UN re-elects Antonio Guterres as secretary-general

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres puts on a face mask after addressing the media as UN General Assembly appointed him for a second five-year term in New York City. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 June 2021

UN re-elects Antonio Guterres as secretary-general

  • Ambassadors burst into applause as Assembly President announced Guterres’ re-election by “acclamation,”
  • The General Assembly appoints the secretary-general on the recommendation of the Security Council

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly unanimously elected Antonio Guterres to a second term as secretary-general on Friday.
Guterres was given another five years at the helm of the 193-member organization at a time a deeply divided world faces numerous conflicts, the growing impact of climate change, and a pandemic still circling the globe.
Ambassadors in the assembly chamber burst into applause as Assembly President Volkan Bozkir announced Guterres’ re-election by “acclamation,” without a vote. Just before the announcement, Estonia’s UN Ambassador Sven Jurgenson, the current Security Council president, read a resolution adopted by the 15-member council recommending Guterres for a second term.
Under the UN Charter, the General Assembly appoints the secretary-general on the recommendation of the Security Council.
Guterres was the only candidate nominated by a UN member state, his home country Portugal where he previously served as prime minister, and the country’s current president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, was in the assembly chamber to watch the event.
Immediately after his re-election, Guterres took the oath of office and delivered an address urging UN member nations “to do everything we can to overcome current geostrategic divides and dysfunctional power relations.”
“There are too many asymmetrics and paradoxes,” he said. “They need to be addressed head on.”
Guterres expressed hope that “what we are living through today in terms of mistrust is, I hope, an aberration but it cannot become the norm.”
He pledged to “give it my all to ensure the blossoming of trust between and among nations, large and small, to build bridges and to engage relentlessly in confidence building” — and to “seek to inspire hope that we can turn things around, that the impossible is possible.”
Traditionally, candidates for the UN’s top job have been nominated by a UN member state, but that is not a requirement in the UN Charter or in a resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 2015.
That measure made the previously largely secretive selection of the secretary-general more open and transparent, allowing member states for the first time to see basic information about all candidates, including their resumes, and to question them at open sessions.
Guterres, a former UN refugee chief, was elected by the assembly to succeed Ban Ki-moon after a hotly contested and transparent race in October 2016 that initially included 13 candidates — seven women and six men. Guterres took office on Jan. 1, 2017.
This year, seven individuals submitted applications to be secretary-general without backing from any government, including most recently former Ecuadorian President Rosalia Arteaga.

Security guard killed in Qatar Embassy attack in Paris

A security guard was killed at the Qatar Embassy in Paris, the city’s prosecution office confirmed. (Shutterstock)
Updated 27 min 47 sec ago

Security guard killed in Qatar Embassy attack in Paris

  • The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had opened a criminal investigation for manslaughter

PARIS: A person has been killed at the Qatar Embassy in Paris and one person has been arrested as part of the investigation, the Paris prosecutor’s office said on Monday, confirming earlier media reports.
A source close to the investigation said the person killed in the early hours of Monday was a security guard and that the death did not appear to have been a terrorism act.
“I can confirm that an investigation was opened today on the count of murder,” the prosecutor’s office said, adding that it was not clear yet if a weapon had been used.
“The circumstances of the death of the guard are yet to be determined precisely.”
Newspaper Le Parisien said earlier on Monday that one person had been killed within the embassy, citing police sources. 

Deluges of rain flood parts of India, Bangladesh

Updated 23 May 2022

Deluges of rain flood parts of India, Bangladesh

  • Both heavily populated nations in South Asia are prone to frequent floods and are considered major victims of climate change

DHAKA: Pre-monsoon deluges have flooded parts of India and Bangladesh, killing at least 24 people in recent weeks and sending 90,000 people into shelters, authorities said Monday.
Both heavily populated nations in South Asia are prone to frequent floods and are considered major victims of climate change.
The deaths have been reported since April 6 in India’s northeastern region with Assam state continuing to experience floods. Those who have left their homes due to the floods are staying in 269 camps set up by authorities.
The Indian army and air force have had to evacuate thousands of people in the last two weeks. Helicopters have been dropping essential items to people stuck in vulnerable spots in worst-hit Dima Hasao district. The Indian Space Research Organization is using satellites to assess the damage.
Flash flooding has been occurring in the Bangladeshi districts of Sylhet and Sunamganj, which border India’s northeast.
At least three rivers were flowing above the danger level Monday, said Arifuzzaman Bhuiyan, executive engineer of the Flood Forecasting and Warning Center in Dhaka, the nation’s capital.
Bangladeshi media said hundreds of villages have been marooned while crop fields have been damaged greatly. People also lack drinking water as wells have been under floodwaters or water supply system has been damaged.
No casualties have been reported in Bangladesh so far.
Jamuna TV station said while flood waters were receding from some areas, many new areas were affected by new flooding on Monday.
Authorities said hundreds of villages remained cut off from electricity supply while road infrastructure has been damaged extensively.

Philippines’ Marcos Jr says discussed defense agreements, climate funding with US envoy

Updated 51 min 24 sec ago

Philippines’ Marcos Jr says discussed defense agreements, climate funding with US envoy

  • Possible extension of a pact that allows US troops to conduct exchanges on Philippine soil

MANILA: Philippines president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Monday he discussed the extension of a joint military agreement with an envoy of defense ally the United States, after meetings with senior diplomats of four countries.

