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.


UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
Updated 10 sec ago

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
  • New 2-tier system being considered to reduce country’s 150,000-person backlog
  • Syrian, Afghan applications have 98% success rate in UK: Home Office

LONDON: The UK is to establish a two-tier asylum system to speed up claims from people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, in plans set to be announced next week.

The country faces a significant backlog of 150,000 applications driven in part by mass migration of people from places such as Albania, which is considered a safe country. 

A huge number of people have taken to crossing the English Channel illegally in small boats to reach the UK, which has placed enormous burden on the state’s ability to house and support asylum-seekers.

The UK Home Office says by the end of the year it expects at least 50,000 people to have arrived in the country to claim asylum. 

Its figures also show that around 98 percent of applications from people fleeing Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, 87 percent from people from Sudan and 82 percent of Iranians — who make up around a third of the backlogged asylum claims in total — end up being approved.

Under the proposals, those from the likes of Afghanistan and Syria will now be prioritized and their processes streamlined, removing things such as follow-up interviews after initial approval, and security and identity checks. 

It is thought that this will allow more deserving refugees to start their lives in the UK, as it will allow them to find work and their own accommodation.

Applications from Albanians, meanwhile, will also be dealt with quicker, with a deal to be struck between London and Tirana to expedite the process of deporting those whose applications are denied.

One source told The Times that the new scheme is being overseen directly by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has “completely taken control of the policy” from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who had previously gone on record to say speeding up application processes based on nationality “wouldn’t be the right way to go.”

The source said: “He’s got teams of Home Office officials working directly to him, and Suella has been sidelined.”

A Home Office source told The Times that the department is looking at “focusing resources on very high grant rate cases.”


Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
Updated 24 min 4 sec ago

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
  • Catering course gave Ismet Shehu chance to serve late monarch during Diamond Jubilee celebrations
  • ‘Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?’

LONDON: An Albanian who traveled to Britain hidden in a truck has told the Daily Mail that he served lunch to the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Ismet Shehu, now 32, made the dangerous journey aged 17 after traveling to Italy and then France, where in Lille he entered the back of a truck heading for Britain.

Shehu entered the construction and hospitality industries after arriving in the UK, working low-wage jobs before signing up to a university course teaching high-end catering in London.

That course, as part of its training program, offered a small group of students — including Shehu — the opportunity to serve lunch to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Now back in Tirana, the Albanian capital, Shehu has used his experience in hospitality to open a range of successful restaurants.

He told the Mail: “Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?

“It was such an honor for me to do that and all just a couple of years after getting into the country hiding in the back of a lorry. It was the most frightening experience of my life.”


Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport
Updated 03 December 2022

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport
  • Slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs

BEIJING: Local Chinese authorities on Saturday announced a further easing of COVID-19 curbs, with major cities such as Shenzhen and Beijing no longer requiring negative tests to take public transport.
The slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs, and follows weekend protests across the country by residents frustrated by the rigid enforcement of anti-virus restrictions that are now entering their fourth year, even as the rest of the world has opened up.
The southern technological manufacturing center of Shenzhen said Saturday that commuters no longer need to show a negative COVID-19 test result to use public transport or when entering pharmacies, parks and tourist attractions.
Meanwhile, the capital Beijing said Friday that negative test results are also no longer required for public transport from Dec. 5. However, a negative result obtained within the past 48 hours is still required to enter venues like shopping malls, which have gradually reopened with many restaurants and eateries providing takeout services.
The requirement has led to complaints from some Beijing residents that even though the city has shut many testing stations, most public venues still require COVID-19 tests.
The government reported 33,018 domestic infections found in the past 24 hours, including 29,085 with no symptoms.
As the rest of the world has learned to live with the virus, China remains the only major nation still sticking to a “zero-COVID” strategy which aims to isolate every infected person. The policy, which has been in place since the pandemic started, led to snap lockdowns and mass-testing across the country.
China still imposes mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers to the country, even as its infection numbers are low compared to its 1.4 billion population.
The recent demonstrations, the largest and most widely spread in decades, erupted Nov. 25 after a fire in an apartment building in the northwestern city of Urumqi killed at least 10 people.
That set off angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus of public frustration.
The country saw several days of protests across various cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, with protesters demanding an easing of COVID-19 curbs. Some demanded Chinese President Xi Jinping step down, an extraordinary show of public dissent in a society over which the ruling Communist Party exercises near total control.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the cost and disruption of controls but says it will stick with “zero-COVID.” Health experts and economists expect it to stay in place at least until mid-2023 and possibly into 2024 while millions of older people are vaccinated in preparation for lifting controls that keep most visitors out of China.
While the government has conceded some mistakes, blamed mainly on overzealous officials, criticism of government policies can result in punishment. Former NBA star Jeremy Lin, who plays for a Chinese team, was recently fined 10,000 yuan ($1,400) for criticizing conditions in team quarantine facilities, according to local media reports.
On Friday, World Health Organization emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan said that the UN agency was “pleased” to see China loosening some of its coronavirus restrictions, saying “it’s really important that governments listen to their people when the people are in pain.”


Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says
Updated 03 December 2022

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says
  • Capture of the town would have limited operational value
  • But it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk

Russia is likely planning to encircle the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut with tactical advances to the north and south, Britain’s defense ministry said on Saturday.
The capture of the town would have limited operational value but it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the ministry added in a daily intelligence update.
“There is a realistic possibility that Bakhmut’s capture has become primarily a symbolic, political objective for Russia,” the ministry said in the update posted on Twitter.


UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences
Updated 03 December 2022

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences
  • Military-installed government using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition
  • At least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s military-installed government has sentenced more critics to death, bringing the total to 139, and is using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition, the UN high commissioner for human rights said Friday.
High Commissioner Volker Turk said at least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday, and there are reports that as many as four more youth activists were sentenced on Thursday.
“The military continues to hold proceedings in secretive courts in violation of basic principles of fair trial and contrary to core judicial guarantees of independence and impartiality,” Turk said in a statement. “Military courts have consistently failed to uphold any degree of transparency contrary to the most basic due process or fair trial guarantees.”
The military seized power in February last year, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The army’s action was met with widespread peaceful protests that were quashed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that some UN experts have characterized as civil war.
Turk said the military-installed government has arrested nearly 16,500 people for opposing the army takeover, including about 1,700 who have been convicted in secret courts without access to lawyers.
The Students’ Union of Dagon University in Yangon, the country’s largest city, announced Thursday on its Facebook page that seven university students between the ages of 18 and 24 who were arrested on April 21 had been sentenced to death Wednesday by a military court in Yangon’s Insein Prison.
An executive member of the Dagon University Students’ Union told The Associated Press that the seven were accused of links to an urban guerrilla group opposed to military rule and convicted of murder for allegedly taking part in shooting a bank branch manager in April.
In late July, the government hanged four political activists, in the country’s first executions in at least three decades.
The hangings prompted condemnations from Western nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has sought to defuse the crisis with a five-point plan that the military government has failed to implement.
“By resorting to use death sentences as a political tool to crush opposition, the military confirms its disdain for the efforts by ASEAN and the international community at large to end violence and create the conditions for a political dialogue to lead Myanmar out of a human rights crisis created by the military,” Turk said.