Biden is summoning congressional leaders to the White House to talk Ukraine and government funding

Biden is summoning congressional leaders to the White House to talk Ukraine and government funding
President Joe Biden will discuss with Congress leaders the “urgency” of passing the aid package as well as legislation to keep the federal government operating through the end of September. (AP/File)
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Updated 26 February 2024
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Biden is summoning congressional leaders to the White House to talk Ukraine and government funding

Biden is summoning congressional leaders to the White House to talk Ukraine and government funding
  • The Republican-led House is under pressure to pass the $95 billion national security package that bolsters aid for Ukraine, Israel as well as the Indo-Pacific
  • White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan stressed that Ukrainians need weapons and ammunition to fend off Russian attacks

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden will convene the top four congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday to press lawmakers on passing an emergency aid package for Ukraine and Israel, as well as averting a looming government shutdown next month, according to a White House official.
The top four leaders include House Speaker Mike Johnson, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
During the meeting, the president will discuss the “urgency” of passing the aid package, which has bipartisan support, as well as legislation to keep the federal government operating through the end of September, said the White House official, who was granted anonymity to discuss a meeting not yet publicly confirmed.
The Republican-led House is under pressure to pass the $95 billion national security package that bolsters aid for Ukraine, Israel as well as the Indo-Pacific. That legislation cleared the Senate on a 70-29 vote earlier this month, but Johnson has been resistant to putting up the aid bill for a vote in the House.
“This is one of those instances where one person can bend the course of history. Speaker Johnson, if he put this bill on the floor, would produce a strong, bipartisan majority vote in favor of the aid to Ukraine,” Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Sullivan stressed that Ukrainians need weapons and ammunition to fend off Russian forces, and that in his conversations with the speaker, he “has indicated that he would like to get the funding for Ukraine.”
Separate from the national security package, the first tranche of government funding is due to expire Friday. The rest of the federal government, including agencies such as the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, expires on March 8.
In a letter to his colleagues sent Sunday, Schumer said there was not yet an agreement to avoid a partial shutdown of the agencies whose funding expires this week. That includes the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs.
“While we had hoped to have legislation ready this weekend that would give ample time for members to review the text, it is clear now that House Republicans need more time to sort themselves out,” Schumer wrote in the letter. The Senate majority leader called on Johnson to “step up to once again buck the extremists in his caucus and do the right thing” by greenlighting funding to keep the government open.


After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’

After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’
Updated 11 sec ago
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After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’

After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’
  • Agencies have historically required high levels of proof before calling diseases airborne, which required stringent containment
  • Past disagreements also centered around whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” based on size

LONDON: The World Health Organization and around 500 experts have agreed for the first time what it means for a disease to spread through the air, in a bid to avoid the confusion early in the COVID-19 pandemic that some scientists have said cost lives.
The Geneva-based UN health agency released a technical document on the topic on Thursday. It said it was the first step toward working out how to better prevent this kind of transmission, both for existing diseases like measles and for future pandemic threats.
The document concludes that the descriptor “through the air” can be used for infectious diseases where the main type of transmission involves the pathogen traveling through the air or being suspended in the air, in line with other terms such as “waterborne” diseases, which are understood across disciplines and by the public.
Almost 500 experts contributed to the definition, including physicists, public health professionals and engineers, many of whom disagreed bitterly over the topic in the past.
Agencies have historically required high levels of proof before calling diseases airborne, which required very stringent containment measures; the new definition says the risk of exposure and severity of disease should also be considered.
Past disagreements also centered around whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” based on size, which the new definition moves away from.
During the early days of COVID in 2020, around 200 aerosol scientists publicly complained that the WHO had failed to warn people of the risk that the virus could spread through the air. This led to an overemphasis on measures like handwashing to stop the virus, rather than focusing on ventilation, they said.
On Wednesday, Democrats in the Arizona state House failed to repeal a controversial ban on abortion that dates back to 1864 after they couldn’t muster Republican support.
By July 2020, the agency said there was “evidence emerging” of airborne spread, but its then chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan – who began the process to get a definition – later said, opens new tab the WHO should have been more forceful “much earlier.”
Her successor, Jeremy Farrar, said in an interview that the new definition was about more than COVID, but he added that at the beginning of the pandemic there was a lack of evidence available and experts including the WHO acted in “good faith.” At that time, he was head of the Wellcome Trust charity and advised the British government on the pandemic.
Farrar said getting the definition agreed among experts from all disciplines would allow discussions to begin about issues such as ventilation in many different settings, from hospitals to schools.
He compared it to the realization that blood-borne viruses like HIV or hepatitis B could be spread by medics not wearing gloves during procedures.
“When I started out, medical students, nurses, doctors, none of us wore gloves to take blood,” he told Reuters. “Now it is unthinkable that you wouldn’t wear gloves. But that came because everyone agreed on what the issue was, they agreed on the terminology… [The change in practice] came later.”


Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza

Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza
Updated 11 min 39 sec ago
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Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza

Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza
  • Mohammed Salem won for heartrending photo of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her young niece
  • Inas Abu Maamar holds five-year-old Saly, killed along with her mother and sister when Israeli missile struck their home

PARIS: Reuters photographer Mohammed Salem captured this year’s prestigious World Press Photo of the Year award Thursday with a depiction of loss and sorrow in Gaza, a heartrending photo of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her young niece. The photograph, taken in Khan Younis just days after Salem’s own child was born, shows 36-year-old Inas Abu Maamar holding five-year-old Saly, who was killed along with her mother and sister when an Israeli missile struck their home.
Salem, who is Palestinian, described this photo filed Nov. 2 last year, as a “powerful and sad moment that sums up the broader sense of what was happening in the Gaza Strip.”
The image ”truly encapsulates this sense of impact,” said global jury chair Fiona Shields, The Guardian newspaper’s head of photography. “It is incredibly moving to view and at the same time an argument for peace, which is extremely powerful when peace can sometimes feel like an unlikely fantasy,” she added.
The World Press Photo jury praised the shot’s sense of care and respect and its offering of a “metaphorical and literal glimpse into unimaginable loss.”
This is not the first time Salem has been recognized for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he received a World Press Photo award more than a decade ago for another depiction of the human toll of conflict in the Gaza strip.
In the three other global categories announced Thursday, South Africa’s Lee-Ann Olwage won Photo Story of the Year for her touching series “Valim-babena,” featured in GEO magazine. The project focused on the stigmatization of dementia in Madagascar, a topic she explored through intimate portraits of “Dada Paul” and his family. Lack of public awareness surrounding dementia means that people displaying symptoms of memory loss are often stigmatized.
In the series, “Dada Paul,” who has lived with dementia for 11 years, is tenderly cared for by his daughter Fara. One of the standout images in the series shows him preparing for church with his granddaughter Odliatemix, capturing moments of normalcy and warmth amidst the challenges of dementia.
Photographer Alejandro Cegarra, a Venezuelan native who migrated to Mexico in 2017, won the Long-Term Project award for “The Two Walls,” published by The New York Times and Bloomberg. Cegarra’s project, initiated in 2018, examines a shift in Mexico’s immigration policies, which have moved from being historically open to enforcing strict regulations at its southern border. The jury said the photographer’s perspective as a migrant gave it a “sensitive,” human-centered perspective, according to a press release.
Julia Kochetova of Ukraine won the Open Format award for “War Is Personal.” The project stood out from coverage of the ongoing conflict by offering a personal look at the harsh realities of war. On a dedicated website, she merged traditional photojournalism with a diary-like documentary style, incorporating photography, poetry, audio clips and music.
The Associated Press won the Open Format award in the regional Africa category with the multimedia story “Adrift,” created by journalists Renata Brito and Felipe Dana. The story investigates the fate of West African migrants who attempted to reach Europe via a treacherous Atlantic route but ended up on a ghost ship discovered off Tobago. The team’s compelling use of photography, cinematography and detailed narrative, enhanced by expert design and multimedia elements, highlights the perils faced by migrants and the human stories behind global migration issues.
The Associated Press’ Ebrahim Noroozi won the Asia Stories award for his series “Afghanistan on the Edge,” which documents the country since the Taliban took over in August 2021.
World Press Photo is an independent, nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands, founded in 1955.


