US, Philippine and Australian forces sink a ship during war drills in the disputed South China Sea

US, Philippine and Australian forces sink a ship during war drills in the disputed South China Sea
More than 16,000 military personnel from the US and the Philippines, backed by a few hundred Australian troops and military observers from 14 countries are participating in annual combat-readiness drills. (AP)
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Updated 08 May 2024
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US, Philippine and Australian forces sink a ship during war drills in the disputed South China Sea

US, Philippine and Australian forces sink a ship during war drills in the disputed South China Sea
  • Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.has ordered his military to shift its focus to external defense from decades-long domestic anti-insurgency operations

LAOAG, Philippines: Military force from the United States, Australian and the Philippines launched a barrage of high-precision rockets, artillery fire and airstrikes to sink a ship Wednesday as part of largescale war drills in waters facing the disputed South China Sea that have antagonized Beijing.
Military officials and diplomats from several countries, along with journalists, watched the display of firepower from a hilltop along a sandy coast in Laoag City on Wednesday in Ilocos Norte, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s northern home province.
More than 16,000 military personnel from the United States and the Philippines, backed by a few hundred Australian troops and military observers from 14 countries were participating in annual combat-readiness drills called Balikatan, Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder, which started on April 22 and will end on Friday.
It’s the latest indication of how the United States and the Philippines have bolstered a defense treaty alliance that started in the 1950s.
Marcos has ordered his military to shift its focus to external defense from decades-long domestic anti-insurgency operations as China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea become a top concern. That strategic shift dovetails with the efforts of President Joe Biden and his administration to reinforce an arc of alliances in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China.
China has angered the Philippines by repeatedly harassing its navy and coast guard ships with the use of powerful water cannons, a military-grade laser, blocking movements and other dangerous maneuvers in the high seas near two disputed South China Sea shoals that have led to minor collisions. Those have caused several injuries to Filipino navy personnel and damaged supply boats.
“We’re under the gun,” Philippine ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“We don’t have the wherewithal to be able to fight all of this bullying coming from China so where else will we go?” Romualdez asked. “We went to the right party which is the United States and those that believe in what the US is doing.”
China has accused the Philippines of setting off the hostilities in the disputed waters by encroaching into what it says are its offshore territories, demarcated by 10 dashes on a map. This has often prompted the Chinese coast guard and navy to take steps to expel Philippine coast guard and other vessels from that area. The Philippines, backed by the US and its allies and security partners, has repeatedly cited a 2016 international arbitration ruling based on the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea that invalidated China’s claim over virtually the entire South China Sea on historical grounds.
China did not participate in the arbitration complaint filed by the Philippines in 2013, rejected the ruling, and continues to defy it.
After an hour of the combat-readiness drills, black smoke started to billow from the stern of the mock enemy ship that was struck by missile fire and it started to sink ,as shown on a monitor watched by foreign military guests and journalists. US and Philippine warplanes later dropped bombs on the BRP Lake Caliraya, the target ship, which was made in China but decommissioned by the Philippine navy in 2020 due to mechanical and electrical issues, according to Philippine military officials.
Philippine military officials said the maneuvers would bolster the country’s coastal defense and disaster-response capabilities and claimed they were not aimed at any country. China has opposed military drills involving US forces in the region as well as increasing US military deployments, which it warned would ratchet up tensions and hamper regional stability and peace.
Washington and Beijing have been on a collision course over China’s increasingly assertive actions to defend its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea, and Beijing’s stated goal of annexing Taiwan, by force if necessary.
In February last year, Marcos approved a wider US military presence in the Philippines by allowing rotating groups of American military forces to stay in four more Philippine military camps. That was a sharp turnaround from his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who feared that a larger American military footprint could antagonize Beijing.
China strongly opposed the move, which would allow US forces to establish staging grounds and surveillance posts in the northern Philippines across the sea from Taiwan, and in western Philippine provinces facing the South China Sea.
China has warned that a deepening security alliance between Washington and Manila and their ongoing military drills should not harm its security and territorial interests or interfere in the territorial disputes. The Philippines countered that it has the right to defend its sovereignty and territorial interests.
“An alliance is very important to show China that you may have all the ships that you have, but we have a lot of firepower to sink all of them,” Romualdez said.


Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, two police killed, interior ministry says

Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, two police killed, interior ministry says
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Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, two police killed, interior ministry says

Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, two police killed, interior ministry says
DAGESTAN: Gunmen opened fire at a synagogue, an Orthodox church and a police post in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Dagestan, and two police officers were killed, news agencies quoted the Russian Interior Ministry as saying.
Six people were wounded in the attacks.
The reports said one officer was killed when shots were fired at a synagogue in Derbent, home to an ancient Jewish community in the North Caucasus. An exchange of fire also took place in an Orthodox Church in the town, a UNESCO heritage site.
Another exchange of shots took place at a police post in Makhachkala, about 125 kilometers (75 miles) to the north along the Caspian Sea coast and the main city in Dagestan, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia.

UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated
Updated 23 June 2024
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UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated
  • The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds

LONDON: The chief data officer of Britain’s Conservative Party has taken a leave of absence, British media reported Sunday, following growing allegations that the governing party’s members used inside information to bet on the date of Britain’s July 4 national election before it was announced.
The Sunday Times and others reported that Nick Mason is the fourth Conservative official to be investigated by the UK’s Gambling Commission for allegedly betting on the timing of the election.
The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds.
The reports came after revelations in recent days that two Conservative election candidates, Laura Saunders and Craig Williams, are under investigation by the gambling watchdog. Saunders’ husband Tony Lee, the Conservative director of campaigning, has also taken a leave of absence following allegations he was also investigated over alleged betting.
Police said one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘s police bodyguards was arrested Monday on suspicion of misconduct in public office. The arrest came after the gambling regulator confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election.”
The growing scandal, just two weeks ahead of the national election, has dealt a fresh blow to Sunak’s Conservative Party, which is widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.
Sunak said this week that he was “incredibly angry” to learn of the allegations and said that anyone found to have broken the law should be expelled from his party.
Sunak announced on May 22 that parliamentary elections would be held on July 4. The date had been a closely guarded secret and many were taken by surprise because a vote had been expected in the fall.
Saunders, a candidate standing in Bristol, southwest England, has said she will cooperate fully with the investigation.
Williams was Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary as well as a member of Parliament running for reelection on July 4. He has acknowledged that he was being investigated by the Gambling Commission for placing a 100-pound ($128) bet on a July election before the date had been announced.
Senior Conservative minister Michael Gove condemned the alleged betting and likened it to ” Partygate,” the ethics scandal that contributed to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ouster in 2022.
That controversy saw public trust in the Conservatives plummet after revelations that politicians and officials held lockdown-flouting parties and gatherings in government buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us,” Gove told the Sunday Times. “That’s the most potentially damaging thing.”
Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “people are sick and tired of this sleaze” and that Sunak must intervene and order an official inquiry.
The Conservative Party said it cannot comment because investigations are ongoing.


Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement
Updated 23 June 2024
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Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement
  • Chetan Singh Solanki wants to inspire energy independence across the world
  • He takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement

NEW DELHI: Four years ago, at the height of his restlessness over the growing threat of climate change on the planet, Chetan Singh Solanki decided to embark on a journey to spark a change for the environment.

Solanki launched the energy swaraj journey in 2020 to inspire energy independence across the world, campaigning with the motto “Energy by Locals for Locals.”

He told Arab News: “I want to restore the environmental balance that we are already losing, and I want to do it at a global level because it is not a problem of one state or one country — it is a problem of the entire world.”

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay’s department of energy science and engineering, Solanki takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement who used nonviolent resistance as a tool for mass action.

Solanki believes in replicating a similar strategy to boost energy literacy among the people and inspire them to use cleaner energy as an alternative power source.

“It is the wrong energy that has created the problem (and) it is the right energy that will solve the problem. Clean energy and solar energy and to bring everybody on board is why I started this journey,” Solanki said. “My vision is aligned with Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of gram swaraj (village self-rule). I emphasize responsible energy consumption and localized production.”

