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18 Killed in Myanmar crackdown: UN Human Rights Office

GENEVA, Feb 28: The U.N. Human Rights Office says it has received “credible information” that a crackdown Sunday on anti-coup protesters in Myanmar has left at least 18 people dead and over 30 wounded.

“Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku,” it said in a statement, referring to several cities in Myanmar. “Tear gas was also reportedly used in various locations as well as flash-bang and stun grenades.”

“We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters,” its spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani was quoted saying.

It would be the highest single-day death toll among protesters who are demanding that the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi be restored to power after being ousted by a Feb. 1 coup.

Security forces in Myanmar made mass arrests and used lethal force on Sunday as they intensified their efforts to break up protests a month after the military staged a coup. At least four people were reportedly killed.

There were reports of gunfire as police in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, fired tear gas and water cannons while trying to clear the streets of demonstrators demanding that the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi be restored to power. Photos of shell casings from live ammunition used in assault rifles were posted on social media.

Reports on social media identified by name one young man believed to have been killed in Yangon. His body was shown in photos and videos lying on a sidewalk until other protesters were able to carry him away.

A violent crackdown also occurred in Dawei, a much smaller city in southeastern Myanmar, where local media reported that at least three people were killed during a protest march. The fatalities could not immediately be independently confirmed, though photos posted on social media showed a wounded man in the care of medical personnel, and later laid out in a bed under a blanket with flowers placed on top.

Confirming reports of protesters’ deaths has been difficult amid the chaos and general lack of news from official sources.

Prior to Sunday, there had been eight confirmed reports of killings linked to the army’s takeover, according to the independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners.

The Feb. 1 coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party would have been installed for a second five-year term in office, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her and President Win Myint, as well as other top members of Suu Kyi’s government.

Sunday’s violence erupted in the early morning when medical students were marching in Yangon’s streets near the Hledan Center intersection, which has become the gathering point for protesters who then fan out to other parts of the city.

Videos and photos showed protesters running away as police charged at them, and residents setting up makeshift roadblocks to slow their advance. Some protesters managed to throw tear gas cannisters back at police. Nearby, residents were pleading with police to release those they picked up from the street and shoved into police trucks to be taken away. Dozens or more were believed to have been detained.

Demonstrators regrouped later Sunday and security forces continued to chase them in several neighborhoods.

There was no immediate word on Yangon casualties. Sounds of gunfire could be heard in the streets and there were what appeared to be smoke grenades thrown into the crowds.

“The Myanmar security forces’ clear escalation in use of lethal force in multiple towns and cities across the country in response to mostly peaceful anti-coup protesters is outrageous and unacceptable, and must be immediately halted,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Live ammunition should not be used to control or disperse protests and lethal force can only be used to protect life or prevent serious injury.”

“The world is watching the actions of the Myanmar military junta, and will hold them accountable,” he said.

On Saturday, security forces began employing rougher tactics, taking preemptive actions to break up protests and making scores, if not hundreds, of arrests. Greater numbers of soldiers have also joined police. Many of those detained were taken to Insein Prison in Yangon’s northern outskirts, historically notorious for holding political prisoners.

According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, as of Saturday, 854 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced at one point in relation to the coup, and 771 were being detained or sought for arrest. The group said that while it had documented 75 new arrests, it understood that hundreds of other people were also picked up Saturday in Yangon and elsewhere.

MRTV, a Myanmar state-run television channel, broadcast an announcement Saturday night from the Foreign Ministry that the country’s ambassador to the United Nations had been fired because he had abused his power and misbehaved by failing to follow the instructions of the government and “betraying” it.

Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun had declared in an emotional speech Friday at the U.N. General Assembly in New York that he represented Suu Kyi’s “civilian government elected by the people” and supported the struggle against military rule.

He urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the coup, and to refuse to recognize the military regime. He also called for stronger international measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.

Myanmar ramps up violent crackdown on anti-coup protesters

YANGON, Feb 27: Security forces have deployed harsher methods against anti-coup protesters than previously used in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, ahead of plans for another big demonstration on Sunday.

Protests against the military’s seizure of power in a coup on February 1 have entered their fourth week. The Southeast Asian country arrested elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party had won by a landslide.

Police and soldiers deployed rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, and beat protesters at major protest sites in Yangon on Saturday, including near Sule Pagoda downtown, Myaynigone in Sanchaung township, and Hledan in Kamayut township.

In downtown Yangon, police charged at unarmed, nonviolent protesters at about noon local time. When protesters reassembled, police began using increasingly violent tactics.

Police deployed stun grenades that detonated near a group of civilians and made one arrest. Security forces brandished batons at journalists who attempted to approach and document the arrest.

About half an hour later, a few blocks away, police again charged at protesters, making at least two more arrests. One arrested man was bleeding from his face, apparently having been beaten.

Crackdowns in other parts of the city were even more severe, with reports of rubber bullets and tear gas along with stun grenades and beatings.

Journalists have also been increasingly targeted.

Local outlet Myanmar Now confirmed that a multimedia reporter was arrested while live-streaming the crackdown in Myaynigone, where police also arrested at least 20 protesters.

A Japanese journalist was detained and then released in Yangon during a similar crackdown on Friday.

A students union activist told Al Jazeera he believes the crackdowns were meant to intimidate people from turning out for the larger protests planned for Sunday but does not think they will be effective.

Instead, he thinks the tactics will simply make the situation more unstable.

“Before the crackdown, people believed in ‘non-violence’ but now we understand it is not enough. So people are preparing for self-defence,” he said in a message.

The activist said other people in Yangon had moved to protect protesters during the crackdowns.

“This morning, there was a student protest in North Okkalapa. People from North Okkalapa protected students. It is great solidarity. People are more united than before,” he said.

India extends $100 mn line of credit for defence equipment to Mauritius

PORT LOUIS, Feb 22: India and Mauritius on Monday signed a free trade agreement that will make the African island nation a hub for Indian investments in the region, even as New Delhi extended a $100-million line of credit to fund purchases of defence equipment.

Besides the comprehensive economic cooperation and partnership agreement (CECPA), the two countries signed six other pacts, including two for leasing a Dornier aircraft and a Dhruv advanced light helicopter for monitoring the exclusive economic zone of Mauritius.

The agreements were announced following visiting external affairs minister S Jaishankar’s meetings with Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and foreign minister Alan Ganoo. Jaishankar handed over 100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines commercially procured by Mauritius, which had received another 100,000 doses as a grant last month.

The CECPA, signed by India’s commerce secretary Anup Wadhawan and Mauritius foreign secretary Haymandoyal Dillum, is India’s first free trade agreement with any African country, Jaishankar and Jugnauth told a media interaction in Port Louis.

The agreement will provide concessional access to 310 export items from India, including agricultural products, textiles, base metals and chemicals, while Mauritius will get preferential market access for 615 products, including frozen fish, fresh fruits, beer, alcoholic drinks, and medical and surgical equipment.

The agreement is expected to open up new market opportunities for both sides and provide a framework to explore opportunities on the African continent.

Describing Mauritius as a “gateway between India and Africa”, Jugnauth said: “This landmark agreement is far-reaching and should unleash new and expanded opportunities in trade in goods and services, investment, economic cooperation and technical assistance.”

Jaishankar said the CECPA will “provide a timely boost for the revival of our post-Covid economies and enable Indian investors to use Mauritius as a launch-pad for business expansion in Africa”. The goods given preferential access will allow Mauritius to tap into segments of the Indian market that currently account for global imports of $15 billion, he said.

For instance, Mauritius will get preferential access for the export of 40,000 tonnes of sugar in an early timeframe and 7.5 million pieces of apparel.

Officials said the $100-million line of credit for defence equipment will pave the way for Mauritius procuring a new coastal surveillance system and other hardware. India will lease the Dornier aircraft and Dhruv helicopter “gratis for two years” to shore up Mauritius’ “capabilities to control and monitor its extensive maritime domain”, Jaishankar said.

Jugnauth also said Mauritius values its defence cooperation with India, including in capacity-building, coastal surveillance, and deterrence to piracy and illegal fishing.

Three other agreements covered the setting up of a renal transplant unit at the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital with Indian support, creating an 8-MW solar farm to help Mauritius achieve its target of generating 35% of total energy from renewable sources by 2025, and cooperation on consumer protection.

Jugnauth said Mauritius and India have a “unique, trusted and enduring relationship” and a “common interest in an open, prosperous and secure Indian Ocean”. Both countries also have converging views on strengthening the rules-based world order and global institutions, including those of the UN, he said.

