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Jaishankar to chair BRICS foreign ministers meeting

NEW DELHI, May 31: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will chair a meeting of BRICS foreign ministers on Tuesday in which the leaders will exchange views on COVID-19 pandemic and global and regional issues of concern, sustainable development and countering terrorism.

The minister will chair the meeting through video-conferencing.

"India as the current BRICS Chair will convene the standalone meeting of BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs/ International Relations on June 1, 2021," Ministry of External Affairs said in a release.

Brazil Minister of Foreign Affairs Carlos Alberto Franco Franca, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Chinese foreign Minister Wang Yi, and South African Foreign Minister Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor are expected to participate in the meeting.

"The ministers are expected to exchange views on the COVID-19 pandemic situation, the need for strengthening and reforming the multilateral system with a view to enhancing its capacity to effectively address the diverse challenges of our time and to adapt them to contemporary realities, on global and regional issues of concern, sustainable development, countering terrorism besides discussing ways to enhance intra-BRICS cooperation, especially people-to-people cooperation," the release said.

Boris Johnson Marries Fiancee Carrie Symonds In Secret Ceremony

LONDON, May 30: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson married his fiancee Carrie Symonds in a secret ceremony at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday, the Sun and Mail on Sunday newspapers reported.

A spokeswoman for Johnson's Downing Street office declined to comment on the reports.

Both newspapers said guests were invited at the last minute to the central London ceremony, and said even senior members of Johnson's office were unaware of the wedding plans.

Weddings in England are currently limited to 30 people due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Catholic cathedral was suddenly locked down at 1:30 p.m. (1230 GMT) and Symonds, 33, arrived 30 minutes later in a limo, in a long white dress with no veil, both reports said.

Johnson, 56, and Symonds, 33, have been living together in Downing Street since Johnson became prime minister in 2019.

Last year they announced they were engaged and that they were expecting a child, and their son, Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson, was born in April 2020.

Earlier this month the Sun had reported that wedding invitations had been sent to friends and family for July 2022.

Johnson, once dubbed "Bonking Boris" by Britain's tabloid media, has a complicated private life.

He was once sacked from the Conservative Party's policy team while in opposition for lying about an extra-marital affair. He has been divorced twice and refuses to say how many children he has fathered.

Johnson's last marriage was to Marina Wheeler, a lawyer. They had four children together but announced in September 2018 that they had separated.

In a message to China, Britain's new aircraft carrier joins NATO

CASCAIS (Portugal), May 28: The maiden voyage of a new British aircraft carrier will seek to show allies that post-Brexit Britain is ready to defend Western interests and eager to see China respect international rules, the vessel's commander said.

HMS Queen Elizabeth took part in NATO exercises in the Mediterranean this week, ahead of the eight-month voyage that will cross through the South China Sea in a signal to Beijing that sea lanes must remain open.

The carrier is "a hugely powerful statement," Commodore Steve Moorhouse, the ship's commanding officer and captain said on deck off the Portuguese coast as F-35B fighter jets took off around him.

"It shows that we are a global navy and wanting to be back out there," he said. "The aim for us is that this deployment will be part of a more persistent presence for the United Kingdom in that region," he added, referring to the Indo-Pacific that includes India and Australia.

Britain was the main battlefield ally of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and, alongside France, the principal military power in the European Union. But its 2016 vote to leave the EU had raised questions about its global role.

Partly in response to those concerns, London announced its biggest military spending increase since the Cold War late last year and has been touting the clout of the carrier, built at a cost of more than 3 billion pounds ($4.26 billion).

HMS Queen Elizabeth will exercise with naval vessels from the United States, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea, along the route, Moorhouse said on Thursday.

Britain, like China, now has two aircraft carriers, both countries dwarfed by the United States' 11. The new 65,000-tonne vessel carries eight British F-35Bs and 10 U.S. F-35s as well as 250 U.S. marines as part of its 1,700-strong crew.

It will lead two destroyers, two frigates, a submarine and two support ships on its journey of 26,000 nautical miles, joined by a U.S. destroyer and a frigate from the Dutch navy.

Asked about British efforts to step up influence in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China's rising power - a strategy also followed by the European Union and supported by NATO - Moorhouse said: "We want to uphold international norms ... our presence out there is absolutely key."

China claims 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it.

The United States has long opposed China's expansive territorial claims there, sending warships regularly through the waterway to demonstrate freedom of navigation. About $3 trillion worth of trade passes through it each year.

In the Mediterranean, the British carrier group is part of NATO's biggest drills of the year, Steadfast Defender, that includes a maritime live exercise with around 5,000 forces and 18 ships.

"It sends a message of NATO's resolve," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said onboard the aircraft carrier.

"We face global threats and challenges, including the shifting balance of power with the rise of China," he said, adding that although China had the world's biggest navy, it was not considered an adversary by NATO.

Pak military officer killed in Afghan forces raid on Taliban hideouts in Helmand

HELMAND (Afghanistan), May 28: A Pakistani military officer was killed in an airstrike conducted by the Afghan Air Force in the southern province of Helmand, according to local media.

The Afghan Air Force said that the security forces conducted airstrikes on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda hideouts in Popalzai area of Khan Neshin district, killing several Al-Qaeda terrorists including a Pakistani military.

The killed Pakistani military had been wounded during the airstrike but later succumbed to severe wounds in a hospital in Quetta state located on the other side of the Durand Line, Afghanistan Times reported.

Military operations are going on against terrorists in several parts of the province.

Afghanistan has seen a spike in the incidents of violence in recent weeks, leading to casualties of Afghan security forces and civilians. US withdrawal is underway and set to complete by September 11.

According to a report, heavy clashes is continuing in the five provinces including Baghlan, Helmand, Kunduz, Kandahar and Laghman, over the last few weeks.

Turkish mafia boss revelations rattle Erdogan's government and top officials

NICOSIA (Cyprus), May 29: In a series of seven You Tube videos released so far, and watched by more than 57 million people, notorious Turkish mafia leader Sedat Peker made bombshell revelations with his claims that the Turkish government and politicians are in cahoots with the criminal underworld.

Ultra-nationalist Peker who served a number of prison terms, including for murder, kidnapping and establishing a criminal organization, confessed that he had a role in carrying out criminal acts on behalf of powerful figures in Turkey.

Peker said that former Interior Minister Mehmet Agar was the head of the deep state in Turkey and accused Agar and former intelligence official Korkut Eken of committing several unlawful acts, while they served in their posts, including involvement in an international drug-smuggling scheme and the killing of investigative journalist Ugur Mumcu with a car bomb in Ankara and shooting dead in the Turkish- held part of Cyprus of Turkish Cypriot journalist and peace advocate Kutlu Adali in 1996. These murders remain unsolved.

The revelations made by Peker bring to mind the famous Susurluk scandal, which revealed the close relationship among the deep state in Turkey, the Grey Wolves and the Turkish mafia.

The scandal surfaced with a car-truck collision on November 3, 1996, near Susurluk, in the Balikesir province. The victims included the deputy chief of the Istanbul Police Department, a Member of Parliament, and Abdullah Catli, the leader of the Grey Wolves and a contract killer for the National Intelligence Organization (Turkey) (MIT), who was on Interpol's red list at the time of his death. It should be noted that the head of Police at the time was Mehmet Agar, who resigned from his post due to the scandal.

After his release from jail in 2014, Peker became friendly with AKP leading figures, who used him to exert pressure and beat up their opponents and commit several unlawful acts.

One of the most serious accusations made by Peker, is that AKP deputy Tolga Agar, son of Mehmet Agar, was involved in the suspicious death two years ago of Yeldana Kaharman, a 21-year-old Kyrgyz journalist, who filed a complaint against him just a day before she was found dead.

The mafia boss also alleged that Erkan Yildirim, the son of former AKP Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, was involved in a trafficking scheme to bring cocaine from Venezuela to Turkey.

He said that Erkan Yildirim was smuggling cocaine as part of a trafficking network stretching through the casino economy of northern-Cyprus and a Syrian port.

Binali Yildirim said the allegation was a lie and a slander and said that his son went to Venezuela to distribute surgical masks to combat the coronavirus.

Peker, who is believed to be in Dubai, threatened to "ruin" Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in an eighth video he promised to post on May 30. Peker claimed that Soylu tipped him off that authorities were on his case, prompting him to flee Turkey in 2020 to avoid prosecution.

The reason he turned against Soylu is because his family was mistreated during a police raid on his Istanbul residence last month. In all his videos Peker insisted that there is extensive collaboration between organized crime and top officials.

Responding to the mafia boss' allegations, Suleyman Soylu filed a criminal complaint against Peker last week and appeared on the national broadcaster Haberturk on May 25 in an attempt to clear his name of wrongdoing. Journalists say he was not very convincing. All the men accused by Peker vehemently deny the mafia boss' allegations.

Recent polls show that the approval ratings of the ruling AKP party have fallen by one third to 27 per cent, while Erdogan's approval rating stands at only 40 per cent. Peker's revelations may cause these numbers to fall further.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced Peker's accusations and expressed his support for Soylu. He said: "We stand with our Interior Minister in his battle with criminal gangs, as well as with terrorist organizations. Turkey will thwart these plots and will bring organized crime bosses to Turkey to face justice."

On May 27 the Ankara Chief Prosecutors Office issued a warrant for the arrest of Sedat Peker.

What is remarkable is that Peker has not accused President Erdogan of any wrongdoing and always speaks of his "Brother Tayyip". Some observers suspect that he is in fact targeting close associates of the Turkish President, who have become quite strong, helping in this way Erdogan to get rid of them and end their political career.

No matter what Peker's real aims are, his videos confirm the suspicion that a deep state continues to exist in Turkey and indicates that AKP continues to use the underworld to further its aims against its opponents.

Peker said that in 2015, at the request of an AKP deputy, he sent his men to attack the Hurriyet newspaper to make it stop criticizing Erdogan. After this attack, Hurriyet's boss sold the paper to a pro-government media group.

Fikri Saglar, of the main opposition CHP party, says the Peker affair is part of a much bigger problem. "The government never managed to distance itself from the mafia [...] Today, it is cozying up the government. Peker's videos show it is abundantly clear that the government and the mafia are close."

Prominent Turkish journalist Murat Yetin in an interview stressed. "It is impossible for the government to remain silent over the video releases of Peker, as a boundary has been passed."

