Japan’s military build-up strained by sexual harassment issues

Japan’s military build-up strained by sexual harassment issues
Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) soldiers participate in a seminar to prevent harassment at JGSDF Camp Asaka, in Tokyo, Japan April 16, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 May 2024
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Japan’s military build-up strained by sexual harassment issues

Japan’s military build-up strained by sexual harassment issues
  • Calls to root out harassment and increase the number of servicewomen come as aging Japan faces rising threats from China, North Korea and Russia and navigates the burdensome legacy of its wartime past

TOKYO: As Japan embarks on a major military build-up, it’s struggling to fill its ranks with the women that its forces need and its policymakers have pledged to recruit. Following a wave of sexual harassment cases, the number of women applying to join the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) decreased by 12 percent in the year ending March 2023, after several years of steady growth. Some victims have said an entrenched culture of harassment could deter women from signing up.
But nine months after the defense ministry pledged to take drastic measures, it has no plans to take action on a key recommendation issued by an independent panel of experts — implementing a national system for reviewing anti-harassment training standards — according to two ministry officials responsible for training.
The government-appointed panel had identified in a report published in August that the military’s superficial harassment education — which made only limited mention of sexual harassment — and a lack of centralized oversight of such training were contributing factors to cultural problems within the institution.
The head of the panel, Makoto Tadaki, said some training sessions — one of which Reuters attended — were at odds with the gravity of the situation.
A servicewoman who is suing the government over an alleged sexual harassment incident also said in an interview that the education she received over the past 10 years was ineffective.
Calls to root out harassment and increase the number of servicewomen come as aging Japan faces rising threats from China, North Korea and Russia and navigates the burdensome legacy of its wartime past.
Women make up just 9 percent of military personnel in Japan, compared to 17 percent in the United States, Tokyo’s key security ally.
The SDF referred Reuters’ questions to the defense ministry, which said in an emailed response that harassment “must never be allowed, as it destroys mutual trust between service members and undermines their strength.”
The ministry said it had hosted harassment prevention lectures by external experts since 2023, made sessions more discussion-based and planned to invite specialists to review its training this year.
It did not respond to questions on whether it would implement the panel’s recommendation to centralize oversight of training. After ex-soldier Rina Gonoi went public with allegations of sexual assault in 2022, the defense ministry conducted a survey that year that uncovered more than 170 alleged sexual harassment incidents in the SDF. Another alleged victim was an Okinawa-based servicewoman who accused a senior of making lewd remarks toward her in 2013. She was then publicly named in harassment training materials distributed to her colleagues in 2014, she told Reuters. The alleged perpetrator was not identified in the materials.
Reuters does not name alleged victims of sexual harassment. Her allegations were corroborated with documents in the lawsuit she filed last year, after she said she exhausted an internal complaints process.

HAPHAZARD TRAINING
The defense ministry offers an annual online module on general harassment. It also provides training materials to officers for in-person sessions, but doesn’t offer training on delivering harassment education and doesn’t track how or when the officers carry out harassment training, the two defense officials said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, justified the existing system as offering flexibility to commanders.
The six experts concluded in their review that existing training amounted to “generic, superficial statements” that were “not effective in helping people apply the training in the real world.”
In April, Reuters attended a harassment prevention course delivered by an external instructor to over 100 mid-ranking military officers at a base on the outskirts of Tokyo.
Instructor Keiko Yoshimoto presented harassment as a communication issue and focused discussions on generational differences and how they played out in preferences for types of cars and flavours of crisps.
“Generational differences make it hard for people to communicate,” she said, adding that people should understand the basics of communication before they could deal with specifics around sexual harassment.
Law professor Tadaki, who separately witnessed part of Yoshimoto’s session, said it “did not feel like the sort of training you would expect against a backdrop of there being so many cases of harassment surfacing.”
He added that it would likely take more time to increase oversight over the quality of training.
Two months after the panel issued its report, local media reported that a sailor had in 2022 been ordered against her will to meet a superior that she had accused of sexual harassment. She later quit the SDF.
Gonoi and the Okinawa-based servicewoman have criticized the system as inadequate.
“People would say ‘everyone put up with that kind of behavior, it was normal back in our time,’ – but these issues are being passed down to my generation because nothing was done to stop it,” the servicewoman told Reuters in March.
She added that the harassment training she has since received was often poorly conducted and that more centralized oversight was needed: “Rather than trying to make a point about sexual harassment, (officers) pick materials that are easy to teach, something that will fit into the time they have.”

