New Sri Lankan envoy hopes for closer partnership in Saudi Vision 2030

New Sri Lankan envoy hopes for closer partnership in Saudi Vision 2030
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Updated 27 May 2024
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New Sri Lankan envoy hopes for closer partnership in Saudi Vision 2030

New Sri Lankan envoy hopes for closer partnership in Saudi Vision 2030
  • Omar Lebbe Ameer Ajwad is a career diplomat with 26 years of experience
  • Island nation wants to tap into possibilities posed by Saudi megaprojects

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka hopes to work closer with Saudi Arabia in tourism, labor and renewable energy sectors to support the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, the island nation’s new ambassador told Arab News as he assumed his post in Riyadh on Monday.

A career diplomat, Omar Lebbe Ameer Ajwad concurrently served as ambassador in Oman and Yemen from 2019 to 2022. He had previously served as Sri Lanka’s acting high commissioner in Singapore and deputy high commissioner in Chennai, India.

With around 26 years of experience, one of his earliest postings was as the deputy chief of mission at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh.

As he lauded Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Ajwad said that Sri Lanka can contribute to the transformation and diversification project.

“Sri Lanka wishes to partner with Saudi Arabia in this transformative journey. Therefore, my primary focus would be on promoting economic diplomacy,” he told Arab News over the weekend.

“Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia are well poised for greater connectivity and deeper economic cooperation and synergies.”

With Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka celebrating their 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, Ajwad is set on charting pathways for future cooperation “to achieve another milestone of productive relations.”

Key sectors in Saudi Arabia’s diversification efforts, such as tourism, transportation and logistics, and renewable energy “correspond to Sri Lanka’s potentials and priorities,” he added.

As such, Sri Lanka wants to tap into the possibilities posed by Saudi megaprojects, including the flagship multibillion-dollar NEOM smart city.

“Sri Lanka’s skilled and semi-skilled workforce could support various aspects of construction, engineering, and service industries required for projects such as NEOM,” Ajwad said.

Sri Lankan workers can provide expertise and technology in NEOM’s renewable energy sector, agricultural projects and the city’s information technology development.

Saudi Arabia is a major labor-receiving country for Sri Lanka, with tens of thousands of workers from the island nation living in the Kingdom — making it one of the main sources of foreign remittances for Colombo.

“NEOM also aims to become a major tourist destination. Sri Lanka’s well-established tourism sector expertise, especially in sustainable and eco-tourism, can provide insights and professional services to develop NEOM’s hospitality sector,” the ambassador said.

Ajwad will work on increasing engagements between Saudi and Sri Lankan public and private sectors through political consultation between their foreign ministries and setting up a bilateral business council.

“I strongly believe that the setting up of strong platforms for the bilateral engagements will serve as a catalyst for the much-needed information flow, networking, and follow-up with a view to fostering greater cooperation between the two countries.”


Daesh prisoners take two prison guards hostage in Russia

Daesh prisoners take two prison guards hostage in Russia
Updated 9 sec ago
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Daesh prisoners take two prison guards hostage in Russia

Daesh prisoners take two prison guards hostage in Russia
  • Daesh members who are due to appear in court on terrorism charges are among the hostage takers
MOSCOW: Two prison officers have been taken hostage by Daesh inmates at a jail in Rostov, southern Russia, the prison services announced Sunday.
“The inmates took two prison officers hostage” in detention center Number One of the Rostov region, they said in a statement.
“Negotiations on the release of the hostages are underway,” it added.
According to a police source interviewed by the state news agency TASS, Daesh members who are due to appear in court on terrorism charges are among the hostage takers.
Russia has been the target for several attacks claimed by the militant organization.
On March 22, gunmen killed at least 144 people when they opened fire at a concert hall near Moscow in the deadliest attack on Russian soil for two decades. Hundreds more were injured.
More than 20 people have since been arrested, including the four suspected attackers, all from the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.

China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit

China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit
Updated 16 June 2024
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China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit

China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit
  • Li Qiang, China’s second-highest ranked official and the first Chinese premier to visit Australia in seven years
  • The pandas at Adelaide’s zoo would return to China in November and it would get to select two new giant pandas

