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Two Pak Officials Caught in Delhi For Spying

New Delhi, May 31: The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said two officials of High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi were apprehended by Indian law enforcement authorities on Sunday for indulging in espionage activities.

The MEA also stated that the Central government has declared them persona-non grata and asked them to leave the country within 24 hours.

In the wake of this incident, the MEA said Pakistan’s Charge de Affaires was asked to ensure that no member of its diplomatic mission should indulge in activities inimical to India or behave in a manner incompatible with their diplomatic status.

“Pakistan’s Charge de Affaires was issued demarche in which strong protest was lodged regarding the matter and was asked to ensure that no member of its diplomatic mission should indulge in activities inimical to India or behave in a manner incompatible with their diplomatic status,” the MEA said.

The development comes after two visa assistants of Pakistan High Commission were caught red-handed by Indian law enforcement authorities involved in espionage in New Delhi. They have been identified as Abid Hussain and Tahir Khan, both ISI operatives.

According to updates, Abeed Hussain and Tahir Khan work in the visa section of the Pakistan High Commission. The two also worked for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI and used fake identity papers to move around.

Engaged with China to resolve border row peacefully: India

NEW DELHI, May 28: India on Wednesday said it was engaged with China to resolve the border issue while reacting to US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate between the two countries to settle the festering dispute.

“We are engaged with the Chinese side to peacefully resolve it,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, replying to a volley of questions at an online media briefing.

In the midst of the tense border standoff between India and China, Trump on Wednesday said he was “ready, willing and able to mediate” between the two countries.

“We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute,” Trump said in a tweet.

India and China, he said, have established mechanisms at military and diplomatic levels to peacefully resolve situations that may arise in border areas through dialogue, and “continue to remain engaged through these channels”.

Srivastava reiterated India’s contention that its troops had not violated the LAC, a charge levelled by China soon after the standoff became public.

“India is committed to the objective of maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas with China and our armed forces scrupulously follow the consensus reached by our leaders and the guidance provided. At the same time, we remain firm in our resolve to ensuring India’s sovereignty and national security,” he said.

The Indian troops, he added, have a “very responsible approach towards border management and strictly follow the procedures laid out in various bilateral agreements and protocols with China to resolve any issue that may arise in the border areas”.

These include five agreements signed by India and China in the past two decades – the 1993 Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the LAC in the India-China border areas, the 1996 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC, the 2005 Protocol on Modalities for the implementation of the Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field, the 2012 Agreement on establishment of a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on India-China Border Affairs, and the 2013 Border Defence Cooperation Agreement.

Srivastava did not give a direct response to questions on Chinese troops establishing a presence on the Indian side of the LAC and the level at which diplomatic engagements were underway, and only said: “Our engagement at the diplomatic level also continues between both sides, both in Delhi as well as in Beijing.”

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity the envoys of both countries were playing a key role in these engagements.

China’s ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, had on Wednesday called for putting ties back on an even keel. Without referring to the standoff, he told a webinar the two sides “pose no threat to each other” and should “never let the differences shadow the overall…bilateral cooperation”. He also said they should seek “understanding through communication”.

China Prez Xi tells army to prepare for war

BEIJING, May 26: Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday directed China’s armed forces to strengthen training of troops and to be ready for war amid coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic’s visible impact on the world’s most populous country’s national security.

State media reports quoted the Chinese premier as saying that it was important to “comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war”, “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty” and “safeguard the overall strategic stability of the country”.

Xi’s speech comes amid rising tension with the US, frequent references by local politicians and diplomats of reunifying Taiwan, if necessary by force, and the likely implementation of a new – and controversial – security law meant to crack down on pro-democracy dissidents in the special administrative region of Hong Kong.

Two days back, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, heavily criticised the efforts of some US politicians to fabricate rumours and stigmatise China to blame it for the pandemic.

The US, Wang said, is pushing relations with China to “the brink of a new Cold War”. Chinese state councillor and foreign minister also rejected US “lies” over the coronavirus.

Tension is also escalating with India with troops from the two countries clashing along different areas along the 3,488 kilometre-long disputed border especially, in Ladakh, in May.

Both armies are said to have deployed additional troops in sensitive areas along the boundary with experts predicting a lengthy standoff.

Xi said that China’s performance in fighting Covid-19 has shown the success of military reforms and the armed forces should explore new ways of training, despite the pandemic.

Xi, who chairs China’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC), made the comments at a meeting of the delegation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s parliament.

Xi added that it was necessary to make preparations for military struggle, “…to flexibly carry out actual combat military training, and to comprehensively improve our military’s ability to carry out military missions”.

Xi, according to the state media, pointed out “…this epidemic prevention and control struggle is a practical test for national defence and military reform, fully embodies the effectiveness of the reform, and also puts forward new requirements for reform”.

Xi’s strongly-worded speech coincided with a series of “unverified” photographs and videos being uploaded on Chinese social media platforms showing Beijing’s second aircraft carrier -- the country’s first indigenously built one -- leaving its shipyard for a sail on Monday.

“The move, if verified, will mark the aircraft carrier, the Shandong’s first known voyage in five months since being commissioned in December and later returning to the shipyard for maintenance,” a state media report said.

Separately, a military spokesperson said on Tuesday that a moderate and steady increase in the nation’s defence expenditure is right, proper, and necessary.

It was announced last week that China has set its annual defence budget growth target at 6.6%, as compared to 7.5% last year.

China has both economic and military development in mind and national defence should be developed in coordination with economic development, said Wu Qian, PLA spokesperson. Beijing’s homeland security and overseas interests are also facing some real threats, Wu added.

180 protestors arrested in Hong Kong

HONG KONG, May 25: Hong Kong’s security chief said “terrorism” was growing in the city, as government departments rallied on Monday behind Beijing’s plans to introduce national security laws and after thousands took to the streets to protest against the move.

Police said they arrested more than 180 people on Sunday, when authorities fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse anti-government protesters as unrest returned to the Chinese-ruled city after months of relative calm.

