Defense secretary remains hospitalized as details emerge about delays in notification, even to Biden

Defense secretary remains hospitalized as details emerge about delays in notification, even to Biden
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin looks on during a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at Israel’s Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 January 2024
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Defense secretary remains hospitalized as details emerge about delays in notification, even to Biden

Defense secretary remains hospitalized as details emerge about delays in notification, even to Biden
  • Austin, 70, remained hospitalized due to complications following a minor elective medical procedure

WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin remained in the hospital Sunday as more details emerged about key decision-makers, even President Joe Biden, being kept in the dark for days that the Pentagon chief had been in the intensive care unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The Pentagon’s failure to disclose Austin’s hospitalization reflects a stunning lack of transparency about his illness, how serious it was and when he may be released. Such secrecy, at a time when the United States is juggling myriad national security crises, runs counter to normal practice with the president and other senior US officials and Cabinet members.
A senior defense official said Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was not notified until Thursday that Austin had been hospitalized since Jan. 1. Once notified, Hicks began preparing statements to send to Congress and made plans to return to Washington, the official said. Hicks was in Puerto Rico on leave but had communications equipment with her to remain in contact and had already been tasked with some secretary-level duties on Tuesday.
The Pentagon did not say if Hicks was given an explanation on Tuesday for why she was assuming some of Austin’s duties, but temporary transfers of authority are not unusual and the official said it is not uncommon for authorities to be transferred without a detailed explanation. Hicks decided not to return after she was informed that Austin would resume full control on Friday. The official was not authorized to provide details of the transfer of authority and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Biden also was not told of Austin’s hospitalization until he was informed on Thursday by his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. That’s according to three people with knowledge of the hospitalization who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
In a statement issued Saturday evening, Austin took responsibility for the delays in notification.
“I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better,” said Austin, acknowledging the concerns about transparency. “But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”
Austin, 70, remained hospitalized due to complications following a minor elective medical procedure, his press secretary said, as it became increasingly clear how closely the Pentagon held information about his stay at Walter Reed. In his statement, Austin said he is on the mend and is looking forward to returning to the Pentagon soon, but he provided no other details about his ailment.
Sen. Roger Wicker, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the episode erodes trust in the Biden administration and called on the department to provide lawmakers with a “full accounting of the facts immediately.”
“I am glad to hear Secretary Austin is in improved condition and I wish him a speedy recovery. However, the fact remains that the Department of Defense deliberately withheld the Secretary of Defense’s medical condition for days. That is unacceptable,” Wicker said in a statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced support for Austin at a news conference in Qatar on Sunday.
“He is an extraordinary leader in this country, in uniform and now out of uniform. And it’s been a highlight of my service to be able to serve alongside him,” Blinken said. “And I’m very much looking forward to see him fully recovered and working side by side in the year ahead.”
The Pentagon Press Association, which represents journalists who cover the Defense Department, sent a letter of protest on Friday evening, calling the delay in alerting the public “an outrage.”
“At a time when there are growing threats to US military service members in the Middle East and the US is playing key national security roles in the wars in Israel and Ukraine, it is particularly critical for the American public to be informed about the health status and decision-making ability of its top defense leader,” the PPA said in its letter.
Other senior US leaders have been much more transparent about hospital stays. When Attorney General Merrick Garland went in for a routine medical procedure in 2022, his office informed the public a week in advance and outlined how long he was expected to be out and when he would return to work.


At least 58 people die after boat capsizes in Central Africa

At least 58 people die after boat capsizes in Central Africa
Updated 20 sec ago
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At least 58 people die after boat capsizes in Central Africa

At least 58 people die after boat capsizes in Central Africa
  • The wooden boat was overloaded with more than 300 people when it sank on the Mpoko river, say rescuers
  • Witnesses said the passengers were headed to the funeral of a village chief when the tragedy happened

BANGUI, Central African Republic: At least 58 people going to a funeral died after their overloaded river boat capsized in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, the head of civil protection said on Saturday.

