Top US official meets Philippine president-elect in push to deepen alliance

Top US official meets Philippine president-elect in push to deepen alliance
Philippine President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. meets US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Manila on June 9, 2022. (Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Media Bureau)
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Updated 09 June 2022

Top US official meets Philippine president-elect in push to deepen alliance

Top US official meets Philippine president-elect in push to deepen alliance
  • Wendy Sherman is the first top foreign official to meet Ferdinand Marcos Jr. after his presidential victory
  • The Philippines is one of the oldest and main non-NATO allies of the US in the region

MANILA: US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met Philippine president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila on Thursday in a diplomatic push to deepen Washington’s alliance with its major Asian partner.
Sherman is the first top foreign official to meet the incoming Philippine leader, who takes office on June 30. She also met outgoing Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs tweeted that Sherman was in Manila “to meet with both outgoing and incoming administrations to reaffirm US commitment to the PH-US alliance.”
The Philippines is one of the oldest and main non-NATO allies of the US in the region that is central to American competition with China.
The US-Philippines alliance is anchored on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which commits Washington and Manila to extend military support to each other if either of them is attacked by an external party.
“I was pleased to meet and congratulate President-elect Marcos,” Sherman tweeted after the meeting. “We discussed strengthening our longstanding alliance, expanding people-to-people ties, deepening our economic relationship, advancing human rights, and preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The alliance has been under strain since 2016 under incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, who tried to distance the Philippines from its former colonial master the US, and embraced a Beijing-friendly direction.
Although during his presidential campaign Marcos committed to continuing the warm relations with China ushered in by Duterte, he said after his landslide win in the May 9 vote that he would also seek to tighten ties with Washington.
President Joe Biden was one of the first world leaders to call Marcos and congratulate him on the victory in last month’s poll, even before the results were officially announced.
During the call on May 12, Marcos invited Biden to attend his inauguration to “further fortify the relationship of the two countries.”
In a statement from the US embassy in Manila after Sherman met Marcos, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the two sides had “highlighted the importance of the US-Philippine Alliance to security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the world and the importance of fostering respect for human rights and rule of law in the Philippines.”
Marcos’s meeting with Sherman was also attended by Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez, incoming Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez, and incumbent Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro.
Sherman was in Manila as part of her nine-day visit to Asia, where she will also meet top officials in South Korea, Japan, Laos, and Vietnam in a broader effort to reach out to leaders in the region, as US concern increases over China’s push to expand its own influence in a strategically important area.
The area includes the South China Sea, a strategic and resource-rich waterway claimed by China almost in its entirety, with countries including the Philippines and Vietnam also having overlapping claims.


Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11

Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11
Updated 57 min 34 sec ago

Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11

Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11
  • Across town, convenience stores were shot at and set on fire. FEMSA, the parent company of the Oxxo chain, said in a statement that one of its employees and a woman who was applying for a job were killed in the violence

MEXICO CITY: Hundreds of Mexican soldiers were sent to the border city of Juarez Friday after a prison face-off between members of two rival cartels caused a riot and shootouts that killed 11 people, most of them civilians, authorities said.
Los Chapos, members of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel formerly led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and local group Los Mexicles clashed in a prison Thursday afternoon, Deputy Security Minister Ricardo Mejia said.
A riot then broke out, leaving two shot to death and four injured with bullet wounds, Mejia said, speaking alongside Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at a regular news conference. Another 16 were injured in the fighting, he said.

Members of the Mexican Army arrive in Ciudad Juarez to reinforce security after different violent events in the last hours, at the airport in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico August 12, 2022. (REUTERS)

Officials did not say what caused the clash.
Following the riot, the Mexicles rampaged in the city, authorities said, killing nine civilians. Among them were four employees of a radio station, including one announcer, Mejia said.
Across town, convenience stores were shot at and set on fire. FEMSA, the parent company of the Oxxo chain, said in a statement that one of its employees and a woman who was applying for a job were killed in the violence.
Around 1 a.m. Friday morning, six alleged members of Mexicles were arrested by local police, with help from the Army and National Guard, Mejia said.
By Friday afternoon, some 300 Army soldiers were scheduled to arrive in town, with another 300 to follow. “(Juarez) Mayor Cruz Perez has let us know that (the city) is now in a state of calm; public order has been reestablished,” Mejia said.
“We hope it doesn’t happen again, because innocent people were attacked,” Lopez Obrador said.
Thursday’s attacks follow clashes between cartels and the military in central Mexico, which led to taxis, buses and some 20 Oxxo stores being set ablaze, Lopez Obrador said.
“We should not and cannot get used to this type of event,” said retail group ANTAD. “Mexico does not deserve it.”