He said Mauritius is looking for India’s assistance in procuring another 200,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the coming months

Jugnauth said he also discussed the issue of Chagos Islands, which includes the US military base at Diego Garcia, with Jaishankar. The two sides reviewed the “decolonisation process”, the completion of which “will have no implications for the maintenance of the defence operations in Diego Garcia”, he said.

Jaishankar said he assured Jugnauth of “India’s steadfast, principled support” on the issue of the Chagos archipelago as “has been demonstrated in the past”.

In 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that the UK should end its control of the Chagos archipelago. The UK has said it doesn’t recognise Mauritius’ claim to sovereignty.

Italian ambassador to DR Congo killed after UN convoy attacked

KINSHASA, Feb 22: The Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a military policeman travelling with him have been killed in an attack on a United Nations convoy in eastern DRC, the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The convoy was attacked on Monday near the town of Kanyamahoro at approximately 10:15am (08:15 GMT) as part of a kidnap attempt at the Virunga National Park.

India, Maldives sign agreements for developing naval harbour, boosting defence

MALE, Feb 21: India on Sunday extended a $50-million line of credit to the Maldives for defence projects and the two countries signed an agreement to develop and maintain a key naval facility for the armed forces of the Indian Ocean archipelago.

The agreements for the defence line of credit and developing the harbour at Uthuru Thila Falhu naval base were signed on the second and final day of external affairs minister S Jaishankar’s visit to the Maldives. Five other agreements, including one for a $25-million line of credit for the development of roads, were signed on Saturday.

The agreement between India’s EXIM Bank and the Maldivian government for the defence line of credit will facilitate capability building in the maritime domain, Jaishankar said without giving details.

Jaishankar and Maldives defence minister Mariya Didi signed the agreement to “develop, support and maintain” the Coast Guard harbour in Uthuru Thila Falhu. The two ministers also reviewed various facets of defence and security cooperation during their meeting. Jaishankar said India "will always be a reliable security partner".

Didi said the harbour and dockyard will mark “another significant milestone” in bilateral defence cooperation, while Jaishankar said the facility will strengthen the capability of the Maldivian Coast Guard and facilitate regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

The Maldives doesn’t have a navy and the Coast Guard functions as the armed maritime component of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF). There is strong maritime cooperation between India and the Maldives, and in the past, New Delhi has provided patrol vessels and maritime surveillance aircraft to bolster MNDF’s capabilities.

In addition to the harbour and dockyard, India will support the development of other infrastructure, communications resources and radar services at Uthuru Thila Falhu and provide training to Maldivian personnel. MNDF officials told the media that no foreign military personnel will be stationed at the facility, which will be used to dock, maintain and repair Coast Guard vessels.

A joint statement said the agreement on developing the harbour was in line with several requests made by the Maldives since 2013 for India’s support to enhance the capability of its defence forces to effectively control and conduct surveillance in its exclusive economic zone.

The agreement is also in line with a bilateral action plan for defence cooperation signed in April 2016 and subsequent discussions held during 2016-19.

Jaishankar held a joint meeting with Maldives' finance minister Ibrahim Ameer, national planning minister Mohamed Aslam and economic development minister Fayyaz Ismail to review various infrastructure projects and economic activities being undertaken in the Maldives with Indian support.

During a meeting with Jaishankar on Saturday, Maldives’ foreign minister Abdulla Shahid sought a second tranche of funding under India’s “high impact community development projects” scheme. The ministers also agreed on the importance of peace and security in the Indian Ocean, and decided to strengthen coordination for regional maritime security, combating terrorism and ensuring freedom of navigation.

The Maldives has been one of the biggest beneficiaries under India's 'Neighbourhood First' policy. India is backing major infrastructure projects under two lines of credit worth $1.2 billion. New Delhi also extended budgetary support of $250 million last year to help the Maldives cope with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The five agreements signed on Saturday included a letter of intent between India’s EXIM Bank and local authorities on financing a housing project of 2,000 units, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a grant of $500,000 for a fish processing plant, and an MoU on sustainable urban development.

Jaishankar also handed over 100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines as a grant. This was in addition to another 100,000 doses provided last month under India’s Vaccine Maitri initiative.

Taiwan scrambles air force again after Chinese exercises in South China Sea

TAIPEI, Feb 20: Taiwan's air force scrambled for a second straight day on Saturday after a dozen Chinese fighter aircraft and bombers carried out drills close to Taiwan-controlled islands in the disputed South China Sea, the defense ministry in Taipei said.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as Chinese territory, has carried out repeated air missions in the southwestern corner of Taiwan's air defense identification zone in recent months, mostly near the Pratas Islands.

After nine Chinese air force aircraft flew near the Pratas Islands on Friday, the Taiwanese Defence Ministry said it tracked 11 aircraft on Saturday - eight fighter jets, two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers and an anti-submarine aircraft, also near the islands.

It said Chinese naval forces were also involved but gave no details.

Taiwan's air force warned the Chinese aircraft to leave and deployed missile systems to monitor the activity, the ministry said.

China has not commented on the last two days of activities. It previously said such manoeuvres were a response to "collusion" between Taipei and Washington, Taiwan's main international backer and weapons supplier, and to safeguard Chinese sovereignty.

The Pratas Islands sit in the top part of the South China Sea and are also claimed by China.

Lying roughly between southern Taiwan and Hong Kong, they are only lightly defended by Taiwan and are considered by some security experts as vulnerable to Chinese attack due to their distance - more than 400 km (250 miles) - from mainland Taiwan.

Chinese aircraft fly in the southwestern corner of Taiwan's air defense zone on an almost daily basis, though the last such large-scale activity was on Jan. 24 when 12 Chinese fighters were involved.

Taiwan on Friday unveiled a reshuffle of senior security officials including the appointment of a new, U.S.-trained defense minister, to help bolster military modernisation and intelligence efforts in the face of what it sees as a rising Chinese threat.


Myanmar’s minorities join protest as anger over death simmers

YANGON, Feb 20: Members of Myanmar ethnic groups protested on Saturday in a show of opposition to the coup that removed the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, despite some misgivings about her commitment to their aspirations for autonomy, community representatives said.

The latest development comes as Myanmar’s neighbouring countries seek new path to resolve the worsening crisis, with Indonesia proposing to convene a meeting in a bid to restore democracy in the country.

UK and Canada impose sanctions on Myanmar generals after coup
Protests against the coup that overthrew the elected government of the veteran democracy campaigner have taken place across the diverse country since February 1, even though the military has promised to hold a new election and hand power to the winner.

A young female protester died on Friday after being shot in the head last week as police dispersed a crowd in the capital, Naypyidaw – the first death among opponents of the coup – a development that would likely galvanise further the forces against the military generals.

The United States was saddened by the death and condemned the use of force against demonstrators, a State Department spokesman said.

The army says one policeman has also died of injuries sustained in a protest.

Meanwhile, China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a phone call with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to discuss the latest situation in Myanmar, according to Xinhua news agency.

The continuing turbulence in Myanmar is neither in the interests of Myanmar and its people, nor in the common interests of other regional countries, Wang was quoted as saying.

He also said that Beijing welcomes Indonesia’s initiative, and stands ready to conduct “close coordination” with ASEAN “in de-escalating the situation.”

The demonstrators are demanding the restoration of the elected government, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others and the scrapping of a 2008 constitution, drawn up under military supervision, that gives the army a decisive role in politics.

Ke Jung, a youth leader from the Naga minority and an organiser of the Saturday protest by the minorities in the main city of Yangon, said the protesters were also demanding a federal system.

“We can’t form a federal country under dictatorship. We can’t accept the junta,” he said.

Members of the LGBTQ community are also among the most visible participants in the continuing protests against the coup leaders, expressing their opposition in creative ways, using costumes.

The protests have been more peaceful than the bloodily suppressed demonstrations during nearly 50 years of direct military rule up to 2011.

But police have fired rubber bullets several times to break up crowds, as well as water cannon and catapults.

In addition to the protests, a civil disobedience campaign has paralysed much government business.

Myanmar has experienced armed fighting by ethnic minority factions since shortly after its independence from The United Kingdom in 1948 and the army has long held itself to be the only institution capable of preserving national unity.

Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, like the top generals, is a member of the majority Burman community.

Her government promoted a peace process with rebel groups, but she came in for a storm of international criticism for the plight of the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority after more than 700,000 fled a deadly 2017 crackdown.