China Premier Li Qiang made a low-key start on Sunday to a four-day trip to Australia with visits to a South Australian winery and Adelaide Zoo, where he announced Beijing would provide two new pandas after the current pair go home later this year.
Li, China’s second-highest ranked official and the first Chinese premier to visit Australia in seven years, is due to meet Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday. He arrived in the South Australia state capital late on Saturday, saying bilateral relations were “back on track.”
China, Australia’s largest trade partner, imposed restrictions on a raft of Australian agricultural and mineral exports in 2020 during a diplomatic dispute that has now largely eased.
On Sunday, Li’s first official stop was to visit a pair of pandas on loan from China to Adelaide’s zoo, where Australian Broadcasting Corp. television showed crowds gathered, some waving Chinese flags, while others held signs that read “No more panda propaganda.”
At the zoo, Li announced the pandas would return to China in November and the zoo would get to select two new giant pandas, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
The pandas had “become envoys of friendship between China and Australia, and a symbol of the profound friendship between the two peoples,” Li said, according to a statement from the Chinese embassy.
“China is ready to continue with the cooperative research with Australia on the conservation of giant pandas, and hopes that Australia will continue to be an amicable home for giant pandas,” Li added.
The pandas, Fu Ni and Wang Wang, have been at the zoo since 2009 but have not successfully bred, the ABC reported.
Li later attended an event with South Australia wine exporters, who until recently have been shut out of the Chinese market in a dispute that suspended A$20 billion ($13 billion) in Australian agriculture and mineral exports last year.
Speaking at the winery in the Adelaide suburb of Magill, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the venue was chosen “because of course one of the impediments that has been removed is the export of Australian wine and we welcome that.”
Earlier on Sunday, Wong said Li’s visit was “really important” in showing stabilized ties between the two major trading partners.
“It comes after two years of very deliberate, very patient work by this government to bring about a stabilization of the relationship,” Wong told the ABC.
On the pandas, Wong, who lives in Adelaide, said the animals “have been a great part of the lives of many Adelaide families.”
On Monday, Li will visit the capital Canberra for a meeting with Albanese.
During the talks, the prime minister is expected to bring up the case of Australian writer Yang Hengjun who was given a suspended death sentence on espionage charges in February, as well as an incident last month where a Chinese military jet dropped flares near an Australian defense helicopter.
Li’s final stop on Tuesday will be in resource-rich mining state Western Australia. Australia is the biggest supplier of iron ore to China, which has been an investor in Australian mining projects, though some recent Chinese investment in critical minerals has been blocked by Australia on national interest grounds.
Li arrived from New Zealand, where he highlighted Chinese demand for its agricultural products.
Canberra and Wellington are seeking to balance trade with regional security concerns over China’s ambitions in the Pacific Islands and on issues including human rights the contested South China Sea.


Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders

Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders
Updated 16 June 2024
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Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders

Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders
  • The blaze that is being called the Post Fire burned more than 14.5 square kilometers near the Interstate 5 freeway in Gorman

GORMAN, California: Authorities issued evacuation orders Saturday as a wildfire in Los Angeles County spread thousands of acres close to a major highway and threatened nearby structures, officials said.
The blaze that is being called the Post Fire burned more than 14.5 square kilometers near the Interstate 5 freeway in Gorman, which is about 100 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The flames broke out at around 1:45 p.m., authorities said.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the evacuations, whether there were injuries reported and the latest size of the blaze. An investigation is ongoing.


Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts

Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts
Updated 16 June 2024
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Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts

Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts
  • US President Joe Biden: ‘The Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today’
  • ‘The fact of the matter is that there has never been a court that is this far out of step’

LOS ANGELES: President Joe Biden slammed the US Supreme Court as “out of kilter” at a glitzy fundraiser in Los Angeles on Saturday with former President Barack Obama and top Hollywood celebrities that has raised $28 million.

Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel began by showing a video montage contrasting Biden’s record with that of his predecessor and current Republican challenger Donald Trump. He drew cheers from the audience at a packed Peacock Theater in downtown Los Angeles, where Hollywood celebrities George Clooney and Julia Roberts were among the guests.

Biden, a Democrat who has frequently denounced specific decisions but resisted a full-throated attack on the court itself, said on Saturday “the Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today.”

“The fact of the matter is that there has never been a court that is this far out of step,” Biden said. He noted that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas had said the court, which overturned the half-century-old federal right to abortion, should reconsider such things as in vitro fertilization and contraception.

Trump nominated three of the six conservatives who control the nine-member court. He and Biden are in a tight rematch race for the Nov. 5 election.

If Trump is elected again, Biden said, he “is likely to have two new Supreme Court nominees.”

“The idea that if he’s reelected, he’s going to appoint two more who are flying flags upside down... I think it is one of the scariest parts,” Biden said.

He was referring to a recent controversy involving Justice Samuel Alito, who allowed flags associated with the movement to reverse Trump’s 2020 loss to Biden — including an upside-down American flag — to fly outside his homes in Virginia and New Jersey.

Democratic lawmakers, citing the flag displays, have said Alito should recuse himself from a case involving Trump’s claim of presidential immunity from prosecution on federal criminal charges relating to his efforts to overturn the 2020 results.

Since Biden took office, the court’s conservative majority has also restricted affirmative action, gay rights, gun control and environmental regulation. It has blocked the president’s agenda on immigration, student loans, vaccine mandates and climate change.

Obama said “the power of the Supreme Court is determined by elections. What we’re seeing now is a byproduct of 2016” when Trump was elected. “Hopefully we have learned our lesson. Because these elections matter.”

