Japan’s new PM calls Oct. 31 election, vows to fight pandemic

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a news conference at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 October 2021
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Japan’s new PM calls Oct. 31 election, vows to fight pandemic

  • Abe allies and new faces share Cabinet posts

TOKYO: Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, on Monday called a parliamentary election for Oct. 31 and vowed to bolster the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, shortly after being formally confirmed by lawmakers in the top job.

Kishida, a 64-year-old former foreign minister with an image as a consensus builder, earlier unveiled a Cabinet lineup  dominated by allies of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and ex-Finance Mnister Taro Aso.

“I want to ensure we implement large-scale, bold coronavirus countermeasures and economic policies. To do that, we must ask the people whether they trust me, Kishida, to carry out these policies,” he said at his inaugural news conference.

“I would like to pursue a politics of trust and compassion with the people’s mandate,” he said, drawing on the main theme in his campaign to become leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), making politics more accessible to the public.

While Kishida may enjoy a honeymoon period usually afforded new governments, analysts said he probably didn’t want to lose time, given risks posed by the pandemic.

His decision to call an election came as a surprise to most analysts who had expected the election to be held in November. Parliament will now be dissolved on Oct. 14.

Kishida said he would consider COVID-19 relief payouts, adding he had also instructed ministers overseeing the pandemic response to come up with policies on vaccinations, to strengthen the medical system and to expand testing to help reopen the economy. New coronavirus cases in Tokyo on Monday totalled 87, the lowest since Nov. 2 last year.

Kishida’s predecessor Yoshihide Suga enjoyed support ratings of about 70 percent  soon after taking office a year ago, but came under heavy fire over his handling of the pandemic. Following Suga’s decision to make way for a new face, Kishida beat three contenders who-will-almost-certainly-be-next-pm-2021-09-28 for the LDP leadership last week, paving the way for parliament to formally elect him premier on Monday.

Kishida’s Cabinet features allies of Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, who quit last year citing ill health as his dream of another term faded. Of the 20 posts, 13 were filled by people with no prior cabinet experience, in line with Kishida’s pledge to promote fresh faces, but many heavyweight jobs  went to allies of Abe or of outgoing finance minister Aso.

“He won the election with the support of Abe and Aso, so now it’s time for him to return the favour, it’s not the time for him to cut them off,” said political analyst Atsuo Ito.

Aso’s replacement at the Finance Ministry is his low-profile brother-in-law, Shunichi Suzuki, who is viewed as likely to continue the government’s policy of tempering growth spending with fiscal reform.

Kishida said he wanted to pursue policies that achieve “a new type of capitalism” that distributes more wealth to households and tackles Japan’s widening income gap, adding that tweaking the financial income tax rate – which is levied on investment income —was among options he would consider.

One of those closest to Abe, former economy minister Akira Amari, became the ruling party’s powerful secretary-general.

Amari, who has promised a big extra budget after the election, told reporters on Monday it would need to include steps to ameliorate social divisions and COVID-19.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, who is Abe’s brother, retained his position, as did Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, reflecting Kishida’s intention to continue Abe and Suga’s push to boost the nation’s security ties with the US while preserving trade ties with China.

President Joe Biden congratulated Kishida, describing the US-Japan alliance as a “cornerstone” of peace and stability in the region. Chinese President Xi Jinping said he hoped for “friendly and cooperative” ties with Japan, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Kishida said Japan should continue discussions with China, but expressed concerns over Beijing’s moves to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas.

Kishida also created a new post of economy security minister and filled it with a close ally of Amari, the architect of policies aimed at protecting sensitive technology from China in areas such as supply chains and cyber security.

There are three women in the line-up, one more than Suga had, but none of them hold a heavyweight portfolio.


Italy PM Meloni visits Tunisia for migration talks

Updated 5 sec ago
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Italy PM Meloni visits Tunisia for migration talks

  • Tunisia is a major transit point for thousands of sub-Saharan migrants hoping to reach Europe every year

