight after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the wake of the pullout of western forces last year.
The Taliban are hard-line followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, and were previously almost exclusively associated with the Pashtun ethnicity. More recently, the group had sought to include members of other ethnicities and some Shiites.
The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group. After the Taliban formed a government last year, Mahdi was given the post of intelligence chief in a central province.
The origins of the breach between Mahdi and the Taliban have not been made public, but as far back as June, the defense ministry had spoken of a clearance operation against rebels in northern Afghanistan.
The defense ministry on Wednesday described Mahdi as a the “leader of the rebels” in a district in the northern province of Sar-e-Pol.
A Taliban source told Reuters that Mahdi had fallen out with the Taliban and had revolted against the group’s leadership.
The statement said he was killed in Herat close to the border with Shiite majority Iran, where he was trying to flee.
Reuters was not able to contact representatives of Mahdi for comment.


US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri

US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri
Updated 17 August 2022

US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri

US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri
  • Officials: Al-Qaeda leader’s presence in Afghanistan eroded confidence that $3.5bn would not fund terror
  • UN warns 6.6m Afghans face famine this winter without urgent humanitarian intervention

LONDON: Billions of dollars being held by the US will not be transferred to Afghanistan after Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri was killed in Kabul on July 31.

Al-Zawahiri’s presence in Afghanistan meant Washington does not have “confidence” that the country’s central bank “has the safeguards and monitoring in place to manage assets responsibly,” said Tom West, the US special representative for Afghanistan.

“Needless to say, the Taliban’s sheltering of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups.”

The US has held around $3.5 billion intended for Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover of the country last year.

Afghanistan’s economy has struggled since the withdrawal of coalition forces in August 2021, with officials negotiating with US representatives for ways to alleviate the situation.

But West said the US does not see returning funds to the country as a “near-term option” as the Taliban cannot provide guarantees that the money will not be used to fund terrorism.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price, though, said Washington would find alternative, humanitarian uses for the funds to help ease the suffering of ordinary Afghans. 

“The idea that we have decided not to use these funds for the benefit of the Afghan people is simply wrong. It is not true,” he added.

“Right now we’re looking at mechanisms that could be put in place to see to it that these $3.5 billion in preserved assets make their way efficiently and effectively to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t make them ripe for diversion to terrorist groups or elsewhere.”

US President Joe Biden in February ordered that $7 billion being held by the US for Afghanistan be split between humanitarian aid for the country, and 9/11 victims and their families.

Al-Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, was killed last month in a drone strike while standing on the balcony of a house in which he was living in the center of Kabul.

His presence in Afghanistan was a “gross violation” of an agreement struck with Washington for the Taliban not to permit terrorist organizations to operate in the country, the US said.

A UN Security Council report earlier this year said the Taliban takeover had allowed “greater freedom” for foreign fighters to live and operate in the country.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator and deputy special representative for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, said the country faces “pure catastrophe” due to its precarious economic state, with 6.6 million people threatened with famine this winter and 24 million in need of humanitarian aid.

He added that poverty is forcing Afghans to make desperate decisions such as “the selling of organs, and the selling of children,” and that despite many spending as much as 90 percent of their income on food, he was still seeing evidence of severely malnourished children nationwide.

Erin Sikorsky, director at the US-based Center for Climate and Security, told the Daily Telegraph: “Poor governance by the Taliban will make things worse. It is likely Afghanistan will see more internally displaced people going forward, as disruptions to ... agriculture intersect with other security risks.”

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Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media
Updated 17 August 2022

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media
  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand
  • Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will return to the island nation next week after fleeing in July amid mass protests, local broadcaster Newsfirst reported on Wednesday, citing a former ambassador.
Udayanga Weeratunga, a former Sri Lankan envoy to Russia who is related to Rajapaksa, said he will arrive in Sri Lanka on Aug. 24, Newsfirst reported.
Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand, after fleeing Sri Lanka on a military plane to the Maldives and then spending weeks in Singapore.
He resigned from office soon after arriving in Singapore, facing public anger over his government’s handling of Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka. Reuters was not able to immediately contact him or Weeratunga.
The office of Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who suggested last month that the former president refrain from returning to Sri Lanka in the near future, did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
“I don’t believe it’s the time for him to return,” Wickremesinghe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on July 31. “I have no indication of him returning soon.”

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings
Updated 17 August 2022

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings
  • ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings
  • Junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings

Myanmar’s military leadership on Wednesday lashed out at the ASEAN grouping of Southeast Asian countries for excluding its generals from regional gatherings, accusing it of caving to “external pressure.”
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have heaped condemnation on Myanmar’s junta, which they say has failed to make concrete progress on a peace plan agreed with the 10-nation bloc last year, including engaging with opponents and a cessation of hostilities.
Myanmar’s military seized power from an elected government in a coup last year, and has since then crushed dissent with lethal force. Most recently, the junta has been criticized for executing political activists and imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of Myanmar’s opposition and democracy movement.
ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings, and some members said last month it would be forced to rethink the way forward unless the junta demonstrates progress on the peace plan.
The junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings.
“If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labelled an ASEAN summit,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said at a routine news conference on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar was working on implementing the peace plan.
“What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists,” he said, using the junta’s label for pro-democracy movements that have taken up arms against the military.
He said ASEAN was violating its own policy of non-interference in a country’s sovereign affairs while facing “external pressure,” but did not elaborate.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia, which is currently chairing ASEAN, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Several western countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s junta over the coup.


Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project
Updated 17 August 2022

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

DUBAI: Lesotho has inaugurated a $11.2 million water supply project that will supply clean water to five cities in the south African country.

Funded by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), the project aims to sustain water resources and provide clean water sources in Lesotho as well as mitigate effects of drought in the country to ensure water and food security.

The undertaking will see the laying of a 210-kilometer-long pipe network and the construction of 25 pumping stations.

Saudi Arabia, through the SFD, supports developing countries achieve their development goals by providing grants, technical aid as well soft loans and since its inception in 1975 has provided 730 development loans to finance 692 development projects and programs in 84 developing countries.