Ke Jung said some minority parties were not committed to the movement against the coup.

“It’s a reflection of how Aung San Suu Kyi failed to build alliances with ethnic political parties,” he said.

“However, we must win this fight. We stand together with the people. We will fight until the end of dictatorship.”

Salai Mon Boi, a youth leader from the Chin minority, said the Saturday protest, which happened to fall on Chin National Day, was focused on four demands: getting rid of the constitution, ending dictatorship, a federal system and the release of all leaders.

“There are some people who don’t like NLD but we’re not talking about the NLD,” he said, referring to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

As well as the colourful protest by minority members, several hundred people chanting slogans gathered behind police barricades sealing of a main Yangon protest site by the Sule Pagoda.

The army seized power back after alleging fraud in November 8 elections that the NLD swept, detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and others. The electoral commission had dismissed the allegations of fraud.

The United States, UK, Canada and New Zealand have announced limited sanctions, with a focus on military leaders, including banning travel and freezing assets.

Japan and India have joined Western countries in calling for democracy to be restored quickly.

The military government has not reacted to the new sanctions. On Tuesday, an army spokesman told a news conference that sanctions had been expected.

There is little history of Myanmar’s generals giving in to foreign pressure and they have closer ties to neighbouring China and to Russia, which have taken a softer approach than long critical Western countries.

Military government leader Min Aung Hlaing was already under sanctions from Western countries following the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said 546 people had been detained, with 46 released, as of Friday.

Aung San Suu Kyi faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law, as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios. Her next court appearance has been set for March 1.

Mass anti-coup protests in Myanmar as UN warns of crackdown

YANGON, Feb 17: Tens of thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of Myanmar's biggest city Wednesday, in one of largest protests yet of a coup, despite warnings from a U.N. human rights expert that recent troop movements could indicate the military was planning a violent crackdown.

In Yangon, protesters marched carrying signs calling for ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to be released from detention, while others feigned car trouble, strategically abandoning their vehicles — and leaving the hoods up — to prevent security forces from easily accessing the demonstrations. Large rallies were also held in the country's second-biggest city, Mandalay, and the capital of Naypyitaw, in defiance of an order banning gatherings of five or more people.

One motorist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being targeted, explained tongue-in-cheek that his car had broken down “due to the suffering that our people are undergoing now. We just stopped the cars here on the road to show that we do not want the military regime.”

The demonstrations came a day after U.N. rapporteur Tom Andrews expressed alarm at reports of soldiers being transported into Yangon, noting that such movements had previously preceded killings, disappearances and mass arrests.

“I am terrified that given the confluence of these two developments­ — planned mass protests and troops converging — we could be on the precipice of the military committing even greater crimes against the people of Myanmar,” he said in a statement issued by the U.N. Human Rights office in Geneva.

By Wednesday evening, there had been no reports of major violence at the protests.

However, residents of Mandalay reported hearing gunshots about an hour after the start of the nightly curfew at 8 p.m. as dozens of police and soldiers roamed a neighborhood with housing for state railway workers.

There have been similar reports of gunshots and other aggressive actions in several cities since last week — apparently part of attempts to intimate people rather than cause injury. Railway workers could be targets because they have declared their support for the protest movement and carried out work stoppages.

The military seized power on Feb. 1, the day newly elected parliamentarians were supposed to take their seats — a shocking backslide for a country that had been taking tentative steps toward democracy. The junta said the takeover was necessary because Suu Kyi’s government had failed to investigate fraud claims in elections her party won in a landslide; the election commission has dismissed those claims.

The high protest turnout came a day after junta leaders had declared that the demonstrations were dying down — and Kyi Pyar, a former lawmaker from Suu Kyi’s party, said that dismissal only served to spur on the resistance.

“This upset the people,” she said. “We are not weak, we will never step back in the fight against the military regime. So we are back on the street again.”

In Naypyitaw, thousands of people, including private bank employees and engineers, marched down the city's wide boulevards, chanting for the release of Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

Protesters also poured into the streets of Mandalay, where earlier in the week security forces pointed guns at demonstrators and attacked them with slingshots and sticks. Local media reported that several people were injured.

The marches have been organized as part of a civil disobedience movement, spearheaded by medical workers and supported by many civil servants.

Police filed a new charge against Suu Kyi, her lawyer said Tuesday, a move likely to keep her under house arrest and further fuel public anger. It was the second charge against Suu Kyi — the first for illegally possessing walkie-talkies, the second for an alleged violation of coronavirus restrictions — both apparent attempts to provide a legal veneer for her detention.

State television also announced charges Wednesday against several prominent entertainers, including actors and directors, who have all been publicly supportive of the protests against the coup. They were charged under a law that penalizes those who act in a manner intended to hinder or prevent members of the military and government employees from carrying out their duties.

The entertainers were apparently accused of inducing civil servants to walk off the job — and the move reflects the junta’s concern about the widespread and increasing involvement of civil servants in the protests.

On Tuesday night, the military for a third day in a row ordered an internet blackout — almost entirely blocking online access from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m.

While the military did not say why the internet was being blocked, there is widespread speculation that the government is installing a firewall system to allow it to monitor or block online activity.

Iran makes uranium metal for nuclear research: IAEA

VIENNA, Feb 12: Iran has started producing uranium metal, a material that could be used to make the core of an atomic weapon, according to a report from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency on Wednesday.

The U.N atomic watchdog confirmed about 3 grams of the uranium metal was produced at Iran's Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant in Esfahan.

Earlier this week, reports confirmed that the metal material was not enriched.

According to the IAEA report, Tehran plans to enrich the uranium metal to 20 percent, short of the 90 percent considered weapons grade.

Last year, Iran passed a law calling for the opening of a uranium metal plant for nuclear weapon research in response to the killing of its top nuclear scientist in November.

This is the latest breach of its nuclear deal with major powers, a pattern in recent months that's made it more difficult for the U.S. to re-enter the agreement.

Iran began breaching the deal in 2019 when former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. The 2015 deal was to limit the amount of nuclear material Iran could produce at one time. Instead of its usual 2-3 months timeline, the agreement ensures it would take at least a year to create an atomic weapon.

Tehran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons and says its program is for peaceful purposes.

France, Germany, UK condemn Iran's production of uranium metal

PARIS, Feb 12: France, Germany and Britain on Friday condemned Iran's decision to produce uranium metal, which they said was in breach of commitments made by Tehran to the international community.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog said this week that Iran had followed through on its stated plan to make uranium metal, which Tehran said would be used to make fuel for a research reactor but which can also be used in nuclear weapons.

The move is the latest breach by Iran of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Tehran began incremental violations of the pact, also known by the acronym JCPoA, after the United States withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran.

"We strongly urge Iran to halt these activities without delay and not to take any new non-compliant steps on its nuclear programme. In escalating its non-compliance, Iran is undermining the opportunity for renewed diplomacy to fully realise the objectives of the JCPoA," said the three European states, which are also referred to as the E3.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the E3 statement, saying Iran's position on breaching the pact was in line with paragraph 36 of the deal governing actions one side could take if it believe the other was not meeting obligations.

"Have our E3 partners ever read para 36 of JCPOA & Iran's many letters on that basis?," Zarif said on Twitter.

"By what logic is the onus on IRAN to stop its remedial measures undertaken a full year after the US withdrew from—and continues to violate—the JCPOA? What have E3 done to fulfill their duties?," he said.

Trudeau, Modi discuss Covid Vaccines, Indo-Pacific

NEW DELHI, Feb 11: Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday and the two leaders had a discussion on COVID-19 vaccines as well their efforts to fight the challenge thrown up by the pandemic. However, the press releases from the two countries about the conversation differ in their version of the events.

An official statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that Trudeau informed Modi about Canada's requirement for COVID-19 vaccines from India.

“Prime Minister assured the Canadian PM that India would do its best to support Canada's vaccination efforts, just as it had done for many other countries already,” the statement from the MEA said.

Modi also tweeted about the conversation with Trudeau.

According to MEA, Prime Minister Trudeau said that “if the world managed to conquer COVID-19, it would be significantly because of India’s tremendous pharmaceutical capacity, and Prime Minister Modi’s leadership in sharing this capacity with the world.”

Further, India’s MEA said that the two leaders also spoke about the “common perspective shared by India and Canada on many important geo-political issues” and “agreed to continue the close collaboration between both the countries in fighting global challenges like climate change and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to a press release by the Canadian government, “Prime Minister Trudeau and Prime Minister Modi spoke about India's significant efforts in promoting vaccine production and supply, which have provided vital support to countries around the world.”