Former head of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission Ayhan Sefer Ustun said: "Turkey should launch a countrywide campaign against the deep state and a widespread mafia structure that reached out to the inner circles of the state."

Canada mourns as remains of 215 children found at indigenous school

TORONTO, May 29: A mass grave containing the remains of 215 children has been found in Canada at a former residential school set up to assimilate indigenous people.

The children were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia that closed in 1978.

The discovery was announced on Thursday by the chief of the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was a "painful reminder" of a "shameful chapter of our country's history".

The First Nation is working with museum specialists and the coroner's office to establish the causes and timings of the deaths, which are not currently known.

Rosanne Casimir, the chief of the community in British Columbia's city of Kamloops, said the preliminary finding represented an unthinkable loss that was never documented by the school's administrators.

Canada's residential schools were compulsory boarding schools run by the government and religious authorities during the 19th and 20th Centuries with the aim of forcibly assimilating indigenous youth.

The schools that had cemeteries instead of playgrounds

Kamloops Indian Residential School was the largest in the residential system. Opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890, the school had as many as 500 students when enrolment peaked in the 1950s.

The central government took over administration of the school in 1969, operating it as a residence for local students until 1978, when it was closed.

What do we know about the remains?

The Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said the remains were found with the help of a ground-penetrating radar during a survey of the school.

"To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths," Ms Casimir said. "Some were as young as three years old."

"We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk'emlups te Secwepemc is the final resting place of these children."

The tribe said it had reached out to the home communities whose children attended the school. They expected to have preliminary findings by mid-June.

British Columbia's chief coroner Lisa Lapointe told Canadian broadcaster CBC "we are early in the process of gathering information".

"The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart," Mr Trudeau wrote in a tweet.

Canada's minister of indigenous relations, Carolyn Bennett, said residential schools were part of a "shameful" colonial policy. The government was committed to "memorialising those lost innocent souls", she said.

Terry Teegee, the regional chief of British Columbia's Assembly of First Nations, called finding such grave sites "urgent work" that "refreshes the grief and loss" of communities in the region.

Those views were echoed by other indigenous groups, including the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).

"That this situation exists is sadly not a surprise and illustrates the damaging and lasting impacts that the residential school system continues to have on First Nations people, their families and communities," its CEO Richard Jock wrote in a statement.

What were residential schools?

From about 1863 to 1998, more than 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in these schools.

The children were often not allowed to speak their language or to practise their culture, and many were mistreated and abused.

A commission launched in 2008 to document the impacts of this system found that large numbers of indigenous children never returned to their home communities.

The landmark Truth and Reconciliation report, released in 2015, said the policy amounted to "cultural genocide".

In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologised for the system.

The Missing Children Project documents the deaths and the burial places of children who died while attending the schools. To date, more than 4,100 children who died while attending a residential school have been identified, it says.

US will continue to assist Taipei in self-defence

WASHINGTON, May 25: Amid escalating tensions in Taiwan Strait, the United States on Tuesday said it will continue to assist Taiwan in its self-defence.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Tuesday that Washington's policy towards Taiwan remains unchanged, Taiwan News reported.

China has ramped up political pressure and military threats against Taiwan, with almost daily incursions into Taipei's air defence identification zone.

Recently, the United States and South Korea have agreed to cooperate on the Taiwan Strait issue, amid rising tensions in the 180-km wide waterways.

US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is on a visit to America, held a bilateral summit on Friday, Taiwan News reported.

At the post-summit press conference, Biden said the two talked about issues vital to regional stability, such as maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and upholding peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, according to a joint statement.

Regarding Taiwan, Moon said, "We've shared the view that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait are extremely important, and we agreed to work together on that matter while considering special characteristics in relations between China and Taiwan," Reuters cited him as saying.

When asked at a press conference Monday what South Korea would do in the event of an armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait, John Kirby said he could not comment on the issue and it was better to let the South Korean government speak for itself. However, he added that Washington's Taiwan policy has not changed.

He said that Washington does not want to see a unilateral change to the status quo and that the U.S. will "continue to assist Taiwan in its self-defence" in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

The Taiwan Strait is a 180-kilometre-wide strait separating the island of Taiwan and continental Asia. The Taiwan Strait is one of the most heavily policed strips of water in the world, patrolled by both Chinese and Taiwanese navy and coastguard vessels.

The strait is in international waters, however, China claims Taiwan as its own territory and regards the US Navy's presence in the area as a show of support for the island's democratic government.

UK aircraft carrier heads for Indo-Pacific with eye on China

LONDON, May 24: The UK's carrier strike group, led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, has left for the Indo-Pacific region on a world tour that will last about seven months, carrying the strength of nine ships, 32 aircraft, and 3,700 personnel.

The dispatch of the ship, on Saturday on its maiden operational deployment, is a representation of the 'Indo-Pacific tilt' in the UK's foreign policy. The carrier group is also believed to boost Britain's involvement in the region and to deter China which is asserting its influence in Indo-Pacific, NHK world reported.

This follows the Boris Johnson government's calls for increased focus on the region in a new policy paper on diplomacy and security for the coming 10 years which was released in March.

The seven-month global deployment will extend through the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean and on to the Indo-Pacific, interacting with more than one-fifth of the world's nations.

Johnson was also among those to visit HMS Queen Elizabeth on Saturday ahead of her departure, joined on Friday by UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston on the flight deck.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had said: The UK's Carrier Strike Group sets sail to write Britain's name in the next chapter of history - a truly global Britain that steps forward to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, working hand-in-hand with our friends to defend our shared values and uphold the rules-based international order."

In a projection of the UK's global reach and influence, the carrier strike group will interact with over 40 nations during its 26,000-nautical-mile global tour, undertaking over 70 engagements, exercises and operations with allies and partners.

In the Indo-Pacific, the carrier strike group will visit India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore to strengthen Britain's security relationships, reinforce political ties and support our UK exports and international trade agenda.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest and most powerful surface vessel in the Royal Navy's history.

Four Chinese ships enter Japan's territorial waters off Senkaku Islands

TOKYO, May 24: In yet another case of illegal intrusion by Beijing, four Chinese government ships entered Japan's territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea on Monday.

Japan's Coast Guard said that the vessels intruded into the waters off Uotsuri and Taisho islands at around 4:30 pm (local time), and they are warning the ships to leave immediately, reported NHK World.

It further reported that this is the 16th time that Chinese government vessels have intruded into Japanese waters off the Senkaku Islands.

Japan controls the Senkaku Islands, however, China and Taiwan continue to claim them.

Tokyo maintains the islands are an inherent part of its territory as per history and international law.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Earlier two weeks ago, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea reported that government patrols had spotted an estimated 240 Chinese ships in Philippine waters - more than the 220 spotted in March.

China has been increasing its maritime activities in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea over the past few months, partly in response to Beijing's concerns over the increasing US military presence in the region because of escalating Sino-US tensions.

Beijing's rising assertiveness against counter claimants in the East and South Sea has resulted in unprecedented agreement across the Indo-Pacific.

EU warns Myanmar military against dissolution of Suu Kyi's party

BRUSSELS, May 24: The European Union has issued a statement warning the Myanmar military against the dissolution of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party that won the November elections, as such a decision would be a "blatant disregard" for the will of the people.

This comes after military-appointed commission chairman Thein Soe announced on Friday plans to dissolve the NLD, headed by former state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, for alleged vote fraud in general elections last year.

"The EU reiterates that the elections in November faithfully represented the will of Myanmar's people. This was confirmed by all independent domestic and international observers. No arbitrary decision by the military junta and their illegally-appointed members of the Electoral Commission can cancel that," a spokesperson for the EU external action service said in a statement on Sunday.

The EU will continue to denounce all attempts to overturn the will of the Myanmar people and to alter the outcome of the last general elections, the statement said.

"No repression or unfounded pseudo-legal proceedings can grant legitimacy to the junta's illegal takeover of power. Only respecting the will of the people can bring Myanmar back onto its democratic path and deliver stability and sustainable development," it added.

On February 1, the Myanmar military overthrew the civilian government and declared a year-long state of emergency. The military coup led to mass protests and was met by deadly violence, resulting in the killing of more than 700 people. Meanwhile, about 3,000 protesters have also been detained.

40 Taliban Militants Killed in Latest Afghan Violence

KABUL, May 23: About 40 Taliban militants and five policemen were killed in the latest spate of violence in Afghanistan as massive gun-battles raged across the war-torn country, according to multiple sources.

On Friday, Taliban militants took control of Jalrez district in Wardak province after days of heavy clashes, Xinhua news agency reported citing local media as saying.

The local media said that nearly 40 security forces members were captured after militants seized government office buildings in the district, 60 km west of the capital Kabul.

The security forces have been in siege for a couple of days in the district where a key provincial road passes, connecting Kabul to central parts of the country.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Air Force targeted the militants in the district, killing 10 of them, injuring one and destroying a vehicle, a motorcycle and some weapons, the Defence Ministry said.

“The operations of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces continue in Jalrez and the district will be cleared off terrorists soon,” the Ministry said in a statement late Friday.

Jalrez is the third district captured by the militants this month.

On Thursday, Taliban overran Dawlat Shah district in Laghman province, after capturing Nirkh district south of Jalrez on May 11.

About 15 out of 407 Afghan districts remain under Taliban’s control while 40 districts have been facing high threats from militants and 30 per cent of the districts were contested, according to official figures.

In Zabul province, five policemen and seven militants were killed during armed clashes at a police station on Thursday might.

The mountainous province has been the scene of heavy clashes in recent years.

In Helmand province, 14 Taliban militants were killed and 11 others wounded when Afghan Air Force targeted militant positions in Bolan, an area on the outskirts of provincial capital Lashkar Gah city on Thursday night, an army source said.

Five militants were killed and two others wounded by a separate airstrike in nearby Surgudar locality, according to the source.

The Taliban have conducted multiple attacks outside Lashkar Gah in recent days and tried to take over control of the key city in the region.

Besides, three Taliban fighters were killed and three others wounded when Afghan warplanes targeted a centre in Khash Rod district of Nimroz province on Thursday night.

The militants were illegally collecting tax from cargo trucks driving along a provincial road in the province, bordering Iran.

