Trump ‘looking forward’ to next presidential debate

US President Donald Trump removes his mask upon return to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on October 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump spent three days hospitalized for coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 06 October 2020

Trump ‘looking forward’ to next presidential debate

  • The debate has been thrown into doubt after Trump’s hospitalization last Friday

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wants the next debate against his Democratic challenger Joe Biden to go ahead despite his bout of coronavirus.
“I am looking forward to the debate on the evening of Thursday, October 15th in Miami. It will be great!” Trump tweeted.
The debate, which will be in a town hall format with audience members putting questions to the candidates, has been thrown into doubt after Trump’s hospitalization last Friday with the coronavirus.
He was discharged Monday and declared himself on Tuesday via Twitter to be “FEELING GREAT!“
If Trump’s health does hold up and the debate goes ahead it will mark one of the last set piece events before the November 3 election where Trump has a chance to try and turn around his seeming slide to defeat.
Polls consistently show him behind Biden and their first debate on September 29, which immediately descended into an ugly shouting match, shows no sign of having improved Trump’s standing with voters.
A third and final debate is scheduled for October 22 in Nashville.
On Wednesday, Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence hold their sole debate in Utah.
Pence has tested negative for coronavirus, but given Trump’s illness and a widespread outbreak in the White House, they will be separated by a plexiglass barrier.


Egyptian among militants killed in Philippines firefight

Updated 17 April 2021

Egyptian among militants killed in Philippines firefight

  • “One less suicide bomber,” says Philippines army chief after troops kill 3 fighters
  • The bodies of the dead militants, along with their assault rifles, a grenade launcher and bandoliers of ammunition, were recovered

MANILA: An Egyptian national was among three militants killed in a clash with government forces late on Friday in the southern Philippines province of Sulu, officials said.
Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr. said the firefight took place around 10:45 p.m. in the Igasan village of Patikul town.
Troops carrying out operations in the area clashed with members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) — a terror unit led by Mudzrimar “Mundi” Sawadjaan and with links to Daesh — in an exchange that lasted about 10 minutes.
The bodies of the dead militants, along with their assault rifles, a grenade launcher and bandoliers of ammunition, were recovered.
Officials told Arab News that information provided by villagers helped troops trace the militants.
Wesmincom spokesperson Lt. Col. Alaric Delos Santos said the Egyptian, identified as Yusof, was the son of two foreign militants who died in separate suicide attacks in Basilan and Sulu provinces in 2018 and 2019.
Yusof was one of the five remaining foreign terrorists being monitored in the southern Philippines.
His father, a Moroccan identified as Abu Khatir Al-Maghribi, staged the first reported suicide bombing in the Philippines, which took place at a military roadblock in Lamitan, Basilan, in July, 2018.
Eleven people were killed in the incident, including Al-Maghribi, who drove the bomb-laden van used in the attack.
Yusof’s mother, Reda Mohammed Mahmud, was identified as the Egyptian national involved in a foiled suicide bombing at an army base in Indanan town in Sulu province in September, 2019.
Mahmud, who died when she detonated the bomb, was the lone fatality.
According to Delos Santos, Yusof’s family arrived in Mindanao in 2018 and subsequently joined the late Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan, the ASG leader designated as Daesh emir in the Philippines.
“He was still young when his parents brought him to Sulu about four years ago,” Delos Santos told Arab News.
The family also had been seen in videos of encounters between the ASG and government forces obtained by the military.
Following her husband’s death, Yusof’s mother married another Egyptian suicide bomber identified only as Abduramil, who was killed in a clash at an army checkpoint in November, 2019.
The military said then that the killing of Abduramil and his two companions helped thwart an “imminent suicide attack.”
Lt. Jerrica Manongdo, a spokesperson for the Joint Task Force Sulu, told Arab News that Yusof had been “tagging along” with Mundi Sawadjaan, a notorious ASG leader and bomb-maker, and was reportedly “volunteering to be a suicide bomber.”
Sawadjaan helped plan the bloody 2019 Sulu Cathedral attack, which left dozens dead, and other suicide bombings in the island province.
“This is one less suicide bomber,” Joint Task Force Sulu and 11th Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales said of Yusof’s death.
“I commend our ground forces for this monumental accomplishment. These neutralized terrorists are the cohorts of Mundi in executing atrocities. Without them, the possibility of another attack is slimmer,” he said in a statement.
“Moreover, financial support sent to ASG in Sulu from their foreign terrorist affiliates are cut off. We are optimistic that Mundi will soon meet his end.”
Gonzales said that air, naval and ground forces are being used in all-out offensive against the remaining foreign terrorists and ASG members in the province.
“We are coordinating with local leaders to ensure the safety of the people,” he added.
Besides Yusof, Abu Khattab Jundullah, known as “Saddam,” a trained bomb-maker, and another ASG member yet to be identified were also killed in Friday’s military operation.
Since January, the Joint Task Force Sulu has accounted for 70 ASG members, seven of whom were captured, while 60 surrendered and three were killed.
Delos Santos said that “the remaining number of ASG militants is between 50 to 70.”
But he voiced optimism that the military “can soon bring an end to this small but violent militant group.”