“Terrorism is growing in the city and activities which harm national security, such as ‘Hong Kong independence’, become more rampant,” Secretary for Security John Lee said in a statement.

“In just a few months, Hong Kong has changed from one of the safest cities in the world to a city shrouded in the shadow of violence,” he said, adding national security laws were needed to safeguard the city’s prosperity and stability.

In a return of the unrest that roiled Hong Kong last year, crowds thronged the streets of the city on Sunday in defiance of curbs imposed to contain the coronavirus, with chants of “Hong Kong independence, the only way out,” echoing through the streets.

Calls for independence are anathema to Beijing, which considers Hong Kong an inalienable part of the country. The proposed new national security framework stresses Beijing’s intent “to prevent, stop and punish” such acts.

Agencies issuing statements in support of the legislation included the Commissioner of Correctional Services, and Hong Kong Customs.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote on his blog on Sunday the national security law “itself” does not affect investor confidence, only the “misunderstanding” of it does.

“The central government has already said the law is targeted at the minority of people who are suspected of threatening national security and will not affect the rights of the general public.”

The United States, Australia, Britain, Canada and others have expressed concerns about the legislation, widely seen as a potential turning point for China’s freest city and one of the world’s leading financial hubs.

Taiwan, which has become a refuge for a small but growing number of pro-democracy protesters fleeing Hong Kong, will provide the people of Hong Kong with “necessary assistance”, President Tsai Ing-wen said.

Taiwan promises ‘necessary assistance’ to Hong Kong’s people

TAIPEI, May 25: Taiwan will provide the people of Hong Kong with “necessary assistance”, President Tsai Ing-wen said, after a resurgence in protests in the Chinese ruled territory against newly proposed national security legislation from Beijing.

Taiwan has become a refuge for a small but growing number of pro-democracy protesters fleeing Hong Kong, which has been convulsed since last year by protests.

Hong Kong police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of people who rallied on Sunday to protest against Beijing’s plan to impose national security laws on the city.

Writing on her Facebook page late on Sunday, Tsai said the proposed legislation was a serious threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms and judicial independence.

Bullets and repression are not the way to deal with the aspirations of Hong Kong’s people for freedom and democracy, she added.

“In face of the changing situation, the international community has proactively stretched out a helping hand to Hong Kong’s people,” Tsai wrote.

Taiwan will “even more proactively perfect and forge ahead with relevant support work, and provide Hong Kong’s people with necessary assistance”, she wrote.

Taiwan has no law on refugees that could be applied to Hong Kong protesters who seek asylum on the island. Its laws do promise, though, to help Hong Kong citizens whose safety and liberty are threatened for political reasons.

The Hong Kong protests have won widespread sympathy in Taiwan, and the support for the protesters by Tsai and her administration have worsened already poor ties between Taipei and Beijing.

China has accused supporters of Taiwan independence of colluding with the protesters.

China believes Tsai to be a “separatist” bent on declaring the island’s formal independence. Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.

China to evacuate citizens from India amid pandemic, rising border tension

BEIJING, May 25: China is planning to evacuate its citizens from India amid the spreading Covid-19 pandemic in the country, a notice issued by the Chinese embassy in New Delhi said on Monday.

The notice, published on the embassy website said that students, tourists and businessmen who have been stranded in India will be allowed to fly back to China on special flights.

The number of Chinese citizens currently studying or staying and working in India wasn’t immediately available.

Beijing has asked its citizens willing to return to China to register by the morning of May 27.

It includes Chinese citizens who are in India to practice yoga or had come to India for the Buddhist religious circuit pilgrimage.

It did not specify when or from where the special flights would take off.

The evacuation notice also comes in the backdrop of rising tension between India and China along the disputed boundary between the two countries.

The notice put out in Mandarin on Monday morning said those taking the flights will have to pay for the tickets and for their 14-day quarantine once they land in China.

“Under the unified arrangement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and relevant departments, the Chinese embassy and Consulates in India will assist students, tourists, and temporary businessmen in India who have difficulties and are in urgent need of returning home to take temporary flights back to China,” the notice said.

The notice expressly forbade those who have been diagnosed with or suspected to have Covid-19 or those who had fever and cough symptoms for 14 days not to take the flights.

Close contacts of Covid-19 patients or whose body temperature exceeds 37.3 degrees centigrade will also not be allowed to board.

The applicants have been warned to not hide their medical history.

“Once a passenger who conceals his illness and contact history or finds that he has taken antipyretics and other inhibitory drugs during quarantine inspection is found, he will be held liable for the crime of endangering public safety,” the notice said.

India was among the countries to evacuate more than 700 citizens and foreign nationals from the central Chinese province of Hubei, worst-hit by the Covid-19 outbreak, and its capital, Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged late last year in February.

The second batch of evacuation in late February had been delayed after the Chinese authorities are said to have delayed the required clearances.

Indian Army chief’s remarks ‘hurt sentiments of Nepali Gurkhas’: Minister

NEW DELHI, May 25: The Indian Army chief’s remarks about Nepal acting at the behest of others in raising a border dispute has “hurt the sentiments of the Nepali Gurkha army personnel who lay down their lives to protect India”, Nepal’s defence minister Ishwar Pokhrel has said.

Days after Indian Army chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane made the comments, which were seen as a veiled reference to a possible Chinese role in the border row, Pokhrel dismissed the remarks as a “political stunt”.

The Nepal government recently protested against the opening of a new road to Lipulekh by defence minister Rajnath Singh to facilitate people making the pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet. India rejected the protest by saying the road was within Indian territory. Nepal then published a new map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadura, which fall within India, as part of Nepalese territory.

In an interview with Nepal’s news agency Rastriya Samachar Samiti, Pokhrel said the Indian Army chief’s remarks “have come in an embarrassing manner” at a time when Nepal has been trying resolve the border issue through diplomatic dialogue.