FEAR OF COMPLAINTS
The defense ministry officials said that training on sexual harassment largely takes place within a broader anti-harassment curriculum. At the two-hour training session attended by Reuters, about two minutes were dedicated to sexual harassment.
When Reuters asked about sexual harassment incidents during interviews with the officials, as well as two senior uniformed officers, they responded by speaking about general harassment.
The officials said it was challenging to give standardised training on harassment because service members in high-stress environments may give orders in a direct way that is unusual in other circumstances.
The two officers said there were concerns within the military that too much focus on harassment could create operational issues and one suggested it might lead to unfair complaints.
The defense ministry said in a statement that it does not tolerate abuse and that its training aims to ensure commanders do not “hesitate to give necessary guidance on the job because they are concerned about harassment.”
Tadaki, the professor, said Japan could learn from other militaries.
“The US, UK, and France have a much clearer focus on preventing harassment from its root causes so its prevention program is structured around improving the internal climate and culture of its organization,” he said.


China’s Communist Party begins key economic meeting amid national security concerns

China’s Communist Party begins key economic meeting amid national security concerns
Updated 49 min 14 sec ago
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China’s Communist Party begins key economic meeting amid national security concerns

China’s Communist Party begins key economic meeting amid national security concerns
  • Historically, this third meeting has emerged as one at which major economic and policy decisions have been set
  • The degree to which the meeting acknowledges concerns about the business environment and national security could signal whether there will be some policy adjustments

BEIJING: China’s ruling Communist Party started a four-day meeting Monday that is expected to lay out a strategy for self-sufficient economic growth in an era of heightened national security concerns and restrictions on access to American technology.
While the meeting typically focuses on such long-term issues, business owners and investors will also be watching to see if the party announces any immediate measures to try to counter a prolonged real estate downturn and persistent malaise that has suppressed China’s post-COVID-19 recovery.
“There’s a lot of unclarity of policy direction in China,” which is weighing on consumer and investor confidence, said Bert Hofman, the former World Bank country director for China and a professor at the National University of Singapore. “This is a point in time where China needs to show its cards.”
Economic growth slowed to 4.7 percent on an annual basis in the April to June quarter, the government reported Monday.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping addressed the closed-door meeting on Monday, expounding on a draft of its coming decision on “deepening reform and advancing Chinese modernization,” the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Security was tightened in central Beijing, as it generally is for major government events, with uniformed guards posted in some subway stations and neighborhood-watch people wearing red armbands stationed in public areas.
The decision will send a message to local government officials and others about the future direction of policy. The general expectation is that it will confirm a path laid out by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, though some hope for some fine-tuning to address concerns that increasing government control over business and society is stifling economic growth.
What is the “third plenum” and why does it matter?
The Communist Party’s 205-member Central Committee is holding its third plenum, or the third plenary session of a five-year term that started in 2022. This year’s meeting was expected to be held last year, but was delayed.
Historically, this third meeting has emerged as one at which major economic and policy decisions have been set, though not every time. Analysts say the plenum often sets longer-term directions impacting the economy.
1. In 1978, the meeting endorsed the “reform and opening up” of former leader Deng Xiaoping, the transformation from a planned economy to a more market-based economy that propelled China’s growth in the ensuing decades.
2. In 1993, it endorsed a “socialist market economy” that sealed the victory of reformers battling against conservatives warning about the dangers of economic liberalization.
3. In 2013, in another endorsement of reform, it said that the market would become the decisive force in the allocation of resources.
The last pronouncement, made a year after Xi became leader, didn’t come to be. Within a couple of years, the party began backtracking before setting off in a new direction in 2017, Hofman said.
What issues are at stake?
Under Xi, the Communist Party has decided that the party needs to be at the center of efforts to take China to the next level of development. China is the world’s second-largest economy, but with a population of 1.4 billion people, it is also still a middle-income country.
The government has reined in China’s high-flying tech giants, such as Alibaba, the fintech and e-commerce giant. As the United States became more adversarial, Xi pushed Chinese companies and universities to try to develop the high-end semiconductors and other technology that is being blocked by US restrictions on exports to China.
Free-market advocates are concerned this government-led approach is discouraging the entrepreneurial spirit. Another worry is that the rising importance of national security will take a toll on economic growth. The government has investigated companies that transferred economic data overseas in what appears to be a widening definition of what constitutes a breach of the law.
A major change in direction is not expected and would be momentous if it were to happen. Instead, the degree to which the meeting acknowledges concerns about the business environment and national security could signal whether there will be some policy adjustments.
What policy shifts might happen?
Further support for high-tech industries that are considered vital for national security and future growth is all but certain, along with related industrial policies.
But the party faces demands on other fronts. Alexander Davey, an analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany, said they are watching how the government will balance two major prerogatives: economic growth and social equity.
Local governments are heavily in debt, with multiple cities suspending transit services because they could not afford to keep running them. In February last year, the city of Shangqiu, home to more than 7 million people, temporarily shut down bus lines.
“There may be a bit of a shift, does the central government issue more debt to local government so they can run their services?” Davey said. The trade off will be between vast resources poured into science and tech development, areas deemed vital to national security, and social services.
Investors will be on the lookout for indications that the government, having increased its control over the economy, will take any steps to create a more favorable environment for private companies.
Then, there is the real estate market. In April, the government announced policies that signaled a shift in its approach by funding direct purchases of unsold homes.
“A notable first-half shift in China’s property stance,” said Yifan Hu, chief investment officer for greater China at UBS bank, in a statement. “This ongoing pressure underscores the need for additional easing, which we think will be forthcoming given the supportive policy tone.”


