US, South Korea open biggest drills in years amid threats from North Korea

US, South Korea open biggest drills in years amid threats from North Korea
South Korean army K-9 self-propelled howitzers take positions in Paju, near the border with North Korea on Aug. 22, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 22 August 2022

US, South Korea open biggest drills in years amid threats from North Korea

US, South Korea open biggest drills in years amid threats from North Korea
  • Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises include field exercises involving aircraft, warships, tanks and potentially tens of thousands of troops
  • North Korea portrays them as invasion rehearsals and has used them to justify its nuclear weapons and missiles development

SEOUL: The United States and South Korea began their biggest combined military training in years Monday as they heighten their defense posture against the growing North Korean nuclear threat.
The drills could draw an angry response from North Korea, which has dialed up its weapons testing activity to a record pace this year while repeatedly threatening conflicts with Seoul and Washington amid a prolonged stalemate in diplomacy.
The Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises will continue through Sept. 1 in South Korea and include field exercises involving aircraft, warships, tanks and potentially tens of thousands of troops.
While Washington and Seoul describe their exercises as defensive, North Korea portrays them as invasion rehearsals and has used them to justify its nuclear weapons and missiles development.
Ulchi Freedom Shield, which started along with a four-day South Korean civil defense training program led by government employees, will reportedly include exercises simulating joint attacks, front-line reinforcements of arms and fuel, and removals of weapons of mass destruction.
The allies will also train for drone attacks and other new developments in warfare shown during Russia’s war on Ukraine and practice joint military-civilian responses to attacks on seaports, airports and major industrial facilities such as semiconductor factories.
The United States and South Korea in past years had canceled some of their regular drills and downsized others to computer simulations to create space for the Trump administration’s diplomacy with North Korea and because of COVID-19 concerns.
Tensions have grown since the collapse of the second meeting between former President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in early 2019. The Americans then rejected North Korean demands for a major release of crippling US-led sanctions in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear complex, which would have amounted to a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear capabilities. Kim has since vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent in face of “gangster-like” US pressure.
South Korea’s military has not revealed the number of South Korean and US troops participating in Ulchi Freedom Shield, but has portrayed the training as a message of strength. Seoul’s Defense Ministry said last week that Ulchi Freedom Shield “normalizes” large-scale training and field exercises between the allies to help bolster their alliance and strengthen their defense posture against the evolving North Korean threat.
Before being shelved or downsized, the United States and South Korea held major joint exercises every spring and summer in South Korea.
The spring drills had included live-fire drills involving a broad range of land, air and sea assets and usually involved around 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops. Tens of thousands of allied troops participated in the summertime drills, which mainly consisted of computer simulations to hone joint decision-making and planning, although South Korea’s military has emphasized the revival of field training this year.
The drills follow North Korea’s dismissal last week of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s “audacious” proposal of economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization steps, accusing Seoul of recycling proposals Pyongyang has long rejected.
Kim Yo Jong, the increasingly powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, described Yoon’s proposal as foolish and stressed that the North has no intentions to give away an arsenal her brother clearly sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
She harshly criticized Yoon for continuing military exercises with the United States and also for letting South Korean civilian activists fly anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty waste” across the border by balloon.
She also ridiculed US-South Korean military capabilities for monitoring the North’s missile activity, insisting that the South misread the launch site of the North’s latest missile tests on Wednesday last week, hours before Yoon used a news conference to urge Pyongyang to return to diplomacy.
Kim Yo Jong’s statement came a week after she warned of “deadly” retaliation against South Korea over a recent North Korean COVID-19 outbreak, which Pyongyang dubiously claims was caused by leaflets and other objects floated by southern activists. There are concerns that the threat portends a provocation which might include a nuclear or missile test or even border skirmishes, and that the North might try to raise tensions sometime around the allied drills.
Last week’s launches of two suspected cruise missiles extended a record pace in North Korean missile testing in 2022, which has involved more than 30 ballistic launches, including the country’s first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years.
North Korea’s heighted testing activity underscores its dual intent to advance its arsenal and force the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power so it can negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.
Kim Jong Un could up the ante soon as there are indications that the North is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear weapon to fit on its ICBMs.


Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss

Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss
Updated 10 sec ago

Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss

Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss

TAIPEI: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party following local election losses on Saturday suffered by
her party.

Voters in Taiwan overwhelmingly chose the opposition Nationalist party in several major races across the self-ruled island in an election in which lingering concerns about threats from China took a backseat to more local issues.

Tsai had spoken out many times about “opposing China and defending Taiwan” in the course of campaigning for her party. But the party’s candidate Chen Shih-chung, who lost his battle for mayor of Taipei, only raised the issue of the Communist Party’s threat a few times before he quickly switched back to local issues as there was little interest, experts said.

