Rescuers are widening a communication shaft in the hope of extracting a group of Chinese gold miners who have been trapped deep underground for 10 days in rising floodwaters, Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said yesterday. Twenty-two workers became trapped hundreds of meters underground at the Hushan mine near Qixia in eastern China’s Shandong province when an explosion on Jan. 10 sealed the entrance and cut off communications. Contact has been made with 11 miners at one location 540m below the surface. Another miner — apparently alone — is trapped 100m farther down. After days without any sign of life, a handwritten note was sent up on a metal wire that rescuers had on Sunday dropped into the mine. In it, the miners pleaded for food and medicine, and warned that water levels were high in the damaged mine. The whereabouts and condition of the other 10 miners are still unknown. At least four of the miners are injured, their note said. “One trapped miner was critically injured in the blast and is currently in a coma,” Song Xicheng (宋西成), deputy head of the rescue team, told CCTV. Rescuers have already dug at least two “lifeline” channels to send food, medicine, paper, pencils and telephones down to the stricken group. There are plans for the widest of the shafts, about the size of a maintenance hole, to be broadened to extract the miners once drilling is finished, CCTV said. The progress of the rescue has been slow because they are drilling through granite, an official said, adding that the extraction could be further complicated by the waterlogged state of the mine. “There is a lot of water in the shaft that may flow in and pose a danger to the trapped workers,” the official said. Overnight temperatures in Qixia are set to drop below freezing during the next
The number of North Koreans defecting to the South last year plummeted after Pyongyang closed its border in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Korean Ministry of Unification said yesterday. The figure has been on a steady decline for the past few years, but slumped to just 229 last year, the ministry said, far below the 1,047 of 2019. The vast majority of Northern defectors first travel to neighboring China, sometimes staying there for years before making their way to the South via third countries, and only a handful directly cross the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean Peninsula. However, the North has a ramshackle health system that would struggle to cope with a major disease outbreak and in January last year imposed a strict border closure to try to protect itself from COVID-19, which first emerged in China, its key ally. The North has not confirmed a single case of the virus — although experts have long said that it is unlikely to have escaped the pandemic. In September last year, the commander of the US Forces Korea said that Pyongyang had issued shoot-to-kill orders in its border areas to prevent the virus entering the country. “It looks like the number of [North Korean] people entering the South decreased due to the effects of North Korean-Chinese border control and restrictions of movement from third countries due to COVID-19,” the ministry said in a statement. Inter-Korean relations have been in a deep freeze since the collapse of a summit in Hanoi in 2019 between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and then-US president Donald Trump over what the nuclear-armed North would be willing to give up in exchange for a loosening of sanctions.
The man who told former US president Donald Trump that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wanted to denuclearize was yesterday named as South Korean minister of foreign affairs, hours before the inauguration of US President Joe Biden. Former South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong would be responsible for Seoul’s relations with the US after replacing Kang Kyung-wha, who was Seoul’s first female foreign minister when she was appointed in 2017. Chung, 74, was instrumental in brokering the talks between Trump and Kim, which saw three headline-grabbing meetings between the two, but little substantive progress. In March 2018, after a year in which the two leaders exchanged mutual insults, Chung visited Washington to brief Trump that Kim — who he had met earlier in Pyongyang — wanted to talk and was “committed to denuclearization.” An ecstatic Trump immediately accepted the request for a summit and Chung was deputized to make the announcement in an unorthodox nighttime briefing on the White House lawn. The two leaders met in a blaze of publicity in Singapore and signed a vaguely-worded statement on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but a second summit in Hanoi collapsed over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return. The process has been stalled ever since, while the North has showed off several new missiles at military parades in October last year and this month, when Kim pledged to strengthen its nuclear arsenal. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has long championed engagement with the North, and his office said in a statement that Chung had been “involved in every issue in the US-South Korea relationship,” and was the “best expert in the field of diplomacy and national security.” Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for US secretary of state, in his confirmation hearing on Tuesday told the US Senate that the
THOUSANDS DISPLACED: Immediate food and water needs of the survivors of an earthquake have been met, and local governments have started to function again