Violence lingers in the Asian country as Taliban militants have been attempting to seize small towns or districts by launching hit-and-run ambushes against Afghan national security forces.

While the US and NATO troops have been leaving the country, violence in the country is on the rise.

Myanmar military leader Min Aung Hlaing expresses intention to shift to civilian rule

NAYPYITAW, May 23: Myanmar's military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Saturday expressed the intention to seek a shift to civilian rule in his first interview with foreign media after the February 1 coup.

The General's comments in an online interview with Hong Kong's Phoenix Television, reported NHK World.

He said the military's purpose is to establish a federal state based on multi-party democracy. He said the shift can take place within 12 or 18 months if circumstances allow.

He appeared to suggest that the military rule is only temporary in a bid to obtain understanding from anti-coup protesters and the international community, reported NHK World.

However, he did not mention the timing of an election for launching a civilian government in the released part of the interview.

He also denied media reports that more than 800 civilians have been killed in clashes with security forces that fired at them. A human rights group in Myanmar has reported the number, reported NHK World.

Min Aung Hlaing said the actual fatalities are as many as 300. He said the clashes have also left 47 people dead and more than 200 injured in the police.

On February 1, the Myanmar military overthrew the civilian government and declared a year-long state of emergency. The coup triggered mass protests and was met by deadly violence.

Myanmar's military seized power in the country, announcing a one-year state of emergency and vowing to take action against alleged voter fraud during the November 8 general election.

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, along with other top officials accused of election fraud, were placed under house arrest in the coup.

US, S. Korea agree to cooperate on Taiwan Strait issue amid rising tensions

WASHINGTON, May 22: The United States and South Korea have agreed to cooperate on the Taiwan Strait issue, amid rising tensions in the 180-km wide waterways.

US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is on a visit to America, held a bilateral summit on Friday, Taiwan News reported.

At the post-summit press conference, Biden said the two talked about issues vital to regional stability, such as maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and upholding peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, according to a joint statement.

Regarding Taiwan, Moon said, "We've shared the view that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait are extremely important, and we agreed to work together on that matter while considering special characteristics in relations between China and Taiwan."

This focus on the strait comes after China has ramped up political pressure and military threats against Taiwan, with almost daily incursions into Taipei's air defence identification zone.

Recently, US Navy destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) transited the Taiwan Strait to demonstrate America's commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

This drew a sharp reaction from Beijing, who accused the US of threatening the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait.

The Taiwan Strait is a 180-kilometre-wide strait separating the island of Taiwan and continental Asia. The Taiwan Strait is one of the most heavily policed strips of water in the world, patrolled by both Chinese and Taiwanese navy and coastguard vessels.

The strait is in international waters, however, China claims Taiwan as its own territory and regards the US Navy's presence in the area as a show of support for the island's democratic government.

On Wednesday, a Beijing-backed think-tank -- China Cross-Strait Academy -- released a report on relations across the Taiwan Strait that separates mainland China from Taiwan, South China Morning Post reported.

The think tank said the risk of armed conflict is an "all-time high" as tension escalates in the region.

Israel, Hamas agree to cease-fire to end bloody 11-day war

GAZA, May 21: Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire Thursday, halting a bruising 11-day war that caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip, brought life in much of Israel to a standstill and left more than 200 people dead.

At 2 am local time, just as the cease-fire took effect, frenzy life returned to the streets of Gaza. People went out of their homes, some shouting “Allahu Akbar” or whistling from balconies. Many fired in the air, celebrating the truce.

Like the three previous wars between the bitter enemies, the latest round of fighting ended inconclusively. Israel claimed to inflict heavy damage on Hamas but once again was unable to halt the Islamic militant group’s nonstop rocket barrages. Almost immediately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced angry accusations from his hard-line, right-wing base that he stopped the operation too soon.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, also claimed victory. But it now faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding in a territory already suffering from poverty, widespread unemployment and a raging coronavirus outbreak.

Netanyahu’s office said his Security Cabinet had unanimously accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal after recommendations from Israel’s military chief and other top security officials. A statement boasted of “significant achievements in the operation, some of which are unprecedented.”

It also included a veiled threat against Hamas. “The political leaders emphasized that the reality on the ground will determine the future of the campaign,” the statement said.

The fighting erupted on May 10, when Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem. The barrage came after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound, built on a site holy to Muslims and Jews, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.

The competing claims to Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have repeatedly triggered bouts of violence in the past.

Hamas and other militant groups fired over 4,000 rockets into Israel throughout the fighting, launching the projectiles from civilian areas at Israeli cities. Dozens of projectiles flew as far north as Tel Aviv, the country’s bustling commercial and cultural capital.

Thousands gathered Friday morning in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis outside the family house of Mohammed Dief, the shadowy Hamas commander who had ordered the rocket attacks. Supporters shouted “victory” and waved green Hamas flags.

Israel, meanwhile, carried out hundreds of airstrikes targeting what it said was Hamas’ military infrastructure, including a vast tunnel network.

At least 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children and 39 women, with 1,710 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl, were killed.

The United States, Israel’s closest and most important ally, initially backed what it said was Israel’s right to self-defense against indiscriminate rocket fire. But as the fighting dragged on and the death toll mounted, the Americans increasingly pressured Israel to stop the offensive.

In a rare public rift, Netanyahu on Wednesday briefly rebuffed a public call from President Joe Biden to wind things down, appearing determined to inflict maximum damage on Hamas in a war that could help save his political career.

But late Thursday, Netanyahu’s office announced the cease-fire agreement. Hamas quickly followed suit. Militants continued to launch sporadic rocket at Israel early Friday, before the 2 am cease-fire took effect.

In Washington, Biden hailed the cease-fire. “I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress, and I’m committed to working for it,” he said.

Biden said the U.S. was committed to helping Israel replenish its supply of interceptor missiles for its Iron Dome rocket-defense system and to working with the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority — not Hamas — to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Netanyahu quickly came under heavy criticism from members of his hawkish, nationalist base. Gideon Saar, a former ally who now leads a small party opposed to the prime minister, called the cease-fire “embarrassing.”

In a potentially damaging development for the Israeli leader, the Palestinian militants claimed Netanyahu had agreed to halt further Israeli actions at the Al Aqsa Mosque and to call off the planned evictions of Palestinians in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

An Egyptian official said only that tensions in Jerusalem “will be addressed.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing behind-the-scenes negotiations and provided no details.

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Jewish Power party, tweeted that the cease-fire was “a grave surrender to terrorism and the dictates of Hamas.”

The cease-fire comes at a sensitive time for Netanyahu. In the wake of an inconclusive election in March, Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition in parliament. His opponents now have until June 2 to form an alternative government of their own.

The war greatly complicated the efforts of his opponents, who include both Jewish and Arab parties and were forced to suspend their negotiations in such a fraught environment. But the inconclusive outcome of the war could give them renewed momentum to restart those talks.

Meanwhile in Gaza, a Hamas spokesman, Abdelatif al-Qanou, said Israel’s announcement was a “declaration of defeat.” Nonetheless, the group said it would honor the deal, which was to officially go into effect at 2 am.

Ali Barakeh, an official with Islamic Jihad, a smaller group that fought alongside Hamas, said Israel’s declaration of a truce was a defeat for Netanyahu and “a victory to the Palestinian people.”

Despite the claims, both groups appeared to have suffered significant losses in the fighting. Hamas and Islamic Jihad said at least 20 of their fighters were killed, while Israel said the number was at least 130 and probably higher.

Some 58,000 Palestinians fled their homes, many of them seeking shelter in crowded United Nations schools at a time of a coronavirus outbreak.

Since the fighting began, Gaza’s infrastructure, already weakened by a 14-year blockade, has rapidly deteriorated.

Medical supplies, water and fuel for electricity are running low in the territory, on which Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized power from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Since then, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has governed autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and has limited influence in Gaza.

Israeli attacks have also damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organization said. Nearly half of all essential drugs have run out.

Israeli bombing has damaged over 50 schools across the territory, according to advocacy group Save the Children, destroying at least six. While repairs are done, education will be disrupted for nearly 42,000 children.

India In Particularly Difficult Situation Right Now: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, May 20: The coronavirus pandemic may be the most serious in living memory but it should be seen as a recurring challenge and not as a one-off episode, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday, noting that India is particularly going through a difficult situation.

Mr Jaishankar also said the nature of the pandemic has also brought to fore concerns of trust and transparency and warned that opacity can no longer be overlooked as it has real implications for the rest of the world.

In an online address at the 'Future of Asia' conference organised by Nikkei, the External Affairs Minister said India, Japan and Australia are working on a supply chain resilience initiative and called for strengthening and de-risking the global economy through effective partnerships.

He said meeting the health and medical requirements of the world effectively requires a mature recognition of the global nature of the underlying supply chains.

"Barring a select few, it cannot be addressed purely nationally and in fact needs a collaboration of a very different order," Jaishankar said.

He said the answer to the challenges thrown up by the pandemic is to expand and smoothen global flows while creating confidence that its outcomes are for the benefit of the entire world.

"A year and a half ago, as the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic dawned on the world, we were truly confronted by a black swan event. Since then, even though we may have addressed some facets of a very complex challenge, it continues its devastating course across geographies," he said.

"We, in India, are going through a particularly difficult situation right now. Understandably, the world's attention is focused primarily on the public health response," Jaishankar said.

He observed that the long-term impact of the pandemic on the global order, including on the future of Asia is yet to be fully comprehended.

"This pandemic may be the most serious in living memory, but it should be seen as a recurring challenge and not as a one-off. It demands international cooperation on a scale that could not have even be conceived of earlier," he said.

"No national capacity, however large, can be adequate. And just overflows from such capacities are clearly not enough to address global needs. Even a collective response, by itself, could fall short if it is just an aggregate of the present capacities," Jaishankar noted, He said the world will have to focus on re-engineering the way it works to prepare for and mitigate such "cataclysmic events".

"COVID-19 has certainly triggered debates on issues like supply chains, global governance, social responsibility and even ethics. But for many of us gathered here today, it equally encourages an objective assessment of the contemporary world so that we are better prepared for tomorrow," he said.

Referring to cooperation under the Quad framework, Jaishankar said its agenda covers vaccine collaboration, critical and emerging technologies, semi-conductors, supply chains, critical materials and connectivity, amongst others.