Ambassadors of Japan, India and South Korea and the US US Chargé d’Affaires made courtesy calls on Monday to Marcos, the son and namesake of the notorious late dictator, following his landslide election victory this month.

Marcos, 64, who take office late in June, said he discussed with the US envoy the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and how it would be redefined amid a changing regional landscape, plus funding for climate change mitigation.

“We would welcome any assistance for the economy that we can get from the United States,” Marcos told a news conference. “Trade, not aid.”

The VFA, which provides a legal framework by which US troops can operate on Philippine soil, was a bone of contention for incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, who repeatedly threatened to scrap it.

“Security concerns of course has always been a big part of our relationship with the United States,” Marcos said.

Analysts expect Marcos to pursue close China ties, which could complicate relations with former colonial power Washington, his military, and the Philippine public, with which the United States is popular.

He last week spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said he wanted bilateral ties to “shift to a higher gear.”

Marcos said he discussed aid projects with Japan’s ambassador, microfinance with India and with South Korea, information technology, regional security and the possible reactivation of a disused nuclear plant.

The plant was intended by his late father to be part of his economic modernization legacy, but was mothballed after his overthrow in a 1986 “people power” uprising, two years after completion.

Marcos said he asked Arsenio Balisacan, the national anti-trust agency chief, to be economic planning minister, a role he held from 2012 to 2016 under an administration that was a rival to the influential Marcos family.

7 die in Philippine ferry fire; over 120 rescued from water

Updated 23 May 2022

7 die in Philippine ferry fire; over 120 rescued from water

  • The coast guard said everyone on the ferry had been accounted for and 24 people who were injured were brought to a hospital

MANILA: A ferry carrying more than 130 people caught fire in the northeastern Philippines on Monday, killing seven passengers and forcing many survivors to jump into the sea where they were rescued by other vessels.
The fire rapidly spread from the engine room to the upper passenger deck of the M/V Mercraft 2 while it was approaching a seaport in Real, town administrator Filomena Portales said. It had been en route to the town in Quezon province from Polillo Island.
Many of the 134 passengers and crew jumped into the water and were plucked from the sea by motorboats and cargo vessels, coast guard officials said.
“Fishing boats and other vessels were able to approach quickly and everybody helped, so the rescue was fast,” Portales told The Associated Press by telephone, adding many of those rescued were in shock and had to be treated for burns and bruises and given dry clothes and shoes.
Pictures released by the coast guard showed fire engulfing the ferry and dark smoke billowing from it. Injured survivors on stretchers were taken to waiting ambulance vans while a rescuer tried to revive an unconscious survivor by pressing on his chest.
The coast guard said everyone on the ferry had been accounted for and 24 people who were injured were brought to a hospital.
Portales said seven passengers died from burns and drowning and one possibly had a heart attack while floating in the water.
Investigators were looking into the fire and other ferries operated by the owner of Mercraft 2 would likely be suspended from operating while undergoing safety inspections, officials said. The wreckage was towed to shore in Real.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats, overcrowding and weak enforcement of safety regulations. In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.

US President Joe Biden says he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan

Updated 23 May 2022

US President Joe Biden says he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan

  • US President: China is flirting with danger in Taiwan by flying close to the island

TOKYO: US President Joe Biden said on Monday he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan, rallying support on his first trip to Asia since taking office for US opposition to China’s growing assertiveness across the region.

Biden’s comments appeared to be a departure from existing US policy of so-called strategic ambiguity on its position on the self-governed island that China considers its territory and says is the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States.

When asked by a reporter in Tokyo if the United States would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China, the president answered: “Yes.”

“That’s the commitment we made ... We agree with a one-China policy. We’ve signed on to it and all the intended agreements made from there. But the idea that, that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not, is just not appropriate.”

He added that it was his expectation that such an event would not happen or be attempted.

While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

Biden made a similar comment about defending Taiwan in October. At that time, a White House spokesperson said Biden was not announcing any change in US policy.

The comments about Taiwan are likely to overshadow the centerpiece of Biden’s visit, the launch of an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a broad plan providing an economic pillar for US engagement with Asia.

His visit also includes meetings with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia, in the “Quad” group of countries.

Worries about China’s growing might and the possibility that it could invade Taiwan have emboldened Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party on defense, eroding some of the traditional wariness among many Japanese about taking a more robust defense posture.

Kishida said that he told Biden that Japan would consider various options to boost its defense capabilities, including the ability to retaliate, signalling a potential shift in Japan’s defense policy.

“A strong Japan, and a strong US-Japan alliance, is a force for good in the region,” Biden said in a news conference following their discussions.

Kishida said that he had gained support from Biden on Japan’s becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council amid growing calls for reform of the council. China and Russia are permanent members.

“President Biden expressed the necessity of reforming and strengthening the United Nations, including the Security Council, which bears a major responsibility for the peace and security of the international community,” Kishida said.

“President Biden expressed his support for Japan to become a permanent member of the reformed Security Council.”

Worries are growing in Asia about an increasingly assertive China, particularly in light of its close ties to Russia, and tension has risen over self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.