The “two leaders agreed to work together on access to vaccines,” it added.

Further, significantly, the statement from Canada mentioned that Modi and Trudeau discussed the two countries’ “commitment to democratic principles, recent protests, and the importance of resolving issues through dialogue,” in what appears to be a reference to the farmers’ protests in India, something which lacks mention in the MEA’s statement.

Canada further said that during the telephone call, the two Prime Ministers discussed their “respective efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, protect the health and safety of their people, and provide economic support for their citizens.”

“The two prime ministers reaffirmed their common interests in a free and open Indo-Pacific, and the importance of working together on global challenges such as climate change, strengthening global trade, and reinforcing the rules-based international order,” the statement added.

“They underlined the need to work collectively in rebuilding a more sustainable and resilient global economy,” the statement from Canada added.

The two prime ministers also discussed the importance of the Canada-India strategic partnership “anchored in shared values, strong people-to-people ties, and growing bilateral economic cooperation.”

India-China Start Withdrawal Along Pangong Lake: Chinese Defence Ministry

BEIJING/ NEW DELHI, Feb 10: India and China have begun "synchronised and organised disengagement" from the north and south banks of Pangong Lake, a Chinese defence ministry spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon.

India has not yet responded to Colonel Wu Qian's statement. However, sources said the government is not denying the reports from the Chinese defence ministry. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will make a statement in the Rajya Sabha tomorrow on the "present situation in eastern Ladakh".

"The Chinese and Indian frontline troops at the southern and northern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake start synchronised and organised disengagement from February 10," Senior Colonel Wu Qian, China's defence spokesperson, said in a written statement.

Colonel Qian said the move was in accordance with the consensus reached after the ninth round of military commander-level talks held on the Chinese side of the Moldo-Chushul border last month.

India had said those talks finished on a "positive, practical and constructive" note, and that both sides had agreed to "push for an early disengagement".

The talks - the ninth round lasted for over 15 hours - have been aimed at defusing tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, and finding a solution to the nine-month stand-off.

In November last year senior government sources said a three-phase plan for disengagement had been readied but there was no agreement on implementation. That plan included both sides pulling back armour - tanks and armoured personnel carriers - from close to the LAC.

India-China tensions spiked in May last year after skirmishes in the Pangong Lake region, and worsened after the June 14 clash in Galwan Valley, in which 20 Indian soldiers died for the country.

Two weeks ago the Indian Army confirmed the two sides clashed once more - this time along the LAC in Sikkim. The Army said it was a "minor face-off" with "insignificant and minor injuries" and that tensions were "resolved by local commanders as per established protocols".

In September the two sides fired 100-200 rounds of "warning shots" on the north bank of the lake. Sources said this was after India made key moves to establish a post overlooking Chinese troops.

A week prior Chinese troops approached Indian positions on the southern bank and fired in the air. They were armed with spears and rifles, and allegedly tried to force a fight similar to the one in June.

Currently some 50,000 Indian troops are deployed in a high state of combat readiness in sub-zero conditions in mountainous locations across eastern Ladakh.

China has deployed an equal number of troops, officials have said.

Also in September there was a major build-up of Chinese tanks and infantry in the South Pangong region; sources told NDTV tanks had been detected near Chinese positions in Moldo.

In January Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stressed that India will not reduce the number of its troops unless China initiates the process. Mr Singh, speaking to news channel Times Now, had said: "There is no deadline when it comes to matter like the ongoing standoff. You can't fix a date."

Xi orders more weaponry at India borders

BEINJING, Feb 8: President Xi Jinping has directed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be “combat ready” during the upcoming Chinese New Year (CNY) holidays and prepare for information warfare as key to victory over enemy forces.

State media reports and local experts interpreted Xi’s statement, delivered during a visit to the PLA air force unit in southwest China’s Guizhou province, as a message to troops stationed along the tense border with India as well as along the maritime zone along the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.

Xi’s statement coincides with several reports in official media on the deployment of new weaponry along the border with India and how China’s top military organisation, the Central Military Commission, also headed by Xi, is directing and monitoring the logistics supply for frontline troops.

“During the Spring Festival, the entire army must strengthen combat readiness on duty to guard national security and the happiness and tranquillity of the people,” Xi told the aviation unit during his tour.

The CNY or Spring Festival holidays are the most important ones on the Chinese calendar when hundreds of millions travel back home while ministries and government departments are either on holiday or work with skeletal staff.

During his inspection at the PLA Air Force aviation division, Xi inspected a special aircraft designed for information warfare.

Xi was quoted as saying by official media that in modern wars, the right to control information has become the key to victory in the war.

India and China have been locked in a military standoff in eastern Ladakh since last May. Tens of thousands of troops from both sides have dug in along the LAC in sub-zero conditions after diplomatic and military talks failed to take forward disengagement of troops at friction points in Ladakh sector.

Connecting Xi’s message to PLA’s increased weaponry deployment at border areas, at least two official media reports said that PLA border defence troops have recently received “holiday gifts”, including 155mm-caliber vehicle-mounted howitzers, armoured assault vehicles and light tanks.

Among the new weaponry, the deployment of Type 15 light tanks in high altitude areas along the border with India has created a buzz in the local media as well as international defence experts.

The PLA’s Xinjiang military command recently received delivery of and commissioned its first batch of the tanks, which excels at rapid reaction combat in plateau regions.

“Compared with the PLA’s Type 96 and Type 99 tanks, the Type 15 is of lighter weight, boasts better mobility in high altitude regions with low oxygen levels, and is more suitable for plateau combat,” a China Central Television report said.

“The tank will let China deter its neighbours in harder-to-reach places such as the contested border with India,” Kris Osborn, former Pentagon official and defence editor for the National Interest, wrote.

The PCL-181, touted as China’s most advanced howitzer, has also been deployed at the northern foot of the Tianshan mountains.

Several recent reports in Chinese official media have also pointed out how border troops stationed at high-altitude plateaus have stocked up on food and daily necessities – the PLA, it seems, is putting much emphasis on its border troops’ food requirements.

“For officers and soldiers of the plateau and alpine troops who are stationed in remote locations and have inconvenient transportation, winter storage and winter readiness are an important support for guaranteeing troops’ combat readiness training,” a PLA news website reported Sunday.

Troops can now grow vegetables at a height of more than 5,000 metres, the report said.

“A border defence company assigned to the PLA Xinjiang Military Command stationed in Shenxianwan at an elevation of 5,380 metres got good news that a smart “vegetable factory” has produced the first batch of fresh leafy greens of eight varieties. For the service members of the sentry post, they could now grow whatever they aspire, instead of eating whatever they had,” the report added.

Shenxianwan, located in the middle of Karakoram Mountains, is the highest-altitude PLA border post.

“Food is connected to combat power. In recent years, relevant departments of the CMC have instructed troops and local governments to establish non-staple food emergency support bases and logistics distribution systems, requiring fresh non-staple food winter storage and winter storage of no less than 12 varieties, effectively improving the food quality of border officers and soldiers and enriching the table,” another PLA report said about the new food arrangements for Chinese border patrols.

Huge protests against Myanmar coup

YANGON, Feb 7: Tens of thousands of protesters poured onto the streets across Myanmar on Sunday in the biggest anti-coup rallies yet, as an Internet blackout failed to stifle growing outrage at the military's ouster of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Some estimates put the number of protesters in Yangon at 1,00,000 and there were reports of large demonstrations in other cities condemning the coup that brought Myanmar's 10-year experiment with democracy to a crashing halt.

Backed by a din of car horns, chanting protesters in Yangon held up banners saying “Justice for Myanmar”, while others waved the signature red flags of Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party as they marched to City Hall.

“I completely despise the military coup and I am not afraid of a crackdown,” said Kyi Phyu Kyaw, a 20-year-old university student.

“I will join every day until Amay Suu (Mother Suu) is freed.”

Protesters announced that they would return to the streets at 10 a.m. local time on Monday, defying the state of emergency imposed by the military and indicating no let-up in their resistance to the coup.

They also called on civil servants and people employed in other industries to not go to work and join the protests.

Many flashed the three-finger salute inspired by the Hunger Games films, which became a symbol of resistance during the pro-democracy protests in Thailand last year.

“We will fight until the end,” said Ye Kyaw, an 18-year-old economics student.