Grocery stores, gas stations and other shops were reopening yesterday in a quake-hit Indonesian city, where debris still covered streets and searchers continued to dig in the rubble for more victims. Immediate food and water needs have been met and the local governments have started to function again in the hardest-hit city of Mamuju and the neighboring district of Majene on Sulawesi Island, Indonesian National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Raditya Jati said in a statement. SLEEPING OUTDOORS Thousands of people were sleeping outdoors, fearing aftershocks, and the streets of Mamuju were still covered in debris. Security officers toured the city in a patrol van with a loudspeaker, urging people to observe COVID-19 health protocols as reopened gas stations and markets attracted large crowds. Disaster Task Force Commander Firman Dahlan said a navy hospital ship, a university floating hospital and field health centers were providing care to help overwhelmed hospitals. A total of 79 people died in Mamuju and 11 in Majene from the magnitude 6.2 quake that struck early on Friday last week. More than 30,000 people had to flee from their damaged houses, and nearly 700 others were injured, many with serious injuries, the agency’s data showed. Dahlan said at least 12,900 evacuees remained in shelters in Mamuju and Majene in West Sulawesi province as of yesterday. Friday last week’s earthquake was one of a series of recent disasters to hit Indonesia. The disaster agency recorded 169 minor to major-scale disasters in the vast archipelago nation this month alone, including landslides, floods, tornadoes, tidal waves and earthquakes, that have left 160 people dead, 965 others injured and more than 802,000 displaced. The crash of a Sriwijaya Air jet on Jan. 9 killed all 62 people on board. Indonesia has confirmed 927,380 COVID-19 infections and 26,590 deaths, the most in Southeast Asia. Indonesia, home to more than 260 million people,
Vast rock formations the size of multistory buildings loomed above Ho Minh Phuc as he picked a path through the gloom inside the world’s largest cave. Phuc, who once earned a living through illegal logging, is a porter for the small tour groups that explore Vietnam’s Son Doong — a cave so large it has its own ecosystem and weather patterns. Home to flying foxes and a 70m rock formation resembling a dog’s paw, the cave is an otherworldly wonder that has reshaped the lives of the surrounding community since it opened for boutique tourism in 2013. Trapped in poverty, young men like Phuc once had little choice but to forage in the depths of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park — the World Heritage site where Son Doong lies. There they searched for precious agarwood, a hugely sought-after material known as “the wood of the gods” and widely used for incense. Others eked out a living from hunting endangered civets and porcupines in the forest. “We had to do all we could to avoid the forest rangers,” 35-year-old Phuc told reporters. “We did nothing good for nature.” Son Doong in central Quang Binh Province was first discovered by local forager Ho Khanh in 1991, when he stumbled upon an opening in a limestone cliff and heard the sounds of a river deep inside. However, after returning home through the thick surrounding jungle, Khanh forgot where the hidden entrance lay, and it stayed lost for another two decades. When he eventually led a team of British experts back there in 2009, the team found it had the largest cross-section of any cave anywhere on the planet. It is large enough to house the 40-floor skyscrapers of an entire New York City block, according to adventure tour company Oxalis, which guides visitors into the caves. When Son Doong was opened
WEEKLY UPDATE: The WHO said that the variant had spread to 10 more nations since a week ago, while in other developments, Beijing entered a partial lockdown
A strain of COVID-19 that was first detected in the UK has spread to at least 60 countries, the WHO said yesterday, 10 more than a week ago. With the global death toll now well past 2 million and new variants of the virus causing concern, countries around the world are grappling with how to slow infections until vaccines become widely available. A strain in South Africa, which like the UK one is believed to be more infectious, has now been reported in 23 countries and territories, the WHO said in its weekly update. The number of new deaths climbed to a record 93,000 over the previous seven days, with 4.7 million new cases reported over the same period, it said. The UK strain, first detected in the middle of last month, is thought by the WHO to be between 50 and 70 percent more infectious than the original. While they are more transmissible, the two variants are not thought to be more deadly. Pfizer and German partner BioNTech have said that their vaccines are effective against the mutation found on the UK virus variant, known as B117. The arrival of mass vaccination campaigns in the US and Europe had brought hope that the end of the pandemic was in sight. The EU on Tuesday said that it was aiming to inoculate 70 percent of its adult population before the end of August. However, many EU countries — and other nations, including India and Russia — have struggled to get their inoculation programs off the ground. In China, a partial lockdown was imposed on the capital, Beijing, with 1.6 million residents banned from leaving the city.
