Pacific ‘very positive’ on Australian re-engagement: PM

Pacific ‘very positive’ on Australian re-engagement: PM
Australia’s new prime minister Anthony Albanese said the country’s own renewed diplomatic push had been well-received. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 May 2022

Pacific ‘very positive’ on Australian re-engagement: PM

Pacific ‘very positive’ on Australian re-engagement: PM
  • Anthony Albanese: Australia’s previous government had ‘dropped the ball’ on the Pacific, both in terms of aid and also ‘a non-engagement on values’

SYDNEY: South Pacific nations have been “very positive” about Canberra’s “re-engagement,” Australia’s new prime minister has said, as China undertakes a region-wide diplomatic offensive that is raising concerns among Western powers.
The comments from Anthony Albanese — aired Sunday in an interview with Sky News — came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was visiting Fiji for closely watched meetings with the island nation’s leaders and others from across the region.
Wang, who began his South Pacific tour Thursday in the Solomon Islands, is expected to discuss a wide-ranging draft agreement and five-year plan that would dramatically expand security and economic cooperation with South Pacific nations.
But Albanese said Australia’s own renewed diplomatic push had been well-received.
“The response has been very positive,” Albanese said when asked about Pacific leaders’ reaction to recent efforts, including a visit to Fiji last week by new Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
The prime minister said Australia’s previous government had “dropped the ball” on the Pacific, both in terms of aid and also “a non-engagement on values.”
“For our Pacific Island neighbors, the issue of climate change is an absolute national security issue,” Albanese said.
In addition to increased action on the environment, he also touted a boost in aid and a plan to set up a defense training school in the Pacific.
During Australia’s recent election campaign, Albanese’s center-left Labor party said the school would involve forces from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang is expected to remain until at least Tuesday in Fiji’s capital, where he is to host a meeting with foreign ministers from across the Pacific.
The draft agreement and a five-year plan leaked ahead of that meeting, both obtained by AFP, would give China a larger security footprint in the region.
Australian Foreign Minister Wong warned Pacific leaders about the deal last week during her visit to Fiji.
“We have expressed our concerns publicly about the security agreement,” she said.
Beijing last month signed a wide-ranging pact with the Solomon Islands that Western governments feared could give China a military foothold in the region.


Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats

Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats
Updated 51 min 5 sec ago

Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats

Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats
  • Taiwan accused China of using US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit as an excuse to kickstart drills
  • Military played down Taiwan's exercises’ significance, saying they were not in response to China’s war games

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s army held another live-fire drill Thursday after Beijing ended its largest-ever military exercises around the island and repeated threats to bring the self-ruled democracy under its control.
Beijing has raged at a trip to Taiwan last week by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the highest-ranking elected American official to visit in decades — staging days of air and sea drills around the island that raised tensions to their highest level in years.
Taiwan has accused China of using the Pelosi visit as an excuse to kickstart drills that would allow it to rehearse for an invasion.
Lou Woei-jye, spokesman for Taiwan’s Eighth Army Corps, told AFP its forces fired howitzers and target flares as part of the defensive drill on Thursday morning.
The exercise in Taiwan’s southernmost county Pingtung began at 0830 am (0030 GMT) and lasted about an hour, he said.
Artillery tucked in from the coast was lined up side by side, with armed soldiers in units firing the howitzers out to sea one after the other, a live stream showed.
Taiwan held a similar drill on Tuesday in Pingtung. Both involved hundreds of troops, the military said.
The military has played down the exercises’ significance, saying they were already scheduled and were not in response to China’s war games.
“We have two goals for the drills, the first is to certify the proper condition of the artillery and their maintenance condition and the second is to confirm the results of last year,” Lou said, referring to annual drills.
The latest exercise came after China’s military indicated its own drills had come to an end Wednesday, saying its forces “successfully completed various tasks” in the Taiwan Strait while vowing to continue patrolling its waters.
But in the same announcement, China added that it would “continue to carry out military training and prepare for war.”
In a separate white paper published Wednesday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Beijing would “not renounce the use of force” against its neighbor and reserved “the option of taking all necessary measures.”
“We are ready to create vast space for peaceful reunification, but we will leave no room for separatist activities in any form,” it said in the paper.
China last issued a white paper on Taiwan in 2000.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry on Thursday joined its top policymaking body on China in rejecting the “one country, two systems” model that Beijing has proposed for the island.
“China’s whole statement absolutely goes against the cross-strait status quo and its reality,” ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou told a press conference.
“China is using US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to destroy the status quo and taking the opportunity to make trouble, attempting to create a new normal to intimidate the Taiwanese people.”
“One country, two systems” refers to the model under which Hong Kong and Macau were promised a degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.
Taiwan routinely stages military drills simulating defense against a Chinese invasion, and last month practiced repelling attacks from the sea in a “joint interception operation” as part of its largest annual exercises.
In response to the Chinese military revealing it was bringing drills to an end Wednesday, Taiwan’s army said it would “adjust how we deploy our forces... without letting our guard down.”
Since the late 1990s, the island has transformed from an autocracy into a vibrant democracy, and a more distinct Taiwanese identity has solidified.
Relations between the two sides have significantly worsened since Tsai Ing-wen became Taiwan’s president in 2016.
Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party do not consider Taiwan a part of China.
Their platform falls under China’s broad definition of Taiwanese separatism, which includes those who advocate for the island to have an identity separate from the mainland.


Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police

Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police
Updated 38 min 52 sec ago

Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police

Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police
  • The man was reported to have been arrested after landing at Luton airport on a flight from Turkey, where he had been serving a prison sentence for terrorism offenses

LONDON: A British man accused of being part of a Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles” has been charged with terrorism offenses after returning to the UK, police said Thursday.
“A 38-year-old man has been charged with various terrorism offenses following an investigation by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command,” police said in a statement.
The Metropolitan Police, which leads anti-terror investigations in the UK, officially named the man as Aine Davis and said he has been remanded in police custody.
They said they arrested Davis after he landed at Luton airport on a flight from Turkey.
The suspect, who does not have a fixed address, was set to appear at a court in central London on Thursday morning.
He was allegedly a member of the Daesh cell, which held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and was known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their British accents.
The four members of the “Beatles” are accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.
They were all allegedly involved in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
The quartet allegedly tortured and killed the four American victims, including by beheading, and Daeshreleased videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.
Alexanda Kotey, a 38-year-old former British national extradited from the UK to the US in 2020 to face charges there, pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.
El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, another former British national also extradited to the US at the same time, was found guilty of all charges in April, and will be sentenced next week.
The other “Beatles” executioner, Mohamed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015.
Elsheikh and Kotey were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to Britain.
They were eventually flown to Virginia in 2020 to face charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
Davis served a seven-and-a-half-year sentence in Turkey for membership in the terrorist group, according to reports.
In 2014, his wife Amal El-Wahabi became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding Daesh militants after trying to send 20,000 euros — worth $25,000 at the time — to him in Syria.
She was jailed for 28 months and seven days following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before he went to Syria to fight with Daesh.


Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 
Updated 11 August 2022

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 
  • The clinics will operate in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Dhale’, Marib, Shabwa, Hadhramout and Mahra, the Ministry of Public Health said

The Japanese government has provided $3m in aid to help set up eight temporary clinics in Yemen.

The cash was provided through the United Nations Office for Project services, the Yemen News Agency (SABA) reported. 

The clinics will operate in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Dhale’, Marib, Shabwa, Hadhramout and Mahra, the Ministry of Public Health said. 

Every clinic will be equipped with a fully equipped laboratory, ultrasound and x-ray equipment, and an ECG and examination room. 

Meanwhile Yemen’s Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Muamar Al-Eryani has praised Japan’s humanitarian efforts in Yemen during a meeting with Charge D’Affairs of the Japanese Embassy in Yemen Kazohiro Higashe on Wednesday, according to SABA. 

The two discussed mutual relations between Japan and Yemen, as well as ways to enhance the countries’ bilateral ties. 

Al-Eryani also shared the latest developments in Yemen, including the Houthis’ violations of the UN Truce and the militia’s refusal to end the siege in Taiz, SABA reported. 

For his part, the Japanese diplomat confirmed his country’s support for Yemen’s legitimacy, security, and stability.


Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir

Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir
Updated 11 August 2022

Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir

Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir
  • Soldiers responded to the attack, triggering a gunbattle that lasted for at least three hours
  • Rebels in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989

SRINAGAR, India: Three Indian soldiers and two suspected militants were killed Thursday after rebels stormed a military camp in disputed Kashmir, officials said.
At least two assailants armed with guns and grenades attacked the camp in the remote Darhal area of southern Rajouri district early Thursday, said Mukesh Singh, a senior police officer.
The soldiers responded to the attack, triggering a gunbattle that lasted for at least three hours, Singh said.
A reinforcement of soldiers and counterinsurgency police encircled the camp as the fighting raged inside, officials said.
In addition to the five deaths, two soldiers were injured in the fighting, Singh said.
There was no independent confirmation of the incident.
On Wednesday, police said government forces killed three rebels in Budgam district during a counterinsurgency operation.
India and Pakistan claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety.
Rebels in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

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North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul

North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul
Updated 11 August 2022

North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul

North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul
  • Kim Jong Un's powerful sister blamed leaflets from the South for causing the COVID outbreak in her isolated country
  • Seoul expresses regrets over the groundless claims and  threatening remarks by North Korea's leader

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered preventive measures eased just three months after acknowledging an outbreak, claiming the country’s widely disputed success would be recognized as a global health miracle.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency also reported Thursday that Kim’s sister said her brother had suffered a fever and blamed the North Korean outbreak on leaflets flown from across the border from South Korea, while warning of deadly retaliation.
Some experts believe North Korea has manipulated the scale of the outbreak to help Kim maintain absolute control of the country amid mounting economic difficulties. They believe the victory statement signals Kim’s aim to move to other priorities but are concerned his sister’s remarks portend a provocation.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement expressing strong regret over North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” that were based on “ridiculous claims” about the source of its infections.
Since North Korea admitted to an omicron outbreak of the virus in May, it has reported about 4.8 million “fever cases” in its population of 26 million but only identified a fraction of them as COVID-19. It has claimed the outbreak has been slowing for weeks and just 74 people have died.
“Since we began operating the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign (in May), daily fever cases that reached hundreds of thousands during the early days of the outbreak were reduced to below 90,000 a month later and continuously decreased, and not a single case of fever suspected to be linked to the evil virus has been reported since July 29,” Kim said in his speech Wednesday, according to KCNA.
“For a country that has yet to administer a single vaccine shot, our success in overcoming the spread of the illness in such a short period of time and recovering safety in public health and making our nation a clean virus-free zone again is an amazing miracle that would be recorded in the world’s history of public health,” he said.
For Kim to declare victory against COVID-19 suggests that he wants to move on to other priorities, such as boosting a broken and heavily sanctioned economy further damaged by pandemic border closures or conducting a nuclear test, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
South Korean and US officials have said North Korea could be gearing up for its first nuclear test in five years amid its torrid run of weapons tests this year that included its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.
The provocative testing activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled negotiations aimed at leveraging its nukes for badly needed sanctions relief and security concessions, experts say.
Kim Jun-rak, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday the South Korean military was maintaining firm readiness and prepared for “various possibilities” of North Korean provocations.
The bellicose rhetoric of Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, is concerning because it indicates she will try to blame any COVID-19 resurgence on the South and is also looking to justify North Korea’s next military provocation, Easley said.
North Korea first suggested in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with objects carried by balloons flown from South Korea — a questionable and unscientific claim that appeared to be an attempt to hold its rival responsible.
Activists for years have flown balloons across the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of Kim, and North Korea has often expressed fury at the activists and at South Korea’s leadership for not stopping them.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Kim Yo Jong reiterated those claims, calling the country’s virus crisis a “hysteric farce” kicked off by South Korea to escalate confrontation. She claimed that her brother had suffered fever symptoms and praised his “energetic and meticulous guidance” for bringing an “epoch-making miracle” in the fight against COVID-19.
“(South Korean) puppets are still thrusting leaflets and dirty objects into our territory. We must counter it toughly,” she said. “We have already considered various counteraction plans, but our countermeasure must be a deadly retaliatory one.”
Kim Yo Jong’s reference to Kim Jong Un’s illness wasn’t further explained.
Outside experts suspect the virus spread after North Korea briefly reopened its northern border with China to freight traffic in January and surged further following a military parade and other large-scale events in Pyongyang in April.
In May, Kim prohibited travel between cities and counties to slow the spread of the virus. But he also stressed that his economic goals should be met, which meant huge groups continued to gather at agricultural, industrial and construction sites.
At the virus meeting, Kim called for the easing of preventive measures and for the nation to maintain vigilance and effective border controls, citing the global spread of new coronavirus variants and monkeypox.