There were also demonstrations in Mawlamyine city and the Magway region.

Monitoring service NetBlocks said Internet access was partially restored on some mobile networks in Myanmar Sunday afternoon, but social media platforms remained blocked and it was unclear how long the connectivity would last.

Military Coup In Myanmar; Suu Kyi Detained

YANGON, Feb 1: Myanmar's military staged a coup on Monday, detaining de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and declaring it had taken control of the country for one year under a state of emergency.

The intervention came after weeks of rising tensions between the military, which ruled the country for nearly five decades, and the civilian government over allegations of fraud in November's elections.

The military last week signalled it could seize power to settle its claims of irregularities in the polls, which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party won easily.

Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were detained in the capital Naypyidaw before dawn on Monday, NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said, just hours before parliament was meant to resume for the first time since the elections.

"We heard they were taken by the military... With the situation we see happening now, we have to assume that the military is staging a coup," he said.

The military then declared, via its own television channel, a one-year state of emergency.

In Yangon, the former capital that remains Myanmar's commercial hub, troops seized the city hall.

Elsewhere, the chief minister of Karen state and several other regional ministers were also held, according to party sources, on the very day when the new parliament was to hold its first session.

The developments triggered a quick response from the United States and Australia, with both calling for the release of detained NLD leaders and the restoration of democracy.

"The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar's democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Australia said the military was "once again seeking to seize control" of the country.

"We call on the military to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and to release immediately all civilian leaders and others who have been detained unlawfully," Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.

In the hours after the arrests, communications networks in Myanmar were restricted, with several mobile phone networks down.

NetBlocks, a non-governmental organisation that tracks internet shutdowns, reported severe disruptions to web connections.

Phone numbers in the capital Naypyidaw were also seemingly unreachable.

Myanmar's polls in November were only the second democratic elections the country had seen since it emerged from the 49-year grip of military rule in 2011.

The NLD swept the polls and was expecting to renew the 75-year-old Suu Kyi's lease on power with a new five-year term.

But the military has for weeks complained the polls were riddled with irregularities, and claimed to have uncovered over 10 million instances of voter fraud.

It has demanded the government-run election commission release voter lists for cross-checking -- which the commission has not done.

Last week, military chief General Min Aung Hlaing -- arguably the country's most powerful individual -- said the country's 2008 constitution could be "revoked" under certain circumstances.

Min Aung Hlaing's remarks, which came with rumours of a coup already rife, raised tensions further within the country and drew a warning from more than a dozen foreign embassies and the UN.

Myanmar has seen two previous coups since independence from Britain in 1948, one in 1962 and one in 1988.

Suu Kyi -- a former democracy icon and Nobel peace prize winner whose image internationally has been in tatters over her handling of the Muslim Rohingya crisis -- remains a deeply popular figure.

She spent 20 years off and on under house arrest for her role as an opposition leader, before she was released by the military in 2010.

Taiwan says Chinese fighters, U.S. aircraft both entered defence zone

TAIPEI, Jan 31: Six Chinese fighter aircraft and a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft entered the southwestern corner of Taiwan's air defence identification zone on Sunday, the island's defence ministry said, in an unusual admission of U.S. military activity.

Tensions have spiked over the last week or so after Taiwan reported multiple Chinese fighters and bombers flying into the zone last weekend, in an area close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the northern part of the South China Sea.

The Chinese missions coincided with a U.S. aircraft carrier group entering the South China Sea for what the U.S. military termed a routine deployment. The United States has criticised the Chinese flights.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry said a total of seven Chinese aircraft flew into the same waters near the Pratas Islands on Sunday - two J-10 fighters, four J-11 fighters and a Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft.

It added that a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft was also present in the same southwestern part of the defence zone, but neither named the aircraft type nor provided details of its flight path, which it does for all Chinese flights.

It was the first time Taiwan had mentioned the presence of a U.S. aircraft since it began near daily reports of Chinese activity in its defence zone in mid-September.

Taiwan rarely speaks publicly about U.S. activity near it, normally when U.S. warships sail through the Taiwan Strait, though diplomatic and security sources say there are frequent U.S. air and naval missions close to the island.

The United States, like most countries, has no official diplomatic ties with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, but is the island's most important international backer and supplier of weapons.

China toughened its language towards Taiwan last week, warning after its stepped up military activities that "independence means war" and that its armed forces were acting in response to provocation and foreign interference.

China believes Taiwan's democratically-elected government is bent on declaring independence, a red line for Beijing. President Tsai Ing-wen says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, Taiwan's formal name.


U.S. Airstrike Kills Top ISIS Leader in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Jan 29: American airstrikes in a joint mission with Iraqi forces have killed the top Islamic State leader in Iraq, an attack aimed at stemming the group’s resurgence and exacting retribution for a deadly double-suicide bombing in Baghdad last week.

The ISIS commander, Jabbar Salman Ali Farhan al-Issawi, 43, known as Abu Yasser, was killed Wednesday near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, American-led military coalition and Iraqi officials said Friday.

The Islamic State no longer holds territory in Iraq but has continued to carry out deadly attacks. The question of what kind of force is required to keep the group in check has been at the heart of American and Iraqi negotiations over reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, and the American role in the raid this week illustrates Iraq’s continued reliance on the U.S. military.

A coalition spokesman, Col. Wayne Marotto, called al-Issawi’s death “a significant blow” to the Islamic State’s efforts to regroup.

al-Issawi coordinated the group’s operations in Iraq, counterterrorism experts said. Colonel Marotto said he was responsible for developing and relaying guidance to ISIS fighters and for helping to expand the ISIS presence in Iraq.

He said that nine other ISIS fighters were killed in the operation.

Colonel Marotto said that Iraqi counterterrorism forces led the operation with coalition air, intelligence and surveillance support.

The American-led coalition has a policy of not commenting on which countries conduct specific airstrikes. But senior Iraqi security officials who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to release the information said that U.S. aircraft carried out the strikes.

Iraqi officials said that the attack on an underground hide-out avenged the deaths of the 32 Iraqis killed in the ISIS attack on a Baghdad market last week. More than 100 others were wounded in the attack, the deadliest in Baghdad in four years.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was targeting Shiite Muslims and Iraqi security forces.

“We promised and fulfilled,” Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi tweeted about the operation that killed al-Issawi. “I gave my word to pursue Daesh terrorists, we gave them a thundering response,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Jaishankar Outlines Eight Principles to Repair Ties With China

NEW DELHI, Jan 28: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday outlined eight broad principles for repairing ties between India and China that included strict adherence to all agreements on management of the Line of Actual Control, mutual respect and sensitivity, and recognising each other's aspirations as rising Asian powers.

In an address at an online conference on India-China ties, Jaishankar said the events in eastern Ladakh last year have profoundly disturbed the relationship and asserted that any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo along the LAC is "completely unacceptable". The external affairs minister said any expectation that the situation at the border "can be brushed aside and life can carry on undisturbed" is simply not realistic.

Jaishankar said the India-China relationship is truly at the crossroads today and choices that are made will have profound repercussions not just for the two nations but for the entire world.
He said the Chinese actions in eastern Ladakh not only signalled a disregard for commitments about minimising troops level but also showed a willingness to breach peace and tranquillity.

"Significantly, to date, we have yet to receive a credible explanation for the change in China's stance and massing of troops in border areas," he said at the All India Conference on China Studies.

Elaborating on eight points for moving forward in bilateral ties, the external affairs minister said agreements already reached on management of the LAC must be adhered to in their entirety and in letter and spirit.

"Whether handling of the border areas is concerned, the Line of Actual Control must be strictly observed and respected. Any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo is completely unacceptable," he said.

While both nations are committed to a multi-polar world, Jaishankar said, there should be a recognition that a multi-polar Asia is one of its essential consequences.

"Obviously each state will have its interests, concerns and priorities, but sensitivity to them cannot be one-sided. At the end of the day relationships between major states are reciprocal in nature," he said.

Jaishankar said as rising powers, each nation will have their own set of aspirations and their pursuit to it cannot be ignored.

He said peace and tranquillity in border areas is the basis for development of ties with China in other domains and if it is disturbed, "so inevitably is rest of the relationship".

The external affairs minister said far from mitigating already existing differences, events of 2020 have actually put the relationship under "exceptional stress". Any expectation that the situation at border can be brushed aside and life can carry on undisturbed is simply not realistic, he said.

He said if ties are to progress, policies must take into account the learnings of the last three decades.