"Recent Indian summits with the European Union and the United Kingdom, that saw advancement on FTAs, are also noteworthy in that regard," he said.

The external affairs minister also mentioned key experiences in handling of the pandemic.

"The nature of the COVID-19 experience has also brought to fore concerns of trust and transparency. Opacity can no longer be overlooked; it has real implications for the rest of the world," he said.

"It was bad enough to be confronted with shortages and disruptions; worse that they could become pressure points. There are also worries that the financial distress caused by the pandemic could lead to new vulnerabilities," he added.

Jaishankar said the coronavirus challenge has created a stronger case for greater international cooperation, be it in vaccine production or to facilitate economic recovery.

U.S. Warship Again Sails Through Sensitive Taiwan Strait

TAIPEI: A U.S. warship has again sailed through the sensitive waterway that separates Taiwan from its giant neighbour China, at a time of increased tensions between Taipei and Beijing.

The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur conducted a “routine Taiwan Strait transit” on Tuesday in accordance with international law.

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows,” it said.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the ship had sailed in a southerly direction through the strait and the “situation was as normal”.

The U.S. Navy has been conducting such operations every month or so, to the anger of China which always denounces them.

The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is its most important international backer and a major seller of arms.

Military tension between Chinese-claimed Taiwan and Beijing have spiked over the past year, with Taipei complaining of China repeatedly sending its air force into Taiwan’s air defence zone.

Some of those activities can involve multiple fighters and bombers.

China has said its activities around Taiwan are aimed at protecting China’s sovereignty. Taiwan’s government has denounced it as attempts at intimidation.

Israel says Gaza tunnels destroyed in heavy airstrikes

GAZA CITY, May 17: The Israeli military unleashed a wave of heavy airstrikes on the Gaza Strip early Monday, saying it destroyed 15 kilometers (nine miles) of militant tunnels and the homes of nine Hamas commanders.

Residents of Gaza awakened by the overnight barrage described it as the heaviest since the war began a week ago, and even more powerful than a wave of airstrikes in Gaza City the day before that left 42 dead and flattened three buildings.

That earlier attack was the deadliest in the current round of hostilities between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

There was no immediate word on the casualties from the latest strikes. A three-story building in Gaza City was heavily damaged, but residents said the military warned them 10 minutes before the strike and everyone cleared out. They said many of the airstrikes hit nearby farmland.

Gaza’s mayor, Yahya Sarraj, told Al-Jazeera TV that the strikes had caused extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure.

“If the aggression continues we expect conditions to become worse,” he said.

The U.N. has warned that the territory’s sole power station is at risk of running out of fuel, and Sarraj said Gaza was also low on spare parts. Gaza already experiences daily power outages for between eight and 12 hours and tap water is undrinkable.

Mohammed Thabet, a spokesman for the the territory’s electricity distribution company, said it has fuel to supply Gaza with electricity for two or a three days.

Airstrikes have damaged supply lines and the company’s staff cannot reach areas that were hit because of continued Israeli shelling, he added.

The war broke out last Monday, when the Hamas militant group fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of clashes in the holy city between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police.

The protests were focused on the heavy-handed policing of a flashpoint sacred site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.

Since then, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says are targeting Hamas’ militant infrastructure. Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 3,100 rockets into Israel.

At least 198 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes, including 58 children and 35 women, with 1,300 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Eight people in Israel have been killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.

“I have not seen this level of destruction through my 14 years of work,” said Samir al-Khatib, an emergency rescue official in Gaza.

“Not even in the 2014 war,” he added, referring to the most destructive of the previous three wars fought between Israel and Hamas.

The military said it struck nine houses in different parts of northern Gaza that belonged to “high-ranking commanders” in Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has controlled the territory since seizing power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

In recent days, Israel has targeted the homes of a number of senior Hamas leaders, including Yehiyeh Sinwar, the top leader inside Gaza.

The group’s leadership goes underground when the fighting begins, and it’s unlikely any were at home at the time of the strikes.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is much higher and has released the names of and photos of more than two dozen militant commanders it says were “eliminated.”

The military said it struck 35 “terror targets” as well as the tunnels, which it says are part of an elaborate system it refers to as the “Metro,” used by fighters to take cover from airstrikes.

Despite international efforts at a cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel’s attacks were continuing at “full-force” and would “take time.”

Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on the Hamas militant group.

Hamas’ top leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is based abroad, said the group has been contacted by the U.S., Russia, Egypt and Qatar as part of cease-fire efforts but “will not accept a solution that is not up to the sacrifices of the Palestinian people.”

In an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, he blamed the war on Israel’s actions in Jerusalem and boasted that the rockets were “paralyzing the usurping entity (Israel) by imposing a curfew on its citizens and closing its airports and ports.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said his government is working to “urgently” end the violence, in his first comments since the war broke out.

Egypt, which borders Gaza and Israel, has played a central role in the cease-fires brokered after previous rounds of fighting.

An Egyptian diplomat said the efforts were focusing on two issues, a halt in all attacks from both sides and halting Israeli policies in the contested city of Jerusalem that helped spark the fighting.

These include police raids against Palestinian protesters in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the planned evictions of Palestinians by Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem.

The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was talking about confidential diplomatic discussions, said mediators were counting on the Biden administration to put pressure on Israel to stop its offensive and there were expectations for action in the coming 48 hours.

Israel’s airstrikes have leveled a number of Gaza City’s tallest buildings, which Israel alleges contained Hamas military infrastructure.

Among them was the building housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets. The Israeli military alerted staff and residents before the strike, and all were able to evacuate the building safely.

Sally Buzbee, the AP’s executive editor, has called for an independent investigation into the airstrike.

Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building and said Sunday any evidence would be shared through intelligence channels. Neither the White House nor the State Department would say if any had been seen.

The AP had operated from the building for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas.

The news agency’s cameras, operating from its top floor office and roof terrace, offered 24-hour live shots as militant rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surroundings.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt released a statement after Saturday’s attack saying he was “shocked and horrified” that Israel targeted the building.

He said the AP had “no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building.”

“This is something we actively check to the best of our ability,” he said. “We would never knowingly put our jouralists at risk.”

US imposes fresh sanctions on Myanmar junta

WASHINGTON, May 17: The United States on Monday imposed new sanctions on Myanmar's administrative body and high-ranking officials in the latest punitive move following the country's military coup on February 1.

"Thirteen of the individuals sanctioned today are key members of Burma's military regime, which is violently repressing the pro-democracy movement in the country and is responsible for the ongoing violent and lethal attacks against the people of Burma, including the killing of children," the US Treasury department said.

Andrea Gacki, US Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said Burma's military continues to commit human rights abuses and oppress the people of Burma. "Today's action demonstrates the United States' commitment to work with our international partners to press the Burmese military and promote accountability for those responsible for the coup and ongoing violence."

The sanctions extend to the State Administrative Council (SAC), the government of the country's military junta, including four of its members as well as nine ministers and three adult children of previously sanctioned high-ranking SAC members.

The individuals were placed on the US Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN).

The SDN List, managed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, is designed to place sanctions or embargo measures on designated terrorists, officials and beneficiaries of certain authoritarian regimes, and international criminals.

The announcement comes amid controversial actions taken by the military government of Myanmar against its own civilian population. At least 774 civilians have been killed in crackdowns against pro-democracy protesters following the February 1 coup.

On Sunday, Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations Kyaw Moe Tun had urged the international community to cut off financial flows to the country's military Tatmadaw.

In an exclusive interview with NHK World, he called on the international community to suspend investments and tie-ups with companies linked to the military, in order to stop the crackdowns on people protesting against the February coup.

"Any financial flow that goes through the military chain should be cut off immediately," Moe Tun said.

Bill Gates admits affair with Microsoft employee, denies being forced off Microsoft's board over it

May 17: Melinda French Gates started talking with divorce lawyers in late 2019, not long after The New York Times reported that Bill Gates had more interactions with pedophile and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein that she had known about, the Times and The Wall Street Journal report.

But it was also in late 2019 that Microsoft's board became aware of a letter from a Microsoft engineer who said she had been in a sexual relationship with Bill Gates years earlier, the Journal reported Sunday evening.

The couple announced their divorce May 3, after 27 years of marriage.

Microsoft board members hired a law firm to investigate the woman's allegations and deemed the relationship inappropriate, and by early 2020 "some board members decided it was no longer suitable for Gates to sit as a director at the software company he started and led for decades," the Journal reports.

"Gates resigned before the board's investigation was completed and before the full board could make a formal decision on the matter." He had just been re-elected to the board in December 2019, three months before his March 13, 2020, resignation.

"There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably," Bridgitt Arnold, a spokeswoman for Bill Gates, said in a statement. "Gates' decision to transition off the board was in no way related to this matter. In fact, he had expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier."

Melinda Gates had been upset with her future ex-husband on and off for years, including over a sexual harassment settlement Bill Gates had facilitated for the couple's longtime financial adviser, the Times reports.

"In some circles, Bill Gates had also developed a reputation for questionable conduct in work-related settings," and on at least a few occasions he had "pursued women who worked for him at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."

"It is not clear how much Ms. French Gates knew about her husband's behavior or to what degree it contributed to their split," the Times reports.

Arnold, the spokeswoman, told the Times "it is extremely disappointing that there have been so many untruths published about the cause, the circumstances and the timeline of Bill Gates' divorce."

She added, "The rumors and speculation surrounding Gates' divorce are becoming increasingly absurd, and it's unfortunate that people who have little to no knowledge of the situation are being characterized as 'sources.'"

'War will go on': Netanyahu warns, says Israel military campaign will take time as 42 killed in Gaza

GAZA CITY, May 16: In a televised address, Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on Hamas.

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City flattened three buildings and killed at least 42 people Sunday, medics said, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled the fourth war between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza would rage on despite international efforts to broker a cease-fire.

In a televised address, Netanyahu said Sunday evening the attacks were continuing at “full-force” and will “take time". Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” from Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, he said, flanked by his defense minister and political rival, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, in a show of unity.

The Israeli air assault early Sunday was the deadliest single attack since heavy fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas nearly a week ago, marking the worst fighting here since the devastating 2014 war in Gaza.

The airstrikes hit a major downtown street of residential buildings and storefronts over the course of five minutes after midnight, destroying two adjacent buildings and one about 50 yards (meters) down the road.