DOUBLE AGENDA: The prime minister is seeking to win Arab votes, but also wants to weaken the Joint List, which holds 15 seats, a political science professor said
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing his fourth re-election battle in two years, is courting Arab Israelis. “A new era begins today,” Netanyahu said during a visit this month to Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city. Netanyahu, threatened by a damaging split in his Likud party, has made several stops in a game-changing charm offensive toward Arab voters. At a vaccination center in Umm al-Fahm on Jan. 1, he highlighted Israel’s rapid inoculation program amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while in Nazareth he promised investment and anti-crime initiatives, and apologized for potentially offensive past remarks. Arab Israelis — usually Palestinians who stayed on their land following the Jewish state’s creation in 1948, and their descendants — make up about 20 percent of the country’s roughly 9 million people. The community’s growing political importance was evident in the last vote, in March last year, when the mainly Arab Joint List alliance won an unprecedented 15 seats in the 120-member Knesset, forming a key part of the anti-Netanyahu bloc. Netanyahu has on several occasions in the past few years called some Arab Israelis and their political leaders terrorism supporters and enemies of the state. Experts described his new pitch to Arabs as a nuanced political maneuver aimed at boosting his own support, while also sowing enough political chaos to discourage some Arabs from voting, thereby trimming the influence of his Arab rivals. Netanyahu is seeking to “win Arab votes, but especially wants to weaken the Joint List,” Tel Aviv University political science professor Jamal Amal told reporters. Among Netanyahu’s record of anti-Arab rhetoric, a statement from Israel’s 2015 election stands out. In a polling-day bid to energize supporters, he warned that Arab Israelis were voting “in droves” and suggested that left-wing groups had bussed Arab citizens to polling stations. Then-US president Barack Obama accused Netanyahu of portraying Arab Israelis as “an invading force.” Arabs
Israeli tanks on Tuesday fired on Hamas positions in Gaza after a rocket was fired from the Palestinian enclave toward Israel, Israel’s military said. “Late in the evening a rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory,” the army said in a statement on WhatsApp. “In response Israeli tanks struck Hamas positions” in the south of the Gaza strip. An earlier military statement on the rocket said that warning sirens were not activated in built-up areas, indicating that the projectile fell on open ground. There were no immediate reports of casualties. It was the second rocket attack in as many days. Early on Monday, militants in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets toward the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, with Israeli military sources indicating that they had dropped into the Mediterranean Sea. Israel responded a few hours later with fighter planes striking Hamas facilities in southern Gaza. Palestinians in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank are heading for legislative and presidential elections in May and July, the first in 15 years. The polls are part of a warming of ties between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ West Bank-based Fatah party. The dates were announced on Friday last week in a presidential decree by Abbas.