Rwandans vote ‘smoothly’ in election expected to extend Kagame’s rule

Rwandans vote ‘smoothly’ in election expected to extend Kagame’s rule
Updated 15 July 2024
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Rwandans vote ‘smoothly’ in election expected to extend Kagame’s rule

Rwandans vote ‘smoothly’ in election expected to extend Kagame’s rule
  • Incumbent Paul Kagame has won more than 93% of the vote at each of the three previous elections
  • Kagame is running against two other candidates, Frank Habineza and Philippe Mpayimana

KIGALI: Voters in Rwanda lined up at polling stations on Monday to elect their next president, with 66-year-old incumbent Paul Kagame, who has ruled the central African country for nearly a quarter of a century, expected to cruise to victory.
Kagame has won more than 93 percent of the vote at each of the three previous elections. Eight candidates had applied to run against him, but only two were retained in the final list validated by the electoral commission.
The others, including Kagame’s most vocal critics, were barred for various reasons that included prior criminal convictions.
At the Rwandexco polling center in the capital Kigali people started queueing 90 minutes before polls opened.
Voter Barimukije Pheneas said he had chosen to re-elect Kagame, who is praised for rebuilding the country in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide by prioritizing development and putting in place effective social services.
“We voted smoothly without any crowding, and we are happy,” Pheneas said. “I voted for Paul Kagame because he has achieved a lot for us; he united us.”
Kagame is running against two other candidates, Frank Habineza and Philippe Mpayimana, who also challenged him at the last poll in 2017.
He is looking to win the endorsement of the more than 9 million eligible voters, who are also electing members of parliament. Provisional results are expected by July 20.
Motorcycle taxi driver Karangwa Vedaste said the voting process was calm and peaceful.
“I voted for a leader I trust. The one I voted for is a secret in my heart. We will share it when he wins,” Vedaste said.
Kagame won nearly 99 percent of the vote in the 2017 poll, which followed a constitutional change removing term limits that would have prevented him from standing again.
He has won acclaim for transforming Rwanda into a thriving economy but has also faced criticism from rights activists and Western nations for muzzling the media, stifling opposition and backing rebel groups in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Rwanda’s government has denied all the accusations against it, and while campaigning, Kagame promised continued development and stability.
Its human rights record was thrown into the spotlight when Rwanda struck a migration deal in 2022 with the UK to receive thousands of asylum seekers. Britain’s new government has said it would scrap the deal.


