Kremlin says date and location of Putin-Biden summit not yet decided

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia April 21, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 April 2021

Kremlin says date and location of Putin-Biden summit not yet decided

MOSCOW: The Kremlin said on Monday that Russia and the United States had not yet agreed on a date and place for a summit meeting of President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin and that many factors still needed to be looked at before it is finalized.
A Kremlin aide said on Sunday that the meeting could happen in June, the RIA news agency reported. Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, citing unnamed sources, said Biden had offered Putin to meet on June 15-16 in a European country.


Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported

Updated 55 min 19 sec ago

Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported

  • Experts say that gas might be leaking from fuel rods inside a reactor in Taishan, 135 kilometers west of Hong Kong
  • In Hong Kong, radiation levels Tuesday were normal, according to the Hong Kong Observatory

HONG KONG: China’s government said Tuesday no abnormal radiation was detected outside a nuclear power plant near Hong Kong following a news report of a leak, while Hong Kong’s leader said her administration was closely watching the facility.
The operators released few details, but nuclear experts say based on their brief statement, gas might be leaking from fuel rods inside a reactor in Taishan, 135 kilometers (85 miles) west of Hong Kong.
A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, gave no confirmation of a leak or other details. He responded to reporters’ questions by saying, “there is nothing abnormal detected in the radiation level surrounding the plant.”
In Hong Kong, radiation levels Tuesday were normal, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.
Framatome, a French company that helps manage the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province, said Monday it was dealing with a “performance issue.” It said the facility was operating within safe limits.
That followed a report by CNN that Framatome told US authorities about a possible leak.
“With regards to foreign media reports about a nuclear plant in Taishan, Guangzhou, the Hong Kong government attaches a high degree of importance to this,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Lam said her government would ask authorities in Guangdong for information and tell the public about any developments.
China is one of the biggest users of nuclear power and is building more reactors at a time when few other governments have plans for new facilities because the cost of solar, wind and other alternatives is plunging.
Chinese leaders see nuclear as a way to reduce air pollution and demand for imports of oil and gas, which they deem a security risk. Government plans call for Hong Kong to use more mainland nuclear power to allow the closure of coal-fired power plants.
The Taishan plant, which began commercial operation in December 2018, is owned by China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group and Electricite de France, the majority owner of Framatome. A second reactor began operating in September 2019.
They are the first of a new type called European Pressurized Reactors. Two more are being built in Finland and France.
CNN reported Framatome wrote to the US Department of Energy warning of an “imminent radiological threat” and accusing Chinese authorities of raising acceptable limits for radiation outside the plant to avoid having to shut it down.
US officials believed there was no severe safety threat, CNN said.
The Department of Energy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN body, told The Associated Press it was aware of the issue and awaiting information from China.
Electricite de France said Monday it was informed of the increase in concentration of “certain rare gases” in Taishan reactor No. 1.
That suggests fuel rods are leaking noble gases, a byproduct of nuclear fission, according to Luk Bing-lam, an expert on nuclear engineering at the City University of Hong Kong.
“If the leakage is more severe, then you will start seeing more radioactive material like cesium, rather than gas,” said Luk, who is chairman of the Hong Kong Nuclear Society.
Such leaks “happen every so often” in China and plants “usually can handle it themselves,” Luk said. But he said this incident might be complicated if the Taishan plant uses US technology that is covered by export restrictions.
China’s state-owned nuclear power companies are on Washington’s “entity list” that bars them from obtaining US technology without government approval.
The French partner might ask for permission because Framatome previously licensed technology from Westinghouse, Luk said.
“With the situation now, that becomes difficult,” he said. “For even a small problem, they need US government approval.”
China has 50 operable reactors and is building 18 more, according to the World Nuclear Association, an industry group. It is largely self-sufficient in reactor design and construction but is “making full use of Western technology while adapting and improving it,” the association says on its website.
China has constructed reactors based on French, US, Russian and Canadian technology and has developed its own Hualong One reactor, based on Westinghouse technology, marketing it abroad since 2015.
Hong Kong gets as much as one-third of its power from the Daya Bay nuclear power plant east of the territory in Guangdong.
Luk, who has worked with Chinese nuclear power plant operators, said he asked the company for information about the leak but managers won’t talk about it.
“I suspect the leakage is far more widespread than just a single assembly,” he said. “Because of that, they probably need some special technology to resolve this leakage problem.”
Previously, the Taishan facility leaked a “small amount” of radioactive gas on April 9, the National Nuclear Safety Administration said on its website. It said the event was “Level 0,” or “without safety significance.”
Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman, defended China’s nuclear safety record and said the nuclear agency works with regulators in other countries and the IAEA.
“China’s nuclear power plants have maintained a good record in operation and no incidents affecting the environment or public health have occurred,” Zhao said.


At least 15 dead in suicide bombing at Somalia army camp

Updated 15 June 2021

At least 15 dead in suicide bombing at Somalia army camp

  • The officer said the bomber was disguised among recruits queueing up outside the General Dhegobadan Military Camp
MOGADISHU: At least 15 army recruits died Tuesday when a suicide bomber attacked a military training camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, an officer said.
“I have counted about 15 new recruits who have been killed in the blast,” said army officer Mohamed Adan, adding the toll could be higher.
Adan said the bomber was disguised among recruits queueing up outside the General Dhegobadan Military Camp when the explosion occurred.

