Filipino activists and fishermen sail in 100-boat flotilla to disputed shoal guarded by China

Filipino activists and fishermen sail in 100-boat flotilla to disputed shoal guarded by China
Fishing boats carrying activists and volunteers pass by waters off Palauig Point, Zambales province, northwestern Philippines as they head toward Scarborough Shoal May 15, 2024. (Philippine Coast Guard via AP)
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Updated 15 May 2024
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Filipino activists and fishermen sail in 100-boat flotilla to disputed shoal guarded by China

Filipino activists and fishermen sail in 100-boat flotilla to disputed shoal guarded by China
  • Philippine coast guard and navy deploy one patrol ship each to keep watch from a distance on the activists and fishermen
  • China effectively seized the Scarborough Shoal, a triangle-shaped atoll with a vast fishing lagoon, in 2012

MANILA: A flotilla of about 100 mostly small fishing boats led by Filipino activists sailed Wednesday to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s coast guard and suspected militia ships have used powerful water cannons to ward off what they regard as intruders.
The Philippine coast guard and navy deployed one patrol ship each to keep watch from a distance on the activists and fishermen, who set off on wooden boats with bamboo outriggers to assert Manila’s sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal. Dozens of journalists joined the three-day voyage.
Activists and volunteers, including a Roman Catholic priest, belonging to a nongovernment coalition called Atin Ito — Tagalog for This is Ours — planned to float small territorial buoys and distribute food packs and fuel to Filipino fishermen near the shoal, organizers said, adding they were prepared for contingencies.
“Our mission is peaceful based on international law and aimed at asserting our sovereign rights,” said Rafaela David, a lead organizer. “We will sail with determination, not provocation, to civilianize the region and safeguard our territorial integrity.”
In December, David’s group with boatloads of fishermen also tried to sail to another disputed shoal but cut short the trip after being tailed by a Chinese ship.
China effectively seized the Scarborough Shoal, a triangle-shaped atoll with a vast fishing lagoon ringed by mostly submerged coral outcrops, by surrounding it with its coast guard ships after a tense 2012 standoff with Philippine government ships.
Angered by China’s action, the Philippine government brought the disputes to international arbitration in 2013 and largely won with a tribunal in The Hague ruling three years later that China’s expansive claims based on historical grounds in the busy seaway were invalid under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The ruling declared the Scarborough Shoal a traditional fishing area for Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen. In the past, fishermen have anchored in the shoal to avoid huge waves in the high seas in stormy weather.
China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected the outcome and continues to defy it.
Two weeks ago, Chinese coast guard and suspected militia ships used water cannons on Philippine coast guard and fisheries boats patrolling the Scarborough Shoal, damaging both craft.
The Philippines condemned the Chinese coast guard’s action on the shoal, which lies in the Southeast Asian nation’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. The Chinese coast guard said it took a “necessary measure” after the Philippine ships “violated China’s sovereignty.”
The Chinese coast guard has also reinstalled a floating barrier across the entrance to the shoal’s vast fishing lagoon, the Philippine coast guard said. The Philippine coast guard removed a similar barrier in the past to allow Filipinos to fish there.
In addition to the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have also been involved in the territorial disputes.
Chinese coast guard ships had also ventured into waters close to Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia in the past, sparking tensions and protests, but the Southeast Asian nations with considerable economic ties with China have not been as aggressively critical against Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions.
The Philippines has released videos of its territorial faceoffs with China and invited journalists to witness the hostilities in the high seas in a strategy to gain international support, sparking a word war with Beijing.
The increasing frequency of the skirmishes between the Philippines and China has led to minor collisions, injured Filipino navy personnel and damaged supply boats in recent months. It has sparked fears the territorial disputes could degenerate into an armed conflict between China and the United States, a longtime treaty ally of the Philippines.


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.


