Myanmar junta extends state of emergency by 6 months

Myanmar junta extends state of emergency by 6 months
Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing, above, during a defense and security council meeting in Naypyidaw. (Myanmar Military Information Team/AFP)
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Updated 31 January 2024
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Myanmar junta extends state of emergency by 6 months

Myanmar junta extends state of emergency by 6 months
  • The Southeast Asian nation has been in turmoil since the February 2021 coup
  • The junta has extended the state of emergency multiple times since declaring it

YANGON: Myanmar’s junta on Wednesday extended a state of emergency by six months, again delaying elections the military has promised to hold as it battles opposition across the country.
The Southeast Asian nation has been in turmoil since the February 2021 coup which ended a ten-year experiment with democracy and sparked mass protests and a crackdown on dissent.
Three years on, the junta is struggling to crush widespread armed opposition to its rule and recently suffered a series of stunning setbacks to an alliance of ethnic minority armed groups.
Acting president U Myint Swe “announced the extension of the state of emergency for another six months” at a meeting of the national defense and security council, the junta said in a statement.
The extension of the state of emergency — due to expire at midnight on Wednesday — was needed to “continue the process of combatting terrorists,” the statement added.
The council discussed “preparations for holding multi-party elections” and the holding of a national census at a meeting in the military-built capital Naypyidaw, it said, without giving details.
The military declared a state of emergency when it ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in February 2021, citing unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud in 2020 elections her party won in a landslide.
It has extended the state of emergency multiple times since, delaying fresh elections it has promised to hold.
Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 constitution, which the junta has said is still in force, requires authorities to hold fresh elections within six months of a state of emergency being lifted.
A surprise offensive in late October by an alliance of ethnic armed groups in northern Shan state sent the junta reeling.
The Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) seized roads to the country’s biggest trading partner China and captured dozens of military outposts.
Troops surrendered in their thousands and military units fled into India and China, prompting rare public criticism of the junta leadership by its supporters.
A China-brokered peace deal has since paused the fighting in the north, but the alliance has largely kept its recent gains and clashes continue elsewhere.
The setbacks have also galvanized pro-democracy groups to renew their attacks on the military elsewhere in the country.
Independent Myanmar analyst David Mathieson said the move was “a totally expected extension for a crumbling regime.”
More than 4,400 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on dissent and over 25,000 arrested, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta has said that “terrorists” opposing its rule have killed more than 6,000 civilians.
More than two million people have been displaced by violence since the putsch, according to the United Nations.


Biden says US helped Israel down ‘nearly all’ Iran drones, missiles

Biden says US helped Israel down ‘nearly all’ Iran drones, missiles
Updated 14 April 2024
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Biden says US helped Israel down ‘nearly all’ Iran drones, missiles

Biden says US helped Israel down ‘nearly all’ Iran drones, missiles
  • Biden spoke to Netanyahu to “reaffirm America’s ironclad commitment” to Israel’s security
  • Biden says to convene his fellow leaders of the G7 group to coordinate a “united diplomatic response” to Iran’s “brazen” attack

Washington: President Joe Biden on Saturday condemned Iranian attacks on military facilities in Israel, pledged a coordinated G7 diplomatic response and said the United States had helped Israel take down “nearly all” of the attacking drones and missiles.
Biden, who cut short a trip to Delaware and returned to Washington earlier on Saturday to meet with advisers about the attack, said US forces and facilities had not been hit.
The president said he reiterated the ironclad US support for Israel’s security in a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he has had strained relations over Israel’s handling of the war in Gaza.
“I told him that Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks – sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.
“Tomorrow, I will convene my fellow G7 leaders to coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack,” he said.


Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel late on Saturday in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike that raised the threat of a wider regional conflict,
Tehran had vowed to retaliate for Israel’s attack on Iran’s embassy compound last week in Damascus that killed a senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ overseas Quds Force and six other officers.
Biden said he had directed the US military to move aircraft and ballistic missile defense destroyers to the region over the course of the past week.
“Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles,” he said.
Biden said his team would coordinate with counterparts across the region and stay in close touch with Israel’s leaders.
“And while we have not seen attacks on our forces or facilities today, we will remain vigilant to all threats and will not hesitate to take all necessary action to protect our people,” he said.
Biden met with officials in the White House Situation Room, a crisis management center deep within the West Wing, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Hines, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other officials, the White House said.
Earlier on Saturday, Austin spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to discuss “urgent regional threats,” the Pentagon said, and reiterated full American support for Israel against attacks by Iran and its proxies.
Sullivan relayed a similar message of US support to his own Israeli counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi, he said in a post on X.
On Friday, Biden warned Iran against retaliation even while predicting the attack may be imminent. “We are devoted to the defense of Israel. We will support Israel. We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed,” he said.
Leading lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties expressed support for Israel against an Iranian attack.
The US House of Representatives will make a change in its schedule to consider legislation that supports Israel and holds Iran accountable, Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalize said in a statement.


Germany’s Chancellor Scholz walks tightrope on trade and politics in China

Germany’s Chancellor Scholz walks tightrope on trade and politics in China
Updated 14 April 2024
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Germany’s Chancellor Scholz walks tightrope on trade and politics in China

Germany’s Chancellor Scholz walks tightrope on trade and politics in China

BEIJING: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in China on Sunday, kicking off a trip in which he faces a tough balancing act as he aims to shore up economic ties with Berlin’s biggest trading partner.
Scholz touched down in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing on Sunday morning, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said, accompanied by a large delegation of ministers and business executives.
As Western allies are cranking up pressure on Beijing, Scholz is expected to underline that Germany remains committed to doing business with the world’s second-largest economy and rejects US-led calls for “decoupling.”
His friendly overtures toward China risk sparking ire among Washington and EU partners, which have been pushing back against Beijing’s heavy subsidies for industries.
“China remains a really important economic partner,” Scholz told journalists on Friday, adding that he would try to level the playing field for German companies in China.
On the geopolitical front, Scholz will also use his visit to persuade Chinese President Xi Jinping to exert his influence to rein in his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and help bring an end to the war in Ukraine.
“Given the close relations between China and Russia, Beijing has the possibility to exert its influence on Russia,” said a German government source in Berlin.
The three-day tour through Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing is Scholz’s second trip to China since he took office.
His first in November 2022 took place under intense scrutiny, as it came swiftly after Xi strengthened his grip on power, and marked the first post-pandemic visit by a G7 leader to China.
Stung then by painful supply chain disruptions during the health crisis as well as by China’s refusal to distance itself from Russia despite Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Western allies had been scrambling to reduce their reliance on Beijing.

Scholz’s visit comes as many of Germany’s Western allies confront China on a range of trade issues.
A slew of probes into state aid for Chinese solar panels, electric cars and wind turbines are ongoing in Brussels.
The United States is meanwhile investigating national security risks posed by Chinese technology in cars.
With tensions rumbling over Taiwan, US President Joe Biden this week made defense pledges to Japan and the Philippines, while describing behavior by Beijing in the South China Sea as “dangerous and aggressive.”
Two days before his visit, Scholz held talks with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, whose office said the leaders “coordinated to defend a rebalancing of European-Chinese trade relations.”
But China is a vital market for Germany, where many jobs depend directly on demand from the Asian giant.
Both economies also badly need a boost.
The German economy shrank by 0.3 percent last year, battered by inflation, high interest rates and cooling exports, and for this year, the economy ministry expects just an anaemic growth of 0.2 percent.
Beijing has set an annual GDP growth target of around five percent for this year, but exports plunged more than expected last month.
German MPs and analysts urged Scholz to take a firm line.
The Green party’s Deborah Duering warned Scholz against viewing China just as an economic opportunity.
“Those who ignore long-term risks for short-term profits risk repeating the mistakes of the past, misguided Russia policy,” said Duering, in reference to past dependency on Moscow for cheap energy supplies.
Max Zenglein of the Mercator Institute for China Studies said Germany should not hesitate to be more assertive.
“As countries such as the USA and Japan are positioning themselves much more sharply against China, Germany has an important role to play,” he said, adding that Germany was “in a position of strength.”
 


