China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media

Update China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media
China raged at US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, ripping up series of talks and cooperation agreements with Washington. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 August 2022

China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media

China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media
  • China has deployed fighter jets, warships and ballistic missiles around Taiwan
  • Taiwan resumed flights through its airspace after Chinese military drills

BEIJING: The Chinese military will from now on conduct “regular” drills on the eastern side of the median line of the Taiwan Strait, Chinese state television reported on Sunday, citing a commentator.
The median line in the narrow strait between the island of Taiwan and mainland China is an unofficial line of control that military aircraft and battleships from either side normally do not cross.
The median line has never been legally recognized, and is an “imaginary” line drawn up by the US military for their combat requirements in the previous century, according to the state television commentator.

Earlier, China’s largest-ever military exercises surrounding Taiwan drew to a close on Sunday following a controversial visit last week to the self-ruled island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Beijing has raged at the trip by Pelosi — the second in the line of succession to the US presidency — ripping up a series of talks and cooperation agreements with Washington, most notably on climate change and defense.
It has also deployed fighter jets, warships and ballistic missiles around Taiwan in what analysts have described as practice for a blockade and ultimate invasion of the island.
Those exercises were set to end Sunday, though Beijing has announced fresh drills in the Yellow Sea — located between China and the Korean peninsula — to take place until August 15.
Taiwan’s transport ministry said six of the seven “temporary danger zones” China warned airlines to avoid ceased to be in effect as of noon on Sunday, signalling a drawdown of the drills.
It said the seventh zone, in waters east of Taiwan, would remain in effect until 10:00 am (0300 GMT) local time on Monday.
“Relevant flights and sailings can gradually resume,” the ministry said in a statement.
Taipei said some routes were still being affected in the seventh area, and authorities would continue to monitor ship movements there.
Earlier on Sunday, Beijing conducted “practical joint exercises in the sea and airspace surrounding Taiwan Island as planned,” the Chinese military’s Eastern Command said.
The drills were focused “on testing the joint firepower on the ground and long-range air strike capabilities,” it added.
Taipei’s defense ministry also confirmed that China had dispatched “planes, vessels and drones” around the Taiwan Strait, “simulating attacks on Taiwan’s main island and on ships in our waters.”
Beijing also sent drones over Taiwan’s outlying islands, it added.
In response, the democratic island said it mobilized a “joint intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance system to closely monitor the enemy situation” as well as sending planes and vessels.
China’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment about the expected conclusion of the drills on Sunday.
To show how close China’s forces have been getting to Taiwan’s shores, Beijing’s military released a video of an air force pilot filming the island’s coastline and mountains from his cockpit.
And the Eastern Command of the Chinese army shared a photo it said was taken of a warship patrolling seas near Taiwan with the island’s shoreline visible in the background.
The drills have also seen Beijing fire ballistic missiles over Taiwan’s capital, according to Chinese state media.
Taipei has remained defiant throughout China’s sabre-rattling, insisting it will not be cowed by its “evil neighbor.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry urged Beijing on Saturday to “immediately stop raising tensions and taking provocative actions to intimidate the Taiwanese people.”
But experts have warned the drills reveal an increasingly emboldened Chinese military capable of carrying out a gruelling blockade of the self-ruled island as well as obstructing US forces from coming to its aid.
“In some areas, the PLA might even surpass US capabilities,” Grant Newsham, a researcher at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies and former US Navy officer, told AFP, referring to China’s military by its official name.
“If the battle is confined to the area right around Taiwan, today’s Chinese navy is a dangerous opponent — and if the Americans and Japanese do not intervene for some reason, things would be difficult for Taiwan.”
The scale and intensity of China’s drills — as well as Beijing’s withdrawal from key talks on climate and defense — have triggered outrage in the United States and other democracies.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting with his Philippine counterpart on Saturday, said Washington was “determined to act responsibly” to avoid a major global crisis.
China should not hold talks on issues of global concern such as climate change “hostage,” Blinken said, as it “doesn’t punish the United States, it punishes the world.”
The United Nations has also urged the two superpowers to continue to work together.
“For the secretary-general, there is no way to solve the most pressing problems of all the world without an effective dialogue and cooperation between the two countries,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso
Updated 14 sec ago

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU: At least two soldiers and two civilian auxiliaries died in a “terrorist” attack on a patrol in eastern Burkina Faso, the army said Sunday.

A military unit and VDP volunteer auxiliaries were ambushed on Saturday between Sakoani and Sampieri in Tapoa province, bordering Niger and Benin, an army statement said.

“The fighting unfortunately cost the lives of two soldiers and two VDP,” it added.

However, a security source said the death toll was four soldiers and two volunteers.

A VDP official confirmed two dead from the volunteer ranks with “some still missing.”

Another security source said the militants also suffered losses, without giving a figure for the dead.

Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba seized power in a January coup, ousting Burkina’s elected leader and promising to rein in the militants.

But the violence has raged on in neighboring countries stoked by insurgents affiliated to Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Thousands have died and some two million been displaced by the fighting in landlocked Burkina since 2015.

