Blinken says US is ‘equal partner’ with African countries

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a speech on the U.S. Africa Strategy at the University of Pretoria's Future Africa Campus in Pretoria, South Africa on August 8. (REUTERS)
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Updated 09 August 2022

Blinken says US is ‘equal partner’ with African countries

  • US top diplomat is in South Africa as part of a three-nation tour of Africa including Congo and Rwanda.

JOHANNESBURG: The United States sees Africa’s 54 nations as “equal partners” in tackling global problems, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in South Africa Monday.
“Our strategy is rooted in the recognition that sub-Saharan Africa is a major geopolitical force — one that has shaped our past, is shaping our present, and will shape our future,” Blinken said at the University of Pretoria in a speech detailing the Biden administration’s policies for Africa.
“It’s a strategy that reflects the region’s complexity, its diversity, its agency; and one that focuses on what we will do with African nations and peoples, not for African nations and peoples,” he said.
Blinken said that the United States and African nations “can’t achieve any of our shared priorities — whether that’s recovering from the pandemic; creating broad-based economic opportunities; addressing the climate crisis; expanding energy access; revitalizing democracies; or strengthening the free and open international order — if we don’t work together, as equal partners.”
South African academics and students responded warmly to Blinken’s speech, which was a broad declaration of US intentions toward sub-Saharan Africa. The United States is often faulted for overlooking the continent in recent decades, opening space for Russian and Chinese interests to make significant inroads.
The United States’ top diplomat is in South Africa as part of a three-nation tour of Africa including Congo and Rwanda in what is seen as a contest between Western nations and Russia to win support from African countries over the war in Ukraine.
Blinken’s tour follows recent trips to African countries by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French President Emmanuel Macron.
South Africa is among many African countries that have taken a neutral stance on the Ukraine war.
Before his speech, Blinken met in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, with Minister of International Relations Naledi Pandor. Pandor appears to have maintained her country’s refusal to criticize Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Instead, in a press briefing following the meeting, Pandor criticized the US and other Western powers for focusing on the Ukraine conflict to the detriment of other international issues.
“We should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine, as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine,” she said.
Before the closed-door meeting with Pandor, Blinken had said that the United States’ good relations with South Africa would allow them to be frank in discussing their differences.
Many African countries have declined to follow the US lead in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some were among more than a dozen African governments that have signed security deals with the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian mercenary group that the US and other countries say is backed by the Kremlin.
Sub-Saharan nations also have been major recipients of Chinese investment through its “Belt and Road Initiative,” which supports infrastructure developments.


Ukraine’s Zelensky named Time’s 2022 ‘Person of the Year’

Updated 15 sec ago

Ukraine’s Zelensky named Time’s 2022 ‘Person of the Year’

DUBAI: Time magazine named Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky 2022’s “Person of the Year” on Wednesday, saying he inspired Ukrainians and won global accolades for his courage in resisting Russia’s devastating invasion.
Refusing to leave Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv at the outbreak of the war as Russian bombs rained down, the former comedian rallied his compatriots in broadcasts from the capital and traveled across his war-torn nation, the publication noted in bestowing its annual title.
On Tuesday, Zelensky visited Ukrainian troops near the front lines in eastern Ukraine.
“Zelensky’s success as a wartime leader has relied on the fact that courage is contagious. It spread through Ukraine’s political leadership in the first days of the invasion, as everyone realized the president had stuck around,” Time wrote in acknowledging the 44-year-old leader.
Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk was named Time’s “Person of the Year” in 2021, a year that saw his electric car company become the most valuable carmaker in the world. Time began this tradition in 1927.

In push to implement ‘Islamic law,’ Afghan Taliban carry out first public execution

Updated 51 min 48 sec ago

In push to implement ‘Islamic law,’ Afghan Taliban carry out first public execution

  • This was the first confirmation of such a sentence since the hard-line group returned to power
  • Statement named the executed man as Tajmir, a resident of Anjil district in Herat province

KABUL: An Afghan man convicted of murder was executed in public on Wednesday, the Taliban said, the first confirmation of such a sentence since the hard-line Islamists returned to power.

