BEIJING: China said Monday it had organized fresh military drills around Taiwan, as a delegation of visiting United States lawmakers met the island’s leader after a similar trip by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi heightened fears of conflict.
The unannounced two-day trip came after Beijing sent warships, missiles and jets into the waters and skies around Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy that China’s leaders claim and have vowed to one day seize.
The five-member congressional delegation — led by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts — met with President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday, according to Washington’s de facto embassy.
“The delegation had an opportunity to exchange views with Taiwan counterparts on a wide range of issues of importance to both the United States and Taiwan,” it said.
The bipartisan trip sparked a caustic response from Beijing, which said it had carried out “combat readiness patrol and combat drills in the sea and airspace around Taiwan island” on Monday.
“This is a solemn deterrent against the US and Taiwan for continuing to play political tricks and undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Shi Yi, spokesman for the Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command, said in a statement, promising to “resolutely defend national sovereignty.”
Taiwan’s government has accused Beijing of using Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to kickstart drills that would allow it to rehearse for an invasion.
China’s Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan but says it will use force if necessary to take the island and bristles at any perceived treatment of it as a sovereign nation state.
In response to the delegation’s visit, Beijing called on Washington to “stop going further down the wrong path of hollowing out and distorting the one-China principle, so as not to cause further damage to China-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
“China will take firm and forceful measures to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing.
That decades-old threat was reiterated in a white paper published last week when China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said it would “not renounce the use of force” against its neighbor and reserved “the option of taking all necessary measures.”
It added, however: “We will only be forced to take drastic measures to respond to the provocation of separatist elements or external forces should they ever cross our red lines.”
Taipei has remained defiant throughout the standoff with Beijing, with foreign minister Joseph Wu saying after a meeting with the delegation that their visit showed the island had not been cowed by China’s threats.
“Authoritarian China can’t dictate how democratic Taiwan makes friends, wins support, stays resilient and shines like a beacon of freedom,” Wu said in a tweet.
“Their visit once again demonstrates that China cannot dictate nor instruct other countries’ politicians not to visit Taiwan,” Lo Chih-cheng, a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said.
Pelosi has stood by her visit but President Joe Biden said the US military was opposed to the trip by his fellow Democrat, who is second in line to the presidency after the vice president.
Congress is constitutionally an equal branch of government in the United States, with lawmakers free to travel where they wish, and Taiwan enjoys bipartisan backing in divided Washington.
The United States switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. But it remains a key ally of Taiwan and maintains de facto diplomatic relations with Taipei.
Washington’s official policy opposes both Taiwan declaring independence and China forcibly changing the island’s status.
It remains deliberately ambiguous about whether it would come to Taiwan’s aid militarily if China invaded.
Visits by senior US officials to Taiwan have happened for decades and even Pelosi’s trip was not without precedent — then-speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich visited in 1997.
But the frequency and profile of US visits has increased both under former president Donald Trump and Biden.
Taiwan has also seen a flurry of delegations visit from Europe and other Western allies in recent years, partly in response to Beijing’s more aggressive stance under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
DUBAI: Philippine migrant workers secretary Susan Ople has cited Saudi Arabia’s commitment to support migrant workers’ rights, as she announced stricter measures to protect the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), particularly domestic workers.
The official, in a statement highlighted Saudi Arabia’s “public expression of support for the UN Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which declares that the protection of migrants and migrant workers is a shared responsibility among States.”
“Even countries where the sponsorship or ‘Kafala system’ is in place have signed this UN document, signifying their support to sound migration governance and humane treatment of migrant workers, including those in vulnerable occupations such as domestic work,” Ople said in her statement.
Over 150 countries voted in favor of the UN Global Compact on Migration with the exception of five countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Poland and the United States.
Sattam Alharbi, Deputy Minister of Human Resource and Social Development, in an earlier UN forum in New York, reiterated the robust partnership between the Philippines, as the labor-sending country, and Saudi Arabia, a country of migrant labor destination.
Saudi Arabia has signed 23 agreements with labor-exporting countries, the contents of which are per international standards, to ensure a partnership based on the promotion of human rights between employees and employers.
In 2021, about 1.6 million overseas Filipinos comprised Saudi Arabia’s 13.49 million expatriate population. Saudi Arabia is the leading destination for OFWs, making about 26.6 percent of those being deployed.
“Safeguarding the rights and welfare of our migrant workers is at the heart of the DMW’s programs, services, and agreements. We will always strive to do our best amid so many challenges in the world we live in,” Ople said.
Some of the initiatives to be put in place to ensure protection of OFWs include the performance review and assessment of licensed recruitment agencies and their foreign counterparts, the issuance of country-specific employment contracts taking, stricter guidelines to only qualified and fully trained household workers are deployed abroad and white-listing of ethical recruitment agencies and foreign recruitment agencies.
