Philippines condemns Chinese ‘floating barrier’ in South China Sea

Philippines condemns Chinese ‘floating barrier’ in South China Sea
Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 September 2023
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Philippines condemns Chinese ‘floating barrier’ in South China Sea

Philippines condemns Chinese ‘floating barrier’ in South China Sea
  • ‘Floating barrier’ preventing Filipinos from entering and fishing in the area
  • Philippine coast guard and fisheries bureau personnel discovered the floating barrier, estimated at 300 meters long

MANILA: The Philippines on Sunday accused China’s coast guard of installing a “floating barrier” in a disputed area of the South China Sea, saying it prevented Filipinos from entering and fishing in the area.
Manila’s coast guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources “strongly condemn” China’s installation of the barrier in part of the Scarborough Shoal, Commodore Jay Tarriela, a coast guard spokesperson, posted on the X social media platform, formerly Twitter.
The barrier “prevents Filipino fishing boats from entering the shoal and depriving them of their fishing and livelihood activities,” he said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, overlapping with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.
Beijing allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the uninhabited shoal when bilateral relations were improving markedly under then-President Rodrigo Duterte. But tension has mounted again since his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, took office last year.
Philippine coast guard and fisheries bureau personnel discovered the floating barrier, estimated at 300 m (1,000 feet) long, on a routine patrol on Friday near the shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, Tarriela said.
Three Chinese coast guard rigid-hull inflatable boats and a Chinese maritime militia service boat installed the barrier when the Philippine vessel arrived, he said.
Filipino fishermen say China typically installs such barriers when they monitor a large number of fishermen in the area, Tarriela said.


Philippines orders foreign workers in offshore gaming hubs to leave in 2 months

Philippines orders foreign workers in offshore gaming hubs to leave in 2 months
Updated 20 sec ago
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Philippines orders foreign workers in offshore gaming hubs to leave in 2 months

Philippines orders foreign workers in offshore gaming hubs to leave in 2 months
  • Marcos has banned Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) for their alleged links to crimes, human trafficking and financial scam
MANILA: The Philippines has ordered foreigners working in offshore gambling firms to leave the country in two months’ time, its immigration bureau said on Wednesday, following President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s decision to stamp out the operators.
Marcos has banned Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) for their alleged links to crimes, human trafficking and financial scams, and gave the gaming regulator until the end of the year to shut down these businesses.
Philippine immigration chief Norman Tansingco said in a statement foreign workers had 59 days to leave the country. Around 20,000 people are expected to be affected by the order, most of them Chinese citizens.
Workers who stay in the country beyond the two-month period will be deported, he added.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
POGOs emerged in 2016 and boomed in just a few years as companies capitalized on liberal laws to target customers in China, where gambling is banned.
At their peak, some 300 POGOs operated in the Philippines, but the coronavirus pandemic and tighter tax rules forced many to relocate or go underground. Only 42 mostly Chinese firms have kept their licenses, directly and indirectly employing around 63,000 Filipino and foreign workers.

Thai court to rule next month on case seeking PM’s dismissal

Thai court to rule next month on case seeking PM’s dismissal
Updated 46 min 24 sec ago
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Thai court to rule next month on case seeking PM’s dismissal

Thai court to rule next month on case seeking PM’s dismissal
  • In May, the court accepted a petition submitted by 40 former senators to remove Srettha Thavisin from office under ethics rules

BANGKOK: Thailand’s top court will rule next month on a case seeking to oust Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin over his appointment of a cabinet minister with a criminal conviction.

In May the court accepted a petition submitted by 40 former senators, to remove Srettha Thavisin from office under ethics rules.

The case centers on Pichit Chuenban, appointed minister in a recent reshuffle, who served six months in jail for contempt of court in 2008.

Pichit, a former lawyer with close links to billionaire ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, later resigned from the cabinet in a bid to protect Srettha.

The constitutional court will give a verdict on Srettha’s case on August 14, it said in a statement.

Srettha, who has denied any wrongdoing, is also from Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai party, and became PM after forming a coalition with army-linked parties following elections in 2023.


