Biden aide urges Bejing to press Iran over Houthi attacks. China warns US over Taiwan independence

This combination of pictures created on January 25, 2024 shows US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Davos, on January 16, 2024 andina's Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Brasilia on January 19, 2024. (AFP)
This combination of pictures created on January 25, 2024 shows US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Davos, on January 16, 2024 andina's Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Brasilia on January 19, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 28 January 2024
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Biden aide urges Bejing to press Iran over Houthi attacks. China warns US over Taiwan independence

Biden aide urges Bejing to press Iran over Houthi attacks. China warns US over Taiwan independence
  • Biden has said he does not support independence, but US law requires a credible defense for Taiwan and for the US to treat all threats to the island as matters of “grave concern”

BEIJING: US national security adviser Jake Sullivan pressed Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during talks in Thailand to use China’s influence with Iran to ease tensions in the Middle East. The officials also agreed to work toward arranging a call between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The meetings Friday and Saturday in Bangkok, which followed up on the presidents’ discussions in November in California, took place after a ruling-party candidate opposed by Beijing won Taiwan’s recent presidential election and US and Chinese military officials resumed a once-frozen dialogue. They played out as attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to threaten global shipping in the Red Sea.
A senior US official said Sullivan cited China’s extensive economic leverage over Iran and emphasized that the destabilizing effect of the Houthi attacks on international commerce. The official noted that China has publicly called for lower tensions, but said it was too soon to tell whether Beijing was using its diplomatic muscle to press Tehran on the matter. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the private conversations between Sullivan and Wang and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Wang said Washington should stand by a commitment not to support independence for Taiwan. Wang said Taiwan’s election, won by Lai Ching-te, the current vice president, did not alter the Chinese position that the island is part of China and that the biggest challenge in US-China relations is the issue of “Taiwan independence,” according to a statement from the ministry.
Biden has said he does not support independence, but US law requires a credible defense for Taiwan and for the US to treat all threats to the island as matters of “grave concern.”
The US official said it was not clear when the next Biden-Xi conversation would happen, but that the officials hoped it would take place in the coming months.
Wang and Sullivan previously met on the Mediterranean island nation of Malta and in Vienna last year before the Biden-Xi meeting in California.
In November, both sides showcased modest agreements to combat illegal fentanyl and reestablish military communications, keeping the relationship from growing any worse. The US-China Counternarcotics Working Group is set to hold its first meeting on Tuesday. American officials say fentanyl and its precursors are largely manufactured in China.
China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and in recent years has shown its displeasure at political activities in Taiwan by sending military planes and ships. Earlier Saturday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said China had sent more than 30 warplanes and a group of navy ships toward the island during a 24-hour period, including 13 warplanes that crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait — an unofficial boundary that’s considered a buffer between its territory and the mainland.
Wang also said China and the US should use the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries this year as an opportunity to reflect on past experiences and treat each other as equals, rather than adopting a condescending attitude.
The countries should “be committed to mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation, building a correct way for China and the US to interact,” the statement quoted Wang as saying.
Taiwan has said six Chinese balloons either flew over the island or through airspace just north of it, days after the self-governing island held its election. Lai’s Democratic Progressive Party largely campaigned on self-determination, social justice and a rejection of China’s threats.
Apart from cross-strait issues, Sullivan and Wang also discussed Russia’s war against Ukraine, the Middle East, North Korea, the South China Sea, and Myanmar, the White House said. Sullivan and Wang talked about progress toward holding a dialog this spring between US and Chinese officials on artificial intelligence.
Sullivan highlighted that although Washington and Beijing are in competition, both sides have to “prevent it from veering into conflict or confrontation,” according to a White House summary of the meeting.
 