At one point, a rescuer shouted, “Can you hear me?” into a hole in the rubble. “Are you OK?” Minutes later, first responders pulled a survivor out and carried him off on an orange stretcher. The Gaza Health Ministry said 16 women and 10 children were among those killed, with more than 50 people wounded, and rescue efforts are still underway.

Netanyahu spoke to CBS’s Face the Nation about ongoing violence between Israeli forces and the armed Palestinian group Hamas.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the fresh violence on Sunday which killed 40 Palestinians, the worst death toll since the unrest broke out.

UN chief warns of 'uncontainable' crisis amid deadly Israel-Gaza violence

Earlier, the Israeli military said it destroyed the home of Gaza’s top Hamas leader, Yahiyeh Sinwar, in a separate strike in the southern town of Khan Younis. It was the third such attack in the last two days on the homes of senior Hamas leaders, who have gone underground.

Israel appears to have stepped up strikes in recent days to inflict as much damage as possible on Hamas as international mediators work to end the fighting and stave off an Israeli ground invasion of the territory. But targeting the group’s leaders could hinder those efforts. A U.S. diplomat is in the region to try to de-escalate tensions, and the U.N. Security Council is set to meet Sunday.

In its airstrikes, Israel has leveled a number of Gaza City’s tallest office and residential buildings, alleging they contain Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was the building housing The Associated Press office and those of other media outlets.

The latest outbreak of violence began in east Jerusalem last month, when Palestinian protests and clashes with police broke out in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. A focal point of clashes was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint that is located on a hilltop compound that is revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on impoverished Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians and has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, with 1,230 people wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.

Speaking alongside Netanyahu on Sunday, Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, said Hamas did not anticipate Israel’s overwhelming response to its rocket fire. “Hamas made a serious and grave mistake and didn’t read us properly.”

The turmoil has also spilled over elsewhere, fueling protests in the occupied West Bank and stoking violence within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property. The violence also sparked pro-Palestinian protests in cities across Europe and the United States, with French police firing tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators in Paris.

The military said Sunday it struck Sinwar’s home and that of his brother Muhammad, another senior Hamas member. On Saturday it destroyed the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas’ political branch.

Hamas’ upper echelon has gone into hiding in Gaza, and it is unlikely any were at home at the time of the strikes. Hamas’ top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, divides his time between Turkey and Qatar, both of which provide political support to the group.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged 20 fighters killed since the fighting broke out Monday. Israel says the real number is far higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen alleged operatives it says were “eliminated.”

An Egyptian diplomat said Israel’s targeting of Hamas political leaders would complicate cease-fire efforts. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door negotiations, said Cairo is working to broker an end to the fighting, as are other international actors.

The Egyptian diplomat said the destruction of Hamas’ rocket capabilities would require a ground invasion that would “inflame the whole region.” Egypt, which made peace with Israel decades ago, has threatened to “suspend” cooperation in various fields, the official said, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has affirmed its support for Israel while working to de-escalate the crisis. American diplomat Hady Amr met with Gantz, the Israeli defense minister, who thanked the U.S. for its support. Gantz said Israel “takes every precaution to strike at military targets only and avoid harming civilians, while its civilians are the targets of indiscriminate attack.”

Hamas and other militant groups have fired some 2,900 rockets into Israel. The military said 450 of the rockets had fallen short or misfired, while Israeli air defenses intercepted 1,150.

The interception rate appeared to have significantly dropped since the start of the conflict, when Israel said 90% were intercepted. The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Israel has meanwhile carried out hundreds of airstrikes across Gaza.

Anti-coup Rebels Say Six Dead in Myanmar Clashes; UK, US Condemn Violence on Civilians

MYANMAR, May 16: Six opposition rebels have been killed after days of clashes in Myanmar, an anti-junta defence force made up of civilians said Sunday, as Britain and the United States condemned the military’s violence against civilians.

The country has been in uproar since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a February 1 coup, triggering a massive uprising which authorities have sought to quell with lethal force.

Some in the anti-junta movement have set up local militias armed with home-made weapons to protect their towns from security forces — which have killed at least 790 civilians according to a local monitoring group. In the western state of Chin, the town of Mindat has emerged as a hotspot for unrest, where some residents have formed the Chinland Defence Force (CDF).

“Six members of our CDF who tried to protect the security of the people in Mindat attacked (junta forces) and sacrificed their lives for the national revolution,” said a CDF statement on Sunday.

With mobile data blocked across the country, details about the fighting have been slow to come out, and on-the-ground verification is made harder as locals are fearful of retaliation.

The spokesman, who declined to be named, said CDF fighters set fire to several army trucks, destroying them, and ambushed reinforcement troops, while the military has attacked the town with artillery.

By Sunday, the CDF had retreated into the jungle, he said.

“We will not stay any more in the town… but we will come back to attack soon,” he said. “We only have home-made guns. This was not enough.”

He added that residents remaining in Mindat — which has been under martial law since Thursday — were afraid to leave their homes for fear of being targeted by the military.

The US and UK embassies in Myanmar sounded the alarm Saturday on Mindat’s unrest, calling for security forces to cease violence.

“The military’s use of weapons of war against civilians, including this week in Mindat, is a further demonstration of the depths the regime will sink to to hold onto power,” the US embassy said in a tweet Saturday.

“Attacks on civilians are illegal and cannot be justified,” said the British embassy, referring to reports of violence from Mindat.

“Evidence of atrocities should be sent to the (United Nations Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar) so perpetrators can be held to account,” the embassy tweeted, referring to a committee that collects evidence of international crimes.

State-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported Sunday that a military tribunal would be convened to try “perpetrators of terrorist attacks” in Mindat.

Security forces saw multiple attacks which left one man dead, said the newspaper, and an ambush on Friday by “1,000 rioters” killed some soldiers — though it did not say how many.

Across the country, anti-coup protesters continue to march for democracy — with demonstrators in northern Hpakant holding signs that said “Stay strong, Mindat”.

Home of Khalil Al-Hayeh, Top Hamas Leader, Bombed: Israeli Military

JERUSALEM, May 15: The Israeli military says it has bombed the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a top leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier, Israel had destroyed a 12-storey tower block in Gaza City housing the offices of the U.S.-based Associated Press and other news media, saying the building was also used by the Islamist militant group Hamas.

The building, which also houses the offices of Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera as well as other offices and apartments, had been evacuated after the owner received advanced warning of the impending strike.

A Palestinian journalist was wounded in the strike, Palestinian media reported, and debris and shrapnel flew dozens of yards away.

'They Will Pay Dearly,' Says Israeli PM On Hamas Attacks And Retaliation

JERULALEM, May 14: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel had no plans on relenting in its attacks against Hamas in Gaza, after heavy bombardment targeting the Islamists in the Palestinian enclave.

"They attacked our capital, they fired rockets at our cities. They're paying and will continue to pay dearly for that," he said following security consultations at the military's headquarters in Tel Aviv.

"It's not over yet."

Meanwhile, Israel has intensified its assault on Gaza, as Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets into Israel on the fifth day of hostilities.

Israel's military said air and ground forces were involved in attacks on Friday but had not entered Gaza.

Video from Gaza City showed the night sky lit up by explosions from Israeli artillery, gunboats and air strikes.

Some 119 people have been killed in Gaza and eight have died in Israel since fighting began on Monday.

Rockets kill 2 Israelis; 26 die in Gaza as Israel hits Hamas

JESUSALEM, May 11: A confrontation between Israel and Hamas sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem escalated Tuesday. Israel unleashed new airstrikes on Gaza, killing a number of militants and civilians, while militants barraged southern Israel with hundreds of rockets, killing two Israelis.

Since sundown Monday, 26 Palestinians – including nine children and a woman- were killed in Gaza, most by airstrikes, health officials there said. The Israeli military said at least 16 of the dead were militants.

Two women were killed by rockets fired from Gaza that hit their homes in the southern city of Ashkelon – the first Israeli deaths in the current violence. At least 10 other Israelis have been wounded since Monday evening.

After those deaths, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said officials decided to “increase both the strength and rate of the strikes” against militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas will receive blows now that it didn’t expect,” he said.

Egypt was trying to broker a cease-fire, but the cycle of violence was gaining momentum. Even before the two Israeli deaths, the Israeli military said it was sending troop reinforcements to the Gaza border and the defense minister ordered the mobilization of 5,000 reserve soldiers.

The barrage of rockets and airstrikes was preceded by hours of clashes Monday between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, including dramatic confrontations at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a sacred site to both Jews and Muslims. The current violence, like previous rounds, including the last intifada, or uprising, has been fueled by conflicting claims over Jerusalem, which is at the emotional core of the long conflict.

In a sign of widening unrest, hundreds of residents of Arab communities across Israel staged overnight demonstrations denouncing the recent actions of Israeli security forces against Palestinians. It was one of the largest protests by Palestinian citizens in Israel in recent years.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since the militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007. Recent rounds of fighting have usually ended after a few days, often helped by behind-the-scenes mediation by Qatar, Egypt and others.

An Egyptian official confirmed that the country was trying to broker a truce. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive diplomacy, said Israeli actions in Jerusalem had complicated those efforts. A Palestinian security official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the cease-fire efforts.

Israel carried out dozens of airstrikes, including two that targeted high-rise apartment buildings where militants were believed to be hiding.

At midday, an airstrike hit an apartment building in central Gaza City, sending terrified residents running into the street, including women and barefoot children. The Islamic Jihad militant group confirmed that the strike killed three of its commanders.

An earlier airstrike struck another high-rise in the city as people were conducting dawn prayers, killing a woman, her 19-year-old disabled son and another man, residents said. Health officials confirmed the deaths.

Ashraf al-Kidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said a total of 26 people, including nine children and the woman, were killed and 122 people were wounded. He said Israel’s “relentless assault” was overwhelming the health care system, which has been struggling with a COVID-19 outbreak.

The escalation comes at a time of political limbo in Israel.

Netanyahu has been caretaker prime minister since an inconclusive parliamentary election in March. He tried and failed to form a coalition government with his hard-line and ultra-Orthodox allies, and the task was handed to his political rivals last week.

One of those rivals is Israel’s defense minister, who is overseeing the Gaza campaign. It was not clear whether the toxic political atmosphere is spilling over into military decision-making, though the rival camps have unanimously expressed support for striking Hamas hard.

