Expanding NATO squares up to Russia as Putin slams ‘imperial’ alliance

Expanding NATO squares up to Russia as Putin slams ‘imperial’ alliance
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan with Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, Sweden's PM Magdalena Andersson and NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg at Madrid's NATO Summit. (REUTERS)
Short Url
Updated 30 June 2022

Expanding NATO squares up to Russia as Putin slams ‘imperial’ alliance

Expanding NATO squares up to Russia as Putin slams ‘imperial’ alliance
  • Finland and Sweden formally invited to join alliance
  • US announces new deployments of troops, ships and planes

MADRID: The United States vowed Wednesday to reinforce Europe’s defenses in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as NATO declared Moscow the West’s greatest threat — prompting Vladimir Putin to lash out at the alliance’s “imperial ambitions.”
Meeting in Madrid, NATO leaders said Russia “is the most significant and direct threat to allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.”
This came as NATO welcomed Sweden and Finland as invitees to join the alliance, and US President Joe Biden announced new deployments of US troops, ships and planes.
Biden boasted that the US move was exactly what Putin “didn’t want” — and Moscow, facing fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces equipped with Western arms, reacted with predictable fury.
Putin accused the alliance of seeking to assert its “supremacy,” telling journalists in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat that Ukraine and its people are “a means” for NATO to “defend their own interests.”
“The NATO countries’ leaders wish to... assert their supremacy, their imperial ambitions,” the Russian president added.

NATO leaders have funnelled billions of dollars of arms to Ukraine and faced a renewed appeal from President Volodymyr Zelensky for more long-range artillery.
“Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said, announcing a new NATO strategic overview that focuses on the Moscow threat.
The document, updated for the first time since 2010, warned that the alliance “cannot discount the possibility” of an attack on its members.
“Today in Madrid, NATO proved it can take difficult but essential decisions. We welcome a clear-eyed stance on Russia, as well as the accession for Finland and Sweden,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
Sweden and Finland, which abandoned decades of military non-alignment in response to the invasion to seek NATO membership, were officially invited in Wednesday.
Putin dismissed the move as “no problem.”
“We don’t have problems with Sweden and Finland like we do with Ukraine ... They can join whatever they want,” he said in Ashgabat.
In Ukraine, officials said that Russian missiles had hit civilian housing and businesses in and around the cities of Dnipro, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv, leaving at least seven dead and 14 wounded.
The Russian defense ministry said the Kharkiv attack had hit Ukrainian command centers and a training base for foreign “mercenaries.”
And it said it had inflicted severe casualties on Ukrainian troops defending the town of Lysychansk in Lugansk, one of the two provinces that make up the large eastern Donbas region.
The frequency of the shelling there is “enormous,” the regional governor of Lugansk, Sergiy Gaiday, said in televised comments Wednesday, adding that the evacuation of some 15,000 civilians still in the city “might be dangerous at the moment.”
Lugansk and Donetsk, also in the Donbas, are breakaway states that have escaped Kyiv’s control since 2014.
Moscow recognized their independence in February — and on Wednesday Russia’s ally Syria became the only other nation to do so.
The move prompted Zelensky to immediately break off ties with Damascus. “There will no longer be relations between Ukraine and Syria,” he said in a video posted on Telegram.
In Kremenchuk, the town where a Russian missile on Monday destroyed a shopping center and killed at least 18 civilians, clearing operations continued.
A giant crane was working near the site of impact, and in the rubble-strewn parking area shopping trolleys piled with clothes and household goods lay abandoned.
Western leaders have dubbed the Kremenchuk strike a war crime. Russia says it hit a depot storing Western arms, and Putin on Wednesday denied Moscow’s forces were responsible for the strike on the shopping center.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said that 144 of their soldiers, most of them former defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port city of Mariupol, had been freed in a prisoner swap with Moscow.Moscow’s invasion triggered massive economic sanctions and a wave of support for Zelensky’s government, including deliveries of advanced weapons, as well as the reinforcement of Europe’s defenses.
Washington has announced that it will shift the headquarters of its 5th Army Corps to Poland.
An army brigade will rotate in and out of Romania, two squadrons of F-35 fighters will deploy to Britain, US air defense systems will be sent to Germany and Italy, and the fleet of US Navy destroyers in Spain will grow from four to six.
“That’s exactly what he didn’t want but exactly what needs to be done to guarantee security for Europe,” Biden said, of Putin’s efforts to roll back Western influence and re-establish influence or control over territories of the former Russian empire.
Britain also pledged another $1.2 billion in military aid for Ukraine on Wednesday, including air defense systems and drones.
And Norway said it would donate three multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine, following similar decisions made by Britain, Germany and the United States.
Meanwhile, Indonesian President Joko Widodo became the first Asian leader to visit Kyiv since Russia invaded on February 24.
Zelensky said he had accepted an invitation to attend the upcoming G20 summit in Bali, depending “on the security situation” — and on the guest list.
It is not clear whether Putin will be invited in November, with some capitals pushing for his exclusion.


