EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’
Georgian legislators adopted a controversial ‘foreign influence’ law, which sparked weeks of mass protests and a blizzard of international condemnation, and risking its membership to the EU. (AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2024
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EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’
  • Ruling party in Georgia adopted a controversial ‘foreign influence’ law this month
  • Critics say legislation is modelled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent

LUXEMBOURG: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told Georgia Monday that its push to join the bloc could be ended, as Brussels weighs options to punish the authorities over a “foreign influence” law.
“The door for Georgia to become a member of the European Union is open,” Borrell said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
“But if the government continues on the same track, continues doing what they are doing, this door will be closed, and the Georgian people will pay the consequences, will suffer.”
The ruling party in the South Caucasus country — which formally became a candidate to join the EU last year — adopted a controversial “foreign influence” law this month that critics say is modelled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent.
The move was condemned by Georgia’s Western supporters, with the United States banning several officials from the South Caucasus nation from visiting.
Concerns were further fueled by proposed new legislation to ban what the ruling party calls “LGBT propaganda,” in another conservative shift that drew fresh comparisons with repressive Russian laws.
The 27-nation EU is now pondering its response to the shifts from the governing Georgian Dream party, but is wary of pushing the ex-Soviet state closer toward Moscow.
Despite the moves from the government, the population in the country remains overwhelmingly in favor of moving closer toward the EU.
Borrell said that initial moves being discussed by ministers could include halting funding for Georgia’s security forces, cutting government financing, or severing high-level contacts.
“We don’t want to affect civilians. We don’t want to put more pain on the civilian people,” Borrell said, adding that no firm decision was expected Monday.
Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said there would also be discussions on Schengen visa bans for high-ranking Georgian officials.
“The situation for Georgia is serious, and all the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Georgian government,” he said.
“The Georgian people are supporting the way to the European Union.”
Meanwhile, his counterpart from Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis complained that stronger measures were not yet being put forward in a paper presented by the EU’s diplomatic arm.
“Unfortunately, there are certain options in the paper that are not mentioned, such as actually stopping Georgia’s EU integration, which I think it has to be mentioned,” he said.


FACTBOX-India’s economy poised for robust growth ahead of annual budget

FACTBOX-India’s economy poised for robust growth ahead of annual budget
Updated 17 sec ago
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FACTBOX-India’s economy poised for robust growth ahead of annual budget

FACTBOX-India’s economy poised for robust growth ahead of annual budget
  • India’s economy is expanding at the fastest rate among major emerging economies and tax receipts are higher
  • Budget is expected to see an increase in spending on infrastructure and welfare programs such as rural housing

NEW DELHI: India’s economy is expanding at the fastest rate among major emerging economies, and tax receipts are higher, factors that could prompt Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to increase spending in the new 2024/25 budget that will be presented to parliament on July 23.
The budget is expected to see an increase in spending on infrastructure and welfare programs such as rural housing, following bumper dividend payouts from the central bank and increased tax revenue. However, Sitharaman is likely to adhere to the interim budget’s fiscal deficit targets.
Here are some facts about India’s economy:
ECONOMIC GROWTH
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has upgraded its growth forecast for the fiscal year 2024/25 to 7.2 percent, up from 7 percent, driven by a resurgence in private consumption, robust investment, and a rebound in exports.

Similarly, the International Monetary Fund has revised India’s growth forecast to 7 percent for 2024/25 from 6.8 percent, aligning with recent updates from rating agencies and private economists.
S&P expects India’s economy will grow at nearly 7 percent annually over the next three years. INFLATION
Retail inflation in India has eased to around 5 percent from over 7 percent in 2022. Still, food inflation remains persistently high at around 9 percent, impacting rural and low-income urban households. This persistent inflation, coupled with minimal growth in real wages, is dampening expectations for early interest rate cuts by the RBI.
FISCAL DEFICIT

India’s federal fiscal deficit, which exceeded 9 percent of GDP during the pandemic, is projected to remain around 5 percent for the current fiscal year.
However, the combined federal and state fiscal deficits are estimated at 7.9 percent of GDP, reflecting a large debt stock and high-interest burden that constrain the capacity for increased state spending.

HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT
Despite a rebound in employment in manufacturing and services, high unemployment among the educated youth remains a challenge for Asia’s third-largest economy.
The unemployment rate for urban youth aged 15-29 was 17 percent in the first quarter of March, with private agencies suggesting that the actual rate may be higher.