India’s strategic railway bridge to entrench New Delhi’s control of disputed Kashmir

India’s strategic railway bridge to entrench New Delhi’s control of disputed Kashmir
Updated 24 July 2024
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India’s strategic railway bridge to entrench New Delhi’s control of disputed Kashmir

India’s strategic railway bridge to entrench New Delhi’s control of disputed Kashmir
  • Military experts say the bridge will ‘revolutionize’ logistics in Ladakh, the icy region bordering China
  • Residents of the region say easier access will bring outsiders to buy land and settle in Kashmir

REASI: Soaring high across a gorge in the rugged Himalayas, a newly finished bridge will soon help India entrench control of disputed Kashmir and meet a rising strategic threat from China.
The Chenab Rail Bridge, the highest of its kind in the world, has been hailed as a feat of engineering linking the restive Kashmir valley to the vast Indian plains by train for the first time.
But its completion has sparked concern among some in a territory with a long history of opposing Indian rule, already home to a permanent garrison of more than 500,000 soldiers.
India’s military brass say the strategic benefits of the bridge to New Delhi cannot be understated.
“The train to Kashmir will be pivotal in peace and in wartime,” General Deependra Singh Hooda, a retired former chief of India’s northern military command, told AFP.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the center of a bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan, divided between them since independence from British rule in 1947, and the nuclear-armed neighbors have fought wars over it.
Rebel groups have also waged a 35-year-long insurgency demanding independence for the territory or its merger with Pakistan.
The new bridge “will facilitate the movement of army personnel coming and going in larger numbers than was previously possible,” said Noor Ahmad Baba, a politics professor at the Central University of Kashmir.
But, as well as soldiers, the bridge will “facilitate movement” of ordinary people and goods, he told AFP.
That has prompted unease among some in Kashmir who believe easier access will bring a surge of outsiders coming to buy land and settle.
Previously tight rules on land ownership were lifted after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government canceled Kashmir’s partial autonomy in 2019.
“If the intent is to browbeat the Kashmiri consciousness of its linguistic, cultural and intellectual identity, or to put muscular nationalism on display, the impact will be negative,” historian Sidiq Wahid told AFP.
India Railways calls the $24 million bridge “arguably the biggest civil engineering challenge faced by any railway project in India in recent history.”
It is hoped to boost economic development and trade, cutting the cost of moving goods.
But Hooda, the retired general, said the bridge’s most important consequence would be revolutionizing logistics in Ladakh, the icy region bordering China.
India and China, the world’s two most populous nations, are intense rivals competing for strategic influence across South Asia, and their 3,500-kilometer (2,200-mile) shared frontier has been a perennial source of tension.
Their troops clashed in 2020, killing at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers, and forces from both sides today face off across contested high-altitude borderlands.
“Everything from a needle to the biggest military equipment... has to be sent by road and stocked up in Ladakh for six months every year before the roads close for winter,” Hooda told AFP.
Now all that can be transported by train, easing what Indian military experts call the “world’s biggest military logistics exercise” – supplying Ladakh through snowbound passes.
The project will buttress several other road tunnel projects under way that will connect Kashmir and Ladakh, not far from India’s frontiers with China and Pakistan.
The 1,315-meter-long steel and concrete bridge connects two mountains with an arch 359 meters above the cool waters of the Chenab River.
Trains are ready to run and only await an expected ribbon cutting from Modi.
The 272-kilometer railway begins in the garrison city of Udhampur, headquarters of the army’s northern command, and runs through the region’s capital Srinagar.
It terminates a kilometer higher in altitude in Baramulla, a gateway trade town near the Line of Control with Pakistan.
When the road is open, it is twice the distance and takes a day of driving.
The railway cost an estimated $3.9 billion and has been an immense undertaking, with construction beginning nearly three decades ago.
While several road and pipeline bridges are higher, Guinness World Records confirmed that Chenab trumps the previous highest railway bridge, the Najiehe bridge in China.
Describing India’s new bridge as a “marvel,” its deputy chief designer R.R. Mallick, said the experience of designing and building it “has become a holy book for our engineers.”


Bangladesh partially restores telecommunication services as protests taper off

Bangladesh partially restores telecommunication services as protests taper off
Updated 24 July 2024
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Bangladesh partially restores telecommunication services as protests taper off

Bangladesh partially restores telecommunication services as protests taper off
  • Supreme Court scales down reservations for various categories to 7 percent, overruling a high court verdict reinstating a 56 percent quota in government jobs
  • Protesting students have given the government a fresh 48-hour ultimatum to fulfill four other conditions of an eight-point list of demands

