China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan

China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, and Samoa Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa during the signing ceremonies between the two countries on May 28, 2022. (Samoa Observer/AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2022

China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan

China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan
  • China is building on a security pact it recently signed with Solomon Islands

SYDNEY: China’s foreign minister signed a deal with Samoa on Saturday to strengthen diplomatic relations, while Australia’s new leader said he had a “comprehensive plan” for the Pacific, as Beijing and Canberra continued rival campaigns to woo the region.
China is building on a security pact it recently signed with Solomon Islands, which has alarmed the United States and its allies such as Australia as they fear a stepped-up military presence by Beijing. Australia’s new center-left government has made the Pacific Islands an early diplomatic priority.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, sworn in on Monday, said on Saturday his Labor government’s plan includes a defense training school, support for maritime security, a boost in aid and re-engaging the region on climate change.
“We will be proactive in the region, we want to engage,” he told reporters.
China’s Wang Yi, on a tour of the Pacific seeking a 10-nation deal on security and trade, finished a visit to Samoa, where he met Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa and signed documents including an “economic and technical cooperation agreement,” Samoa said in a statement.
“Samoa and the People’s Republic of China will continue to pursue greater collaboration that will deliver on joint interests and commitments,” it said.
Also Saturday, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said he had a “wonderful meeting” with Australia’s Penny Wong, who had visited days after taking office to show the new government’s attention to the Pacific Islands.
“Fiji is not anyone’s backyard — we are a part of a Pacific family,” Bainimarama wrote on Twitter, posting a picture of himself and Penny Wong shaking hands.
Bainimarama appeared to be taking a veiled swipe at Scott Morrison, the conservative prime minister ousted in an election last weekend, who once referred to the Pacific as Australia’s “backyard”.
Climate change, which Pacific Island nations consider an existential threat, had been a key issue in the election.
Australia’s Wong has said that Canberra will be a partner that does not come with strings attached, while China’s Wang expressed hope that Beijing’s ties with the Solomon Islands could be a regional model.
Wang was headed to Fiji, where he is expected to push for the regional deal in a meeting he is to host on Monday.


Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks

Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks
Updated 21 sec ago

Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks

Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks
  • Sajid Mir believed to be a leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba
  • Militants killed more than 170 people in the attacks

KARACHI: Pakistani authorities confirmed on Saturday that the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks was in their custody and sentenced to 15 years in jail on charges of terrorism financing.

Sajid Mir has been on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists with a $5 million bounty on his head. He has been sought by the US and India for over a decade in connection to the Mumbai attacks in late November 2008, when militants killed more than 170 people, including six US nationals.

Mir is believed to be a leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group accused of carrying out the attacks. According to the FBI's most-wanted list, he allegedly served as the “chief planner of the attacks, directing preparations and reconnaissance, and was one of the Pakistan-based controllers during the attacks.”

He was sentenced by a court in Lahore earlier this month to 15-and-a-half years in prison and is serving his sentence at Kot Lakhpat jail.

“The sentencing in a TF (terrorism financing) case is confirmed,” Asim Iftikhar Ahmad, spokesperson for the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Arab News.

Mir was indicted by an Illinois court in April 2011 and his arrest warrant was issued the same month. The court charged him with “conspiracy to injure property of foreign government; providing material support to terrorists; killing a citizen outside of the U.S. and aiding and abetting; and bombing of places of public use.”

In Pakistan, his sentencing is seen as being connected to government efforts to get off the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list.

In June 2018, the global watchdog downgraded Pakistan to its increased monitoring list for lacking measures to curb money laundering and terrorism financing.

During its plenary meeting last week, the FATF kept Pakistan on its grey list but said an onsite inspection — expected in October — could verify the country’s progress in fulfilling the watchdog’s action plan and lead to the removal of the designation.

“This issue rather became a major sticking point in FATF’s assessment of Pakistan’s progress on the action plan late last year. This was where things finally started moving in Mir’s case,” Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn reported on Saturday. “His conviction and sentencing were, therefore, major achievements that Pakistani officials showcased in their progress report given to FATF on its action plan during the latest plenary.”

Being on the FATF grey list severely restricts a country’s international borrowing capabilities. Exiting it is likely to increase foreign inflows, specifically direct investment, into Pakistan, which desperately needs funds amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

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Biden signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’

Biden signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’
Updated 25 June 2022

Biden signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’

Biden signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’
  • "Time is of the essence. Lives will be saved,” Biden said in the Roosevelt Room of the White House
  • Citing the families of shooting victims he has met, the president said, "Their message to us was, ‘Do something’”

