Manila demands Beijing withdraw ‘fishing vessels’

An undated handout photo taken by the Philippine Coast Guard shows Chinese vessels anchored at the Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea. (AFP)
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Updated 24 March 2021

Manila demands Beijing withdraw ‘fishing vessels’

  • The Philippines also reiterated its demand for China to withdraw its maritime assets and cease its “environmentally destructive activities” in the area

MANILA: The Philippines on Wednesday denounced the “lingering presence” of Chinese militia vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef, which experts said could be a “prelude” to another occupation and construction of a military base in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

The government first protested against China’s move on March 21.

However, in a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) demanded that China “promptly withdraw its fishing vessels and maritime assets in the vicinity and adjacent waters in the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the West Philippine Sea.”

The government also reiterated its demand for China to withdraw its maritime assets and cease its “environmentally destructive activities” in the area.

The Philippines has been protesting against the illegal presence of Chinese fishing vessels and maritime assets in the areas.

“Julian Felipe Reef in the Kalayaan Island Group lies in the Philippines’ EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). We reiterate that the continued deployment, lingering presence and activities of Chinese vessels in Philippine maritime zones blatantly infringe on Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” the statement said.

It added that China’s “continuing infringements” are “contrary” to its commitments under international law and the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Further, it called on China to “faithfully honor its obligations as a State Party to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and respect and abide by the final and binding 12 July 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration.”

Experts, however, said there is more to China’s moves than meets the eye.

“This is a prelude to occupying the Julian Felipe Reef, just like what they did to Mischief Reef in 1995,” retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said during a TV interview on Wednesday.

He was referring in part to Beijing’s occupation of another area off the Philippine coast, which has since been turned into a Chinese military base.

“They started with saying they just built fishermen’s shelter on Mischief Reef. Mischief Reef is their air and naval base; they call it their Pearl Harbor in the South China Sea. It’s a huge air and naval base,” Carpio added.

Carpio, who represented Manila at the Hague in its case against Beijing, said he was “particularly worried” as this was not the first time that Chinese fishing vessels, reportedly operated by the militia, had swarmed Julian Felipe Reef.

He pointed out that “at the same time last year, they also parked hundreds of their ships” in the area.

“They were saying that they took shelter because of a storm. But no storm was anywhere near Julian Felipe Reef,” he said, adding: “They cannot do that. While they can exercise the right of navigation, they can not just sit there, park there, because that is not their EEZ.”

The former Supreme Court judge said that President Rodrigo Duterte has “befriended” China and considered Beijing as his “best friend.”

“In fact, he said, ‘I love Xi Jinping.’ But that love has not been reciprocated,” Carpio said, noting that “China has in fact seized Sandy Cay,” a sandbar within the Philippines’ territorial sea in Pagasa Island.

China had also sent hundreds of ships to “swarm around the area.”

Citing the example of Sandy Cay — the first geologic feature that China seized under Duterte’s rule — Carpio said that the government was “still in denial” about the incident.

“This happened in 2017. The Duterte administration is still in denial. But we cannot go back to Sandy Cay anymore because it’s surrounded by maritime militia vessels of China,” he said, warning that Filipinos “should be very wary of what’s happening there.”

Filipino MPs also denounced China’s latest move, with opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros saying on Wednesday that China should “stop twisting the truth” after its embassy in Manila denied reports about the presence of 220 Chinese maritime militia vessels near the Julian Felipe Reef.

“China is gaslighting us. China is making it appear as if we are hallucinating. We are tired of their attempts to twist the truth for their own interests. China has stolen from us, and now she is lying to us,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

China’s Embassy issued a statement on Monday saying that “there is no Chinese maritime militia as alleged,” contradicting the government’s National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea’s report.

The embassy also referred to Julian Felipe Reef by its Chinese name Niu’e Jiao, insisting that the reef is part of China’s Nansha administrative district in the South China Sea.

“The existence of Nansha district alone is illegitimate. How dare the Chinese embassy say that we are the ones causing ‘unnecessary irritation’? China is the one that violated the law; why should the Philippines be the one to adjust,” Hontiveros said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, one of Duterte’s allies in the Senate, said that the Chinese government’s coercive and destabilizing actions in the West Philippine Sea and the South China sea “belie its pronouncements of friendship and goodwill and affinity with the Filipino people.”

He added that as a major power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and signatory to many treaties and international agreements and conventions, China should “set the example of responsible governance with policies and actions that adhere to its international commitments.”