Sitting on a low bench at her shop in a Nairobi slum, Grace Wangari sifted through a handful of grains that a waiting customer had just ordered. As she poured them into a shopping bag, the customer scrolled through her phone to pay for the purchase. Normally, Wangari would have been paid in shilling notes, Kenya’s hard currency, but in some ways she preferred the digital payment that was instantly transferred to her phone. “I am happy with this transaction, because there is no risk of losing my stock to conmen or people who have come to take goods on credit,” said Wangari, a middle-aged trader in Mukuru Kayiaba, one of the city’s poorest slums. The transaction happened through Sarafu, a blockchain-based community currency that is helping thousands of Kenyan slum dwellers pay for food, water and sanitary items as they battle through the COVID-19 economic downturn. Each week, families are issued with virtual vouchers worth 400 Kenyan shillings (US$4), which they can use to buy essential goods, said Roy Odhiambo, an innovation officer at Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), one of the groups behind the project. Vendors can then send the vouchers to Grassroots Economics, the Nairobi-based social enterprise that codeveloped Sarafu (“coins” in English) with US-based engineering firm BlockScience, and redeem them for cash. Odhiambo said that more than one-third of the vendors in Mukuru are already signed up to the project, which launched in 2019 with the aim of helping struggling families get hold of everyday basics without worrying about having cash on hand. Now the project is providing a lifeline for families trying to cope with the financial pain of the pandemic, he said. Antony Ngoka, a field coordinator with Grassroots Economics, said that thousands of slum residents, who are mostly casual workers, have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Unable to get loans from traditional
Outside a centuries-old stone church in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar, a drama troupe performed skits hailing the military defeat of the former leaders of the country’s Tigray region. As rifle-toting actors danced around chanting actresses, an audience cheered when the troupe denounced the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as a band of “traitors.” The performance was part of festivities marking the Orthodox Christian holiday of Epiphany, known as Timkat in Ethiopia, which commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. In a typical year, Timkat in Gondar is a sunny, lighthearted affair, capped by a ceremony at 17th-century stone baths — built during the time of Emperor Fasilides — in which thousands of people dive into holy water. The event is a main driver of tourism in Gondar, the former seat of Ethiopia’s royal empire, and in 2019 it earned a spot on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. However, this year is hardly typical for Ethiopia. The country is grappling with the conflict in Tigray as well as ethnic violence in other regions, and, most recently, simmering tensions along the border with Sudan. The crises have inspired some officials and ordinary Ethiopians to turn the event into a celebration of military might, using public statements and performances to project strength and issue warnings to would-be enemies. Even the official slogan of this year’s celebration — “Ethiopia’s Rebirth at Gondar’s Timkat” — is a reference to the Tigray conflict, which officials have characterized as a “law-enforcement operation.” “It is talking about Ethiopia’s renaissance, especially because of what the government is achieving with the law-enforcement operation,” Gondar Mayor Molla Melkamu said of the slogan. “It means that for Ethiopians, this is a new beginning.” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the military operations in Tigray in early November last year, saying that they were in response to TPLF-orchestrated
Donald Trump touted his administration’s accomplishments and wished his successor luck in a farewell video on his final full day as US president. “This week we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous,” Trump said in the video “farewell address,” released by the White House less than 24 hours before Joe Biden’s inauguration as US president. “We extend our best wishes. And we also want them to have luck — a very important word.” Trump said that his presidency was a triumph for everyday people, highlighting his top achievements, including efforts to normalize relations in the Middle East, the development of COVID-19 vaccinations and the creation of the US Space Force. “As president, my top priority, my constant concern, has always been the best interests of American workers and American families,” he said. “I did not seek the easiest course; by far, it was actually the most difficult. I did not seek the path that would get the least criticism. I took on the tough battles, the hardest fights, the most difficult choices because that’s what you elected me to do.” Trump said that as he prepares “to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday [yesterday], I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning.” “There’s never been anything like it,” he said of the support he has received. Trump was to leave Washington early yesterday after a farewell event at Joint Base Andrews. Once there, he was to board Air Force One for a final time, flying to Florida and becoming the first outgoing US president in more than a century to skip the inauguration of his successor. Trump has also refused to take part in any of the symbolic passing-of-the-torch transition traditions. He is skipping not just the ceremony at
