Thailand welcomes release of two more Thai hostages held by Hamas

In this photo provided by Thailand's Foreign Ministry, Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, left, talks to one of the freed Thai hostages at the Shamir Medical Center in Israel Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. (AP)
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In this photo provided by Thailand's Foreign Ministry, Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, left, talks to one of the freed Thai hostages at the Shamir Medical Center in Israel Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. (AP)
In this photo provided by Thailand's Foreign Ministry, Thai hostages, who were previously released, hug their newly freed compatriots at the Shamir Medical Center in Israel on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (AP)
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In this photo provided by Thailand's Foreign Ministry, Thai hostages, who were previously released, hug their newly freed compatriots at the Shamir Medical Center in Israel on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 29 November 2023
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Thailand welcomes release of two more Thai hostages held by Hamas

Thailand welcomes release of two more Thai hostages held by Hamas
  • Before the Israel-Hamas war, about 30,000 Thai laborers worked in Israel’s agriculture sector, comprising one of the largest migrant worker groups in the country

BANGKOK: Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara welcomed on Wednesday the release of two more Thai hostages who had been held by Hamas in Gaza, the latest to be freed under a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas.
“Happy to personally welcome 2 additional Thai hostages just released and arrived at the hospital in Tel Aviv,” Parnpree, who is also deputy prime minister, posted on social media platform X.
“A totally warm feeling to see how the former 17 were lining up to welcome and give moral support to the two newcomers,” he said.
Nineteen Thai hostages have so far been released, while the foreign ministry says 13 more remain in captivity. There were 39 Thai nationals killed in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.
A Thai Muslim group that spoke directly with Hamas said on Monday its efforts were key to ensuring Thai hostages were among the first to be released. A Thai foreign ministry spokesperson said multiple actors were consulted.
Before the Israel-Hamas war, about 30,000 Thai laborers worked in Israel’s agriculture sector, comprising one of the largest migrant worker groups in the country.
Nearly 9,000 have been repatriated, according to the government.
The Thai citizens released are slated to return home this week as Parnpree visits Israel.

 

 


EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire

EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire
Updated 12 sec ago
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EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire

EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire
  • Lahbib added that she makes international contacts on an almost daily basis to seek a 40-day ceasefire

LONDON: The EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers “is doing everything in its power to reach an immediate ceasefire and secure the delivery of aid to the Palestinian people,” Belgium’s foreign minister said on Monday.

Hadja Lahbib announced her country’s intention to host an international peace conference in April to discuss Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, Kuwait News Agency reported.

Lahbib added that she makes international contacts on an almost daily basis to seek a 40-day ceasefire so that Palestinians can receive humanitarian aid.

Israel has sealed off the strip, stormed its towns and pounded it from the sky since its action began in October. More than 30,000 people have been confirmed killed, with thousands more missing.

The majority of the population in the Gaza Strip has been made homeless, and the UN says hundreds of thousands of its people are facing famine.

Lahbib said that Belgium sent direct aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in December, adding that the aid “continues and will not be interrupted.”
 


Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead

Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead
Updated 04 March 2024
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Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead

Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead
  • Gilgit-Baltistan major roads remained blocked for a third consecutive day, leaving thousands stranded

PESHAWAR: Thirty-five people have been killed and dozens more injured in the last five days as rains continue to batter Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority said on Monday.

Heavy rains and snowfall last week have damaged hundreds of houses and bridges and shut off road and rail routes in several areas of Pakistan. In the country’s mountainous northern Gilgit-Baltistan, the main Karakoram Highway, Baltistan Road and other major roads remained blocked for a third consecutive day, leaving thousands of tourists, travelers, and traders stranded at various points.

In the southwest of the country, heavy snowfall brought daily life to a standstill in Quetta and other northern parts of Balochistan, with main highways and inter-provincial roads blocked since Saturday, cutting the remote province from other parts of the country.

“During the last five days, 35 people have died and 43 people have been injured as a result of accidents due to ongoing rains across the province,” the PDMA said in a statement, providing figures for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, adding that “346 houses were partially damaged while 46 houses were completely damaged.”

The PDMA said food and other relief items were being sent to the areas of Charsadda, Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Malakand, Mohmand, Bannu, Khyber, Bajaur, Nowshera and Peshawar on the orders of the province’s new Chief Minister Ali Amin Khan Gandapur.

“Distribution of relief items underway including blankets, tents, jerry cans, gas cylinders, water coolers, mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, hygiene kits, toilet kits, plastic mats, sandbags, tarpaulins,” the PDMA said, adding that the chief minister had ordered that “immediate steps” be taken to open closed roads.

Large swathes of Pakistan were submerged in 2022 due to extremely heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers, a phenomenon linked to climate change that damaged crops and infrastructure and killed at least 1,700 people and affected over 30 million.

Pakistan received commitments of more than $9 billion from international donors to help recover from the 2022 floods with rebuilding efforts estimated to cost about $16.3 billion, but little aid has come in so far.


UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffers first parliamentary defeats

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London. (AFP)
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2024
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UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffers first parliamentary defeats

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London. (AFP)
  • Under the Rwanda plan, asylum seekers who arrive on England’s southern coast in boats would be sent to live in Rwanda, but so far no one has been deported

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suffered his first defeats over his legislation to send asylum seekers to Rwanda after the upper house of parliament demanded greater protections to be introduced before deportation flights can take off.
Under the Rwanda plan, which has yet to be carried out, asylum seekers who arrive on England’s southern coast in small, inflatable boats would be sent to live in Rwanda, but so far no one has been deported because of ongoing legal challenges.
In an effort to overcome resistance from the courts, Sunak’s government is passing legislation through parliament that would block further legal challenges by declaring Rwanda a so-called safe country for asylum seekers.
Unelected members of the House of Lords, largely made of former politicians and government officials, voted in favor of one amendment that would mean flights could only take off when a treaty — that would implement legal safeguards in the Rwandan asylum system — had been fully implemented.
The Lords also voted for an amendment that said the legislation must be fully compliant with international and domestic law, and another that requires proof that Rwanda is safe for refugees before flights can leave.
However, the more powerful elected House of Commons can overturn the changes at later stages in a process known as “parliamentary ping-pong” and the legislation could still enter the statute book unamended.
Some Lords complained that the legislation as currently drafted would require Rwanda to be treated as a safe country regardless of the evidence.
Christopher Tugendhat, a Lord for the governing Conservatives, accused the government of behaving like the ruling party in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
“If this bill goes onto the statute book in its present form, Rwanda will be a safe country regardless of reality,” he said.
Sunak has said he wants the first deportation flights to leave in the next few months — ahead of a general election expected in the second half of this year — so he can meet a pledge to “stop the boats.”
More than 2,500 asylum seekers have arrived in Britain on small boats so far this year. A seven-year-old girl died over the weekend trying to reach Britain after a small boat carrying her capsized off the coast of France.
In the most detailed financial assessment of the Rwanda policy, the British government’s spending watchdog on Friday said it would cost more 600 million pounds ($762 million) to deport the first 300 refugees.


British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth

British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth
Updated 04 March 2024
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British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth

British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth
  • Project designed to prepare 90 young Jordanians for leadership roles within their communities

AMMAN: The British Council has announced a collaboration with the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development, Jordan News Agency reported on Monday.

The JOHUD is a nonprofit organization focusing on promoting sustainable social, economic, and cultural development in Jordan’s local communities.

The agreement was signed as part of the British Council’s Youth Connect project, which is designed to prepare 90 young Jordanians for leadership roles within their communities.

The agreement will help empower younger Jordanians in the Princess Basma Development Centers in Tafilah and Ma’an in southern Jordan, through specialized training sessions in communication skills.

Alexander Lambert, who is Jordan director at the British Council, spoke of the importance of the project as a milestone in the deep-rooted partnership between the council and the JOHUD.

The partnership with the British Council “added to the purposeful and fruitful partnerships that combine efforts with various local institutions to contribute to achieving national goals to enhance the role of youth and women in society,” JOHUD’s Executive Director Farah Daghistani said.
 


Shehbaz Sharif sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister, capping weeks of political upheaval

Shehbaz Sharif sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister, capping weeks of political upheaval
Updated 04 March 2024
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Shehbaz Sharif sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister, capping weeks of political upheaval

Shehbaz Sharif sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister, capping weeks of political upheaval
  • This is Sharif’s second term in office, his first one ran from April 2022 to August 2023
  • The new government faces an overlapping trio of political, economic and security troubles

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took oath as Pakistan's prime minister for a second term on Monday, taking over a troubled country of 241 million people that faces profound political, economic and security challenges.

Sharif, 72, officially took up office at a swearing-in ceremony at the presidential office in the nation's capital, Islamabad. 

On Sunday, Sharif, the candidate for his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and coalition allies, secured a comfortable win over Omar Ayub Khan of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) backed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of jailed former PM Imran Khan. 

His election comes three weeks after Feb. 8 general elections threw up a hung National Assembly, unleashing weeks of protests by opposition parties over allegations of rigging and vote count fraud.

“As prime minister of Pakistan, I will discharge my duties, and perform my functions, honestly, to the best of my ability, faithfully in accordance with the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the law," Shehbaz said as he took oath.

In his first speech after being voted in on Sunday, Sharif spoke about the struggling $350 billion economy and said it would require "radical reforms" to rid the country of its financial difficulties.

“Can a nuclear-capable Pakistan sustain its existence with the burden of debts,” he had asked. “It will sustain if we collectively decide on a deep surgery and change the system. We have to bring reforms.”

Sharif, the younger brother of former three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, played a key role as prime minister in keeping together a coalition of disparate parties for 16 months after parliament voted Imran Khan out of office in April 2022, and in securing a last gasp International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout deal in 2023.

 

 

He now faces an overlapping trio of political, economic and security crises, much like in his previous tenure.

Sharif's first order of business will be negotiating a new bailout deal with the IMF. The current IMF program expires this month. 

A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth.

Inflation touched a high of 38 percent with record depreciation of the rupee currency under Sharif’s last government, mainly due to structural reforms necessitated by the IMF program. Pakistan continues to be enmeshed in economic crisis with inflation remaining high, hovering around 30 percent, and economic growth slowing to around 2 percent.

The new PM will also have to tackle a spike in attacks by the Pakistani Taliban and other groups, including separatists.

But the gravest challenge will be on the political front.

Independent candidates backed by Khan gained the most seats, 93, after the elections, but the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of the Bhutto dynasty agreed to an alliance to form a coalition government. No single party won a majority.

The Sunni Ittehad Council backed by Khan alleges that the election was rigged against it and has called for an audit of the polls. Lowering political temperatures will thus be a key challenge for Sharif as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy. For now, the Khan-led opposition has signaled it would "cooperate" with the new government on issues of public concern but keep protesting the alleged manipulation of election results.

Sharif will also have to manage ties with the all-powerful military, which has directly or indirectly dominated Pakistan since independence. Unlike his elder brother, who has had a rocky relationship with the military in all his three terms, the younger Sharif is considered more acceptable and compliant by the generals, most independent analysts say.

For several years, the military has denied it interferes in politics. But it has in the past directly intervened to topple civilian governments and no prime minister has finished a full five-year term since independence in 1947.