Taiwan reports Chinese military activity after Blinken leaves Beijing

Taiwan reports Chinese military activity after Blinken leaves Beijing
US Secretary State Antony Blinken has stressed the ‘critical importance’ of maintaining peace and stability across Taiwan Strait while in China. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 April 2024
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Taiwan reports Chinese military activity after Blinken leaves Beijing

Taiwan reports Chinese military activity after Blinken leaves Beijing
  • US Secretary State Antony Blinken has stressed the ‘critical importance’ of maintaining peace and stability across Taiwan Strait while in China

TAIPEI: Taiwan reported renewed Chinese military activity near the island on Saturday with 12 aircraft crossing the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait, a day after US Secretary State Antony Blinken ended a visit to China.
The United States is Taiwan’s most important international supporter and arms supplier despite the absence of formal diplomatic ties. Blinken said he had stressed the “critical importance” of maintaining peace and stability across the strait while in China.
Democratically governed Taiwan has faced increased military pressure from China, which views the island as its own territory. Taiwan’s government rejects those claims.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said that from 9:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) on Saturday it had detected 22 Chinese military aircraft, including Su-30 fighters, of which 12 had crossed the median line to Taiwan’s north and center.
The line once served as an unofficial border between the two sides over which neither sides’ military crossed, but China’s air force now regularly sends aircraft over it. China says it does not recognize the line’s existence.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said the aircraft were involved in “joint combat readiness patrols” with Chinese warships, adding that Taiwanese aircraft and ships responded “appropriately.” It did not give details.
China’s defense ministry did not answer calls seeking comment outside of office hours on Saturday.
Taiwan’s armed forces are well-equipped and well-trained but dwarfed by those of China’s, especially the navy and air force, which respond almost daily to Chinese missions.
China considers Taiwan the most important issue in its relations with the United States, and Beijing has repeatedly demanded Washington end weapons sales to Taiwan.
Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te takes office on May 20 after winning January’s election. Beijing considers him a dangerous separatist and has rebuffed his repeated calls for talks.
Lai said on Thursday that China should have the confidence to talk to Taiwan’s legally elected government. Like outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen, Lai says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.


‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain — WikiLeaks

‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain — WikiLeaks
Updated 15 sec ago
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‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain — WikiLeaks

‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain — WikiLeaks
  • Assange, accused of divulging US military secrets, was due in London court next month after winning appeal against extradition
  • Was initially detained for skipping bail and held in custody while the US extradition request wound its way through court

LONDON: Julian Assange’s wife Stella on Tuesday thanked campaigners for their support as the WikiLeaks founder was released after five years in British custody.
“Julian is free!!!!” she wrote on the social media platform X following confirmation that he had left Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London.
“Words cannot express our immense gratitude” to everyone who had backed the global push for his release, she added.
Stella Assange met the Australian publisher while he was holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges that were later dropped.

A filing from the U.S. Department of Justice to the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands describes a plea deal regarding Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in this image obtained by Reuters on June 24, 2024. (REUTERS)

Assange, accused of divulging US military secrets related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had been due back in court in London next month after winning an appeal against extradition.
But WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Julian Assange is free. He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of June 24, after having spent 1,901 days there.
“He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.”
The media freedom group said sustained campaigning, from grassroots supporters to political leaders and the United Nations, “created the space for a long period of negotiations with the US Department of Justice,” leading to a deal.
The organization said the deal “has not yet been formally finalized.”
Assange was initially detained for skipping bail in relation to the Swedish case and held in custody while the US extradition request wound its way through court.
He will now be reunited with his wife, whom he married at a ceremony in the prison, and their two young children, it added.
“WikiLeaks published ground-breaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions,” the statement read.
“As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know.
“As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom. Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”
 

 


’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks

’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks
Updated 25 June 2024
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’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks

’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks
  • The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange

LONDON: Julian Assange’s wife Stella on Tuesday thanked campaigners for their support as the WikiLeaks founder was released after five years in British custody.
“Julian is free!!!!” she wrote on the social media platform X following confirmation that he had left Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London.
“Words cannot express our immense gratitude” to everyone who had backed the global push for his release, she added.
Stella Assange met the Australian publisher while he was holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges that were later dropped.

A filing from the U.S. Department of Justice to the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands describes a plea deal regarding Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in this image obtained by Reuters on June 24, 2024. (REUTERS)

Assange, accused of divulging US military secrets related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had been due back in court in London next month after winning an appeal against extradition.
But WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Julian Assange is free. He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of June 24, after having spent 1,901 days there.
“He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.”
The media freedom group said sustained campaigning, from grassroots supporters to political leaders and the United Nations, “created the space for a long period of negotiations with the US Department of Justice,” leading to a deal.
The organization said the deal “has not yet been formally finalized.”
Assange was initially detained for skipping bail in relation to the Swedish case and held in custody while the US extradition request wound its way through court.
He will now be reunited with his wife, whom he married at a ceremony in the prison, and their two young children, it added.
“WikiLeaks published ground-breaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions,” the statement read.
“As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know.
“As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom. Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”
 

 


Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike

Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike
Updated 25 June 2024
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Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike

Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike

NAIROBI: Kenya braced for a nationwide strike Tuesday in response to a call by youth protesters for a countrywide shutdown, as opposition to the government’s proposed tax hikes gathers momentum.
The mainly Gen-Z-led demonstrations have taken President William Ruto’s government by surprise, with the Kenyan leader saying over the weekend that he was ready to speak with the protesters.
Discontent over the already high cost of living spiralled into nationwide rallies last week, sparked by the Ruto administration’s proposed tax hikes in the annual finance bill, which parliament must vote on by June 30.
The protests were mostly peaceful, as Ruto noted Sunday in his first public comments on the demonstrations. But the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) watchdog and rights groups said that two people had died following Thursday’s rallies.
Protest organizers called for the police to be held accountable and reiterated their demands for the finance bill to be scrapped in its entirety.
“We’re past the talking stage and won’t be silenced. We demand an end to police violence, respect for our constitutional rights, and the freedom to speak up without fear of arrest or harm,” Hanifa Adan told AFP Sunday.
Several organizations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said at least 200 people were wounded in the protests in Nairobi.
“The country stands at a crossroads,” Amnesty’s Kenya chapter said in a statement Monday.
“Despite mass arrests and injuries, the protests have continued to grow, emphasising the public’s widespread discontent.”
Amnesty added that the movement leaves government and police at a “critical juncture, where the escalation of force could lead to more fatalities and legal repercussions.”
Rights watchdogs have accused the authorities of abducting protesters in violation of the law.
“These abductions are intended to intimidate protesters planning to attend future peaceful demonstrations aimed at pressuring MPs to reject the bill,” the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) said Monday.
“These abductions, mostly occurring at night, are conducted by police officers in civilian clothes and unmarked cars,” KHRC added, calling for the “unconditional release of all abductees.”
The police have not responded to requests from AFP for comment on the allegations.
In addition to a strong social media campaign and street rallies, the protesters have deployed unconventional tactics, including asking bars to stop playing music at midnight on the weekend as partygoers burst into chants saying: “Ruto must go” and “Reject finance bill.”
Small numbers of Kenyans also protested at the weekend at several embassies abroad, including in Washington and Paris, according to TV images, organizers and social media.
The protests have also drawn support from some Anglican and Catholic church leaders.
During Sunday mass, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops chairman Archbishop Maurice Muhatia urged the government to take the matter seriously, “and not be in denial.”
The cash-strapped government agreed last week to roll back several tax increases.
But Ruto’s administration still intends to raise some taxes, saying they are necessary for filling the state coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.
Kenya has a huge debt mountain whose servicing costs have ballooned because of a fall in the value of the local currency over the last two years, making interest payments on foreign-currency loans more expensive.
The tax hikes will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with well-paid jobs remaining out of reach for many young people.
After the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases, car ownership and financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a budget shortfall of 200 billion shillings ($1.56 billion).
The government now intends to target an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already saddled with high inflation.
Kenya has one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa but a third of its 52 million people live in poverty.


Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears

Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears
Updated 25 June 2024
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Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears

Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears

LISBON: Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, a front-runner to become the next president of the European Council, said on Monday he was optimistic ahead of the bloc’s summit this week during which a decision on the top job is expected to be made.

Costa, 62, stepped down as Portugal’s Socialist premier last November over an investigation into alleged illegalities in his government’s handling of several large investment projects.

He has denied wrongdoing, was never charged with a crime and is the favorite to succeed Belgium’s Charles Michel as the person who chairs summits of the 27 EU national leaders at which the bloc’s political agenda is set.

“I hope the European Council quickly reaches a decision and approves the names it has to approve and rejects the names it has to reject,” Costa told reporters.

Last week, EU leaders ended a discussion on who should take the bloc’s top jobs for the next five years without agreement, aiming instead for a decision at a summit taking place later this week on June 27-28.

Asked whether he was feeling positive as the summit neared, Costa, who governed Portugal for eight years from the end of 2015, said he was “always optimistic.”

Portugal’s center-right government, which ascended to power in March after a general election, said that Costa, whose ambition for a top European position has been an open secret for years, has its “unequivocal support.”

Prime Minister Luis Montenegro said Costa’s nomination would meet all requirements. Costa also has the blessing of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and is one of the center-left candidates who generates the least opposition from the far-right.


Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm
Updated 25 June 2024
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Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

CANBERRA: A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza has spread to an eighth poultry farm near Melbourne, the government of Australia’s Victoria state said on Tuesday, taking the total number of infected facilities in the country to 10.

Australia is dealing with three parallel outbreaks of bird flu, two near Melbourne and one near Sydney. Each involves a different strain of the virus, none of which is the H5N1 type that has spread through bird and mammal populations and even to humans around the world.

Victorian authorities said the new infection was within a quarantine zone already set up around affected farms and was therefore not unexpected.

The flu has mostly hit egg farms. Around 1.5 million birds have been or will be killed to control the spread of the virus. There is so far no shortage of eggs in stores.

Bird flu spreads to farmed animals from wild birds. The 2024 infections are the tenth outbreak in Australia since 1976. Each was contained and eradicated, according to the government.