Finland amends law to bolster Russia border fence

Finland amends law to bolster Russia border fence
Above, a border guards’ station is pictured just few hundred meters form the Russian border in Vainikkala, southeastern Finland. (AFP)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Finland amends law to bolster Russia border fence

Finland amends law to bolster Russia border fence
  • Finland reversed decades of military non-alignment by seeking membership in NATO in May
  • As it stands, Finland’s borders are secured primarily with light wooden fences

HELSINKI: Finnish parliament passed legislation Thursday to build stronger fences on its border with Russia, as the country seeks to join NATO following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finland reversed decades of military non-alignment by seeking membership in the military alliance in May, formally starting the process to join this week.
Fearing that Moscow could use migrants to exert political pressure, the new amendments to Border Guard Act facilitate the construction of sturdier fences on the Nordic country’s 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) eastern border with Russia.
The aim of the law is to “improve the operational capacity of the border guard in responding to the hybrid threats,” Anne Ihanus, a senior adviser at the interior ministry, said.
“The war in Ukraine has contributed to the urgency of the matter,” she added.
As it stands, Finland’s borders are secured primarily with light wooden fences, mainly designed to stop livestock from wandering to the wrong side.
“What we are aiming to build now is a sturdy fence with a real barrier effect,” Sanna Palo, director of the Finnish border guards’ legal division, said.
“In all likelihood, the fence will not cover the entire eastern border, but will be targeted at locations considered to be the most important,” Palo said.
The new law makes it also possible to close border crossings and concentrate asylum seekers at specific points, in the event of large-scale crossover attempt.
Helsinki also passed amendments to Emergency Powers Act to make the definition of “emergency” better take account of various hybrid threats.


South Korea’s rain-hit capital region reeling from flood damages

South Korea’s rain-hit capital region reeling from flood damages
Updated 6 sec ago

South Korea’s rain-hit capital region reeling from flood damages

South Korea’s rain-hit capital region reeling from flood damages
SEOUL: Cleanup and recovery efforts gained pace in South Korea’s greater capital region Wednesday as skies cleared after two days of record-breaking rainfall that unleashed flash floods, damaged thousands of buildings and roads and killed at least nine people.
While lifting heavy rain warnings for Seoul and the neighboring metropolitan areas, South Korea’s weather agency forecasted 10 to 30 centimeters (4 to 12 inches) of rain in the country’s southern regions through Thursday.
Seven people remain missing in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi Province following the heavy rains that swamped the region Monday and Tuesday, turning streets into car-clogged rivers, sending floods cascading into subway stations, triggering landslides that crashed into roads and buildings, and displacing more than 1,800 people from their homes. The nine people who died included four who drowned in their homes in Seoul.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol during a disaster response meeting Wednesday apologized on behalf of the government over the deaths and disruption caused by the heavy rains. He urged the central government to provide more financial help and personnel assistance to cities and regional governments to speed up recovery efforts.
He also called for significant improvements to the country’s flood management systems, including building more rain tanks and tunnels and improving flood-prediction technologies, citing the growing challenges posed by extreme weather events.
“It’s certainly true that (the rainfall) was abnormal weather, but we have come to a point where we can no longer call abnormal weather abnormal,” Yoon said. “We could see new record levels (of rain) at any time. We need to build our response so that we are ready for a situation that’s worse than we had imagined.”
The Ministry of the Interior and Safety said workers through Wednesday afternoon had finished restoring more than 90 percent of some 2,800 buildings, homes, roads and other facilities in the capital area that had been prioritized in emergency recovery plans.
Nearly 3,000 government workers, including police and fire department personnel, and dozens of excavators and dump trucks have been deployed in the recovery efforts. The military has separately deployed around 1,300 troops, some of whom were seen cleaning debris and salvaging furniture at flooded neighborhoods in southern Seoul.
There were no immediate reports of major damage or casualties in regions south of the capital area, where the weather agency issued heavy rain warnings. Landslide warnings were issued in more than 30 cities and towns across the country,
More than 52 centimeters (20 inches) of rain was measured in Seoul’s hardest-hit Dongjak district from Monday to Wednesday at noon. Precipitation in the area exceeded 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) per hour at one point Monday night — the highest hourly downpour measured in Seoul since 1942.

