In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden

In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden
Samra'a Luqman (R) hands out fliers outside of the American Moslem Society Mosque to ask voters not to vote for President Joe Biden after Friday prayers in Dearborn Heights. (AFP)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden

In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden
  • As Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.

Dearborn: It’s common to hear residents chatting in Arabic just as often as English in this Detroit suburb’s stores or mosques, those buildings themselves often sporting bilingual signage out front.
But no matter the language, residents in this Arab American and Muslim stronghold in the Midwestern state of Michigan are convinced President Joe Biden, as he steadfastly stands by Israel in its war in Gaza, is not listening to them.
“Vote for Palestine. No Biden,” political organizer Samra’a Luqman says in English, passing out fliers outside a mosque after prayers.
“Don’t vote for Biden,” the activist with Yemeni origins adds in Arabic.
“Of course,” respond many passersby.
As the Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents here — once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.
Some are hoping to pressure Biden to back off from his Israel support and call for a ceasefire. Others, like Luqman, say they would never vote for him.
“He’s committing the genocide. He’s funding it,” Luqman, a campaign leader with a group called Abandon Biden, tells AFP.
A campaign is underway by Luqman and others urging voters to vote “uncommitted,” or write in “Free Palestine” on their ballots in the state’s primary next week — a symbolic gesture, since Biden faces no serious challengers for the Democratic nomination.
“This is a campaign about pressuring our current president who can do something about the mass killing of children,” says Abbas Alawieh, a former Democratic chief of staff on Capitol Hill and member of the Listen to Michigan campaign group.
“In this community there are a lot of people who are directly harmed by war,” the Lebanese-born Alawieh tells AFP.
Biden, he says, “is threatening to lose this community. Not just in November, but perhaps for a generation to come.”
The war started when Hamas launched its attack on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
But concern has mounted amid the high civilian toll in Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at 29,313 people dead, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
Listen to Michigan began as a pressure campaign, but some voters say their frustration with the president is permanent.
Voting for Biden was the “worst mistake of my life,” says Mohamed Alemara, a 23-year-old medical student of Iraqi descent.
“You don’t kill 30,000 of our people and expect us to vote for you.”
Arab Americans’ vows to ditch Biden often baffle liberal political pundits.
What will Muslims and Arabs do, the thinking goes — vote for Donald Trump, the Republican behind the “Muslim ban” immigration policy, whose supporters flirt with ideas like “Christian nationalism“?
“We’re not a stupid community,” says Luqman. “I’ve survived a Muslim ban, but those kids in Gaza have not survived Joe Biden.”
“My intention is not to vote in an Islamophobe, another genocidal maniac,” she adds. Yet she tells AFP, “the only way I would vote for Biden is if he resurrected” the Gaza dead.
In America’s two-party system, where voters often hold their nose to pick candidates they don’t back 100 percent, 27-year-old nurse Fatima Elzaghir says that “at this point, the lesser evil is Trump.”
Others, like Alawieh, reject the premise of the question.
“How dare you come to me and say, ‘Oh, but later, Trump will be your fault,’” he says.
“Call your representative. Tell them you want a ceasefire.... Once we stop the bloodshed, then we can talk about the political consequences.”
Biden will also have to deal with Michigan’s unions — where some are defecting from the labor-friendly president’s camp.
Many union and workingclass voters already support Republicans, drawn in by their conservative social policies.
But for Merwan Beydoun, a steel mill worker and member of the United Autoworkers Union, Gaza was the breaking point.
“Furious” at Biden, whom the UAW endorsed, Beydoun stopped his contributions to the union’s political arm.
Beydoun says he still believes “in a lot of Democratic policies” and would rather not say how he’ll vote in November. But to earn Beydoun’s vote, the president “needs to wake up” and “change his ways.”
The Biden administration has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters’ concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
But US weapons have flowed to Israel since October 7, while Washington’s efforts to broker a second pause in fighting have failed, and on Tuesday the US blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.
“My intention is to punish Biden for what he’s doing now,” says Luqman. “For the betrayal that he’s done to me and all the community members that have voted for him.”


North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say

North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say
Updated 27 min 38 sec ago
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North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say

North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say
  • The projectile appeared to have landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone area

SEOUL: North Korea fired “several” ballistic missiles on Monday toward the sea off its east coast, South Korea’s military said.
A Japanese government alert and its coast guard also said North Korea had fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile. The projectile appeared to have landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone area, the NHK broadcaster said.
Japan’s NTV broadcaster said the projectile was a short-range ballistic missile, citing a Japanese government official.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North launched what it suspected to be several short-range ballistic missile from near its capital, Pyongyang, without providing further details.
The reports of the launch came as South Korea said its top military officer, Admiral Kim Myung-soo, had hosted the commander of US Space Command, General Stephen Whiting, on Monday to discuss the North’s reconnaissance satellite development and growing military cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow.
After a summit between the two countries’ leaders in September, North Korea has been suspected of supplying arms and munitions to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, although both deny that claim.
The North is believed to be preparing to launch another spy satellite, after successfully putting a reconnaissance satellite in orbit in November.
North Korea said last week that it had fired a strategic cruise missile to test a large warhead, and a new anti-aircraft missile.
Earlier in April, the North fired a new hypersonic missile as part of its development of solid-fueled missiles for all ranges of its arsenal.
The North has defied a ban by the United Nations Security Council on developing ballistic missiles, rejecting Council resolutions as infringing on its sovereign right to defend itself.