The corps commander level talks between India and China recently did not lead to any agreement for disengagement from the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, but officials said that both sides have agreed in principle to withdraw troops after a nine-month standoff.

The 9th round of talks between GoC, Lt General PGK Menon-led Indian delegation and the Chinese delegation led by Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang Military Region, lasted for over 15 hours at Moldo. An official statement by the defence ministry stated that the two sides had a "candid and in-depth exchange of views on disengagement" and they "agreed to push for an early disengagement of the frontline troops".

Turkey accused of trading Uyghurs for Chinese COVID-19 vaccine: Report

WASHINGTON, Jan 20: Turkey started mass vaccination against COVID-19 with China's 'Sinovac' vaccine but its orders for the vaccine suffered many delays, which led to the Turkish opposition questioning whether Ankara was being punished for dragging its feet in ratifying an extradition treaty it had signed with Beijing that could affect its Uyghur diaspora, Nikkei Asia reported.

Early this month, Ankara announced it has granted emergency use authorisation to Sinovac Biotech's vaccine. Mass inoculations began last Thursday starting with the elderly and health care workers.

The delay of the first batch in December prompted a phone call between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi. By the end of the month, a few days before the first batch of vaccines was due to be sent to Turkey, Beijing unexpectedly announced it had ratified the extradition treaty with Turkey.

Turkey signed the extradition treaty with China in 2017 when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Beijing to attend the Belt and Road Initiative Forum. China had been asking Turkey to cooperate on the Uyghur issue, and it is largely believed that Turkey signed the treaty to solicit investment from China. The treaty was sent to parliament in 2019 and is awaiting ratification.

The move last month prompted members of the opposition parties in Turkey to question if China was withholding the vaccines to pressure Turkey into also ratifying the treaty.

Yildirim Kaya of the opposition the Republican People's Party questioned the government, saying, "Are the allegations that China is postponing vaccine shipments to pressure Turkey into ratifying the extradition treaty true?" Opposition politicians have vowed to push back on ratification when parliament reconvenes on January 26.

China has been rebuked globally for cracking down on Uyghur Muslims by sending them to mass detention camps, interfering in their religious activities and sending members of the community to undergo some form of forcible re-education or indoctrination.

Beijing, on the other hand, has vehemently denied that it is engaged in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang while reports from journalists, NGOs and former detainees have surfaced, highlighting the Chinese Communist Party's brutal crackdown on the ethnic community, according to a report.

There are at least 50,000 Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim people, living in Turkey. The ratification of the treaty would be a huge cause of concern for those Uyghurs who have not yet received Turkish citizenship as they face the possibility of being sent back to China, where they are persecuted.

At a news conference at the end of December, Cavusoglu said ratification of the treaty would only be "routine" and strongly denied claims Uyghurs would be deported to China.

"China had such demands but we have not taken such steps," he said adding that "Vaccines and East Turkestan or Uighur Turks have no relation at all."

Last month, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed shock over the reports that China has ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey that could target Muslim minority Uyghurs fleeing persecution from Xinjiang province.

"USCIRF is alarmed by reports that China has ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey that could target Uyghurs fleeing persecution, and calls on the Turkish Parliament to reject ratification and make every effort to protect Uyghurs and others at risk," USCIRF had tweeted.

China Has Built Village In Arunachal

NEW DELHI, Jan 18: China has constructed a new village in Arunachal Pradesh, consisting of about 101 homes, show satellite images accessed exclusively by NDTV.

The same images, dated November 1, 2020, have been analysed by several experts approached by NDTV, who confirmed that the construction, approximately 4.5 kms within Indian territory of the de facto border, will be of huge concern to India.

Though this area is Indian territory, according to official government maps, it has been in effective Chinese control since 1959. However, earlier only a Chinese military post existed, but this time a full-fledged village that can house thousands has been built.

The village, located on the banks of the River Tsari Chu, lies in the Upper Subansiri district, an area which has been long disputed by India and China and has been marked by armed conflict.

It was constructed in the eastern range of the Himalayas even as Indian and Chinese soldiers confronted each other in their deadliest clash in decades, thousands of kilometres away in the Western Himalayas in Ladakh.

In June last year, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash in the Galwan Valley. China has never publicly stated how many casualties its own army suffered. The stand-off in Ladakh continues through this winter with thousands of soldiers from both sides deployed on the frontline at extreme altitudes in sub-zero temperatures.

The latest image that establishes the village in question is dated November 1, 2020. The image dated a little more than a year before that - August 26, 2019 - does not show any construction activity. So, the village was set up in the last year.

In response to NDTV's detailed questions, the Foreign Ministry, which was also sent the satellite images, did not challenge what the pictures show. "We have seen recent reports on China undertaking construction work along the border areas with India. China has undertaken such infrastructure construction activity in the past several years."

The government says it remains committed to improving border infrastructure. "Our Government too has stepped up border infrastructure including the construction of roads, bridges etc, which has provided much needed connectivity to the local population along the border."

In October last year, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, "For some time, the Indian side has been ramping up infrastructure development along the border and stepping up military deployment that is the root cause for the tensions between the two sides."
There are, however, no signs of Indian road or infrastructure development in the immediate vicinity of the new Chinese village.

In fact, in November 2020, which is when this satellite image was taken, the BJP MP from Arunachal Pradesh, Tapir Gao, had warned the Lok Sabha of Chinese incursions in his state, referring specifically to the Upper Subansiri district. This morning, he told NDTV that this includes the construction of a new double-lane road.

"Construction is still going on. China has entered more than 60-70 kms inside the upper Subansiri district if you follow the path along the river. They are constructing a road along the river known locally as the Lensi as it flows in the direction of the Subansiri river."

The Foreign Ministry did not respond directly to a question on whether the village construction has been diplomatically raised with Beijing. It said to NDTV, ''The government keeps a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India's security and takes all the necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.''

An authentic online map of the Surveyor General of India, used by the government as its official map, clearly shows that the Chinese village lies well within Indian territory.

The images with NDTV have been procured from Planet Labs Inc, satellite imagery experts who monitor the planet on a daily basis. They show the exact coordinates of the new village, which lies north of a large square-shaped structure, believed by defence analysts to be a Chinese military post, first captured as an image over a decade ago by Google Earth. The new images with NDTV indicate that this post has also been substantially upgraded.

Google Earth images also indicate that the village lies south of the McMahon Line, the demarcation between Tibet and India's Northeast which New Delhi believes marks the boundary between India and China in the region. This line is disputed by Beijing.

According to Claude Arpi, an expert in India-China relations, "The village is well South of the McMahon [Line] and the Indian perception of the Line of Actual Control." While explaining that this has historically been a disputed area, the construction of the new village, he says, "is an extraordinarily serious issue as it has many other implications elsewhere on the boundary."

Construction of this village appears to be a violation of a key part of multiple agreements reached with India that ask both countries to "safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas'' and decree that "Pending an ultimate settlement of the boundary question, the two sides should strictly respect and observe the line of actual control and work together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas."

"The imagery is clearly showing the Chinese construction of a residential area within India's claimed border," says Sim Tack, a leading military analyst on armed conflicts. "It's important to note that the Chinese military has maintained a small forward position in this valley since 2000," says Mr Tack. This position "has allowed China to advance observation into the valley for many years, [and] has been seemingly uncontested." This has "allowed gradual upgrades of mobility from China into the valley (roads and bridges) over time, eventually culminating in the recent construction of this village."

The Tsari Chu river valley has a history of clashes between India and China dating back to 1959. A formal note of protest sent by Delhi to Beijing at the time says Chinese soldiers fired without notice on an Indian forward post "which was twelve strong but eight Indian personnel somehow managed to escape."

"China is opening another front against India by taking its "salami-slicing" tactics to Arunachal Pradesh," says strategic affairs expert Dr Brahma Chellaney. "Its encroachment on an area that clearly falls within India underscores the stealth and speed with which it is redrawing facts on the ground, with little regard for the geopolitical fallout."

Kremlin Critic, Who Was Poisoned, Detained After Returning To Russia

MOSCOW, Jan 18: Russian police detained top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny at a Moscow airport on Sunday just minutes after he returned home for the first time since his poisoning last summer.

Navalny was detained at passport control at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport less than an hour after he flew in from Berlin in defiance of warnings that he faced imminent arrest.

His detention prompted immediate condemnation from the European Union and calls for EU sanctions against Russia by Lithuania.

"The detainment of Alexey Navalny upon arrival in Moscow is unacceptable. I call on Russian authorities to immediately release him," European Council president Charles Michel wrote on Twitter.