Russian shelling kills 21 in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region

Russian shelling kills 21 in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region
Updated 4 min 10 sec ago

Russian shelling kills 21 in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region

Russian shelling kills 21 in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region

KYIV: Russian shelling has killed 21 people in Ukraine’s central Dnipropetrovsk region overnight, governor Valentyn Reznychenko said on Wednesday.
Eleven people were killed in the district of Nikopol and 10 in the town of Marganets, he said on the Telegram messaging app.


Japan’s PM shakes up cabinet in ‘damage control’ amid Unification Church furor

Japan’s PM shakes up cabinet in ‘damage control’ amid Unification Church furor
Updated 11 min 33 sec ago

Japan’s PM shakes up cabinet in ‘damage control’ amid Unification Church furor

Japan’s PM shakes up cabinet in ‘damage control’ amid Unification Church furor
  • Government team shake-up comes earlier than analysts had expected
  • Some ministers with links to the Unification Church removed

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, removing some ministers with links to the Unification Church in a bid to stem plunging support amid growing public outrage over the ruling party’s ties to the controversial group.
Kishida, in office since last October, announced his new government team in a shake-up that came earlier than analysts had expected.
While key personnel like foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and finance chief Shunichi Suzuki held on to their posts, some high-profile ministers were removed, including Nobuo Kishi, the younger brother of slain former premier Shinzo Abe, replaced as defense minister by Yasukazu Hamada.
In the month since Abe was gunned down, a spotlight has been turned on the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) long-standing ties to the Unification Church, with polls showing plunging approval ratings for Kishida with respondents citing a need to know just how close those ties might be.
Abe’s suspected killer has said his mother was a Unification Church member bankrupted by donating to it, and blamed Abe for promoting it.
In the latest survey, his support had fallen to 46 percent from 59 percent just three weeks ago, public broadcaster NHK said on Monday, the lowest rating for Kishida since he became prime minister.
“He’s basically doing damage control,” said political commentator Atsuo Ito. “What people are really watching is the Unification Church.”
The religious group itself is set to hold a rare news conference with foreign media late on Wednesday.
In other changes, Koichi Hagiuda, the trade minister, became head of the LDP’s policy research council, a heavyweight job in the party. That appointment is seen as an attempt to appease members of the Abe faction, the party’s biggest, though Hagiuda has publicly acknowledged attending an event held by a Unification Church-related group.


China reaffirms threat of military force to annex Taiwan

China reaffirms threat of military force to annex Taiwan
Updated 31 min 13 sec ago

China reaffirms threat of military force to annex Taiwan

China reaffirms threat of military force to annex Taiwan
  • Beijing seeks ‘peaceful unification’ with Taiwan but ‘does not pledge to relinquish the use of military force and retains all necessary options’