“We were able to extract 58 lifeless bodies,” Thomas Djimasse told Radio Guira. “We don’t know the total number of people who are underwater.
According to witnesses and videos on social media, the wooden boat was carrying more than 300 people — some standing and others perched on wooden structures — when it sank on the Mpoko river on Friday.
The vessel was heading to the funeral of a village chief in Makolo, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Bangui, but got into difficulty shortly after setting off from the pier.
Rescue services arrived 40 minutes after the disaster.
The government did not respond on Saturday but in a speech recorded on Friday and broadcast a day later, government spokesman Maxime Balalou had reported a “provisional toll of at least 30 dead.”
The government sent its condolences to the bereaved families, he said, announcing the opening of an investigation and the setting up of a support system for families of the victims.
Maurice Kapenya, who was following the boat in a canoe because there was no space on board, said his own sister was among the bodies of the victims he had recovered.
He was helped by local fisherman and residents. Motorbike taxis meanwhile evacuated some of the injured.
Driver Francis Maka told AFP he had “taken more than 10 people to the community hospital... free of charge, in the face of the tragedy.”
With civil protection teams no longer on the scene Saturday, desperate families searching for missing loved ones near the river helped canoe operators they had hired, an AFP journalist observed.
Several opposition parties expressed solidarity with the families and called for national mourning.

The Central African Republic is ranked by the United Nations as the second least-developed country in the world.
A civil war has plagued the former French colony since a Muslim-dominated armed coalition called the Seleka ousted former president Francois Bozize in 2013.
The conflict lost intensity from 2018 but the country still suffers bouts of violence by rebel groups or over its resources, which include gold and diamonds.
French intervention and deployment of UN peacekeepers paved the way for elections in 2016, which President Faustin Archange Touadera won.
Two years later, Touadera brought in fighters from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to help train his armed forces.
The country still suffers bouts of violence by rebel groups or over its resources, which include gold and diamonds.
In 2020, CAR brought in more Russian operatives as rebel groups advanced on the capital and repelled a siege of Bangui.
However, some areas of the country remain outside government control.


Russia warns of more death and destruction as US House passes Ukraine aid bill

Russia warns of more death and destruction as US House passes Ukraine aid bill
Updated 15 min 54 sec ago
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Russia warns of more death and destruction as US House passes Ukraine aid bill

Russia warns of more death and destruction as US House passes Ukraine aid bill
  • Aid package will make US get richer, but further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, says Putin's spokesman
  • The legislative package approved by the US House of Representatives provides $60.84 billion to Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish weapons, stocks and facilities

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday that US House of Representatives’ approval of security aid to Ukraine would lead to more damage and deaths in the conflict there.

The decision “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
The Kremlin has been locked in conflict in Ukraine since invading it more than two years ago.
The House approved a legislative package providing $60.84 billion to Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities.
The package now goes to the US Senate, which passed a similar measure two months ago, for expected approval next week. It then is passed on to President Joe Biden to sign.
Peskov also said that provisions in the legislation allowing the US administration to confiscate seized Russian assets and transfer them to Ukraine to fund reconstruction would tarnish the image of the United States.
Russia, he said, would enact retaliatory measures.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, writing on the Telegram messaging app, said the approval of US aid for Ukraine was expected and grounded in “Russophobia.”
“We will, of course, be victorious regardless of the bloodsoaked $61 billion, which will mostly be swallowed up by their insatiable military industrial complex,” wrote Medvedev, one of Russia’s most vociferous hawks as deputy chairman of the Security Council.
Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said the approval of aid in the legislation to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan would “deepen crises throughout the world.”
“Military assistance to the Kyiv regime is direct sponsorship of terrorist activity,” Zakharova wrote on Telegram.
“To Taiwan, it is interference in China’s internal affairs. To Israel, it is a road straight to escalation and an unprecedented rise in tension in the region.”


Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London
Updated 38 min 9 sec ago
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Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

LONDON: Christie’s has announced a spring sale of “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds including Rugs and Carpets,” which will be presented during a live auction at the British auction house’s London headquarters on April 25.

“This season the sale offers a curated selection of 261 lots including four unique collections,” Christie’s said in a statement. “Illustrating the breadth of craftsmanship across 10 centuries, works date from the 10th century to the 20th century and cover a diversity of artistic traditions.”

The works include paintings, ceramics, metal work, works on paper, arms, textiles and rugs and carpets from across the Islamic world, spanning the Silk Route linking China to the West.

A number of private collections will be auctioned, including early Iranian ceramics from a private American collection, as well as Persian and Indian paintings from the collection of art specialists Charles and Regina Slatkin that features a rare work by the Bukhara artist Mahmud Muzahhib.

The carpet section of the auction “is led by Sultans of Silk: The George Farrow Collection, which is a comprehensive study of the very best of silk rug weaving of the late 19th and early 20th centuries gathered over forty years by the late George Farrow,” Christie’s said in its statement. The collection will offer more than 40 finely woven silk carpets.

According to Christie’s, Farrow was a British collector of silk rugs and his “expansive collection” comprises a variety of silk weavings from different origins.

