UN chief warns world is one step from ‘nuclear annihilation’

UN chief warns world is one step from ‘nuclear annihilation’
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UN Secretary-General António Guterres speaks during the 2022 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the UN on August 1, 2022. (AFP)
UN chief warns world is one step from ‘nuclear annihilation’
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Iran's delegates look at each other while US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken addresses the 2022 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference on Aug. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
UN chief warns world is one step from ‘nuclear annihilation’
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UN chief warns world is one step from ‘nuclear annihilation’
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Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken makes remarks after addressing the 2022 NPT review conference at the United Nations Hon Aug. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
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Updated 01 August 2022

UN chief warns world is one step from ‘nuclear annihilation’

UN chief warns world is one step from ‘nuclear annihilation’
  • Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave the dire warning at the opening of the high-level meeting to review the landmark 50-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the warning, citing the "nuclear saber-rattling" of Russia, Iran and North Korea as reckless and dangerous

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations chief warned the world Monday that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” citing the war in Ukraine, nuclear threats in Asia and the Middle East and many other factors.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave the dire warning at the opening of the long-delayed high-level meeting to review the landmark 50-year-old treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and eventually achieving a nuclear-free world.
The danger of increasing nuclear threats and a nuclear catastrophe was also raised by the United States, Japan, Germany, the UN nuclear chief and many other opening speakers at the meeting to review progress and agree to future steps to implement the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, known as the NPT.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test, Iran “has either been unwilling or unable” to accept a deal to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at reining in its nuclear program, and Russia is “engaged in reckless, dangerous nuclear saber-rattling” in Ukraine.
He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning after its Feb. 24 invasion that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen,” emphasizing that his country is “one of the most potent nuclear powers.”
This is contrary to assurances given to Ukraine of its sovereignty and independence when in gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in 1994, Blinken said, and sends “the worst possible message” to any country thinking it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself and deter aggression.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said divisions in the world since the last review conference in 2015, which ended without a consensus document, have become greater, stressing that Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war has contributed “to worldwide concern that yet another catastrophe by nuclear weapon use is a real possibility.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock accused Russia of “brutally violating the assurances” it gave Ukraine in 1994 and said Moscow’s “reckless nuclear rhetoric” since its invasion of its smaller neighbor “is putting at risk everything the NPT has achieved in five decades.”
Most recently, Blinken said Russia seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya and is using it as a military base to fire at Ukrainians, “knowing that they can’t and won’t shoot back because they might accidentally strike a nuclear reactor or highly radioactive waste in storage.” He said this brings the notion of having “a human shield to an entirely different and horrific level.”
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi said the Ukraine conflict is “so grave that the specter of a potential nuclear confrontation, or accident, has raised its terrifying head again.”
He warned that at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant “the situation is becoming more perilous by the day,” and he urged all countries to help make possible his visit to the plant with a team of IAEA safety and security experts, saying his efforts for the past two months have been unsuccessful.
Guterres told many ministers, officials and diplomats gathered in the General Assembly Hall that the month-long review conference is taking place “at a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War.”
The conference is “an opportunity to hammer out the measures that will help avoid certain disaster, and to put humanity on a new path toward a world free of nuclear weapons,” the secretary-general said.
But Guterres warned that “geopolitical weapons are reaching new highs,” almost 13,000 nuclear weapons are in arsenals around the world, and countries seeking “false security” are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on “doomsday weapons.”
“All this at a time when the risks of proliferation are growing and guardrails to prevent escalation are weakening,” he said, “And when crises — with nuclear undertones — are festering from the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and to many other factors around the world.”
Guterres called on conference participants to take several actions: urgently reinforce and reaffirm “the 77-year-old norm against the use of nuclear weapons,” work relentlessly toward eliminating nuclear weapons with new commitments to reduce arsenals, address “the simmering tensions in the Middle Est and Asia” and promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
“Future generations are counting on your commitment to step back from the abyss,” he implored the ministers and diplomats. “This is our moment to meet this fundamental test and lift the cloud of nuclear annihilation once and for all.”
Japan’s Kishida, recalling his home city of Hiroshima where the first atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945, echoed many of Guterres’ points saying the path to a world without nuclear weapons has become harder but “giving up is not an option.”
In force since 1970, the Nonproliferation Treaty known as the NPT has the widest adherence of any arms control agreement, with some 191 countries that are members.
Under its provisions, the five original nuclear powers — the United States, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain and France — agreed to negotiate toward eliminating their arsenals someday and nations without nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them in exchange for a guarantee to be able to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
India and Pakistan, which didn’t join the NPT, went on to get the bomb. So did North Korea, which ratified the pact but later announced it was withdrawing. Non-signatory Israel is believed to have a nuclear arsenal but neither confirms nor denies it. Nonetheless, the treaty has been credited with limiting the number of nuclear newcomers (US President John F. Kennedy once foresaw as many as 20 nuclear-armed nations) as a framework for international cooperation on disarmament.
The meeting, which ends Aug. 26, aims to generate a consensus on next steps, but expectations are low for a substantial — if any — agreement. There were 133 speakers as of Monday, plus dozens of side events.
The NPT’s five-year review was supposed to take place in 2020, when the world already faced plenty of crisis, but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patricia Lewis, former director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research who is now in charge of international security programs at the international affairs think tank Chatham House in London, said “President Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons have shocked the international community.”
Russia is not only an NPT signatory but a depository for treaty ratifications and in January it joined the four other nuclear powers in reiterating the statement by former US President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought,” she told The Associated Press.
Lewis said countries participating in the review conference will have a difficult decision to make.
To support the treaty and what it stands for, “governments will have to address Russia’s behavior and threats,” she said. “On the other hand, to do so risks dividing the treaty members — some of whom have been persuaded by Russia’s propaganda or at least are not as concerned, for example, as the NATO states.”
And “Russia no doubt will strenuously object to being named in statements and any outcome documents,” Lewis said.