“The supreme court was instructed to implement this order of qisas in a public gathering of compatriots,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement, referring to the “eye for an eye” justice in Islamic law.

Last month Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered judges to fully enforce aspects of Islamic law that include public executions, stonings and floggings, and the amputation of limbs for thieves.

The Taliban have carried out several public floggings since then, but Wednesday’s execution in Farah, the capital of the province of the same name, is the first the Taliban have acknowledged.

The statement named the executed man as Tajmir, son of Ghulam Sarwar, and said he was a resident of Anjil district in Herat province.


155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

Updated 07 December 2022

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

MADRID: More than 150 people were lightly injured Wednesday when a train ran into the back of another at a station near Barcelona, the emergency services and Spain’s Renfe rail operator said Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the SEM regional emergency services said the vast majority of those hurt in the collision which occurred just before 8:00 am (0700 GMT) sustained light injuries, while five were in moderate condition.
“There was a collision between two trains at 7:50 am at the Montcada i Reixac-Manresa station, on the line heading to Barcelona, that’s to say one train ran into the back of another,” a spokesman for the state rail operator told AFP.
Rail traffic along the line was suspended in both directions and Renfe had opened an investigation into what happened, he said.
“There were 155 people affected of which 150 were lightly injured and five who were moderately hurt,” a spokeswoman told AFP.
She said 18 medical units had been deployed to the area, which lies some 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Barcelona.

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Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack

Updated 07 December 2022

Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack

  • Raids targeted alleged members of “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbuerger) movement
  • Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad

FRANKFURT: German police staged nationwide raids on Wednesday and arrested 25 people suspected of belonging to a far-right “terror cell” plotting to overthrow the government and attack parliament.
Around 3,000 officers including elite anti-terror units took part in the early morning raids and searched more than 130 properties, in what German media described as one of the country’s largest police actions ever against extremists.
The raids targeted alleged members of the “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbuerger) movement suspected of “having made concrete preparations to violently force their way into the German parliament with a small armed group,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Those arrested are accused of having formed “a terrorist group by the end of November 2021 at the latest, which had set itself the goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own kind of state,” they said.
Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad, in Austria and Italy.
The prosecutors in Karlsruhe said they had identified a further 27 people as suspected members or supporters of the terror network.
The Reichsbuerger movement includes neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists and gun enthusiasts who reject the legitimacy of the modern German republic.
Long dismissed as malcontents and oddballs, the Reichsbuerger have become increasingly radicalized in recent years and are seen as a growing security threat.
Former soldiers are believed to be among the members of the recently established terror group, federal prosecutors said.
“The accused are united by a deep rejection of state institutions and the free, democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany,” they said.
The suspects were aware that their plan “could only be realized by using military means and violence against state representatives,” they added.
Justice Minister Marco Buschmann praised the dismantling of the “suspected terror cell” on Twitter, saying it showed that Germany was able to defend its democracy.
Reichsbuerger followers generally believe in the continued existence of the pre-war German Reich, or empire, as it stood under the Nazis, and several groups have declared their own states.
They typically deny the authority of police and other state institutions.
According to prosecutors, the terror cell suspects believe in Reichsbuerger and QAnon conspiracy theories and are “strongly convinced” that Germany is run by a “deep state” that needs to be toppled.
They allegedly planned to appoint one of the arrested suspects, Heinrich XIII P.R., as Germany’s new leader after the coup.
He had already sought to make contact with Russian officials to discuss Germany’s “new state order” after the coup, prosecutors said.
There was however “no indication that the contact persons responded positively to his request.”
A Russian woman named as Vitalia B., who was among those arrested on Wednesday, is suspected of having facilitated those contacts, prosecutors added.
As part of the preparations for the coup, members of the alleged terror cell acquired weapons, organized shooting practice and tried to recruit new followers, particularly among the military and police, according to prosecutors.
Germany’s domestic intelligence service estimates that the Reichsbuerger scene consists of around 20,000 people.
Of those, more than 2,000 are deemed potentially violent.
Germany considers far-right terrorism the biggest threat to its security following a spate of attacks in recent years.
In April, police foiled a plot by a far-right group to kidnap the health minister.
The group was affiliated with the Reichsbuerger movement and the so-called “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) group that opposed the government’s coronavirus-related shutdowns.


