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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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