Chinese coast guard seizes rocket debris from Filipino navy

Chinese coast guard seizes rocket debris from Filipino navy
Philippine Coast Guard personnel carry debris with markings of a Chinese rocket that was launched on July 24, after it was found in waters in the central Philippines on Aug. 2022. (AP file)
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Updated 21 November 2022

Chinese coast guard seizes rocket debris from Filipino navy

Chinese coast guard seizes rocket debris from Filipino navy
  • It’s the latest flare-up in long-seething territorial disputes in the strategic waterway, involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan

MANILA, Philippines: The Chinese coast guard forcibly seized floating debris the Philippine navy was towing to its island in another confrontation in the disputed South China Sea, a Philippine military commander said Monday. The debris appeared to be from a Chinese rocket launch.
The Chinese vessel twice blocked the Philippine naval boat before seizing the debris it was towing Sunday off Philippine-occupied Thitu Island, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said Monday. He said no one was injured in the incident.
It’s the latest flare-up in long-seething territorial disputes in the strategic waterway, involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Chinese coast guard ships have blocked Philippine supply boats delivering supplies to Filipino forces in the disputed waters in the past, but seizing objects in the possession of another nation’s military constituted a more brazen act.
Carlos said the Filipino sailors, using a long-range camera on Thitu island, spotted the debris drifting in strong waves near a sandbar about 800 yards (540 meters) away. They set out on a boat and retrieved the floating object and started to tow it back to their island using a rope tied to their boat.
As the Filipino sailors were moving back to their island, “they noticed that China coast guard vessel with bow number 5203 was approaching their location and subsequently blocked their pre-plotted course twice,” Carlos said in a statement.
The Chinese coast guard vessel then deployed an inflatable boat with personnel who “forcefully retrieved said floating object by cutting the towing line attached to the” Filipino sailors’ rubber boat. The Filipino sailors decided to return to their island, Carlos said, without detailing what happened.
Maj. Cherryl Tindog, spokesperson of the military’s Western Command, said the floating metal object appeared similar to a number of other pieces of Chinese rocket debris recently found in Philippine waters. She added the Filipino sailors did not fight the seizure.
“We practice maximum tolerance in such a situation,” Tindog told reporters. “Since it involved an unidentified object and not a matter of life and death, our team just decided to return.”
Metal debris from Chinese rocket launches, some showing a part of what appears to be Chinese flag, have been found in Philippine waters in at least three other instances. Such discovery of Chinese rocket debris has opened China to criticism.
Rockets launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on China’s Hainan island in recent months have carried construction materials and supplies for China’s crewed space station.
The Philippine government has filed a large number of diplomatic protests in recent years against China over such aggressive actions in the South China Sea but it did not immediately say what action it would take following Sunday’s incident. The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila would usually wait for an official investigation report before lodging a protest.
Thitu island, which Filipinos call Pag-asa, hosts a fishing community and Filipino forces and lies near Subi, one of seven disputed reefs in the offshore region that China has turned into missile-protected islands, including three with runways, which US security officials say now resemble military forward bases.
The Philippines and other smaller claimant nations in the disputed region, backed by the United States and other Western countries, have strongly protested and raised alarm over China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the busy waterway.
US Vice President Kamala Harris, who is visiting Manila, is scheduled to fly to the western province of Palawan, which faces the South China Sea, on Tuesday to underscore American support to the Philippines and renew US commitment to defend its longtime treaty ally if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under attack in the disputed waters.


EU officials hold Kyiv talks in show of support for Ukraine

EU officials hold Kyiv talks in show of support for Ukraine
Updated 58 min 46 sec ago

EU officials hold Kyiv talks in show of support for Ukraine

EU officials hold Kyiv talks in show of support for Ukraine
  • U assistance for Ukraine has reached almost 50 billion euros since the fighting started, according to EU officials
  • Ukraine wants to join the 27-nation bloc, though that could take years