India’s overall unemployment rate has remained much higher over the decades than China, according to International Labour Organization estimates, with millions remaining stuck in low-paying agriculture and informal sector jobs. INTERNATIONAL TRADE

India’s goods and services exports are on an upward trajectory, despite concerns over a global slowdown and geopolitical risks.
Exports are projected to reach $800 billion in the current fiscal year ending March 2025, up from $778.2 billion in the previous fiscal year.
Rising services exports and private transfer receipts have helped India’s current account balance, which is showing a $5.7 billion surplus for the first time in 10 quarters in three months through March.


Only Olympian training in Taliban’s Afghanistan to fulfil judo dream

Only Olympian training in Taliban’s Afghanistan to fulfil judo dream
Updated 9 min 57 sec ago
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Only Olympian training in Taliban’s Afghanistan to fulfil judo dream

Only Olympian training in Taliban’s Afghanistan to fulfil judo dream
  • Six Afghans, including three women who are not acknowledged by the Taliban government, will compete at the Paris Olympics this month
  • Faizad is only member of team still living in Afghanistan, follows rigorous regime whilst competing with challenges of living under Taliban

KABUL: Flipping his flailing judo sparring partner to the mat, Afghanistan’s Mohammad Samim Faizad is the only Olympic athlete training for the Games inside his Taliban-controlled homeland.
Six Afghans — including three women who are not acknowledged by the Taliban government — will compete at the Paris Olympics this month in cycling, athletics, swimming and judo.
Faizad is the only member of the team still living in Afghanistan and follows a rigorous regime whilst competing with the challenges of living in a country mired in poverty, recovering from war and governed by the Taliban.
“Physical fatigue subsides after 10 to 20 minutes, but mental and psychological exhaustion is much harder to overcome,” the 22 year-old, who works odd jobs to fund four hours of training in the Japanese martial art each day, told AFP.
“Judo means a lot to me,” he said while other fighters sparred at the run-down gym of the Afghanistan Judo Federation in Kabul.
“One of my biggest dreams has been to someday participate in the Olympic Games.”

In this photograph taken on June 27, 2024, Afghan judo fighter Mohammad Samim Faizad (R) takes part in a training session at the Afghanistan Judo Federation in Kabul, ahead of his participation in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. (AFP)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Afghanistan from the Games in 1999, during the first period of Taliban rule from 1996 and 2001 when women were barred from sport.
The country was reinstated after the Taliban were ousted by the post-9/11 invasion, but the Paris Games mark the first summer Olympics since they took back power in 2021.
Taliban government curbs have once again squeezed women out of sport, as well as secondary schools and universities, in strictures the United Nations describes as “gender apartheid.”
But this time the IOC has invited a squad without consulting Taliban officials — who have not been invited to attend — instead working with the largely exiled national Olympic committee.
The team of three women and three men were chosen under a system ensuring all 206 nations are represented at the Games, in cases where athletes wouldn’t otherwise qualify.
Faizad won his spot in a Kabul tournament of more than a hundred competitors.
“I will give my hundred percent to get the gold medal for my country,” said Faizad, who has practiced judo for 14 years and is 446th in the men’s world rankings.
The Taliban government have campaigned to be the country’s only representatives at diplomatic forums but in sport have been less dogmatic, praising teams that play under the old flag.
“We don’t want to mix politics and sports,” Atal Mashwani, the spokesman of the Taliban government’s sports directorate, told AFP.
However he insisted that “only three athletes are representing Afghanistan” at the Olympics, refusing to acknowledge the women competitors.
He added that with time “the flag issues will be solved.”
“The flag of the ruling government will be waved in international sports events,” he said.