DECIDING BLAME: While Pelosi has not yet sent the lone article of impeachment to the Senate, McConnell was setting a tone as Republicans mull whether to find Trump guilty
US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday explicitly blamed former US president Donald Trump for the riot at the US Capitol, saying that people were “fed lies,” and Trump and others “provoked” those intent on overturning US President Joe Biden’s election. Ahead of Trump’s second impeachment trial, McConnell’s remarks were his most severe regarding the former president. McConnell is setting a tone as Republicans weigh whether to convict Trump on the impeachment charge that is soon to be sent over from the House of Representatives: “Incitement of insurrection.” “The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.” The Republican leader vowed a “safe and successful” inauguration of Biden yesterday at the Capitol, where final preparations were under way amid heavy security. Trump’s last full day in office on Tuesday was also US senators’ first day back since the deadly Capitol siege and the House vote to impeach him for his role in the riots — an unparalleled time of transition as the Senate prepares for the second impeachment trial in two years and presses ahead with the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet. Three new Democratic senators-elect were yesterday set to be sworn into office, shortly after Biden’s inauguration, giving the Democrats the barest majority, a 50-50 Senate chamber. US Vice President Kamala Harris was to swear them in and serve as an eventual tiebreaking vote. The Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, are to take charge of the Senate as they launch a trial to hold the defeated president responsible for the siege, while also quickly confirming Biden’s Cabinet and being asked to consider passage of a
US federal authorities on Tuesday presented new details about three self-described members of a paramilitary group who are the first to be charged with plotting the attack on the US Capitol. The FBI said that a Virginia man, Thomas Edward Caldwell, appeared to be a leader of the effort. Caldwell and a man and woman from Ohio were all charged with conspiracy and other federal counts, the first of more than 125 people arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 assault to be charged with conspiracy. The chilling details in the case included communications between the defendants and others. “All members are in the tunnels under the capital,” the FBI quoted a message sent to Caldwell during the Capitol attack as saying. “Seal them in turn on gas.” Other messages referred to the legislators as “traitors” and called for “night hunting.” The FBI collected social media messages, photos and video to identify them as part of the Oath Keepers, which believe in a “shadowy conspiracy” to strip Americans of their rights. Messages included in FBI charging documents had quotes with the three suspects exulting over breaching the Capitol, and Caldwell telling an Oath Keepers leader that he was ready to attack Ohio’s capital of Columbus. “We need to do this at the local level,” he allegedly messaged. “Lets [sic] storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!” Details of the documents made public offer some insight into the planning and coordination behind the attack, which apparently took law enforcement by surprise despite warnings online. The Oath Keepers often recruitscurrent and former military, police or other first responders. Records show that Donovan Crowl, 50, served in the US Marines. He was arrested along with Jessica Watkins, 38. Both are Champaign County, Ohio, residents. It was not immediately clear whether either Caldwell or Watkins have military
In Manaus in the north of Brazil, residents can no longer rely on the state to treat loved ones suffering from COVID-19. Instead of taking them to hospitals, relatives of the stricken wait up to 12 hours under the blazing sun to buy their own oxygen supplies. “Everyone here has a family member being treated at home. They prefer that to leaving them to die in the hospitals,” said Fernando Marcelino, pointing to the dozens of people waiting like him at the new oxygen market. In Amazonas state, the capital of which is Manaus, a second COVID-19 wave has hit hard, and the health system is at breaking point. The oxygen shortage has exacerbated the public health crisis in Manaus, which already was one of Brazil’s worst-hit cities during the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave. The disease has killed 211,491 people throughout the country. To make matters worse, a new COVID-19 strain believed to be much more contagious was recently detected in Amazonas. The state is the second-worst-affected of 27 Brazilian states, with 149 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. In Manaus, a city of 2.2 million, that figure shot up from 142 to 187 in the past few days. The central government has been criticized for its passive response to the crisis. It is now trying to increase oxygen shipments to Amazonas, which is connected to the rest of the country primarily by air and river. The government has also helped evacuate patients to other states for treatment. “The oxygen is arriving, but we don’t know how long that will last for,” said Marcelino, wearing two masks, gloves and goggles. An evangelical preacher, Marcelino found out about a company in the city’s industrial zone that sells oxygen to those with cylinders for 300 reales to 600 reales (US$56 to US$112), depending on the size. Dozens of vehicles line up, waiting to make a purchase. A