Unpopular Sunak in ‘doom loop’ as UK PM stares at election defeat

Unpopular Sunak in ‘doom loop’ as UK PM stares at election defeat
Updated 14 April 2024
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Unpopular Sunak in ‘doom loop’ as UK PM stares at election defeat

Unpopular Sunak in ‘doom loop’ as UK PM stares at election defeat
  • Surveys overwhelmingly show that Britons want an end to 14 years of Tory rule, and nothing that Sunak has done since he became PM 18 months ago appears to be changing their minds

LONDON: He’s failed to meet key pledges, hit an opinion poll low, and even cramped the style of a popular Adidas shoe: Britain’s beleaguered Conservative leader Rishi Sunak appears destined to lose a looming general election.
Two tax cuts and a slightly improving economy have failed to boost Sunak’s political fortunes, while criticism from ex-prime minister Boris Johnson and speculation over Brexit figurehead Nigel Farage’s intentions are adding to his woes.
Political scientist Rob Ford reckoned Sunak has been left looking “hapless” in the face of seemingly unstoppable political momentum away from his ruling Tories.
“When the herd moves, it moves. There’s not much you can do,” he told AFP.
Sunak, 43, has yet to announce the date of the election. He is expected to call it for October or November but is legally allowed to wait until January at the latest.
Surveys overwhelmingly show that Britons want an end to 14 years of Tory rule, and nothing that Sunak has done since he became PM 18 months ago appears to be changing their minds.
A YouGov poll released this month found that the Conservatives would win just 155 seats in the UK parliament, down from the 365 that they won under Johnson at the last election in December 2019.
Keir Starmer’s opposition Labour Party would win 403 seats, the same survey found, leading to a whopping 154-seat majority.
“Right now, it’s very difficult to see how the Conservatives remain in government after the next election simply because of the scale of shift they need,” said Keiran Pedley, director of politics at polling firm Ipsos.
Sunak succeeded Liz Truss in October 2022 after Tory MPs forced her out following a disastrous 49 days in office, during which her mini-budget spooked financial markets, sank the pound and sent mortgage payments skywards.
She had followed Johnson, who himself had been defenestrated by colleagues following a series of scandals, including over illegal parties in Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns.
While the turmoil of the two previous administrations has hamstrung Sunak, political analysts say he has also contributed to his own plight by falling short on promises and failing to connect with voters.
Despite promising to, he has not stopped migrants arriving from France on small boats. National Health Service waiting lists are higher than when he took office. Economic growth is stagnant, although inflation has more than halved.
Sunak has also tried a number of leadership and policy resets that have fallen flat, including watering down carbon net zero commitments in a pitch to motorists and recently talking about extremism.
The rightward tilt comes as the fringe Reform UK party threatens to deprive the Conservatives of key seats, particularly if Farage stands for them as he has teased.
“(Sunak has) been trying to find this magic wand or silver bullet to turn things around but at the moment none of it seems to be moving the dial,” Pedley told AFP.
An Ipsos poll published in March found that 58 percent of voters view the Conservatives unfavorably, the highest percentage this parliament. Only 19 percent view them favorably.
The survey gave Sunak a net favorability rating of minus 38, the lowest of any politician included.
Critics often accuse the wealthy ex-financier of being out of touch with average Britons.
“He is a combination of being rather awkward and nerdy, and then if challenged he always sounds really irritable,” Ford, politics professor at Manchester University, said.
Sunak is striving to revive his party’s fortunes, traversing the country to meet voters as rumors swirl that a disastrous showing in local elections on May 2 could spark a leadership challenge.
He can’t seem to catch a break, though.
This week, Johnson slammed Sunak’s proposed comprehensive smoking ban as “nuts,” while Sunak’s spokesperson had to deny that the PM was preparing to run an AI fund in the event of election defeat.
Sunak even offered a “fulsome apology to the Samba community” after photographs of him wearing the Adidas trainers sparked headlines like: “Eight trainers to wear now that Rishi has killed Sambas.”
“There’s a kind of a doom loop that politicians can get into where they’re unpopular,” explained Ford.
“The media know they’re unpopular so everything they do is reported negatively, which further reinforces their unpopularity.”
Political observers say polls usually narrow as voting day nears and suspect liberal Conservatives might ultimately stick with the party to reduce the size of a Labour win and ensure the Tories are an effective opposition.
“Everything at this point really is becoming about damage limitation,” said Ford.