TUNIS: Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met with officials in Tunis Wednesday to discuss what she called a "new approach" to irregular migration and economic cooperation with Tunisia.
The hard-right leader's visit, the fourth in less than a year to the north African country, came as her government pledged to curb irregular migrant arrivals in Italy.
Meloni met with President Kais Saied, who said after the meeting Tunisia must not become "a country of transit or settlement" for migrants from other African countries, according to a statement from his office.
In a video address released after her discussions with Saied, Meloni also said "Tunisia cannot be a country of arrival for migrants" from the rest of Africa.
She vowed to "involve international organisations to work on repatriations" of migrants while insisting on more European investment in African nations.
Ahead of the visit, an Italian official had told AFP that "cooperation on migration remains a central aspect of the relationship between Italy and Tunisia".
"It remains essential that Tunisian authorities continue their action to combat human trafficking and contain illegal departures," the official added.
Meloni's latest visit to Tunisia came as part of her so-called Mattei Plan, a programme aiming to posit Italy as a key bridge between Africa and Europe.
She said the fight against irregular migration required development for African countries and investments.
"Italy will continue to try to advance this new approach which it is promoting at a European level," she said.
But critics say the plan would funnel energy north while exchanging investment in the south for deals aimed at curbing migration.
Three agreements were signed Wednesday: a 50-million-euro ($53-million) aid for energy projects, credit for small- and medium-sized businesses, and a university cooperation agreement.
Meloni also said Italy would encourage regular migration by granting 12,000 residence permits to Tunisians trained in specific fields.
Tunisia is a major transit point for thousands of sub-Saharan migrants hoping to reach Europe every year, with Italy as a frontline for their arrivals.
Almost 70,000 migrants were intercepted trying to cross the Mediterranean from Tunisia to Italy last year, according to Tunisian authorities.
Meloni visited Tunisia three times over the summer of 2023, twice with the European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
The visits resulted in the European Union's signing of an agreement in July to provide financial aid to debt-ridden Tunisia in return for its commitment to curb migrant departures.
The agreement provided 105 million euros to curb irregular migration -- which the EU has started paying -- added to 150 million euros in budgetary support.
European Parliament lawmakers criticised the agreement, citing a deterioration of human rights and freedoms in the north African country.
They also criticised Saied's increasing authoritarian rule after his sweeping power grab in 2021.
Last month, the EU signed a similar deal with Egypt worth 7.4 billion euros on energy and migration.


Google employees arrested after protesting against $1bn contract with Israel

Updated 38 min 45 sec ago
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Google employees arrested after protesting against $1bn contract with Israel

  • 'Google workers do not want their labor to power Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza,' No Tech For Apartheid group said

LONDON: Several Google employees were arrested on Tuesday for taking part in a 10-hour sit-in at the company’s offices in New York and California.

The protest, organized by members of the No Tech For Apartheid movement, was meant as a challenge to the tech giant’s involvement with the Israeli government. It centered on a $1 billion cloud computing contract between Google, Amazon and the Israeli government and military, known as Project Nimbus.

The project involves creating a secure Google cloud setup in Israel to facilitate data analysis, AI training and other computing services, Time magazine reported.

According to leaked documents reported by American news organization Intercept in 2022, the project includes advanced features like AI-enabled facial detection and automated image categorization.

During the sit-in, a livestreamed video captured a security worker telling protesters at Google’s California office that they were on administrative leave and cautioned them about trespassing.

Social media videos showed police removing nine protesters from the premises. Similar actions were recorded at the company’s New York office.

A statement from the No Tech For Apartheid group said: “Google workers do not want their labor to power Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. The time is now to rise up against Project Nimbus, in support of Palestinian liberation and join calls to end the Israeli occupation.”

Last month, a Google employee from the group interrupted a talk by the company’s Israel chief, accusing the company of “powering genocide.” He was later fired.

A Google spokesman told the Telegraph: “These protests were part of a longstanding campaign by a group of organizations and people who largely don’t work at Google. A small number of employee protesters entered and disrupted a couple of our locations.

“Physically impeding other employees’ work and preventing them from accessing our facilities is a clear violation of our policies and we will investigate and take action.

“These employees were put on administrative leave and their access to our systems was cut. After refusing multiple requests to leave the premises, law enforcement was engaged to remove them to ensure office safety.”


Man guilty of attacks near UK mosques given hospital order

Updated 51 min 36 sec ago
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Man guilty of attacks near UK mosques given hospital order

  • Abbkr has paranoid schizophrenia and believed he was controlled by people possessed by evil spirits