France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday in Paris. (File/Reuters/AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday in Paris. (File/Reuters/AFP)
Updated 18 April 2024
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France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday in Paris. (File/Reuters/AFP)
  • Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year after ex-head of state Michel Aoun’s mandate expired
  • Former French colony is also in the grips of an unprecedented economic crisis

PARIS: France President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati and army chief Joseph Aoun on Friday in Paris, the French presidency said.
The announcement on Thursday comes as fears have increased in recent days of a regional escalation in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Lebanon is grappling with a deep economic and political crisis.
That has been compounded by near-daily cross-border fire between Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and neighboring Israel ever since war erupted on October 7 between Israel and Hamas, a Hezbollah ally.
Hezbollah on Thursday said two of its fighters had been killed as Israel appeared to intensify strikes on south Lebanon following an attack by the Iran-backed group that wounded 14 Israeli soldiers.
Fears of a regional conflict have spiked in recent days after Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus widely blamed on Israel.
Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year after ex-head of state Michel Aoun’s mandate expired, with its feuding factions repeatedly failing in parliament to elect a new leader.
The multi-confessional former French colony is also in the grips of an unprecedented economic crisis.
Mikati has been prime minister since 2021 but leads a caretaker government with limited powers.
Joseph Aoun, no relation to the country’s former president, has good relations with all sides in the country and is sometimes put forward as someone who could lead it out of political deadlock.
Macron has visited the country twice in recent years in a bid to help bring it out of crisis, but then in 2023 assigned the task to former foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.


Philippines’ Marcos features among Time’s 100 most influential people

Philippines’ Marcos features among Time’s 100 most influential people
Updated 18 April 2024
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Philippines’ Marcos features among Time’s 100 most influential people

Philippines’ Marcos features among Time’s 100 most influential people
  • Other Filipinos previously featured are Rodrigo Duterte, Leila de Lima, Maria Ressa
  • Magazine recognizes Marcos’ attempts to rehabilitate the name of his dictator father and namesake

MANILA: Time magazine has featured Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in its list of the 100 most influential people of 2024, which includes other heads of state, celebrities, scientists and tycoons.

First published in 1999, the annual list recognizes people from various fields for making an impact, breaking records or rules. Entrants are featured for making change — regardless of the consequences of their actions.

Marcos, 66, the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, won a landslide victory in the 2022 elections. He campaigned on the issue of national unity and portrayed himself as the candidate for change, promising happiness to 110 million Filipinos, weary of pandemic hardships and years of political polarization under his immediate predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.

The magazine recognized his efforts to rehabilitate and “whitewash” the name of his father and also highlighted his other achievements in office.

“He brought technocrats back into government, steadied the post-pandemic economy, and elevated the Philippines on the world stage,” Time’s news correspondent Charlie Campbell wrote.

“Many problems persist, including extrajudicial killings and journalists routinely attacked. But by trying to repair his family name, Bongbong may reshape his country too.”

The article also recognized Marcos for standing against Beijing’s claims in the disputed South China Sea, where Chinese ships have been regularly entering the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Standing steadfast against Chinese aggression has also gained him praise at home.

“His policy on the West Philippine Sea of standing up against China is good,” said Raymond Zabala, a lawyer, who was “optimistic and skeptical at the same time” about Marcos’ inclusion in Time’s list, owing to unanswered issues about his family’s ill-gotten wealth and abuses during his father’s rule.

“Given his family’s background and some of the issues during the election campaign, I can’t help but feel critical.”

While appearing on Time’s list is often seen as an honor, Filipinos said they did not see how their country was improving its reputation, although they were observing fewer human rights violations compared with the previous Duterte administration and its “war on drugs,” which according to rights groups has led to the deaths of over 12,000 people.

“The Philippines will be reverting back to its usual image of a corrupt nation, probably minus the extrajudicial killings,” said Crystal Arcega, a law student.