Meanwhile, the names of foreign employers and recruitment agencies, both local and foreign, that have been blacklisted due to recruitment and labor violations would be published as a warning to the public.
KABUL: A bombing at a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul during evening prayers killed at least 21 people, including a prominent cleric, and wounded at least 33 others, eyewitnesses and police said Thursday.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack Wednesday night, the latest to strike the country in the year since the Taliban seized power. Several children were reported to be among the wounded.
The Daesh group’s local affiliate has stepped up attacks targeting the Taliban and civilians since the former insurgents’ takeover last August as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their withdrawal from the country. Last week, the extremists claimed responsibility for killing a prominent Taliban cleric at his religious center in Kabul.
Khalid Zadran, the spokesman for Kabul’s Taliban police chief, gave the figures for the bombing at the Siddiquiya mosque in the city’s Kher Khanna neighborhood. An eyewitness said the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber.
The slain cleric was Mullah Amir Mohammad Kabuli, the eyewitness said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the explosion and vowed that the “perpetrators of such crimes will soon be brought to justice and will be punished.”
There were fears the casualty numbers could rise further. On Thursday morning, one witness to the blast who gave his name as Qyaamuddin said he believed as many as 25 people may have been killed in the blast.
“It was evening prayer time, and I was attending the prayer with others, when the explosion happened,” Qyaamuddin said. Some Afghans go by a single name.
AP journalists could see the blue-roofed, Sunni mosque from a nearby hillside. The Taliban parked police trucks and other vehicles at the mosque, while several men carried out one casket for a victim of the attack.
A US-led invasion toppled the previous Taliban government, which had hosted Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Since regaining power, the former insurgents have faced a crippling economic crisis as the international community, which does not recognize the Taliban government, froze funding to the country. On Thursday, the Taliban hosted a gathering of 3,000 tribal elders, religious scholars and others in Kandahar, their state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported. It wasn’t immediately clear what topics they planned to discuss.
Separately, the Taliban confirmed on Wednesday that they had captured and killed Mehdi Mujahid in western Herat province as he was trying to cross the border into Iran.
Mujahid was a former Taliban commander in the district of Balkhab in northern Sar-e-Pul province, and the only member of the minority Shiite Hazara community among the Taliban ranks.
Mujahid had turned against the Taliban over the past year, after opposing decisions made by Taliban leaders in Kabul.
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Malaysia’s top court on Thursday began hearing ex-leader Najib Razak’s appeal to overturn his jail sentence for corruption in a high-stakes legal gambit that could see him locked up or potentially launching a political comeback.
The Federal Court on Tuesday dismissed the former prime minister’s plea for a retrial, clearing the way for the hearings, which will be held until August 26.
But as the hearing started, defense lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, surprised the court by telling the panel of five judges that he wanted to be discharged from the case.
“I would like to start by tendering the following apology from the bottom of my heart. I am unable to proceed with this appeal,” Hisyam said.
“It was an error of my judgment when I accepted the case,” he said.
The court had earlier dismissed Hisyam’s request for three to four months to prepare.
Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat told the lawyer that he cannot just discharge himself and called for a break.
“You still want to discharge yourself and leave your client unrepresented? In our mind, you cannot discharge yourself. You have to carry on,” the chief justice said.
Najib, 69, and his ruling party were roundly defeated in 2018 elections following allegations of their involvement in a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB.
He and his associates were accused of stealing billions of dollars from the country’s investment vehicle and spending it on everything from high-end real estate to pricey art.
Following a lengthy High Court trial, Najib was found guilty of abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust over the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from a former 1MDB unit to his personal bank account.
He was sentenced to 12 years in jail in July 2020, and an appellate court last December rejected his appeal, prompting him to mount a final plea before the Federal Court.
Najib had been hoping the court would grant a full retrial but that request was unanimously rejected on Tuesday.
Dressed in a dark suit and white mask, Najib arrived in court Thursday and waved to around 70 supporters, who shouted “bossku,” meaning “my boss,” which has turned into a rallying cry among his defenders.
If the conviction is upheld, Najib will begin serving his jail sentence immediately, lawyers said.
An acquittal, however, could propel him into contention for his former political post, as he remains popular in Malaysia despite the scandal that plagued his administration.
He remains an elected member of parliament with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the leading party in the current government.
DHAKA: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that the repatriation of more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh is not yet possible due to the situation in Myanmar.
Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it has hosted and provided humanitarian support to the Rohingya Muslims who fled neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.
