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

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.


Taliban test repaired helicopters, planes in flyover of capital 

Updated 12 sec ago

Taliban test repaired helicopters, planes in flyover of capital 

  • US troops destroyed more than 70 aircraft and disabled air defenses before flying out of Kabul’s 
  • It was not clear who had provided the technical expertise to repair the helicopters 

KABUL: Taliban military aircraft roared over the Afghan capital on Wednesday as the group’s defense ministry tested out recently repaired hardware, much of it left behind by foreign militaries and acquired since the Taliban seized power a year ago.
Aircraft, including helicopters and at least one plane, flew low over Kabul skies near the airport, including what appeared to be at least one Russian-made MI-24 attack helicopter and two other American-made aircraft.
A defense ministry spokesperson, Enayatullah Khowarazmi, told Reuters the Taliban had recently repaired some helicopters and were conducting the flyovers as a test. He did not confirm the exact make or country of origin, saying only that “all types of aircraft” were being tested.
It was not clear who had provided the technical expertise to repair the helicopters.
Taliban officials have said that pilots, mechanics and other specialists from the former Afghan National Army would be integrated into their security forces.
The defense ministry also said in a statement that its engineering team had recently repaired 35 tanks, 15 Humvee armored vehicles and 20 US-produced Navistar 7000 military vehicles.
All had been damaged as the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, the anniversary of which was marked on Monday with gatherings and gunfire by the hard-line Islamist group.
US troops destroyed more than 70 aircraft and dozens of armored vehicles and disabled air defenses before flying out of Kabul’s airport following a chaotic evacuation operation.
Between 2002 and 2017, the United States transferred to the Afghan government over $28 billion worth of defense articles and services, including weapons, ammunition, vehicles, night-vision devices, aircraft, and surveillance systems, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
Some of the aircraft were flown into neighboring Central Asian countries by fleeing Afghan forces a year ago, but the Taliban inherited left-over aircraft. It remains unclear how many are operational. 


Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

Updated 17 August 2022

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

  • Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country
  • The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group

KABUL: The Taliban killed one of their former leaders who was known as the first commander of the group hailing from the minority Shiite Hazara community, officials confirmed on Wednesday, adding that he had rebelled against the de facto government.
Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country, the defense ministry said in a statement.
Mahdi’s appointment as a commander some years ago was touted as an example of the Taliban’s changed on stance on minorities. He was in the spotlight after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the wake of the pullout of western forces last year.
The Taliban are hard-line followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, and were previously almost exclusively associated with the Pashtun ethnicity. More recently, the group had sought to include members of other ethnicities and some Shiites.
The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group. After the Taliban formed a government last year, Mahdi was given the post of intelligence chief in a central province.
The origins of the breach between Mahdi and the Taliban have not been made public, but as far back as June, the defense ministry had spoken of a clearance operation against rebels in northern Afghanistan.
The defense ministry on Wednesday described Mahdi as a the “leader of the rebels” in a district in the northern province of Sar-e-Pol.
A Taliban source told Reuters that Mahdi had fallen out with the Taliban and had revolted against the group’s leadership.
The statement said he was killed in Herat close to the border with Shiite majority Iran, where he was trying to flee.
Reuters was not able to contact representatives of Mahdi for comment.


Dead Indian soldier found after 38 years on 'world's highest battlefield'

Updated 17 August 2022

Dead Indian soldier found after 38 years on 'world's highest battlefield'

  • With temperatures that can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius, Siachen is one of the toughest military deployments in the world 
  • Decades after the first battle for Siachen, both India and Pakistan continue to maintain a military presence in the extremely remote area 

NEW DELHI: The body of an Indian soldier who went missing 38 years ago on a glacier on the disputed border with Pakistan has been found.  

A unit of the Indian Army tweeted pictures of the coffin of Chander Shekhar wrapped in an Indian flag early Wednesday, two days after India celebrated the 75th anniversary of independence.  

The Army said Shekhar was deployed for Operation Meghdoot in 1984 when India and Pakistan fought a brief battle to assert control over the Siachen Glacier, reputed to be the world's highest battlefield.  

At over 18,000 feet (5,486 metres) with temperatures that can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit), Siachen is one of the toughest military deployments in the world.  

Located in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, it has long been contested between the nuclear-armed neighbours.  

Local media reported that Shekhar was part of a 20-member group that got caught in an ice storm during a patrol.  

Fifteen bodies were recovered at the time but the other five could not be found, among them Shekhar, the reports said.  

His last rites will now be performed with full military honours in the state of Uttarakhand, where his family lives.  

His daughter, who was four years old when he went missing, said the family would now get closure.  

"He has been long gone... Papa has come but I wish he was alive," the Hindustan Times newspaper quoted her saying.  

Decades after the first battle for Siachen, both India and Pakistan continue to maintain a military presence in the extremely remote area.  

 


Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Updated 17 August 2022

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand
  • Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will return to the island nation next week after fleeing in July amid mass protests, local broadcaster Newsfirst reported on Wednesday, citing a former ambassador.
Udayanga Weeratunga, a former Sri Lankan envoy to Russia who is related to Rajapaksa, said he will arrive in Sri Lanka on Aug. 24, Newsfirst reported.
Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand, after fleeing Sri Lanka on a military plane to the Maldives and then spending weeks in Singapore.
He resigned from office soon after arriving in Singapore, facing public anger over his government’s handling of Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka. Reuters was not able to immediately contact him or Weeratunga.
The office of Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who suggested last month that the former president refrain from returning to Sri Lanka in the near future, did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
“I don’t believe it’s the time for him to return,” Wickremesinghe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on July 31. “I have no indication of him returning soon.”

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

Updated 17 August 2022

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

  • ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings
  • Junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings

Myanmar’s military leadership on Wednesday lashed out at the ASEAN grouping of Southeast Asian countries for excluding its generals from regional gatherings, accusing it of caving to “external pressure.”
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have heaped condemnation on Myanmar’s junta, which they say has failed to make concrete progress on a peace plan agreed with the 10-nation bloc last year, including engaging with opponents and a cessation of hostilities.
Myanmar’s military seized power from an elected government in a coup last year, and has since then crushed dissent with lethal force. Most recently, the junta has been criticized for executing political activists and imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of Myanmar’s opposition and democracy movement.
ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings, and some members said last month it would be forced to rethink the way forward unless the junta demonstrates progress on the peace plan.
The junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings.
“If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labelled an ASEAN summit,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said at a routine news conference on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar was working on implementing the peace plan.
“What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists,” he said, using the junta’s label for pro-democracy movements that have taken up arms against the military.
He said ASEAN was violating its own policy of non-interference in a country’s sovereign affairs while facing “external pressure,” but did not elaborate.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia, which is currently chairing ASEAN, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Several western countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s junta over the coup.