UK lawmakers warned of Chinese spying threat

A woman suspected of working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party has been attempting to improperly influence members of parliament. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2022

UK lawmakers warned of Chinese spying threat

  • UK’s MI5 found that the woman “has been engaged in political interference activities on behalf of” China
  • Britain’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues including Hong Kong and Xinjiang

LONDON: A woman suspected of working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party has been attempting to improperly influence members of parliament, the speaker of the House of Commons said in a letter to lawmakers on Thursday.
Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said Britain’s MI5 domestic intelligence service had found that the woman “has been engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, engaging with Members here at Parliament.”
She “has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring Parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China,” the letter added.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Britain’s governing Conservative Party who has been sanctioned by China for highlighting alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang, told parliament: “This is a matter of grave concern.”
Britain’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues including Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Last year MI5 urged British citizens to treat the threat of spying from Russia, China and Iran with as much vigilance as terrorism.
British spies say China and Russia have each sought to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property as well as to interfere in domestic politics and sow misinformation.


Ian lashes South Carolina as Florida’s death toll climbs

Updated 9 sec ago

Ian lashes South Carolina as Florida’s death toll climbs

CHARLESTON: A revived Hurricane Ian pounded coastal South Carolina on Friday, ripping apart piers and flooding streets after the ferocious storm caused catastrophic damage in Florida, trapping thousands in their homes and leaving at least 27 people dead.
The powerful storm, estimated to be one of the costliest hurricanes ever to hit the US, has terrorized people for much of the week — pummeling western Cuba and raking across Florida before gathering strength in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean to curve back and strike South Carolina.
While Ian’s center came ashore near Georgetown, South Carolina, on Friday with much weaker winds than when it crossed Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week, the storm left many areas of Charleston’s downtown peninsula under water. It also washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two at Myrtle Beach.
Online cameras showed seawater filling neighborhoods in Garden City to calf level. As Ian moved across South Carolina on its way to North Carolina Friday evening, it dropped from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone.
Ian left a broad swath of destruction in Florida, flooding areas on both of its coasts, tearing homes from their slabs, demolishing beachfront businesses and leaving more than 2 million people without power.
Even though the storm system has long passed over Florida, new issues were still presenting themselves Friday night. A 14-mile (22-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 75 was closed in both directions in the Port Charlotte area because of the amount of water in the Myakka River.
Many of the deaths were drownings, including that of a 68-year-old woman swept away into the ocean by a wave. A 67-year-old man who was waiting to be rescued died after falling into rising water inside his home, authorities said.
Other storm-related fatalities included a 22-year-old woman who died after an ATV rollover from a road washout and a 71-year-old man who fell off a roof while putting up rain shutters. An 80-year-old woman and a 94-year-old man who relied on oxygen machines also died after the equipment stopped working during power outages.
Another three people died in Cuba earlier in the week as the storm churned northward. The death toll was expected to increase substantially once emergency officials have an opportunity to search many of the hardest-hit areas.
Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through riverine streets in Florida after the storm to save thousands of people trapped amid flooded homes and shattered buildings .
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that crews had gone door-to-door to over 3,000 homes in the hardest-hit areas.
“There’s really been a Herculean effort,” he said during a news conference in Tallahassee.
Hurricane Ian has likely caused “well over $100 billion’’ in damage, including $63 billion in privately insured losses, according to the disaster modeling firm Karen Clark & Company, which regularly issues flash catastrophe estimates. If those numbers are borne out, that would make Ian at least the fourth costliest hurricane in US history.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said first responders have focused so far on “hasty” searches, aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, which will be followed by two additional waves of searches. Initial responders who come across possible remains are leaving them without confirming, he said Friday, describing as an example the case of a submerged home.
“The water was up over the rooftop, right, but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify that it appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many,” Guthrie said.
Desperate to locate and rescue their loved ones, social media users shared phone numbers, addresses and photos of their family members and friends online for anyone who can check on them.
Orlando residents returned to flooded homes Friday, rolling up their pants to wade through muddy, knee-high water in their streets. Friends of Ramon Rodriguez dropped off ice, bottled water and hot coffee at the entrance to his subdivision, where 10 of the 50 homes were flooded and the road looked like a lake. He had no power or food at his house, and his car was trapped by the water.
“There’s water everywhere,” Rodriguez said. “The situation here is pretty bad.”
The devastating storm surge destroyed many older homes on the barrier island of Sanibel, Florida, and gouged crevices into its sand dunes. Taller condominium buildings were intact but with the bottom floor blown out. Trees and utility poles were strewn everywhere.
Municipal rescuers, private teams and the Coast Guard used boats and helicopters Friday to evacuate residents who stayed for the storm and then were cut off from the mainland when a causeway collapsed. Volunteers who went to the island on personal watercraft helped escort an elderly couple to an area where Coast Guard rescuers took them aboard a helicopter.
Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained strength Thursday evening over the Atlantic. Ian made landfall in South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph). When it hit Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, it was a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph (240 kph).
After the heaviest of the rainfall blew through Charleston, Will Shalosky examined a large elm tree in front of his house that had fallen across his downtown street. He noted the damage could have been much worse.
“If this tree has fallen a different way, it would be in our house,” Shalosky said. “It’s pretty scary, pretty jarring.”
Ian’s heavy rains and winds crossed into North Carolina on Friday evening. Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents to be vigilant, given that up to 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) of rain could fall in some areas.
“Hurricane Ian is at our door. Expect drenching rain and sustained heavy winds over most of our state,” Cooper said. “Our message today is simple: Be smart and be safe.”
In Washington, President Joe Biden said he was directing “every possible action be taken to save lives and get help to survivors.”
“It’s going to take months, years to rebuild,” Biden said.
“I just want the people of Florida to know, we see what you’re going through and we’re with you.”