Most of the refugees live in dozens of cramped settlements in Cox’s Bazar District, a coastal region in the country’s southeast. Hosting the refugees costs Bangladesh about $1.2 billion per year.
Bachelet arrived in Bangladesh on Sunday for a four-day working visit — her first to the South Asian country.
Despite multiple attempts from Bangladesh in past years to advance a UN-backed repatriation process, the organization has yet to move forward with a plan.
“The conditions are not right,” Bachelet told reporters. “Repatriation must always be conducted in a voluntary and dignified manner, only when safe and sustainable conditions exist in Myanmar.”
The UN human rights chief spoke after meeting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who said that the Rohingya must go back home to Myanmar.
Hasina’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim told reporters that during the meeting, the prime minister had pushed for the repatriation process to finally begin.
“The Rohingyas are the nationals of Myanmar, and they have to be taken back,” he quoted Hasina as saying.
With the arrival of the Rohingya, Cox’s Bazar became the world’s largest refugee settlement. Few employment opportunities are available, sanitation is poor and access to education limited.
“The presence of Rohingyas in Bangladesh has created a number of security concerns for Bangladesh,” Prof. Delawar Hossain of the International Relations Department at the University of Dhaka, told Arab News.
Security in the camps came back into focus earlier this month when two refugee community leaders were shot dead, reportedly by an insurgent group active in the Cox’s Bazar camps that has been accused of killing scores of opponents.
Reports of criminal organizations using refugees as drug traffickers have also been on the rise.
International financial support for Bangladesh’s hosting of the Rohingya has fallen since 2020, multiplying the challenges the developing country battered by the COVID-19 pandemic is already facing.
“Any community with a number of 1.3 million people definitely is a pressure on the economy and society,” Hossain said, adding that a return to Myanmar is an “urgent need” for the Rohingya as only then will they be able to start to live normal lives.
He said: “We should do everything possible so that the repatriation starts, because this is the only solution that we have for the Rohingya crisis.”
SYDNEY: Australia’s ex-prime minister on Wednesday defended secretly appointing himself to several key ministries during the COVID-19 pandemic, rejecting accusations he created a “shadow government” and undermined the country’s democracy.
Rejecting bipartisan calls to apologize and resign from Parliament, Scott Morrison insisted he was right to take “emergency powers” over the health, treasury, finance, resources and home affairs departments, without telling the public or his Cabinet colleagues.
“I was steering the ship in the middle of the tempest,” the former Conservative leader said in a defiant first public appearance since the scandal broke, dismissing critics who were “standing on the shore after the fact.”
“Only I could really understand the weight of responsibility that was on my shoulders, and on no one else,” Morrison said, describing his moves as “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” safeguards.
Morrison’s tenure in office, from 2018 to 2022, was a period of crisis for Australia with record bushfires, floods and drought as well as the pandemic and a first-in-a-generation recession.
But revelations that any prime minister could make such an extraordinary power grab without parliamentary or public oversight have left some questioning whether the country’s democracy is also in crisis.
Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has asked the solicitor-general to present advice on whether his predecessor acted legally.
“This is fundamentally a trashing of our democratic system. A trashing of the convention and rules that have operated in Australia for 121 years,” Albanese said Wednesday. “This is unprecedented.”
The Labor leader tied Morrison’s actions to a worldwide “retreat” of democracy.
“There’s people fighting now in Ukraine to protect democracy and a sovereign nation. You have a rise of undemocratic regimes.
“Our democracy is precious. We need to defend it and strengthen it, not undermine it, which is what the former government has done.”
Morrison’s Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews, said her former leader “needs to resign and he needs to leave Parliament.”
Morrison said he intended to represent his south Sydney constituency “to the best of my ability” until at least the next election in just under three years’ time.
A devout Christian, he has previously described his election as prime minister as a “miracle.”
In power, he was routinely accused of lacking honesty and transparency — an indictment that burst onto the global stage when French President Emmanuel Macron claimed he had lied over an abandoned submarine deal.
The former prime minister insists he gained “no personal advantage” from being sworn in to administer five portfolios and stressed that the arrangements were only to be used in an emergency, such as if a minister died during the pandemic.
Morrison said he only used the powers once, which was to override his resources minister and block a controversial offshore gas project — a move he conceded was separate from the pandemic.
“I’m very happy with that decision,” he said.
“And if people think I should have made a different decision and allowed that project to proceed… well, they can make that argument.”
His conservative coalition lost power in May elections, ending nearly a decade of center-right rule in the country.
In Australia, elected politicians are selected by the prime minister before being sworn in by the governor-general in a formal ceremony that is usually publicly recorded.
China conducts fresh drills around Taiwan as US lawmakers visit – Arab News