KYIV: Top European Union officials were due to meet Friday in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a show of support for the country as it battles to counter Russia’s invasion and strives to join the EU as well as NATO.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, as well as 15 European commissioners, traveled to the Ukrainian capital for what they described as a summit meeting.
The last such summit was held in Kyiv in October 2021 — a few months before the war started.
EU assistance for Ukraine has reached almost 50 billion euros ($55 billion) since the fighting started, according to EU officials.
The EU is providing Ukraine with financial and humanitarian aid, among other things. It also plans to adopt a 10th package of sanctions again Russia in the coming weeks.
Ukraine wants to join the 27-nation bloc, though that could take years and require the adoption of far-reaching reforms. In the meantime, von der Leyen said Thursday that the European Commission is willing to let Kyiv join what she called some “key European programs” that will bring benefits similar to membership.
Those programs were due to be discussed in Friday’s meeting, which will also address one of the main obstacles to Ukraine’s EU membership: endemic corruption.
Von der Leyen, on her fourth visit to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion, said Thursday she was “comforted” by Ukraine’s anti-corruption drive.
The previous day, Zelensky had taken aim at corrupt officials for the second time in the space of a week. Several high-ranking officials were dismissed.
Zelensky was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform in a country long gripped by graft.
The latest corruption allegations came as Western allies channel billions of dollars to help Kyiv fight Moscow’s forces.
Ukraine’s government is keen to get more Western military aid, on top of the tanks pledged last week, as the warring sides are expected to launch new offensives once winter ends. Kyiv is now asking for fighter jets.
The USis expected to announce Friday it will send longer-range bombs to Ukraine as part of a new $2.17 billion aid package.


8 migrants found dead on ship off Lampedusa coast — Italian media

8 migrants found dead on ship off Lampedusa coast — Italian media
Updated 03 February 2023

8 migrants found dead on ship off Lampedusa coast — Italian media

8 migrants found dead on ship off Lampedusa coast — Italian media
  • Italian authorities escorted another three stricken vessels carrying 156 people to Lampedusa
  • Italy is facing a surge in arrivals from North Africa

ROME: At least eight migrants were found dead and around 40 were rescued by the Italian coast guard overnight on a ship off the coast of the island of Lampedusa, Italian media reported on Friday.
The rescuers took the survivors to the main port on Lampedusa, which lies to the south of Sicily, news agency ANSA said.
Italian authorities escorted another three stricken vessels carrying 156 people to Lampedusa, one of the main entry points for people trying to reach Europe.
Italy is facing a surge in arrivals from North Africa.
Some 105,140 migrants reached Italy by sea in 2022, interior ministry data showed, compared with 67,477 in 2021 and 34,154 in 2020.
The United Nations estimates that almost 1,400 migrants died while trying to cross the central Mediterranean in 2022.


Taliban detain Afghan educator who spoke out on women’s school ban

Taliban detain Afghan educator who spoke out on women’s school ban
Updated 03 February 2023

Taliban detain Afghan educator who spoke out on women’s school ban

Taliban detain Afghan educator who spoke out on women’s school ban
  • Ismail Mashal caused a storm by tearing his degree certificates to shreds on TV
  • Domestic channels showed Mashal carting books around Kabul and offering them to passers-by

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities have “beaten and detained” an academic who voiced outrage on live television against their ban on women’s university education, his aide said Friday.
Veteran journalism lecturer Ismail Mashal caused a storm by tearing his degree certificates to shreds on TV in December, protesting the edict ending women’s higher education.
In recent days, domestic channels showed Mashal carting books around Kabul and offering them to passers-by.
“Mashal was mercilessly beaten and taken away in a very disrespectful manner by members of the Islamic Emirate,” Mashal’s aide Farid Ahmad Fazli told AFP, referring to the Taliban government.
A Taliban official confirmed the detention.
“Teacher Mashal had indulged in provocative actions against the system for some time,” tweeted Abdul Haq Hammad, director at the Ministry of Information and Culture.
“The security agencies took him for investigation.”
Mashal — a lecturer for more than a decade at three Kabul universities — was detained on Thursday despite having “committed no crime,” Fazli said.
“He was giving free books to sisters (women) and men,” he added. “He is still in detention and we don’t know where he is being held.”
Footage of Mashal destroying his certificates on private channel TOLOnews went viral on social media.
In deeply conservative and patriarchal Afghanistan it is rare to see a man protest in support of women but Mashal, who ran a co-educational institute, said he would stand up for women’s rights.
“As a man and as a teacher, I was unable to do anything else for them, and I felt that my certificates had become useless. So, I tore them,” he told AFP at the time.
“I’m raising my voice. I’m standing with my sisters... My protest will continue even if it costs my life.”
A small group of male students also held a brief walkout protesting the ban.
The Taliban promised a softer regime when they returned to power in August 2021 but they have instead imposed harsh restrictions on women — effectively squeezing them out of public life.
In December, the authorities ordered all aid groups to stop their women employees coming to work. They have since granted an exemption to the health sector, allowing females to return to employment there.
Secondary schools for girls have also been closed for over a year, while many women have lost jobs in government sectors.
They have also been barred from going to parks, gyms and public baths.


