Australia says it is ‘confident’ on US nuclear submarines as ministers meet

Australia says it is ‘confident’ on US nuclear submarines as ministers meet
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, center, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on July 28, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 28 July 2023
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Australia says it is ‘confident’ on US nuclear submarines as ministers meet

Australia says it is ‘confident’ on US nuclear submarines as ministers meet
  • The US, Britain and Australia announced three-way AUKUS defense agreement in 2021
  • Australia will obtain nuclear submarine technology from the United States

SYDNEY: Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was confident a deal for the US to sell nuclear powered submarines to Australia was on track, ahead of talks between defense and foreign ministers of the two countries on Friday.
Twenty-five US Republican lawmakers told President Joe Biden on Thursday the plan to sell three attack submarines to Australia under the so-called AUKUS partnership would “unacceptably weaken” the US fleet without a clear plan to replace them.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are in Queensland state for the annual AUSMIN dialogue, where progress on the nuclear-powered submarine deal, regional security and clean energy will be the focus.
“I am very confident,” Albanese told reporters on Friday, when asked about the Republican letter, which noted the AUKUS agreement was “vitally important” but shouldn’t weaken the US fleet.
The United States, Britain and Australia announced the three-way AUKUS defense agreement in 2021 under which Australia is to obtain nuclear submarine technology from the United States.
Albanese said he had met Republicans and Democrats on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Lithuania this month and was struck by “their unanimous support for AUKUS.”
The US is Australia’s major security ally and announced with Britain in March that the United States would sell Australia three US Virginia class nuclear powered submarines in the early 2030s, before Britain and Australia produce a new submarine class — SSN-AUKUS — the following decade.
Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said in a Sky television interview that Australia, which has agreed to invest $3 billion in US submarine facilities, understood there was “pressure on the American industrial base” but AUKUS was “on track.”
“Why this arrangement is going to be so advantageous for all three countries is because we will develop an industrial base in this country which will contribute to the net capability of Australia, the UK and the US,” he added.
China’s security ambitions in the Indo-Pacific will also be under discussion by the security allies over two days of talks.
“We’ve seen troubling (Chinese) coercion from the East China Sea to the South China Sea to right here in the Southwest Pacific, and will continue to support our allies and partners as they defend themselves from bullying behavior,” Austin said before meeting Marles on Friday.
Australia is reshaping its defense force in response to China’s military buildup, and plans to boost its long-range strike capability, domestic missile production, and interoperability with the US and other regional militaries.
Austin said deepening defense ties, including efforts to integrate Japan into joint force posture initiatives, would be discussed.
“Now’s the time to be working closely with friends, and Australia has no better friend than the United States of America,” Marles said at the start of a meeting with his US counterpart.
Australia hosts an annual rotation of US Marines in the northern city of Darwin. War games involving more than 30,000 troops from the US, Japan and 10 other countries are being held in Queensland this week.


No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights: UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights: UN
Updated 5 sec ago
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No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights: UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights: UN
  • Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation
  • The Taliban applies a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid”

UNITED NATIONS: Restrictions on women’s rights continue to prevent Afghanistan’s “reintegration” into the international community, a senior UN official said Friday, noting the Taliban’s participation in upcoming talks in Doha is not legitimization of the isolated government.
Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid.”
Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, “deprive the country of vital human capital” and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country’s future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.
“By being deeply unpopular (the restrictions) undermine the de facto authorities’ claims to legitimacy,” she said.
“And they continue to block diplomatic solutions that would lead to Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community.”
Last year marked the start of a process in Doha to consider strengthening the world community’s engagement with Afghanistan.
The first Doha talks included foreign special envoys to Afghanistan under the aegis of the United Nations, and in the presence of the country’s civil society, including women.
The Taliban had been excluded from the opening talks and refused to take part in the second round if other representatives from the country were involved.
The third round of talks is set for June 30 and July 1 in Doha, and the Taliban has given assurances it will attend.
“For this process to truly begin, it is essential that the de facto authorities participate at Doha,” Otunbayeva said, warning however that high expectations “cannot realistically be met in a single meeting.”
“It cannot be repeated enough that this sort of engagement is not legitimization or normalization,” she stressed.
Responding to criticism over the absence of Afghan civil society representatives, notably women, at the talks that include the Taliban, Otunbayeva said those groups would be present in Doha for a separate meeting on July 2.
“This is what is possible today,” she said.
Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who still represents the government that preceded the Taliban’s rise to power, called the absence of civil society and women at the table in Doha “disappointing.”
He also expressed concern the agenda does not include discussions on the political process and human rights in Afghanistan, saying “this will be perceived as a shift away from issues deemed essential to the people of Afghanistan.”
 


