Thousands protest as Taiwan’s parliament passes contested reforms

Thousands protest as Taiwan’s parliament passes contested reforms
Protesters showed their anger at the reforms being passed, and also shouted ‘refuse Chinese political interference,’ among other slogans. (AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2024
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Thousands protest as Taiwan’s parliament passes contested reforms

Thousands protest as Taiwan’s parliament passes contested reforms
  • Parliament reforms give lawmakers the power to ask the military, private companies or individuals to disclose information deemed relevant by parliamentarians

TAIPEI: Thousands of people protested outside Taiwan’s parliament on Tuesday after it passed a reform package to increase oversight of the government pushed by the opposition but opposed by the ruling party, which did not have the numbers to block it.
The peaceful protests, and sometimes violent confrontations in parliament over the reforms, have been taking place against a backdrop of broader concern about efforts by China, which views Taiwan as its own territory, to influence the island’s politics.
The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Lai Ching-te won the presidency in January elections, but the party lost its majority in parliament. Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), along with the small Taiwan People’s Party, together have the most seats.
The parliament reforms give lawmakers the power to ask the military, private companies or individuals to disclose information deemed relevant by parliamentarians.
They also criminalize contempt of parliament by government officials, and require the president to give regular reports to parliament and answer lawmakers’ questions, which would be a first for Taiwan.
The DPP says the reforms were forced through without proper consultation and their content either vague or an over-reach of power, and on Tuesday its lawmakers threw garbage bags and paper planes at their opposition counterparts.
“You can seize parliament but you cannot seize public opinion,” DPP parliament leader Ker Chien-ming said in an address to the chamber, adding that Beijing had influenced Taiwanese politics.
Opposition lawmakers, holding sun-shaped balloons, shouted “let sunlight into parliament.” Both parties covered the chamber with banners.
The KMT has denounced the DPP for trying to “paint them red,” the color of China’s Communist Party, and says the DPP is trying to stymie efforts to investigate corruption cases and sow unfounded fears about the reforms.
Outside parliament, protesters showed their anger at the reforms being passed, and also shouted “refuse Chinese political interference,” among other slogans.
“This is the people’s voice,” said Zheng Hung-gun, 33, who works in the food industry. “Taiwanese are not afraid of enemies from outside but we are worried about our internal enemies.”
On Friday night, tens of thousands thronged the roads around parliament protesting the reforms.
Several senior KMT leaders have visited China this year, in what the party says is an effort to keep lines of communication open. It denies being pro-Beijing.
China refuses to speak to Lai or the DPP, saying they are “separatists.” Lai says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future and has repeatedly offered talks with China, but been rebuffed.


Ukraine fighting ‘intense’ battles in Donetsk region

Ukraine fighting ‘intense’ battles in Donetsk region
Updated 14 June 2024
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Ukraine fighting ‘intense’ battles in Donetsk region

Ukraine fighting ‘intense’ battles in Donetsk region
  • “The Pokrovsk front... is the most intense in terms of enemy attacks,” the Ukrainian military said
  • In the war-battered town of Selydove near the front line in Donetsk, officials said six people were wounded by Russian aerial attacks overnight

KYIV: Ukraine said on Friday that Russian forces were concentrating their firepower on the Pokrovsk front in the eastern Donetsk region, where overnight strikes wounded at least six people.
The Kremlin annexed the industrial territory in late 2022, months after invading, and its forces are making incremental gains there.
“The Pokrovsk front... is the most intense in terms of enemy attacks,” the Ukrainian military said in a briefing.
In the war-battered town of Selydove near the front line in Donetsk, officials said six people were wounded by Russian aerial attacks overnight.
AFP journalists on the scene hours after the attack saw the interior of a supermarket reduced to heaps of metal and glass under a partially gutted roof.
The force of the explosion, which tore open a neighboring building, also blew out the windows of residential buildings across the street.
Oleg, a 57-year-old resident, said he heard a strange noise at around 9.00 p.m. on Thursday evening.
He thought it was several helicopters flying overhead, until he saw the explosion.
Lyudmila, still in shock, assessed the damage in her flat where the windows had been blown out by the blast.
“Everything was blown away,” the 68-year-old told AFP, her face bruised by the blast.
Kyiv and Moscow staged dozens of drone and missile attacks overnight and during the day Friday.
The two sides have stepped up cross-border aerial assaults in recent weeks, Kyiv targeting Russian energy facilities and Moscow launching retaliatory barrages.
The governor of Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said seven people were wounded when shelling caused a section of a five-story block of flats to collapse in the border town of Shebekino, which often comes under attack from the Ukrainian side.
Emergency services said rescuers were still searching through the rubble.
Russia said it had downed 87 Ukrainian drones, 70 of which had targeted the southern Rostov region that houses the headquarters of its military operation against Ukraine.
The defense ministry said 70 drones were downed over Rostov, six each over Kursk and Voronezh, two each over Volgograd and the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, and one over the annexed Crimean peninsula.
Attacks sparked power cuts in several areas of the Rostov region, its governor Vasily Golubev said on social media.
In the Voronezh region, which borders Ukraine, a fuel reservoir was slightly damaged by falling debris, its governor Alexander Gusev said.
Kyiv meanwhile said that Ukrainian air-defense systems had downed 24 out of 31 Russian drones and missiles fired overnight.
During the day, drone attacks killed a 54-year-old man in the southern Kherson region and wounded a 17-year-old girl in the eastern city of Dnipro, regional authorities said.
Three people were wounded in a drone attack in the eastern Sumy region and several homes were damaged in the neighboring Kharkiv region.