Pentagon: Chinese spy balloon spotted over Western US

Pentagon: Chinese spy balloon spotted over Western US
Updated 03 February 2023

Pentagon: Chinese spy balloon spotted over Western US

Pentagon: Chinese spy balloon spotted over Western US
  • Discovery of balloon puts further strain on US-China relations
  • Official said US has “very high confidence” it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon flying over sensitive sites to collect information

WASHINGTON: The US is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over US airspace for a couple days, but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down over concerns of hurting people on the ground, officials said Thursday. The discovery of the balloon puts a further strain on US-China relations at a time of heightened tensions.
A senior defense official told Pentagon reporters that the US has “very high confidence” it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon and it was flying over sensitive sites to collect information. One of the places the balloon was spotted was Montana, which is home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, provided a brief statement on the issue, saying the government continues to track the balloon. He said it is “currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
He said similar balloon activity has been seen in the past several years. He added that the US took steps to ensure it did not collect sensitive information.
A senior administration official, who was also not authorized to publicly discuss sensitive information, said President Joe Biden was briefed and asked the military to present options. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advised against taking “kinetic action” because of risks to the safety of people on the ground. Biden accepted that recommendation.
The defense official said the US has “engaged” Chinese officials through multiple channels and communicated the seriousness of the matter.
The incident comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken was supposed to make his first trip to Beijing, expected this weekend, to try to find some common ground. Although the trip has not been formally announced, both Beijing and Washington have been talking about his imminent arrival.
It was not immediately clear if the discovery of the balloon would impact Blinken’s travel plans.

China said Friday it was looking into the claims the object was a Chinese spy satellite flying in U.S. airspace and urged calm.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning also said she had no information about US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's planned trip.

“China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international laws, and China has no intention to violate the territory and airspace of any sovereign countries. As for the balloon, as I’ve mentioned just now, we are looking into and verifying the situation and hope that both sides can handle this together calmly and carefully,” Mao said at a daily briefing.

Mao said that politicians and the public should withhold judgment “before we have a clear understanding of the facts.”

Blinken would arrive amid a sharp downturn in relations between Beijing and Washington over trade, Taiwan, human rights and China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

“What I want to emphasize is that before we have a clear understanding of the facts, speculation and sensationalizing will be unhelpful to the proper handling of the issue. As for Blinken’s visit to China, I have no information,” Mao said.

