Pope Francis says he’ll spend 3 days in Dubai for COP28 climate conference

Pope Francis says he’ll spend 3 days in Dubai for COP28 climate conference
Pope Francis arrives, shown in this Oct. 29, 2023 picture at St.Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, plans to participate in next month's COP28 conference in Dubai in a bid to prod world leaders to commit to binding targets to slow the climate change before it’s too late. (AP)
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Updated 02 November 2023
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Pope Francis says he’ll spend 3 days in Dubai for COP28 climate conference

Pope Francis says he’ll spend 3 days in Dubai for COP28 climate conference

Pope Francis says he’ll spend 3 days in Dubai for COP28 climate conference
ROME: Pope Francis said Wednesday that he will travel to Dubai in early December for the COP28 conference of climate change, a global challenge that he had deeply worried about during his papacy stressing care for the environment.
Francis announced the trip during a 45-minute-long interview on Italian television network RAI. “I believe I depart on the first (of December) and stay till the 3rd,” the pontiff said. “I’ll be there 3 days.”
Francis offered no details of his trip’s program, including any appearance at the conference. It seemed likely he would want to address the delegates, especially because of the attention he has paid since becoming pope in 2013 to raising concern about the gravity of environmental damage, especially to poor people.
The travel comes about two weeks before his 87th birthday. When asked about his health — after setbacks that included abdominal surgery just a few months ago to repair a hernia and remove intestinal scarring — Francis quipped in reply in what has become his standard line — “Still alive, you know.”

He described two abdominal surgeries he has undergone during his papacy. Francis sounded upbeat when he said his chronically bum knee was improving. The pontiff uses a wheelchair to navigate long distances during public appearances and hobbles when he does walk.
The international climate conference in Dubai begins on Nov. 30 and runs through Dec. 12.
Francis has made the need for urgent care for the environment a hallmark priority of his papacy, penning a landmark encyclical about the Earth’s devastated natural resources in 2015.
In a sign of his frustration over often sputtering efforts by countries to try to put the brakes on climate change’s advance, last month, the pope shamed and challenged world leaders to commit to binding targets to slow the change before it’s too late.
Asked in the interview about the setbacks to climate goals, Francis replied: “Courage is needed.”
“We’re still in time to stop it” by demonstrating “a little responsibility.” He added: “We’ve been ugly, ugly here in caring for Creation.”
In the distinctly bleak update to the 2015 encyclical, Francis warned that God’s increasingly warming creation is fast reaching a “point of no return.” He heightened alarm about the “irreversible” harm to people and planet already underway and lamented that once again, the world’s poor and most vulnerable are paying the highest price.
The Dubai edition is the latest in a series of COP meetings on the impact of climate change and on measures pledged by governments to deal with it, including limits on involving greenhouse-gas producing activity. The first Conference of the Parties, as COP is formally called, was held in 1995 in Berlin, and the gathering has since been held in various cities and on different continents.


Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south

Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south
Updated 22 February 2024
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Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south

Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south
  • Roughly 50 square kilometers is ablaze northwest of Ballarat
  • A similar area is also burning out of control further to the west

SYDNEY: More than two thousand people have been ordered to evacuate from towns in the west of Australia’s Victoria state due to a bushfire burning out of control on Thursday.
The state emergency service urged residents in the towns of Raglan and Beaufort, home to around two thousand people, and those in surrounding areas to leave while it was still safe and head east to the nearby regional hub of Ballarat, 95 kilometers west of Melbourne.
Roughly 50 square kilometers is ablaze northwest of Ballarat. A similar area is also burning out of control further to the west.
State Premier Jacinta Allan said more than 1,000 firefighters were on the ground, supported by 24 aircraft and more than 100 vehicles. More are set to join the fight soon.
“Leaving immediately is the safest option for those communities,” she said at a news conference. “If you are located in these areas, please heed this advice, please act now to save your own life.”
Officials said no property damage had been reported but it was too soon for an accurate picture.
Large swathes of the state are on high alert for fires and the Bureau of Meteorology on Thursday issued extreme fire danger warnings for several districts due to hot, dry winds and the potential for thunderstorms.
The fires west of Ballarat are expected to worsen throughout the evening until around midnight, when the winds will begin to slow, Jason Heffernan, chief officer of the Country Fire Authority, told the news conference.
Temperatures were above 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) in the northwest of the state at 3.00 p.m. (0400 GMT).


In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden

In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden
Updated 22 February 2024
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In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden

In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden
  • As Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.