‘LARGEST DEMOCRATIC FUNDRAISER’

The Biden campaign hoped the star-studded event would display strength and momentum despite Biden’s low approval ratings and concerns about the age of the president, who is 81.

“This will be one of the biggest fundraisers we’ve had,” said Ajay Jain Bhutoria, deputy finance chair at the Democratic National Committee. A Biden campaign spokeswoman said “$28 million heading into President Biden’s LA fundraiser — and counting. This is the largest Democratic fundraiser in history.”

The Biden campaign outraised the $26 million a March fundraiser in New York City generated where comedian and TV host Stephen Colbert hosted Biden, Obama and former President Bill Clinton. The top-ticket package for the LA event costs $500,000, campaign officials said.

Other celebrities who took the stage at the Saturday event included Jack Black, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn and Sheryl Lee Ralph.

In recent weeks, Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame made a White House briefing room appearance to praise the president, Robert De Niro showed up in lower Manhattan for a press conference at the Biden campaign’s behest and Steven Spielberg has been helping the Biden campaign with storytelling.

Actor Michael Douglas held a fundraiser for the president and artists Queen Latifah, Lenny Kravitz, Lizzo, James Taylor, Christina Aguilera and Barbra Streisand have all performed to help Biden raise money.

Biden campaign’s fundraising in April lagged Trump’s for the first time, after the former president ramped up his joint operation with the Republican National Committee and headlined high-dollar fundraisers.

Democrats still maintained an overall cash advantage over Trump and the Biden campaign continues to have a considerably larger war chest.

Biden and Trump are tied in national polls with less than five months to go before the election, while Trump has the edge in the battleground states that will decide the election, recent polls show. On economic issues like inflation, Trump scores higher with voters overall than Biden.

Democrats have long counted on the liberal Los Angeles area as a rich source of financial backing. Republicans often decry Democrats nationwide as funded by Hollywood elites and California liberals.

But the state’s donors bankroll presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle. Biden and Trump have both raised more in the state for their reelection bids than anywhere else, according to fundraising disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Biden raised $24 million through April 30 in California, and Trump $11.7 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The president was largely unable to host high-dollar Hollywood fundraisers for much of 2023 because of industry strikes. But since they were resolved, Biden has headlined several fundraisers in the state, including one in December where top tickets approached $1 million.


Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him

Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him
Updated 16 June 2024
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Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him

Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him
  • "Does everyone know Ronny Johnson, congressman from Texas?" asked Trump, referring to former White House doctor Ronny Jackson
  • Trump went on to make fun of a tampered video showing Biden stepping away from G7 leaders, turning his back and walking in the other direction

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump on Saturday night suggested President Joe Biden “should have to take a cognitive test,” only to confuse who administered the test to him in the next sentence.

The former president and presumptive Republican nominee referred to Texas Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson, who was the White House physician for part of his presidency, as “Ronny Johnson.” The moment came as Trump was questioning Biden’s mental acuity, something he often does on the campaign trail and social media.
“He doesn’t even know what the word ‘inflation’ means. I think he should take a cognitive test like I did,” the former president said of Biden during a speech at a convention of Turning Point Action in Detroit.
Seconds later, he continued, “Doc Ronny Johnson. Does everyone know Ronny Johnson, congressman from Texas? He was the White House doctor, and he said I was the healthiest president, he feels, in history, so I liked him very much indeed immediately.”
Jackson was elected to Congress in 2021 and is one of Trump’s most vociferous defenders on Capitol Hill.
Trump, who turned 78 on Friday, has made questioning whether the 81-year-old Biden is up for a second term a centerpiece of his campaign. But online critics quickly seized on his Saturday night gaffe, with the Biden campaign — which has long fought off criticism about the Democratic president’s verbal missteps — posting a clip of the moment minutes later.
Trump took the cognitive test in 2018 at his own request, Jackson told reporters at the time. The exam is designed to detect early signs of memory loss and other mild cognitive impairment.
The Montreal Cognitive Assessment that Trump took includes remembering a list of spoken words; listening to a list of random numbers and repeating them backward; naming as many words that begin with, say, the letter F as possible within a minute; accurately drawing a cube; and describing concrete ways that two objects — like a train and a bicycle — are alike.
Trump later said that he had to remember and accurately recite a list of words in order: “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.”
During the same speech in Detroit, Trump also referenced a video clip widely circulated online in Republican circles where Biden is seen during the recently concluded Group of Seven summit in Italy watching skydivers land with flags from different nations.
A cropped version of the video shows Biden stepping away from the leaders, turning his back and walking in the other direction. He flashes a thumbs-up but it’s not clear who he is gesturing to. A more complete angle of the same scene, however, shows that the president had turned to face a skydiver who has landed.
Trump nonetheless seized on the video clip, falsely describing Biden turning around “to look at trees,” drawing laughter and hoots from the crowd.
The Biden campaign issued a statement dismissing the clip as misleadingly cropped and accusing those disseminating it as “tampering with the video to make up lies.”