EU member Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, meanwhile, said his detention was "totally unacceptable" and those involved should be targeted by sanctions.

Navalny's plane landed at Sheremetyevo after a dramatic last-minute diversion from another Moscow airport, where several of his top allies were detained while waiting for him to arrive.

The arrest appeared to show that authorities would no longer tolerate the activities of the longtime anti-corruption campaigner and government critic, who in the last decade has become the most prominent opponent of President Vladimir Putin.

Four uniformed police in black face masks met Navalny at passport control and led him away after a hug and kiss from his wife Yulia, AFP journalists at the scene said.

"Alexei was detained without the reason being explained," Navalny's lawyer Olga Mikhailova told AFP at the airport. "Everything that is happening now is against the law."

But Russia's FSIN prison service said it had detained Navalny for "multiple violations" of a 2014 suspended sentence for fraud, adding that "he will be held in custody" until a court ruling.

North Korea Unveils New Submarine-launched Missiles

SEOUL: North Korea displayed what appeared to be a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) at a parade on Thursday night, state media reported, capping more than a week of political meetings with a show of military might.

Clad in a leather coat and fur hat, leader Kim Jong Un smiled and waved as he oversaw the parade in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, photos by state media showed.

The parade featured rows of marching soldiers, as well as a range of military hardware including tanks and rocket launchers.

At the end, a number of what analysts said appeared to be new variants of short-range ballistic missiles and SLBMs rolled into the square on trucks.

“The world’s most powerful weapon, submarine-launch ballistic missiles, entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces,” news agency KCNA reported.

North Korea has test-fired several SLBMs from underwater, and analysts say it is seeking to develop an operational submarine to carry the missiles.

Photos released by state media showed the SLBM was labelled Pukguksong-5, potentially marking an upgrade over the Pukguksong-4 that was unveiled at a larger military parade in October.

“The new missile definitely looks longer,” Michael Duitsman, a researcher at the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), said on Twitter.

Unlike that October parade, Thursday’s event did not showcase North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which are believed to be able to deliver a nuclear warhead to anywhere in the United States.

The parade in itself was not intended to be a provocation but was a worrying sign of Pyongyang’s priorities, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“The economy is severely strained from pandemic border closures, policy mismanagement and international sanctions,” he said. “Despite or perhaps because of this, Kim Jong Un feels the need to devote scarce resources to another political-military display.”

On Wednesday, Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un and a member of the ruling party’s Central Committee, criticised South Korea’s military for saying it had detected signs of a parade in Pyongyang on Sunday.

North Korean officials have been meeting in Pyongyang for the first party congress since 2016.

UN watchdog confirms another Iranian breach of nuclear deal

VIENA, Jan 14: The United Nations' atomic watchdog agency confirmed Thursday that Iran has informed it that the country has begun installing equipment for the production of uranium metal, which would be another violation of the landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

Iran maintains its plans to conduct research and development on uranium metal production are part of its “declared aim to design an improved type of fuel,” the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said.

Uranium metal can also be used for a nuclear bomb, however, and research on its production is specifically prohibited in the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed with world powers in 2015.

The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something Iran insists it does not want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed.

IAEA inspectors visited the Isfahan plant where Iran has said it plans to conduct the research on Jan. 10, and officials were informed by Tehran on Jan. 13 that “modification and installation of the relevant equipment for the mentioned R&D activities have been already started," the agency said.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, repeated that in a tweet on Wednesday, adding that “natural uranium will be used to produce uranium metal in the first stage.”

He told Iran's official news agency IRNA that the move will elevate Iran to the level of “progressive nations in production of new fuels.”

It was the latest in a string of violations of the JCPOA that Iran has undertaken since President Donald Trump pulled the United States unilaterally out of the deal in 2018, saying it needed to be re-negotiated.

Tehran has been using the violations to put pressure on the other signatories — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — to provide more incentives to Iran to offset crippling American sanctions reimposed after the U.S. exited the deal.

President-elect Joe Biden, who was vice president when the JCPOA was negotiated, has said he hopes to return the U.S. to the deal.

Britain, France and Germany said last week, however, that Iran “risks compromising” chances of diplomacy with Washington after Tehran announced another violation — that it was starting to enrich uranium to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

The foreign ministers of the three European nations said in a joint statement then that the Iranian activity “has no credible civil justification.” They said the enrichment was a clear violation of the deal and “further hollows out the agreement.”

Germany's Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment Thursday, but the announcement on the production of uranium metal now further complicates trying to get Washington back on board.

WHO Team Arrives In Wuhan For Controversial Coronavirus Origin Probe

WUHAN, Jan 14: A team of experts from the World Health Organization arrived in Wuhan Thursday to probe the origins of the coronavirus more than a year after it emerged, although two members were barred from boarding a flight in Singapore after testing positive for virus antibodies.

The international team of 13 scientists landed for their much-delayed mission, met by Chinese officials in hazmat suits and given throat swabs on arrival, and were whisked to a hotel where they must complete a two-week quarantine before starting their work.

The virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and has since billowed out across the world killing nearly two million people so far, infecting tens of millions and eviscerating the global economy.

The WHO says establishing the pathway of the virus from animals to humans is essential to preventing future outbreaks.

But despite painstaking months of negotiations over their remit, the team was blocked from arriving last week -- a sign of the political sensitivity of a virus origin story muddied by recrimination between nations, conjecture and denials.

And the UN health body said Thursday that while most the team had arrived, two members were not allowed to board the flight from Singapore to Wuhan after testing positive for coronavirus antibodies -- the latest twist in a long journey to China for the experts.

The WHO said in a tweet that all members of the team had "multiple negative PCR and antibody tests for COVID-19 in their home countries prior to traveling."

The trip comes as China moves to snuff out fresh clusters of the virus.

More than 20 million people are under lockdown in the north of China and one province has declared an emergency, as the country reported its first death from Covid-19 in eight months.

China had largely brought the pandemic under control through strict lockdowns and mass testing, hailing its economic rebound as an indication of strong leadership by the Communist authorities.

But another 138 infections were reported by the National Health Commission on Thursday -- the highest single-day tally since March last year.

Clusters are still small compared with many countries contending with rampant infections and record numbers of deaths.

But the first Chinese virus fatality in several months -- a woman with underlying conditions in northern Hebei province -- seeded alarm across China.

The hashtag "New virus death in Hebei" quickly ratcheted up 270 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Thursday.

"I haven't seen the words 'virus death' in so long, it's a bit shocking! I hope the epidemic can pass soon," one user wrote.

The last death reported in mainland China was in May last year, with the official death toll now standing at 4,635.

Beijing is anxious to stamp out local clusters ahead of next month's Lunar New Year festival when hundreds of millions of people will be on the move across the country.

As infections have spread, northeastern Heilongjiang declared an "emergency state" on Wednesday, telling its 37.5 million residents not to leave the province unless absolutely necessary.

China is braced for the scrutiny the expert team of WHO scientists will bring to its virus narrative.

Beijing has drip-fed the idea that the pandemic started outside of its borders, preferring to focus on its relatively swift control of the public health crisis.

The WHO have been at pains to cut the political baggage attached to their mission.

Peter Ben Embarek, team lead, said the group would start with a mandatory hotel quarantine.

"And then after the two weeks, we would be able to move around and meet our Chinese counterparts in person and go to the different sites that we will want to visit," he said.

He warned it "could be a very long journey before we get a full understanding of what happened".

Beijing has argued that although Wuhan is where the first cluster of cases was detected, it is not necessarily where the virus originated.

"I don't think we will have clear answers after this initial mission, but we will be on the way," Embarek added.

"The idea is to advance a number of studies that were already designed and decided upon some months ago to get us a better understanding of what happened," he said.

Pakistani court directs authorities to arrest JeM chief Masood Azhar by Jan 18

ISLAMABAD, Jan 9: A Pakistani court has given police officials time till January 18 to arrest Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, days after directing them to produce the UN-designated terrorist on charges of terror financing.

The anti-terrorism court (ATC) at Gujranwala in Pakistan’s Punjab province had on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for Azhar on the request of the local Counter-Terrorism Department and judge Natasha Naseem Supra had ordered that he should be produced in court on Friday.

The court’s order was the first official acknowledgement of Azhar’s presence on Pakistani soil in recent years. Pakistani officials and leaders have repeatedly said they didn’t have information on his whereabouts.