Dearborn: It’s common to hear residents chatting in Arabic just as often as English in this Detroit suburb’s stores or mosques, those buildings themselves often sporting bilingual signage out front.
But no matter the language, residents in this Arab American and Muslim stronghold in the Midwestern state of Michigan are convinced President Joe Biden, as he steadfastly stands by Israel in its war in Gaza, is not listening to them.
“Vote for Palestine. No Biden,” political organizer Samra’a Luqman says in English, passing out fliers outside a mosque after prayers.
“Don’t vote for Biden,” the activist with Yemeni origins adds in Arabic.
“Of course,” respond many passersby.
As the Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents here — once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.
Some are hoping to pressure Biden to back off from his Israel support and call for a ceasefire. Others, like Luqman, say they would never vote for him.
“He’s committing the genocide. He’s funding it,” Luqman, a campaign leader with a group called Abandon Biden, tells AFP.
A campaign is underway by Luqman and others urging voters to vote “uncommitted,” or write in “Free Palestine” on their ballots in the state’s primary next week — a symbolic gesture, since Biden faces no serious challengers for the Democratic nomination.
“This is a campaign about pressuring our current president who can do something about the mass killing of children,” says Abbas Alawieh, a former Democratic chief of staff on Capitol Hill and member of the Listen to Michigan campaign group.
“In this community there are a lot of people who are directly harmed by war,” the Lebanese-born Alawieh tells AFP.
Biden, he says, “is threatening to lose this community. Not just in November, but perhaps for a generation to come.”
The war started when Hamas launched its attack on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
But concern has mounted amid the high civilian toll in Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at 29,313 people dead, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
Listen to Michigan began as a pressure campaign, but some voters say their frustration with the president is permanent.
Voting for Biden was the “worst mistake of my life,” says Mohamed Alemara, a 23-year-old medical student of Iraqi descent.
“You don’t kill 30,000 of our people and expect us to vote for you.”
Arab Americans’ vows to ditch Biden often baffle liberal political pundits.
What will Muslims and Arabs do, the thinking goes — vote for Donald Trump, the Republican behind the “Muslim ban” immigration policy, whose supporters flirt with ideas like “Christian nationalism“?
“We’re not a stupid community,” says Luqman. “I’ve survived a Muslim ban, but those kids in Gaza have not survived Joe Biden.”
“My intention is not to vote in an Islamophobe, another genocidal maniac,” she adds. Yet she tells AFP, “the only way I would vote for Biden is if he resurrected” the Gaza dead.
In America’s two-party system, where voters often hold their nose to pick candidates they don’t back 100 percent, 27-year-old nurse Fatima Elzaghir says that “at this point, the lesser evil is Trump.”
Others, like Alawieh, reject the premise of the question.
“How dare you come to me and say, ‘Oh, but later, Trump will be your fault,’” he says.
“Call your representative. Tell them you want a ceasefire.... Once we stop the bloodshed, then we can talk about the political consequences.”
Biden will also have to deal with Michigan’s unions — where some are defecting from the labor-friendly president’s camp.
Many union and workingclass voters already support Republicans, drawn in by their conservative social policies.
But for Merwan Beydoun, a steel mill worker and member of the United Autoworkers Union, Gaza was the breaking point.
“Furious” at Biden, whom the UAW endorsed, Beydoun stopped his contributions to the union’s political arm.
Beydoun says he still believes “in a lot of Democratic policies” and would rather not say how he’ll vote in November. But to earn Beydoun’s vote, the president “needs to wake up” and “change his ways.”
The Biden administration has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters’ concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
But US weapons have flowed to Israel since October 7, while Washington’s efforts to broker a second pause in fighting have failed, and on Tuesday the US blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.
“My intention is to punish Biden for what he’s doing now,” says Luqman. “For the betrayal that he’s done to me and all the community members that have voted for him.”


Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’

Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’
Updated 22 February 2024
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Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’

Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’
  • Located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the Scarborough Shoal is also claimed by China

MANILA/BEIJING: A Philippine coast guard official on Thursday described as “inaccurate” its Chinese counterpart’s claim that a fisheries vessel “illegally intruded” into Beijing’s waters.
The Chinese coast guard said earlier on Thursday it drove away a vessel of the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and accused them of “illegally intruding” into its waters near Scarborough Shoal.
“This statement is inaccurate. The BFAR vessel, BRP Datu Sanday, continues to patrol the waters of Bajo De Masinloc. Currently, the BFAR vessel is actively ensuring the security of Filipino fishermen in that area,” Commodore Jay Tarriela, the coast guard’s spokesperson on South China Sea issues told reporters.
Located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the Scarborough Shoal is also claimed by China, making it one of Asia’s most contested maritime features and a flashpoint for flare-ups.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal in the Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support

Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support
Updated 22 February 2024
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Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support

Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support
  • Russian troops took control of Avdiivka last week in Moscow’s biggest battlefield gain since its forces captured Bakhmut last May
  • Zelensky pointed to earlier gains made by Ukraine forces, particularly in the northeastern Kharkiv region and destruction of Russian ships

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky downplayed Ukraine’s loss of the eastern town of Avdiivka to Russian forces and called for faster support from allies as the war against Russia neared the two-year mark, in comments broadcast on Wednesday.

