Philippine president says tensions in South China Sea have increased

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida greets Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit Meeting in Tokyo on Sunday. (Reuters)
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida greets Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit Meeting in Tokyo on Sunday. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 December 2023
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Philippine president says tensions in South China Sea have increased

Philippine president says tensions in South China Sea have increased
  • Marcos underscores need to forge strong alliances with like-minded allies

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said tensions in the South China Sea have “increased rather than diminished” in recent months, warning that a “more assertive China” posed a “real challenge” to its Asian neighbors.

In an interview with Japanese media on Saturday, Marcos underscored the need to forge strong alliances with like-minded allies, akin to the trilateral cooperation among the Philippines, Japan and the United States.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to be able to say that tensions have increased rather than diminished for the past months or the past years,” Marcos said, according to a press release from his office as he attends a Tokyo summit of Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
A week ago, Manila and Beijing traded accusations over a collision of their vessels near a disputed shoal in the South China Sea as tensions over claims in the vital waterway escalate.

FASTFACT

In addition to the Philippines, ASEAN members Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the South China Sea disputed by China, which claims almost all of the sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce.

In addition to the Philippines, ASEAN members Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the South China Sea disputed by China, which claims almost all of the sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China’s claims had no legal basis, a ruling the United States supports but Beijing rejects.
“We have to ... continue to counsel peace and continue communication between the different countries — everyone that is involved,” Marcos said.
The challenge that China posed required “new solutions,” said Marcos, who has vowed to defend his country’s rights in the South China Sea after the collision, which Manila has described as a “serious escalation.”
The Philippines and Japan have started talks on a reciprocal access agreement that would allow the deployment of military forces on each other’s soil, amid growing tensions in the region. Japan also has maritime disputes with China.
“It is not sufficient actually with just Japan and the Philippines to enter into this agreement. We really must get more of these kind of arrangements in place.”

 


Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia

Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia
Updated 8 sec ago
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Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia

Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia
  • Riots broke out in mid-May after anger over voting reform spilled into weeks of deadly protests

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday called on residents of the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia to dismantle barricades after weeks of unrest, adding the situation remained “unacceptable.”
In a public appeal, Macron called for “the firm and definitive lifting of all blockades” and “the condemnation of violence.”
New Caledonia, which is located between Australia and Fiji, has been ruled from Paris since the 19th century but many indigenous Kanaks want greater autonomy or independence.
Riots broke out in mid-May after anger over voting reform spilled into weeks of deadly protests.
French authorities insist Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, is back under their control, although barricades remain and pro-independence demonstrators have said they are determined to stay in the streets.
In a sign of a slow return to normality after five weeks of unrest, schools reopened on Monday, as did Noumea’s international airport.
Last week Macron announced that the controversial voting reform would be “suspended” in light of upcoming snap parliamentary polls in France.
In the letter published by local media in New Caledonia, Macron called for dialogue and patience.
Caledonian pro-independence movements had already considered reform dead given Macron’s call for snap elections.
Macron has called the snap parliamentary elections three years early in a dramatic gamble to shake up politics in France after the far right trounced his centrist camp in EU elections.
With the first round of voting set to take place on June 30, polls have underlined fears that his alliance risks being squeezed by new coalitions on the left and right.

 


Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes

Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes
Updated 4 min 48 sec ago
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Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes

Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes
  • Tax hikes last year led to several opposition protests which sometimes degenerated into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators

NAIROBI: Kenyan police fired tear gas and arrested at least a dozen demonstrators on Tuesday as hundreds of people gathered near parliament to protest tax hikes, according to journalists at the scene.
The East African economic powerhouse has struggled with a cost-of-living crisis, which critics say will only worsen under the levies laid out in a bill due to be debated in parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
Kenya’s government on Tuesday walked back plans to impose multiple tax hikes, the presidency said, announcing amendments to the controversial bill.

BACKGROUND

Kenya’s government has walked back plans to impose multiple tax hikes, the presidency said, announcing amendments to the controversial bill.