UK, Pakistan reach deal over criminal deportations

UK, Pakistan reach deal over criminal deportations
Updated 13 sec ago

UK, Pakistan reach deal over criminal deportations

UK, Pakistan reach deal over criminal deportations
  • Reciprocal agreement to expedite return of offenders from both countries

LONDON: The UK has signed a deal with Pakistan to expedite the deportation of criminals and rejected asylum seekers, The Times reported on Thursday.
Home Secretary Priti Patel pushed for the reciprocal deal, which encourages both countries to accept the return of deported criminals, including those who violate immigration law.
The UK has struggled in the past in dealing with the Pakistani government on matters related to criminal deportations. Among foreign criminals in Britain, Pakistanis make up the seventh-largest nationality.
The deal with the South Asian country follows similar agreements with Serbia, Nigeria, Albania and India.
Patel reportedly has plans to create a performance table of countries based on their willingness to cooperate over the return of foreign criminals from Britain.
The table aims to ease the burden on the UK immigration system, with “uncooperative” countries set to face increased bureaucracy and costs for travelers entering Britain.


Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights

Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights
Updated 18 August 2022

Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights

Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights
  • Over 150 countries voted in favor of the UN Global Compact on Migration with the exception of five countries
  • Saudi Arabia has signed 23 agreements with labor-exporting countries, the contents of which conform to international standards

DUBAI: Philippine migrant workers secretary Susan Ople has cited Saudi Arabia’s commitment to support migrant workers’ rights, as she announced stricter measures to protect the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), particularly domestic workers.

The official, in a statement highlighted Saudi Arabia’s “public expression of support for the UN Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which declares that the protection of migrants and migrant workers is a shared responsibility among States.”

“Even countries where the sponsorship or ‘Kafala system’ is in place have signed this UN document, signifying their support to sound migration governance and humane treatment of migrant workers, including those in vulnerable occupations such as domestic work,” Ople said in her statement.

Over 150 countries voted in favor of the UN Global Compact on Migration with the exception of five countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Poland and the United States.

Sattam Alharbi, Deputy Minister of Human Resource and Social Development, in an earlier UN forum in New York, reiterated the robust partnership between the Philippines, as the labor-sending country, and Saudi Arabia, a country of migrant labor destination.

Saudi Arabia has signed 23 agreements with labor-exporting countries, the contents of which are per international standards, to ensure a partnership based on the promotion of human rights between employees and employers.

In 2021, about 1.6 million overseas Filipinos comprised Saudi Arabia’s 13.49 million expatriate population. Saudi Arabia is the leading destination for OFWs, making about 26.6 percent of those being deployed.

“Safeguarding the rights and welfare of our migrant workers is at the heart of the DMW’s programs, services, and agreements. We will always strive to do our best amid so many challenges in the world we live in,” Ople said.

Some of the initiatives to be put in place to ensure protection of OFWs include the performance review and assessment of licensed recruitment agencies and their foreign counterparts, the issuance of country-specific employment contracts taking, stricter guidelines to only qualified and fully trained household workers are deployed abroad and white-listing of ethical recruitment agencies and foreign recruitment agencies.

Meanwhile, the names of foreign employers and recruitment agencies, both local and foreign, that have been blacklisted due to recruitment and labor violations would be published as a warning to the public.


Death toll from Kabul mosque blast now at 21

Death toll from Kabul mosque blast now at 21
Updated 18 August 2022

Death toll from Kabul mosque blast now at 21

Death toll from Kabul mosque blast now at 21
  • No immediate claim of responsibility for the attack
  • Several children were reported to be among the wounded

KABUL: A bombing at a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul during evening prayers killed at least 21 people, including a prominent cleric, and wounded at least 33 others, eyewitnesses and police said Thursday.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack Wednesday night, the latest to strike the country in the year since the Taliban seized power. Several children were reported to be among the wounded.

The Daesh group’s local affiliate has stepped up attacks targeting the Taliban and civilians since the former insurgents’ takeover last August as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their withdrawal from the country. Last week, the extremists claimed responsibility for killing a prominent Taliban cleric at his religious center in Kabul.

Khalid Zadran, the spokesman for Kabul’s Taliban police chief, gave the figures for the bombing at the Siddiquiya mosque in the city’s Kher Khanna neighborhood. An eyewitness said the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber.

The slain cleric was Mullah Amir Mohammad Kabuli, the eyewitness said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the explosion and vowed that the “perpetrators of such crimes will soon be brought to justice and will be punished.”

There were fears the casualty numbers could rise further. On Thursday morning, one witness to the blast who gave his name as Qyaamuddin said he believed as many as 25 people may have been killed in the blast.

“It was evening prayer time, and I was attending the prayer with others, when the explosion happened,” Qyaamuddin said. Some Afghans go by a single name.

AP journalists could see the blue-roofed, Sunni mosque from a nearby hillside. The Taliban parked police trucks and other vehicles at the mosque, while several men carried out one casket for a victim of the attack.