On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art
Updated 9 sec ago

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art
  • Bangladeshi cartoonist Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy engaged refugees in drawing mural
  • He asked kids in Bhasan Char to picture their lives, fears, dreams

DHAKA: When Sona Maher’s family escaped a military crackdown in Myanmar, they arrived in Bangladesh with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, and the images of blood and destruction she is still trying to forget.

The 14-year-old is one of more than 1 million Muslim Rohingya who in 2017 fled persecution, rape, and death at the hands of the Myanmar army.

Most of them found safety in neighboring Bangladesh, of which a southeastern part has since become the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Initially settled in the squalid camps of Cox’s Bazar, Meher’s family last year joined a group of nearly 30,000 Rohingya who Bangladeshi authorities have relocated to Bhasan Char, a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.

Before and when the relocation started, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and rights groups criticized the project on the grounds of safety and Bhasan Char’s livability, as it is prone to severe weather and flooding. But it is also where Maher and other children found solace — in art.

“I witnessed the atrocities by the Myanmar military in my neighborhood in Rakhine. Houses were burnt down, people were killed brutally all around me,” she told Arab News.

“I remember those horrific days and sometimes try to show those incidents in my drawings. I forget the pain when I see the colors of my drawings. It inspires me to hope for a new life, new dreams. I want to get rid of those horrible memories. Life is better now.”

Maher took part in an art project run by Bangladeshi cartoonist Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy and the UNHCR, and art education NGO Artolution, who asked Rohingya children to picture their lives, fears, and dreams in a huge wall painting.

It took eight days, 50 participants, and long hours of consultation to complete the 50-meter-long mural last month.

“It was not just another pretty picture on the wall. We wanted to offer mental healing through art therapy with the engagement of the community,” Tanmoy told Arab News.

“Initially we experienced some reluctance … At this point, we started the paintings with brushes and colors. A few Rohingyas came forward to watch the process.”

Soon, they too began to paint.

A dominant motif appearing in their drawings was a boat.

“Most of the Rohingyas came up with the idea of drawing boats,” Tanmoy said. “They hold their dreams of returning to their homeland, and of a journey toward a better future.”

For those who participated in the project, such as 17-year-old Anowar Sadek, expressing themselves through art came with some sense of solace.