Queen Elizabeth II stands alone to bid farewell to her ‘strength’ Prince Philip

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in St. George’s Chapel during the funeral of Prince Philip, the man who had been by her side for 73 years, at Windsor Castle, Windsor, England. (AP)
Updated 17 April 2021

Queen Elizabeth II stands alone to bid farewell to her ‘strength’ Prince Philip

  • The queen in 1997 described Philip as her "strength and stay" over their decades of marriage
  • Mourners at the ceremony in Windsor Castle, including Prince Charles and his sons Princes William and Harry, were limited in number

WINDSOR: Queen Elizabeth and her family paid their last respects to Prince Philip on Saturday at a funeral that celebrated his naval past, his international heritage and seven decades of service in which he helped guide the queen through repeated crises.
Elizabeth, dressed in black and in a white trimmed black mask, stood alone as the funeral service began in St George's Chapel, which dates back to 1475.
Mourners at the ceremony in Windsor Castle, including Prince Charles and his sons Princes William and Harry, were limited in number and separated due to COVID-19 rules.
"We are here today in St George’s Chapel to commit into the hands of God the soul of his servant Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," the Dean of Windsor, David Conner, said.
"We have been inspired by his unwavering loyalty to our Queen, by his service to the Nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith."


After the nation observed a minute's silence in brilliant sunshine, Harry and William took up their places on opposite sides of the chapel with the final resting place of Tudor monarch Henry VIII dividing them.
Philip, officially known as the Duke of Edinburgh, died aged 99 on April 9. The queen in 1997 described Philip as her "strength and stay" over their decades of marriage.
His naval cap and sword lay on top of the coffin, which was covered with the Duke of Edinburgh's personal standard featuring the Danish coat of arms, the Greek cross, Edinburgh Castle and the stripes of the Mountbatten family.
The choir sang a sailors' hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save", and shortly before he is lowered into the Royal Vault, the Russian "Kontakion of the Departed", a hymn of the Orthodox and Eastern churches, will echo around the ancient church.
Philip's coffin was borne to the chapel on a bespoke Defender TD 130 in military green as a minute gun fired eight times.
Before the procession, military bands spaced out across the quadrangle of Windsor Castle to play the prince's chosen music, including "I Vow To Thee My Country,", "Jerusalem" and "Nimrod".
Philip, who married Elizabeth in 1947, helped the young queen adapt the monarchy to the changing world of the post-World War Two era as the loss of empire and the decline of deference challenged the world's most prominent royal family.
She has now been widowed just as she grapples with one of the gravest crises to hit the royal family in decades - allegations of racism and neglect by it from her grandson Harry and his American-born wife Meghan.
Attention on Harry
Much media attention will focus on the royals' behaviour towards Harry as he made his first public appearance with the family since the couple gave an explosive interview to Oprah Winfrey last month.
In the interview they accused one unnamed royal of making a racist comment, and said Meghan's pleas for help when she felt suicidal were ignored.
The couple, who moved to Los Angeles and quit royal duties last year, laid bare their perceptions of the family's attitudes in what amounted to a critique of the old-fashioned customs of an ancient institution.
Meghan said she had been silenced by "the Firm" while Harry said his father, Charles, had refused to take his calls. Harry said both Charles and his brother William were trapped in the royal family.
Meghan watched the funeral at her home in California after she was advised by her doctor not to travel while pregnant, a source familiar with the situation said. US networks showed the funeral live as did British TV stations.
Mourners eschewed the tradition of wearing military uniforms, a step newspapers said was to prevent embarrassment to Harry, who despite serving two tours in Afghanistan during his army career, is not be entitled to wear a uniform because he was stripped of his honorary military titles.
Prince Andrew, who stepped down from public duties in 2019 over controversy surrounding his what he termed his "ill-judged" association with late US financier Jeffrey Epstein, had wanted to wear an admiral's uniform at the funeral, British media reported.
Queen alone
The palace emphasised beforehand that while the occasion would have the due pageantry that marks the passing of a senior royal, it remained an occasion for a mourning family to mark the passing of a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
There were just 30 mourners inside the chapel for the service because of continuing coronavirus restrictions in Britain.
Philip's dedication to his duty earned him widespread popularity in Britain, but he was also criticised by some for a number of off-the-cuff racist or abrupt comments which shocked princes, priests and presidents.
"He was authentically himself, with a seriously sharp wit, and could hold the attention of any room due to his charm and also because you never knew what he might say next," Harry said of his grandfather.
Philip was a decorated Royal Navy veteran of World War Two and his funeral, much of which was planned in meticulous detail by the prince himself, will have a strong military feel, with personnel from across the armed forces playing prominent roles.