Ukraine says Global South nation could host second peace summit

Ukraine says Global South nation could host second peace summit
Updated 22 June 2024
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Ukraine says Global South nation could host second peace summit

Ukraine says Global South nation could host second peace summit

Ukraine believes a second summit to consider Kyiv’s proposals for peace with Russia could be hosted by a country in the Global South, a senior official was quoted as saying by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency on Friday.
More than 90 countries attended the first summit in Switzerland last week as Ukraine seeks broad support for its plan to end the war, which began nearly 28 months ago with a full-scale Russian invasion.
Moscow, which was not invited, described the summit’s result — a communique signed by most participants but spurned by India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia in particular — as “close to nil.”
“We have several countries [offering to host], and I can say with a high degree of probability that such a summit could take place in one of the countries of the Global South,” presidential aide Ihor Zhovkva was cited as saying by Interfax-Ukraine.
Ukraine wants the next summit to be convened before the end of the year, he said, adding that Russia could be invited if it was prepared to consider the road map set out by Ukraine and did not issue ultimatums.

Ukrainian serviceman Oleksandr watches for Russian drones next to a military vehicle with a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft cannon at an undisclosed location in Donetsk region, Ukraine on June 19, 2024. (REUTERS)

President Vladimir Putin said on June 14 that Russia would end the war in Ukraine if Kyiv agreed to drop its ambitions to join NATO and hand over the entirety of four provinces claimed and partly occupied by Moscow — demands Kyiv rejected as tantamount to surrender.
Zhovkva declined to identify the prospective hosts, saying this would only help Russia to undermine the diplomatic efforts.
Having the backing of most Western countries, Kyiv has stepped up its efforts to win support from the Global South and from Asian countries historically closer to Russia and more ambivalent on Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
China, which proclaimed a “no limits” partnership with Russia days before Moscow launched its invasion, did not attend the summit. It portrays itself as neutral and denies supplying Moscow with weapons or ammunition. (Reporting by Yuliia Dysa; Editing by Kevin Liffey)


Japanese Emperor Naruhito finally begins delayed UK state visit

Japanese Emperor Naruhito finally begins delayed UK state visit
Updated 22 June 2024
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Japanese Emperor Naruhito finally begins delayed UK state visit

Japanese Emperor Naruhito finally begins delayed UK state visit
  • The emperor’s trip is the third state visit of Charles’ reign, but the first since it was revealed earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with cancer

LONDON: Emperor Naruhito and his wife begin a week long visit to Britain on Saturday, visiting Oxford University where they both studied and attending a formal banquet with King Charles, but there are no plans for a meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako, had been due to make the trip in 2020 when Queen Elizabeth was still alive but it was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their first overseas trip together after his enthronement was to Elizabeth’s funeral in 2022, and ahead of the state visit Naruhito, 64, spoke of the kindness the British royals had shown to him when he arrived in Britain to study in the early 1980s.
He recalled how the late queen had invited him to Buckingham Palace for tea which she made herself.
“I have fond memories of the heartwarming hospitality I received from her majesty the queen and the royal family, making me feel like I was part of their family,” he told a news conference held in Tokyo.
The emperor’s trip is the third state visit of Charles’ reign, but the first since it was revealed earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Naruhito said he was grateful the king would host them despite his illness, and he also sent good wishes to Charles’ daughter-in-law Kate, wife of heir Prince William, who is having preventative chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
“I understand that they are both going through a hard time, but I pray that their treatment will go smoothly and that they will have a speedy recovery,” he said.
The official reason for the trip is to celebrate the long ties between the two royal families, and to demonstrate the deep relationship between the two countries.
However, the Japanese royals are also using it as a chance to return to Oxford where they both studied at separate times, while Naruhito will visit the River Thames flood barrier which he had researched while at university there.
The visit clashes with campaigning for the British election on July 4, and a Japanese foreign ministry official said there were no plans for a meeting with the prime minister.
The official state elements of the trip begin on Tuesday when Prince William will formally greet the emperor, before a grand carriage procession along The Mall to Buckingham Palace where there will be a state banquet.
During the trip Naruhito will also privately visit St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle to lay a wreath on the tomb of Queen Elizabeth.

 


Boeing may avoid criminal charges over violations: report

Boeing may avoid criminal charges over violations: report
Updated 22 June 2024
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Boeing may avoid criminal charges over violations: report

Boeing may avoid criminal charges over violations: report
  • After substantial internal debate, Justice officials “appear to have concluded that prosecuting Boeing would be too legally risky,” the NY Times reported

NEW YORK: The US Department of Justice is considering a deal with Boeing that would avoid criminal prosecution of the aerospace giant but may appoint a federal supervisor to oversee company progress on safety improvements, The New York Times reported Friday.
People familiar with the discussions told the daily that the terms of the possible alternative settlement, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA, are still subject to change.
A DOJ official involved in the case, Glenn Leon, chief of the fraud section criminal division, said in an email to a civil party lawyer seen by AFP that the department “has not made a decision” on the path it will take with respect to Boeing.
The DOJ is determining its next steps after concluding in May that Boeing could be prosecuted for violating a criminal settlement following two fatal 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 which claimed 346 lives.
But the Times, citing sources familiar with the discussions, reported that after substantial internal debate, Justice officials “appear to have concluded that prosecuting Boeing would be too legally risky.”
Officials also reportedly believe that the appointment of a watchdog would be “a quicker, more efficient way” to ensure safety and quality control improvements are made, the newspaper said.
Last month, the DOJ told the judge in the case it would give its decision no later than July 7.
The DOJ’s Leon emailed Paul Cassell, a lawyer for families in the criminal case against Boeing, saying the Times reporting “was simply not correct.”
Boeing did not respond to AFP requests for reaction.