“Whenever I hold the painting materials, it helps me forget the agonies I witnessed earlier in Rakhine,” he said. “The paintings give me much comfort and pleasure.”

But both the children and art educators know that the comfort will be only temporary as long as they remain without a place that they can call home. And isolation in Bhasan Char also adds to their distress.

“My heart filled with joy when I painted the wall with colors … I want to continue painting throughout my life,” Roksana Akter, a 12-year-old who joined the mural project, said.

“But I have many friends and relatives in Cox’s Bazar. I didn’t see them for a long time. It’s the saddest part of my life at this moment.”


Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials
Updated 1 min 43 sec ago

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials
  • Border service: ‘An overall air raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters’

Air raid alerts were issued across all of Ukraine on Thursday following warnings by Ukrainian officials that Russia was preparing a new wave of missile and drone strikes.
“An overall air raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters,” country’s border service wrote on Telegram messaging app.


Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli govt, ex-diplomats say

Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli govt, ex-diplomats say
Updated 42 min 24 sec ago

Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli govt, ex-diplomats say

Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli govt, ex-diplomats say
  • Washington Post op-ed calls for ‘unprecedented’ action to curb annexation of West Bank, support two-state solution
  • Daniel Kurtzer, Aaron David Miller warn US: ‘Have no dealings with Ben-Gvir, Smotrich’

LONDON: US President Joe Biden has been urged by two former diplomats to halt arms shipments to Israel if the weapons are used in an offensive capacity against Palestinians.

Describing the incoming administration of Benjamin Netanyahu as “the most extreme government in the history of the state,” Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel, and Aaron David Miller, a US Middle East peace negotiator, wrote in the Washington Post that Biden should take the “unprecedented and controversial” decision to reconsider Washington’s military support for Israel.

They warned that Netanyahu’s government could seek to annex or “change the status of the West Bank,” and “build infrastructure for settlers that is designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution,” adding: “Israel should be told that, while the US will continue to support its ally’s legitimate security requirements, it will not provide offensive weapons or other assistance for malign Israeli actions in Jerusalem or the occupied territories.”

The pair also wrote that Biden should end Washington’s protection of Israel in international diplomatic forums, such as the UN Security Council, where it regularly vetoes motions that criticize Israel.

They said this break with protocol was justified as Netanyahu had “brought to life the radical, racist, misogynistic and homophobic far-right parties” to form his coalition, including Itamar Ben-Gvir as national security minister, whom they described as a “convicted inciter of hatred and violence” who will have “far-reaching authority for the West Bank, Jerusalem and mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel proper” as part of his remit.

The elevation of Bezalel Smotrich to a potential role overseeing the Civil Administration was also criticized given that he “has called for the expulsion of Arabs” and will have a say in the running of the West Bank.

“Biden should also make it clear to Israel that his administration will have no dealings with Ben-Gvir, Smotrich or their ministries if they continue to espouse racist policies and actions,” Kurtzer and Miller said.

“For a US president to put pressure on a democratically elected Israeli government would be unprecedented and controversial. But Israel has never before embarked on such a dangerous course. Political will matters, and this is a moment for Biden to show American strength and resolve.”

Ben-Gvir’s presence in the government has drawn widespread criticism at home and abroad, with outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warning that the US-armed Israeli border police could be used as a “private army” in the occupied territories.

The Washington Post article added that the White House should not focus solely on Israel, adding that the administration need to apply pressure the Palestinians to “curb violence and terrorism,” and pave the way to holding open and fair elections.


China eases some COVID-19 controls

China eases some COVID-19 controls
Updated 01 December 2022

China eases some COVID-19 controls

China eases some COVID-19 controls
  • Major cities are easing testing requirements and controls on movement
  • With a heavy police presence, there is no indication of protests

