Two US Navy warships transit through Taiwan Strait

Two US Navy warships transit through Taiwan Strait
The US Navy is sailing the USS Chancellorsville and the USS Antietam warships through the Taiwan Strait in the first such transit publicized since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. (AP)
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Updated 28 August 2022

Two US Navy warships transit through Taiwan Strait

Two US Navy warships transit through Taiwan Strait
  • The US Navy said the transit “demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
  • Tensions in the Taiwan Strait soared to their highest level after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei

WASHINGTON: Two US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the American navy said, the first such transit since China staged unprecedented military drills around the island.
In a statement, the US Navy said the transit “demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Tensions in the Taiwan Strait soared to their highest level in years this month after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei.
Beijing reacted furiously, staging days of air and sea exercises around Taiwan. Taipei condemned the drills and missile tests as preparation for an invasion.
Taiwan lives under constant threat of an invasion by China, which claims the self-ruled, democratic island as part of its territory to be seized one day — by force if necessary.
Washington diplomatically recognizes Beijing over Taipei, but maintains de facto relations with Taiwan and supports the island’s right to decide its own future.
The US Seventh Fleet said the pair of Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers — the USS Antietam and the USS Chancellorsville — conducted the “routine” transit on Sunday “through waters where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law.”
“These ships transited through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,” a statement said.
“The United States military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows.”
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said the US had “openly hyped up” the ships’ passage through the Strait.
“The PLA Eastern Theatre Command is following and warning the US vessels throughout their entire journey, and is aware of all movements,” spokesman Senior Col. Shi Yi said.
“Troops in the (eastern) theater remain on high alert and are prepared at all times to foil any provocations.”
Taiwan’s defense ministry confirmed a pair of warships sailed from north to south through the channel.
“During their southward journey through the Taiwan Strait, the military is fully monitoring relevant movements in our surrounding sea and airspace, and the situation is normal.”


Indian PM’s party sweeps home state but ‘cakewalk’ unlikely in 2024 national vote

Indian PM’s party sweeps home state but ‘cakewalk’ unlikely in 2024 national vote
Updated 15 sec ago

Indian PM’s party sweeps home state but ‘cakewalk’ unlikely in 2024 national vote

Indian PM’s party sweeps home state but ‘cakewalk’ unlikely in 2024 national vote
  • Narendra Modi’s party won 156 seats in Gujarat’s 182-seat legislature on Thursday
  • National elections are due in 2024 when Modi is widely expected to run for a third term

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s victory in his home state Gujarat has shown a strong performance, but experts said on Friday that the win was not necessarily a trendsetter for the national vote that is less than two years away.

In its best-ever performance in the western state of around 60 million people, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday won 156 seats in Gujarat’s 182-seat legislature, up from 99.

The party has been ruling Gujarat since 1995, and Modi served as its chief minister for 12 years before becoming prime minister in 2014.

He was ruling the state in 2002, when 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in the worst outbreaks of sectarian violence since the country’s independence.

After Thursday’s win, he took to Twitter to thank his voters, saying that he was “overcome with a lot of emotion” by the results.

Indian media have been projecting the victory as a litmus test for the 2024 general elections, when Modi is expected to seek the premiership for a third time.

The state election result was all the more remarkable, given his electorate has been frustrated by rising prices and unemployment.

“It’s a baffling victory in Gujarat given the government’s failure and poor human development index,” Prof. Ajay Gudavarthy of the Center of Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told Arab News.

But the unexpected landslide win is no guarantee of victory in 2024, and the opposition still has time to mobilize.

“There is no cakewalk, and 2024 is still an open game,” Gudavarthy said. “If the opposition brings a robust agenda, you can see the mood of the nation change very fast. India is still an open society.”

Earlier this year, the BJP won big in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, which sends the most members to parliament. But the ruling party lost power to the opposition Congress in Himachal Pradesh, and to the Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi, despite ruling the capital region for the past 15 years.

“There is a lot of discontent among people over the way the Modi government has been ruling the country. There is a problem with governance, unemployment is high and a large section of the population is suffering. In this situation, you cannot expect Modi to come back so easily,” Shashi Shekhar Singh, political science professor at Delhi University, told Arab News.

