NATO chief says Finland to become member ‘in coming days’

NATO chief says Finland to become member ‘in coming days’
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Finland “has highly capable forces, advanced capabilities, and strong democratic institutions.” (File/AFP)
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Updated 31 March 2023
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NATO chief says Finland to become member ‘in coming days’

NATO chief says Finland to become member ‘in coming days’
  • NATO chief says he looks forward to also welcoming Sweden as full member soon

BRUSEELS: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that Finland would formally become a member within days, as he congratulated its president on clearing the final obstacle to joining.
“I look forward to raising Finland’s flag at NATO HQ in the coming days. Together we are stronger and safer,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.
After months of delays, Turkiye’s parliament on Thursday removed the last hurdle for Finland by becoming the last member of the US-led military alliance to ratify its application.
Stoltenberg said in separate statement that “Finland has highly capable forces, advanced capabilities, and strong democratic institutions.”
“So Finland will bring a lot to our alliance,” he said.
NATO foreign ministers are meeting at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels next week, when it is expected the membership could be formalized.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year upended European security and pushed Finland and its neighbor Sweden to drop decades of non-alignment and seek to join NATO’s protective umbrella.
Stockholm application remains stuck, however, because of ongoing resistance from both Turkiye and Hungary.
But Stoltenberg insisted that “all allies agree that a rapid conclusion of the ratification process for Sweden will be in everyone’s interest,“
“I look forward to also welcoming Sweden as a full member of the NATO family as soon as possible,” he said.


In a first, India seeks $26 billion of private nuclear power investments

In a first, India seeks $26 billion of private nuclear power investments
Updated 8 sec ago
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In a first, India seeks $26 billion of private nuclear power investments

In a first, India seeks $26 billion of private nuclear power investments
  • Government in talks with at least five firms including Reliance Industries, Tata Power, Adani Power and Vedanta Ltd
  • With investment, government hopes to build 11,000 megawatts of new nuclear power generation capacity by 2040

NEW DELHI: India will invite private firms to invest about $26 billion in its nuclear energy sector to increase the amount of electricity from sources that don’t produce carbon dioxide emissions, two government sources told Reuters.
This is the first time New Delhi is pursuing private investment in nuclear power, a non-carbon-emitting energy source that contributes less than 2 percent of India’s total electricity generation. The funding would help India to achieve its target of having 50 percent of its installed electric generation capacity use non-fossil fuels by 2030, up from 42 percent now.
The government is in talks with at least five private firms including Reliance Industries, Tata Power, Adani Power and Vedanta Ltd. to invest around 440 billion rupees ($5.30 billion) each, the two sources, who are directly involved in the matter, said last week.
The federal Department of Atomic Energy and state-run Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd. (NPCIL) have held multiple rounds of discussions with the private companies in the past year on the investment plan, the sources said.
The Department of Atomic Energy, NPCIL, Tata Power, Reliance Industries, Adani Power and Vedanta did not respond to queries sent by Reuters.
With the investment, the government hopes to build 11,000 megawatts (MW) of new nuclear power generation capacity by 2040, said the sources, who did not want to be identified as the plan is still being finalized.
NPCIL owns and operates India’s current fleet of nuclear power plants, with a capacity of 7,500 MW, and has committed investments for another 13,000 MW.
The sources said under the funding plan the private companies will make the investments in the nuclear plants, acquire land, water and undertake construction in areas outside the reactor complex of the plants.
But, the rights to build and run the stations and their fuel management will rest with NPCIL, as allowed under the law, they said.
The private companies are expected to earn revenue from the power plant’s electricity sales and NPCIL would operate the projects for a fee, the sources said.
“This hybrid model of nuclear power project development is an innovative solution to accelerate the nuclear capacity,” said Charudatta Palekar, an independent power sector consultant who formerly worked for PwC.
The plan will not require any amendment to the India’s Atomic Energy Act of 1962 but will need a final go-ahead from the Department of Atomic Energy, said one of the two sources.
Indian law bars private companies from setting up nuclear power plants but allows them to supply components, equipment and sign construction contracts for work outside of the reactors.
New Delhi has not met its nuclear power capacity addition targets for years mainly because it could not procure nuclear fuel supplies. However in 2010, India struck a deal with the United States for supplies of reprocessed nuclear fuel.
India’s stringent nuclear compensation laws have hampered talks with foreign power plant builders such as General Electric and Westinghouse. The country has deferred a target to add 20,000 MW of nuclear power from 2020 to 2030.
($1 = 82.9640 Indian rupees)