Writer Pam Musni told Arab News she felt the perception of Marcos’ administration was the same as that of his predecessor’s, although “probably less bloodthirsty” and “more emboldened” against China.

“I understand why he was included in the list, with ‘influential’ not necessarily being a good or bad thing,” she said.

“It is especially frustrating that he does not make any significant strides towards the threat of climate change, and that he has expressed support for Israel, a country that has been killing many innocent lives in Palestine.”

A recent Pulse Asia survey showed Marcos’ performance ratings fell from 68 percent in December 2023 to 55 percent in March.

“I’m still waiting to hear how he plans to assert our sovereignty, since that is always a balancing act with the US,” said sustainable development practitioner J.K. Asturias.

Initially enthusiastic about Marcos’ $160 billion infrastructure plans under his Build Better More program, he has been increasingly critical over lack of support for alternative modes of transportation.

“In recent times I’ve been especially disappointed with how they are banning light electric vehicles even though there is a law that says the government should be incentivizing their adoption. I also feel he does a lot of greenwashing, pretending he’s pro-environment even though he pushes for mining,” Asturias said.

For him, the impression that Time’s list would create was one of the Filipinos’ tendency to forget.

“Many people will most likely see the Philippines as a nation that forgets too soon and forgives too much,” he said. “If they don’t think that already.”

Other Filipinos featured by Time have included Duterte and his vocal critic and former senator Leila de Lima in 2017.

Journalist Maria Ressa was recognized by Time in 2019 — two years before becoming a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The late former President Corazon Aquino, a central figure in the ousting of Marcos’ father in the bloodless 1986 People Power Revolution, was Time’s Woman of the Year in 1987.


Indonesia and China make joint call for permanent Gaza ceasefire

Indonesia and China make joint call for permanent Gaza ceasefire
Updated 18 April 2024
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Indonesia and China make joint call for permanent Gaza ceasefire

Indonesia and China make joint call for permanent Gaza ceasefire
  • Countries’ foreign ministers also support Palestine’s bid for full UN membership
  • Both officials urge restraint following Israeli, Iranian strikes this month

JAKARTA: Indonesia and China made a joint call on Thursday for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza, and the implementation of the two-state solution in Palestine.

The move came after a meeting between Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Jakarta. The two ministers exchanged views on international security and stability amid fears of a regional conflict in the Middle East.

“The visit of the Chinese foreign minister comes at a time when we all have concerns about the evolving situation in the Middle East. We share the same view on the importance of all parties exercising restraint and the necessity of deescalation,” Marsudi told reporters during a joint press briefing.

“I am sure that China will use its influence to prevent escalation. We also shared the same views on the importance of a ceasefire in Gaza and the fair resolution on the issue of Palestine through a two-state solution,” she said.

“Indonesia will support full Palestinian membership at the UN. Stability in the Middle East cannot be achieved without a resolution of the Palestinian issue.”

Wang’s visit to Jakarta is part of a six-day tour that also involves trips to Papua New Guinea and Cambodia.

His meeting with Marsudi followed Iran’s attack on Israel last weekend. The attack was a response to an Israeli airstrike earlier this month that destroyed an Iranian consulate building in Damascus, Syria, killing 13 people, including two top military commanders.

“We urge all parties involved to maintain calm and restraint in order to avoid escalation of the situation, and prevent conflicts from spilling over. China supports the UN Security Council in promptly accepting Palestine as a full member of the UN,” Wang said.

The council is due to vote on Friday on a Palestinian request for full UN membership.

Beijing is also advocating “a larger, more authoritative and more effective international peace conference” that will formulate a timetable and road map to implement the two-state solution.

“Unconditional and lasting ceasefires need to be immediately implemented, and substantive action should be taken to protect civilians. Urgent humanitarian assistance should be sent to Gaza to ensure that supplies can be delivered quickly, safely and sustainably,” Wang added.

Six months on, Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza has killed more than 33,800 Palestinians as the UN warns of impending famine in the besieged enclave.

Although the UN Security Council in March adopted a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, there was no stop in the deadly Israeli attacks.