Somalia elects speaker, paves way for presidential vote

Somalia’s newly elected lower house parliament speaker Sheikh Adan Madobe, 2nd left, after being elected at the airport complex in Mogadishu on April 28, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 28 April 2022
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Somalia elects speaker, paves way for presidential vote

  • The election is well over a year behind schedule, marred by deadly violence and a power struggle between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’ and PM Mohamed Hussein Roble
  • ‘Farmajo’ congratulated Sheikh Adan Madobe, saying in a statement that he hoped his election ‘becomes a starting point for a greater change that saves the country’

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s parliament elected a veteran politician as speaker of the lower house on Thursday, as the fragile nation edges closer to holding a delayed presidential vote.
The election is well over a year behind schedule, marred by deadly violence and a power struggle between the current president and the prime minister.
Somalia’s international partners have been pushing for the process to pick up speed, fearing the delays were distracting from the country’s myriad problems including the fight against Al-Shabab extremists and the threat of famine.
Following the election of the upper house speaker on Tuesday, lawmakers in the lower house chose Sheikh Adan Mohamed Nur, better known as Sheikh Adan Madobe, as speaker in a drawn-out process that extended into two rounds and only concluded in the early hours of Thursday.
The vote took place in a tent inside Mogadishu’s heavily-guarded airport complex under tight security, following a spate of attacks in recent weeks by Al-Shabab which has been waging an insurgency against the government for more than a decade.
It had been due to take place on Wednesday but was delayed by a dispute over who should provide security at the venue, highlighting the continuing rifts between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.
Madobe, 66, who had previously served as speaker between 2007 and 2010, secured 163 votes out of the 252 ballots cast. He is not known to be allied with either the president or prime minister.
Farmajo congratulated Madobe, saying in a statement that he hoped his election “becomes a starting point for a greater change that saves the country.”
Roble also offered his congratulations on Twitter, urging the speakers of both houses to “carry out their responsibilities and conduct the presidential election in a transparent, prompt and peaceful manner.”
On Tuesday, 76-year-old Abdi Hashi Abdullahi was re-elected speaker of the upper house.
Parliament will now set a date for lawmakers to choose a president — the country has not held a one-person, one-vote election in 50 years.
Farmajo’s mandate expired in February 2021 but in the absence of agreement on elections, he tried to extend his rule by decree, sparking violent street battles in Mogadishu.
Under pressure from the international community, he appointed Roble to seek consensus on a way forward.
But the pair’s disagreements have hindered progress and stoked fears of further instability.
In addition, a crucial IMF three-year $400 million (380 million euros) financial assistance package for Somalia will automatically expire in mid-May if a new administration is not in place.
On Wednesday, Somalia’s international backers warned that “political tensions and security incidents must not be permitted to disrupt (the election’s) final stages.”
“We urge all Somali leaders to exercise restraint, resolve differences through compromise, and avoid escalation of any incidents.”
Polls in Somalia follow a complex indirect model, whereby state legislatures and clan delegates pick lawmakers for the national parliament, who in turn choose the president.
The voting process has seen a number of attacks by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab which frequently strikes at civilian, military and government targets in Somalia’s capital and elsewhere in the country.
The extremists controlled Mogadishu until 2011 when they were pushed out by an African Union force, but still hold territory in the countryside.


UN needs $46.4 billion for aid in ‘bleak’ 2024

Updated 55 min 51 sec ago
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UN needs $46.4 billion for aid in ‘bleak’ 2024

  • UN: Wider Middle East, Sudan and Afghanistan among the hotspots that also need major international aid operations