Police fire tear gas on Indian farmers marching to capital, government offers talks

Police fire tear gas on Indian farmers marching to capital, government offers talks
Updated 6 min 6 sec ago
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Police fire tear gas on Indian farmers marching to capital, government offers talks

Police fire tear gas on Indian farmers marching to capital, government offers talks
  • On Monday, farmers rejected government proposal for five-year contracts and guaranteed support prices for produce
  • Punjab farmers form an influential bloc of voters PM Modi cannot afford to anger ahead of general elections due by May

SHAMBHU: Indian police fired tear gas on Wednesday to scatter thousands of protesting farmers as they sought to resume a march to Delhi after rejecting a government offer on prices for their produce, while authorities offered a fresh round of negotiations.
Fleeing the stinging gas and clouds of smoke, the farmers, some wearing medical masks, ran into the fields surrounding their gathering-point on a highway about 200 km (125 miles) north of New Delhi.
The police action came as the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a new offer to resume talks on the farmers’ demands. Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda urged the farmers to resolve their grievances through the talks.
“After the fourth round, the government is ready to discuss all the issues” such as guaranteed prices for the farmers’ crops, he posted on social network X, as the march resumed.
“I again invite the farmer leaders for discussion. It is important for us to maintain peace.”
Farmers’ leaders went into a huddle to discuss Wednesday’s offer after the police action brought the march to a halt, media said.
Top police and district officials were at the site, mediating between the leaders and the government, the Indian Express newspaper reported.
On Monday, the farmers’ groups had rejected the government’s previous proposal for five-year contracts and guaranteed support prices for produce such as corn, cotton and pulses.
The farmers, mostly from the northern state of Punjab, have been demanding higher prices backed by law for their crops. They form an influential bloc of voters Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot afford to anger ahead of general elections due by May.
STICKS, STONES, GAS MASKS
The farmers, accompanied by cranes and excavators, began marching at 0530 GMT from the spot where authorities had stopped them by erecting barricades on the border of Punjab state with Haryana, blocking a key highway.
“It is not right that such massive barricades have been placed to stop us,” said one of the farmers’ leaders, Jagjit Singh Dallewal. “We want to march to Delhi peacefully. If not, they should accede to our demands.”
Police in riot gear lined both sides of the highway as the farmers, gathering earlier amid morning fog, waved colorful flags emblazoned with the symbols of their unions, while loudspeakers urged them to fight for their rights.
Television images showed some wearing gas masks.
Late on Tuesday, Haryana police’s chief ordered the immediate seizure of the heavy equipment brought by the farmers, to keep protesters from using it to destroy barricades.
Police also asked owners of such equipment not to lend or rent it to protesters, as its use to harm security forces would be a criminal offense.
About 10,000 people had gathered on Wednesday, along with 1,200 tractors and wagons at Shambhu on the state border, police in Haryana posted on X, warning against the risk of stone-throwing as they were armed with sticks and stones.
Security was also stepped up at entry points to New Delhi, with police in riot gear manning barricades topped with barbed wire in some places, slowing traffic entering the city of more than 20 million and causing snarls.
Two key entry points north of the city have been shut for days and traffic diverted.
Sunday’s government proposal of minimum support prices to farmers who diversify their crops to grow cotton, pigeon peas, black matpe, red lentils and corn was rejected by the protesters, who wanted additional foodgrains covered.
Similar protests two years ago, when farmers camped for two months at the border of New Delhi, forced Modi’s government to repeal a set of farm laws.


