Chinese naval ship heads for Philippines in ‘friendly’ tour

Chinese naval ship heads for Philippines in ‘friendly’ tour
Training conducted by Qi Jiguang, named after a Ming dynasty general who fought against Japanese pirates, focuses on navigation, anti-piracy and shooting exercises with light-weight weapons, according to Chinese state media. Above, sailors aboard the ship. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 09 June 2023
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Chinese naval ship heads for Philippines in ‘friendly’ tour

Chinese naval ship heads for Philippines in ‘friendly’ tour
  • The giant training vessel Qijiguang left Brunei on Thursday for the Philippines as part an around 40-day trip which has included stops in Vietnam and Thailand before Brunei

BEIJING: China’s largest naval training ship sailed for the Philippines on Friday, its last stop of a regional “friendly” tour, amid growing unease over Chinese maritime activities in the South China Sea.
The giant training vessel, Qijiguang, bigger than a typical destroyer, left Brunei on Thursday for the Philippines as part an around 40-day trip which has included stops in Vietnam and Thailand before Brunei.
At the end of its trip, Qijiguang and its crew of 476 navy students and officers would have passed through the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, South China Sea, Gulf of Thailand and West Pacific.
Training conducted by the ship, named after a Ming dynasty general who fought against Japanese pirates, would focus on navigation, anti-piracy and shooting exercises with light-weight weapons, according to Chinese state media, which had described its passage in the region as “friendly.”
Its impending arrival in the Philippines comes amid tensions with its neighbors over the South China Sea, which China mostly claims but parts of which are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The visit also comes immediately after the first-ever trilateral coast guard exercise involving the Philippines, Japan and the United States that ended on Wednesday.
The Philippines has ramped up its military ties with the United States this year, conducting more drills and even allowing US access to local military bases. The decision angered China when Manila said the access would be useful if Chinese forces attacked Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.
Heightening tensions further, the Philippines placed navigational buoys in the contested Spratly islands of the South China Sea last month, quickly prompting China to do the same.
On May 23-25, the training vessel made port in Vietnam, overlapping with the sailing of a Chinese research ship in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone from May 7-June 6. The presence of the research ship prompted a rare protest from Hanoi.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will hold its first-ever multilateral military drill in the South China Sea in September, its chair Indonesia said on Thursday.


Biden tries to reassure allies of continued US support for Ukraine after Congress drops aid request

Biden tries to reassure allies of continued US support for Ukraine after Congress drops aid request
Updated 04 October 2023
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Biden tries to reassure allies of continued US support for Ukraine after Congress drops aid request

Biden tries to reassure allies of continued US support for Ukraine after Congress drops aid request

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden gathered other world powers Tuesday to coordinate on Ukraine as it battles Russia in a war now almost 20 months long — a deliberate show of US support at a time when the future of its aid is entangled with a volatile faction of House Republicans who want to cut off money to Kyiv.

The phone call — convened by the United States and joined by key allies in Europe as well as the leaders of Canada and Japan — was held three days after Biden signed legislation hastily sent to him by Congress that kept the federal government funded but left off billions in funding for Ukraine’s war effort that the White House had vigorously backed.

All the countries that participated in the call stressed that their backing of Ukraine remains unchanged, and no one questioned whether US support of Kyiv was in doubt, according to the White House. But the administration sternly warned Tuesday that Congress must not let the flow of aid be disrupted, lest Russian President Vladimir Putin exploit any lapses to his advantage.

“Time is not our friend,” said John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House. He warned that any gaps in US support “will make Putin believe he can wait us out.”

Kirby said the current tranche of congressionally-approved US aid would be enough to help Ukraine for another “couple of weeks” or a “couple of months,” although the precise estimate would hinge on current battlefield conditions.

The outlook for the future of Ukraine aid has been murky at best after Biden on Saturday signed a bill to fund US government operations through mid-November that ignored the billions in additional funds for Kyiv requested by Biden in late August. The president, as well as congressional Democratic leaders, had stressed after the vote that they had expected then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to follow through on his public commitment to Ukraine aid even as Republican resistance to it continues.

Biden went as far as to imply that e had a deal with McCarthy to move Ukraine aid once the government was funded, although the speaker has denied that is the case and the White House has refused to elaborate on the president’s remarks. Meanwhile, McCarthy signaled over the weekend that he supports linking new Ukraine funding to security improvements at the US border with Mexico. Kirby said Tuesday that the White House supports both issues on their own merits but not tied together.