The support of an Arab-backed party with Islamist roots is key for the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s efforts. But the current tensions might deter the party’s leader, Mansour Abbas, from joining a coalition for now. The sides have three more weeks to reach a deal.

The current round of violence in Jerusalem coincided with the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in mid-April.

Critics say heavy-handed police measures helped stoke nightly unrest, including a decision to temporarily seal off a popular gathering spot where Palestinian residents would meet after evening prayers. Another flashpoint was the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where dozens of Palestinians are under threat of eviction by Jewish settlers.

Over the weekend, confrontations erupted at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site in Judaism.

Over several days, Israel police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque.

On Monday evening, Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. From there on, the escalation was rapid.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said Gaza militants fired more than 500 rockets at Israel, with about one-third falling short and landing in Gaza.

Taiwan fights to attend WHO meeting, but China says no

TAIPEI, May 10: Taiwan will fight to the end for an invitation to a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting this month, its foreign ministry said on Monday, but China said there was no room for compromise over the island that Beijing claims as its own.

The rich-nation Group of Seven (G7) has called for Chinese-claimed but democratically-ruled Taiwan to attend the WHO's decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, which meets from May 24.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that on Sunday and Taiwan says it is urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said they had yet to receive an invite.

"But the Foreign Ministry will continue to work together with the Ministry of Health and Welfare to fight to the last minute and do everything possible for our right to participate in the meeting," she said in a statement.

Taiwan is locked out of most global organisations such as the WHO due to the objections of China, which considers the island one of its provinces not a country.

While the WHO cooperates with Taiwan's technical experts on COVID-19, it is up to member states whether to invite Taiwan to observe the WHO meeting, the WHO's principal legal officer Steve Solomon said at a news briefing on Monday.

Such an invite would need a vote, and China can easily corral enough friendly countries to block it, according to diplomats.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying condemned the United States for its "political manipulation" of the issue, and said Taiwan had to accept it was part of China if it wanted access to global bodies, something the government will not do.

"I want to emphasise once again that the Taiwan issue concerns China's core interests. China has no room for compromise," Hua told reporters.

The WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Taiwan says it is nonsense for China to claim it has the right to speak for it on the international stage when Beijing has no say in how it is governed.

The WHO says it has cooperated with Taiwan during the pandemic and that the island has received help needed.

Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli Loses Trust Vote In Parliament

KATHMANDU, May 10: Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli lost a trust vote in the House of Representatives on Monday, in a fresh setback to the embattled premier seeking to tighten his grip on power after the CPN (Maoist Centre) led by Pushpakamal Dahal 'Prachanda' withdrew support to his government.

Prime Minister Oli secured 93 votes in the lower house of parliament during a special session convened on the directives of President Bidya Devi Bhandari.

Mr Oli, 69, required at least 136 votes in the 275-member House of Representatives to win the confidence motion as four members are currently under suspension. A total of 124 members voted against the confidence motion while 15 members stayed neutral, Speaker Agni Sapkota announced. The session was attended by 232 lawmakers.

"As the votes cast in favour of the motion fell short to achieve a majority of the existing strength of the House of Representatives, I hereby declare that the prime minister's motion to seek a vote of confidence has been rejected," Sapkota announced before adjourning the House.

With this, Prime Minister Oli is automatically relieved from his post as per Article 100 (3).

Some 28 Lawmakers belonging to Oli's rival faction led by Madhav Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal abstained during the voting.

The main Opposition Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), which control 61 and 49 votes, respectively, voted against Oli's trust motion.

The Janata Samajbadi Party, which has 32 votes, however, was divided.

The Mahantha Thakur-led faction stayed neutral while the Upendra Yadav-led group voted against Oli.

After its alliance Nepal Communist Party Maoist Centre led by Prachanda withdrew its support to the government last week, Oli's government was reduced to a minority one.

After losing the Vote of Confidence, the Prime Minister is automatically removed from his post and now the new coalition government will be formed as per the constitutional process, said senior Nepali Congress leader Prakash Man Singh.

Senior leader of CPN-Maoist Ganesh Shah said that Oli should immediately resign from the post and pave way for the formation of an alternative government.

The CPN-Maoist will join hands with the Nepali Congress and other parties who voted against Oli to form a coalition government at the earliest, he said.

Meanwhile, Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba, CPN-Maoist Centre chairman Pushpakamal Dahal "Prachanda" and Chairman of Janata Samajwadi Party Upendra Yadav have issued a joint statement urging President Bhandari to start the process of forming an alternative government after Oli's defeat.

"We call upon President Bhandari to initiate the process of appointment of a new prime minister as per article 76 sub-clause 2 of the constitution," the joint statement said.

There is a provision in the Article 76 sub-clause 2 of the constitution to form a coalition government with the help of two or more political parties representing in the House.

Nepal plunged into a political crisis on December 20 last year after President Bhandari dissolved the House and announced fresh elections on April 30 and May 10 at the recommendation of Prime Minister Oli, amidst a tussle for power within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

Oli's move to dissolve the House sparked protests from a large section of the NCP led by his rival 'Prachanda'.

In February, the top court reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives, in a setback to Oli who was preparing for snap polls.

Oli repeatedly defended his move to dissolve the House of Representatives, saying some leaders of his party were attempting to form a "parallel government".

Oli, who joined politics as a student activist in his teenage and spent 14 years in jail for opposing the now-abolished monarchy, became Nepal's Prime Minister for a second time in 2018 as a joint candidate of the Left alliance.

The alliance between the CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachana'-led CPN (Maoist Centre) won a majority in the House of Representatives and in six of the seven provincial assemblies in the 2017 elections. After their victory, the two parties formally merged in May 2018.

However, the NCP, formed after the merger between Oli-led CPN-UML and 'Prachanda'-led CPN (Maoist Centre) in May 2018, split following the power tussle between the two leaders. 'Prachanda'-led faction withdrew its support to the Oli government last wek, reducing it to a minority one.

Known for his pro-China stance, Oli had earlier served as the country's prime minister from October 11, 2015 to August 3, 2016 during which Kathmandu's ties with New Delhi had strained.

Violence erupts at al-Aqsa mosque as Israel marks Jerusalem Day

JERUSALEM, May 10: Palestinian protesters threw rocks and Israeli police fired stun grenadesand rubber bullets in clashes outside the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on Monday as Israel marked the anniversary of its capture of parts of the city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said more than 180 Palestinians were injured in the violence, of whom more than 80, including one person in critical condition, were transferred to hospitals.

Al-Aqsa, Islam's third-holiest site, has been a focal point of violence in Jerusalem throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The clashes have raised international concern.

Tensions were particularly high as Israel was marked "Jerusalem Day", its annual celebration of the capture of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City that is home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy places.

In an effort to ease the situation, Israeli police said they had banned Jewish groups from paying Jerusalem Day visits to the holy plaza that houses al-Aqsa, and which Jews revere as the site of biblical Jewish temples.

Police were also considering whether to reroute a traditional Jerusalem Day march in which thousands of Israeli flag-waving Jewish youth walk through the Old City's Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter.

Police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at hundreds of Palestinians who hurled rocks at them on al-Aqsa's stone-strewn plaza, witnesses said.

"Extremist Palestinians planned well in advance to carry out riots today on the Temple Mount," Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted. "What we see now is the result of that."

Police said they had deployed thousands of officers in Jerusalem streets and on rooftops to keep the peace.

Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern part that it annexed in a move that has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they seek in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Israel's attorney-general secured a deferment on Sunday of a Supreme Court hearing on Monday in the long-running evictions case that had threatened to stoke more violence.

A lower court had found in favour of Jewish settlers' claim to the land on which the Palestinians' homes are located, a decision seen by Palestinians as a bid by Israel to drive them from contested Jerusalem.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan expressed "serious concerns" about the situation in Jerusalem, including the potential evictions, in a call with his Israeli counterpart on Sunday.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed on Sunday his concern over the situation.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, who have condemned Israeli actions in Jerusalem, fired at least three rockets towards Israel on Monday, after launching four projectiles a day earlier, the Israeli military said.

No casualties or damage were reported.

Israel responded to Sunday's attack with tank fire against positions belonging to Hamas, the militant Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip.

At Least 68 Killed, 165 Injured in Afghan School Blast

KABUL, May 9: The death toll from an explosion outside a school in Afghanistan's capital Kabul has risen to 68, Afghan officials said on Sunday, with doctors struggling to provide medical care to 165 injured and officials trying to identify bodies.

Multiple blasts on Saturday evening shook the neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, home to a large community of Shi'ites from the Hazara ethnic minority which has been targeted in the past by Islamic State militants, a Sunni militant group.

At first a car bomb was detonated in front of the Sayed Al-Shuhada school on Saturday, and when the students rushed out in panic, two more bombs exploded.

Officials said most of those killed were school girls. Some families were still searching hospitals for their missing children.

"The first blast was powerful and happened so close the children that some of them could not be found," said an Afghan official, requesting anonymity.

An eyewitness said all but seven or eight of the victims were schoolgirls going home after finishing studies. On Sunday, civilians and policemen collected books and school bags strewn across a blood-stained road that was busy with shoppers ahead of this year's celebrations for Eid al-Fitr next week.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday blamed the attack on Taliban insurgents but a spokesman for the Taliban denied involvement, saying the group condemns any attacks on Afghan civilians.

Pope Francis condemned the attack in Kabul, calling it an "inhuman act" in remarks to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City on Sunday.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the attack and expressed his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and to the government and people of Afghanistan.

Families of the victims blamed the Afghan government and Western powers for failing to put an end to violence and the ongoing war.

Bodies were still being collected from morgues as the first burials were conducted in the west of the city. Some families were still searching for missing relatives on Sunday, gathering outside hospitals to read names posted on the walls, and checking morgues.

"The entire night we carried bodies of young girls and boys to a graveyard and prayed for everyone wounded in the attack," said Mohammed Reza Ali, who has been helping families of the victims at a private hospital.

"Why not just kill all of us to put and end to this war?" he said.

Security was intensified across Kabul after the attack but authorities said they will not be able to provide security to all schools, mosques and other public centres.

Conflict is still raging in Afghanistan, with security forces locked in daily combat with the Taliban who have waged war to overthrow the foreign-backed government since they were ousted from power in Kabul in 2001.

