Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID

China’s zero-COVID policy brought case numbers down but heavy-handed measures took heavy toll on the economy. (AP)
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Updated 25 June 2022

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID

  • The two major cities were among several places in China that implemented strict COVID-19 measures

SHANGHAI/BEIJING: Beijing on Saturday said it would allow primary and secondary schools to resume in-person classes and Shanghai’s top party boss declared victory over COVID-19 after the city reported zero new local cases for the first time in two months.
The two major cities were among several places in China that implemented curbs to stop the spread of the omicron wave during March to May, with Shanghai imposing a two month-long city-wide lockdown that lifted on June 1.
The efforts, part of China’s adherence to a zero-COVID policy that aims to eradicate all outbreaks, have brought case numbers down but many of the heavy-handed measures have fueled anger and even rare protests and taken a heavy toll on the economy.
Beijing shut its schools in early May and asked students to move to online learning amid a spike in locally transmitted COVID cases. Senior year students at middle and high schools were allowed to return to classrooms from June 2.
On Saturday, with case numbers trending lower in recent days, the capital’s education commission said all primary and secondary school students in the capital can return to in-person classes from Monday. Kindergartens will be allowed to reopen from July 4.
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports said separately that sports activities for the young can resume at non-school locations on June 27 in areas where no community cases have been reported for seven consecutive days, with the exception of basement venues, which will remain shut.
The Universal Beijing Resort, which had been closed for nearly two months, reopened on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Shanghai reported no new local cases — both symptomatic and asymptomatic — for June 24, the first time the Chinese economic hub had done so since Feb. 23.
Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang said at the opening at the city’s party congress on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID by implementing the instructions of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and that Beijing’s epidemic prevention decisions were “completely correct.” The city, however, remains on edge. Most students have not been allowed to resume in-person classes and dining indoors is still banned. It also plans to continue conducting mass PCR testing for its 25 million residents every weekend until the end of July.


Director general of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant detained by Russian patrol

Updated 5 sec ago

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 44 min 30 sec ago

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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Japan PM condemns Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine, pledges to work with G7 for more support to Kyiv

Updated 01 October 2022

Japan PM condemns Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine, pledges to work with G7 for more support to Kyiv

  • As G7 host next year, Japan pledges to propose further sanctions against Russia and reconstruction plan for Ukraine

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, in telephone call Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, condemned Russia’s new annexation of parts of Ukraine as illegal and a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
“I told him that the process that Russia called a referendum and its annexation of parts of Ukraine should never be accepted, and that I strongly condemn them,” Kishida said afterward.
Kishida said he also reassured Zelensky in their 30-minute conversation that Japan is committed to working with other Group of Seven nations and the broader international community in further supporting Ukraine, and plans to impose more sanctions against Russia.
Western leaders including US President Joe Biden have also condemned Russia’s annexation of four occupied Ukrainian regions days after voters supposedly approved Moscow-managed “referendums” on joining Russia.

Kishida, who is to host a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations next year, told Zelensky he plans to propose that they impose tough sanctions against Russia, and will lead a discussion on Ukraine’s reconstruction.
He said Japan is assessing when it can reopen its embassy in Kyiv, which he described as important for close contacts between Japan and Ukraine. Japan closed its embassy in March as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intensified and moved part of its operations to Lviv in western Ukraine.
Japan has closely cooperated with other G-7 members and European nations in imposing sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine. Most recently, Japan banned exports of sensitive materials that could be used to make chemical weapons.
Japan’s sanctions against Russia have further damaged their ties, already strained over a group of islands taken by Moscow at the end of World War II that have prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their war hostilities.
In retaliation for Tokyo’s sanctions, Moscow terminated peace talks, including negotiations over the islands.