BEIJING: China on Wednesday reaffirmed its threat to use military force to bring self-governing Taiwan under its control, amid threatening Chinese military exercises that have raised tensions between the sides to their highest level in years.
The statement issued by the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office and its news department followed almost a week of missile firings and incursions into Taiwanese waters and airspace by Chinese warships and air force planes.
The actions have disrupted flights and shipping in a region crucial to global supply chains, prompting strong condemnation from the US, Japan and others.
The Chinese statement said Beijing seeks “peaceful unification” with Taiwan but “does not pledge to relinquish the use of military force and retains all necessary options.”
In an additional response, China said it was cutting off dialogue on issues from maritime security to climate change with the US, Taiwan’s chief military and political backer.
China says the threatening moves were prompted by a visit to Taiwan last week by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but Taiwan says such visits are routine and that China used that merely as a pretext to up its threats.
Taiwan’s foreign minister warned Tuesday that the Chinese military drills reflect ambitions to control large swaths of the western Pacific, while Taipei conducted its own exercises to underscore its readiness to defend itself.
Beijing’s strategy would include controlling the East and South China seas via the Taiwan Strait and imposing a blockade to prevent the US and its allies from aiding Taiwan in the event of an attack, Joseph Wu told a news conference in Taipei.
Beijing has extended the ongoing exercises without announcing when they will end.
Taiwan split with the mainland amid civil war in 1949 and the island’s 23 million people overwhelmingly oppose political unification with China, while preferring to maintain close economic links and the status quo of de-facto independence.
Through its maneuvers, China has pushed closer to Taiwan’s borders and may be seeking to establish a new normal in which it could eventually control access to the island’s ports and airspace.
The US, Taipei’s main backer, has also shown itself to be willing to face down China’s threats. Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan in deference to Beijing, but is legally bound to ensure the island can defend itself and to treat all threats against it as matters of grave concern.
That leaves open the question of whether Washington would dispatch forces if China attacked Taiwan. US President Joe Biden has said repeatedly the US is bound to do so — but staff members have quickly walked back those comments.
Beyond the geopolitical risks, an extended crisis in the Taiwan Strait — a significant thoroughfare for global trade — could have major implications for international supply chains at a time when the world is already facing disruptions and uncertainty in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
In particular, Taiwan is a crucial provider of computer chips for the global economy, including China’s high-tech sectors.
In response to the drills, Taiwan has put its forces on alert, but has so far refrained from taking active counter measures.
On Tuesday, its military held live-fire artillery drills in Pingtung County on its southeastern coast.


Biden formalizes US support for Finland, Sweden joining NATO

Biden formalizes US support for Finland, Sweden joining NATO
Updated 10 August 2022

Biden formalizes US support for Finland, Sweden joining NATO

Biden formalizes US support for Finland, Sweden joining NATO
  • The US became the 23rd ally to approve NATO membership for the two countries

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden formally welcomed Finland and Sweden joining the NATO alliance Tuesday as he signed the instruments of ratification that delivered the US’s formal backing of the Nordic nations entering the mutual defense pact, part of a reshaping of the European security posture after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“In seeking to join NATO, Finland and Sweden are making a sacred commitment that an attack against one is an attack against all,” Biden said at the signing as he called the partnership the “indispensable alliance.”

The US became the 23rd ally to approve NATO membership for the two countries. Biden said he spoke with the heads of both nations before signing the ratification and urged the remaining NATO members to finish their own ratification process “as quickly as possible.”

The Senate last week approved the two, once-non-aligned nations joining the alliance in a rare 95-1 vote that Biden said shows the world that “the United States of America can still do big things” with a sense of political unity.

The countries sought out NATO membership earlier this year to guarantee their security in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offensive in Ukraine. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s rules require the consent of all of its 30 existing members before Finland and Sweden can officially accede into the alliance, which is expected in the coming months.

The candidacies of the two prosperous Northern European nations have won ratification from more than half of the NATO member nations in the roughly three months since the two applied. It marks one of the speediest expansions of the pact of mutual defense among the United States and democratic allies in Europe in its 73-year history.

US State and Defense officials consider the two countries net “security providers,” strengthening NATO’s defense posture in the Baltics in particular. Finland is expected to exceed NATO’s 2 percent gross domestic product defense spending target in 2022, and Sweden has committed to meet the 2 percent goal.

Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May, setting aside their longstanding stance of military nonalignment. It was a major shift of security arrangements for the two countries after neighboring Russia launched its war on Ukraine in late February. Biden encouraged their joining and welcomed the two countries’ government heads to the White House in May, standing side by side with them in a display of US backing.

The US and its European allies have rallied with newfound partnership in the face of Putin’s military invasion, as well as the Russian leader’s sweeping statements this year condemning NATO, issuing veiled reminders of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and asserting Russia’s historical claims to territory of many of its neighbors.