UN agencies urge Greece to shed light on migrant shipwreck

UN agencies urge Greece to shed light on migrant shipwreck
Updated 14 June 2024
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UN agencies urge Greece to shed light on migrant shipwreck

UN agencies urge Greece to shed light on migrant shipwreck
  • IOM, UNHCR stress importance of a comprehensive investigation on first anniversary of tragedy

ATHENS: The UN’s refugee and migration agencies have criticized Greece’s failure over the past year to shed light on one of the worst migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea that left hundreds dead.

UNHCR and IOM stressed the “critical” importance of a “comprehensive and conclusive” investigation in a joint statement on the first anniversary of the June 14, 2023, tragedy in southern Greece.
“Investigations have been initiated in Greece, but so far, no outcome establishing the facts on the incident has been communicated,” they said.
Left-wing groups planned protest marches in Athens, other cities, and outside Greek embassies and consulates in other European countries.
Migrant charities and rights groups have widely criticized the Greek Coast Guard’s handling of the shipwreck in international waters 75 km off the town of Pylos.
Only 104 people survived the sinking of the Adriana, a rusty metal fishing boat smuggling up to 750 migrants from Libya to Italy. Although the vessel was in bad shape, Greek officials could not evacuate the passengers before it sank. Survivors have said the Adriana went down during a botched Coast Guard attempt to tow it, which Greek officials strongly deny.
“A thorough investigation is essential to secure justice for the survivors and the families of the victims and to help prevent similar tragedies in the future,” the two UN agencies said. On Thursday, rights groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said “a credible process for accountability” was needed.
“It is unconscionable that one year since this horrific tragedy, the investigation into the potential liability of (Greece’s) Coast Guard has barely progressed,” HRW official Judith Sunderland said in a joint statement by the groups.
A naval court launched a preliminary investigation days after the accident but has released no information on its progress. In November 2023, Greece’s state ombudsman started a separate probe.
Greek officials had made no statement as of early afternoon Friday to mark the shipwreck anniversary and did not respond to previous requests for comment.
Greece is a main entry point for people from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia seeking a better life in the European Union.

 


Syrian asylum-seeker describes detention as struggle with ‘constant nightmare and insomnia’

Syrian asylum-seeker describes detention as struggle with ‘constant nightmare and insomnia’
Updated 14 June 2024
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Syrian asylum-seeker describes detention as struggle with ‘constant nightmare and insomnia’

Syrian asylum-seeker describes detention as struggle with ‘constant nightmare and insomnia’
  • “After surviving a challenging journey, the reality of my situation was hard to grasp. I kept questioning why I was being detained for deportation,” said Mohammed Al-Kharewsh
  • He is reportedly scheduled to be deported on one of the first flights from the UK to Rwanda