“No matter what background and circumstance is it based on, such statements are an effort to offend sovereign and independent Nepal and prideful Nepalis… With this, the Indian CoAS [chief of army staff] has also hurt the sentiments of the Nepali Gurkha army personnel who lay down their lives to protect India. It must now become difficult for them to stand tall in front of the Gurkha forces…In fact, the statement by the Indian CoAS seems to be a political stunt,” Pokhrel said.

He added, “How professional is it for the head of the army to make a political statement? We don’t have anything like that here. Nepali Army does not go vocal on such matter. Army is not there to speak. Nepali Army is a fully professional military force. It would definitely play its role in the right time, as per the directives of the government based on our Constitution.”

Pokhrel, who is also the deputy prime minister, described India as “our friendly state” and said the “lost Nepali territory must be returned through peaceful political dialogue and through diplomatic channel, and I am confident that it is possible”.

There was no immediate response from the Indian side to Pokhrel’s remarks.

Pokhrel also said this was the “first time in history” that the Nepal government had written an official letter to the Indian government “saying Nepali land at the Nepal-India border region has been encroached and this should be stopped”. He added, “We have raised this topic on the basis of the historical facts, proof and treaties available to us. We have issued the new map of Nepal on the basis of this.”

He reiterated that Nepal had been seeking talks on the border issue since the Indian government issued its new political and administrative maps of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on November 2 last year.

“Now, serious political and diplomatic initiatives have to be immediately pursued on the basis of the combined force based on common and unified stance of the political forces of the entire nation as well as of historical facts and evidences. Infrastructure development and comprehensive security plan needs to be implemented in that area,” he said.

Pokhrel said the Nepal government had published its new political map after it didn’t receive “any immediate positive response to the communication we sent” to India for talks on the border issue.

There are more than 30,000 Nepalese Gurkhas serving in the Gurkha Rifles regiments of the Indian Army.

China creating hindrance in patrolling along LAC: India

NEW DELHI, May 21: India on Thursday strongly refuted China’s contention that tensions in the Ladakh and Sikkim sectors were triggered by Indian troops crossing the Line of Actual Control (LAC), even as it accused Chinese forces of hindering patrols on the Indian side.

The Indian side said it is committed to peace and tranquillity along the border, but will take all steps to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and security. The remarks by external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava came against the backdrop of continuing tensions along the LAC, especially in Galwan Valley of Ladakh, where both sides have deployed additional troops.

New Delhi’s first official reaction to the tensions came a day after India was strongly supported by the US, with top American diplomat Alice Wells saying such disputes are a “reminder of the threat posed by China”.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reiterated that Indian troops had trespassed across the LAC and dismissed Wells’ remarks as “just nonsense”. India should work with China and “refrain from unilateral actions” that complicate the situation, he said.

Asked about China’s position on the stand-off in Ladakh, external affairs ministry spokesperson Srivastava told an online news briefing: “Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the LAC in the western [Ladakh] sector or the Sikkim sector is not accurate.”

Srivastava added: “All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, it is [the] Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India’s normal patrolling patterns.”

Indian troops, he said, “scrupulously” abide by the alignment of the LAC and all Indian activities “are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC”. The Indian side has a “very responsible approach towards border management”, and is “deeply committed to ensuring India’s sovereignty and security”, he added.

Indian troops strictly follow procedures in bilateral agreements and protocols to resolve situations arising from differences in perception of the LAC, Srivastava said. “The two sides have established mechanisms to resolve such situations peacefully through dialogue. Both sides remain engaged with each other to address any immediate issues,” he said.

In line with the consensus reached during the second India-China informal summit in Mamallapuram last year, the Indian side is firmly committed to the common objective of maintaining peace and tranquillity on the border, and this is an “essential prerequisite to the further development of...bilateral relations”, Srivastava said.

During an online briefing for journalists on Wednesday, Alice Wells, the outgoing head of the US state department’s South and Central Asian bureau, had said the border tensions were a reminder that “Chinese aggression is not always rhetorical”, and China’s “provocations and disturbing behaviour” raised questions about how Beijing seeks to use its growing power.

Responding to her remarks at a regular news briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao said: “The [US] diplomat’s remarks are just nonsense. China’s position on the China-India boundary issue is consistent and clear. China’s border troops firmly safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty and security and firmly dealt with the Indian side’s cross-over and infringement activities.”

Earlier this month, Indian and Chinese troops were involved in clashes in the Sikkim and Ladakh sectors that left several soldiers on both sides injured. The clashes were resolved at the level of local commanders, but both sides rushed in hundreds of soldiers as reinforcements, especially in Galwan Valley.

Reports have suggested that the Chinese side deployed troops and heavy equipment that were involved in an exercise to beef up positions in the Ladakh sector. China’s state-run media has described the latest tensions as the worst since the 2017 Doklam stand-off, which lasted 73 days.

Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen says no to 'one country, two systems'

TAIPEI, May 20: Taiwan wants dialogue with China but cannot accept its proposal for "one country, two systems", President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday, calling for both sides to find a way to coexist but drawing swift condemnation from China.

In a speech after being sworn in for her second and final term in office, Tsai said relations between Taiwan and China had reached a historical turning point.

"Both sides have a duty to find a way to coexist over the long term and prevent the intensification of antagonism and differences," she said.

Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party won January's presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide, saying they would stand up to China, which claims Taiwan as its own and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its objective.

"Here, I want to reiterate the words 'peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue'. We will not accept the Beijing authorities' use of 'one country, two systems' to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo. We stand fast by this principle," Tsai said.

China uses the "one country, two systems" policy, which is supposed to guarantee a high degree of autonomy, in the former British colony of Hong Kong, which was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It has offered the same framework to Taiwan, but all major Taiwanese parties have rejected it.

Tsai says Taiwan is an independent state called the Republic of China, its official name, and does not want to be part of the People's Republic of China.