GENEV: The United Nations said Monday that it needed $46.4 billion next year to bring life-saving help to around 180 million people in desperate circumstances around the world.
The UN said the global humanitarian outlook for 2024 was “bleak,” with conflicts, climate emergencies and collapsing economies “wreaking havoc” on the most vulnerable.
While global attention focuses on the conflict raging in the Gaza Strip, the UN said the wider Middle East, Sudan and Afghanistan were among the hotspots that also needed major international aid operations.
But the size of the annual appeal and the number of people it aims to reach were scaled back compared to 2023, following a decrease in donations.
“Humanitarians are saving lives, fighting hunger, protecting children, pushing back epidemics, and providing shelter and sanitation in many of the world’s most inhumane contexts,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said in a statement.
“But the necessary support from the international community is not keeping pace with the needs,” he said.
The 2023 appeal was for $56.7 billion but received just 35 percent of that amount, one of the worst funding shortfall in years. It allowed UN agencies to deliver assistance and protection to 128 million people.
With a few weeks left to go, 2023 is likely to be the first year since 2010 when humanitarian donations declined compared to the previous year.
The UN therefore scaled down its appeal to $46.4 billion this time around, and will focus on those in the gravest need.
Launching the 2024 Global Humanitarian Overview, Griffiths said the sum was nonetheless a “massive ask” and would be tough to raise, with many donor countries facing their own cost of living crises.
“Without adequate funding, we cannot provide life-saving assistance. And if we cannot provide that assistance, people will pay with their lives,” he said.
The appeal covers aid for 72 countries: 26 states in crisis and 46 neighboring nations dealing with the knock-on effects, such as an influx of refugees.
The five largest single-country appeals are for Syria ($4.4 billion), Ukraine ($3.1 billion), Afghanistan ($3 billion), Ethiopia ($2.9 billion) and Yemen ($2.8 billion).
Griffiths said there would be 300 million people in need around the world next year — a figure down from 363 million last year.
But the UN aims to reach only 180.5 million of those, with NGOs and aid agencies targeting the remainder — not to mention front-line countries and communities themselves who provide the first help.
The Middle East and North Africa require $13.9 billion, the largest total for any region in 2024.
Beyond Syria, the Palestinian territories and Yemen, Griffiths also pointed to Sudan and its neighbors, and to Ukraine, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Myanmar as hotspots that needed sustained global attention.
Ukraine is going through a “desperate winter” with the prospect of more warfare on the other side, he said.
With the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, plus Russia’s war in Ukraine, Griffiths said it was hard for the Sudan crisis to get the attention it deserved in foreign capitals.
More broadly, Griffiths said climate change would increasingly impact the work of humanitarian aid workers, who would have to learn how to better use climate data to focus aid resources.
“There is no doubt about the climate confronting and competing with conflict as the driver of need,” he said.
“Climate displaces more children now than conflict. It was never thus before,” he said.


Philippines summons Chinese envoy over sea confrontations: foreign ministry

Updated 11 December 2023
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Philippines summons Chinese envoy over sea confrontations: foreign ministry

  • Confrontations at Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal were the most intense between Philippine and Chinese vessels in years

MANILA: The Philippines has summoned China’s envoy, the foreign ministry said Monday, following two days of confrontations between the countries’ vessels in the disputed South China Sea.
Diplomatic protests had been filed and “the Chinese ambassador has also been summoned,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Teresita Daza told reporters.
Videos released by the Philippine Coast Guard showed Chinese ships blasting water cannon at Philippine boats during two separate resupply missions to flashpoint reefs on Saturday and Sunday.
There was also a collision between Philippine and Chinese boats, with both countries trading blame for the incident.
The confrontations at Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal were the most intense between Philippine and Chinese vessels in years, as the countries seek to assert their maritime territorial claims.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters and islands near the shores of its neighbors, and has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.
It deploys boats to patrol the busy waterway and has built artificial islands that it has militarized to reinforce its claims.


US says China’s actions in South China Sea undermine regional stability

Updated 11 December 2023
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US says China’s actions in South China Sea undermine regional stability

  • “We remain undeterred,” Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. says in a post on X

MANILA: The United States has called out China for interfering in the Philippines’ maritime operations and undermining regional stability, urging Beijing to stop “its dangerous and destabilizing conduct” in the South China Sea.
The Philippines and China have traded accusations over a ramming incident at the weekend involving their vessels while Manila’s vessels were on a resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal where its soldiers are stationed in a deliberately grounded navy vessel.
“Obstructing supply lines to this longstanding outpost and interfering with lawful Philippines maritime operations undermines regional stability,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a December 10 statement shared by the US embassy in Manila on Monday.
The United States has called on China to comply with a 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated its sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
At the weekend, the Chinese coast guard called on the Philippines to stop its “provocative acts,” saying China would continue to carry out “law-enforcement activities” in its waters.
The United States also reiterated its support for treaty ally, the Philippines, and reaffirmed its commitment to the mutual defense pact between the two countries.
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. separately said the presence of Chinese coast guard vessels and maritime militia in his country’s waters is illegal and their actions against Filipinos is an outright violation of international law.
The Philippines has further steeled its determination to defend and protect its nation’s sovereign rights in the South China Sea amid “aggression and provocations” by China, Marcos posted on the X social media site late on Sunday.
“We remain undeterred,” the president said.