LONDON: A Syrian asylum-seeker facing deportation from London to Rwanda has described his detention at Gatwick detention center as a struggle with “constant nightmares and insomnia,” the Independent reported on Friday.
After arriving in the UK from his war-torn country in 2022, 25-year-old Mohammed Al-Kharewsh, who was recently released on bail from the immigration removal center near Crawley, said: “The environment was overwhelming, and I struggled with constant nightmares and insomnia.
“After surviving a challenging journey, the reality of my situation was hard to grasp. I kept questioning why I was being detained for deportation.”
Describing the 25 days of his detention at the center, Al-Kharewsh, who is reportedly scheduled to be deported on one of the first flights to Rwanda, said that he became depressed and experienced “anxiety and despair” as he repeatedly questioned why he was among the first chosen for deportation.
The 25-year-old claims that the idea of being separated again from his brother, who was granted asylum in the UK as a minor, is “extremely intimidating.” They were separated the first time by the war in Syria.
On May 1, Al-Kharewsh was apprehended during a routine reporting visit to immigration, taken to Gatwick and put in a room with a fellow Syrian refugee with mental health problems. He had been living in Acton with his brother, who rents a flat and works in construction.
The Independent’s report added that many asylum-seekers had been released on bail after Rishi Sunak said that flights would only go ahead if he won the July 4 election. Labour have pledged to scrap the £290 million scheme if they win power.
The 25-year-old said that he was forced to leave Syria two years ago after being pressured to either join the Syrian army or resistance fighters.
Anyone who came to the UK irregularly after Jan. 1, 2022, such as Al-Kharewsh who arrived via small boat, is in line for removal to Rwanda under Sunak’s scheme.
Speaking about his detention, Al-Kharewsh said: “In the rooms, I was housed with another inmate in a shared room. Beds were provided, but the environment itself was far from comfortable. There was a shopping area and a gym available for us, but I was too preoccupied with the constant thought of deportation and my low mood to make use of these facilities.
“We were provided with food, but I only ate enough to survive. My mind was preoccupied with the hopes of a better future. And that hope seemed to slip further away each day. The looming threat of deportation hung over me, adding to my stress and anxiety, and the detention center was incredibly difficult.”
Al-Kharewsh said that he left Syria for the “safety of myself and my family.” He said that his child and wife remained in Syria and are now safer since he left without being forced to pick a side in the armed conflict. He hopes that they could join him one day in the UK.
His younger brother supports him, and a second brother who arrived in the UK earlier this year. Al-Kharewsh only found out that his brother was living in the UK once he arrived, and he is anxious that they are not separated again.
“In the UK I managed to reunite with my siblings for the first time. So going through the trauma of displacement again is extremely intimidating. Also relocating to a country like Rwanda — given their history of conflict and violence and having no support network there — would make me more vulnerable,” he said.
Al-Kharewsh has been told his asylum claim is inadmissible and that the Home Office intends to deport him to Rwanda, but his second brother has yet to hear anything about his asylum claim.
Asylum-seekers are told that Rwanda is known as “the land of a thousand hills,” and that Rwandans are friendly to visitors.
One page of a leaflet that is given to asylum-seekers in detention, titled “Is Rwanda safe?” says that the country is a “generally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum-seekers.”
In November, the UK Supreme Court ruled that UNHCR should be trusted in their assessment that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum-seekers.
The UNHCR warned High Court judges only this week that it may have new evidence from 2024 that Rwanda has endangered asylum-seekers. The UK parliament passed a law declaring Rwanda to be a safe country this year despite the Supreme Court’s decision.
The Home Office did not comment.


Britain’s Kate says she is making good progress with cancer treatment, will attend event

In a personal written message released on Friday, Kate said she had been “blown away” by thousands of kind messages.
In a personal written message released on Friday, Kate said she had been “blown away” by thousands of kind messages.
Updated 14 June 2024
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Britain’s Kate says she is making good progress with cancer treatment, will attend event

In a personal written message released on Friday, Kate said she had been “blown away” by thousands of kind messages.
  • “I am making good progress, but as anyone going through chemotherapy will know, there are good days and bad days,” Kate’s statement said

LONDON: Kate, Britain’s Princess of Wales, has said she is making good progress as she undergoes preventative chemotherapy but is “not out of the woods” ahead of her first public appearance on Saturday since surgery revealed the presence of cancer.
In a personal written message released on Friday, Kate said she had been “blown away” by the thousands of kind messages from across the globe that followed her cancer announcement in March.
She said they had made a world of difference to her and her husband, heir-to-the-throne Prince William.
“I am making good progress, but as anyone going through chemotherapy will know, there are good days and bad days,” her statement said.
“On those bad days you feel weak, tired and you have to give in to your body resting. But on the good days, when you feel stronger, you want to make the most of feeling well.”
Her improved health means she will be able to appear in public for the first time since last December, when she joined other senior royals for an annual Christmas Day church service.
On Saturday morning, Kate, 42, will accompany her three children, Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte, in a carriage during “Trooping the Color,” an annual military parade held in central London to mark the monarch’s official birthday.
She will also join King Charles, Queen Camilla and the other senior family members on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, the high-profile pinnacle of the event.
While Kate said she was hoping to take part in other events this year, aides cautioned that Saturday did not mark a return to a full schedule of work.
“My treatment is ongoing and will be for a few more months,” she said. “I’m looking forward to attending The King’s Birthday Parade this weekend with my family and hope to join a few public engagements over the summer, but equally knowing I am not out of the woods yet.”
Abdominal surgery
Kate spent two weeks in hospital in January after she underwent major abdominal surgery, and two months later she announced in a video message that tests had revealed the presence of cancer, and she would begin preventative chemotherapy.
Her office, Kensington Palace, has declined to give further details about the type of cancer or about her treatment, other than to say the preventative chemotherapy had begun in February.
In her message, Kate said on days when she felt well it was “a joy to engage with school life, spend personal time on the things that give me energy and positivity.” As part of that, she was starting to do work from home, and was able to hold some meetings.
“I am learning how to be patient, especially with uncertainty,” said the princess, who is often known by her maiden name Kate Middleton. “Taking each day as it comes, listening to my body, and allowing myself to take this much needed time to heal.”
A new photo of the princess was also released to coincide with her message, showing Kate looking well dressed in a jacket and jeans, standing under a tree on the Windsor estate to the west of London, where the family home is located.
Her illness has coincided with that of Charles, 75, who has also been undergoing treatment for cancer. He returned to public duties in April, and has remained busy, although his diary commitments are being limited to minimize risks to his recovery.
“His Majesty is delighted that the Princess is able to attend tomorrow’s events, and is much looking forward to all elements of the day,” a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said.
Kensington Palace also said William was pleased to see Kate starting to return to the work and projects that were so important to her.
“He will continue to focus his time on supporting his wife and children, while continuing to undertake his public duties,” a spokesperson said.