FINAL MAJOR ACTIONS: Trump also approved an executive order that halts the deportation of Venezuelans for 18 months, and could help up to 200,000 people
Former US president Donald Trump yesterday pardoned former chief strategist Steve Bannon as part of a flurry of clemency action in the final hours of his White House term that benefited more than 140 people, including rapper Lil Wayne and former members of the US Congress. The pardon for Bannon nullifies a prosecution that was still in its early stages and likely months away from trial in New York’s Manhattan borough, effectively eliminating any prospect for punishment. Besides Bannon, others to get pardons were Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty in the fall of last year in a scheme to lobby the White House to drop an investigation into the looting of a Malaysian wealth fund, and Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was charged last October with cyberstalking during a heated divorce. “Steve Bannon is getting a pardon from Trump after defrauding Trump’s own supporters into paying for a wall that Trump promised Mexico would pay for,” US Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter. “And if that all sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves.” Bannon has been charged with duping thousands of investors who believed their money would be used to fulfill Trump’s chief campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border. Instead, he allegedly diverted more than US$1 million, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself. Bannon did not respond to questions on Tuesday. In August last year, he was pulled from a luxury yacht off the coast of Connecticut and brought before a judge in Manhattan, where he pleaded not guilty. When he emerged from the courthouse, Bannon tore off his mask, smiled and waved to news cameras. As he went to a waiting vehicle,
US President Joe Biden’s nominee for US secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, on Tuesday pledged to tackle extremists in the military’s own ranks, after some members of the military dressed in civilian clothing took part in the attack on the US Capitol. “The activity that we’ve seen recently in terms of potential racists or extremist behavior within our ranks is in my view absolutely unacceptable,” said Austin, a former general who is set to become the first African American to head the Pentagon. In a hearing of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, Austin promised “to rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity.” His comments came as 12 members of the US National Guard force deployed to protect Biden’s inauguration yesterday were removed during a sweep of background checks to root out any members with potential links to extremist groups. “The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies, but we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks,” said Austin, whose nomination has to be confirmed by the Senate. When asked to name the main threat to the US, the 67-year-old cited the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by China. “It’s killed over 400,000 of our American citizens. That’s just an incredible, incredible loss of life,” he said, offering his department’s help to combat the virus. However, he said that “China is our most challenging, our most significant challenge going forward.” He said that under his leadership, the Pentagon would “make sure that we are prepared to meet any challenge and that we continue to present a credible deterrent to China, or any other aggressor who would want to take us on, and convince them
GERMANY Drunk Trump hater arrested A 26-year-old was detained in Berlin, twice, after throwing snowballs and other projectiles at the US consulate and scuffling with security personnel while yelling slogans against former US president Donald Trump, police said yesterday. The man, an Afghan citizen who lives in Berlin, and whose name was not given in line with German privacy laws, first appeared outside the consulate in the southwestern district of Dahlem yelling and throwing snowballs at about 3pm. When security officials told him to leave the area, he started throwing snowballs at them, too, police said. Authorities handcuffed the man, and allege that he then slammed his own head against a police vehicle, briefly knocking himself out. He was taken to a hospital before being released. Tests indicated he was mildly intoxicated, police said. At about 10:30pm, the man reappeared outside the consulate and threw two half-full beverage cans at police officers. They were again able to overpower him and, while he was being held, police allege that he again slammed his own head against a police vehicle. This time he was not injured, but damaged the vehicle, police said. Another breath test indicated his blood alcohol was about double what it had been previously. UNITED STATES Man accused of being agent A Massachusetts-based political scientist and author has been accused of secretly working for the government of Iran while lobbying US officials on issues such has nuclear policy, US federal authorities said on Tuesday. Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi was arrested by FBI agents at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts, on Monday, officials said. He has been charged in federal court in New York with acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Iran. Afrasiabi appeared before a Boston federal court judge via videoconference during a brief hearing and a detention hearing was