Trump says Iran attack on Israel shows US ‘weakness’ under Biden

Former US President Donald Trump (L) and US President Joe Biden during. (AFP)
Former US President Donald Trump (L) and US President Joe Biden during. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2024
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Trump says Iran attack on Israel shows US ‘weakness’ under Biden

Former US President Donald Trump (L) and US President Joe Biden during. (AFP)

SCHNECKSVILLE, United States: Donald Trump on Saturday blasted President Joe Biden over Iran’s major attack on Israel, alleging that his rival in November elections showed American “weakness” in the Middle East.
“God bless the people of Israel. They are under attack right now. That’s because we show great weakness,” he said at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.
Iran launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel Saturday evening, after pledging retaliation for a strike on its consular building in Syria that killed seven Revolutionary Guards members, two of them generals.
Trump, who while in office ordered the killing of a top Revolutionary Guard leader in Baghdad and withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear accord, has repeatedly accused his Democratic opponent of a soft approach toward Tehran.
“The weakness that we’ve shown, it’s unbelievable, and it would not have happened if we were in office,” Trump said Saturday.
“But America prays for Israel, we send our absolute support to everyone in harm’s way.”
Biden meanwhile was huddling at the White House with his key military and national security advisers, saying on X that the US “commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad.”

 


Major airlines cancel flights, reroute planes as Iran launches retaliatory attack on Israel

An Aeroflot Airbus A320-200 aircraft takes off at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia. (REUTERS file photo
An Aeroflot Airbus A320-200 aircraft takes off at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia. (REUTERS file photo
Updated 14 April 2024
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Major airlines cancel flights, reroute planes as Iran launches retaliatory attack on Israel

An Aeroflot Airbus A320-200 aircraft takes off at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia. (REUTERS file photo
  • The return flight from Tehran to Moscow has been canceled

MOSCOW: An Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Tehran which took off on Saturday evening will land in Makhachkala in Russia’s Dagestan region and a number of flights to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates will be postponed, the airline said.
“Flight SU514 Moscow — Tehran ... will land at the Makhachkala airport,” Aeroflot said on its Telegram messaging app. “In order to ensure flight safety, the plane will return to Moscow after refueling.”
The return flight from Tehran to Moscow has been canceled, it added.
The Russian flagship carrier also said it was postponing until at least later on Sunday flights from Moscow and St. Petersburg to the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada in Egypt, from Moscow to Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, and from Moscow to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

The Switzerland flagship carrier Swiss International Air lines also suspended Tel Aviv service according to Wall Street Journal.

United Airlines has canceled Saturday’s planned flight from Newark to Tel Aviv due to restrictions on Israeli airspace, the airline said in a statement on Saturday.

Israel El Al Airlines has canceled 15 flights scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, the carrier said on Saturday as hostilities with Iran surged and Israel closed its airspace as a precaution.
Foreign destinations affected include Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Milan, Bucharest, Sofia, Athens, Dubai and Moscow, the El Al statement said.