Meanwhile, several countries aired their concerns over the latest situation in the South China Sea, with Washington expressing its support to the Philippines on Tuesday.

“The US stands with our ally, the Philippines, regarding concerns about the gathering of PRC (People’s Republic of China) maritime vessels near Whitsun Reef,” Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said on Twitter.

“We call on Beijing to stop using its maritime militia to intimidate and provoke others, which undermines peace and security,” Price added.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby also said that — as specified by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during his recent trip to Asia — America is “deeply concerned by the aggressiveness particularly in terms of the maritime claims that the PRC is making.”

Meanwhile, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson also tweeted that “Australia supports an #IndoPacific region which is secure and inclusive.”

“The South China Sea, a crucial international waterway, is governed by international rules and norms, particularly UNCLOS. We remain concerned about destabilizing actions that could provoke escalation,” he said.

Washington and Canberra were joined by Japan, which stressed that issues related to the disputed waters are “directly related” to the region’s peace and stability and a “concern for all” as it reiterated support for “free, open, and peaceful seas” and the enforcement of the rule of law.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Minister Nigel Adams also noted the UK’s “concerns” on the South China Sea, particularly “actions which raise tensions in the region.”

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

Updated 13 August 2022

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

  • Hundreds of Afghans are trying to cross the Iranian border every day
  • Allegations of mistreatment in Iran have been on the rise since last year

KABUL: When Mohammad Parwiz was trying to cross from Iran to Turkey in search of a better life, he was caught by Iranian police guards and subjected to forced labor before being deported back to Afghanistan.

Parwiz is just one among hundreds of Afghans trying to cross the Iranian border every day to find employment abroad. He is also one of an increasing number to face abuse in the process.
Iran has for decades hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their war-torn country. The number jumped to 5 million from nearly 4 million last year, according to Iranian Foreign Ministry data, as economic restrictions imposed on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021 triggered unprecedented levels of poverty.
“As embassies closed in August last year, I had no other way but to go to Iran illegally,” Parwiz, a 22-year-old from the northern Baghlan province, told Arab News.
“I stayed in Iran for three months working at my relative’s bakery. My friends and I were caught by a border police patrol close to Turkey’s border.
“We were kept in jail for 12 days where we were forced to do hard labor and if we didn’t, they would hit us. We wouldn’t get proper food during that time. They constantly threatened us that if we come to Iran again, we may get killed. After 12 days of forced labor, humiliation, abuse and torture by Iran’s police, we were sent back to Afghanistan.”
Allegations of mistreatment of Afghans in Iran have been on the rise since last year. Reports include abuse not only by the Iranian police, but also human traffickers.
Ahmad Jalil, a 19-year-old from Laghman province, tried to leave Afghanistan and go via Iran to Turkey, from where he wanted to reach Europe with a group of 15 other teenagers.
“We paid a lot of money to the trafficker here but when we entered Iran through the border in Nimroz province during the night, we were received by another person after walking in the desert for hours,” he said.
The second smuggler asked them for more money.
“The trafficker would abuse us and would beat some of us,” Jalil said. “He even threatened us with death.”
Eventually, Jalil was abandoned and managed to return to Afghanistan on his own.
“We have cases of Afghan migrants being abused, beaten up and even killed,” Sayed Hazratullah Zaeem, a commissioner at Islam Qala, a border town in Herat province, near the Afghanistan–Iran border, told the Afghan media on Thursday.
Abdullah Qayoum, an official of the Department of Refugees and Repatriation in Herat, confirmed the reports of abuse.
“Afghans who want to go there (Iran), some of them are sent back after being tortured,” he said.
In April, videos circulated on social media showing civilians being manhandled by men dressed like Iranian security forces sparked a wave of demonstrations targeting Iranian diplomatic missions in Kabul and Herat, and a diplomatic protest by Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities.
“The border police in Iran are so brutal. For them we are not even humans,” said Mohammad Karim, a recent graduate from Kabul, who tried to cross from Iran to Turkey earlier this year.
He did not manage to reach his destination after he was injured in a car accident as his traffickers tried to evade Iranian police.
“If they saw our vehicle in the desert, they would shoot at us,” he said.