In response, China's Taiwan Affairs Office said China would stick to 'one country, two systems' and "not leave any space for Taiwan independence separatist activities". It added that reunification was an "historical inevitability".

The Global Times tabloid, meanwhile, quoted a Chinese spokesperson saying that Tsai's party "gangs up with foreign powers to hinder peace of Taiwan Straits and use (the) pandemic to attain separatist goals."

Taiwan was "severely damaging" the peace and stability of the region, it added.

China has stepped up its military drills near Taiwan since Tsai's re-election, flying fighter jets into the island's air space and sailing warships around Taiwan.

Tsai said Taiwan has made the greatest effort to maintain peace and stability in the narrow Taiwan Strait that separates the democratic island from China.

"We will continue these efforts, and we are willing to engage in dialogue with China and make more concrete contributions to regional security," she added, speaking in the garden of the former Japanese governor's house in Taipei, in front of a socially distanced audience of officials and diplomats.

Tsai said that Taiwan will continue its fight to participate in international organisations, and "bolster ties with the United States, Japan, Europe, and other like-minded countries".

Taiwan has accused China of exerting pressure to keep Taiwan out of the World Health Organization (WHO). China says Taiwan is only a Chinese province with no right to the trappings of a state.

The Trump administration has strongly backed Taiwan, even though the United States recognises only China's government, becoming another source of tension between Washington and Beijing.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent his congratulations to Tsai on Tuesday, praising her "courage and vision in leading Taiwan's vibrant democracy", in a rare high-level message from Washington direct to Taiwan's government.

Joe Biden, who is challenging Trump for the US presidency in November also posted a message on Twitter.

"Taiwan's thriving democracy and response to COVID-19 are an example to the world," he wrote. "America's support for Taiwan must remain strong, principled and bipartisan."

China cut off a formal talks mechanism with Taiwan in 2016 after Tsai won her first term. China views Tsai as a separatist bent on formal independence for Taiwan.

Removal of portraits of Kim Jong-un's dad, grandfather sparks rumors of his death

SEOUL, May 18: In a significant development, huge portraits of Kim's grandfather and father, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, were suddenly removed from Kim Il Sung Square in North Korea's Pyongyang, sparking rumours over the heatlh of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

NK News reported on Friday (May 15) that the portraits were removed unceremoniously and no one knows the exact reason behind this development. Daily Express quoted journalist Roy Calley as saying that a statue of Kim Jong Il has also been dismantled.

According to Calley, Kim Il Sung Square's was last renovated in 2012 after the death of Kim Jong Il. "The fact that portraits have been removed is very interesting," said Calley.

Calley, however, asserted that as per the traditions of North Korea, Kim cannot have any portraits or statues made in his likeness "unless he's dead."

NK News reported that satellite images showed that the viewing platform in Kim Il Sung Square, which is used by senior officials of North Korea to watch military parades, has been demolished. The report added that the entry of vehicles has been closed from the west side of the square.

In April, it was widely speculated across the globe that Kim had died from an unsuccessful operation. But the rumours were laid to rest on May 2 after a video surfaced showing Kim hailing the opening of a fertilizer factory in Pyongyang.

But Kim has not been seen in public for the lkast two weeks and now rumors are doing the rounds that the video showing Kim at fertilizer was taken previously and he is already dead. According to experts, if Kim has died, his sister Kim Yo Jong could take the reins.

On May 15, it was reported that Kim had sacked his head of security and head of the country's military intelligence agency. Some media reports claimed that the North Korean leader had also fired the commander of the Supreme Guard, who was taking care of Kim's personal safety since 2010.

Taiwan says it will not press for World Health Assembly participation

TAIPEI, May 18: Taiwan will not press for participation at the World Health Assembly beginning Monday, but will continue to donate medical supplies abroad and protest China's “two-faced behaviour“ that excludes it from such forums, the foreign minister said.

Joseph Wu told reporters the shortened agenda for this year’s WHA requires time be devoted to concentrating on ways to control the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan agreed with suggestions that the issue of its participation be discussed instead at meetings later this year once the outbreak had been better contained, Wu said at a Monday news conference.

Taiwan’s United Nations seat was handed to China in 1971 and Beijing insists the self-governing island republic it claims as its own territory has no right to diplomatic relations or membership in UN bodies.

Taiwan's entry to WHO assumes significance ahead of meet

GENEVA, May 14: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation director general who has been blocking darts hurled at him over the global health agency’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has landed himself at centre of another bout of shadow boxing between the United States and China over letting Taiwan attend next week’s World Health Assembly as an observer.

The self-ruled island, which Beijing considers a wayward province awaiting reunification, has been excluded from WHO membership due to objections from China.

Taiwan attended the World Health Assembly as a non-voting observer from 2009 to 2016. But Beijing has blocked Taipei’s representation at the event after a China skeptic, Tsai Ing-wen was elected president in 2016. She was re-elected this year and is due to begin her second term on 20 May, two days after the WHA’s 18 May meet.

More than a dozen countries have proposed resolutions for the WHO to let Taiwan attend the World Health Assembly as an observer, arguing that the world needed to hear Taiwan that has been held up as a model in fighting the virus first detected in central China’s Wuhan last year.

The disease has since then killed 2,97,000 people, infected over 4 million, grounded the world economy and set off a back and forth between the United States, China and WHO’s Tedros.

Taiwan has had just about 400 cases and 7 deaths.

To be sure, this will not be the first time that an attempt has been made to restore Taiwan’s observer status for the World Health Assembly.

Fourteen member states had proposed Taiwan’s inclusion as an observer at WHO’s last annual meet on 28-29 May 2019. The WHO had then cited “procedure followed in previous years” to let two of them speak in favour of the resolution and two against before the general assembly delivered its ruling.

Apart from China, Cuba had opposed Taiwan’s inclusion. Eswatini in southern Africa and Honduras in central America had spoken in favour.

Diplomats in Geneva and Washington said that the effort this time was to lobby for other countries to speak too. The chorus is growing, one of them said.