UN urges Dhaka to relocate Rohingya to island in ‘phased manner’

Updated 17 April 2021

UN urges Dhaka to relocate Rohingya to island in ‘phased manner’

  • Report follows a three-day study of remote Bhasan Char by UN experts

DHAKA: The UN has followed up a review of a remote island facility set up by Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees by calling on Dhaka to carry out the relocation process in a “phased manner.”
The recommendation comes despite warnings by rights groups that the site is vulnerable to severe weather and flooding.
A UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson in Dhaka, Charlie Goodlake, told Arab News on Saturday that the UN team is recommending that any future relocations “are undertaken in a gradual and phased manner.”
The UN planned to hold “further discussions” with Dhaka on the initiative, he said.
“It would help to ensure that the governance structure, facilities and services on the island meet the needs of Rohingya refugees living there,” Goodlake added.
The UN report released to the media late on Friday comes a month after 18 UN experts conducted their first visit to Bhasan Char island on March 17.
Soon after the UN’s visit, a 10-member team of diplomats — comprising heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands — also visited the island on April 3 to review the facilities.
Bangladesh has moved 18,500 Rohingya refugees from crammed camps in its Cox’s Bazar district to Bhasan Char, dubbed Rohingya island, since December last year.
It wants to eventually relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the overcrowded camps to the remote island, located in the Bay of Bengal and 60 km from the mainland.
Bhasan Char was built by Dhaka in 2006 using Himalayan silt and sediment to ease the overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar district. The project cost more than $360 million.
Each Bhasan Char house has five-square-meter concrete rooms with small windows, and a toilet for 11 people.
However, the UNHCR said it was concerned about the island’s vulnerability to severe weather and flooding, leading to a UN proposal in December 2019 for a “technical assessment” of the site.
The three-day visit in March marked a breakthrough in the proposal and follows attempts by the UN refugee agency to visit the island amid concerns about whether the relocation of the Rohingya refugees to the island was safe.
Similar concerns were raised by several international rights organizations, which urged Bangladesh not to relocate the Rohingya to Bhasan Char, warning that the island was located in an area prone to cyclones and could be submerged during a high tide.
Dhaka said that it had set up 120 cyclone shelters — built more than a meter above ground — which could be used as hospitals, schools and community centers throughout the year.
However, in its latest report, the UN said it “recognizes the prevailing humanitarian and protection needs of the Rohingya refugees already relocated to Bhasan Char” and proposed holding more talks on the process with Dhaka soon.
“We hope the discussions will take place as early as possible. The discussions would be on the UN’s future operational engagement on Bhasan Char, including on the policies that govern the life and wellbeing of Rohingya refugees on the island,” Goodlake told Arab News.
He said the UN team recognizes the extensive investments made by the Bangladesh government in Bhasan Char, “including the facilities and infrastructure and other offshore coastal protection measures.”
However, he said that to further mitigate risks, the UN is calling for an “emergency management plan in the case of severe weather events, including the pre-positioning of essential supplies and goods on the island.”
The UN report also recommended that Bhasan Char be managed by “civilian authorities in an inclusive and consultative manner.”
On Friday, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen said that the UN had made “very good and positive observations” in its latest report.
In previous comments to Arab News, Momen also urged the UN to start its operations on Bhasan Char as it would be a “huge task to manage 100,000 refugees on the island.”
Bangladesh is currently hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya at Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, believed to be the world’s largest refugee settlement.
The Rohingya are members of an ethnic and religious minority group, many of whom fled persecution in Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be “Bengalis” from Bangladesh, even though their families have lived in the country for generations.
Almost all have been denied citizenship for decades, and are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.