“The Finance Bill has been amended to remove the proposed 16 per cent VAT on bread, transportation of sugar, financial services, foreign exchange transactions as well as the 2.5 per cent Motor Vehicle Tax,” the presidency said in a statement.
The new taxes contained in the finance bill were expected to help the cash-strapped administration generate some 346.7 billion shillings ($2.7 billion) to boost revenue and cut government borrowing.
In addition to the proposed motor vehicle tax, the amendments will also do away with increased taxes on financial and mobile services.
“We are going to end up with a product in parliament that came from the executive and has been interrogated by the legislature. Through public participation, the people of Kenya have had a say,” President William Ruto told his party’s lawmakers.
Parliament must pass the final version of the bill before June 30.
Tax hikes last year led to several opposition protests which sometimes degenerated into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators.
Hundreds of black-clad protesters marched toward parliament in Nairobi’s business district, but were kept back by police officers lobbing tear gas at the crowds.
“I am tired. The prices of everything have gone up. Life is no longer affordable,” said 29-year-old Rara Eisa.
Eisa, who said she had never protested before Tuesday, described the hikes as oppressive.
“They are not lenient in any way,” she said.
Student Paloma Njoroge, 22, who was protesting, rejected pro-government claims that the demonstrations amounted to “social media activism that yields nothing.”
“I have my bottle of water and running shoes. They have to feel our disgust,” she said.
Dubbed “Occupy Parliament,” news of the protest was shared online after an activist leaked MPs’ contact details, urging people to bombard them with calls and messages to shoot down a bill proposing the new hikes.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission urged police to “stop the arrests.”
“Our constitution grants us the right to protest. Still, if the arrests persist, we won’t be deterred,” KHRC said on X, formerly Twitter.
Ruto came to power in 2022 on a promise to revive the economy and put money in the pockets of the downtrodden, but his policies have sparked widespread discontent.
Last year’s tax hikes led to opposition protests, sometimes degenerating into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators.
While Kenya is among the most dynamic economies in East Africa, roughly a third of the 51.5 million population lives in poverty.

 


Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says

Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says
Updated 3 min 27 sec ago
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Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says

Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says
  • Federal judges reject case presented by Save the Children, on the grounds that there is no legal obligation on the government to bring citizens home
  • The judgment means they might wait years to be released from what home affairs minister has acknowledged is a ‘dangerous and damaging detention’

SYDNEY: About 40 Australian women and children could be stuck in Syrian detention camps for years, after a court on Tuesday dismissed a legal challenge calling for their government to bring them home.
Federal court judges rejected the case, brought by Save the Children, on the grounds that there is no legal obligation on Australian authorities to bring its citizens home.
However, they noted in their ruling that if the federal government had “the political will” to repatriate the 10 women and 30 children from Syria “it would be a relatively straightforward exercise.”
Instead, the judgment means they might wait years to be released from what Australia’s home affairs minister has acknowledged is a “dangerous and damaging detention,” The Guardian newspaper reported.
They are the wives, widows and children of slain or jailed Daesh fighters. None of them have been charged with any crimes or face arrest but they have been held in Al-Roj and Al-Hol camps for years. The Red Cross said several of the children were born inside the camps and know no life outside of them. They live in “dire” conditions; illness and malnutrition are rife and security is “extremely volatile.”
Chief Justice Debra Mortimer, and justices Geoffrey Kennett and Christopher Horan, accepted evidence that many countries, including Australia, have successfully repatriated citizens from the detention camps, with assistance from Kurdish authorities.
“If the Commonwealth has the political will to bring the … women and children back to Australia, on the evidence before the court, it would be a relatively straightforward exercise,” they said, adding that it had been “amply proven” that authorities had the “means” to end the detention of the women and children.
“But that is distinct from a finding that the Commonwealth exercises control over them and their custody,” they said.
Mat Tinkler, the CEO of Save the Children Australia, said: “Our commitment to helping bring the remaining children back to Australia, where they belong, remains unshakable regardless of today’s outcome.
“These are innocent Australian kids who have experienced immense trauma and suffering but are left to languish in desert camps, where they are rapidly losing hope.
“What I find difficult to comprehend is that the Australian government could end their suffering right now by bringing them home and providing the chance for a real life but our political leaders are choosing not to act.”


Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia

Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia
Updated 58 min 56 sec ago
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Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia

Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia
  • Kyiv has carried out several similar attacks on Russian energy facilities in recent months
  • Some 200 firefighters and emergency personnel were deployed to deal with the blaze