Director general of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant detained by Russian patrol

Updated 01 October 2022

Director general of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant detained by Russian patrol

  • Ihor Murashov was detained on his way from Europe’s largest nuclear plant to the town of Enerhodar
KYIV: The director general of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was detained by a Russian patrol, Energoatom, the state-owned company in charge of the plant, said on Saturday.
Ihor Murashov was detained on his way from Europe’s largest nuclear plant to the town of Enerhodar around 4 p.m. (1300 GMT) on Friday, company chief Petro Kotin said in a statement.
“He was taken out of the car, and with his eyes blindfolded he was driven in an unknown direction,” Kotin wrote on the Telegram messaging app, adding there was no immediate word on Murashov’s fate.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been a focal point of Russia’s seven-month invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow and Kyiv accuse each other of shelling the facility, risking a nuclear disaster.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for area around the plant, which is staffed by Ukrainians, to be demilitarized.
Murashov “bears main and exclusive responsibility for the nuclear and radiation safety” of the plant and his detention “jeopardizes the safety of operation of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” Kotin said.
He called on Russian forces to “stop immediately the acts of nuclear terrorism toward the management and personnel” of the plant and release Murashov.

North Korea conducts fourth round of missile tests in 1 week

Updated 01 October 2022

North Korea conducts fourth round of missile tests in 1 week

  • South Korea said the liftoffs occurred from North Korea’s capital region
  • Missile tests this week bookended US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to South Korea