DHAKA: Bangladesh partially restored telecommunication services on Wednesday although Internet connection was slow and social media remained suspended, days after deadly protests against reservations for government jobs killed almost 150 people.
The country has mostly been calm since Sunday when the Supreme Court scaled down reservations for various categories to 7 percent, overruling a high court verdict reinstating a 56 percent quota in government jobs that had been scrapped in 2018.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government said on Tuesday that it would heed the Supreme Court ruling.
As demonstrations against the quotas — which included a 30 percent reservation for family members of freedom fighters from the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan — tapered off, the government started easing the curfew imposed last week.
Restrictions will be relaxed for seven hours on Wednesday and offices will also be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., officials said.
Residents of the capital Dhaka could be seen out on the streets on Wednesday morning as they made their way to their offices, with public buses also plying in some places — in sharp contrast to the violent clashes in the city last week.
Protesting students have given the government a fresh 48-hour ultimatum to fulfill four other conditions of an eight-point list of demands, and said they will announce next steps once that ends on Thursday.
“We want the government to meet our four-point demand, including restoration of Internet, withdrawal of police from campuses, and opening universities (which have been closed for a week),” protest coordinator Nahid Islam said.
The South Asian nation of 170 million was rocked by protests since the high court verdict last month, which left less than half of state jobs open on merit in a country where about 32 million young people are out of work or education.
Demonstrations intensified after Hasina refused to meet the protesters’ demands and instead labelled them “razakar” — a term used for those who collaborated with the Pakistani army during the war.
Hasina this week blamed her political opponents for the violence and said the curfew would be lifted “whenever the situation gets better.”
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has denied any role in the violence.
Several countries in the region have evacuated citizens from the violence-hit nation over the last few days, including India and Malaysia.


Joe Biden to address US as clock ticks on presidency

Joe Biden to address US as clock ticks on presidency
Updated 24 July 2024
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Joe Biden to address US as clock ticks on presidency

Joe Biden to address US as clock ticks on presidency
  • US president to insist in his address to the nation that he still has work to do despite his historic decision to bow out
  • The speech, expected to last eight to ten minutes, will be Biden’s first since stepping aside from the race on Sunday

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden will give what could be his final Oval Office speech Wednesday to explain why he dropped out of November’s election and deny that he will spend six months as a lame duck.
With the world’s eyes already on a looming clash between Vice President Kamala Harris and Donald Trump, Biden will insist in his address to the nation that he still has work to do despite his historic decision to bow out.
The 81-year-old Democrat said on X he would discuss “what lies ahead, and how I will finish the job for the American people” in the primetime televised event at 8:00 p.m. (0000 GMT Thursday).
The speech, expected to last eight to ten minutes, will be Biden’s first since stepping aside from the race on Sunday after weeks of pressure following a disastrous debate performance against Trump.
He had promised in his withdrawal announcement — made while he was isolating with Covid at his Delaware beach home — that he would give Americans more details on his stunning decision.
It comes just over a week since his last Oval Office address following an assassination attempt against Trump on July 13, but is only the fourth of his presidency overall — and could well be his last.
With Harris, who has effectively clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, and Trump both back on the campaign trail, Biden will be fighting an uphill battle to show Americans he is not yesterday’s man.
Republicans have called for Biden to step down altogether, saying that if he is not fit to stand for reelection then he is not fit to serve as president.
The veteran Democrat insists he still has much to offer, with a particular focus on the economy and on achieving an elusive ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.
“I’m not going anywhere,” a hoarse Biden said as he called Harris at a campaign meeting in Delaware on Monday, adding that he was going to be “working like hell” both as president and to campaign.
Biden, who meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Thursday, added that “we’re on the verge” of agreeing a ceasefire.
He would not be the first US president to chase a legacy-defining Middle East peace deal, after Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and even Donald Trump before him.
But in a sign of the way things are already moving on, Netanyahu will sit down separately with Harris, while Trump said in a post on his Truth Social media platform that he will meet with the Israeli leader Friday at the Republican’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
With the clock ticking on his presidency, Biden said on X late Tuesday that it was “great to be back at the White House” after returning from Delaware and that he had met his national security team for a briefing.
Biden’s decision to drop out has however injected a huge dose of enthusiasm into a Democratic Party that had been plunged into chaos by the debate over his age.
An exuberant Harris was cheered to the rafters on Tuesday as she held a campaign rally in the battleground state of Wisconsin, her first since saying she had secured the delegates necessary for the nomination.
She could be nominated as soon as early August in a virtual vote by Democratic delegates ahead of the party’s convention in Chicago just over two weeks later.
For Harris the challenge will now be to maintain the initial burst of enthusiasm in her party — and then to translate it into success at the ballot box in November.
Harris led Trump slightly in a poll conducted this week after Biden dropped out, but she remains vulnerable in particular to attacks on her lackluster first two years in the White House.