Tsai offered her resignation on Saturday evening, a tradition after a major loss, in a short speech in which she also thanked supporters.

“I must shoulder all the responsibility,” she said. “Faced with a result like this, there are many areas that we must deeply review.”

While international observers and the ruling party have attempted to link the elections to the long-term existential threat that is Taiwan’s neighbor, many local experts do not think China — which claims the island as its territory to be annexed by force if necessary — has a large role to play this time around.

“The international community has raised the stakes too high. They’ve raised a local election to this international level, and Taiwan’s survival,” said Yeh-lih Wang, a political science professor at National Taiwan University.

BACKGROUND

While international observers and the ruling party have attempted to link the elections to the long-term existential threat that is Taiwan’s neighbor, many local experts do not think China has a large role to play this time around.

During campaigning, there were few mentions of the large-scale military exercises targeting Taiwan that China held in August in reaction to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

“So I think if you can’t even raise this issue in Taipei,” Wang said. “You don’t even need to consider it in cities in the south.”

Candidates from the Nationalist party won the mayoral seat in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, as well as in Taoyuan, Taichung and New Taipei city.

Taiwanese were picking their mayors, city council members and other local leaders in all 13 counties and in nine cities. There was also a referendum to lower the voting age from 20 to 18, which was defeated, according to local media.

Chiang Wan-an, the new Taipei mayor, declared victory Saturday night in a large rally. “I will let the world see Taipei’s greatness,” he said.

Not all votes had been formally counted by the time of his speech, but Chiang and the other candidates’ numerical lead allowed them to declare victory.

Kao Hung-an, a candidate in the relatively new Taiwan People’s Party, won the mayoral seat in Hsinchu, a city home to many of Taiwan’s semi-conductor companies.

Campaigns had resolutely focused on the local: air pollution in the central city of Taichung, traffic snarls in Taipei’s tech hub Nangang, and the island’s COVID-19 vaccine purchasing strategies, which had left the island in short supply during an outbreak last year.

The defeat for the ruling DPP may be partly due to how it handled the pandemic.


5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance
Updated 26 November 2022

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance
  • Rotherham General Hospital staff said ‘there are no beds and not enough doctors’
  • Uncle: ‘We begged and begged and begged for help. We couldn’t get it’

LONDON: A family in Britain who “begged and begged” for their nephew to be admitted to hospital have told Sky News the boy would still be alive if they had been listened to.
Five-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir died on Nov. 21 after being refused admittance to Rotherham General Hospital as staff said “there are no beds and not enough doctors,” even though the doctor treating him described it as “the worst case of tonsilitis he had ever seen.”
Nazir first complained of a sore throat on Nov. 13, with his GP prescribing antibiotics, but as his condition worsened his parents took him to the Rotherham emergency department.
Nazir’s uncle Zaheer Ahmed told Sky News that the family waited all night to be seen by a doctor, who after examining the child sent him home despite Nazir struggling to breath, being unable to swallow and clearly in a distressed state.
Paramedics were called to the family home, but with the infection having spread to his lungs, he experienced multiple organ failure leading to a series of cardiac arrests that killed him.
Ahmed told Sky News that Nazir “stopped breathing, he stopped talking, when he was choking, he couldn’t breathe. He was struggling. And it’s led to his life being taken at 5 years old.
“If they would have treated him where we wanted him to be treated, he would be here with us now. He would have been here playing like he was.
“We’ve lost a beautiful child … It’s not his fault. We begged and begged and begged for help. We couldn’t get it. We just did not get the help we wanted, or we needed, or we should have got.”
Senior paediatric consultants have warned of unsustainable pressure on emergency children’s services.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “All children deserve the highest levels of care and we are taking urgent action to ensure no families have to experience these kinds of tragedies.
“Last week we announced up to £8 billion ($9.67 billion) for health and social care in 2024/25 and we’re giving an extra £500 million to speed up hospital discharge and free up beds.”


Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles
Updated 26 November 2022

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles
  • Global energy price hike, gas crisis forces fertilizer companies to cut production
  • Country has imported over 1.1m tons from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar this year

DHAKA: Bangladesh is relying more on Middle Eastern countries to meet its demand for urea, a state agency official said, as an ongoing gas crisis tightens local supply and raises concerns about food security in the South Asian nation.

With a population of about 166 million and an agriculture sector making up more than 11 percent of its gross domestic product last year, Bangladesh needs around 2.6 million tons of urea, a fertilizer widely used in food crops.

As local gas fields struggled to meet rising demand amid a global hike in energy prices sparked by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, fertilizer companies in Bangladesh were either shut down or forced to cut their production, leading to a dwindling supply of urea. To resolve the supply gap, the Bangladeshi government has been importing more fertilizer from countries in the Middle East.