The senior US defense official said the US did get fighter jets, including F-22s, ready to shoot down the balloon if ordered to by the White House. The Pentagon ultimately recommended against it, noting that even as the balloon was over a sparsely populated area of Montana, its size would create a debris field large enough that it could have put people at risk.
It was not clear what the military was doing to prevent it from collecting sensitive information or what will happen with the balloon if it isn’t shot down.
In a letter sent Thursday to Austin, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, wrote: “The fact that this balloon was occupying Montana airspace creates significant concern that Malmstrom Air Force Base and the United States’ intercontinental ballistic missile fields are the target of this intelligence gathering mission. ... It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised US national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the US that this spy balloon was utilizing.”
The defense official said the spy balloon was trying to fly over the Montana missile fields, but the US has assessed that it has “limited” value in terms of providing China intelligence it couldn’t already collect by other means, such through spy satellites.
The official would not specify the size of the balloon, but said it was large enough that despite its high altitude, commercial pilots could see it. All air traffic was halted at Montana’s Billings Logan International Airport from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, as the military provided options to the White House.
A photograph of a large white balloon lingering over the area was captured by The Billings Gazette, but the Pentagon would not confirm if that was the surveillance balloon. The balloon could be seen drifting in and out of clouds and had what appeared to be a solar array hanging from the bottom, said Gazette photographer Larry Mayer.
The defense official said what concerned them about this launch was the altitude the balloon was flying at and the length of time it lingered over a location, without providing specifics.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said he was briefed Wednesday about the situation after the Montana National Guard was notified of an ongoing military operation taking place in Montana airspace, according to a statement from the Republican governor and spokesperson Brooke Stroyke.
“From the spy balloon to the Chinese Communist Party spying on Americans through TikTok to CCP-linked companies buying American farmland, I’m deeply troubled by the constant stream of alarming developments for our national security,” Gianforte said in a statement.
The administration official said congressional leaders’ staffs were briefed on the matter Thursday afternoon. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., tweeted, “China’s brazen disregard for US sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed.”
Tensions with China are particularly high on numerous issues, ranging from Taiwan and the South China Sea to human rights in China’s western Xinjiang region and the clampdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong. Not least on that list of irritants are China’s tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its refusal to rein in North Korea’s expanding ballistic missile program and ongoing disputes over trade and technology.
On Tuesday, Taiwan scrambled fighter jets, put its navy on alert and activated missile systems in response to nearby operations by 34 Chinese military aircraft and nine warships that are part Beijing’s strategy to unsettle and intimidate the self-governing island democracy.
Twenty of those aircraft crossed the central line in the Taiwan Strait that has long been an unofficial buffer zone between the two sides, which separated during a civil war in 1949.
Beijing has also increased preparations for a potential blockade or military action against Taiwan, which has stirred increasing concern among military leaders, diplomats and elected officials in the US, Taiwan’s key ally.
The surveillance balloon was first reported by NBC News.
Some Montana residents reported seeing an unusual object in the sky around the time of the airport shutdown Wednesday, but it’s not clear that what they were seeing was the balloon.
From an office window in Billings, Chase Doak said he saw a “big white circle in the sky” that he said was too small to be the moon.
He took some photos, then ran home to get a camera with a stronger lens and took more photos and video. He could see it for about 45 minutes and it appeared stationary, but Doak said the video suggested it was slowly moving.
“I thought maybe it was a legitimate UFO,” he said. “So I wanted to make sure I documented it and took as many photos as I could.”

(With AP)


17 killed in truck-passenger bus collision in northwest Pakistan

17 killed in truck-passenger bus collision in northwest Pakistan
Updated 03 February 2023

17 killed in truck-passenger bus collision in northwest Pakistan

17 killed in truck-passenger bus collision in northwest Pakistan
  • Passenger coach collided head-on with trawler near Kohat tunnel, says rescue official
  • Rescue operation underway, women and children among dead, says official

PESHAWAR: At least 17 people were killed on Thursday, women and children included, in Pakistan's northwestern city of Kohat when a passenger coach collided with a trawler, a rescue official confirmed. 

According to a statement by Rescue 1122 Kohat, the accident took place near Kohat Tunnel on the Indus Highway in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 

"Seventeen persons, including children and women, died when a passenger coach collided head-on with a trawler near Kohat tunnel," Bilal Faizi, a spokesperson for Rescue 1122 Kohat, told Arab News. 

Pictures released by Rescue 1122 showed a huge trawler overturned on the highway as several rescue officials provided help to the injured. 

Last week, another unfortunate accident was reported in Kohat when a boat capsized in the Tanda Dam lake in the city, resulting in 51 casualties.

The boat capsized on Sunday as a group of over 50 students from Mir Bash Khel seminary, in the 8-14 age group, had gone for a picnic with the seminary’s caretaker.

Deadly accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and a disregard for traffic laws.

On Sunday, a passenger bus crashed into a pillar and fell off a bridge in Baluchistan province, catching fire and killing 40 people.

(With AFP)