FBI seized top secret documents at Trump’s home; Espionage Act cited

FBI seized top secret documents at Trump’s home; Espionage Act cited
Updated 13 August 2022

FBI seized top secret documents at Trump’s home; Espionage Act cited

FBI seized top secret documents at Trump’s home; Espionage Act cited
  • Agents took more than 30 items, including 20-plus boxes
  • Trump says the seized records were “all declassified“

WASHINGTON : FBI agents in this week’s search of former US President Donald Trump’s Florida home removed 11 sets of classified documents including some marked as top secret, the Justice Department said on Friday, while also disclosing it had probable cause to conduct the search based on possible Espionage Act violations.
The bombshell disclosures were made in a search warrant approved by a US magistrate judge and accompanying documents released four days after agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach. The Espionage Act, one of three laws cited in the warrant application, dates to 1917 and makes it a crime to release information that could harm national security.
Trump, in a statement on his social media platform, said the records were “all declassified” and placed in “secure storage.”
“They didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything. They could have had it anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago,” the Republican businessman-turned-politician said.
The search was carried out as part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally removed documents when he left office in January 2021 after losing the presidential election two months earlier to Democrat Joe Biden.
Although the FBI on Monday carted away material labeled as classified, the three laws cited as the basis for the warrant make it a crime to mishandle government records, regardless of whether they are classified. As such, Trump’s claims that he declassified the documents would have no bearing on the potential legal violations at issue.

The receipt for property seized by the FBI at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida is shown in this photo taken on Aug. 12, 2022. (AP)

FBI agents took more than 30 items including more than 20 boxes, binders of photos, a handwritten note and the executive grant of clemency for Trump’s ally and longtime adviser Roger Stone, a list of items removed showed. Also included in the list was information about the “President of France.”
The warrant showed that FBI agents were asked to search a room called “the 45 Office” — Trump was the 45th US president — as well as all other rooms and structures or buildings on the estate used by Trump or his staff where boxes or documents could be stored.
The Justice Department said in the warrant application approved by US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart that it had probable cause to believe violations of the Espionage Act had occurred at Trump’s home.
That law was initially enacted to combat spying. Prosecutions under it were relatively uncommon until the Justice Department ramped up its use under both Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama to go after leakers of national security information, including leaks to the news media.
The law’s section cited as the basis for the warrant prohibits unauthorized possession of national defense information. It did not spell out the details about why investigators have reason to believe such a violation occurred.
The Justice Department has used the Espionage Act in high-profile cases in recent years including former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The application also cited probable cause of possible violations of two other statutes that make it illegal to conceal or destroy official US documents.

Levels of classification
There are three primary levels of classification for sensitive government materials: Top secret, secret and confidential.
“Top secret” is the highest level, reserved for the most closely held US national security information. Such documents usually are kept in special government facilities because disclosure could gravely damage national security.
FBI agents on Monday collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, it was disclosed on Friday. Agents were revealed to have collected a set of documents labeled “classified/TS/SCI documents,” a reference to top secret and sensitive compartmented material.
Trump has not been charged with any wrongdoing. It remained unclear whether any charges would be brought.

An escalation
Monday’s search marked a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state investigations he is facing from his time in office and in private business, including a separate one by the Justice Department into a failed bid by Trump’s allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by submitting phony slates of electors.
Trump on Wednesday declined to answer questions during an appearance before New York state’s attorney general in a civil investigation into his family’s business practices, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday announced that the department asked Reinhart to unseal the warrant. This followed Trump’s claim that the search was political retribution and a suggestion by him, without evidence, that the FBI may have planted evidence against him.

Legal experts said Trump’s claim that he had declassified the materials would not be a useful defense should he ever face charges.
“The statute does not even strictly require even that the information be classified so long as it is relating to the national defense,” Northwestern University law professor Heidi Kitrosser said, referring to the Espionage Act.
The investigation into Trump’s removal of records started this year after the National Archives and Records Administration, an agency charged with safeguarding presidential records that belong to the public, made a referral to the Justice Department.
Republican House of Representatives Intelligence Committee members on Friday called on Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray to release the affidavit underpinning the warrant, saying the public needs to know.
“Because many other options were available to them, we’re very concerned of the method that was used in raiding Mar-a-Lago,” Representative Michael Turner, the committee’s top Republican, told reporters.
If the affidavit remains sealed, “it will still leave many unanswered questions,” Turner added.
The Justice Department’s request to unseal the warrant did not include a request to unseal the accompanying affidavit, nor has Trump’s legal team publicly made such a motion.
Since Monday’s search, the department has faced fierce criticism and online threats, which Garland have condemned. Trump supporters and some Republicans in Washington have accused Democrats of weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to target him even as he mulls another run for the presidency in 2024.
 


Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus
Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus
  • David Petraeus said Afghanistan’s ‘economy has collapsed, many of the people are literally starving and the Taliban regime (has taken) the country back to the 8th or 9th century
  • He added that women in the country now ‘have very little opportunity to contribute to the economy, the business world, even to society’

LONDON: A former US military commander warned that the Taliban has allowed Al-Qaeda to return and Daesh to become “very dangerous” amid the disastrous situation in Afghanistan in the 12 months since US troops withdrew.

“Gen. David Petraeus said that in the year since Western forces left, the country had returned to the 8th or 9th century, with the new regime imposing an ‘ultra-conservative’ vision of Islam,” according to a report by The Guardian newspaper, which cited an interview he gave to Times Radio.

The report added that the West “left behind hundreds of thousands of people whose security was jeopardized because of their service in the Afghan government or work alongside Western troops.”

“I think it is still a tragic, heartbreaking and, frankly, disastrous situation. Clearly the Taliban have allowed Al-Qaeda to return. The Islamic State appears very dangerous,” Petraeus said, using an alternative name for the terrorist organization Daesh.

“The economy has collapsed, many of the people are literally starving and the Taliban regime has imposed an ultra-conservative vision of Islam that takes the country back to the 8th or 9th century … and in which women have very little opportunity to contribute to the economy, the business world, even to society.”

He added: “The vast majority of the coalition forces who were carrying out training and assistance in the country until last summer had wanted to stay.”

The Guardian said that intelligence chiefs “previously warned that withdrawing from the country could weaken the ability of the UK and US to gain an accurate picture of terrorist activity on the ground.”

Since the departure of US-led Western troops on Aug. 31 last year and the resultant Taliban takeover, warnings and threats from the West to the group about its actions have been ignored, The Guardian said, and British security agencies have major concerns that it will continue to allow a resurgence of extremist groups, in particular Al-Qaeda “who could exploit a security vacuum.”

Petraeus also said a number of resources had been employed to carry out strikes against individuals who pose a threat, including Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri who was killed by a US drone strike on his hideout in the Afghan capital, Kabul, this month.

Meanwhile, almost 60 percent of journalists in Afghanistan have lost their jobs or fled the country since the Taliban takeover, according to a survey published on Friday by Reporters Without Borders.

The France-based nongovernmental organization said 219 of the nation’s 547 media organizations have shut down in the past year and women are the worst affected, with 76 percent of them losing their jobs. The survey found that only 656 female journalists in the country are still working, the vast majority of them in Kabul, compared with 2,756 a year ago.

“Journalism has been decimated during the past year in Afghanistan,” said Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. “The authorities must undertake to end the violence and harassment inflicted on media workers, and must allow them to do their job unmolested.”

Accusations of immorality are frequently used to remove women working in the media from their posts.

“The living and working conditions of women journalists in Afghanistan have always been difficult, but today we are experiencing an unprecedented situation,” Meena Habib, a journalist in Kabul, told Reporters Without Borders. “They work in conditions that are physically and mentally violent and tiring, without any protection.”

Some media outlets were forced to shut by Taliban rules banning the broadcast of music and other content, while others have been unable to continue without international funding.

In addition, a decree issued last month by Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada warned against “defaming and criticizing government officials without proof.” It was the latest in a series of measures aimed at curbing press freedoms.

At least 80 journalists have been detained for varying lengths of time by Taliban security forces in the past year, including three who are currently imprisoned, Reporters Without Borders said. The organization ranked Afghanistan 156th out of 179 countries in its 2022 press freedom index.

(With additional reporting by AFP)


Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers
Updated 13 August 2022

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers
  • ‘We were forced to do hard labor and if we didn’t, they would hit us,’ one man says
  • Allegations of mistreatment of Afghans in Iran have been on the rise since last year

KABUL: When Mohammad Parwiz was trying to cross from Iran to Turkey in search of a better life, he was caught by Iranian police guards and subjected to forced labor before being deported back to Afghanistan.