US still reviewing one bomb shipment for Israel: Blinken

US still reviewing one bomb shipment for Israel: Blinken
Updated 19 June 2024
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US still reviewing one bomb shipment for Israel: Blinken

US still reviewing one bomb shipment for Israel: Blinken
  • The United States is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza

WASHINGTON: The United States bristled Tuesday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested ally Washington was withholding critical weapons to his country as it wages war against Hamas in Gaza.
“Let me just start off by saying that we genuinely do not know what he’s talking about,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
With the exception of “one particular shipment of munitions” that US officials were looking at closely, Jean-Pierre said “there are no other pauses. None.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said earlier Tuesday that Washington is “continuing to review one shipment... with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah,” a city in southern Gaza.
But the top American diplomat said other weapons were moving as usual and that Washington was “making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself.”
The pointed reaction from the White House came hours after Netanyahu said Blinken had assured him the US government was working “day and night” to address the delay in the arrival of the weapons.
In a video statement, Netanyahu said that while he appreciated America’s support during the Gaza crisis, he also said he told Blinken “it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
The United States is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has conducted more than eight months of operations against Hamas.
The unprecedented October 7 attack by Palestinian militants on southern Israel that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Hamas militants also seized 251 hostages, of whom Israel believes 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas has killed at least 37,372 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.


Religious and cultural mentions removed from names of China’s Xinjiang villages, rights groups say

Religious and cultural mentions removed from names of China’s Xinjiang villages, rights groups say
Updated 19 June 2024
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Religious and cultural mentions removed from names of China’s Xinjiang villages, rights groups say

Religious and cultural mentions removed from names of China’s Xinjiang villages, rights groups say
  • Xinjiang is a vast region bordering Kazakhstan that is home to about 11 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities
  • As part of the crackdown, more than 1 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic minorities were estimated to be held in extralegal internment camps

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Authorities in China’s western Xinjiang region have been systematically replacing the names of villages inhabited by Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities to reflect the ruling Communist Party’s ideology, as part of an attack on their cultural identity, a report released by Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.
About 630 villages in Xinjiang have had their names changed to remove references to Islam or the Uyghurs’ culture and history, according to the group's report, done in collaboration with the Norway-based organization Uyghur Hjelp.
The report compared the names of 25,000 Xinjiang villages as listed by the National Bureau of Statistics of China between 2009 and 2023.
Words like “dutar,” a traditional Uyghur string instrument, or “mazar,” a shrine, have been removed from the names of villages, and replaced with words such as “happiness,” “unity” and “harmony” — generic terms often found in the Communist Party’s policy documents.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry didn’t immediately respond to faxed questions about the report and its policies in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is a vast region bordering Kazakhstan that is home to about 11 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. In 2017, the Chinese government launched a campaign of assimilation that has included mass detentions, alleged political indoctrination, alleged family separations and alleged forced labor among other methods.
As part of the crackdown, more than 1 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic minorities were estimated to be held in extralegal internment camps. The Chinese government at the time described the camps as " vocational training centers " and said they were necessary to curb separatism and religious extremism.
The U.N. Human Rights Office in 2022 found accusations of rights violations in Xinjiang “credible” and said China may have committed crimes against humanity in the region.
The changes to the names of Xinjiang villages included removing mentions of religion, including terms such as “Hoja,” a title for a Sufi religious teacher, and “haniqa,” a type of Sufi religious building, or terms such as “baxshi,” a shaman.
References to Uyghur history or to regional leaders prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 have also been removed, according to the report.
“The Chinese authorities have been changing hundreds of village names in Xinjiang from those rich in meaning for Uyghurs to those that reflect government propaganda,” said Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch. “These name changes appear part of Chinese government efforts to erase the cultural and religious expressions of Uyghurs.”
The Chinese government wants to “erase people's historical memory, because those names remind people of who they are,” said Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur linguist based in Norway and founder of Uyghur Hjelp.
Most of the village name changes occurred between 2017 and 2019, at the height of the government crackdown in Xinjiang, according to the report.

 


Trump holds rally in Wisconsin city where his promises of new jobs fell short

Trump holds rally in Wisconsin city where his promises of new jobs fell short
Updated 19 June 2024
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Trump holds rally in Wisconsin city where his promises of new jobs fell short

Trump holds rally in Wisconsin city where his promises of new jobs fell short
  • Still, Trump has a solid base of support, with many voters willing to move past Foxconn and some officials publicly saying they are happy that any jobs at all were created