Four killed in attacks on Afghan polio vaccinators

Updated 15 June 2021

Four killed in attacks on Afghan polio vaccinators

  • Two polio vaccinators were killed and one wounded in attacks in Khogyani district, while two were killed in Surkhrod

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: At least four people were killed and four wounded Tuesday in a string of attacks on polio workers in eastern Afghanistan, officials said, the second assault targeting vaccinators in the area in less than three months.
“They were there to immunize the children against polio,” health ministry spokesman Osman Taheri said, adding the attacks happened in three separate locations over two hours.
Nangarhar police spokesman Farid Khan confirmed the attacks.
Two polio vaccinators were killed and one wounded in attacks in Khogyani district, while two were killed in Surkhrod.
In another attack, three vaccinators were wounded in the provincial capital, Jalalabad.
The vaccination drive in the province had now been halted, another health official told AFP.
“These were all targeted attacks against polio vaccinators, and for now we have stopped all polio vaccination drives in Nangarhar province,” the official said.
Tuesday’s attacks come less than three months after gunmen shot dead three women polio vaccinators in Jalalabad.
The Taliban and religious leaders often tell communities that vaccines are a Western conspiracy aimed at sterilising Muslim children, and they also suspect immunization drives are used for spying on militant activities.


Japan to ship 1 million COVID-19 vaccines to Vietnam on Wednesday

Updated 15 June 2021

Japan to ship 1 million COVID-19 vaccines to Vietnam on Wednesday

  • Vietnam’s tally of infections stands at 10,241, and only 58 deaths since the pandemic began
  • Japan has pledged $1 billion and 30 million doses to the COVAX facility that provides vaccines to needy countries

TOKYO: Japan will send a million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Tuesday, as the southeast Asian nation steps up vaccine procurement to fight a more stubborn wave of infections.

With a population of about 98 million, Vietnam’s tally of infections stands at 10,241, and only 58 deaths, since the pandemic began.

The shipment of AstraZeneca PLC vaccines produced in Japan is due to arrive in Vietnam on Wednesday, Motegi told reporters.

Japan is considering additional vaccine donations to Vietnam and Taiwan, and plans similar shipments to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand from early July, Motegi added.

Taiwan received 1.24 million AstraZeneca doses from Japan this month to counter a domestic resurgence of cases. Its government thanked Japan on Tuesday for considering additional aid.

“We will continue to maintain close communication with the Japanese side and look forward to the smooth arrival of the vaccines in Taiwan as soon as possible,” the island’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Japan has pledged $1 billion and 30 million doses to the COVAX facility that provides vaccines to needy countries. But the shipments to Vietnam, Taiwan and other Asian neighbors are being made outside of COVAX to speed up delivery, Motegi said.

“If we go through an international organization, the procedures in getting approval may take time,” he said.

Japan has contracted to buy 120 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which it approved last month. But there are no immediate plans to use it at home, as concerns linger over international reports of blood clots.

Taiwan has millions of doses on order worldwide but supply shortages have led to delays in receiving them, with just about 4 percent of a population of 23.5 million having received at least one shot as it battles the spike.

With just 132 new cases reported on Tuesday, the island is gradually bringing the domestic outbreak under control.

“The overall trend seems to be heading in a better direction, but we still can’t relax,” Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said in Taipei, the capital.


Man charged with terrorism for deadly truck attack on Canada Muslims

Updated 15 June 2021

Man charged with terrorism for deadly truck attack on Canada Muslims

  • The attack has fueled debate about the prevalence of Islamophobia in Canada, and heightened fears within the Muslim community
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously said the killings were ‘a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred’

OTTAWA, Canada: Canada is pressing terrorism charges against a man accused of mowing down a Muslim family with a pickup truck, killing four, prosecutors said Monday.
Five members of the Afzaal family were out for a walk in London, Ontario — around 125 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of Toronto — on June 6, when a truck driver struck them on purpose, according to authorities.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha, 44, their daughter Yumna, 15, and Salman’s mother Talat, 74, were all killed. The couple’s nine-year-old son Fayez survived, but was seriously injured.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously said the killings were “a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred.”
Prosecutors revealed in a brief hearing Monday that they were adding terrorism charges to the four counts of premeditated murder and one of attempted murder leveled last week against 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman.
“The federal and provincial attorneys general provided their consent to commence terrorism proceedings, alleging that the murders and the attempted murder also constitute terrorist activity,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said in a statement after the hearing.
Veltman, who has no criminal record and no known link to any extremist group, told the court via video link that he does not have a lawyer. He has yet to enter a plea and is set to reappear in court on June 21.
Several Canadian media outlets revealed on Monday that Fayez Afzaal had been able to leave hospital, and was being taken care of by relatives.
He was “expected to recover — it’s going to be some time,” relative Saboor Khan told CBC News.
“His family’s main priority is to support him through that recovery.”
Last week, during an impassioned speech at the House of Commons, Trudeau said: “This killing was no accident. This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities.”
“I think it is really important for us to name it as an act of terror,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told a news conference Monday.
“It is important for us to identify this as an act of Islamophobia, and it is important for us to identify the terrible threat that white supremacism poses to Canada, and to Canadians.”
The attack has fueled debate about the prevalence of Islamophobia in Canada, and heightened fears within the Muslim community that outward signs of religious affiliation can make a person a target.
It was the deadliest anti-Muslim attack in Canada since a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City that had killed six people in 2017.