Russian troops took control of Avdiivka last week in Moscow’s biggest battlefield gain since its forces captured Bakhmut last May. Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin says Russia will press on with its drive through eastern Ukraine.
Zelensky, in excerpts from an interview with Fox News to be aired on Thursday, acknowledged that last year had been “complicated” for Ukraine, particularly as 2023 came to a close.
But, speaking in English, he pointed to earlier gains, particularly in the northeastern Kharkiv region, where the Fox interview took place.
“During these two years we got (back) part of the Kharkiv region. Now we are in this region ... and we unblocked the Black Sea. There are grain routes and we destroyed a lot of their ships of the Russian fleet,” Zelensky said.
“That is what we did over two years. And what they could do? Only this one place. But what for?“
Avdiivka lies 15 km (nine miles) northwest of the Russian-held main town of Donetsk region, also named Donetsk.
Russian analysts say its capture will keep Donetsk safe from Ukrainian shelling as Moscow considers how to pursue its drive to capture all of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
In his comments, Zelensky expressed new discontent with the slowdown in Western aid for Ukraine’s war effort, without singling out the United States.
US President Joe Biden’s request to extend a big aid package has been held up by wrangling in the US Congress.
“We have to be more quick. That means to lose all the bureaucracy. Otherwise we will not have any chance,” he said.
The president acknowledged that finding an alternative to US support would not be easy.
“Of course, we will find. We will not stay in the same place. We have to survive. We have to find some parallel steps,” he said in the interview, conducted in part on a hospital ward.
“You understand that this help is crucial. So without it, sorry, we will have more and more such heroic guys who will be in the hospitals. If you don’t have a real defending shield and similar powerful artillery with rounds, of course you will lose people.”
The US Senate has passed a $95 billion aid package that includes funds for Ukraine, but House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson has declined to bring it up for a vote on the floor of the House.


Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’

Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’
Updated 22 February 2024
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Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’

Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’
  • He had earlier said there is no doubt that the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Nalvany "was a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did”
  • Biden tends to go off script during election fundraisers and in recent months has dug into China, the Republican Party, and Israel for its war on Gaza

SAN FRANCISCO/MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Thursday said it was a “huge shame” that US President Joe Biden had called Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a “crazy SOB.”

Biden made the comments at a speech in San Francisco attended by a small group of reporters, in which he contrasted the risk posed by Putin to the threat of climate change.

“This is a huge shame for the country itself... for the US. If a president uses that kind of language, it’s shameful,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“It is clear that Mr. Biden is demonstrating Hollywood cowboy style behavior to serve domestic political interests,” he continued.

Biden has a history of similar hot-mic comments and has been strongly critical of Putin before, announcing in 2022 that the Kremlin chief “cannot remain in power.”

His remarks come as relations with the Kremlin linger at historic lows over the conflict in Ukraine and the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in jail.

The US President has promised to introduce tough new sanctions against Moscow over Navalny’s death, which the White House has blamed on the Kremlin.

“This is the last existential threat. It is climate. We have a crazy SOB like that guy Putin and others and we always have to worry about nuclear conflict, but the existential threat to humanity is climate,” Biden told a small group of donors.

Biden has previously cursed “son of a bitch” at others. In January 2022, he was caught on the hot mic using the same term of abuse against a Fox News White House reporter.

Biden tends to go off script during election fundraisers and in recent months has dug into the Chinese government, the Republican Party, and US ally Israel for its bombing of the Gaza Strip.

Biden’s verbal attacks against Putin have also sharply intensified at the White House and on the campaign trail.

Biden and Putin remain deeply at odds over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, over which Russia has been sanctioned by the United States and other Western nations. Biden’s reactions have put a further chill into already bitter US-Russian relations.

Biden’s expected Republican opponent in November, former President Donald Trump, has expressed admiration for Putin both during his 2017-2021 White House tenure and afterward. However, he also recently compared himself to Navalny, implying that they both had faced politically motivated prosecutions.

“I don’t know where the hell this comes from,” Biden said on Wednesday reacting to Trump comparing himself to Navalny.