RACINE, Wisconsin: Donald Trump holds a rally in Racine, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, where he will slam Democratic President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy, even as a major local factory that Trump broke ground on six years ago has proven to be a flop.
The Republican former president was in this largely working-class, lakeside city in 2018 to celebrate what was expected to be a $10 billion investment by Taiwanese technology group Foxconn. During his 2017 to 2021 term, Trump touted the facility, designed to produce TVs, as an example of how his “America First” policies had rejuvenated American manufacturing.
But while Foxconn originally forecast 13,000 new jobs at the factory, the company now expects to create only about 1,500 positions. Vacant fields west of downtown Racine, threaded by empty roadways, serve as a local symbol of unmet promises.
The company, which did not respond to a request for comment, previously said that it changed its plans due to a reduction in projected demand for the factory’s products.
“I think people look at it as a joke,” said Nancy Anderson, a 67-year-old retired teacher, while having breakfast at a local cafe.
Trump is expected to speak to supporters at a lakeside park at 3 p.m. local time (2000 GMT). Among the topics he will address, according to the campaign, is how high inflation under Biden has hurt Wisconsin residents.
Foxconn’s underwhelming debut has opened up a line of attack for local and national Democrats who say Trump failed to live up to his economic promises. They are hoping that message resonates in Wisconsin, one of just a handful of states expected to be competitive in the Nov. 5 election.
According to an average of surveys maintained by polling website FiveThirtyEight, Trump leads Biden in Wisconsin by 0.2 percentage points, despite having lost the state in 2020.
The two candidates are competing furiously for every vote. Biden was in Racine last month to tout the construction of a $3.3 billion Microsoft data center in a location where Foxconn was supposed to build part of its manufacturing campus.
“Foxconn turned out to be just that — a con,” Biden told supporters at Gateway Technical College’s Sturtevant campus.
Still, Trump has a solid base of support, with many voters willing to move past Foxconn and some officials publicly saying they are happy that any jobs at all were created.
Anthony Eckman, a 28-year-old who is unemployed, said he was disappointed when a warehouse position he planned to apply for at Foxconn failed to materialize.
But he said his personal finances have worsened under Biden, and he will likely vote for Trump this year, despite sitting out the last election.
“I wish we had better candidates this year, but Biden showed no signs of improving this country in my opinion,” Eckman said. “I think I’m gonna be voting for Trump this year.”
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Racine is about 40 miles south of Milwaukee, and it is considered politically competitive even by Wisconsin standards. Trump beat the Democratic nominee in both 2016 and 2020 by about 4 percentage points, while former Democratic President Barack Obama narrowly won the county in 2008 and 2012.
Last week, Trump called Milwaukee, where the Republican National Convention will take place next month, a “horrible city” during a meeting with Republicans in the US House of Representatives.
His campaign said he was referring to violent crime and alleged election security issues in the city when he made that comment.


Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour

Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour
Updated 18 June 2024
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Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour

Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour
  • Opinion polls consistently put Labour on course for a victory that would end 14 years of Conservative government

LONDON: Billionaire John Caudwell, one of the governing Conservative Party’s biggest donors before Britain’s last national election in 2019, said on Tuesday he would instead be backing Keir Starmer’s Labour Party at the upcoming July 4 vote.
“I can declare publicly that I will vote for Labour, and I encourage everybody to do the same,” Caudwell said in a statement.
“We need a very strong Labour Government that can take extremely bold decisions and you can rest assured that I will be doing my best to influence them wherever I can, in putting the great back in Britain.”
Opinion polls consistently put Labour on course for a victory that would end 14 years of Conservative government. A poll published by Ipsos on Tuesday estimated Labour could win 453 seats to the Conservatives’ 115, giving them a huge parliamentary majority of 256.
Caudwell made nearly 1.5 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) in 2006 when he sold his mobile phone retailer Phones 4u.
He said he had been despairing about the Conservatives’ performance in government for “many years.”
Previously, in an interview with Reuters, Caudwell had expressed frustration at the Conservatives but described Labour as untested.
On Tuesday he cited current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s handling of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic — when he was finance minister — and what he said was a lowering of ethical standards under former leader Boris Johnson. He described Liz Truss’s brief spell in charge, which spooked financial markets, as a “debacle.”
Caudwell said he liked the focus on accelerating economic growth in Labour’s manifesto: “As I have always said, the government must be much more commercially minded to grow GDP in order to finance the public services that benefit all of society without increasing taxes.”
Labour leader Starmer welcomed the endorsement.
“I’m delighted that John, someone with such a successful track-record in business, has today thrown his support behind the changed Labour Party that I lead,” he said.
“The message is clear: business backs change and economic stability with Labour, and rejects 5 more years of chaos and decline with the Tories.”