Greece fears water shortages after warmest winter ever

Greece fears water shortages after warmest winter ever
Updated 15 July 2024
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Greece fears water shortages after warmest winter ever

Greece fears water shortages after warmest winter ever
  • “Would you like some water? Turn off the tap!” one public service announcement in Athens implores; another daily spot urges the capital’s residents to not fill their bath all the way to the top

ATHENS: After Greece’s warmest winter and earliest heatwave on record, authorities are sounding the alarm over the risk of dire water shortages in the heat of the Mediterranean summer.
“Would you like some water? Turn off the tap!” one public service announcement in Athens implores; another daily spot urges the capital’s residents to not fill their bath all the way to the top.
Already, there are signs that habits may need to change.
At the beginning of July, the Mornos reservoir around 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Athens, the main water source for the Attica region surrounding the capital, levels were down 30 percent from the same period last year.
And overall reserves for Attica were down by nearly a quarter over the same period, according to the water utility company EYDAP.
Home to more than a third of Greece’s population, the region of 3.7 million inhabitants was recently placed on “yellow alert” by EYDAP, which urged people to reduce consumption to keep reserves at a sustainable level.
Across Greece’s islands, which tend to rely on wells and desalination plants to meet water needs, the problem is even more acute.
Added pressure comes from the millions of tourists who flock to the country’s beaches each summer, swelling the local populations.
On some islands suffering from overtourism, the demand for water in summer “is sometimes 100 times greater than in winter,” Nikitas Mylopoulos, a professor of water resource management at the University of Thessaly, told AFP.
Mylopoulos said the problem of mass tourism was being compounded by poor water management.
At the end of June, a month-long state of emergency was declared for the Dodecanese island of Leros.
The island’s council noted malfunctions at the desalination plant, alleging “poor maintenance in the past.”
Other islands threatened by water scarcity include Sifnos in the Cyclades, Chios in the north Aegean and Lefkada and Corfu in the Ionian Sea.
Sifnos’s mayor, Maria Nadali, has criticized “the over-consumption of water for swimming pools and watering large gardens.”
On Lefkada, Michalis Makropoulos, a local resident and author, denounced a “deplorable” situation where “the water was cut off at the end of June for four consecutive days.”
In a local newspaper article, he blamed the problem on “years of mismanagement by the municipal authorities” and the “uncontrolled development of tourism without adequate infrastructure.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis traveled to Lefkada in July to announce “one of the largest water supply projects in Greece to cover the needs.”
The water shortfalls have been made worse by intense heat, which scientists say is at least in part a result of human-driven climate change.
The mildest Greek winter on record has been followed by higher average temperatures this spring.
Last month, the country’s earliest-ever heatwave resulted in the hottest June since 1960, with temperatures reaching 43 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit) in many parts of the country.
The heat has also sparked an increase in wildfires, with more than a thousand recorded last month, more than double the number in the same month last year, authorities say.
The head of the water utility EYDAP, Charalambos Sachinis, has said a “special plan” had been drawn up “to deal with extreme water shortages,” including investments of around 750 million euros ($819 million).
Elissavet Feloni, a hydrologist at the National Technical University of Athens, said the company was also planning to tap Lake Yliki, around 85 kilometers northwest of Athens, as an additional emergency source alongside the main Mornos reservoir.
“However, this is an energy-intensive solution because the water has to be pumped up, whereas the Mornos stream has a natural gradient,” she said.
“For better water management, a central body needs to be set up to develop a comprehensive approach to resources across the country,” she said.


Extravagant wedding celebrations for the son of Asia’s richest man conclude with a reception

Extravagant wedding celebrations for the son of Asia’s richest man conclude with a reception
Updated 15 July 2024
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Extravagant wedding celebrations for the son of Asia’s richest man conclude with a reception

Extravagant wedding celebrations for the son of Asia’s richest man conclude with a reception
  • Youngest son of Mukesh Ambani married Radhika Merchant, daughter of pharma tycoons, with a price tag running into the millions
  • Ambani, who owns Reliance Industries conglomerate, is the world’s ninth-richest man with net worth of $116 billion, according to Forbes