Already, fence-sitter Canada has backed Taiwan’s claim to be allowed to participate at the WHA meet apart from other countries such as Australia, Japan, Germany, France, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US that is fronting this campaign.

A report in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s CBS News said Canada had, for the first time, even gone to the extent of issuing a verbal demarche to two senior WHO executives asking that Taiwan be admitted as an observer to the Monday meeting because its input would be “meaningful and important.”

Chinese diplomats have been on an overdrive over the coronavirus diseases, initially to play down the havoc that the Sars-CoV-2 virus could wreck on the world. And later when the situation became manageable back home, to even jeer at countries that were struggling with containing its fallout if they underscored transparency and accountability from the WHO or Beijing.

Where it could, it has also penalised critics. Like when Australia supported the US call for a probe into the origin of the virus, Chinese authorities threatened to impose heavy duties on barley imports and went ahead to suspend beef imports from four Australian suppliers.

Indian hasn’t taken a stand on Taiwan’s inclusion yet. But one government official noted how Beijing, that wants the world to acknowledge its ‘one China’ principle, didn’t demonstrate respect for India’s sovereignty when it comes to Kashmir, or building the China Pakistan Economic Border through Indian territory occupied by Islamabad.

It is not clear if senior minister Nitin Gadkari’s comment in an interview to NDTV that the virus that causes coronavirus disease was an off-the-cuff remark or an indicator that the government has an open mind on the origin of the disease. Gadkari told the news channel that the virus that causes Covid-19 wasn’t a natural virus but created in a laboratory, echoing a charge that has been repeatedly made by Washington.


2 newborns among 16 dead in Kabul hospital attack; 26 killed in funeral bombing

KABUL, May 12: Gunmen disguised as police attacked a hospital in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Tuesday, killing 16 people including two newborn babies from a maternity clinic run by the international humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders.

In a separate attack the same day, a suicide bomber struck the funeral of a police commander, attended by government officials and a member of parliament, in the eastern province of Nangahar, killing at least 26 people and injuring 68. Authorities said that toll could rise.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack. The Taliban, Afghanistan’s main Islamist insurgency group which says it has halted attacks on cities under a U.S. troop withdrawal deal, denied involvement in both.

The Islamic State militant group operates in Nangahar and has carried out a number of high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months. On Monday security forces arrested its regional leader in the capital.

The violence, as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic, risks derailing momentum towards U.S.-brokered peace talks between the Taliban and an Afghan government long sceptical of the insurgents’ renunciation of attacks.

“If the Taliban cannot control the violence, or their sponsors have now subcontracted their terror to other entities — which was one of our primary concerns from the beginning — then there seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in ‘peace talks,” tweeted Hamdullah Mohib, the government’s national security advisor.

The Kabul attack began in the morning when at least three gunmen wearing police uniforms entered the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital, throwing grenades and shooting, government officials said. Security forces had killed the attackers by the afternoon.

“The attackers were shooting at anyone in this hospital without any reason. It’s a government hospital, and a lot of people bring in their women and children for treatment,” said Ramazan Ali, a vendor nearby who saw the start of the attack.

The 100-bed government-run hospital hosted a maternity clinic run by Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

MSF confirmed in a tweet that the hospital had been attacked. Just hours before it had tweeted a photo of a newborn at the clinic in his mother’s arms after being delivered safely by emergency caesarean section.

Interior and health ministry officials said that mothers, nurses and children were among the dead and wounded.

Photos from the Ministry of Interior showed two young children lying dead inside the hospital. Soldiers ferried infants out of the compound, some wrapped in blood-stained blankets. Officials said 100 people in total were rescued, including three foreign nationals.

The neighbourhood is home to many members of Afghanistan’s Hazara community, a mostly Shia Muslim minority that has been attacked by Sunni militants from Islamic State in the past, including at a Kabul ceremony commemorating the death of one of its leaders in March.

Rights group Amnesty International condemned both attacks.

“The unconscionable war crimes in Afghanistan today, targeting a maternity hospital and a funeral, must awaken the world to the horrors civilians continue to face,” the group tweeted. “There must be accountability for these grave crimes.”

Foreign powers including India, the United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey and Pakistan released statements condemning the violence.

Last week, security forces killed and arrested several members of an Islamic State cell that authorities said was responsible for several attacks in Kabul including one on a Sikh temple in March. A roadside blast in the capital on Monday, which wounded four civilians, was claimed by the group.

Afghanistan is also facing violence around the country from the Taliban, even as the United States tries to usher in peace talks after signing a troop withdrawal agreement in February with the militants. The Taliban say they are holding back from attacking urban centres and their operations are aimed at government security forces.


Vietnam rejects China’s South China Sea fishing ban

HANOI, May 8: Vietnam rejects China’s “unilateral decision” to ban fishing in the South China Sea from May 1 to August 16, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement posted on the government’s website.

Vietnam has sovereignty over its waters as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Hang said. “Vietnam asks China not to further complicate the situation in the South China Sea,” she said.

The Vietnam Fisheries Society earlier this week asked the government to take “strong action” against China’s fishing ban.

Vietnam in April charged a Chinese marine surveillance ship with sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat near the contested Paracel Islands.

China supports WHO-led review of pandemic after it is over

BEIJING, May 8: China supports a World Health Organisation (WHO)-led review into the coronavirus pandemic after it is declared over, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.

The review should be conducted in an “open, transparent and inclusive manner” under the leadership of WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying said at the regular ministry briefing on Friday.

Hua’s comments come in the backdrop of increasing global pressure to allow an international probe into the origins of the pandemic and the novel coronavirus, which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

China has dismissed US allegations that the virus came from a laboratory.

More than 3.8 million have been sickened in the Covid-19 pandemic and over 268000 have died.

The epidemic situation in China has improved dramatically with the government having lowered risk levels for the country on Thursday; daily cases are in low single digits.

Hua said the enquiry should be carried out an “appropriate time after the pandemic is over”.