’Nothing more to say’: Trump cancels plan to testify in NY fraud trial

Updated 11 December 2023
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’Nothing more to say’: Trump cancels plan to testify in NY fraud trial

  • The trial concerns several other crimes, including insurance fraud, and the financial penalty sought by the Attorney General’s office of $250 million

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump changed his mind about testifying in his own defense in his New York fraud case on Monday, he said, announcing that he will not take the stand as expected because he has “nothing more to say.”
The 77-year-old posted the surprise statement on Truth Social on Sunday, adding that he has “already testified to everything” in the ongoing trial against him, his eldest sons Don Jr and Eric, and other Trump Organization executives.
Trump was questioned last month by the prosecution, which has accused him and the other defendants of exaggerating the value of their real estate assets by billions of dollars to obtain more favorable bank loans and insurance terms.
For four hours on November 6, Trump sparred with prosecutors — with his acrimonious answers at times earning rebukes from Judge Arthur Engoron, who warned the current Republican front-runner that “this is not a political rally.”
On Sunday, Trump said that he had already testified “very successfully & conclusively” in the case.
The Trump real estate empire has been put in jeopardy by the civil suit, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James and one of a slew of serious legal actions facing Trump ahead of next year’s presidential vote.
Even before opening arguments, Engoron ruled that James’s office had already shown “conclusive evidence” that Trump had overstated his net worth on financial documents by between $812 million and $2.2 billion between 2014 and 2021.
As a result, the judge ordered the liquidation of the companies managing the assets in question, such as the Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street skyscrapers in Manhattan — a decision currently under appeal.
The trial concerns several other crimes, including insurance fraud, and the financial penalty sought by the Attorney General’s office of $250 million.
Unlike some of Trump’s legal battles — including the criminal case against him accusing him of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election — the suit brought by James, a Democrat, carries no risk of jail time.
Since the start of the trial, which opened October 2, the billionaire Republican has denounced the proceedings as a partisan “witch hunt.”
At one point during his previous testimony, a visibly angry Engoron told Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, to “control your client.”
Engoron has also slapped Trump with $15,000 in fines for violating a partial gag order, imposed after he insulted the judge’s law clerk on social media.
For their part, Trump’s lawyers have argued that the banks the Trump Organization sent its financial statements did their own proper due diligence and were not financially harmed by the Trump team’s estimates — even bringing out current and former employees of Deutsche Bank, one the banks he’s accused of defrauding, to testify to that effect.
The trial is set to continue without Trump’s testimony, with a ruling expected by the end of January.
 

 


UK creates unit to clamp down on companies evading Russian sanctions

Updated 11 December 2023
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UK creates unit to clamp down on companies evading Russian sanctions

  • Britain warned last week that Russia was trying to circumvent sanctions
  • It announced 46 new measures against individuals and groups from other countries it said were involved in Russia’s military supply chains

LONDON: The British government said on Monday it was creating an enforcement unit to increase its power to crack down on companies evading Russian sanctions.

The Office of Trade Sanctions Implementation (OTSI) will be responsible for the civil enforcement of trade sanctions, investigating potential breaches, issuing penalties and referring cases for criminal enforcement.
It will also help businesses comply with sanctions, the government’s Department for Business and Trade said, and its remit will include activity by any UK national or UK-registered company that may be avoiding sanctions by sending products through other countries.
The unit will launch early next year and work alongside the existing Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation.
“We are leaving no stone unturned in our commitment to stopping (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war machine. That means clamping down on sanctions evaders and starving Russia of the technologies and revenues it needs to continue its illegal invasion,” Britain’s Industry and Economic Security Minister Nusrat Ghani said.
“Today’s announcement will help us do that, and send a clear message to those breaking the rules that there is nowhere to hide.”
Britain warned last week that Russia was trying to circumvent sanctions and announced 46 new measures against individuals and groups from other countries it said were involved in Russia’s military supply chains.
This included businesses operating in China, Turkiye, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.
Britain said 20 billion pounds ($25.07 billion) of UK-Russia goods trade has now been sanctioned, with imports from Russia down 94 percent in the year to February 2023, compared to the previous year.