McCarthy was ejected from his own job on Tuesday in dramatic fashion on the House floor. Even as the White House said it was staying out of his fight to keep the speaker’s gavel, Kirby emphasized that other House GOP leaders support Ukraine aid, not just McCarthy himself.

In Poland, President Andrzej Duda said after the call that Biden had assured the group of continued US support for Ukraine and of his strong conviction that Congress will not walk away.

“Everyone took the floor. The main subject was Ukraine, the situation in Ukraine,” Duda said at a news conference in Kielce, Poland. “President Joe Biden began with telling us about the situation in the US and what is the real political situation around Ukraine. He assured us that there is backing for the continuing support for Ukraine, first of all for the military support.

He said that he will get that backing in the Congress.”

Duda said Biden assured the leaders that support for Ukraine in the US Congress is much broader than media reports suggest. He said Biden called on the participants to continue their support for Ukraine and that everyone assured him that they would.

Kirby added that the other leaders weren’t concerned about whether US would stop backing Ukraine: “They understand what’s going up on Capitol Hill,” he said.

Others on the call included the leaders of Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Romania, Britain, the European Commission and the European Council. France’s foreign minister also participated, the White House said. French President Emmanuel Macron was not available due to scheduling issues, according to a US administration official.

The group also discussed how to provide Ukraine with the weapons support and strengthen its air defenses, as well as shoring up its energy infrastructure as the nation girds for a cold winter. The leaders also strategized on how to marshal private donations to aid Ukraine’s economic recovery, according to a White House readout of the call.

“Everyone was saying that this is the next step that will be necessary and for which preparations should begin now,” Duda said of the leaders’ discussion on helping to rebuild Ukraine.

As the White House made its case for continued aid to Ukraine, lawmakers and military veterans rallied outside the US Capitol to make their own call to keep up the funding. Many argued stopping US support to Ukraine would embolden Russia and other rivals to invade other democratic allies after Ukraine, and draw US forces into direct conflict.

Retired Brig. Gen. Mark Arnold, a veteran of the special forces, told the crowd that “the world is watching this debate about abandoning Ukraine.”

“Retreats to isolationism do not work,” Arnold said. China and Russia and other adversaries “will all rise in strength if Ukraine is defeated.”

The exclusion of money for Ukraine came little more than a week after lawmakers met in the Capitol with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He sought to assure them that his military was winning the war, but stressed that additional assistance would be crucial.

Voting in the House last week pointed to the potential trouble ahead. Nearly half of House Republicans voted to cut from a defense spending bill $300 million to train Ukrainian soldiers and buy weapons. The money later was approved separately, but opponents of Ukraine support celebrated their growing numbers.

The US has approved four rounds of aid to Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion, totaling about $113 billion, with some of that money going toward replenishment of US military equipment that was sent to the front lines. In August, Biden called on Congress to provide for an additional $24 billion.


A bus crash near the Italian city of Venice kills at least 21 people, including Ukrainian tourists

A bus crash near the Italian city of Venice kills at least 21 people, including Ukrainian tourists
Updated 04 October 2023
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A bus crash near the Italian city of Venice kills at least 21 people, including Ukrainian tourists

A bus crash near the Italian city of Venice kills at least 21 people, including Ukrainian tourists

ROME: A bus carrying foreign tourists including Ukrainians crashed near the Italian city of Venice when it fell from an elevated street Tuesday, killing at least 21 people and injuring 18 others, authorities said.
Four of the injured were in serious condition following the accident in the Mestre borough, on the mainland opposite the historic old city of Venice, said Renato Boraso, a Venice city official. Two of the dead were children, Venice prefect Michele Di Bari said.
Boraso confirmed that some of the victims are Ukrainians, and said the bus was bringing tourists to a camping site.
Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the scene of the crash was “apocalyptic” and that he had already declared the “city’s mourning” for the “numerous victims” who were on the bus.
According to local media, the bus fell a few meters before crashing close to Mestre’s railway tracks, where it caught fire. Emergency crews were on the scene.
Premier Giorgia Meloni expressed her “deepest sorrow” after the crash.


Kevin McCarthy ousted by US House Republicans in historic vote

Kevin McCarthy ousted by US House Republicans in historic vote
Updated 04 October 2023
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Kevin McCarthy ousted by US House Republicans in historic vote

Kevin McCarthy ousted by US House Republicans in historic vote

WASHINGTON: A handful of Republicans in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday ousted Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy, as party infighting plunged Congress into further chaos just days after it narrowly averted a government shutdown.