Sara Plumbly, head of Islamic and Indian art at Christie’s, said: “We are delighted to offer a wide variety of works of art from across the Islamic and Indian worlds this season (and) we are particularly excited about three private collections, all with long provenance, that highlight the breadth and diversity of the artistic traditions of Iran — from Safavid textiles and painting to medieval pottery.”

Louise Broadhurst, international head of rugs and carpets at Christie’s, said the auction house “is honored to offer the collection of George Farrow, whose passion for antique silk rugs is reflected in the illuminating breadth of examples gathered over four decades, which include highlights rarely seen on today’s market.”

The “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds including Rugs and Carpets” is open to the public ahead of the live auction from April 21-24 at Christie’s in London.


Germany to send new frigate to protect ships in the Red Sea

Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 April 2024
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Germany to send new frigate to protect ships in the Red Sea

Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
  • The Houthis said on Thursday they had attacked almost 100 vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in months of strikes
  • Leading shipping industry associations appeal to UN to protect vessels after Iran seizure

BERLIN: Germany said on Saturday it will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August to help secure maritime traffic, which has been disrupted for months due to Houthi attacks.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the “Hamburg” will replace the “Hessen,” which left the zone on Saturday.
The “Hessen” had been deployed in the area on Feb. 23 as part of the EU’s “Aspides” mission to protect ships.
The statement said the “Hamburg” had escorted 27 merchant ships in the intervention zone and had, on four occasions, repulsed drone and missile attacks by the Houthis.
It had around 240 military personnel on board.

BACKGROUND

Houthi attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea have been met with retaliatory strikes by US and British forces since January.

The Houthis said on Thursday they had attacked almost 100 vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in months of strikes.
They began attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in November, a campaign they say is intended as a show of support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The attacks on the vital trade route have been met with retaliatory strikes by US and British forces since January.
The US set up a multinational task force late last year to “protect” Red Sea shipping.
Recent Houthi attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden have also affected the global maritime transport chain.
Merchant ships and seafarers are increasingly in peril at sea as attacks escalate in the Middle East, the industry said in a letter released on Friday. It said the UN must do more to protect supply chains.
In a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the world’s leading shipping industry associations said Iran’s seizure on April 13 of the MSC Aries container ship 50 nautical miles off the UAE coast “once again highlighted the intolerable situation where shipping has become a target.”
“Innocent seafarers have been killed. Seafarers are being held hostage,” the letter said.
“The world would be outraged if four airliners were seized and held hostage with innocent souls onboard. Regrettably, there does not seem to be the same response or concern (for ships and their crew members).”
India’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that an Indian woman who was a mariner on the MSC Aries had returned to the country.
It added that it was in touch with the other 16 Indian crew members still being held aboard the vessel.
The industry letter said: “Seafarers and the maritime sector are neutral and must not be politicized.”
The letter added: “Given the continually evolving and severe threat profile within the area, we call on you for enhanced coordinated military presence, missions, and patrols in the region to protect our seafarers against any further possible aggression.”
Iran has also seized other vessels in international waters in recent years, heightening risks for merchant shipping in the area.

 


Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots
Updated 20 April 2024
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Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

MADRID: Ministers from five Mediterranean nations have urged the EU to “deepen” bilateral agreements with migrant countries of origin and increase funding to tackle the root causes of migration.
During the Gran Canaria Island meeting, ministers of interior and migration from the MED5 nations — Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain — discussed the new migration and asylum pact adopted by the EU Parliament on April 11.
Years in the making, the deal involves a sweeping reform of the bloc’s asylum policies that will harden border procedures while forcing all 27 nations to share responsibility for migrant arrivals.

FASTFACT

The new EU pact includes building border centers to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside ‘safe’ countries.

The reform was spurred by the massive influx of migrants in 2015, with its provisions taking effect in 2026.
Hailing the pact as “historic,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said there was “still a long way to go” and that the solution lay in “prevention” and addressing the root causes of migration “at its source.”
“The key to migration management lies in bilateral cooperation,” he told a news conference, urging the European Commission “to deepen and broaden partnerships and agreements with third countries” to stem flows of irregular migrants.
“But we believe there is room for improvement, and the commitment should also focus on increasing European funds and flexible financing tools destined for such cooperation,” he said.
Under current EU rules, the arrival country bears responsibility for hosting and vetting asylum-seekers and returning those deemed inadmissible, which has put southern frontline states under huge pressure, fueling far-right opposition.
The new EU pact, which includes building border centers to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside “safe” countries, has been denounced by migrant charities and NGOs, with Amnesty International warning it would “lead to greater human suffering.”