Separately, Damiba defended his military takeover, though he acknowledged it was “perhaps reprehensible” and inconsistent with the UN’s values.

Damiba said the overthrow of the democratically elected president was “necessary and indispensable.”

“It was, above all, an issue of survival for our nation,” he said. That’s even if it was “perhaps reprehensible in terms of the principles held dear by the United Nations and the international community as a whole.”

Burkina Faso’s coup came in the wake of similar takeovers in Mali and in Guinea, heightening fears of a rollback of democracy in West Africa. None of the juntas has committed to a date for new elections.

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris
Updated 25 September 2022

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris
  • Viral clip showed Muslim students practicing Hindu hymn for Mahatma Gandhi birthday celebrations
  • Hymn is not controversial, BJP leader says

NEW DELHI: Kashmiri communities are raising concerns over alleged attempts to “undermine the Muslim identity” in the valley after a clip showing Muslim students in public schools reciting a Hindu hymn sparked controversy among religious and political leaders in the region.

New Delhi revoked the constitutional semi-autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, its portion of the region contested by India and Pakistan, into two federally governed territories in 2019.

The abrogation of its autonomy, which was followed by a total communications blackout, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, the detention of hundreds of local political leaders and the deployment of thousands of additional troops, has since compounded fears that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to alter the Muslim-majority region.

When Muslim students earlier this month were instructed to recite a Hindu hymn as part of preparations to celebrate the birth of Mahatma Gandhi on Oct. 2, a clip of the activity triggered new concerns among communities in the valley, such as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema Jammu and Kashmir, a collective of 30 religious and educational bodies in the region.

“MMU appeals to the government and concerned authorities to immediately withdraw its orders and stop these practices in schools and educational institutions, which deeply hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims and cause them grief,” they said in a statement.

The collective issued the statement after a meeting was held over the weekend “in the wake of unfortunate attempts being made to undermine the Muslim identity of Kashmir.”

Mohd Ashraf Rather, chief education officer of the region’s Kulgam district, told Arab News on Sunday that the hymn was practiced in school “because it is an all-faith prayer” and had been part of a “one-day activity” ahead of Gandhi’s birthday celebrations.

“This is the same hymn that Mahatma Gandhi used to sing and the prayer invokes both Ishwar (Hindu address to God) and Allah,” Rather said.

The Hindu hymn controversy appears to be part of a “deliberate” plan, said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, who has been held under house arrest since August 2019.

“It is becoming clear that there seems to be a deliberate plan to push our young generation through state-run educational institutions towards apostasy, to wean them away from Islamic beliefs and identity, to speed their so-called ‘integration’ with the Hindu majoritarian idea of India,” Farooq told Arab News.

Though recitations of Hindu hymns are not something new in Kashmir, the questions raised in the valley were triggered by concerns over the intention of the ruling BJP party, the region’s political leader Ghulam Mir of the Apni Party, told Arab News.

“Prayers can be performed in any language but the important thing is to look at the intention. If the intention is an ulterior motive, then anyone can raise an objection,” Mir said.

“Earlier also people used to recite Hindu hymns, but that time (the) intention was different, but the majoritarian politics of the BJP looks like (being) against Muslims — their profile is anti-Muslim so whatever they do, Muslims feel it’s against them.”

Imran Nabi Dar, spokesperson of Kashmir’s oldest political party, National Conference, urged the government to provide an explanation.

“The government needs to come out with clarification. What is the intent behind it?” Dar told Arab News.

“There is a serious attempt to hurt the sentiments of the majority community of Kashmir. There is an attempt to provoke the people,” he added.

Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a senior leader and convenor of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration — a political alliance between several regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir campaigning to restore its special autonomous status — stressed the importance of secular education in Kashmir.

“Any encroachment compromising the secular spirit of the constitution is dangerous,” Tarigami said. “Whatever is happening in Kashmir is part of the program to ‘Hindunize’ education and this will provoke and promote other varieties of extremism.”

Dr. Hina Bhat, a local leader and spokesperson for the BJP based in Srinagar, told Arab News the hymn is not controversial.

“What is controversial about the hymns?” Bhat asked. “They should stop politicizing the issue where kids are not allowed to grow in an open space.”

Kapil Kak, former Indian air marshal and member of the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, said “there should be no changes” in the patterns of prayers and school songs in Kashmir.

“The issue can turn into a potential trouble spot. Kashmiris have been very patient; they have gone through multiple types of assaults on their identity for the last three years but they have borne it.”


Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war
Updated 25 September 2022

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war
  • Despite warnings, crowds of Hasidim dressed in traditional black clothing celebrated in the streets of Uman
  • Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Rabbi Nachman in which he promised he would ‘save (worshippers) from hell’ if they came to visit his tomb

UMAN, Ukraine: Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews gathered in the Ukrainian city of Uman for their annual pilgrimage, officials said Sunday, despite authorities asking them to skip the trip because of the war.
Every year, Hasidic Jewish pilgrims come to Uman from across the world to visit the tomb of one of the main figures of Hasidic judaism for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
The central Ukrainian city of Uman is relatively far from the frontline, but Ukrainian and Israeli authorities urged worshippers to skip the celebrations taking place between September 25 and 27 this year.
But despite the warnings, crowds of Hasidim dressed in traditional black clothing gathered in Uman, celebrating in the streets.
“This is the most important day of the year to be able to connect with God. And this a great place to do it,” one pilgrim, Aaron Allen, told AFP.
Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Rabbi Nachman, the founder of an ultra-Orthodox movement who died in the city in 1810, in which he promised he would “save (worshippers) from hell” if they came to visit his tomb on Rosh Hashana.
“There were sirens, but coming from Israel we are used to sirens, we know what to do. We feel pretty safe,” said Allen, a 48-year-old doctor from Yad Binyamin.
Police set up a wide perimeter to access the area around the grave, checking IDs and only letting through residents and Hasidim.
It was forbidden to sell not only alcohol, fireworks and firecrackers, but even toy guns during the festivities in Uman, regional police spokeswoman Zoya Vovk told AFP.
A curfew between 11 p.m. (20 GMT) and 5 am is also in place.
Despite the restrictions, the shrine housing the tomb was buzzing with celebrations on Sunday.
Pilgrims — only men and boys — were praying, pressed against the white walls and columns of the burial place.
Outside the temple, a simultaneous prayer from hundreds of pilgrims resonated.
Police will not release the exact number of pilgrims until the end of the festivities for fear of attacks from Russia.
“We understand that there is a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and that the enemy is monitoring information,” Zoya Vovk told AFP.
“The only thing I can say is tens of thousands (of pilgrims have already arrived),” she added, however.
The United Jewish Community of Ukraine NGO said that more than 23,000 pilgrims had arrived in Uman.
Uman in central Ukraine has been hit several times by Russian strikes since the invasion began on February 24.

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia
Updated 25 September 2022

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

MOGADISHU: A suicide attack claimed by the Somali extremist militant group Al-Shabab killed at least seven people and injured nine others in Mogadishu on Sunday, the army and eyewitnesses told AFP.
A “desperate terrorist” blew himself up on Sunday morning near a line of new recruits who were enrolling at the Nacnac military base in the south of the Somali capital, local military commander Abdullahi Adan told AFP.
“Seven people were killed and nine others injured,” he said.
“I was close to the site of the explosion, it was huge and I could see dead and injured people,” eyewitness Ahme Gobe told AFP.
Another eyewitness, Asha Omar, spoke of seeing at least 10 people taken away by ambulance.
Al-Shabab, an extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has been waging an insurgency against the Somali state for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Its fighters killed at least 19 civilians in central Somalia earlier this month.
The group carried out a major attack on a Mogadishu hotel in August, leaving 21 people dead and 117 injured following a 30-hour siege.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has faced a resurgent Al-Shabab since his election in May and vowed to wage an “all-out war” against the insurgents.
Mohamud also has to grapple with a looming famine caused by the Horn of Africa nation’s worst drought in 40 years.
Al-Shabab has been driven out of Somalia’s urban centers, including Mogadishu in 2011, but remains entrenched in vast swathes of the countryside.
The US army on Wednesday said it had killed 27 Al-Shabab militiamen in an air strike in central Somalia in support of the country’s regular forces.
President Joe Biden decided to restore a US military presence in Somalia in May to fight the militants, approving a request from the Pentagon, which deemed his predecessor Donald Trump’s rotation system too risky and ineffective.

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones
Updated 25 September 2022

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones
  • The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone

KYIV: Ukraine said Sunday that the southern port city of Odessa was attacked by Iranian-made drones overnight, two days after a Russian attack with such a weapon killed two civilians.
“Odessa was attacked again by enemy kamikaze drones,” said the Ukrainian army’s Operational Command South.
“The enemy hit the administrative building in the city center three times,” it said in a Facebook message.
“One drone was shot down by (Ukrainian) air defense forces. No casualties (were) recorded,” it said.
“These were Iranian drones,” a Ukrainian South Command spokeswoman, Natalya Gumenyuk, later told AFP.
The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa Friday in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone.
Four Iranian-made drones were shot down in the south of the country Friday, according to Ukraine’s armed forces.
Kyiv said later it decided to reduce Iran’s diplomatic presence in Ukraine over its supply of drones to Russia.
“In response to such an unfriendly act, the Ukrainian side decided to deprive the ambassador of Iran in Ukraine of accreditation, as well as to significantly reduce the number of diplomatic personnel of the Iranian embassy in Kyiv,” said Ukraine’s foreign ministry.
A foreign ministry official told AFP that the move amounted to expulsion as the ambassador was not in Ukraine and therefore could not be expelled.
“The use of Iranian-made weapons by Russian troops... are steps taken by Iran against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state, as well as against the life and health of Ukrainian citizens,” a spokesman for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sergii Nykyforov, said on Friday.