Philippines launches first halal travel and trade expo

Philippines launches first halal travel and trade expo
Updated 14 June 2024
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Philippines launches first halal travel and trade expo

Philippines launches first halal travel and trade expo
  • 10,000 visitors expected to attend the three-day SALAAM exhibition in Quezon City
  • Event features workshops, networking sessions, and culinary demonstrations

MANILA: The Philippine Department of Tourism launched on Friday the Halal Tourism and Trade Expo, SALAAM, to promote halal-certified and Muslim-friendly tourism products and services.

Tourism is a key sector for the Philippines, and its government has lately been trying to attract more Muslim visitors by ensuring that they have access to halal products and services.

The three-day event, inaugurated in Quezon City, is the first such exhibition fully hosted by the Department of Tourism and aims to expand the Philippines’ “halal tourism offerings, ensuring our country maintains its reputation for hospitality, inclusivity, and cultural sensitivity,” Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said during the launch.

“Aligned with our National Tourism Development Plan, we have placed halal tourism high on our priority agenda to strengthen our halal tourism portfolio, raise awareness among tourism stakeholders about the values and practices important to Muslim travelers, and ensure our competitiveness in the global tourism market.”

There are some 12 million Muslims in the nearly 120 million, predominantly Catholic population of the Philippines, according to the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos.

They live mostly on the island of Mindanao and in the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, constituting the third-largest Muslim community in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and Malaysia.

Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco, center, and other Philippine officials pose for a photo during the launching of the SALAAM Halal Tourism and Trade Expo in Quezon City. (AN Photo)

“Islamic influence in the Philippines is deeply rooted in our history and culture, particularly in the southern region of Mindanao. This region, rich in natural beauty and cultural diversity, is a testament to the harmonious coexistence of various cultures and traditions. Mindanao, with its lush landscapes, pristine beaches, and vibrant communities, is integral to our nation’s identity,” Frasco said.

“Our efforts towards becoming a more Muslim-friendly destination are not only an invitation for Muslim travelers to visit the Philippines but also a recognition of the significant contributions of our Muslim communities across the country. These Islamic influences enrich our heritage as a nation, adding to the vibrant tapestry of Filipino culture.”

Last month, the Philippines was recognized as an Emerging Muslim-friendly non-Organization of Islamic Cooperation Destination by Mastercard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index.

The index is an annual report benchmarking destinations in the Muslim travel market.

In 2023, the Philippines also won the award and has since boosted efforts to attract visitors from the Middle East.

The country has welcomed more than 2 million international travelers since the beginning of 2024 and marked a 10 percent increase in visitors arriving from Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have been among the Philippine government’s key emerging-market targets.

The Department of Tourism expects to welcome an estimated 10,000 visitors to the SALAAM exhibition, particularly foreign tourists, halal business owners, and entrepreneurs.

The event features exhibits, workshops, networking sessions, and culinary demonstrations by renowned chefs.

“The theme of this year’s expo, ‘Celebrating Excellence in Philippine Halal Tourism, Innovation, and Culture,’ perfectly encapsulates the celebration of our rich heritage, innovative spirit, and dedication to building an inclusive environment for all,” Quezon City Mayor Josefina Belmonte said during the event’s opening ceremony.

“As we navigate the path forward, let us recognize the value of collaboration among government agencies, private sectors, local communities, and international partners in achieving our goal of inclusive prosperity. Together, we can create a thriving halal ecosystem that benefits everyone.”