Russian security service briefly detains Ukrainian diplomat

Updated 17 April 2021

Russian security service briefly detains Ukrainian diplomat

  • Oleksandr Sosoniuk was taken into custody when he tried to obtain classified information from Russian law enforcement databases

MOSCOW: Russia’s FSB security service briefly detained a Ukrainian diplomat in St. Petersburg, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said on Saturday, in the latest flare-up of tensions between the neighboring countries.
Interfax news agency earlier reported the FSB as saying Oleksandr Sosoniuk was taken into custody when he tried to obtain classified information from Russian law enforcement databases during a meeting with a Russian citizen.
“This activity is incompatible with the status of a diplomatic employee and is hostile to the Russian Federation. The foreign diplomat will be dealt with in accordance with international law,” the FSB was quoted as saying.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said Sosoniuk was held for several hours, but was now back at the country’s consulate in St. Petersburg.
Tensions between Moscow and Kiev have been rising amid a build-up of Russian troops along the border and clashes in eastern Ukraine between the army and pro-Moscow separatists.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday pressed for peace negotiations.
“The Ukrainian side will soon decide how to respond to this provocation, taking into account current practice,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said of Sosoniuk’s detention.


Myanmar’s junta leader ‘confirmed’ to attend ASEAN meeting

Updated 17 April 2021

Myanmar’s junta leader ‘confirmed’ to attend ASEAN meeting

  • ASEAN meeting in Jakarta is expected to address the ongoing crisis in post-coup Myanmar

YANGON: Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing is set to join Southeast Asian leaders at a special summit in Jakarta next week, the Thai foreign ministry said Saturday, in what will be the coup leader’s first official trip since the military deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Since the February 1 coup, Myanmar has been in turmoil – with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets to demand a return to democracy.

The junta has sought to quell the anti-coup movement with lethal force, killing more than 720 people and detaining some 3,100 activists, journalists and dissidents, according to a local monitoring group.

The international community has largely condemned the junta for its use of force against unarmed civilians – deploying targeted sanctions against top military brass, their families and army-linked businesses.

But regional leaders have sought to open communications with the regime, and on Saturday Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed a summit in Jakarta over Myanmar’s situation will include Min Aung Hlaing.

“Several leaders have confirmed their attendance including Myanmar’s MAH (Min Aung Hlaing),” said spokesman Tanee Sangrat in a message to reporters.

The meeting of the 10-country bloc of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is expected to address the ongoing crisis in post-coup Myanmar, and will be on April 24 in Jakarta.

The junta has consistently justified the putsch by alleging widespread fraud in November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s party had won in a landslide.

The military said it will hand back power to a civilian administration after elections are held in about a year – though they recently extended the timeline to a two-year period.

News of the junta leader’s attendance comes the same day the country’s prisons are set to release more than 23,000 prisoners nationwide.

Myanmar typically grants an annual amnesty to thousands of prisoners to mark its traditional Buddhist New Year holiday – which in previous years have been joyous affairs with city-wide water fights.

But this year, anti-coup activists have used the holiday as an opportunity to protest the growing death toll and mass arrests.

A prison official told AFP on condition of anonymity that jails across the country will start freeing more than 23,000 people.

“We will release more than 800 prisoners from Insein prison” in commercial hub Yangon, he added, declining to elaborate.

In February, the junta released a similar number of prisoners, with some rights groups at the time fearing the move was to free up space for opponents of the military as well as cause chaos in communities.

On Wednesday a rebel group executed a man who had been freed in that amnesty, who it said had subsequently raped and killed a five-year-old girl.

Just before Armed Forces Day, the regime also freed around 900 jailed demonstrators.

But since the February 1 coup, more than 3,100 people – the bulk of them anti-coup protesters and activists – have been detained, according to local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The junta has issued nightly arrest warrants on state-run media, targeting celebrities, influencers, journalists and prominent activists with large social media followings.

By Friday night, they totaled 380.

Some 80 doctors have also been named as wanted fugitives for attempting to “deteriorate peace and stability.”

Myanmar’s health care workers have been at the forefront of a nationwide civil disobedience movement, refusing to return to work under a military regime. Their absence has left many of the country’s hospitals unstaffed during the pandemic.