A US-led invasion toppled the previous Taliban government, which had hosted Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Since regaining power, the former insurgents have faced a crippling economic crisis as the international community, which does not recognize the Taliban government, froze funding to the country. On Thursday, the Taliban hosted a gathering of 3,000 tribal elders, religious scholars and others in Kandahar, their state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported. It wasn’t immediately clear what topics they planned to discuss.

Separately, the Taliban confirmed on Wednesday that they had captured and killed Mehdi Mujahid in western Herat province as he was trying to cross the border into Iran.

Mujahid was a former Taliban commander in the district of Balkhab in northern Sar-e-Pul province, and the only member of the minority Shiite Hazara community among the Taliban ranks.

Mujahid had turned against the Taliban over the past year, after opposing decisions made by Taliban leaders in Kabul.


Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no

Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no
Updated 18 August 2022

Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no

Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no
  • Defense lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik says he made an error of judgment in accepting the case
  • Najib is seeking to overturn his jail sentence for corruption in a high-stakes legal gambit 

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Malaysia’s top court on Thursday began hearing ex-leader Najib Razak’s appeal to overturn his jail sentence for corruption in a high-stakes legal gambit that could see him locked up or potentially launching a political comeback.
The Federal Court on Tuesday dismissed the former prime minister’s plea for a retrial, clearing the way for the hearings, which will be held until August 26.
But as the hearing started, defense lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, surprised the court by telling the panel of five judges that he wanted to be discharged from the case.
“I would like to start by tendering the following apology from the bottom of my heart. I am unable to proceed with this appeal,” Hisyam said.
“It was an error of my judgment when I accepted the case,” he said.
The court had earlier dismissed Hisyam’s request for three to four months to prepare.
Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat told the lawyer that he cannot just discharge himself and called for a break.
“You still want to discharge yourself and leave your client unrepresented? In our mind, you cannot discharge yourself. You have to carry on,” the chief justice said.
Najib, 69, and his ruling party were roundly defeated in 2018 elections following allegations of their involvement in a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB.
He and his associates were accused of stealing billions of dollars from the country’s investment vehicle and spending it on everything from high-end real estate to pricey art.
Following a lengthy High Court trial, Najib was found guilty of abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust over the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from a former 1MDB unit to his personal bank account.
He was sentenced to 12 years in jail in July 2020, and an appellate court last December rejected his appeal, prompting him to mount a final plea before the Federal Court.
Najib had been hoping the court would grant a full retrial but that request was unanimously rejected on Tuesday.
Dressed in a dark suit and white mask, Najib arrived in court Thursday and waved to around 70 supporters, who shouted “bossku,” meaning “my boss,” which has turned into a rallying cry among his defenders.
If the conviction is upheld, Najib will begin serving his jail sentence immediately, lawyers said.
An acquittal, however, could propel him into contention for his former political post, as he remains popular in Malaysia despite the scandal that plagued his administration.
He remains an elected member of parliament with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the leading party in the current government.


UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation
Updated 18 August 2022

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation
  • Bangladesh PM presses organization to move forward with plans
  • Scheme has failed to launch despite repeat pleas from Dhaka

DHAKA: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that the repatriation of more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh is not yet possible due to the situation in Myanmar.

Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it has hosted and provided humanitarian support to the Rohingya Muslims who fled neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.

Most of the refugees live in dozens of cramped settlements in Cox’s Bazar District, a coastal region in the country’s southeast. Hosting the refugees costs Bangladesh about $1.2 billion per year.

Bachelet arrived in Bangladesh on Sunday for a four-day working visit — her first to the South Asian country.

Despite multiple attempts from Bangladesh in past years to advance a UN-backed repatriation process, the organization has yet to move forward with a plan.

“The conditions are not right,” Bachelet told reporters. “Repatriation must always be conducted in a voluntary and dignified manner, only when safe and sustainable conditions exist in Myanmar.”

The UN human rights chief spoke after meeting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who said that the Rohingya must go back home to Myanmar.

Hasina’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim told reporters that during the meeting, the prime minister had pushed for the repatriation process to finally begin.

“The Rohingyas are the nationals of Myanmar, and they have to be taken back,” he quoted Hasina as saying.

With the arrival of the Rohingya, Cox’s Bazar became the world’s largest refugee settlement. Few employment opportunities are available, sanitation is poor and access to education limited.

“The presence of Rohingyas in Bangladesh has created a number of security concerns for Bangladesh,” Prof. Delawar Hossain of the International Relations Department at the University of Dhaka, told Arab News.

Security in the camps came back into focus earlier this month when two refugee community leaders were shot dead, reportedly by an insurgent group active in the Cox’s Bazar camps that has been accused of killing scores of opponents.

Reports of criminal organizations using refugees as drug traffickers have also been on the rise.

International financial support for Bangladesh’s hosting of the Rohingya has fallen since 2020, multiplying the challenges the developing country battered by the COVID-19 pandemic is already facing.  

“Any community with a number of 1.3 million people definitely is a pressure on the economy and society,” Hossain said, adding that a return to Myanmar is an “urgent need” for the Rohingya as only then will they be able to start to live normal lives.

He said: “We should do everything possible so that the repatriation starts, because this is the only solution that we have for the Rohingya crisis.”