Although the United States did not meet the May 1 withdrawal deadline agreed in talks with the Taliban last year, its pull-out has begun, with President Joe Biden announcing all troops will be out by Sept. 11.

But the foreign troop withdrawal has led to a surge in fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents with both sides trying to retain control over strategic centres.

Members states to decide on Taiwanese observership at World Health Assembly: WHO

WASHINGTON, May 8: It is up to the 194 member states of the World Health Organization to decide on whether to extend an invitation to Taiwan to participate in the World Health Assembly, according to WHO.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was urging the WHO to extend an invitation to Taiwan to take part in the Health Assembly.

"Taiwanese observership at the World Health Assembly is a question for the 194 Member States of WHO to consider and decide upon," according to WHO. "The World Health Assembly can invite observers through a resolution or decision adopted by a simple majority of its 194 Members."

Blinken said in a statement that there is "no reasonable justification for Taiwan's continued exclusion from this forum," and stressed that Washington is calling on the WHO Director-General to invite Taiwan to take part as an observer at the event.

The World Health Assembly will be held virtually on May 24 to June 1.

Beijing strongly opposes Taiwan's bid to gain an observer status at the WHO, saying the attempt is a violation of the "One China" policy.

G7 warns China not to 'escalate' tension with Taiwan

LONDON, May 6: The Group of Seven (G7) nations have called for a greater engagement with Taiwan and warned China not to escalate cross-strait tensions following a spike in military manoeuvres around the self-ruled island.

In a joint statement released Wednesday, representatives from the G7, which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, underscored "the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," and encouraged the "peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues", CNN reported.

"We reiterate our strong opposition to any unilateral actions that could escalate tensions and undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order and express serious concerns about reports of militarization, coercion, and intimidation in the region," the statement added.

The ministers also said their governments supported Taiwan's "meaningful participation" in World Health Organization forums and the World Health Assembly.

Beijing has blocked Taiwan's participation in the WHO, despite the island's effective response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, China has condemned the G7 foreign ministers' meeting.

G-7 countries back Taiwan's observer status in World Health Assembly

LONDON, May 6: Ahead of the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA), foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries have come out in support of Taiwan's observer status in the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).

"We support Taiwan's meaningful participation in World Health Organization forums and the World Health Assembly. The international community should be able to benefit from the experience of all partners, including Taiwan's successful contribution to the tackling of the COVID-19 pandemic," the G-7 said in a joint communique Wednesday.

The WHA is set to hold its 74th annual meeting virtually from Geneva, Switzerland, from May 24 to June 1.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has expressed gratitude for the G-7's strong support.

"Taiwan thanks all G7 FMs and the EU for voicing such a strong support in the Communique for our meaningful participation in #WHO & #WHA. #LetTaiwanHelp and contribute to the global health system," Taiwan's main representative office in the U.S. said in a tweet.

G7's statement comes after the US State Department on Friday had called for Taiwan to be allowed to participate in the upcoming WHA meet, citing the nation's successful efforts against COVID-19 and its assistance to other countries during the pandemic.

"Taiwan's outstanding control of COVID-19 and its donations of PPE [personal protective equipment] demonstrate its strong contribution to global health," State Department spokesman Ned Price wrote on Twitter.

"Taiwan has some of the world's leading experts in combating this disease, and we need to hear from Taiwan at the World Health Assembly."

Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed injured in bomb blast

MALE, May 6: Mohamed Nasheed, former President of Maldives and the current Speaker of Parliament, sustained injuries in a bomb blast near his home on Thursday night.

Ahmed Mahloof, Minister of Youth and Community Empowerment in Maldives, said they were yet to ascertain details of his injuries. Mahloof said the incident was reported around 8.30pm (Maldives Time).

“He was about to leave his home. The explosion happened while he was walking towards his car. It is a narrow street where he lives so he had to walk a few meters to reach the car. It was reportedly a motorbike that exploded. He was accompanied by his bodyguards and one of them was also injured,” he said. “I am deeply worried. An act of terrorism… I am sure this government will take strict action against perpetrators,” Mahloof added.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih visited Nasheed at the hospital. “Speaker of Parliament President Mohamed Nasheed is currently receiving treatment at ADK Hospital in Malé for injuries sustained following an explosion outside his residence tonight. We are treating this matter with utmost seriousness and the investigation is currently underway,” a statement from Solih said.

According to sources, Nasheed has sustained many superficial wounds, and a deep cut on his arm. His vitals signs are good and there seems to be no serious injury to his internal organs.

“Strongly condemn the attack on Speaker of Parliament, President @MohamedNasheed this evening. Cowardly attacks like these have no place in our society. My thoughts and prayers are with President Nasheed and others injured in this attack, as well as their families,” Abdulla Shahid, the foreign minister of Maldives tweeted.

Local media reported that a foreigner who was standing near the site also was injured in the blast, and was hospitalised.

India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar wished Nasheed a speedy recovery and said he would “never be intimidated.”

200 Groups Worldwide Ask UN Security Council to Adopt Global Arms Embargo on Myanmar

By Deepak Arora

NEW YORK, May 5: The United Nations Security Council should immediately impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar, Human Rights Watch and over 200 other nongovernmental organizations from around the world said today in a public appeal to council members.

The Security Council should act swiftly to pressure the junta to stop violating the human rights of people protesting the February 1, 2021, coup and military rule.

“The UN Security Council’s failure to even discuss an arms embargo against the junta is an appalling abdication of its responsibilities toward the people of Myanmar,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch.

“The council’s occasional statements of concern in the face of the military’s violent repression of largely peaceful protesters is the diplomatic equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and walking away.”

The groups said that the United Kingdom, the council’s designated drafter of Myanmar texts, should immediately open negotiations at the Security Council on a draft resolution authorizing an arms embargo. The UK has been reluctant to do so, prioritizing consensus statements supported by all council members over a resolution with substantive measures that China, Russia, and other members might initially oppose.

“No government should sell a single bullet to the junta under these circumstances,” the groups said in their appeal. “Imposing a global arms embargo on Myanmar is the minimum necessary step the Security Council should take in response to the military’s escalating violence. Arms and materiel provided to Myanmar’s security forces are likely to be used by the security forces to commit abuses in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

Myanmar’s military nullified the country’s November 2020 election results and imposed a manufactured “state of emergency.” State security forces have killed over 760 people since the coup and arbitrarily detained more than 3,600, including journalists, medical personnel, teachers, students, and others in violation of international human rights law. Hundreds may have been forcibly disappeared.

A number of individual governments and the European Union have imposed sanctions on senior leaders of the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known, and companies controlled by the military; but the Security Council has only issued three statements since the military takeover. Those statements have called on the military to halt the excessive use of force against protesters and release political prisoners, including former President Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and other officials elected in the November 8, 2020, election.

The groups’ appeal for an arms embargo echoes and broadens a February 24 declaration by 137 nongovernmental organizations, which urged the Security Council to act swiftly to halt the flow of weapons to the junta.

“The time for statements has passed,” the groups said. “The Security Council should take its consensus on Myanmar to a new level and agree on immediate and substantive action. An arms embargo would be the centerpiece of a global effort to protect the people of Myanmar from further atrocities and help bring an end to impunity for crimes under international law.”

The organizations also said they were disappointed with the April 24 summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its failure “to take more robust action to protect Myanmar’s people.” The junta has ignored ASEAN’s call for an end to the violence.

In February, UN Secretary-General António Guterres pledged to “do everything we can to mobilize all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails.” The UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, Tom Andrews, has repeatedly called for an arms embargo and sanctions. Guterres’ special envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, has also called for targeted sanctions.

The Security Council’s unwillingness to discuss a sanctions resolution represents a collective failure to heed the many calls to action from around the world. Human Rights Watch has said that the Security Council should also impose targeted sanctions, global travel bans, and asset freezes on the leadership of the junta and military-owned conglomerates.

The junta leader, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and several other military officials have been implicated in crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Tatmadaw in Rakhine, Kachin, Shan, and Chin States. Until the Security Council acts, individual UN member states should continue to adopt measures at the national and regional levels to block sales and other transfers of weapons and materiel to Myanmar, with the goal of creating a de facto global arms embargo, Human Rights Watch said.

Governments should also demand that Security Council members that care about protecting the human rights of Myanmar’s people set aside concerns about resistance from the permanent members Russia and China, and circulate a draft resolution that council members can discuss and vote on. A Security Council resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent members to pass.

“The Security Council has an unfortunate history of inaction on human rights in Myanmar, barely uttering a peep when the military carried out an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya in 2017,” Charbonneau said. “The Security Council should call China and Russia’s bluff and put a sanctions resolution to a vote. If Moscow and Beijing side with a military already accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, they will have to pay for the rising political cost of their obstruction.”

Ethnic guerrillas in Myanmar say they shot down helicopter

BANGKOK, May 3: An ethnic rebel group in northern Myanmar said it shot down a government military helicopter on Monday during heavy fighting over a strategic position.

The claim by the Kachin Independence Army came as protests against Myanmar’s military government continued in Kachin State and elsewhere in the country. It would be the first aircraft shot down during recent hostilities between the government and ethnic guerrilla armies. There was no immediate comment by the government on the incident.

The Kachin are one of several ethnic minorities who have allied themselves with the nationwide protest movement against the military’s February ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested and remains in detention. The country’s ethnic minorities have been fighting for decades against the central government for greater autonomy.

Government offenses are underway against the Kachin and the Karen, another ethnic minority in eastern Myanmar that maintains its own armed force and also has been the target of airstrikes. The fighting in Kachin and Karen states has displaced more than 45,000 villagers.

Col. Naw Bu, a spokesman for the Kachin Independence Army, said his group’s forces shot down the aircraft after government forces used helicopters and jet fighters in an attack on Momauk township, where the Kachin seized a base at the foot of Alaw Bum mountain from the government on March 25.

A video on social media said to be of the helicopter shows, at a great distance, an aircraft diving as the sounds of heavy weapons are heard. As the helicopter continues a steep descent, it appears to catch fire and leaves a trail of smoke. The video, and another taken from a distance showing smoke from what was said to be the crash site, could not be independently verified.

Naw Bu said it was the first aircraft shot down in what has become a fierce battle lasting almost two weeks after the government attacked with heavy artillery and fighter jets.