LONDON: A man convicted of attempted murder after deliberately setting fire to two elderly men shortly after they left mosques in the UK was on Wednesday handed an indefinite hospital order.
Mohammed Abbkr, from Edgbaston in Birmingham, central England, deliberately set fire to Hashi Odowa, 82, and Mohammed Rayaz, 70, in February and March last year.
Abbkr, originally from Sudan, was convicted of two counts of attempted murder last year at Birmingham Crown Court in central England.
Judge Melbourne Inman told Abbkr, who has paranoid schizophrenia and believed he was controlled by people possessed by evil spirits: “You threw petrol over your victims and then set them alight — the attacks were horrific.”
“The two victims in this case were, on any rational view, chosen at random,” the judge told Abbkr, who watched the proceedings by video-link from Ashworth high security hospital in northwest England.
“You, however, genuinely believed each of them was one of those trying to take control of you.
“I am wholly satisfied that you committed both of these offenses at a time when you were suffering a severe mental illness.”
Abbkr sprayed petrol on the two men outside or near mosques they had attended and then set them alight. The attacks took place in west London on February 27 and Birmingham on March 20.
Odowa, who was attacked in London, was treated for severe burns to his face and arms. The Birmingham attack left Rayaz hospitalized with severe injuries.


70 killed as Afghanistan hit by heavy rains

Updated 17 April 2024
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70 killed as Afghanistan hit by heavy rains

  • Rains between Saturday and Wednesday triggered flash floods in most Afghanistan provinces
  • Fifty-six people injured, over 2,600 houses have been damaged or destroyed, says Afghan official 

KABUL: Around 70 people have been killed by heavy rains lashing Afghanistan over the past five days, the government’s disaster management department said Wednesday.
Afghanistan was parched by an unusually dry winter which desiccated the earth, exacerbating flash-flooding caused by spring downpours in most provinces.
Disaster management spokesman Janan Sayeq said “approximately 70 people lost their lives” as a result of rains between Saturday and Wednesday.
Fifty-six others have been injured, he said, while more than 2,600 houses have been damaged or destroyed and 95,000 acres of farmland wiped away.
Giving a smaller death toll last week, Sayeq said most fatalities at that point had been caused by roof collapses resulting from the deluges. 
Neighbouring Pakistan has also been hammered by spring downpours, with 65 people killed in storm-related incidents as rain falls at nearly twice the historical average rate.
The United Nations last year warned that “Afghanistan is experiencing major swings in extreme weather conditions.”
After four decades of war the country ranks among the nations least prepared to face extreme weather events, which scientists say are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change.
At least 25 people were killed in a landslide after massive snowfall in eastern Afghanistan in February, while around 60 were killed in a three-week spate of precipitation ending in March.


President Widodo urges Apple CEO to open manufacturing facility in Indonesia

Updated 17 April 2024
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President Widodo urges Apple CEO to open manufacturing facility in Indonesia

  • Country has ‘endless’ investment ability, Tim Cook says on visit to Jakarta
  • Tech giant announces opening of new Apple Developer Academy in Bali

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday met the head of tech giant Apple and urged him to open a manufacturing facility in the country.

CEO Tim Cook was in Jakarta following a trip to Hanoi, where the company announced plans to increase spending on suppliers in Vietnam, its most important manufacturing hub outside China.

Before the meeting between Widodo and Cook, Apple announced plans to boost its investment in Indonesia and said it would open a new Apple Developer Academy — facilities designed to nurture local talent in the tech sector — in Bali, its fourth in the country.

“The meeting with Tim Cook focused on exploring strategic plans, including the opportunity of Apple expanding to Indonesia and further integration into the global supply chain,” Widodo said in a statement.

“I invited Apple to establish an innovation hub with potential universities in Indonesia for human resources development. I also urged Apple to develop a manufacturing facility in the country.”

Apple currently does not have a manufacturing facility in Indonesia but opened its first developer academy there in 2018.

The new facility takes the company’s total investment in Indonesia to 1.6 trillion rupiah ($98.4 million), according to Industry Minister Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita.

“After this, the Ministry of Industry will conduct a business-matching program. We already have a list of the components (that Apple needs) and mobile components that are already produced in Indonesia, so perhaps there can be a partnership,” he said.

Apple has based much of its key manufacturing of iPads, Airpods and Apple Watches in Vietnam, and more recently India, as it explores ways to diversify its supply chains away from China.

Home to more than 270 million people, Indonesia has a young, tech-savvy population with more than 100 million people aged under 30.

According to figures from Statista, as of January, Apple had an 11.5 percent share of Indonesia’s mobile phone market, behind Oppo (18 percent) and Samsung (17 percent).

“We talked about the president’s desire to see manufacturing in the country and it’s something that we will look at,” Cook told reporters after meeting Widodo.

“I thought we had a great conversation and I really appreciated the time with him. It was a dialogue about how much potential there is in the country and our commitment to the country.”

Cook later met president-elect, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who will take over from Widodo in October.

“I think the investment ability in Indonesia is endless, I think that there’s a lot of great places to invest and we’re investing,” Cook said. “We believe in the country.”