The 216-to-210 vote marked the first time in history that the House removed its leader, with eight Republicans voting with 208 Democrats to remove McCarthy. McCarthy told reporters he would not make another run for speaker.

“I fought for what I believe in,” McCarthy said. “I believe I can continue to fight, but maybe in a different manner.”

The House looked set to go leaderless for at least a week, as multiple Republicans said they planned to meet on Oct. 10 to discuss possible McCarthy successors, with a vote on a new speaker planned for Oct. 11.

Tuesday’s rebellion was led by Representative Matt Gaetz, a far-right Republican from Florida and McCarthy antagonist who finally turned on the speaker after he on Saturday relied on Democratic votes to help pass a bill to avoid a partial government shutdown.

“Kevin McCarthy is a creature of the swamp. He has risen to power by collecting special interest money and redistributing that money in exchange for favors. We are breaking the fever now,” Gaetz told reporters after the vote.

It was the latest moment of high drama in a year when the Republican-controlled House brought Washington to the brink of a catastrophic default on US debt of $31.4 trillion and a partial government shutdown.

Republicans control the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority, meaning they can afford to lose no more than five votes if Democrats unite in opposition.

McCarthy’s ouster as speaker brings legislative activity in the House to a halt, with another government shutdown deadline looming Nov. 17 if Congress does not extend funding.

The White House said it hoped the House would move swiftly to choose a replacement speaker, a position second in line to the presidency after the vice president.

UNCHARTED WATERS

The vote left Congress in uncharted waters as it scrambles to update farm-subsidy and nutrition programs, pass government funding bills and consider further aid to Ukraine.

It was unclear who would succeed McCarthy.

McCarthy had repeatedly angered Democrats in recent weeks, including by launching an impeachment inquiry into Biden and on Saturday by giving them little time to read a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown that he needed their votes to pass.

Democrats could have saved McCarthy but, after considering it, said they would not help Republicans resolve their own problems.

Other Republican leaders like Steve Scalize and Tom Emmer could possibly be candidates, though neither has publicly expressed interest. Representative Patrick McHenry was named to the post on a temporary basis.

The last two Republican speakers, Paul Ryan and John Boehner, retired from Congress after clashes with their right wing.

In debate on the House floor, Gaetz and a handful of allies criticized McCarthy for relying on Democratic votes to pass temporary funding that headed off a partial government shutdown.

“We need a speaker who will fight for something — anything — other than staying on as speaker,” said Republican Representative Bob Good.

Representative Nancy Mace told reporters she voted to remove McCarthy as speaker because he broke promises to her on improving access to birth control and supporting a bill she wrote on rape kits.

“I’ve made deals with Kevin McCarthy, with the speaker, that he has not kept to help women in this country,” Mace said. “We have done nothing for them.”

McCarthy’s supporters, including some of the chamber’s most vocal conservatives, said McCarthy had successfully limited spending and advanced other conservative priorities even though Democrats control the White House and the Senate.

“Think long and hard before you plunge us into chaos, because that’s where we’re headed,” said Republican Representative Tom Cole.

NO DEMOCRATIC SUPPORT

Democrats said they viewed McCarthy as untrustworthy after he broke a May agreement on spending with Biden.

“Let them wallow in their pigsty of incompetence,” Representative Pramila Jayapal told reporters before the vote.

Gaetz was one of more than a dozen Republicans who repeatedly voted against McCarthy’s bid for speaker in January. McCarthy ultimately secured the gavel after 15 rounds of voting over four days. To win the job, McCarthy agreed to rules that made it easier to challenge his leadership.

McCarthy supporters have said Gaetz was motivated by a hunger for publicity, a chance to win higher office or resentment over an ongoing ethics probe into possible sexual misconduct and illicit drug use.

Gaetz has denied wrongdoing and said he is not motivated by a dislike of McCarthy.

“This isn’t a critique of the individual — it’s a critique of the job. The job hasn’t been done,” he said.


UN approves Haiti force after year of pleas

UN approves Haiti force after year of pleas
Updated 03 October 2023
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UN approves Haiti force after year of pleas

UN approves Haiti force after year of pleas
  • The Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation has been in turmoil, with armed gangs taking over parts of the country and unleashing brutal violence

The United Nations Security Council on Monday approved a Kenyan-led mission aiming to bring stability to Haiti, a year after leaders in the violence-ravaged Caribbean nation first pleaded for help.

The Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation has been in turmoil, with armed gangs taking over parts of the country and unleashing brutal violence, and the economy and public health system also in tatters.Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have been calling since late 2022 for international support to back the police force, but much of the global community had been jaded by the failure of earlier interventions in Haiti.

Monday’s resolution passed with 13 votes in favor, with China and Russia abstaining. It was hailed by Haitian Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus as bringing a “glimmer of hope for people who have been suffering the consequences of a difficult political, socio-economic, security and humanitarian situation for too long.”

A breakthrough in plans for the force came in July, when Kenya volunteered to lead it and send 1,000 personnel.

“We must not fail the people of Haiti,” Kenyan President William Ruto declared in a statement Tuesday, saying they had “borne the brunt of colonial plunder and repression.”

“This mandate is not only about peace and security, but also about the rebuilding of Haiti — its politics, its economic development, and social stability,” Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua said separately.

The resolution calls for the deployment of a “multinational security support mission” — not officially a UN force — with a “lead country” coordinating with the Haitian government.

The mission is initially approved for one year, with a review after nine months.

The force aims to provide “operational support to the Haitian National Police, including building its capacity through the planning and conduct of joint security support operations,” the resolution says.

The mission will also aim to create conditions to hold elections, which have not taken place in Haiti since 2016.

Guterres in a recent report said that the security situation in Haiti has only grown worse, with gang members both more numerous and better armed than the police.

Nearly 2,800 homicides were recorded in Haiti between October 2022 and June 2023, with 80 minors among the dead, the UN report said.

The US has been advocating a multinational force. On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said his department would continue working with Congress to provide $100 million in foreign assistance, and that the Pentagon is prepared to provide up to $100 million in enabling support.

But President Joe Biden has made clear he will not put American troops in harm’s way.

On Monday, the White House voiced its “gratitude” to Kenya for taking on leadership of the force, and to nations such as Jamaica, the Bahamas and Antigua for adding manpower.

“It is now crucial that we focus on making progress in mobilizing the international support necessary to deploy this mission,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

For the resolution to pass, China had to choose not to apply its veto. Haiti is one of a dwindling number of nations that recognizes Taiwan, which Beijing claims and has been seeking to isolate on the international stage.

China, in the run-up to the Security Council meeting, voiced doubts and pointed a finger at the United States, highlighting the role of weapons from Florida in aggravating the violence.

Under pressure from Beijing, the resolution expands an embargo on light weapons and ammunition.


Niger says 29 soldiers killed in attack, rejects Algerian mediation

Niger says 29 soldiers killed in attack, rejects Algerian mediation
Updated 03 October 2023
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Niger says 29 soldiers killed in attack, rejects Algerian mediation

Niger says 29 soldiers killed in attack, rejects Algerian mediation
  • Niger junta denied it had accepted an offer by Algeria to act as a mediator to solve its political crisis

NIAMEY: At least 29 Niger soldiers were killed in an ambush by insurgents near the country’s border with Mali, the Defense Ministry said, the deadliest attack since the military seized power in a coup in July.

Separately, the Niger junta denied it had accepted an offer by Algeria to act as a mediator to solve its political crisis, even though Algeria had said on Monday it had received official notification of Niger’s acceptance.

Niger and its neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso, also run by military governments that seized power in coups, are all battling militants linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh  who have killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people in the Sahel region. They signed a security pact last month promising to defend each other against rebels or aggressors.

The attack in Niger took place as soldiers were returning from operations against the militants. They were targeted by more than 100 assailants in vehicles and on motor-bikes using explosive devices and suicide bombers.

“The provisional toll of the attack is as follows: 29 soldiers fell in battle and two were wounded,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement read on Niger national television, adding that several dozen assailants were killed.

It did not specify which group was responsible or when exactly the ambush occurred, but said the military operation took place between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2.

Three days of national mourning have been declared.

The spate of coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger since 2020 was partly driven by frustrations among the military and citizens over insecurity. But the violence has increased just as the juntas are kicking out foreign troops that were previously helping fight the militants. United Nations peacekeepers are also leaving.

Insurgents, many with links to Islamic Daesh, have been particularly active along the Mali-Niger border since French and UN troops left southeast Mali, ending crucial air reconnaissance support. West Africa’s regional bloc and Western powers have called on Niger to rapidly restore constitutional rule. But the junta has been dragging its feet.

The junta said in a statement on Monday that it was surprised by the Algeria’s assertion that Niger had agreed for it to act as mediator, and that it rejected its conclusions.