Iraq's Governing Council signed an interim constitution yesterday, a key step towards a planned hand-over of sovereignty by US-led occupation forces to Iraqis on June 30. \nThe signing took place at a hastily arranged ceremony in Baghdad after Shiite members of the 25-member council dropped their objections to the document over the weekend. \nJust before the signing, loud explosions echoed across central Baghdad. At least one of the blasts was caused by a rocket hitting a house, witnesses said, adding that there were no casualties. The US Army said it had no immediate information. \nThe signing had been delayed twice -- first by bomb attacks on Shiites last Tuesday that killed at least 181 people, and then by last-minute doubts among Shiites that forced a high-profile ceremony on Friday to be abandoned. \nRepresentatives of the five groups that backed out on Friday spent the weekend in the holy city of Najaf talking with top clerics including Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who wields immense influence over Iraq's 60 percent Shiite majority. \nThey announced on Sunday that Sistani still had deep reservations about the document but had given them the go-ahead to sign it in the interests of advancing political transition. \nUnder a US timetable, an Iraqi government is to take over sovereignty on June 30 and elections for a transitional assembly are to be held by the end of January next year. \nMahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish member of the Council, told reporters before the ceremony that the document was to be signed without changes. \nUS troops and Iraqi security forces in Baghdad were on high alert against any attempt by guerrillas to disrupt the signing of the constitution. \nOn Sunday evening, police said 10 rockets were fired at the headquarters of the US-led administration in Baghdad, close to where the document is to be signed. There were no serious injuries. \nMohammed Hussein al-Hakim, who is the son of a top Najaf cleric and sat in on the discussions at the weekend, said clerics were unhappy with the document but understood its importance. \n"The religious authorities have made their position clear to the politicians, but don't want to interfere directly," Hakim said.
SCHEDULE: The delegation is due to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen this morning and witness the signing of an MOU on bilateral health cooperation in the afternoon US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar yesterday arrived in Taipei aboard a US government plane at the head of a delegation that is the highest-level visit by a US official since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979. Azar’s flight landed at Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) at 4:48pm, nearly one hour earlier than scheduled, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The apron where it landed is reserved for military aircraft, the Songshan Air Force Base Command said. The members of Azar’s delegation included HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, HHS Chief of Staff Brian
CHINESE FIGHTERS: Beijing marked the US Cabinet member’s visit by briefly sending two warplanes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait yesterday morning President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday met with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar in the highest-level official meeting between the two nations since 1979. “It is a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from [US] President [Donald] Trump to Taiwan,” Azar said during the open portion of his courtesy call to the Presidential Office, which was streamed live online before Tsai and Azar held a closed-door meeting. “Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent,
Taiwanese-independence advocates yesterday accused former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of breaking national security laws and called on the judiciary to investigate after his statement that “China will wage a battle, which will be quick and will be the last battle for Taiwan.” Ma showed his true colors “as a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party” in his speech on Monday when he said the “first battle will be the last,” Taiwan Republic Office (台灣國辦公室) director Chilly Chen (陳峻涵) said. “Ma is threatening Taiwanese by claiming that Beijing will launch a quick invasion of Taiwan, but that the US military will have no
PARTNERSHIP AND LEARNING: A Princeton University health policy researcher said that the nation would be a ‘treasure trove’ of information for the US health chief US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on Friday said he wants to learn about Taiwan’s “incredibly effective” response to COVID-19, even though the nation did things that the US has fumbled, such as having a unified strategy and citizens willing to wear masks. Azar leads a US delegation arriving today for a three-day visit to Taiwan. They are to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and health system leaders, and Azar is to give a speech to public health graduates. “The message of this trip is about Taiwan,” Azar said in an interview, deflecting a question about China.