In this photograph taken on June 27, 2024, Afghan judo fighter Mohammad Samim Faizad (L) takes part in a training session with fellow judoka Shamsuddin Payenda Zadah at the Afghanistan Judo Federation in Kabul, ahead of Faizad's participation in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. (AFP)

Afghanistan first appeared at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and have won only two bronze medals, both in Taekwondo.
“In Afghanistan, there aren’t many opportunities for sport,” said Faizad.
“We don’t have standard clubs to train properly, but we do our best.”
The word judo means “gentle way” in Japan and Faizad tries to cultivate the zen-like calmness his sport requires of champions by putting all other things out of his mind.
“An athlete should be able to focus only on sport,” he said.
The young fighter is trained by his uncle, 36 year-old Ajmal Faizada — who competed in the 2012 London Olympics and will accompany him to Paris.
“We have both given our best in training,” said Ajmal.
“We are really aiming to return with the best achievement possible.”
The Paris Olympics will be Faizad’s first international competition — but with the Taliban government unrecognized by any other nation, the trip is difficult and complicated.
Most embassies in Afghanistan were evacuated during the Taliban takeover and Faizad must travel to neighboring Iran to apply for his visa.
“Whether I win or not, and if I return to Afghanistan empty-handed, I will train to be ready for the 2028 Olympic Games,” he promised.


North Korean official drowned during Moscow visit, say Russian media

North Korean official drowned during Moscow visit, say Russian media
Updated 24 min 23 sec ago
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North Korean official drowned during Moscow visit, say Russian media

North Korean official drowned during Moscow visit, say Russian media

MOSCOW: A North Korean official visiting Russia whose name matches that of a man cited by the secretive state’s media as the leader of a military training contingent has drowned while swimming in a pond outside Moscow, Russian media have reported.
The BAZA news outlet, which often publishes information from sources in the security services and law enforcement, said that the official, Kim Geum Chol, died on July 11 in a public swimming pond in Zelenograd, a city some 37 km (23 miles) northwest of Moscow.
North Korea’s state KCNA news agency reported earlier this month that a North Korean elite military training delegation had departed by plane to Russia on July 8, the first military exchange between the two countries since their leaders signed a pact pledging closer military cooperation.
KCNA said that Kim Geum Chol, whom it described as the president of the Kim Il Sung Military University, was leading the delegation. The country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, attended the military academy after studying in Switzerland while being groomed as North Korea’s third leader.
The North Korean embassy in Moscow on Wednesday did not immediately respond to a Reuters request to confirm Kim’s death and identity. Moscow police, who have not commented on the incident publicly, were checking the circumstances of what happened, the SHOT Telegram channel reported separately.
Both BAZA and SHOT described the dead man as having been on an official visit and as having stayed at the North Korean embassy in Moscow. Neither made mention of any military education links, saying only that he had worked in the agriculture sector.
BAZA said Kim had traveled, accompanied by an interpreter, to the Bolshoi Gorodskoi (Big City) pond in Zelenograd to cool off from the scorching summer heat.
Baza and SHOT said the interpreter had lost sight of Kim after he went swimming and contacted the police. His body was found the next day floating in the pond. Both outlets gave his age as 64. The incident comes as Pyongyang and Moscow have traded a record number of high-level visits in the past year, culminating in President Vladimir Putin’s first trip to North Korea in 24 years.
The two countries’ military ties concern officials in Seoul and Washington, who say there is evidence of weapons shipments by the North to Russia for use against Ukraine.
Pyongyang and Moscow deny such transactions.


Germany to halve military aid for Ukraine despite Trump’s possible White House return

Germany to halve military aid for Ukraine despite Trump’s possible White House return
Updated 24 min 39 sec ago
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Germany to halve military aid for Ukraine despite Trump’s possible White House return

Germany to halve military aid for Ukraine despite Trump’s possible White House return
  • Stocks of Germany’s armed forces, already run down by decades of underinvestment, have been further depleted by arms supplies to Kyiv