The troubled planemaker had contested the department’s conclusions in mid-June, but has recognized the gravity of the safety crisis and CEO Dave Calhoun told Congress that Boeing is “taking action and making progress.”
In January 2021, Justice announced an initial DPA in which Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle fraud charges over certification of the 737 MAX.
But since early 2023, the manufacturer has experienced multiple production and quality control problems on its commercial aircraft, as well as mid-flight incidents including in January when a door plug panel flew off an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9.
The DOJ says Boeing’s violation of several provisions of the initial agreement, including measures requiring it to bolster its internal controls to detect and deter fraud, opened the company to prosecution.
Victims’ families have called for the criminal prosecution of Boeing and its executives, and are seeking a nearly $25 billion fine.
A new DPA would allow the US government to resolve Boeing’s violations without a trial.
That could serve as a victory of sorts for Boeing, a company seen as critical to the US aviation industry as well as national security.
Cassell, the families’ lawyer, warned against sealing an agreement avoiding trial.
“We hope that the Department is not using its claim to have not yet made a ‘final decision’ as a ploy to gain additional time to hammer out a DPA deal with Boeing,” Cassell said in a statement.
“The first DPA deal failed. There is no reason to think a second one would be any better,” he said, adding it’s time for “moving forward with a trial and obtaining a guilty verdict against Boeing.”
Such lawsuits in the past have forced companies into filing for bankruptcy, the Times reported, and a conviction could potentially prevent Boeing from receiving government contracts.
Boeing’s defense, space and security segment generated $25 billion in 2023, nearly a third of the company’s sales.


4 members of a billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

4 members of a billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers
Updated 21 June 2024
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4 members of a billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

4 members of a billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

 

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland by seizing their passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.

A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.

A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.

Lawyers for the members of the Swiss-Indian family — who were not present in court — said they would appeal the verdict.

The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.

The four were convicted of “usury” for having taken advantage of their vulnerable immigrant staff to pay them a pittance.

“The employees’ inexperience was exploited,” judge Sabina Mascotto said in her judgment. “They had little education or none at all and had no knowledge of their rights.

“The defendants’ motives were selfish,” she said, adding that the Hindujas were motivated “by the desire for gain.”

The court acquitted them of the more serious charge of human trafficking, on the grounds that the workers had traveled to Switzerland willingly.

Dogs treated better

During the trial the family were accused of bringing servants from their native India and confiscating their passports once they got to Switzerland.
Prosecutor Yves Bertossa accused the Hindujas of spending “more on their dog than on their domestic employees.”
The family paid the household staff about 325 francs ($363) a month, up to 90 percent less than the going rate, the judge said.
“The four Hinduja defendants knew the weak position their employees were in and knew the law in Switzerland,” Mascotto said.
The family denied the allegations, claiming the prosecutors wanted to “do in the Hindujas.”
They had reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the three employees who made the accusations against them, leading them to drop their legal action, said the defense.
Despite this, the prosecution had decided to pursue the case due to the seriousness of the charges.
Following the verdict, Bertossa requested an immediate detention order for Ajay and Namrata Hinduja, claiming a flight risk.
The judged denied it, accepting the defense argument that the family had ties to Switzerland. It noted that Kamal Hinduja was hospitalized in Monaco and the three other family members were at her bedside.
Both the elder Hindujas had been absent since the start of the trial for health reasons.
A statement from the defense lawyers announcing the appeal said they were “appalled and disappointment” at the court’s ruling.
But it added: “The family has full faith in the judicial process and remains confident that the truth will prevail.”

Denial
The defense had argued that the three employees received ample benefits, were not kept in isolation and were free to leave the villa.
“We are not dealing with mistreated slaves,” Nicolas Jeandin told the court.
Indeed, the employees “were grateful to the Hindujas for offering them a better life,” his fellow lawyer Robert Assael argued.
Representing Ajay Hinduja, lawyer Yael Hayat had slammed the “excessive” indictment, arguing the trial should be a question of “justice, not social justice.”
Namrata Hinduja’s lawyer Romain Jordan had also pleaded for acquittal, claiming the prosecutors were aiming to make an example of the family.
He argued the prosecution had failed to mention extra payments made to staff on top of their cash salaries.
“No employee was cheated out of his or her salary,” Assael added.
With interests in oil and gas, banking and health care, the Hinduja Group is present in 38 countries and employs around 200,000 people.

Excessie sentence?

Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out the trafficking charges but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.