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Saturday signed the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades, a bipartisan compromise that seemed unimaginable until a recent series of mass shootings, including the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.
“Time is of the essence. Lives will be saved,” he said in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Citing the families of shooting victims he has met, the president said, “Their message to us was, ‘Do something.’ How many times did we hear that? ‘Just do something. For God’s sake, just do something.’ Today we did.”
The House gave final approval Friday, following Senate passage Thursday, and Biden acted just before leaving Washington for two summits in Europe.
“Today we say, ‘More than enough,’” Biden said. “It’s time, when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential.”
The legislation will toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous.
The president called it “a historic achievement.”
Most of its $13 billion cost will help bolster mental health programs and aid schools, which have been targeted in Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, and elsewhere in mass shootings.
Biden said the compromise hammered out by a bipartisan group of senators from both parties “doesn’t do everything I want” but “it does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives.”
“I know there’s much more work to do, and I’m never going to give up, but this is a monumental day,” said the president, who was joined by his wife, Jill, a teacher, for the signing.
After sitting to sign the bill, Biden sat reflectively for a moment, then murmured, “God willing, this is gonna save a lot of lives.”
He also said they will host an event on July 11 for lawmakers and families affected by gun violence. The president spoke of families “who lost their souls to an epidemic of gun violence. They lost their child, their husband, their wife. Nothing is going to fill that void in their hearts. But they led the way so other families will not have the experience and the pain and trauma that they had to live through.”
Biden signed the measure two days after the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday striking down a New York law that restricted peoples’ ability to carry concealed weapons. And Saturday’s ceremony came less than 24 hours after the high court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, which had legalized abortion nationwide for nearly five decades.
“Yesterday, I spoke about the Supreme Court’s shocking decision striking down Roe v. Wade,” Biden said. “Jill and I know how painful and devastating the decision is for so many Americans. I mean so many Americans.”
He noted that the abortion ruling leaves enforcement up to the states, some of which have already moved to ban abortion or will soon do so. Biden said his administration will “focus on how they administer it and whether or not they violate other laws, like deciding to not allow people to cross state lines to get health services.”
Asked by reporters about whether the Supreme Court was broken, Biden said, “I think the Supreme Court has made some terrible decisions.” He walked away without answering more questions, noting, ” “I have a helicopter waiting for me to take off.”
While the new gun law does not include tougher restrictions long championed by Democrats, such as a ban on assault-style weapons and background checks for all firearm transactions, it is the most impactful gun violence measure produced by Congress since enactment a long-expired assault weapons ban in 1993.
Enough congressional Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the steps after recent rampages in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas. It took weeks of closed-door talks but senators emerged with a compromise.
Biden signed the bill just before departing Washington for a summit of the Group of Seven leading economic powers — the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — in Germany. He will travel later to Spain for a NATO meeting.


Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions
Updated 25 June 2022

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions
  • UK government cites housing shortages as former Afghan allies denied chance to reunite with families

LONDON: British ministers have been accused of failing to honor their promises to Afghan refugees by refusing to accommodate their family members.

About 12,000 Afghan refugees are still living in hotels paid for by the British taxpayer as ministers blame a housing shortage for the delay.

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last year, the UK government told refugees that their family members would be allowed to join them once they were evacuated.

But The Times newspaper said that 10 months after the collapse of Kabul, about 6,500 refugees were still blocked from joining family members in the UK because they had yet to be granted refugee status.

The newspaper quoted government sources saying that ministers were forced to adjust the policy of family reunion because the average family size of those involved is 6.7, and regulations on housing rules meant that bigger homes were needed to shelter them.

By contrast, the average household size in Britain is three, and much of local government housing is developed around this figure.

Hossain Saeedi, 37, told The Times that he was evacuated with his wife and children, but his request to bring in his ex-wife, who is mother to his son, was denied.

He said: “The cases of Afghan family reunion have been overshadowed by the new scheme for Ukrainian refugees.”

The 6,500 Afghans barred from refugee status were brought in on the Home Office’s Pathway 1 scheme. In September, the government indicated that family members would be allowed to join other refugees, but has failed to demonstrate how this would be achieved.

The Home Office said that the 6,500 evacuees from Afghanistan who were unable to travel with their relatives would be given “options” for rejoining them “in due course.”

“Around 6,500 people were brought to safety in the UK during and after the Afghanistan evacuation who are eligible for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme and received leave to remain under Pathway 1. While they do not hold refugee status, those who were evacuated were able to bring their immediate family members, including spouse or partner and children under 18 years old,” the government said.

The delay in reuniting families comes as a letter by several leading charity figures accused the government of treating Afghans unfairly compared with Ukrainians, who have received two visa schemes for reuniting family members, warning that this could have severe consequences on their mental health.

The letter, signed by the CEOs of Amnesty International, British Red Cross, Oxfam, Refugee Council, Safe Passage, Student Action for Refugees, UNHCR and Voices Network, said: “Ten months later these families remain separated. This is despite the government indicating, as long ago as September 2021, that family members would be eligible to join people who had been evacuated.

“Prolonged separation is distressing for families and can have a severe impact on mental health.

“We saw how the government acted to bring Ukrainian families together through the Ukraine Family Scheme. They must now act with the same urgency to safely reunite Afghan evacuees with their loved ones.”


UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election

UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election
Updated 25 June 2022

UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election

UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election
  • Earlier this month, Johnson survived a vote of confidence by Conservative lawmakers
  • Fears that Johnson could have become an electoral liability may prompt lawmakers to move against him

KIGALI: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed on Saturday to lead his Conservative party into the next national election, which could be more than two years away, despite two bruising by-election defeats that have led to renewed calls for him to quit.
Earlier this month, Johnson survived a vote of confidence by Conservative lawmakers, though 41 percent of his parliamentary colleagues voted to oust him, and he is under investigation by a committee over whether he intentionally misled parliament.
On Friday, Conservative candidates lost two elections to the House of Commons held to replace former Conservative incumbents who had to step down, one after being convicted of sexual assault and the other for watching pornography in parliament.
The election defeats suggest the broad voter appeal which helped Johnson win the 2019 election may be fracturing after a scandal over illegal parties held at Downing Street during coronavirus lockdowns.
Fears that Johnson could have become an electoral liability may prompt lawmakers to move against him, at a time when millions of Britons are struggling with rising food and fuel prices.
However, Johnson said he did not expect to face another internal challenge from within his party.
When asked on the final day of a trip to Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit if he would fight another confidence vote, Johnson told reporters: “What? We just had one of those things and I’m very happy to have got a bigger mandate from my parliamentary party than I got in 2019.”
Asked if he felt the question of his leadership was settled, the prime minister said: “Yes.”
Under existing party rules, Johnson’s leadership cannot be formally challenged again for another year.
Asked if he would lead the Conservatives into the next election, which is due no later than December 2024, Johnson said: “Will I win? Yes.”
Johnson blamed the by-election defeats partly on months of media reporting of lockdown parties at the heart of government.
“I think that actually people were fed up of hearing about things I had stuffed up, or allegedly stuffed up, or whatever, this endless, completely legitimate, but endless churn of news,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, Johnson told BBC radio he rejected the notion that he should change his behavior.
“If you’re saying you want me to undergo some sort of psychological transformation, I think that our listeners would know that that ... is not going to happen.”

PARTY TROUBLE
Johnson’s explanation for the defeat may do little to ease frustration in the Conservative Party.
A wave of resignations by senior ministers might force Johnson out before the next national election. The party’s chairman, Oliver Dowden, quit after the by-election defeats.
Former Conservative leaders Michael Howard and William Hague are the latest senior party figures to call for Johnson to go.
Asked what his message was for Conservative lawmakers who fear they could lose their seats at the next election, Johnson said: “We have to focus on the things that matter to voters, get it right on the cost of living, the economy.”
Johnson refused to comment on a report in The Times newspaper that he had planned to get a donor to fund a 150,000-pound ($184,000) treehouse for his son at his state-provided country residence.
The story comes months after his party was fined for failing to accurately report a donation which helped fund the refurbishment of his Downing Street apartment.
“I’m not going to comment on non-existent objects,” Johnson said when asked if he planned to use a donor’s money to build the treehouse. ($1 = 0.8155 pounds)


Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID
Updated 25 June 2022

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID
  • The two major cities were among several places in China that implemented strict COVID-19 measures

SHANGHAI/BEIJING: Beijing on Saturday said it would allow primary and secondary schools to resume in-person classes and Shanghai’s top party boss declared victory over COVID-19 after the city reported zero new local cases for the first time in two months.
The two major cities were among several places in China that implemented curbs to stop the spread of the omicron wave during March to May, with Shanghai imposing a two month-long city-wide lockdown that lifted on June 1.
The efforts, part of China’s adherence to a zero-COVID policy that aims to eradicate all outbreaks, have brought case numbers down but many of the heavy-handed measures have fueled anger and even rare protests and taken a heavy toll on the economy.
Beijing shut its schools in early May and asked students to move to online learning amid a spike in locally transmitted COVID cases. Senior year students at middle and high schools were allowed to return to classrooms from June 2.
On Saturday, with case numbers trending lower in recent days, the capital’s education commission said all primary and secondary school students in the capital can return to in-person classes from Monday. Kindergartens will be allowed to reopen from July 4.
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports said separately that sports activities for the young can resume at non-school locations on June 27 in areas where no community cases have been reported for seven consecutive days, with the exception of basement venues, which will remain shut.
The Universal Beijing Resort, which had been closed for nearly two months, reopened on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Shanghai reported no new local cases — both symptomatic and asymptomatic — for June 24, the first time the Chinese economic hub had done so since Feb. 23.
Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang said at the opening at the city’s party congress on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID by implementing the instructions of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and that Beijing’s epidemic prevention decisions were “completely correct.” The city, however, remains on edge. Most students have not been allowed to resume in-person classes and dining indoors is still banned. It also plans to continue conducting mass PCR testing for its 25 million residents every weekend until the end of July.