BEIJING: More Chinese cities eased some anti-virus restrictions as police patrolled their streets to head off protests Thursday while the ruling Communist Party prepared for the high-profile funeral of late leader Jiang Zemin.
Guangzhou in the south, Shijiazhuang in the north, Chengdu in the southwest and other major cities announced they were easing testing requirements and controls on movement. In some areas, markets and bus service reopened.
The announcements didn’t mention last weekend’s protests in Shanghai, Beijing and at least six other cities against the human cost of anti-virus restrictions that confine millions of people to their homes. But the timing and publicity suggested President Xi Jinping’s government was trying to mollify public anger after some protesters made the politically explosive demand that Xi resign.
With a heavy police presence, there was no indication of protests. Notes on social media complained that people were being stopped at random for police to check smartphones, possibly looking for prohibited apps such as Twitter, in what they said was a violation of China’s Constitution.
“I am especially afraid of becoming the ‘Xinjiang model’ and being searched on the excuse of walking around,” said a posting signed Qi Xiaojin on the popular Sina Weibo platform, referring to the northwestern region where Uyghur and other Muslim minorities are under intense surveillance.
Protesters have used Twitter and other foreign social media to publicize protests while the Communist Party deletes videos and photos from services within China.
On Thursday, the government reported 36,061 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, including 31,911 without symptoms.
Meanwhile, Beijing was preparing for the funeral of Jiang, who was ruling party leader until 2002 and president until the following year. The party announced he died Wednesday in Shanghai of leukemia and multiple organ failure.
No foreign dignitaries will be invited in line with Chinese tradition, the party announced. It has yet to set a date for the funeral or announce how it might be affected by anti-virus controls.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the disruption of its “zero COVID-19” strategy by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But it says it will stick to restrictions that have repeatedly shut down schools and businesses and suspended access to neighborhoods.
The protests began Friday after at least 10 people were killed in a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi in Xinjiang. That prompted questions about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus for public frustration.
The government says it is making restrictions more targeted and flexible, but a spike in infections since October has prompted local officials who are threatened with the loss of their jobs if an outbreak occurs to impose controls that some residents say are excessive and destructive.


Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs

Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs
Updated 01 December 2022

Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs

Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs
  • An “envelope with pyrotechnic material” addressed to Sanchez was received on Nov. 24
  • The device was “similar” to subsequent packages sent to Ukrainian embassy, a Spanish arms firm and air force base

MADRID: Spain has stepped up security at public and diplomatic buildings after a spate of letter-bombs were sent to targets including the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the Ukrainian embassy, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.
The ministry said that an “envelope with pyrotechnic material” addressed to Sanchez was received on Nov. 24 and disarmed by his security team.
The device was “similar” to subsequent packages received by the Ukrainian embassy and a Spanish arms firm on Wednesday, it said, and a device intercepted at Spain’s Torrejon de Ardoz air force base in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The first letter-bomb was received and opened by a security officer at the Ukrainian embassy on Wednesday lunchtime and exploded, causing minor injuries to the official.
Ambassador Serhii Pohoreltsev told the Ukrainian news site European Pravda that the suspicious package addressed to him was handed to the embassy’s Ukrainian commandant.
“The package contained a box, which raised the commandant’s suspicions and he decided to take it outside – with no one in the vicinity – and open it,” Pohoreltsev was quoted as saying.
“After opening the box and hearing a click that followed, he tossed it and then heard the explosion...Despite not holding the box at the time of the explosion, the commandant hurt his hands and received a concussion.”
EU SATELLITE CENTRE ALSO TARGETED
After the first incident, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ordered all of Kyiv’s embassies abroad to “urgently” strengthen security and urged Spain to investigate the attack, a Ukrainian ministry spokesperson said.
A second package was confirmed to have been received on Wednesday night at the headquarters of Spanish weapons manufacturer, Instalaza in Zaragoza, in northeastern Spain, police said.
Instalaza manufactures the C90 rocket launcher that Spain has supplied to Ukraine.
Spanish security forces found a third suspected explosive device hidden in an envelope mailed to a European Union satellite center located at an air force base in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, the defense ministry said.
After scanning the envelope by X-ray, air force security officers determined it contained “a mechanism,” the ministry statement said.
The satellite center supports the EU’s common foreign and security policy by gathering information from space intelligence devices, according to its website. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell described such systems as “the eyes of Europe” in September.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that another device had been sent to Spain’s Ministry of Defense in Madrid, but this has not yet been confirmed by the authorities.
Spain’s High Court, which specializes in terrorism offenses, has opened a probe into the attack.