SEOUL: North Korea on Saturday test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles, its neighbors said, the fourth round this week of weapons launches that prompted quick, strong condemnation from its rivals.
In an unusually strong rebuke of North Korea’s weapons programs, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said North Korea’s “obsession” with nuclear weapons is deepening the suffering of its own people, and warned of an “overwhelming response” from South Korean and US militaries should such weapons be used.
“North Korea hasn’t abandoned its obsession with nukes and missiles despite the persistent international objection in the past 30 years,” Yoon said during an Armed Forces Day ceremony at the military headquarters in central South Korea. “The development of nuclear weapons will plunge the lives of North Korean people in further pains.”
“If North Korea attempts to use nukes, it’ll face a resolute, overwhelming response by the South Korea-US alliance and our military,” Yoon said.
Yoon’s comments could enrage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who in July alleged that Yoon’s government was led by “confrontation maniacs” and “gangsters.” Kim has also rebuffed Yoon’s offers of massive assistance in return for denuclearization.
The North’s testing spree this week is seen as a response to recent naval drills between South Korea and the United States and their other training that involved Japan. North Korea views such military exercises by the allies as an invasion rehearsal and argues they reveal US and South Korean “double standards” because they brand the North’s weapons tests as provocation.
On Saturday, South Korea, Japanese and US militaries said they detected the two North Korean missile launches. South Korea said the liftoffs occurred from North Korea’s capital region.
According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the missiles flew about 350-400 kilometers (220-250 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30-50 kilometers (20-30 miles) before they landed in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Toshiro Ino, Japan’s vice defense minister, said the missiles showed “irregular” trajectory.
Some observers say the weapons’ reported low and “irregular” trajectory suggest they were likely nuclear-capable, highly maneuverable missiles modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile. They say North Korea has developed the Iskander-like weapon to defeat South Korean and US missile defenses and strike key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.
The five other ballistic missiles fired by North Korea on three occasions this week show similar trajectories to the ones detected Saturday.
“The repeated ballistic missile firings by North Korea are a grave provocation that undermines peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Ino called the launches “absolutely impermissible,” adding that four rounds of missile testing by North Korea in a week is “unprecedented.”
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlight “the destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
On Friday, South Korea, the United States and Japan held their first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast. Earlier this week, South Korean and US warships conducted bilateral exercises in the area for four days. Both military drills this week involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
The North Korean missile tests this week also bookended US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit Thursday to South Korea, where she reaffirmed the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to the security of its Asian allies.
Worries about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown since the North last month adopted a new law authorizing the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain situations, a move that shows its escalatory nuclear doctrine.
During his speech Saturday, Yoon said the North Korean law threatens South Korea’s national existence and that Seoul will expand military exercises with Washington and bolster South Korea’s own missile strike and surveillance capacities in response.
South Korean officials have typically avoided harsh rhetoric on North Korea to prevent an escalation of animosities. But Yoon’s Defense Ministry has recently warned North Korea would self-destruct if it uses its nuclear weapons
This year, North Korea has carried out a record number of missile tests in what experts call an attempt to expand its weapons arsenal amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States. South Korean and US officials say North Korea has also completed preparations to conduct a nuclear test, which would be the seventh of its kind and the first in five years.
Experts say Kim Jong Un eventually wants to use the enlarged nuclear arsenal to pressure the United States and others accept his country as a legitimate nuclear state, a recognition he views as necessary to win the lifting of international sanctions and other concessions.
Multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear devices. The country’s missile launches this year are seen as exploiting a divide at the UN council over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and US-China competitions.
“North Korea’s frequent short-range missile tests may strain the isolated state’s resources. But because of deadlock on the UN Security Council, they are a low-cost way for the Kim regime to signal its displeasure with Washington and Seoul’s defense exercises while playing the domestic politics of countering an external threat,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.


Defiant Putin proclaims Ukrainian annexation as military setback looms 

Updated 01 October 2022

Defiant Putin proclaims Ukrainian annexation as military setback looms 

  • US condemns annexation, imposes new sanctions as Putin slams neo-colonial ‘Satanic’ West 
  • Zelensky announces NATO membership application, says no peace talks while Putin in power 

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine: A defiant Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russia’s annexation of a swathe of Ukraine in a pomp-filled Kremlin ceremony, promising Moscow would triumph in its “special military operation” even as he faced a potentially serious new military reversal. 

The proclamation of Russian rule over 15 percent of Ukraine — the biggest annexation in Europe since World War Two — was roundly rejected by Ukraine and Western countries as illegal. The United States, Britain and Canada announced new sanctions. 

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said his country had submitted a fast track application to join the NATO military alliance and that he would not hold peace talks with Russia while Putin was still president. 

Putin’s proclamation coincided with Russian forces in one of the four regions being annexed facing encirclement by Ukrainian troops, showing how tenuous Russia’s grip is on some of territory it is claiming. 

In one of his toughest anti-American speeches in more than two decades in power, Putin signalled he was ready to continue what he called a battle for a “greater historical Russia,” slammed the West as out to destroy Russia and, without evidence, accused Washington and its allies of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines. 

But US President Joe Biden said it “was a deliberate act of sabotage and now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies,” adding that Washington and its allies would send divers to find out what happened. 

The four Ukrainian regions — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — that Putin said Russia was absorbing had made a historic choice, Putin said. 

“They have made a choice to be with their people, their motherland, to live with its fate, and to triumph with it. Truth is on our side. Russia is with us!” Putin told his country’s political elite, who had gathered in one of the Kremlin’s grandest halls to watch him sign the annexation documents. 

Russia organized so-called referendums, which were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive. 

“We will defend our land with all our strength and all our means,” he added, calling on “the Kyiv regime to immediately cease hostilities and return to the negotiation table.” 

UKRAINE NATO BID 

In Ukraine, Zelensky said he was only ready for peace talks if and when Russia had a new president. 

He also announced that Ukraine was formally applying for fast-track membership of NATO, something Moscow fiercely opposes, and accused Russia of redrawing borders “using murder, blackmail, mistreatment and lies.” 

He said, however, that Kyiv remained committed to the idea of co-existence with Russia “on equal, honest, dignified and fair conditions.” 