Operations canceled as South Korea doctors’ strike grows

Operations canceled as South Korea doctors’ strike grows
Updated 21 February 2024
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Operations canceled as South Korea doctors’ strike grows

Operations canceled as South Korea doctors’ strike grows
  • More than 8,800 junior doctors – 71 percent of the trainee workforce – have now quit
  • Spiraling protests against government plans to sharply increase medical school admissions

SEOUL: Pregnant women had C-sections canceled and cancer treatments were postponed Wednesday as the number of South Korean trainee doctors to walk off the job over proposed reforms swelled, officials and local reports said.
More than 8,800 junior doctors – 71 percent of the trainee workforce – have now quit, said Seoul’s Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo, part of a spiraling protest against government plans to sharply increase medical school admissions.
Seoul says the reforms are essential, citing the country’s low doctor numbers and rapidly aging population, but doctors claim the changes will hurt service provision and education quality.
Critics say doctors are mainly concerned the reform could erode their salaries and social prestige, and the plan enjoys broad public support among South Koreans, many of whom are fed up with long wait times for many medical services.
Park said Wednesday that 7,813 trainee doctors had not shown up for work – an almost five-fold increase from the first day of the action Monday – despite the government ordering many of them to return to their hospitals.
“The basic calling of medical professionals is to protect the health and lives of the people, and any group action that threatens this cannot be justified,” Park said.
The doctors’ walkout was a violation of South Korean law, as medical workers cannot refuse so-called return to work orders “without justifiable grounds,” he said.
South Korea’s general hospitals rely heavily on trainees for emergency operations and surgeries, and local reports said cancer patients and expectant mothers needing C-sections had seen procedures canceled or delayed, with scores of cases causing “damage,” Park said.
“My surgery was canceled on the day of admission due to the doctors’ strike, and I’m still dumbfounded,” wrote @August_holiday on social media platform X.
Another user on South Korea’s Naver web portal said her mother’s long-awaited cerebral aneurysm surgery had been abruptly delayed.
“I’m furious that (the doctors) can act so irresponsibly,” user @488653 wrote.
Junior doctors claim the new medical education reforms are the final straw for many workers in a profession already struggling with tough working conditions, such as in emergency rooms.
“Despite working more than 80 hours a week and receiving compensation at minimum wage level, trainee doctors have been neglected by the government until now,” the Korea Interns and Residents Association said in a statement.
The over-reliance on trainee doctors in the current health care system was not reasonable or fair, they added.
Nurses, who have been left in charge during the strike, urged doctors to return to work, even as they sympathized with their fight against the reform.
“Do not ignore your conscience toward the patients being left behind,” the Korean Young Nurses Association wrote in a social media post.


Gaza, Ukraine loom large as G20 foreign ministers meet

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
Updated 21 February 2024
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Gaza, Ukraine loom large as G20 foreign ministers meet

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
  • A new UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire was vetoed Tuesday by the United States, which said the text would endanger ongoing negotiations, including on the release of Hamas-held hostages
  • After Lula on Sunday compared Israel's war on Gaza to Hitler's treatment of Jews, Israel said on Monday that Lula is not welcome

RIO DE JANEIRO: G20 foreign ministers open a two-day meeting Wednesday in Brazil, with the outlook bleak for progress on a thorny agenda of conflicts and crises, from the Gaza and Ukraine wars to growing polarization.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are both expected in Rio de Janeiro for the first high-level G20 meeting of the year — though not China’s Wang Yi.
In a world torn by conflicts and divisions, Brazil, which took over the rotating G20 presidency from India in December, has voiced hopes for what President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva calls “the forum with the greatest capacity to positively influence the international agenda.”
But Lula’s bid to make the G20 a space for finding common ground suffered Sunday when the veteran leftist ignited a diplomatic firestorm by accusing Israel of “genocide,” comparing its military campaign in the Gaza Strip to the Holocaust.
The comments drew outrage in Israel, which declared him “persona non grata,” and could overshadow any bid to de-escalate the conflict via the G20.
“If Lula imagined he was going to propose peace resolutions on Israel or Ukraine, that just got swept off the table,” international relations specialist Igor Lucena told AFP.
More than four months after the Gaza war started with Hamas fighters’ unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which has vowed to wipe out the Islamist group in retaliation, there is little sign of progress toward peace.
A new UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire was vetoed Tuesday by the United States, which said the text would endanger ongoing negotiations, including on the release of Hamas-held hostages.
The outlook is similarly downbeat on Russia’s war in Ukraine, which also has G20 members divided.
Despite a push from Western countries for the group to condemn President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, the G20’s last summit, held in New Delhi in September, ended with a watered-down statement that denounced the use of force but did not explicitly name Russia, which maintains friendly ties with fellow members like India and Brazil.
Underlining the G20 stalemate, the G7 group of top economies — Ukrainian allies Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — will hold its own virtual meeting on the war Saturday, the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