BERLIN: Germany will halve military aid for Ukraine next year, even with the possibility that Republican candidate Donald Trump could return to the White House and curb support for Kyiv.
German aid to Ukraine will be cut to 4 billion euros ($4.35 billion) in 2025 from around 8 billion euros in 2024, according to a draft of the 2025 budget.
Germany hopes Ukraine will be able to meet the bulk of its military needs with the $50 billion in loans from the proceeds of frozen Russian assets agreed by the Group of Seven, and that funds earmarked for armaments will not be fully used.
Washington pushed to “front load” the loans to give Ukraine a big lump sum now.
Officials say EU leaders agreed to the idea in part because it reduces the chance of Ukraine being short of funds if Trump returns to the White House.
Alarm bells rang across Europe this week after Trump picked Senator J.D. Vance, who opposes military aid for Ukraine and warned Europe will have to rely less on the United States to defend the continent, as his candidate for vice president.
Trump sparked fierce criticism from Western officials for suggesting he would not protect countries that failed to meet the transatlantic military alliance’s defense spending targets and would even encourage Russia to attack them.
Germany has faced criticism for repeatedly missing a NATO target of spending 2 percent of its economic output on defense.
DEPLETED MILITARY STOCKS
The stocks of Germany’s armed forces, already run down by decades of underinvestment, have been further depleted by arms supplies to Kyiv.
So far, Berlin has donated three Patriot air defense units to Kyiv, more than any other country, bringing down the number of Patriot systems in Germany to nine.
Germany’s fractious coalition of left-leaning Social Democrats, pro-business liberals and ecologist Greens has struggled to comply with NATO’s spending target due to self-imposed rules that limit the amount of state borrowing they can take on.
Although military aid to Ukraine will be cut, Germany will comply with the NATO target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense in 2025, with a total of 75.3 billion euros.
Days after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a “Zeitenwende” – German for historic turning point — with a 100 billion euro special fund to bring the military up to speed.
From this special fund, there will be 22.0 billion euros more for defense, plus 53.3 billion euros in the regular budget, still less than that sought by Defense Minister Boris Pistorius.
The budget for 2025 comes with the mid-term financial planning until 2028, the year when the armed forces’ special fund to meet NATO’s minimum spending goals is due to run out and 80 billion will be needed for defense, as noted in the financial plan.
In 2028, there is a gap of 39 billion euros in the regular budget, of which 28 billion euros are needed to comply with the NATO target without the special fund, sources from the finance ministry said.
Decisions on how the hole will be plugged are not likely to be taken until after the 2025 election.
“The 80 billion euros that have been put on display for 2028 simply do not exist,” said Ingo Gaedechens, member of the parliament’s budget committee from the conservative opposition party CDU.
“The coalition is not even trying to cover this up but are openly admitting it.”


Donald Trump says Taiwan ‘should pay’ US for defense against China

Donald Trump says Taiwan ‘should pay’ US for defense against China
Updated 17 July 2024
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Donald Trump says Taiwan ‘should pay’ US for defense against China

Donald Trump says Taiwan ‘should pay’ US for defense against China
  • Former US president: ‘You know, we’re no different than an insurance company. Taiwan doesn’t give us anything’
  • While Washington does not diplomatically recognize the island, it is a key partner and major weapons provider to Taipei

TAIPEI: Taiwan “should pay” the United States for defense, US presidential candidate Donald Trump said in a wide-ranging interview that has cast doubt on the relationship between Washington and Taipei should he be re-elected in November.
In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek published on Tuesday, the former president was asked if he would defend self-ruled Taiwan from China, which claims the island as part of its territory.
“I know the people very well, respect them greatly. They did take about 100 percent of our chip business. I think, Taiwan should pay us for defense,” he said, according to a transcript released by Bloomberg.
“You know, we’re no different than an insurance company. Taiwan doesn’t give us anything.”
While Washington does not diplomatically recognize the island, it is a key partner and major weapons provider to Taipei, and recently passed a multi-billion-dollar military aid package aimed at countering Beijing in the region.
Taiwan is also a major powerhouse in the crucial semiconductor industry, producing the majority of the advanced microchips needed to power the global economy.
A leader in the field is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which has been a key beneficiary of Washington’s Chips and Science Act — passed in 2022 to attract companies to invest in building chip factories on American soil.
Thanks to the law, TSMC is building two plants in the United States and announced plans for a third in April, bringing its total investment up to $65 billion.
Trump lamented in the interview that Washington was “giving them billions of dollars to build new chips in our country, and then they’re going to take that too.”
“I don’t think we’re any different from an insurance policy. Why? Why are we doing this? They took almost 100 percent of our chip industry, I give them credit,” he said.
Acknowledging Trump’s comments on Wednesday, Taiwanese Premier Cho Jung-tai pointed out Taipei had steadily boosted its defense budget in recent years.
“We are willing to take on more responsibility; we are defending ourselves and ensuring our security,” he told reporters during a press briefing.
“We are also clear that Taiwan-US relations have been very strong in recent years. Maintaining peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait and Indo-Pacific region is our common responsibility and goal.”
China has said it will never renounce the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, and has also ramped up rhetoric about “unification” being “inevitable.”