“Clearly, with this Russian president it is impossible. He does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia,” Zelensky said. 

Putin said the United States had set a precedent when it had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, while stopping short of issuing new nuclear warnings against Ukraine himself, something he has done more than once in recent weeks. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had not yet seen Russia take any action that suggested it was contemplating the use of nuclear weapons, despite what he called Putin’s “loose talk.” 

The annexation ceremony culminated in Putin, 69, chanting “Russia! Russia!” as he clasped the hands of the Russian-backed officials he wants to run the annexed regions. 

NEW SANCTIONS 

Biden said new US sanctions would hurt those who provided political or economic support to the annexation drive. 

“We will rally the international community to both denounce these moves and to hold Russia accountable,” Biden said in a statement, promising to continue to supply Ukraine with equipment to defend itself. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg accused Putin of provoking “the most serious escalation” of the war since Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24, but said he would not succeed in deterring the alliance from supporting Kyiv. 

A resolution introduced by the United States and Albania at the United Nations Security Council condemning Russia’s proclaimed annexation of parts of Ukraine was rejected on Friday after Russia exercised its veto. 

Blinken earlier on Friday promised that should Russia block the resolution, Washington would ask the 193-member UN General Assembly to condemn the declared annexation and referendums. 

In eastern Donetsk region, Russia’s garrison in the town of Lyman was in serious trouble with reports from both sides saying Russian forces were nearly surrounded. 

Ukraine said it had all the supply routes to the Russian stronghold in the crosshairs of its artillery in the east, and told Moscow it would have to appeal to Kyiv if it wanted its forces to be allowed out. 

The encirclement could leave Ukrainian forces an open path to seize more territory in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, captured earlier in some of the war’s bitterest fighting. 

“We have significant results in the east of our country ... everyone has heard what is happening in Lyman,” Zelensky said in a Friday night video address. 

The war’s brutality was further hammered home just hours before Putin’s speech when missiles struck a convoy of civilian cars preparing to cross the frontline from Ukrainian-held territory in Zaporozhzhia province. 

Reuters saw a dozen bodies amid blasted cars in a scene of carnage. Ukraine said 30 people had been killed and almost 100 wounded. 

Ukrainian officials called it a deliberate Russian attempt to sever the last links across the front. Moscow blamed the Ukrainians. 


Indonesian police kill militant suspected in farmers’ deaths

Updated 01 October 2022

Indonesian police kill militant suspected in farmers’ deaths

  • The East Indonesia Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the killings of police officers and minority Christians
  • Some of the victims were killed by beheading by the group, known by its Indonesian acronym MIT, an affiliate of the Daesh group

PALU, Indonesia: Indonesia’s elite counterterrorism police have killed a militant who was the last remaining member of an organization that pledged allegiance to Daesh, police said Friday.
Police said Al Ikhwarisman, also known as Jaid, was a key member of the East Indonesia Mujahideen network.
The East Indonesia Mujahideen, known by the Indonesian acronym MIT, has claimed responsibility for the killings of police officers and minority Christians, some by beheading, and has pledged allegiance to the Daesh group.
Provincial police chief Rudy Sufahriadi said Jaid conducted at least 10 of the group’s executions, including the killing of four Christian farmers in May 2021. He was killed by the Densus 88 counterterrorism unit in a shootout late Thursday in mountainous Kawende village in Poso district, an extremist hotbed in Central Sulawesi province, Sufahriadi said.
Thursday’s shootout occurred four months after security forces killed the other remaining member of MIT in a jungle shootout, police said.
“He was the last remaining suspected member of the group,” Sufahriadi said. “We have managed to eliminate a dangerous militant group that has disturbed peace in Poso.”
Security operations in Central Sulawesi were intensified last year to capture MIT members, particularly Ali Kalora, the group’s leader and Indonesia’s most wanted militant. Kalora was killed in a shootout in July 2021, two months after the group killed the four Christians in Kalemago village, including one who was beheaded.
Authorities said the attack was in revenge for the killing in March 2021 of two militants, including the son of the group’s former leader, Abu Wardah Santoso.
Santoso, Kalora’s predecessor, was killed by security forces in July 2016. Dozens of other leaders and members of the group who escaped to remote mountain jungles of Poso have since been killed or captured.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has conducted a crackdown on militants since bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly Western and Asian tourists.
Militant attacks on foreigners in Indonesia have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, mainly police and anti-terrorism forces, and people militants consider to be infidels, inspired by Daesh group tactics abroad.

 

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