AFGHAN DEAL: The call from the insurgent group came just days after the US reduced its troop levels from 4,500 soldiers to 2,500 at US President Donald Trump’s direction
The Taliban has called on US president-elect Joe Biden to honor an agreement to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by May to secure intra-Afghan peace talks and end the two-decades-long war. “Steps must now be taken to end the war, not to prolong it, and the agreement was made for the purpose,” Mohammad Naeem, a senior spokesman in the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said on Monday, referring to their accord with the US, which was signed in February last year and paves the way for a complete withdrawal of US troops by May in exchange for Taliban security guarantees. “The lack of complete implementation of the agreement can affect the ongoing process of negotiations,” he added. The call from the insurgent group comes just days after the US reduced its troop levels from 4,500 to 2,500 at US President Donald Trump’s direction, despite opposition from US Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who have warned of the potential effects on counterterrorism operations. Naeem cheered the reduction on Twitter, writing that the move was a “good advancement.” While it is unclear whether Biden would withdraw all US troops by the May deadline, his nominee for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CNN earlier this month that the new administration would support “diplomacy” with the Taliban, urging the insurgent group to cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, ensure a reduction in violence and participate in “good-faith negotiations” with the Afghan government. International Crisis Group senior analyst Andrew Watkins said that the withdrawal deadline of May 1 is the biggest early challenge for the peace process and the most urgent decision for the Biden team. “If the Biden administration ignores the deadline set down in the US-Taliban agreement without discussing and clearing a delay with the insurgents, the Taliban will almost certainly respond by escalating their use of
The Palauan president-elect has vowed to stand up to Chinese “bullying” in the Pacific, saying that the archipelago nation is set to stand by its alliances with “true friends,” Taiwan and the US. Surangel Whipps Jr, 52, a supermarket owner and two-time senator from a prominent Palauan family, is to be sworn in as the new president tomorrow, succeeding his brother-in-law, Tommy Remengesau Jr. In a forthright interview, Whipps said that the US had demonstrated over the years that it was a reliable friend of Palau, most recently shown by its delivery of 6,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s important for countries to have shared values support each and work together,” Whipps said. “There is a competition, yes [between the US and China], but that’s their competition. It’s about what we believe.” “There are thoughts that the ‘United States and China are in a race’; I think what it is really about is freedom and the exercise of democracy and many times, we feel big countries want to bully small countries,” he said. “It’s important to have a strong partner that is there for us.” The US Coast Guard and the Palauan Maritime Administration last month seized a Chinese fishing vessel suspected of illegally harvesting sea cucumbers inside Palau’s territorial waters. “This is about securing our borders and other countries that don’t respect other countries’ borders are not acceptable,” Whipps said. “Stealing and offering bribes, that’s just got to stop — illegal fishing has to stop. As countries, we should also be responsible to our people, and tell them not to go to other countries and do these kinds of things,” he said. Countries that want to be regarded as global leaders should take responsibility for the actions of their citizens, Whipps said, adding that outgoing Palauan Vice President Raynold B. Oilouch, also the
Snow lies knee-deep in the pastoral town of Gulmarg, or “meadow of flowers,” on Indian-controlled Kashmir’s high plateau. With its blanket of white, the idyllic hill station is seeing tourists again fill its hotels, and ski, sledge and hike its Himalayan landscape. The heavy influx of tourists is a dramatic change for the tourism industry in disputed Kashmir, which faced the double whammy of the COVID-19 pandemic and harsh curbs on civil rights that India imposed on the region in August 2019. Gulmarg was developed as a resort by the British nearly a century ago. In summer, tourists meander through meadows, ravines and valleys of evergreen forests. In winter, they snowboard and hike on Asia’s largest ski terrain. The 2019 end of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and an unprecedented security clampdown morphed Gulmarg into a ghost town. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries pegged the economic losses in the region at US$5.3 billion and about half-a-million jobs lost for the year ending in August last year. Authorities in March last year enforced a harsh lockdown to combat COVID-19, nearly halting foreign travel, but it made Indians reconsider their own vacations. Once snow coated the hill station last month, they decided to travel to Gulmarg and for the first time in 15 months, hotels are sold out until the end of next month. “Nobody is worried about the virus. Everybody is feeling free,” said Meenu Nanda, 38, an Indian tourist.