Afghan women stage rare protests on International Women’s Day

Afghan women stage rare protests on International Women’s Day
Protesters hold placards at a demonstration calling for women’s rights in Afghanistan, in Parliament Square in London on Mar. 8, 2024, on International Women’s Day. (AFP)
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Updated 08 March 2024
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Afghan women stage rare protests on International Women’s Day

Afghan women stage rare protests on International Women’s Day
  • A handful of women in several provinces gathered to demand restrictions be lifted
  • In northern Takhar province, images circulated by activists showed seven women holding papers obscuring their faces, reading “Rights, Justice, Freedom”

KABUL: Small groups of Afghan women on Friday staged rare demonstrations to mark International Women’s Day in private spaces, after a crackdown by Taliban authorities forced activists off the streets.
Since surging back to power in August 2021, Taliban authorities have imposed a strict interpretation of Islam, with women bearing the brunt of curbs the United Nations has labelled “gender apartheid.”
Women have been squeezed from public life, barred from traveling without a male relative and banned from certain jobs, secondary school and university, as well as from parks, fairs and gyms.
A handful of women in several provinces gathered to demand restrictions be lifted, according to activists from the Purple Saturdays group, which protests Taliban government curbs on women.
In northern Takhar province, images circulated by activists showed seven women holding papers obscuring their faces, reading “Rights, Justice, Freedom.”
“Our silence and fear is the biggest weapon of the Taliban,” a demonstrator whose face was covered said in a video.
In Balkh province, several women also held up signs saying, “Don’t give the Taliban a chance” in front of a banner reading “Save Afghanistan Women.”
On Thursday, around 20 women gathered at an office for an event organized by the Afghanistan Association of the Blind in northern Mazar-i-Sharif city.
“The gates of schools, universities and offices should be opened for all women,” said one attendee, who remained anonymous for security reasons, during the meeting.
“It is very painful that a woman has no value in our society today. She cannot use any of her rights.”
“Women make up half of human society as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and teachers. The holy religion of Islam is not against women’s work and education,” another added.
Also on Thursday, the Independent Coalition of Afghanistan Women’s Protest Movement issued a statement demanding “immediate and serious action from the international community against the clear violation of human rights and obvious crimes the Taliban are committing against Afghan women.”
The UN mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, on Friday urged the Taliban government to lift restrictions on women and girls, saying not doing so risked “further pushing the country into deeper poverty and isolation.”
“The space for Afghan women and girls continues to shrink at an alarming pace, and with it Afghanistan’s future prospects to escape a vicious cycle of war, poverty, and isolation,” said Alison Davidian, Special Representative for UN Women in Afghanistan, in a statement.
Taliban authorities have repeatedly dismissed such international criticism as propaganda.
On Friday, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban government was committed to women’s rights within the framework of Islam, according to an interview with Tolo News.
Women have protested sporadically against rules handed down by the Taliban authorities, but often in small groups and indoors out of fear of reprisals, after several activists were detained for months.
On Friday, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, called on the Taliban government “to immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been arbitrarily detained for defending human rights, especially the rights of women and girls.”
Street protests in Afghanistan have in the past been broken up by security forces firing guns into the air, including during a demonstration last summer after beauty salons were shut down.
Last March, about 20 women held a rare protest in the streets of Kabul for International Women’s Day.


US lawmakers’ visit to Dalai Lama sparks China criticism

US lawmakers’ visit to Dalai Lama sparks China criticism
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US lawmakers’ visit to Dalai Lama sparks China criticism