It should also be based on the protocols of the International Health Regulations, and be authorised by the World Health Assembly or Executive Committee - the WHO’s dual governing bodies.

Countries including the US and Australia have called for an international probe into the origins of the pathogen and others like the UK and Germany have urged greater transparency from China.

Until now, China has rejected similar calls for an investigation, accusing the US of “politicising the issue”.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has claimed that the US has evidence that the virus originated from a high-security lab in Wuhan.

“We have asked him several times: where is the evidence? Take it out if you have it,” spokesperson Hua said at Friday’s briefing.

“We have stated the facts many times, but Pompeo still repeatedly smears and attacks China on the issue. We are forced to expose the US according to public information and media reports,” Hua said.

India conveys concerns about terror sanctuaries in Pakistan to US special envoy Khalilzad

NEW DELHI, May 7: India on Thursday conveyed its strong concerns about a spike in terrorist violence in Afghanistan to US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, and called for rooting out terror sanctuaries in Pakistan to ensure peace in the war-torn country, people familiar with developments said.

The concerns were conveyed to the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation during his meetings with external affairs minister S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, it was cited on condition of anonymity.

“The existence of terror sanctuaries in Pakistan and their role in terrorist violence in Afghanistan figured in the meetings,” said one of the perons.

The development came against the backdrop of worries in New Delhi that India’s viewpoint on the Afghan peace process is being given the short shrift by the US, which is apparently focused solely on implementing its deal with the Taliban to facilitate the withdrawal of American forces.

India has also been concerned about the increased activities of Pakistan-based terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed in Afghanistan and the targeting of minorities, including the March 25 attack on a Sikh place of worship in Kabul that killed nearly 30 people, including an Indian citizen. Indian intelligence agencies believe the Islamic State, which claimed the attack, targeted the Sikhs after being unable to go ahead with plans to strike the Indian embassy.

“India is deeply concerned at the upsurge in violence and supports call for immediate ceasefire and [the] need to assist the people of Afghanistan in dealing with [the] coronavirus pandemic,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement on Khalilzad’s meetings.

The Indian side “emphasised that putting an end to terrorist safe havens and sanctuaries is necessary for enduring and sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan”, the statement added, without naming Pakistan.

Both Jaishankar and Doval, the statement said, “reiterated India’s continued support for strengthening peace, security, unity, democratic and inclusive polity and protection of rights of all sections of the Afghan society, including Afghan Hindus and Sikhs”.

Khalilzad, the first high-level foreign dignitary to travel to New Delhi since Covid-19-related travel restrictions came into effect, visited India as part of a three-nation tour that will also take him to Qatar and Pakistan.

He provided an update on the US peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. The US side “recognised India’s constructive contribution in economic development, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan” and “laid importance to India’s crucial and continuing role in sustainable peace, security and stability in Afghanistan”, the external affairs ministry’s statement said.

The Indian side also said it will continue extending humanitarian food and medical supplies to Afghanistan to deal with the pandemic. India recently shipped another 10,000 tonnes of 75,000 tonnes of wheat gifted to Afghanistan from Kandla port to Chabahar port in Iran. The wheat will then be transported by road to Afghanistan. Another 5,000 tonnes of wheat was shipped via Chabahar last month.

Khalilzad was accompanied for his meetings by Lisa Curtis, senior director in the National Security Council, and US ambassador Kenneth Juster.

In Doha, Khalilzad met Taliban representatives to press for the full implementation of the US-Taliban agreement. In Islamabad, he will meet Pakistani officials to discuss the Afghan peace process.

“At each stop, he will urge support for an immediate reduction in violence, accelerated timeline for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, and cooperation among all sides in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic in Afghanistan,” said a statement issued by the US state department on Wednesday.

Riyaz Naikoo setback upsets Syed Salahuddin, says the spark will spread in region

NEW DELHI, May 7: A day after security forces eliminated terror group Hizbul Mujahideen’s Kashmir chief Riyaz Naikoo in a joint operation, the terror group’s Pakistan-based boss Syed Salahuddin said the sacrifice would help them achieve the mission that they had set out to achieve.

Salahuddin, who also heads the alliance of pro-Pakistan terrorist groups, called the United Jihad council, warned India that the Kashmir issue is a spark that could set off a fire that envelopes the entire region.

The message, according to a statement issued by the terror group said, was delivered at a meeting to condole the death of 32-year-old Riyaz Naikoo and his associate Adil Ahmed who were killed in Wednesday’s operation carried out by Jammu and Kashmir police and troopers from the 21 Rashtriya Rifles.

Salahuddin was designated as a global terrorist by the United States in 2017. According to the US, Salahuddin had committed or poses a “significant risk of committing acts of terrorim”.

But that classification hasn’t made a difference to the Hizbul Mujahideen boss who has the support of Pakistan’s deep state and has been participating in public events for years. The Pakistan government had then declared that it will not act against Salahuddin since the United Nations Security Council hadn’t classified him as a terrorist.

Islamabad hasn’t acted against those designated by the UNSC either. There are about 130 individuals who have been sanctioned by the UNSC. On them, Pakistan says it can’t find most of the individuals sanctioned by the UNSC due to inadequate or inaccurate information about them in UNSC dossiers.

Riyaz Naikoo’s luck ran out at 7th hideout

Syed Salahuddin’s statement described Riyaz Naikoo’s status in the Hizbul Mujahideen hierarchy as its chief commander. His elimination is a huge setback to the terror group and will lead to its weakening in south Kashmir, where the Hizbul has traditionally been active, a senior police officer said.

This part of Kashmir is also where Riyaz Naikoo had an extensive network.

He had many hideouts in this area, Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar said on Thursday. Kumar said they had already busted six of his hideouts. The one where he was found dead after the firefight with security forces was his seventh. Because there was a possibility that this house could be linked to others in the vicinity via underground tunnels, the security forces even brought earth-digging equipment, including four JCB machines, to block any such effort to slip out.