 


At least five migrants died during attempt to cross English Channel - La Voix du Nord

At least five migrants died during attempt to cross English Channel - La Voix du Nord
Updated 1 sec ago
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At least five migrants died during attempt to cross English Channel - La Voix du Nord

At least five migrants died during attempt to cross English Channel - La Voix du Nord
  • People smugglers typically overload rickety dinghies, leaving them barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves
PARIS: At least five migrants died in an attempt to cross the English Channel from an area near the town of Wimereux, local newspaper La Voix du Nord said on Tuesday.
The French coast guard confirmed there was a failed attempt to cross the Channel and said police were operating at a beach following the incident on Tuesday morning, adding there were several ‘lifeless bodies’.
Local police did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.
The coast guard spokesperson said its agents were still operating at sea on Tuesday morning after what the official called a ‘busy’ morning, with several crossing attempts.
The Channel between France and Britain is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong, making the crossing on small boats dangerous.
People smugglers typically overload rickety dinghies, leaving them barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves as they try to reach British shores.

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023— UN 

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023— UN 
Updated 1 min 40 sec ago
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Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023— UN 

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023— UN 
  • Climate change exacerbated severity of weather disasters last year, sauys World Meteorological Organization
  • 79 disasters, mostly floods and storms, associated with water-related weather hazards were reported in Asia in 2023

Geneva: Asia was the world’s most disaster-hit region from climate and weather hazards in 2023, the United Nations said Tuesday, with floods and storms the chief cause of casualties and economic losses.

Global temperatures hit record highs last year, and the UN’s weather and climate agency said Asia was warming at a particularly rapid pace.

The World Meteorological Organization said the impact of heatwaves in Asia was becoming more severe, with melting glaciers threatening the region’s future water security.

The WMO said Asia was warming faster than the global average, with temperatures last year nearly two degrees Celsius above the 1961 to 1990 average.

“The report’s conclusions are sobering,” WMO chief Celeste Saulo said in a statement.

“Many countries in the region experienced their hottest year on record in 2023, along with a barrage of extreme conditions, from droughts and heatwaves to floods and storms.

“Climate change exacerbated the frequency and severity of such events, profoundly impacting societies, economies, and, most importantly, human lives and the environment that we live in.”

The State of the Climate in Asia 2023 report highlighted the accelerating rate of key climate change indicators such as surface temperature, glacier retreat and sea level rise, saying they would have serious repercussions for societies, economies and ecosystems in the region.

“Asia remained the world’s most disaster-hit region from weather, climate and water-related hazards in 2023,” the WMO said.

The annual mean near-surface temperature over Asia in 2023 was the second highest on record, at 0.91 degrees Celsius above the 1991-2020 average, and 1.87 C above the 1961-1990 average.

Particularly high average temperatures were recorded from western Siberia to central Asia, and from eastern China to Japan, the report said, with Japan having its hottest summer on record.

As for precipitation, it was below normal in the Himalayas and in the Hindu Kush mountain range in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile southwest China suffered from a drought, with below-normal precipitation levels in nearly every month of the year.

The High-Mountain Asia region, centered on the Tibetan Plateau, contains the largest volume of ice outside of the polar regions.

Over the last several decades, most of these glaciers have been retreating, and at an accelerating rate, the WMO said, with 20 out of 22 monitored glaciers in the region showing continued mass loss last year.

The report said 2023 sea-surface temperatures in the northwest Pacific Ocean were the highest on record.

Last year, 79 disasters associated with water-related weather hazards were reported in Asia. Of those, more than 80 percent were floods and storms, with more than 2,000 deaths and nine million people directly affected.

“Floods were the leading cause of death in reported events in 2023 by a substantial margin,” the WMO said, noting the continuing high level of vulnerability of Asia to natural hazard events.

Hong Kong recorded 158.1 millimeters of rainfall in one hour on September 7 — the highest since records began in 1884, as a result of a typhoon.

The WMO said there was an urgent need for national weather services across the region to improve tailored information to officials working on reducing disaster risks.

“It is imperative that our actions and strategies mirror the urgency of these times,” said Saulo.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the evolving climate is not merely an option, but a fundamental necessity.”