MUMBAI: A wedding reception on Sunday wrapped up the monthslong celebrations as the youngest son of Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, married his longtime girlfriend with a price tag running into the millions.
The newlyweds were cheered by friends and relatives at Mumbai’s Jio World Drive — a convention center built and owned by the Ambani family — as part of the “Mangal Utsav” (a festival of Bliss), which marked what many have dubbed as the wedding of the year.
Anant Ambani tied the knot with Radhika Merchant, daughter of pharma tycoons Viren and Shaila Merchant. The wedding rituals, including exchanging garlands by the couple and walking around the sacred fire, began Friday and were completed early Saturday.
Former British Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Tony Blair, as well as Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, American wrestler and actor John Cena, Bollywood superstars Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan were among the celebrities who attended the ceremonies on Friday and Saturday.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi blessed the newlyweds at a Saturday reception organized by the Ambanis, highlighting the billionaire’s rising clout.
“This is the final and the most auspicious ceremony and the last wedding in our family,” The Times of India newspaper quoted Mukesh Ambani. The Ambanis didn’t say how much they spent on the festivities that have been going on for months.

Indian actor Shahrukh Khan, second left, shares a light moment with his family as they pose for a picture during the blessing ceremony of newlywed couple Anant Ambani son of billionaire Mukesh Ambani's and his wife Radhika Merchant at Jio World Convention Centre in Mumbai, India, on July 13, 2024. (AP)

During a three-day pre-wedding celebration in March, Rihanna and Akon performed for a star-studded 1,200-person guest list.
A four-day European cruise in May featured on-deck concerts from the Backstreet Boys and Pitbull, followed by a masquerade ball where Katy Perry sang. At last week’s traditional music night in Mumbai Justin Bieber belted out his music hits.

The Antilia mansion, house of billionaire Mukesh Ambani, is lit up ahead of his son Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant's wedding in Mumbai, India, on July 10, 2024. (AP)


The groom’s father, Mukesh Ambani, is the world’s ninth-richest man, with a net worth of $116 billion, according to Forbes. He is the richest person in Asia. His Reliance Industries is a conglomerate reporting over $100 billion in annual revenue, with interests that include petrochemicals, oil and gas, telecoms and retail.
The Ambani family owns, among other assets, a 27-story family compound in Mumbai worth $1 billion. The building contains three helipads, a 160-car garage and a private movie theater.
The groom, 29-year-old Anant, oversees the conglomerate’s renewable and green energy expansion. He also runs a 3,000-acre (about 1,200-hectare) animal rescue center in Gujarat state’s Jamnagar, the family’s hometown.
The bride, also 29, is the daughter of pharmaceutical tycoon Viren Merchant and is the marketing director for his company, Encore Healthcare, according to Vogue.
Ambani’s critics say his company has relied on political connections during Congress Party-led governments in the 1970s and ‘80s, and under Modi’s rule since 2014.
 


Rescuers in Nepal recover 11 bodies after a landslide swept 2 buses of people into a river

Rescuers in Nepal recover 11 bodies after a landslide swept 2 buses of people into a river
Updated 15 July 2024
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Rescuers in Nepal recover 11 bodies after a landslide swept 2 buses of people into a river

Rescuers in Nepal recover 11 bodies after a landslide swept 2 buses of people into a river
  • Rescuers were able to find the bodies in different locations on the riverbanks
  • The buses swept away Friday morning near Simaltal, about 120 kilometers west of Katmandu

KATMANDU: Rescuers have recovered a total of 11 bodies from the river that two buses full of people were swept into by a landslide, officials said Monday.
Rescuers were able to find the bodies in different locations on the riverbanks as the search continues for the missing buses and people on board.
Government administrator Khima Nanda Bhusal said seven bodies were identified and relatives contacted. Three of the dead are Indians and the remaining four are Nepali nationals.
The buses were on the key highway connecting Nepal’s capital to southern parts of the country when they were swept away Friday morning near Simaltal, about 120 kilometers west of Katmandu.
The first body was recovered Sunday some 50 kilometers from where the buses fell.
Weather conditions improved Saturday and search teams were able to cover more ground in the hunt for the missing buses and passengers. Heavy equipment had cleared much of the landslides from the highway, making it easier to reach the area as rescuers expanded their scope toward the southern region from where the first body was found, Bhusal said.
The government has imposed a ban on passenger buses traveling at night in the areas where weather warnings are posted, according to the Home Ministry.