Kumar said it was natural that the terror group would be impacted by his elimination. “Riyaz Naikoo was the most experienced… When the next one is named, we will go after him…. We already know who it is going to be,” the Kashmir region’s top police officer said.

Syed Salahuddin’s statement on Thursday did not name anyone. He hadn’t formally designated Riyaz Naikoo either who was seen to be the de facto chief of the Hizbul in Kashmir.

Putin awards commemorative World War II medal to Kim Jong Un

PYONGYANG, May 5: Russian President Vladimir Putin has awarded Kim Jong Un a commemorative war medal marking the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, the Russian embassy in Pyongyang said Tuesday.

The medal was awarded to the North Korean leader for his role in preserving the memory of Soviet soldiers who died on North Korean territory, the statement said.

Russia’s ambassador in North Korea, Alexander Matsegora, presented the award to the country’s Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon on Tuesday. Kim, who was rumored earlier this month to have fallen ill, didn’t attend the ceremony.

Photos of the meeting in Pyongyang showed Russian and North Korean officials wearing face masks despite the fact that North Korea so far has not reported a single case of the new coronavirus.

Last year Russia invited Kim to visit Moscow on May 9 and attend the military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the victory. Putin announced the decision to postpone the parade indefinitely last month because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2015, the North Korean leader rejected a similar invitation to the 70th anniversary, citing domestic affairs.


As world fights Covid-19, some spreading terror virus: Modi

NEW DELHI, May 4: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday underlined how even as the world is fighting coronavirus, some people are busy spreading other viruses. He identified those viruses as terrorism and fake news. The PM did not name any country.

“Even as the world fights Covid-19, some people are busy spreading some other deadly viruses such as terrorism, fake news and doctored videos to divide communities and countries,” said Modi while addressing Non-Aligned Movement Summit through video conferencing.

The PM spotlighted India’s own efforts in combating the coronavirus through “democracy, discipline and decisiveness”.

“During this crisis we have shown how democracy, discipline and decisiveness can come together to create a genuine people’s movement. Indian civilization sees the whole world as one family. As we care for our own citizens, we’re also extending help to other countries,” said Modi.

This was the first time that Modi was participating in a NAM conference. The PM also explained how the country, despite its massive demands, has reached out to help others in this hour of need. The PM said India is regarded as “pharmacy of the world” and has sent medicines to over 120 countries.

“To counter Covid-19 we’ve promoted coordination in our immediate neighbourhood and we’re organising online training to share India’s medical expertise with many others. Despite our own needs we’ve ensured medical supplies to over 123 partner countries,” the PM said.

New Delhi is active in global efforts to develop remedies and vaccines, the PM added. Touching upon the role of NAM, the PM exhorted the grouping to remain “inclusive”.

“Today, humanity faces its most serious crisis in many decades. At this time, NAM can help promote global solidarity. NAM has often been the world’s moral voice. To retain this role, NAM must remain inclusive,” said the PM.

India lodges ‘strong protest’ over Pakistan SC’s poll order on ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’

NEW DELHI, May 4: India has lodged a strong protest with Islamabad against Pakistan Supreme Court’s order allowing general elections in the so-called “Gilgit-Baltistan” region and asked it to immediately vacate all areas under its illegal occupation.

The Pakistani court had last week allowed the amendment to the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018 to conduct the general elections in September as well as for setting up a caretaker government during the interregnum period.

The ministry of external affairs (MEA) said India made a “demarche”, formal diplomatic representations, to a senior Pakistani diplomat to protest Pakistan’s efforts to bring “material change” in Pakistan-occupied territories.

“It was clearly conveyed that the entire Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of India by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession,” MEA has said.

Eye on Gulf countries, Pak ups Twitter campaign to target India over ‘Islamophobia’

NEW DELHI, May 3: Indian security agencies have identified nearly 7,000 accounts on micro-blogging site Twitter that were opened in April 2020 and are being operated from Pakistan, a report submitted to the government this week has said. These social media handles, the report said, had launched a shrill campaign against India that was aimed at influencing India’s relations with the Gulf countries.

Indian intelligence agencies had earlier reported an organised effort by Pakistan to target New Delhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media by Twitter accounts opened between January and March. The report handed over to the government this week said it had spotted 7,000 more accounts that were opened in April, all of them being operated from Pakistan.

The barrage of tweets, quite a few of them by handles that pass themselves off as residents or citizens of Gulf countries, have gained some traction in the local social media landscape in Islamic countries and led a number of people in the gulf countries also to fall prey to it, the report said.

By way of an example, the report names one verified Twitter handle of a prominent national of a Gulf country that had been taken in by claims of persecution of Muslims in Kashmir. This account, put out a photograph of a dead man with a caption, ‘Persecution of people in Kashmir’.

When security officials looked around, they found the photograph was of a Jaish terrorist killed in an encounter along with 2 Pakistani terrorists in Dhriti village of Jammu and Kashmir’s on 14 September 2018.

Then there was a tweet purportedly by an Omani princess that advocated expulsion of Indian workers from the country. Sayyida Mona bint Fahd al Said, the Omani princess whose name was used by the impersonator, issued clarification that she had no connection to the tweets and the handle was a fake.

Indian officials said it was clear that the social media campaign wasn’t just an invention of Pakistan’s deep state, the Inter Services Intelligence, but had its origin in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s shrill pitch against India, and PM Modi at the UN General Assembly in August last year.

It was the first occasion that PM Imran Khan, at an international event, had attempted to rally the world’s Muslim community to what he described as the plight of Muslims in Kashmir and beyond.

It has been a recurring theme in statements from Khan and his foreign ministry as well but hadn’t found any reverberation outside of Islamabad. Khan had repeatedly made the same point during protests against amendments to the citizenship law that fast-tracked citizenship for religious minorities from Islamic countries in India’s neighbourhood.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, asked about the flurry of social media posts in West Asia, this week stopped short of naming Pakistan but described much of the material on social media platforms as “propaganda by interested parties”.