Held at a marina on the Rio waterfront, the G20 meeting will open with a session on “addressing international tensions.”
The ministers will discuss global governance reform Thursday — a favorite issue for Brazil, which wants a greater voice for the global south at institutions like the UN, IMF and World Bank.
“The number and gravity of conflicts has returned to the level of the Cold War. That brings new urgency to the issue,” said Brazil’s top diplomat for G20 political negotiations, Mauricio Lyrio.
“We need to adapt the international system to prevent new conflicts,” he told journalists Tuesday. “Now, we’re just putting out fires.”
Brazil also wants to use its G20 presidency to push the fights against poverty and climate change.
There will also be space for bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the gathering — though a Blinken-Lavrov encounter looks unlikely, given the exploding tension over Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death in prison Friday.
Blinken and Lavrov last met in person at a G20 gathering in India in March 2023.

Founded in 1999, the Group of 20 brings together most of the world’s biggest economies.
Originally an economic forum, it has grown increasingly involved in international politics.
But the prospects for major advances via the group are dim in a year when elections will be held in some 50 countries, including key G20 members such as the United States and Russia, said Lucena.
“Reaching big agreements will be difficult,” he said.
“It’s not a favorable environment for resolving conflicts. On the contrary.”
A Brazilian government source said that after recent G20 struggles for consensus, the hosts axed the requirement that every meeting produce a joint statement — with the exception of the annual leaders’ summit, scheduled for November in Rio.
 

 


Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia

Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia
Updated 21 February 2024
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Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia

Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia
  • The Kremlin has denied involvement in Navalny’s death and said that Western claims that Putin was responsible are unacceptable

GREENVILLE, South Carolina: Former US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Alexei Navalny was “a very brave man” who “probably” should not have returned to Russia, without assigning any blame for the Russian opposition leader’s unexpected death.
Democratic President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for Navalny’s death, as has Nikki Haley, who trails far behind Trump as his sole remaining rival for the Republican presidential nomination.
“Navalny is a very sad situation, and he is a very brave, he was a very brave guy because he went back. He could have stayed away,” Trump said during a town hall interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham in South Carolina.
“And, frankly, probably would have been a lot better off staying away and talking from outside of the country as opposed to having to go back in, because people thought that could happen and it did happen. And it’s a horrible thing,” he said.
The Kremlin has denied involvement in Navalny’s death and said that Western claims that Putin was responsible are unacceptable.
Trump — who has expressed admiration for Putin during his 2017-2021 White House tenure and afterward — also continued to compare himself to Navalny, implying that both men had faced unjust prosecutions due to their political beliefs.
“But it’s happening in our country too,” he said. “We are turning into a communist country in many ways. And if you look at it — I’m the leading candidate. I get indicted.”
On Sunday, Trump wrote in a Truth Social post that Navalny’s death in an Arctic penal colony last week had made him “more aware of what is happening” in the United States. Trump did not elaborate, but he has frequently described the 91 criminal charges against him as politically motivated, a claim prosecutors deny.
During the interview on Tuesday, which was conducted before a live audience in Greenville four days before the state’s primary contest, Trump continued to blast migrants, portraying them as a threat to public safety without offering any evidence to support his claims that they are more violent than native-born Americans.
At several moments, 77-year-old Trump’s answers to questions veered into tangential topics.
While being asked about electric vehicles and Americans’ “freedom of movement,” Trump spoke about the usefulness of tariffs and described his interactions with an unnamed American dishwasher company during his time in office.
Trump praised South Carolina US Senator Tim Scott, who joined Trump on stage for the final part of the interview. The former president has privately asked associates about naming Scott, a one-time rival in the Republican nomination battle, as his running mate, sources familiar with the matter have previously said.
Tying himself to Scott may have short-term electoral benefits for the former president in South Carolina, where voters go to the polls on Saturday to choose who they want as the Republican nominee to take on Biden in the Nov. 5 election.
Trump is leading Haley by more than 30 percentage points in South Carolina according to most polls, and his team is eager to deliver a crushing blow. However, Haley has said there is no way she will drop out and that she plans to keep campaigning into March.