Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island

Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island
Ukrainian service members install a national flag on Snake Island in this handout picture released July 7, 2022. (Press service of the Ukrainian Armed Forces via Reuters)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island

Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island
  • Russian forces withdrew from Snake Island in the Black Sea on June 30

Russia’s defense ministry said on Thursday that a Russian warplane struck Ukraine’s Snake Island in the Black Sea overnight, shortly after Ukrainian troops claimed to have raised their flag over the island.
Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian President’s chief of staff, posted a video on Telegram on Thursday of three soldiers raising a large Ukrainian flag on the island, from which Russian forces withdrew on June 30.


Myanmar court convicts ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi in more corruption cases

Myanmar court convicts ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi in more corruption cases
Updated 8 sec ago

Myanmar court convicts ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi in more corruption cases

Myanmar court convicts ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi in more corruption cases
BANGKOK: A Myanmar court has convicted ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi in more corruption cases, adding six years to her prison sentence.

‘Day of conquest’ as Taliban mark first year in power

‘Day of conquest’ as Taliban mark first year in power
Updated 13 min 43 sec ago

‘Day of conquest’ as Taliban mark first year in power

‘Day of conquest’ as Taliban mark first year in power
  • Taliban fighters expressed happiness that their movement was now in power
  • For many ordinary Afghans, however, the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships

KABUL: Taliban fighters chanted victory slogans next to the US embassy in Kabul on Monday as they marked the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan following a turbulent year that saw women’s rights crushed and a humanitarian crisis worsen.
Exactly a year ago, the hard-line Islamists captured Kabul after a nationwide lightning offensive against government forces just as US-led troops were ending two decades of intervention in a conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives.
“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered the capital on August 15 last year just hours after then-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
“It’s the day of victory and happiness for the Afghan Muslims and people. It is the day of conquest and victory of the white flag,” government spokesman Bilal Karimi said on Twitter.
The chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces continued until August 31, with tens of thousands of people rushing to Kabul’s airport hoping to be evacuated on any flight out of Afghanistan.
Images of crowds storming the airport, climbing atop aircraft — and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway — aired on news bulletins around the world.
Authorities have so far not announced any official celebration to mark the anniversary, but state television said it would have a special program later on Monday to mark the event.
Many Taliban fighters gathered in Kabul’s central Massoud Square, where they displayed the regime’s white banners and performed a traditional dance, some holding weapons and others taking pictures on their mobile phones.
“We all are happy that we are celebrating our independence in front of the US embassy,” Aminullah Sufi Omar said.
Taliban fighters expressed happiness that their movement was now in power — even as aid agencies say that half the country’s 38 million people face extreme poverty.
“The time when we entered Kabul, and when the Americans left, those were moments of joy,” said Hekmat, now a member of the special forces guarding the presidential palace.
For many ordinary Afghans, however, the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships — especially for women.
Initially, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have been imposed on women to comply with the movement’s austere vision of Islam.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
And in May, they were ordered to fully cover up in public, including their faces, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
“From the day they have come, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul.
“Everything has been snatched from us, they have even entered our personal space,” she added.
Taliban fighters on Saturday dispersed a rare women’s rights rally by firing gun shots into the air and beating some protesters.
“Our call for justice was silenced with gunfire, but today we are pleading from inside our home,” Munisa Mubariz said on Monday.
She was among about 30 women who gathered at an undisclosed location to stage an indoor protest.
The women, who mostly had their faces uncovered, posted photographs online of themselves holding banners, including one that read: “Afghanistan’s history is tarnished with the closure of girls’ schools.”
While Afghans acknowledge a decline in violence since the Taliban seized power, the humanitarian crisis has left many helpless.
“People coming to our shops are complaining so much of high prices that we shopkeepers have started hating ourselves,” said Noor Mohammad, a shopkeeper from Kandahar, the de facto power center of the Taliban.
The country is in economic crisis, with its overseas assets frozen by Washington and aid curtailed in order to keep funds out of the Taliban’s hands.
No country has officially recognized the new government.
“All those powers who came here have lost here, but today we want good relations with everybody,” said fighter Hazi Mubariz.
For Taliban fighters the joy of victory overshadows the current economic crisis.
“We might be poor, we might be facing hardships, but the white flag of Islam will now fly high forever in Afghanistan,” said a fighter guarding a public park in Kabul.


French academic back in Iran prison after 5-day leave: supporters

French academic back in Iran prison after 5-day leave: supporters
Updated 32 min 26 sec ago

French academic back in Iran prison after 5-day leave: supporters

French academic back in Iran prison after 5-day leave: supporters
  • Fariba Adelkhah was earlier allowed to leave Tehran’s Evin prison for five days
  • Her temporary release comes at crucial time of nuclear program talks

PARIS: A French-Iranian academic held in Iran for the past three years in a case that has raised tensions between Tehran and Paris has returned to prison after a brief furlough, her supporters said.
Fariba Adelkhah was last week allowed to leave Tehran’s Evin prison for five days.
Hopes that the measure may be extended were not fulfilled, her support group said in a statement published late Sunday.
“Unfortunately, Fariba’s five-day leave was not extended, or transformed into house arrest,” it said. “It gave her a break, but it’s still bad news.”
Activists say that at least 20 foreign and dual nationals are being held by Tehran on baseless charges, in a deliberate policy of hostage diplomacy aimed at extracting concessions from the West.
Adelkhah’s temporary release comes at a crucial time in the negotiations between world powers and Iran over the Iranian nuclear program, with Tehran studying a final proposal from the EU aimed at salvaging a 2015 deal.
It is relatively common for prisoners in Iran to be allowed brief leave for time at home with families before returning to jail.
A specialist in Shiite Islam and a research director at Sciences Po university in Paris, Adelkhah was arrested in June 2019 along with her French colleague and partner Roland Marchal.
Adelkhah was sentenced in May 2020 to five years in prison for conspiring against national security, accusations her supporters say are absurd.
Marchal was released in March 2020 and Adelkhah was allowed home in Tehran in October 2020 with an electronic bracelet. But she was then sent back to prison in January 2022.
Iran last month allowed German-Iranian woman Nahid Taghavi, who was arrested in October 2020, a medical furlough to get treatment for back and neck problems.
Three other French nationals are also being held by Iran.
Benjamin Briere, who according to his family is simply a tourist, was arrested in May 2020 after taking pictures in a national park with a recreational drone and sentenced to eight years in prison on spying charges.
Meanwhile, French teachers’ union official Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris were arrested in early May on security-related charges, Tehran has said.
Iran insists the foreigners are given fair trials but their families claim they are being held as pawns in a political game.


Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government
Updated 15 August 2022

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government
  • Recently inaugurated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr aims to slash the poverty rate to 9 percent by the end of his single six-year term in 2028

MANILA: About 2.3 million people in the Philippines were pushed into poverty between 2018 and 2021, largely due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the statistics agency said on Monday.
The number of people living in poverty in 2021 rose to a total of almost 20 million or 18.1 percent of the population from 16.7 percent in 2018, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said, overshooting the government’s target of 15.5 percent-17.5 percent.
Recently inaugurated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr aims to slash the poverty rate to 9 percent by the end of his single six-year term in 2028 — a target that remains achievable despite soaring inflation, according to Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.
He said the government’s strategy will focus on fully reopening the economy, investing in human capital and social protection, and transforming production sectors to generate more and quality jobs and competitive products.
“We can reduce poverty incidence by 5 percentage points at midterm, and another 4 percentage points by 2028,” Balisacan told a media briefing.
The PSA — which defines poverty as including those Filipinos whose per capita income cannot sufficiently meet individual basic food and non-food needs — releases these statistics every three years.
Balisacan said that before the pandemic, in 2018, the country had achieved its goal of lifting 6 million Filipinos out of poverty, four years ahead of a 2022 target.
But COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and a long-running issue of poor households having limited access to regular and productive jobs had plunged many Filipinos back into difficulty, he said.


China conducts fresh drills around Taiwan as US lawmakers visit

China conducts fresh drills around Taiwan as US lawmakers visit
Updated 15 August 2022

China conducts fresh drills around Taiwan as US lawmakers visit

China conducts fresh drills around Taiwan as US lawmakers visit
  • Beijing calls drills a ‘deterrent’ against Washington and Taipei

BEIJING: China said Monday it had organized fresh military drills around Taiwan, as a delegation of visiting United States lawmakers met the island’s leader after a similar trip by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi heightened fears of conflict.

The unannounced two-day trip came after Beijing sent warships, missiles and jets into the waters and skies around Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy that China’s leaders claim and have vowed to one day seize.

The five-member congressional delegation — led by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts — met with President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday, according to Washington’s de facto embassy.

“The delegation had an opportunity to exchange views with Taiwan counterparts on a wide range of issues of importance to both the United States and Taiwan,” it said.

The bipartisan trip sparked a caustic response from Beijing, which said it had carried out “combat readiness patrol and combat drills in the sea and airspace around Taiwan island” on Monday.

“This is a solemn deterrent against the US and Taiwan for continuing to play political tricks and undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Shi Yi, spokesman for the Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command, said in a statement, promising to “resolutely defend national sovereignty.”

Taiwan’s government has accused Beijing of using Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to kickstart drills that would allow it to rehearse for an invasion.

China’s Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan but says it will use force if necessary to take the island and bristles at any perceived treatment of it as a sovereign nation state.

In response to the delegation’s visit, Beijing called on Washington to “stop going further down the wrong path of hollowing out and distorting the one-China principle, so as not to cause further damage to China-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

“China will take firm and forceful measures to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing.

That decades-old threat was reiterated in a white paper published last week when China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said it would “not renounce the use of force” against its neighbor and reserved “the option of taking all necessary measures.”

It added, however: “We will only be forced to take drastic measures to respond to the provocation of separatist elements or external forces should they ever cross our red lines.”

Taipei has remained defiant throughout the standoff with Beijing, with foreign minister Joseph Wu saying after a meeting with the delegation that their visit showed the island had not been cowed by China’s threats.

“Authoritarian China can’t dictate how democratic Taiwan makes friends, wins support, stays resilient and shines like a beacon of freedom,” Wu said in a tweet.

“Their visit once again demonstrates that China cannot dictate nor instruct other countries’ politicians not to visit Taiwan,” Lo Chih-cheng, a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said.

Pelosi has stood by her visit but President Joe Biden said the US military was opposed to the trip by his fellow Democrat, who is second in line to the presidency after the vice president.

Congress is constitutionally an equal branch of government in the United States, with lawmakers free to travel where they wish, and Taiwan enjoys bipartisan backing in divided Washington.

The United States switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. But it remains a key ally of Taiwan and maintains de facto diplomatic relations with Taipei.

Washington’s official policy opposes both Taiwan declaring independence and China forcibly changing the island’s status.

It remains deliberately ambiguous about whether it would come to Taiwan’s aid militarily if China invaded.

Visits by senior US officials to Taiwan have happened for decades and even Pelosi’s trip was not without precedent — then-speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich visited in 1997.

But the frequency and profile of US visits has increased both under former president Donald Trump and Biden.

Taiwan has also seen a flurry of delegations visit from Europe and other Western allies in recent years, partly in response to Beijing’s more aggressive stance under Chinese President Xi Jinping.