On some commentators calling out out what they said were Islamophobic social media posts by a handful of Indians working in the Middle East, Srivastava underscored that “stray tweets cannot be used to characterise our bilateral relations with these countries, and the real picture of these relations is very different”.

Kim Jong Un makes appearance

SEOUL, May 2: North Korea's Kim Jong Un has made his first public appearance in nearly three weeks, state media reported Saturday, following intense speculation that the leader of the nuclear-armed nation was seriously ill or possibly dead.

The North reported that Kim had attended the opening of a fertiliser factory and released pictures it said showed the leader cutting a ribbon at the ceremony on Friday in Sunchon, north of Pyongyang, although the appearance could not be verified.

Rumours about Kim's health have been swirling since his conspicuous no-show at April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather, the North's founder -- the most important day in the country's political calendar.

His absence triggered a series of fevered rumours and unconfirmed reports over his condition, while the United States and South Korea insisted they had no information to believe any of the conjecture was true.

Seoul's unification ministry reacted to Saturday's report by saying "groundless" speculation about Kim had caused "unnecessary confusion", calling for more careful consideration in future.


North Korean defector-turned-lawmaker '99%' sure that Kim has died: Report

SEOUL, May 1: A North Korea defector elected as a lawmaker in South Korea on Friday claimed he was "99 per cent" sure that Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-un died after surgery amid rising speculation over his health, according to a media report.

Unconfirmed reports about Kim's ill health have mounted since he has not appeared in public for nearly three weeks.

"I've wondered how long he could have endured after cardiovascular surgery. I've been informed that Kim died last weekend," Ji Seong-ho, who earned a proportional representation seat of a minor party in the April 15 elections, told Yonhap News Agency, adding that North Korea may make the related announcement this weekend.

"It is not 100 per cent certain, but I can say the possibility is 99 percent. North Korea is believed to be grappling with a complicated succession issue," he said.

Ji did not reveal the source of where he got his information and his claim cannot be verified independently, said the Yonhap News Agency report.

The lawmaker-elect said that Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North's leader, is likely to succeed him, as many experts have already speculated.

South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae has reaffirmed that it has not detected any "unusual" signs in North Korea regarding Kim's health.

Canada bans assault-style weapons after mass shooting

OTTAWA, May 1: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Canada is banning the use and trade of assault-style weapons immediately.

Trudeau cited numerous mass shootings in the country, including the killing of 22 people in Nova Scotia April 18 and 19. He announced the ban of over 1,500 models and variants of assault-style firearms, including the AR-15 and other weapons that have been used in a number of mass shootings in the United States.

“Canadians need more than thoughts and prayers,” Trudeau said.

The Cabinet order doesn’t forbid owning any of the military-style weapons and their variants but it does ban the use and trade in them. He said the order has a two-year amnesty period for current owners, and there will be a compensation program that will require a bill passed in Parliament.

In the meantime, they can be exported, returned to manufacturers, and transported only to deactivate them or get rid of them. In certain limited circumstances, they can be used for hunting.

“You do not need an AR-15 to take down a deer,” Trudeau said. “So, effective immediately, it is no longer permitted to buy, sell, transport, import or use military-grade, assault weapons in this country.”

Trudeau said the weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time.

“There is no use - and no place - for such weapons in Canada,” he said.

Mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada, but Trudeau said they are happening more often. Trudeau noted he was nearby when in Montreal when gunman Marc Lepine killed 14 women and himself at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique college in 1989. The Ruger Mini-14 Lepine used is among weapons included in the ban.

“As of today the market for assault weapons is closed. Enough is enough,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said.

Trudeau has said his government would introduce further gun control legislation prohibiting military-style assault weapons, a measure that had already been planned before the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the current parliamentary session.

The gunman in Nova Scotia, 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, shot 13 people to death and set fires that killed nine others in one of the worst mass shootings in the country’s history. Police have said he used a handgun that was obtained in Canada and long guns that he obtained in the U.S., but they have not specifically said what guns he used. The rampage started with an assault on his girlfriend and it ended with 22 people dead in communities across central and northern Nova Scotia. A number of people had disputes with the gunman.

Opposition Conservative leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau of using the “immediate emotion of the horrific attack in Nova Scotia to push the Liberals’ ideological agenda and make major firearms policy changes.”

Scheer said the Nova Scotia shooter did not have a firearms licence, so all of his guns were illegal.

“Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals who obtain their guns illegally,” Scheer said in a statement. “The vast majority of gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained firearms. Nothing the Trudeau Liberals announced today addresses this problem.”

Iran condemns Germany’s designation of Hezbollah as terrorist group

BERELIN, May 1: Iran has condemned Berlin’s ban of Hezbollah activity in Germany and its designation of the Iranian-backed Lebanese group as a terrorist organisation, saying the move serves U.S. and Israeli interests, Iranian state media reported on Friday.

German police on Thursday raided mosque associations alleged to be close to Hezbollah and banned all the group’s activity on its soil after designating it a terrorist organisation, a much-anticipated step long urged by Israel and the United States.

“It appears that certain countries in Europe are adopting their stances without considering the realities in the West Asia region and by paying regard only to the objectives of the propaganda machine of the Zionist regime and the confused US regime,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said in a statement late on Thursday.

He criticised the German government for accusing Hezbollah “of promoting armed struggle with terrorist means.” He said the group was “an official and legitimate” member of the Lebanese government and parliament and a force of “political stability.”

According to the German Interior Ministry, the ban means that Hezbollah symbols cannot be shown at gatherings and in publications or in the media and Hezbollah assets can be seized. Because it is a foreign organisation, it is not possible to ban and dissolve it, the ministry said in a statement.

Israel, which with the United States had been pushing Germany to ban the group, praised the move. Israel urged other European Union countries to take similar action.

The EU classifies Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist group, but not its political wing. Britain introduced legislation in February of last year, before it left the EU, that classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

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