New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM

New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM
Updated 33 min 39 sec ago
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New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM

New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM
  • There is no consensus on what legal basis the Guards could be added to bloc-wide list of entities seen as terrorist origanisaions

PARIS: New European Union sanctions against Iran in response to the country’s recent attack on Israel should include the Revolutionary Guards, Belgium’s Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said on Monday.
Speaking to journalists ahead of an EU ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, Lahbib said that so far there was no consensus on what legal basis the Guards could be added to bloc-wide list of entities seen as terrorist origanisaions.
“We will discuss it together,” she said, adding:
“I also think we have to expand sanctions against violent settlers (in the Palestinian West Bank). We have to be balanced and make sure we won’t be accused of having double standards.”


Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit

 Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit
Updated 37 min 52 sec ago
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Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit

 Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit
  • Ebrahim Raisi arrives in Islamabad with high-level delegation and “large” team of businesspersons, says foreign office
  • Raisi’s visit to Pakistan takes place amid surging Middle East tensions following Israel’s airstrikes against Iran last week

ISLAMABAD: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Islamabad on Monday for a three-day visit to the country, Pakistan’s foreign office said, with his trip aimed at strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries amid surging tensions in the Middle East.

The Iranian president arrived in the federal capital with his spouse, a high-level delegation of cabinet members and a team of businesspersons. He was welcomed at the Islamabad Airport by Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Housing and Works Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Iran Mudassir Tipu. 

Raisi’s visit takes place days after Iran and Israel exchanged drone and missile strikes, escalating tensions in the already volatile Middle East.

“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi will meet at the Prime Minister’s House,” Sharif’s office said in a statement. “A round of delegation-level talks between Pakistan and Iran will also be held.”

The PMO said Sharif and Raisi would take part in a ceremony where several MoUs between the two countries would be signed.

During his visit from April 22-24, the Iranian head of state is scheduled to meet Pakistan’s prime minister, president, Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker, the foreign office said in a statement on Friday, adding that he would also visit Karachi and Lahore cities to meet the country’s provincial leadership.

Raisi’s visit will is the first by any head of state to Pakistan after the contentious elections of February 2024.

Pakistan and Iran are often at odds with each other over instability on their shared porous border, with both countries routinely trading blame for not rooting out militancy.

Tensions surged in January when Pakistan and Iran exchanged airstrikes, both claiming to target alleged militant hideouts in each other’s countries. Both sides have since then undertaken peace overtures and restored bilateral ties.

“The two sides will have a wide-ranging agenda to further strengthen Pakistan-Iran ties and enhance cooperation in diverse fields including trade, connectivity, energy, agriculture, and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign office said.

Discussions would also focus on regional and global developments as well as bilateral cooperation to combat “terrorism,” the statement added.

“Pakistan and Iran enjoy strong bilateral ties anchored in history, culture and religion,” the foreign office said. “This visit provides an important opportunity to further strengthen Pakistan-Iran relations.”

This article was originally published in Arab News Pakistan


Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’

Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’
Updated 22 April 2024
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Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’

Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’
  • Taiwanese premier Chen Chien-jen: ‘A peaceful and stable Taiwan Strait is a most important key to peace and prosperity in the world’

TAIPEI: Taiwan will work with the United States to “safeguard peace and freedom” in the region, the island’s premier said on Monday, after Washington approved billions in military aid for Taipei in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
The US House of Representatives on Saturday passed four bills in a $95 billion package, approving military aid to Ukraine and bolstering Israel’s defenses.
Some $8 billion under one bill would be used to counter China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to bring the democratic island under its control.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said Sunday that about $1.9 billion is earmarked for replenishing its military equipment and training and another $2 billion will used for “foreign military financing” for countries in the region including Taiwan.
The announcement also comes days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits China, hoping to press Beijing to curb wartime support for Russia.
“A peaceful and stable Taiwan Strait is a most important key to peace and prosperity in the world,” Taiwanese Premier Chen Chien-jen said Monday.
“Taiwan will continue to work with like-minded countries including the United States and all countries in the free democratic camp... to safeguard peace and freedom in the Indo-Pacific region and make the Taiwan Strait area more stable,” he added.
The 180-kilometer waterway separates Taiwan from China and is among the world’s busiest shipping routes.
It is also a hotspot of tensions between Beijing and Taipei, as relations have plummeted since 2016 after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen came into power.
She has refused to acknowledge Beijing’s claim over the island, saying instead that Taiwan is “already independent,” and during her two terms has bolstered defense spending for the island’s armed forces.
Her office on Sunday thanked the US Congress for approving the bills, which “shows that the United States’ security commitment to Taiwan has a clear bipartisan consensus,” said Presidential spokeswoman Olivia Lin.
Washington’s top diplomat Blinken’s trip marks a lowering of US-China friction that soared under former president Donald Trump.
High on his agenda will be what US officials say is a major push by China that has helped Russia, in the throes of the Ukraine invasion, carry out its biggest militarization since Soviet times.
But Beijing has regularly expressed anger at international support for Taipei and criticized the US of meddling in its affairs.


Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election

Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election
Updated 22 April 2024
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Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election

Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election
  • In fake viral videos, two A-lister Bollywood stars are seen criticizing PM Modi, asking people to vote for Congress
  • Deepfakes are being increasingly used in elections elsewhere in the world, including US, Pakistan and Indonesia

MUMBAI: In fake videos that have gone viral online, two of India’s A-lister Bollywood actors are seen criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and asking people to vote for the opposition Congress party in the country’s ongoing general election.

In a 30-second video that shows Aamir Khan and another 41-second clip of Ranveer Singh, the two Bollywood actors purportedly say Modi failed to keep campaign promises and failed to address critical economic issues during his two terms as prime minister.

Both AI-generated videos end with the Congress election symbol and slogan: “Vote for Justice, Vote for Congress.”

The two videos have been viewed on social media more than half a million times since last week, a Reuters review shows.

Their spread underlines the potential role such AI (artificial intelligence)-generated content can play in the mammoth Indian election that started on Friday and will continue until June. AI and AI-generated fakes, or deepfakes, are being increasingly used in elections elsewhere in the world, including in the US, Pakistan and Indonesia.

Campaigning in India has long focused on door-to-door outreach and public rallies, but extensive use of WhatsApp and Facebook as campaigning tools started in 2019. This year’s general election — in which Modi is expected to secure a rare third term — is the first in which AI is being used.

A Congress spokesperson, Sujata Paul, shared actor Singh’s video with her 16,000 followers on X on April 17 and by Saturday afternoon, her post had been reshared 2,900 times, liked 8,700 times and received 438,000 views.

Paul told Reuters by telephone she was aware the video was marked “manipulated media” by X, but she did not want to delete it as, while posting, she thought the person was a look alike of Singh and “it has creativity for sure.”

The post was no longer visible on X on Sunday, hours after Reuters sent a request for comment to Congress’ head of social media cell, who did not respond.

Both actors have said the videos are fake. Facebook, X and at least eight fact-checking websites have said they are altered or manipulated, which the Reuters digital verification unit has also confirmed.

Reuters could not ascertain who created the videos. Khan was “alarmed” by the viral “fake” video and Singh’s team was looking into the matter, according to a spokesperson for both actors. Singh wrote on X on Friday: “Beware of deepfakes, friends.”

Modi’s office, and the IT head of his Bharatiya Janata Party, did not respond to requests for comment.

POLICE PROBE

Nearly 900 million people in India have access to the Internet and a survey conducted by research organization Esya Center and the Indian Institute of Management business school showed an average Indian spends over three hours a day on social media. The country has nearly one billion voters.

Some versions of the videos have been blocked on social media but at least 14 were still visible on X on Saturday. Facebook deleted two videos Reuters flagged to the company but one other was still visible.

Facebook in a statement said it has “removed the videos” for violation of its policies. X did not respond to Reuters queries.

The videos have sparked one police investigation with Khan registering a case in Mumbai against unnamed persons on April 17 for alleged impersonation and cheating for creating the fake video.

Mumbai police did not return a request for comment, but two officers working on Khan’s case, who declined to be named, said they wrote to Facebook and X to take down the video and the companies had said it was done.

The officers said they were up until 2 a.m. on Friday, refreshing pages to check if Khan’s online videos were removed. Asked about progress in the case, one of them said: “Such technical investigations take time.”

AI VIDEO OF DEAD FATHER

In this year’s election, politicians are using AI in other ways.

In southern India, Congress leader Vijay Vasanth’s spokesperson said his team has created a 2-minute audio-video clip using AI that was shared on social media platforms and shows his now dead but more popular politician father, H. Vasanthakumar, seeking votes for him.

The late politician is seen saying “even though my body left you all, my soul is still around.”

In videos put out on YouTube by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), Samata, an AI-generated anchor dressed in a traditional saree and speaking in a style that mimics regular news channels, criticizes the ruling party in West Bengal state.

In one clip, the anchor alleges the party does not care about the environment as many water bodies have vanished due to illegal construction.

A spokesperson for the ruling party denied the allegation and said the state government has ensured no such construction takes place. The CPM did not respond to requests for comment.

In the video, which has been seen 12,000 times, anchor Samata declares: “These are questions that we the citizens of this city need to ponder over.”