UN officials urge UK to reconsider plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda

UN officials urge UK to reconsider plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda
Updated 17 min 4 sec ago
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UN officials urge UK to reconsider plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda

UN officials urge UK to reconsider plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda
  • UN called on the UK to instead take practical measures to address irregular flows of migrants and refugees

GENEVA: Two United Nations top officials on Tuesday called on the UK to reconsider its plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda, warning the move would have a harmful impact on human rights and refugee protection.
In a joint statement, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the UK to instead take practical measures to address irregular flows of migrants and refugees.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised on Monday to start sending asylum seekers to Rwanda within 10 to 12 weeks as the upper house of parliament passed legislation that had been delayed for weeks by attempts to alter the plan.


Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023:UN

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023:UN
Updated 23 April 2024
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Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023:UN

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023:UN
  • UN’s weather and climate agency said Asia was warming at a particularly rapid pace

GENEVA: Asia was the world’s most disaster-hit region from climate and weather hazards in 2023, the United Nations said Tuesday, with floods and storms the chief cause of casualties and economic losses.
Global temperatures hit record highs last year, and the UN’s weather and climate agency said Asia was warming at a particularly rapid pace.
The World Meteorological Organization said the impact of heatwaves in Asia was becoming more severe, with melting glaciers threatening the region’s future water security.
The WMO said Asia was warming faster than the global average, with temperatures last year nearly two degrees Celsius above the 1961 to 1990 average.
“The report’s conclusions are sobering,” WMO chief Celeste Saulo said in a statement.
“Many countries in the region experienced their hottest year on record in 2023, along with a barrage of extreme conditions, from droughts and heatwaves to floods and storms.
“Climate change exacerbated the frequency and severity of such events, profoundly impacting societies, economies, and, most importantly, human lives and the environment that we live in.”
The State of the Climate in Asia 2023 report highlighted the accelerating rate of key climate change indicators such as surface temperature, glacier retreat and sea level rise, saying they would have serious repercussions for societies, economies and ecosystems in the region.
“Asia remained the world’s most disaster-hit region from weather, climate and water-related hazards in 2023,” the WMO said.
Ranging disasters
The annual mean near-surface temperature over Asia in 2023 was the second highest on record, at 0.91 degrees Celsius above the 1991-2020 average, and 1.87 C above the 1961-1990 average.
Particularly high average temperatures were recorded from western Siberia to central Asia, and from eastern China to Japan, the report said, with Japan having its hottest summer on record.
As for precipitation, it was below normal in the Himalayas and in the Hindu Kush mountain range in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile southwest China suffered from a drought, with below-normal precipitation levels in nearly every month of the year.
The High-Mountain Asia region, centered on the Tibetan Plateau, contains the largest volume of ice outside of the polar regions.
Over the last several decades, most of these glaciers have been retreating, and at an accelerating rate, the WMO said, with 20 out of 22 monitored glaciers in the region showing continued mass loss last year.
The report said 2023 sea-surface temperatures in the northwest Pacific Ocean were the highest on record.
Water-related hazards
Last year, 79 disasters associated with water-related weather hazards were reported in Asia. Of those, more than 80 percent were floods and storms, with more than 2,000 deaths and nine million people directly affected.
“Floods were the leading cause of death in reported events in 2023 by a substantial margin,” the WMO said, noting the continuing high level of vulnerability of Asia to natural hazard events.
Hong Kong recorded 158.1 millimeters of rainfall in one hour on September 7 — the highest since records began in 1884, as a result of a typhoon.
The WMO said there was an urgent need for national weather services across the region to improve tailored information to officials working on reducing disaster risks.
“It is imperative that our actions and strategies mirror the urgency of these times,” said Saulo.
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the evolving climate is not merely an option, but a fundamental necessity.”


Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army

Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army
Updated 23 April 2024
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Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army

Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army
  • Raisi said the killings by Israel in Gaza were being committed with the support of the United States and other Western countries

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A lawyer for the military contractor being sued by three survivors of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq told jurors Monday that the plaintiffs are suing the wrong people.
“If you believe they were abused ... tell them to make their claim against the US government,” said John O’Connor, defense attorney for Reston, Virginia-based military contractor CACI, during closing arguments at the civil trial in federal court. “Why didn’t they sue the people who actively abused them?”
The lawsuit brought by the three former Abu Ghraib detainees marks the first time a US jury has weighed claims of abuse at the prison, which was the site of a worldwide scandal 20 years ago when photos became public showing US soldiers smiling as they inflicted abusive and humiliating treatment on detainees in the months after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The suit alleges that civilian interrogators supplied by CACI to Abu Ghraib contributed to the torture the plaintiffs by conspiring with military police to “soften up” detainees for interrogations.
CACI, in its closing arguments, relied in part on a legal theory known as the “borrowed servant doctrine,” which states an employer can’t be liable for its employees’ conduct if another entity is controlling and directing those employees’ work.
In this case, CACI says the Army was directing and controlling its employees in their work as interrogators.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs disputed that CACI relinquished control of its interrogators to the Army. At trial, they introduced evidence that CACI’s contract with the Army required CACI to supervise its own employees. Jurors also saw a section of the Army Field Manual that pertains to contractors and states that “only contractors may supervise and give direction to their employees.
Muhammad Faridi, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, told jurors that the case is simpler than CACI’s lawyers are trying to make it.
He said that if CACI interrogators conspired with military police to inflict abuse on detainees to soften them up for interrogations, then the jury can find CACI liable even if CACI interrogators never themselves inflicted abuse on any of the three plaintiffs.
All three plaintiffs testified to horrible treatment including beatings, sexual assaults, being threatened with dogs and forced to wear women’s underwear, but said the abuse was either inflicted by soldiers, or by civilians who couldn’t be identified as CACI workers. In some cases, the detainees said they couldn’t see who was abusing them because they had bags over their heads.
As evidence of CACI’s complicity, jurors heard testimony from two retired generals who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004; both concluded that CACI interrogators engaged in misconduct.
Faridi told the jury that while many of the soldiers who abused detainees were convicted and sentenced to prison, CACI has not yet been held accountable.
“When our country’s military found out about the abuse, they didn’t cover it up,” Faridi said. “Our country’s military held the military police members who were perpetrating the abuse accountable. CACI escaped liability.”
And Faridi said that even when the Army asked CACI to hold its its interrogators responsible, it still sought to evade responsibility. In May 2004, the Army asked CACI to fire one of its interrogators, Dan Johnson, after one of the Abu Ghraib photos showed Johnson interrogating a detainee who was forced into an awkward crouching position that investigators concluded was an illegal stress position.
CACI contested Johnson’s dismissal, writing that the “photo depicts what appears to be a relatively relaxed scene” and saying that “squatting is common and unremarkable among Iraqis.”
“I’ll leave that to you to consider whether you find that offensive,” Faridi told the jury Monday.
At trial, CACI employees testified they defended Johnson’s work because Army personnel had asked them through back channels to do so. O’Connor said that out of the many hundreds of photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib, the photo of Johnson is the only one depicting a CACI employee, and it shows him questioning not one of the plaintiffs but an Iraqi policeman after someone had smuggled a gun into the prison and shot at military police.
O’Connor also apologized for parts of his case that were “long, annoying and boring” but said he had no choice because the US government claimed that some evidence, including the identities of interrogators, was classified. So jurors, rather than hearing live testimony, were subjected to long audio recordings in which the interrogators’ voices were doctored and their answers were often interrupted by government lawyers who instructed them to not answer the question.
The trial was delayed by more than 15 years of legal wrangling and questions over whether CACI could be sued. Some of the debate focused on the question of immunity — there had long been an assumption that the US government would hold sovereign immunity from a civil suit, and CACI argued that, as a government contractor, it would enjoy derivative immunity.
But US District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, determined that the US government cannot claim immunity in cases involving fundamental violations of international norms, such as torture allegations. And, as a result, CACI could not claim any kind of derivative immunity, either.
The eight-person jury deliberated about three hours before pausing Monday afternoon without reaching a verdict. Deliberations are set to resume Wednesday.