“Good news! Our prayer has been answered. KIA shot down a terrorist’s helicopter,” Hkanhpa Sadan, foreign secretary of the guerrilla army’s affiliated Kachin National Organization, said on Twitter. Opponents of the military government routinely refer to its forces as “terrorists.”

The ruling junta continues to also face a challenge in the cities and towns of Myanmar, where street protests are still being held more than three months after it seized power.

Security forces often use lethal force to break up the protests. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which tracks deaths and arrests, said at least five civilians were killed Sunday on what protesters declared was Global Myanmar Spring Revolution Day.

The organization said security forces have now killed 765 protesters and bystanders. The government puts the death toll at about one-third that figure and says its actions are justified to stop what it calls rioting.

The government also has kept up targeted arrests of activists and other people it considers to be behind the resistance movement. The Assistance Association says 3,555 people have been detained since the army’s seizure of power. About 40 journalists are among those being held.

Central Tibetan Administration thanks Japanese lawmakers for supporting its struggle against Chinese annexation

DHARAMSHALA, May 2: President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), also known as the Tibetan government-in-exile, Dr Lobsang Sangay has thanked the All-Party Japanese Parliamentary Support Group for Tibet for its continuous support for the Tibetan struggle against Chinese annexation.

During a virtual meeting, Sangay, who completed his two-term tenure as Sikyong, thanked the lawmakers for support and applauded them for "sending a strong message to the world that Japan stands for human rights and democracy," reported Phayul.

The outgoing President of the Tibetan government in exile, Sangay praised Japan for playing a major role in supporting Tibet, Uyghur, Mongolia, Hong Kong and Taiwan and said, "[It is] a message that human rights are fundamental and democracy is universal. These values are in contrast with what China says is socialism with Chinese characteristics".

"Monasteries are being demolished, the Tibetan language is discouraged and more than half a million Tibetans are uprooted from the nomadic areas and put them in labour camp-like situations to assimilate Tibet into China. This assimilation drive is threatening the very identity and civilization of Tibetan," Sangay told the 98-member group.

The parliamentary support group composed of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Vice Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, and many others joined the felicitation event with the CTA President, reported Phayul.

Former education minister and chairman of the group Shimomura Hakuban expressed his happiness for the opportunity to hold the event with Sikyong and also thanked him for his leadership of the Dharamshala-based Tibetan government-in-exile.

The Chairman of the parliamentary support group for Tibet said that the idea for the organization started ten years ago when he met the exiled spiritual leader Dalai Lama in Dharamshala along with Shinzo Abe and Sakurai Yoshiko. It has since grown into the world's largest parliamentary support group.

"We have been making efforts to the Tibetan community through Japan's ODA (Official Development Assistance) fund," he said in his address on Tuesday.

The All-Party Japanese Parliamentary Group for Tibet was formed on December 14, 2016, with the membership of parliamentarians across party lines. The initial membership included 58 MPs from the House of Representatives and 24 MPs from the House of Councillors of the Japanese parliament.

Tibet was an independent state in the Himalayas until Chinese troops annexed the region in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India, where the exile government is based to this day.

North Korea Dismisses 'Spurious' US Diplomacy: Report

SEOUL, May 2: North Korea branded US diplomacy "spurious" on Sunday, dismissing the idea of talks with Washington a day after the Biden administration said it was open to diplomatic negotiations on denuclearization, state media reported.

Diplomacy was a "spurious signboard" for the United States to "cover up its hostile acts," the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement run by the KCNA news agency.

It also warned President Joe Biden that he had made a "big blunder" with his "outdated" stance towards the country.

In a separate statement also run by KCNA, the foreign ministry accused Biden of insulting Kim Jong-Un, and added: "We have warned the US sufficiently enough to understand that it will get hurt if it provokes us."

Biden had said in his first address as president to Congress on Wednesday that he would use "diplomacy as well as stern deterrence" to contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The White House said Friday that its goal remains "the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

US policy will see "a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy" with North Korea, Biden's press secretary Jen Pskai told reporters.

Psaki gave little indication of what kind of diplomatic initiative this could entail, but suggested that Biden had learned from the experience of previous administrations, who have struggled for decades to deal with the dictatorship in North Korea or, in recent years, its growing nuclear arsenal.

She said Washington would not "focus on achieving a grand bargain," apparently referring to the kind of dramatic over-arching deal that former president Donald Trump initially suggested was possible when he met with North Korea's leader.

Neither would the White House follow the more standoff approach called "strategic patience," espoused by Barack Obama, Psaki said.

In April, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is due to visit the White House on May 21, urged Biden to engage directly with Kim on denuclearization.

Moon told the newspaper he favored "top-down diplomacy."

UK In Last Lap In Fight Against Covid, Says Foreign Secretary

LONDON, May 2: The UK is very close to turning the corner in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic and it is important to remain careful in the last lap of the process, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday.

The senior Cabinet minister was defending the government's roadmap out of the lockdown, which is now set to ease further on May 17 when greater indoor interactions are expected to be allowed, with June 21 set as the date for a near complete end to lockdown rules.

Some groups and businesses such as restaurants have called for a quicker lifting of restrictions.

"I know that people are hankering to go a bit faster but actually we feel vindicated at taking steady steps out of the lockdown is the smart way to go," Mr Raab told Sky News.

"We're very close now to really turning the corner and I think we still need to be careful to go as I said we don't want to see the gains lost and the sacrifices that have been made undone. By the time we get to June 21 almost all social restrictions will be lifted, so there's only a little bit more time to go but it's right we do that in a careful way," the minister said.

"I do think we just need to make sure that in the last lap, if you like, that we are careful and we don't lose the gains we've made," he said.

The minister also indicated that the government is looking at certain social distancing and other safeguards that would still be needed after June 21.

"We want to get to a position, at the end of June, where we can get life back as close to normal as possible, but they'll still need to be some safeguards in place," he said.

According to some plans in the works, daily lateral flow tests could be used as an alternative to isolation for those who have been in contact with someone who tests positive for the coronavirus.

Currently, these people must quarantine for 10 days but a trial in England will see daily lateral flow tests given to as many as 40,000 people. Participants in the trial will be sent a week's worth of tests and will be able to go about normal life as long as their daily results are negative.

The trial could provide evidence that would reduce the length of time contacts of positive cases need to isolate.

"This new pilot could help shift the dial in our favour by offering a viable alternative to self-isolation for people who are contacts of positive COVID-19 cases, and one that would allow people to carry on going to work and living their lives," said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The trial will begin on May 9 and close contacts of people with COVID-19 will be contacted by phone and sent seven days of the tests if they decide to participate in the study.They will have to test themselves every morning for seven days and, as long as they test negative and do not have symptoms, they will be exempt from the home isolation rule.

"This study will help to determine whether we can deploy daily testing for contacts to potentially reduce the need for self-isolation, while still ensuring that chains of transmission are stopped," said Professor Isabel Oliver, who is leading the study as Public Health England's national infection service director.

"Contacts of cases are at higher risk of infection so testing them is a very effective way of preventing further spread," the Professor said.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times reported that health officials are drawing up plans to offer the Pfizer vaccine to secondary school pupils from September.

A document seen by the newspaper said children over the age of 12 could be offered a single dose when the new school year begins.

The move will depend on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which has so far focussed on advice only for adults aged 18 and over. The government target is to cover all over-18s with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by July-end.

US Formally Begins Withdrawing Its Troops From Afghanistan

KABUL, May 1: The United States formally begins withdrawing its last troops from Afghanistan Saturday, bringing its longest war nearer to an end but also heralding an uncertain future for a country in the tightening grip of an emboldened Taliban.

US officials on the ground say the withdrawal is already a work in progress -- and May 1 is just a continuation -- but Washington has made an issue of the date because it is a deadline agreed with the Taliban in 2020 to complete the pullout.

The skies above Kabul and nearby Bagram airbase have been buzzing with more US helicopter activity than usual as the pullout gears up, following the start Thursday of a concurrent NATO withdrawal.

The prospect of an end of 20 years of US presence comes despite fighting raging across the countryside in the absence of a peace deal.

A stark reminder of what remains came late Friday with a car bomb in Pul-e-Alam, south of the capital, killing at least 21 people and wounding 100 more.

US President Joe Biden is determined to end what he called "the forever war", announcing last month that the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 American forces would be complete by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

"A horrific attack 20 years ago... cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021," he said.

Since the US withdrawal deal was struck the Taliban have not directly engaged foreign troops, but insurgents have mercilessly attacked government forces in the countryside and waged a terror campaign in urban areas.

The exit of US forces has only exacerbated the fear felt by ordinary Afghans.

"Everyone is scared that we might go back to the dark days of the Taliban era," said Mena Nowrozi, who works at a private radio station in Kabul.

"The Taliban are still the same; they have not changed. The US should have extended their presence by at least a year or two," she said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insists that government forces -- who for months have carried out most of the ground fighting against the Taliban -- are "fully capable" of keeping the insurgents at bay.

He said the pullout also means the Taliban have no reason to fight.

"Who are you killing? What are you destroying? Your pretext of fighting the foreigners is now over," Ghani said in a speech this week.

Still, General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has not ruled out total chaos.

"On the worst-case analysis, you have a potential collapse of the government, a potential collapse of the military," he said earlier this week.

"You have a civil war and all the humanitarian catastrophe that goes with it."

Police officer Abdul Malik from the former insurgent bastion of Kandahar said they were prepared.

"We have to take care of our homeland... We will do our best to defend our soil," he said.

The US-led military onslaught in Afghanistan began in October 2001 in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Two decades later, and after the death of almost 2,400 Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans, Biden says the final withdrawal was justified as US forces had now made sure the country cannot again become a base for foreign jihadists to plot against the West.

Concerns are high that the Taliban might yet strike at retreating US forces, and in the southern province of Kandahar -- where the foes used to clash regularly -- security sources say several areas are laden with explosives planted by the insurgents.

"If the Taliban attack retreating US or allied forces, it would be to bloody the nose of a defeated enemy and to humiliate it further," said Afghanistan specialist Nishank Motwani.

Andrew Watkins, of the International Crisis Group, said the coming months would see the situation become a more purely local conflict.

"The United States and its NATO partners are stepping back and giving the two primary sides of this conflict... their first instance to fight with and assess their opponents without the extra factor of the United States," he said.


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