Parwiz is just one among hundreds of Afghans trying to cross the Iranian border every day to find employment abroad. He is also one of an increasing number to face abuse in the process.
Iran has for decades hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their war-torn country. The number jumped to 5 million from nearly 4 million last year, according to Iranian Foreign Ministry data, as economic restrictions imposed on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021 triggered unprecedented levels of poverty.
“As embassies closed in August last year, I had no other way but to go to Iran illegally,” Parwiz, a 22-year-old from the northern Baghlan province, told Arab News.
“I stayed in Iran for three months working at my relative’s bakery. My friends and I were caught by a border police patrol close to Turkey’s border.
“We were kept in jail for 12 days where we were forced to do hard labor and if we didn’t, they would hit us. We wouldn’t get proper food during that time. They constantly threatened us that if we come to Iran again, we may get killed. After 12 days of forced labor, humiliation, abuse and torture by Iran’s police, we were sent back to Afghanistan.”
Allegations of mistreatment of Afghans in Iran have been on the rise since last year. Reports include abuse not only by the Iranian police, but also human traffickers.
Ahmad Jalil, a 19-year-old from Laghman province, tried to leave Afghanistan and go via Iran to Turkey, from where he wanted to reach Europe with a group of 15 other teenagers.
“We paid a lot of money to the trafficker here but when we entered Iran through the border in Nimroz province during the night, we were received by another person after walking in the desert for hours,” he said.
The second smuggler asked them for more money.
“The trafficker would abuse us and would beat some of us,” Jalil said. “He even threatened us with death.”
Eventually, Jalil was abandoned and managed to return to Afghanistan on his own.
“We have cases of Afghan migrants being abused, beaten up and even killed,” Sayed Hazratullah Zaeem, a commissioner at Islam Qala, a border town in Herat province, near the Afghanistan–Iran border, told the Afghan media on Thursday.
Abdullah Qayoum, an official of the Department of Refugees and Repatriation in Herat, confirmed the reports of abuse.
“Afghans who want to go there (Iran), some of them are sent back after being tortured,” he said.
In April, videos circulated on social media showing civilians being manhandled by men dressed like Iranian security forces sparked a wave of demonstrations targeting Iranian diplomatic missions in Kabul and Herat, and a diplomatic protest by Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities.
“The border police in Iran are so brutal. For them we are not even humans,” said Mohammad Karim, a recent graduate from Kabul, who tried to cross from Iran to Turkey earlier this year.
He did not manage to reach his destination after he was injured in a car accident as his traffickers tried to evade Iranian police.
“If they saw our vehicle in the desert, they would shoot at us,” he said.


Polio detected in NYC’s sewage, suggesting virus circulating

This 2014 illustration made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts a polio virus particle. (AP
This 2014 illustration made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts a polio virus particle. (AP
Updated 13 August 2022

Polio detected in NYC’s sewage, suggesting virus circulating

This 2014 illustration made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts a polio virus particle. (AP
  • New York City is being forced to confront polio as city health officials are struggling to vaccinate vulnerable populations against monkeypox and adjusting to changing COVID-19 guidelines

NEW YORK: The polio virus has been found in New York City’s wastewater in another sign that the disease, which hadn’t been seen in the US in a decade, is quietly spreading among unvaccinated people, health officials said Friday.
The presence of the poliovirus in the city’s wastewater suggests likely local circulation of the virus, the city and New York state health departments said.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said the detection of poliovirus in wastewater samples in New York City is alarming but not surprising.
“The risk to New Yorkers is real but the defense is so simple — get vaccinated against polio,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a statement. “With polio circulating in our communities there is simply nothing more essential than vaccinating our children to protect them from this virus, and if you’re an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adult, please choose now to get the vaccine. Polio is entirely preventable and its reappearance should be a call to action for all of us.”

FASTFACT

New York City is being forced to confront polio as city health officials are struggling to vaccinate vulnerable populations against monkeypox and adjusting to changing COVID-19 guidelines.

New York City is being forced to confront polio as city health officials are struggling to vaccinate vulnerable populations against monkeypox and adjusting to changing COVID-19 guidelines.
“We are dealing with a trifecta,” Mayor Eric Adams said Friday on CNN. “COVID is still very much here. Polio, we have identified polio in our sewage, and we’re still dealing with the monkeypox crisis. But the team is there. And we’re coordinating and we’re addressing the threats as they come before us, and we’re prepared to deal with them with the assistance of Washington, DC.”
The announcement about the discovery of the polio virus in New York City comes shortly after British health authorities reported finding evidence the virus has spread in London but found no cases in people. Children ages one through nine in London were made eligible for booster doses of a polio vaccine Wednesday.
In New York, one person suffered paralysis weeks ago because of a polio infection in Rockland County, north of the city. Wastewater samples collected in June in both Rockland and adjacent Orange County were found to contain the virus.