When the matter came up for hearing in the Gujranwala court on Friday, the judge gave the Counter-Terrorism Department time till January 18 to arrest Azhar, failing which steps would be taken to declare him a fugitive.

“ATC Gujranwala judge Natasha Naseem Supra, during the case hearing on Friday, directed the CTD to arrest JeM chief Masood Azhar by January 18 and present him in the court. In case of failure (to arrest him), the court may begin proceedings to declare him a proclaimed offender,” said a court official.

Indian officials have said the Pakistani court’s actions are clearly linked to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) beginning the process to review Islamabad’s efforts to counter terror financing and money laundering during key meetings this month and in February.

JeM was among the groups specifically named by FATF for terror financing in its reports in the past two years. India has already provided evidence on JeM and Azhar’s role in the 2019 Pulwama attack, in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were killed. The attack had brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

The Counter-Terrorism Department had earlier arrested six JeM terrorists – Muhammad Afzal, Muhammad Amir, Allah Ditta, Muhammad Iftikhar, Muhammad Ajmal and Muhammad Bilal Makki – on terror-related charges and sought an arrest warrant for Azhar in the same case even though he wasn’t named in the original chargesheet, people familiar with developments said.

Azhar was last believed to be in his stronghold of Bahawalpur in Punjab province. There was no information on whether Pakistani authorities had launched efforts to trace him.

Pakistan was placed on FATF’s “grey list” in June 2018 for failing to counter terror financing. The multilateral watchdog had given it time till February this year to implement an action plan to curb the raising of funds by terrorists after it missed several deadlines for complying with FATF’s recommendations.

The UN had designated Azhar a “global terrorist” in May 2019, when China lifted its hold on a proposal to blacklist the Pakistan-based JeM chief, a decade after New Delhi approached the world body for the first time on the issue.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un Admits Mistakes As Party Opens Rare Congress

Seoul, Jan 6: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un admitted the country's economic development plan had fallen short in "almost all areas" as he opened a rare congress of the ruling Workers' Party, state media reported Wednesday.

The gathering is the first of its kind in five years, only the eighth in the nuclear-armed country's history, and comes weeks before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Relations with Washington have been deadlocked since talks between Kim and President Donald Trump stalled over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

At the same time the North is more isolated than ever after closing its borders last January to protect itself against the coronavirus that first emerged in neighbour and key ally China.

The congress opened on Tuesday in the capital, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

Pictures in the Rodong Sinmum ruling party newspaper showed 7,000 delegates and attendees packed into the cavernous hall, none of them wearing masks.

On the first day of his work review, Kim said the results of the last five-year economic development strategy "fell extremely short of our goals in almost all areas", KCNA reported.

The plan was quietly scrapped ahead of schedule last year.

"We intend to comprehensively analyse in depth... our experiences, lessons and the errors committed," added Kim, who wore a black suit and a lapel badge of his father and grandfather.

KCNA's transcript did not specify any of the mistakes, and gave no indication Kim mentioned either Washington or Seoul in his speech, which is expected to continue Wednesday.

The coronavirus pandemic has added to the pressures on the North, with Pyongyang blockading itself far more effectively than even the most hawkish backer of sanctions could ever hope to achieve.

Trade with key ally China is at a tiny fraction of the usual level, while many foreign embassies have closed or drastically reduced their representations.

Pyongyang insists that it has not had a single case of the disease -- observers doubt the claim -- but summer floods put further strain on its finances.

Analysts say the congress will largely focus on domestic issues, reaffirming the importance of "self-reliance" and proclaiming a new economic plan.

The Rodong Sinmun on Sunday called for unwavering loyalty to Kim, saying that a "united spirit" was necessary to ensure a "victorious" year.

The congress is the top ruling party meeting, a grand political set-piece that reinforces the regime's authority and is closely followed by analysts for signs of policy shifts or elite personnel changes.

Kim's sister and key adviser Kim Yo Jong was among the officials elected to the presidium of the congress, in a sign of her increasing standing.

The last congress in 2016 -- the first in almost 40 years - cemented Kim Jong Un's status as supreme leader and the inheritor of his family's dynastic rule, which spans seven decades.

The current gathering reflected the "urgent need for internal solidarity", said defector-turned-researcher Ahn Chan-il of the World Institute for North Korea Studies in Seoul.

"The party congress has to serve as a spark to restore faith for the frustrated public."

The run-up to the congress saw the entire country mobilised in an 80-day drive to boost the economy, featuring extra-long work hours and additional duties for many.

The event comes ahead of Biden's January 20 inauguration and analysts say the North will look to send Washington a message, while treading carefully; the incoming US president has characterised Kim as a "thug", while Pyongyang has called him a "rabid dog".

"With Trump gone, North Korea will reaffirm its traditional hostile stance against the US with a hint on the type of its next provocation," said Go Myong-hyun of the Asan Institute of Policy Studies.

Satellite imagery showed that "preparations for a parade appear to have stepped up a pace", according to the respected 38North website, just months after Pyongyang showed off by far its biggest missile yet.

A parade also accompanied the 2016 party congress, a meeting that lasted four days.

Kim's father and predecessor Kim Jong Il never held a party congress during his rule but the current leader appears to be following a regular five-year timetable.

"Kim Jong Un is seeking regime stability and normalisation of the party," said Shin Beom-chul of the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy. "Holding the congress in 2016 and then in 2021, that's normalisation."

British PM Boris Johnson calls off India visit

LONDON, Jan 5: Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and expressed his inability to visit India, where he had been invited to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned”.

“In light of the national lockdown announced last night, and the speed at which the new coronavirus variant is spreading, the Prime Minister said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus”.

“The leaders underlined their shared commitment to the bilateral relationship, and to continuing to build on the close collaboration between our countries – including in response to the pandemic”.

“The Prime Minister said that he hopes to be able to visit India in the first half of 2021, and ahead of the UK’s G7 Summit that Prime Minister Modi is due to attend as a guest.”

The Johnson government has been grappling with continuing surge of Covid-19.

China flies choppers over Lhasa in military drill to tame Tibet

NEW DELHI, Jan 5: China has carried out an aerial drill over the Tibet’s capital of Lhasa, a preemptive move designed to remind Buddhists scattered across the vast Himalayan plateau about the communist party’s military might that last crushed an uprising by young Tibetans ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The aerial drill comes days after the United States enacted the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 that reaffirmed the right of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan government-in-exile based in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala had described the US legislation as historic.

A China watcher in New Delhi said the drill could be only one part of the continuing effort by President Xi Jinping to sinicise Tibet that would pick up pace in view of the new US law.

“China wouldn’t want anything to happen in Tibet that reflects support for the US law… The military drill was a preemptive move and would be followed by other steps to stem any potential dissent,” he said.

Sinicisation is an attempt to wipe out religious and ethnic identities by increasing the influence of Chinese, or the culture of the majority Han community, on non-Chinese ideas and entities within China.

According to photos that have emerged from Tibet, at least a dozen military choppers were deployed in the military drills that were carried out over the Potola Palace.

According to photos that have emerged from Tibet, at least a dozen military choppers were deployed in the military drills that were carried out over the Potola Palace.

President Xi Jinping has talked about sinicising religions in China since taking over the Communist Party of China leadership in 2012. Three years later, Xi spoke about sinicising the five major religions practised in China: Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism and Daoism.

For the last few years, China has been working on a plan to redefine the practise of Islam and align the beliefs of Muslims with the communist party. Xinjiang has been a focus area where the communist regime has implemented tactics that it has practised in Tibet for years.

Xi sees the sinicisation of Tibetan Buddhism as part of a four-point programme that he unveiled at an August meeting last year to build, what he called, an "impregnable fortress" to maintain stability in Tibet that is so important to Beijing because of its long border with India. That Buddhist Tibetans, despite decades of Chinese rule, still worship the Dalai Lama as a living god, has long been considered a threat by the communist party.

This is why China views the US law that supports letting Tibetans decide the Dalai Lama such a risk and wants to shape his succession, and claims that the Buddhist reincarnations must “comply” with Chinese law.

This compliance, however, is not unique to Buddhist Tibetans. A new rule that kicked in on 1 February last year requires all religions in China to look up to the ruling communist party for leadership and promote its policies.

Analysts believe that China could order a fresh crackdown in Tibet if the communist party assesses that there is even the slightest possibility of unrest in Lhasa. Rights activists who tracked Beijing’s response to the 2008 uprising said dozens of Tibetans were killed by the military to stop the protests against China.

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