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Updated 13 August 2022

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

  • Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages

KYIV: Ukraine’s health minister has accused Russian authorities of committing a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in areas its forces have occupied since invading the country 5 1/2 months ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages.
“Throughout the entire six months of war, Russia has not (allowed) proper humanitarian corridors so we could provide our own medicines to the patients that need them,” Liashko said, speaking at the Health Ministry in Kyiv late Friday.
“We believe that these actions are being taken with intent by Russia, and we consider them to be crimes against humanity and war crimes that will be documented and will be recognized,” the minister said.
The Ukrainian government has a program that provides medications to people with cancer and chronic health conditions. The destruction of hospitals and infrastructure along with the displacement of an estimated 7 million people inside the country also have interfered with other forms of treatment, according to United Nations and Ukrainian officials.
The war in Ukraine has caused severe disruptions to the country’s state-run health service, which was undergoing major reforms, largely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade on Feb. 24.
The World Health Organization said it recorded 445 attacks on hospitals and other health care facilities as of Aug. 11 that directly resulted in 86 deaths and 105 injuries.
But Liashko said the secondary effects were far more severe.
“When roads and bridges have been damaged in areas now controlled by the Ukrainian forces... it is difficult to get someone who had a heart attack or a stroke to the hospital,” he said. “Sometimes, we can’t make it in time, the ambulance can’t get there in time. That’s why war causes many more casualties (than those killed in the fighting). It’s a number that cannot be calculated.”

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Updated 13 August 2022

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

ANKARA: Two more ships left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Saturday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 16.
Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey’s southern Iskenderun province, it said. The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey’s Tekirdag, carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds.
The statement added that another ship would depart from Turkey on Saturday to Ukraine to buy grains.

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

  • Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts

KABUL: Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hard-line Islamists’ return to power.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during the two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
About 40 women — chanting “Bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.
The protesters carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.
“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” chanted the protesters, many of them not wearing face veils, before they dispersed.
Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters.
After seizing power, the Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
Women have also been banned from traveling alone on long trips, and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.
In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Azkhundzada, even ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

Updated 13 August 2022

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

  • In Poland, the government has come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action
  • Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned

SCHWEDT, Germany: Thousands of fish have washed up dead on the Oder river running through Germany and Poland, sparking warnings of an environmental disaster as residents are urged to stay away from the water.
The fish floating by the German banks near the eastern town of Schwedt are believed to have washed upstream from Poland where first reports of mass fish deaths were made by locals and anglers as early as on July 28.
German officials accused Polish authorities of failing to inform them about the deaths, and were taken by surprise when the wave of lifeless fish came floating into view.
In Poland, the government has also come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action.
Almost two weeks after the first dead fish appeared floating by Polish villages, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “everyone had initially thought that it was a local problem.”
But he admitted that the “scale of the disaster is very large, sufficiently large to say that the Oder will need years to recover its natural state.”
“Probably enormous quantities of chemical waste was dumped into the river in full knowledge of the risk and consequences,” added the Polish leader, as German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke urged a comprehensive probe into what she called a brewing “environmental disaster.”
Standing by the riverbank, Michael Tautenhahn, deputy chief of Germany’s Lower Oder Valley National Park, looked in dismay at the river on the German-Polish border.
“We are standing on the German side — we have dead fish everywhere,” he told AFP.
“I am deeply shocked... I have the feeling that I’m seeing decades of work lying in ruins here. I see our livelihood, the water — that’s our life,” he said, noting that it’s not just fish that have died, but also mussels and likely countless other water creatures.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Oder has over the last years been known as a relatively clean river, and 40 domestic species of fish make their home in the waterway.
But now, lifeless fish — some as small as a few centimeters, others reaching 30-40 cm — can be seen across the river. Occasionally, those still struggling to pull through can be seen flipping up in the water, seemingly gasping for air.
Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned.
“This fish death is atypical,” said Axel Vogel, environment minister for Brandenburg state, estimating that “undoubtedly tons” of fish have died.
Fish death is often caused by the distortion of oxygen levels when water levels are too low, he explained.
“But we have completely different test results, namely that we have had increased oxygen level in the river for several days, and that indicates that a foreign substance has been introduced that has led to this,” he said.
Tests are ongoing in Germany to establish the substance that may have led to the deaths, but there are early indications of extremely high levels of mercury — although authorities said final results are still pending.
In Poland, prosecutors have also begun investigating after authorities came under fire over what critics said was a sluggish response to a disaster.
Tautenhahn said the disaster would likely carry consequences for years to come.
“If it is quicksilver, then it will also stay here for a long time,” he said, noting that mercury does not disintegrate but would then remain in the sediments.