“The Unify India campaign of the opposition leader Rahul Gandhi is connecting with the masses, and I am sure it will impact the elections in 2024.”

But the opposition’s own fragmentation is what dealt a blow to its mobilization.
Television anchor and senior political commentator Urmilesh saw not only a “lack of unity” but also of a clear agenda among opposition parties.

It is to Modi’s advantage, he said, “if the opposition does not get their act together and channelize their energy to tap the prevalent discontent.”  

 

 


Italian lawmakers slam Iranian oppression against ‘freedom and democracy,’ calls on EU to act

Italian lawmakers slam Iranian oppression against ‘freedom and democracy,’ calls on EU to act
Updated 41 min 4 sec ago

Italian lawmakers slam Iranian oppression against ‘freedom and democracy,’ calls on EU to act

Italian lawmakers slam Iranian oppression against ‘freedom and democracy,’ calls on EU to act

ROME: Italian legislators have strongly condemned repression in Iran and called on the EU to act against “a regime which denies freedom and democracy.”

Members of all political parties from the Chamber of Deputies, along with senators, assembled in the Senate for a conference attended remotely by Maryam Rajavi, president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Sen. Marco Scurria said: “It is a duty of the Italian Parliament to express support to the Iranians who have been courageously demonstrating against the regime which has already killed nearly 700 people, mostly young.

“We do not ask for Iran to become a Western country; we only call for the right of the self-determination of Iranian people.

“They have the right to enjoy their freedom and rights in a state based on the rule of law.”

Scurria added that the Speaker of the Senate Ignazio La Russa “expressed his support for this initiative.”

Sen. Giulio Maria Terzi di Sant’Agata, who chairs the EU Affairs Parliamentary Committee in the Senate, said that the EU and its member states “cannot keep on turning their face away from the tragedy which has been going on in Iran for too long.”

He added: “The EU must act now in a concrete way so that freedom and democracy are guaranteed in Iran.

“We fully support the work of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran.

“Nobody must underestimate the regime’s capacity for violent repression.

“The regime that is responsible for infinite atrocities has killed 30,000 political prisoners. Its alliance with Moscow is even more nefarious.

“The revolt which has taken place following the killing of Mahsa Amini confirms how necessary the reaction of the people and the international community is against a regime which has activated a terrorist network in Europe, supported by its embassies.”

MPs Elisabetta Gardini and Luana Zanella expressed their support for Iranian women “who are paying the highest toll in the repression.”

Zanella added: “In Iran, women are excluded from human rights, and dozens of them are executed every year.

“As they are fighting a very difficult battle there, we have no other option but to be on their side.”

Rajavi said that in the past five years poverty in Iran “has increased threefold and so has the unemployment rate.”

She added: “Why does Europe appear unable to do anything to get rid of this regime?

“Apart from nice declarations, so far the European Union has had a condescending attitude toward the regime. The EU must take concrete action now.”


Brittney Griner back home in US after Russian prisoner swap

Brittney Griner back home in US after Russian prisoner swap
Updated 09 December 2022

Brittney Griner back home in US after Russian prisoner swap

Brittney Griner back home in US after Russian prisoner swap
  • Russia's invasion of Ukraine after her arrest complicated matters further
  • The deal that saw Griner exchanged for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden

SAN ANTONIO, United States: Brittney Griner returned to the United States early Friday, nearly 10 months after the basketball star’s detention in Russia made her the most high-profile American jailed abroad and set off a political firestorm.
Griner’s status and prominence in women’s basketball and her imprisonment heightened concerns for her and brought tremendous attention to the case. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after her arrest complicated matters further.
The deal that saw Griner exchanged for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden. But the US failed to win freedom for another American, Paul Whelan, who has been jailed for nearly four years.
Asked if more such swaps could happen, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that “everything is possible,” noting that “compromises have been found” to clear the way for Thursday’s exchange.
Biden’s authorization to release Bout, the Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” underscored the heightened urgency that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case on drug charges and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix Mercury pro basketball star, was seen getting off a plane that landed Friday at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.
“So happy to have Brittney back on US soil. Welcome home BG!” tweeted Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
The WNBA star, who also played pro basketball in Russia, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil. The US State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” — a charge that Russia has sharply rejected.
Griner pleaded guilty in July but still faced trial because admitting guilt in Russia’s judicial system does not automatically end a case. She was sentenced to nine years.
She acknowledged in court that she possessed canisters with cannabis oil but said she had no criminal intent and accidentally packed them. Her defense team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed Thursday’s swap, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu Dhabi and Bout had been flown home.
Biden spoke by phone with Griner. US officials said she would be offered specialized medical services and counseling.
In releasing Bout, the US freed a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel whom the Justice Department once described as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers. He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the US in 2010.
Bout was serving a 25-year sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that USofficials said were to be used against Americans.


Italy to become ‘energy hub of Europe’ under EU-Tunisian power line plans 

Italy to become ‘energy hub of Europe’ under EU-Tunisian power line plans 
Updated 09 December 2022

Italy to become ‘energy hub of Europe’ under EU-Tunisian power line plans 

Italy to become ‘energy hub of Europe’ under EU-Tunisian power line plans 
  • EU announces $324m in funding for submarine power line
  • Italian PM: New energy corridor will promote energy supply security, increase production from renewable sources

ROME: A 200-km-long underwater power line project connecting Italy and Tunisia to import electricity generated from renewable energy sources will be funded by the EU.

The European Commission announced on Thursday its green light to €307 million ($324 million) of funding for the project, which should cost around €850 million in total.

Terna, the Italian power grid operator that will run the project along with Tunisian company Steg, said that the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security has started the authorization process for the project, which will be partly funded by the Connecting Europe Facility program for the development of key projects to strengthen the union’s energy infrastructures.

“This new submarine power line will allow Italy to become the energy hub of all Europe,” Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, Italian environment minister, told Arab News.

Pichetto explained that his ministry will act quickly “to grant all the necessary authorizations so that the project can be completed as soon as possible.”

He added: “Italy and Europe need energy. Thanks to this power line coming from Africa, we are taking another step to eliminate our dependence on Russia for gas.”

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni praised the EU’s support for the project, which she called a “historic success.”

The new underwater energy corridor between Africa and Europe “will promote energy supply security and increase the production of energy from renewable sources,” Meloni added.


Russian oligarch wins access to second impounded yacht on French Riviera

Russian oligarch wins access to second impounded yacht on French Riviera
Updated 09 December 2022

Russian oligarch wins access to second impounded yacht on French Riviera

Russian oligarch wins access to second impounded yacht on French Riviera
  • Customs agents seized the 17-metre "La Petite Ourse II" on March 21
  • The Rouen appeals court ruled that customs officers had not followed correct procedures when they boarded the vessel yacht

PARIS: A French court on Friday ordered the customs agency to release a second impounded yacht owned by a Russian billionaire hit by European sanctions, citing procedural errors made during its seizure.
Customs agents seized the 17-meter “La Petite Ourse II” on March 21 after its owner, Alexey Kuzmichev, one of the main shareholders of Russia’s Alfa Bank, was sanctioned by the EU for his ties to President Vladimir Putin.
The Rouen appeals court ruled that customs officers had not followed correct procedures when they boarded the vessel, which was moored at Cannes on the Cote d’Azur.
His other yacht, La Petite Ourse, which is moored in nearby Antibes and was also seized in March, was released in October after a similar ruling by the Paris appeals court.
Customs agents in both cases had cited fraud investigations when they presented themselves to shipyard authorities, which under French law permits customs to search a vessel but did not apply in this context.
According to his lawyer, Philippe Blanchetier, Kuzmichev has not used La Petite Ourse since the first ruling in October and wanted to sue the French authorities to win back access to both boats in order to make a point, not to go out to sea.
“We want the respect of the law. We cannot take measures against countries, saying rights are not respected, and then not respect the law (ourselves),” he said.
The ruling underlines the challenges faced by European nations in freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs.
The customs agency did not reply to requests for comment immediately.