“We can say our fertilizer imports from Middle Eastern countries have increased around 15 percent due to the gas supply crisis in the local market,” Kazi Mohammad Saiful Islam, a director at the state-run Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corp., told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

He said more than 1.1 million tons of urea had been imported from three countries — Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar — and there were plans to increase that quantity later this year.

“Considering the present global situation, we have already confirmed the respective countries to buy this additional amount,” Islam said.

He added that Bangladesh normally imported about a quarter of the urea it needs, but since the start of the Ukraine invasion in February, the price per ton had more than doubled.

“Due to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict, the global fertilizer market has turned very volatile,” agricultural economist and researcher Dr. Jahangir Alam told Arab News.

Due to its dwindling reserves of foreign exchange, he said Bangladesh should consider setting up a long-term contract with its foreign suppliers to buy urea “at a cheaper rate” and “pursue the urea purchase on a credit basis.”

Dhaka should also look to boost local fertilizer production, said Alam, who is a former vice chancellor of the University of Global Village in southern Bangladesh.

“Producing urea locally is much cheaper for us. So, the authorities should try to increase the production ability in the country.”


March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London
Updated 26 November 2022

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London
  • British government urged to create safe asylum route for those at risk
  • MP: ‘Those who supported the UK and others over the last two decades have been left behind’

LONDON: Thousands of marchers will descend on London on Sunday to demand that the UK government create a safe asylum route for Afghan women and girls at risk, The Guardian reported on Saturday.
Organized by the campaign group Action for Afghanistan, Sunday’s March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls follows MPs’ demands that Foreign Secretary James Cleverly renew the government’s focus on those left at risk after Britain’s 20-year military endeavor.
“The Afghan relocations and assistance policy isn’t working, and there isn’t a dedicated route for women and girls,” Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain told The Guardian.
“It has been lost in the narrative around Ukraine, but also lost in the narrative around small boats.
“We’ve gotten to the stage where the Afghanistan situation is in the too-difficult basket and those who supported the UK and others over the last two decades have been left behind.”
The appeal follows a clampdown by the Taliban on women’s rights and freedoms, including the banning of girls from secondary school and the banning of women from parks.
Fawzia Koofi, the Afghan Parliament’s first female deputy speaker, said six women communicating with those planning the London march had been arrested in Kabul.
“I think it’s time for the UK to lead a feminist foreign policy, a human rights-centric foreign policy,” she added.
Chamberlain, who coordinated the appeal to Cleverly with an incoming all-party group, has urged the continuation of aid to Afghanistan, a consultation mechanism including Afghan stakeholders, and a dedicated asylum route.
Zehra Zaidi, a lawyer and co-founder of Action for Afghanistan, said a new settlement route would give hope.
Two resettlement schemes launched in 2021, which brought 7,000 eligible Afghans to the UK, came under intense scrutiny for failing to prioritize the most vulnerable, and was described by a House of Commons committee report as a “betrayal of our allies.”
Zaidi said those left behind in Afghanistan after the UK withdrawal “need to know people still care … They need to know that allies like the UK have not completely abandoned them.”
A Foreign Office spokesperson told The Guardian: “We remain committed to using all our diplomatic and development levers to support the Afghan people and protect the rights of women and girls.”
More than 40 civil society organizations are expected to attend the London march alongside Afghan politicians and activists.
Coordinated marches are also set to take place in Washington DC and four Canadian cities, with organizers saying they are expecting to see other countries follow suit after the UN said: “In no other country have women and girls so rapidly disappeared from public life.”


Wales fan dies in Qatar

Wales fan dies in Qatar
Updated 26 November 2022

Wales fan dies in Qatar

Wales fan dies in Qatar
  • Kevin Davies, 62, had not attended the Wales match against Iran after feeling ill
  • He was rushed to Doha Hamad General Hospital after ‘medical incident’ at apartment where he was staying

LONDON: The UK Foreign Office is supporting the family of a Wales fan who died in Qatar on Friday while attending the World Cup, Sky News has reported.
Kevin Davies, 62, from the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire, was rushed to Doha Hamad General Hospital on Friday following what is being described as a “medical incident” at the apartment where he was staying. He had not attended the Wales match against Iran after feeling ill.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said British officials are “supporting the family of a British man who has died in Qatar.”
Noel Mooney, CEO of the Football Association of Wales, tweeted: “So sorry to hear that one of our supporters has passed away here. Our condolences go to the family and of course we are here to support however we can.”
It is believed more than 2,500 Wales supporters have gone to Qatar for the World Cup — Wales’ first since 1958 — which has seen them draw with the US and lose to Iran.