The campaign was designed to be impactful and adopted by the masses.

“This is designed to trigger the mind that we all can be part of the climate solution. It is not rocket science — rich and poor, young and old, everybody can be part of it,” he added.

Chetan Singh Solanki talks to students as part of his nationwide journey to spur climate movement in this photo shared on June 8, 2024. (Energy Swaraj)

Through his journey, Solanki has earned the nickname “Solar Gandhi,” having covered 56,000 km on his solar-powered bus, which is equipped with essential amenities including an air-conditioned bedroom, office space, refrigerator and a working kitchen.

The vehicle is an “innovative mobile abode” that symbolizes his aspiration “for a forthcoming world driven by sustainable energy sources,” he said, adding that he plans to continue the nationwide journey until December 2030.

To him, it was clear that world governments “have not done enough,” despite annual climate conferences that are purported to address critical environmental issues.

“The business-as-usual approaches are not working nationally and internationally, and therefore the solution lies in becoming sensitive to planet Earth and its capacity to generate or regenerate,” he said.

Since his journey started in late 2020, Solanki said the campaign has been well received.

“I think there are good things happening and response has been good,” he said. “Energy literacy is the first step towards climate correction.”


Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio
Updated 23 June 2024
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Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

LONDON: The UK interior minister has defended a parliamentary aide who called the government plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda “crap,” in a leaked audio revealed by the BBC Sunday.
A controversial law by the Conservative government allowing irregular migrants arriving in the UK to be deported to Rwanda was finally passed in April, after months of parliamentary wrangling.
But in the recording James Sunderland, a parliamentary aide and Conservative party candidate, was heard saying: “the policy is crap, ok? It’s crap.”
“But it’s not about the policy. It’s about the effect of the policy,” he went on to say, speaking at a Youth Conservatives conference in April.
“There is no doubt at all that when those first flights take off it will send such a shockwave across the Channel,” Sunderland clarified.
Home Secretary James Cleverly said he was “surprised,” when asked about the audio, before saying Sunderland was making a “counterintuitive statement to grab the attention.”
Cleverly told Sky News on Sunday that his aide Sunderland “is completely supportive of the deterrent effect.”
Sunderland told the BBC he was “disappointed” to have been recorded at a private event, and said although the policy is “not the be all and end all,” it is “part of a wider response.”
No flights deporting asylum seekers have actually taken off yet for the African country, due to lengthy legal challenges and with parliament dissolved ahead of a looming general election on July 4.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the policy would only come into effect after the election, if he was re-elected.
The opposition Labour party — which looks poised to replace the Conservatives — has promised to scrap the Rwanda plan.
The government cleared a law allowing some asylum seekers to be deported in April, circumventing a Supreme Court ruling that said sending migrants to Rwanda in this way would be illegal because it “would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment.”
Supporters of the Rwanda policy say it will deter tens of thousands of annual cross-Channel arrivals by small boats, and insist the policy is already having an impact.
More than 12,000 irregular migrants have crossed the Channel to Britain on small boats this year, according to government data.


Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor
Updated 23 June 2024
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Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor
  • Sevastopol regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high

MOSCOW: A Ukrainian missile attack Sunday on Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula killed two people including a two-year-old child and wounded 22, the city’s Moscow-appointed governor said.
Sevastopol, a Black Sea port city and naval base on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high.
“According to provisional information, today’s attack by Ukraine’s armed forces on Sevastopol killed 2 peaceful residents, one of them a 2-year-old child,” Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on Telegram.
The governor said Ukraine had launched five missiles which Russian air defenses intercepted over the sea but fragments fell onto the shore area and pieces of shrapnel wounded people.
Razvozhayev said the missile fragments hit shore areas in the north of the city and set fire to a house and woodland.
Earlier Sunday, a drone launched by Ukraine on Russia’s southern Belgorod region killed a man, the governor said.
Three Ukrainian attack drones struck the town of Graivoron a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine, said Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, with one hitting a car park near a multi-story block of flats.
“A peaceful civilian was killed. The man died from his wounds at the spot,” Gladkov wrote on Telegram, while three were wounded.