KYIV: Ukrainian forces launched an overnight drone attack that set several oil storage tanks ablaze near the town of Azov in southern Russia, a defense source in Kyiv told AFP on Tuesday.
Kyiv has carried out several similar attacks on Russian energy facilities in recent months, arguing they are fair targets given that they fuel Moscow’s military.
Russia has also staged dozens of devastating attacks on Ukrainian power plants throughout its two-year invasion, crippling the country’s energy grid.
“Oil product tanks caught fire in Azov as a result of a drone attack. According to preliminary data, there were no casualties,” said the governor of the local Rostov region, Vasily Golubev.
Video published by Russia’s emergencies ministry showed thick smoke and flames billowing out of what appeared to be multiple oil storage tanks in an undisclosed location.
Ukraine did not say how many drones were involved in the attack.
The defense source, who asked not to be named, described it as a “successful” attack and said it caused “powerful fires in the installations.”
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) “will continue to impose ‘drone sanctions’ on Russia’s oil refining complex and reduce the enemy’s economic potential, which provides the aggressor with resources to wage war against Ukraine,” the source said.
It also claimed that SBU drones have carried out more than 20 successful attacks on Russian oil facilities in various regions.
Some 200 firefighters and emergency personnel were deployed to deal with the blaze, which spanned an area of at least 3,200 square meters (3,800 square yards), Russia’s emergencies ministry said.
The Rostov region sits directly across the border from Ukraine and is home to the operational headquarters overseeing Russia’s invasion.
On the battlefield, Ukraine said Russian forces were fighting to enter the outskirts of Chasiv Yar, a flashpoint town in the east whose capture could accelerate Russian advances.
Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk, where war-scarred Chasiv Yar lies, has borne the brunt of fighting over more than two years and the Kremlin claims the region is part of Russia.
“The enemy keeps trying to advance to the micro-district Novy in the town of Chasiv Yar,” a Ukrainian military official said in a briefing.
Further south, the military said Moscow’s forces were also pushing toward Pokrovsk, where they were closing in on a key road that would complicate supplies between strategic hubs in the region.
A 24-year-old Ukrainian serviceman, who identified himself with his call-sign Dykyi, dismissed concerns Russians could render the road impassable for Ukraine.
A colleague, who did not give his name, noted that Russian forces were already flying drones and launching missile attacks at the road.
“It will definitely not be blocked for the military,” Dykyi told AFP at a training ground in the Donetsk region, however, over the sounds of gunfire.
He said that even if Russian forces do advance toward the thoroughfare, military engineers could craft new routes or fix alternative roads in bad repair.
“As long as the weather is good, there are routes everywhere,” he said.
Ukraine’s air force meanwhile said it had downed 10 Iranian-designed attack drones launched by Russian forces overnight.
In a separate incident, Ukraine’s prosecutor general accused Russian forces of beheading a Ukrainian serviceman in the eastern Donetsk region.
Ukraine’s national grid operator Ukrenergo meanwhile said the country will face rolling electricity blackouts throughout Wednesday after Russian strikes on Ukrainian power plants.
On the diplomatic front, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that China’s support for Russia’s defense industry is prolonging the Ukraine war and “has to stop.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian earlier urged NATO to “stop shifting blame” over the Ukraine war after the alliance’s chief Jens Stoltenberg accused Beijing of worsening the conflict through support of Russia.
At a summit in Switzerland on Sunday, world leaders backed Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, and the need for eventual talks with Russia on ending the war — but left the key questions of how and when unresolved.
Moscow doubled down on its demand for Kyiv’s effective surrender as a starting point for negotiations.


Three bodies found near migrant shipwreck off Italy

Three bodies found near migrant shipwreck off Italy
Updated 18 June 2024
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Three bodies found near migrant shipwreck off Italy

Three bodies found near migrant shipwreck off Italy
  • The migrants had set sail from Turkiye and came from Iran, Syria and Iraq
  • The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity said some migrants also came from Afghanistan

ROME: Three bodies have been recovered near the site of a migrant shipwreck between Italy and Greece from which more than 60 people were reported missing, a spokesperson for the Italian coast guard said on Tuesday.
The migrants were on a sailing boat about 200 kilometers (124 miles) east of the Italian region of Calabria. Eleven survivors and the body of a woman were taken ashore on Monday, and aid groups said 64 people, including 26 children, were unaccounted for.
The coast guard said late on Monday it had deployed two patrol boats, one ship and a plane to search for the missing. It did not release further information about the three recovered bodies.
The migrants had set sail from Turkiye and came from Iran, Syria and Iraq, according to a joint statement from the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.
The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity said some migrants also came from Afghanistan.
Another shipwreck was reported on Monday by German sea rescue charity RESQSHIP, which picked up 51 people from a wooden boat about 90 kilometers south of the island of Lampedusa, and found 10 corpses trapped in the lower deck of the vessel.
Survivors told aid workers they had set off from the Libyan port of Zuwarah two days earlier. They said half the passengers were from Bangladesh, with others from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt.
The two shipwrecks confirmed the central Mediterranean’s reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous migration routes. According to UN data, more than 23,500 migrants have died or gone missing in its waters since 2014.