2022: When floods battered Pakistan, Russia invaded Ukraine, protests erupted in Iran

Updated 07 December 2022

2022: When floods battered Pakistan, Russia invaded Ukraine, protests erupted in Iran

  • At UN climate talks, countries agreed to create fund to help poor nations threatened by climate disasters
  • US dollar soared, crypto imploded and Elon Musk bought Twitter which has threatened to fall apart

Sometimes, it’s what doesn’t happen that matters most.

By the evening of Feb. 25 this year, a day after Russian tanks had crossed into Ukraine in the largest military attack in Europe since World War Two, Moscow’s troops had reached the outskirts of Kyiv.

With distant artillery fire booming across the capital, Ukraine’s defense ministry urged residents to build petrol bombs to repel the invaders. President Volodymyr Zelensky filmed himself with aides on the streets of the city, vowing to defend his country’s independence.

“Tonight, they will launch an assault,” Zelensky said. “All of us must understand what awaits us. We must withstand this night.”

The assault never came – and 10 months on, Moscow’s “special military operation” is bogged down. In some places, it’s in retreat. Many in Moscow had expected Russia’s military to sweep to victory, oust Zelensky’s government and install a Russia-friendly regime.

To be sure, Russian forces remain in control of vast swathes of Ukraine’s east and south, and at least 40,000 civilians have been killed and 14 million displaced in the grinding conflict. But Ukrainian forces, reinforced by billions of dollars of Western weaponry, have regularly proven themselves savvier and more effective than the morale-sapped Russians.

It was a similar story in the United States, where Republicans and some pundits had predicted a red wave in midterm elections. The Republican Party won control of the House of Representatives, but victory there was slim with a majority of fewer than 10 seats. The party not only failed to take back the Senate, but lost several gubernatorial races. Democrats triumphed in all three secretary of state contests in presidential battleground states where their Republican rivals had denied the legitimacy of the 2020 elections.

Midterms usually deliver a loud rebuke to the party of the sitting president. This time around it was a soft tsk.

In economics, most of the world’s big central banks waited until March to begin ratcheting up interest rates. The European Central Bank did not move until July. Monetary hawks complained that the delay allowed inflation to surge. Will that prove costly in the long term? Can the Fed keep the US economy from recession?

The answers will become clearer in 2023. There are early signs that inflation may have peaked in some economies, but growth is also softening. In a few countries – looking at you, Britain – the outlook remains grim.

At United Nations climate talks in Egypt, countries agreed to create a fund to help poor nations threatened by climate disasters, but failed to agree plans to cut emissions faster. Meantime, record heatwaves in China, floods in Pakistan and Europe, and glacier collapses in India, Italy and Chile were reminders of how fast our planet’s climate is shifting.

This was also the year that protests exploded in Iran after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for wearing an “improper” head covering. Eyewitnesses said she was beaten, though Iranian authorities deny that. The protests, led mostly by women, spread through the country and across social classes. The longer they continue, the more of a threat they will pose to the 43-year-old Islamic revolution.

What else happened in 2022? The US dollar soared, crypto imploded, and Elon Musk bought Twitter (which he preceded to shake up so much it has threatened to fall apart). It was the year Latin America lurched to the left, a cease-fire finally came in Ethiopia’s civil war, and North Korea fired off missile after missile. And it was the year Britain lost a queen, gained a king and saw three Prime Ministers in Downing Street.

Finally, much of the world emerged from COVID, at least socially if not in epidemiological terms. The big exception was China, whose zero-COVID policy has sparked protests and unrest in the past few weeks.

In October, the country’s twice-a-decade Communist Party congress had seen President Xi Jinping tighten his grip on power and win a third term, a break with recent party tradition which had seen presidents serve just two terms. Could Zero-COVID rock the status quo?