US lawmakers’ visit to Dalai Lama sparks China criticism
  • Lawmakers led by Congressman Michael McCaul and former House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the Buddhist spiritual leader at his home base in the northern Indian hill-town of Dharamsala
NEW DELHI: A group of senior US lawmakers including former House speaker Nancy Pelosi met Wednesday with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile in India, sparking heavy criticism from China.
The bipartisan group of US lawmakers, led by Congressman Michael McCaul and Pelosi, visited the 88-year-old Buddhist spiritual leader at his home base in the northern Indian hill-town of Dharamsala.
Pelosi told crowds of Tibetans it was an “honor” to have met with the Dali Lama, in a speech carried by the government-in-exile’s Tibet TV.
“It is truly a blessing,” Pelosi said.
The visit follows the passage of a bill by the US Congress that seeks to encourage Beijing to hold talks with Tibetan leaders — frozen since 2010.
“This bill is a message to the Chinese government that we have clarity in our thinking and understanding in the issue of the freedom of Tibet,” she said.
Pelosi said the bill was “soon to be signed” by US President Joe Biden.
Ahead of the visit, China’s embassy in New Delhi criticized the meeting, saying the Dalai Lama was “not a pure religious figure, but a political exile engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the cloak of religion.”
Many exiled Tibetans fear Beijing will name a rival successor to the Dalai Lama, bolstering control over a land it poured troops into in 1950.
The Dalai Lama was just 23 when he escaped the Tibetan capital Lhasa in fear for his life after Chinese soldiers eviscerated an uprising against Beijing’s forces, crossing the snowy Himalayas into India.
He stepped down as his people’s political head in 2011, passing the baton of secular power to a government chosen democratically by some 130,000 Tibetans around the world.
“The democracy of the diaspora of the Tibetans in exile is very important to us,” Pelosi said.
Penpa Tsering, the sikyong or head of that government, said it does not seek full independence for Tibet, but rather to pursue a long-standing “Middle Way” policy seeking greater autonomy and “to resolve the Sino-Tibet conflict through dialogue.”
But Beijing’s embassy accused the Tibetan administration of seeking to break away.
“We urge the US side to fully recognize the anti-China separatist nature of the Dalai group,” the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India wrote on social media late Tuesday.
It reiterated its oft-repeated position that the high-altitude territory “has always been part of China since ancient times.”

Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties

Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties
Updated 19 June 2024
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Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties

Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties
  • Russian leader hails ‘close friendship’ between the two countries based on ‘equality and respect of mutual interests’
  • North Korean state media described the meeting between the leaders as a historic event

SEOUL: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow and Pyongyang will sign an agreement that will bolster their ties, and thanked North Korea for supporting the Kremlin’s policies in Ukraine.
Speaking at the start of his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Russian leader said in remarks carried by Russian state Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies that the “new fundamental document will form the basis of our ties for a long perspective.”
Putin also hailed a “close friendship” between the two countries based on “equality and respect of mutual interests,” and noted their “fight against the imperialist hegemonistic policies of the US and its satellites against the Russian Federation.”
“We highly appreciate your consistent and unchanging support of the Russian policies, including in the Ukrainian direction,” Putin added.
Putin was met upon his nighttime arrival by Kim, who shook his hands, hugged him twice and rode with him from the airport in a limousine in a huge motorcade that rolled through the capital’s brightly illuminated streets, where buildings were decorated with giant Russian flags and portraits of Putin.
North Korean state media described the meeting between the leaders as a historic event that demonstrates the “invincibility and durability” of the two nations’ friendship and unity. Huge crowds lined up on the streets to greet Putin’s motorcade before the talks, chanting “Welcome Putin” and waving flowers and North Korean and Russian flags.
Putin, making his first trip to North Korea in 24 years, was quoted in official media outlets before his arrival as saying the two countries want to cooperate closely to overcome US-led sanctions and actively develop their partnership. He also said he appreciated North Korea’s firm support of his military actions in Ukraine. The Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of the neighboring country in 2022.
Putin’s visit comes amid growing concerns about an arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions to fuel Russia’s war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.
North Korea is under heavy UN Security Council economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs, while Russia is also grappling with sanctions by the United States and its Western partners over its aggression in Ukraine.
Putin is being accompanied by several top officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Denis Mantrurov, Defense Minister Andrei Belousov and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to his foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov. He said a number of documents will be signed during the visit, possibly including an agreement on a comprehensive strategic partnership.
US and South Korean officials accuse the North of providing Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment for use in Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. Both Pyongyang and Moscow deny accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would violate multiple UN Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.
Along with China, Russia has provided political cover for Kim’s continuing efforts to advance his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking US-led efforts to impose fresh UN sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.
Aside of sending military supplies to Russia to help its war fighting Ukraine, the North may also seek to increase labor exports and other illicit activities to gain foreign currency in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions, according to a recent report by the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s main spy agency. There will likely be talks about expanding cooperation in agriculture, fisheries and mining and further promoting Russian tourism to North Korea, the institute said.


Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China

Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China
Updated 19 June 2024
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Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China

Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China
  • China, whose government views Taiwan as its own territory, held two days of war games around the island shortly after Lai Ching-te took office last month

TAIPEI: Only military strength can keep the peace with China and the Taiwanese people will not give in to Chinese coercion, Taiwan President Lai Ching-te said on Wednesday as the United States agreed on a speeded-up arms package.
China, whose government views Taiwan as its own territory, held two days of war games around the island shortly after Lai took office last month, saying it was “punishment” for his inauguration speech, which Beijing denounced as being full of separatist context.
Speaking at a news conference to mark one month since assuming the presidency, Lai said Taiwan’s people “love peace.”
“But peace must rely on strength, which is to say avoiding war by preparing for war to achieve peace. Empty promises are not true peace,” he said.
China’s national policy is to annex Taiwan, Lai added.
“Apart from using force, in recent years they have even been using non-traditional coercive measures to force Taiwan to succumb but Taiwan will not give in,” he said.
Taiwan says such coercive means include preventing Taiwan’s participation in international bodies and events, banning or heavily taxing certain exports to China, and “grey zone” tactics such as flying balloons over the island.
Shortly before Lai spoke to reporters at the presidential office in Taipei, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said US State Department had approved the sale to Taiwan of drones and missiles for an estimated $360 million.
The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, to the constant anger of Beijing.
Taiwan’s defense ministry expressed its thanks, especially for US efforts to increase arms sales to the island. Taiwan has repeatedly complained of delayed deliveries.
“The Taiwan-US special management team continues to work hard to improve the efficiency of arms sales operations between the two sides. This time, the administrative review time has been significantly shortened,” the ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Although the United States is Taiwan’s main international arms provider, Lai and his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen have made boosting domestic capabilities a priority.
“Going forward we will continue to strengthen Taiwan’s defense capabilities, not only on arms purchases but also on defense self-sufficiency,” he said.
Lai has repeatedly offered talks with China but been rebuffed.
He says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future, and that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are “not subordinate to each other,” which he told reporters was the consensus of society in Taiwan.


Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea

Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea
Updated 19 June 2024
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Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea

Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea
  • Philippine foreign ministry ‘denounces the illegal and aggressive actions’ of Chinese authorities
  • ‘Peace cannot be achieved if China’s words do not match its behavior in the disputed waters’

MANILA: China must avoid actions that would endanger sailors and vessels in the South China Sea, the Philippine foreign ministry said on Wednesday, adding peace cannot be achieved if its words do not match its behavior in the disputed waters.
The Philippine foreign ministry said it “denounces the illegal and aggressive actions” of Chinese authorities that resulted in personnel injury and vessel damage during Manila’s routine resupply mission in the South China Sea on June 17.
“In line with the Philippines’ commitment to pursue peace, the Department has been exerting efforts to rebuild a conducive environment for dialogue and consultation with China on the South China Sea,” the ministry said in a statement.
“This cannot be achieved if China’s words do not match their actions on the waters.”
The ministry also called on China to respect the Philippines’ sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its own waters.


Russian prosecutors ask for nearly five years in prison for US soldier

Russian prosecutors ask for nearly five years in prison for US soldier
Updated 19 June 2024
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Russian prosecutors ask for nearly five years in prison for US soldier

Russian prosecutors ask for nearly five years in prison for US soldier
  • The Pentagon has said that Black broke army rules by traveling to Russia without authorization, having passed through China

Prosecutors have asked for a prison sentence of four years and eight months for a US soldier who has been detained in the Russian city of Vladivostok on suspicion of theft and threats to kill his girlfriend, Russian agencies reported on Wednesday.
Gordon Black, who was detained on May 2 in Vladivostok in Russia’s far east, pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of threatening to kill his girlfriend but admitted he was “partially” guilty of stealing from her.
“(We ask) to impose a sentence of four years and eight months, to be served in a penal colony,” Russia’s RIA state news agency cited the prosecutor as saying at the court hearing.
The prosecutor has also asked for a fine of 40,000 roubles ($469), RIA reported.
Black’s defense lawyer has asked the court to acquit him of all of the charges, RIA reported.
Earlier, RIA reported that Black “partially” acknowledged his guilt on the charge of stealing 10,000 roubles ($113) from his girlfriend Alexandra Vashchuk’s purse but said that “there was no intent.”
The pair had met in South Korea, where Black was stationed. The Pentagon has said that he broke army rules by traveling to Russia without authorization, having passed through China.