Blinken urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari at the State Department in Washington, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 27 September 2022

Blinken urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods

  • Blinken promised strong US support for Pakistan as it dries out and rebuilds from the floods

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Monday on Pakistan to seek debt relief from its close partner China as floods devastate the South Asian country.
Blinken promised strong US support for Pakistan as it dries out from the floods, which have submerged one-third of the country, an area the size of the United Kingdom.
“We send a simple message. We are here for Pakistan, just as we were during past natural disasters, looking ahead to rebuild,” Blinken said after talks in Washington with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
“I also urged our colleagues to engage China on some of the important issues of debt relief and restructuring so that Pakistan can more quickly recover from the floods,” Blinken said.
China is a key economic and political partner of Pakistan, pushing ahead with a $54 billion “economic corridor” that will build infrastructure and give Beijing an outlet to the Indian Ocean, although Chinese interests have also faced attacks from separatists.
Washington, whose Cold War alliance with Islamabad has frayed, has repeatedly charged that China will reap the benefits while Pakistan will face unsustainable debt.
The warnings by the United States — which considers China its preeminent global competitor — have repeatedly been brushed aside by Pakistan.
Some 1,600 people — one-third of them children — have died in Pakistan’s floods and more than seven million have been displaced, amid fears that such severe disasters will become more common due to climate change.
The United States has committed $56 million in humanitarian aid and sent 17 planes full of supplies, with promises of long-term support.
Bhutto Zardari said that President Joe Biden, who signed a landmark domestic climate package last month, also needed to look at “climate justice.”
“It’s not only important that you ‘build back better’ here,” he said, using Biden’s campaign slogan.
“The opportunity of this crisis in Pakistan is that we must build back better — greener, more climate-resilient — back home as well,” he said.
“I believe that working together we can do this.”
Pakistan, despite being the fifth most populous country, contributes only about 0.8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change due to its state of development.
The US relationship with Pakistan sharply deteriorated over the course of the two-decade war in Afghanistan.
Under heavy pressure, Pakistan provided crucial logistical access, but US officials believe Islamabad’s powerful military and intelligence apparatus never abandoned the Taliban, who swept back to power last year as US troops pulled out.
“We have had our differences — that’s no secret,” Blinken said.
But he said Pakistan and the United States “have a shared stake in Afghanistan’s future,” including greater freedoms for women and girls, whose rights have again been heavily curtailed by the Taliban under their austere interpretation of Islam.
In another longstanding concern of the United States, Blinken encouraged Pakistan to respect for freedom of religion and expression.
Pakistan has seen repeated attacks against religious minorities and mob violence over accusations of blasphemy.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s five-month-old government has faced criticism for restrictions on the media since he replaced Imran Khan, who lost a no-confidence vote in parliament after running afoul of the military.
Blinken also called on Pakistan to pursue a “responsible relationship” with India.
Dialogue has been at a standstill between the historic rivals, with India launching airstrikes in February 2019 in response to a deadly attack blamed on Pakistan-backed militants.
Immediately after meeting Bhutto Zardari, Blinken was hosting a dinner for India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, with whom he will hold talks on Tuesday.
The South Asian foreign ministers were not expected to meet in Washington.

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US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

Updated 04 December 2022

US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

  • Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east

KYIV: The head of US intelligence says fighting in Russia’s war in Ukraine is running at a “reduced tempo” and suggests Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.
Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers could be shielding him from bad news — for Russia — about war developments, and said he “is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia.”
“But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are,” the US director of national intelligence said late Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
Looking ahead, Haines said, “honestly we’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict” and her team expects that both sides will look to refit, resupply, and reconstitute for a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the spring.
“But we actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that,” she said. “And I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe.”
In recent weeks, Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east, near the town of Bakhmut, while shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an 8-month Russian occupation.
In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lashed out at Western efforts to crimp Russia’s crucial oil industry, a key source of funds for Putin’s war machine, saying their $60-per-barrel price cap on imports of Russian oil was insufficient.
“It is not a serious decision to set such a limit for Russian prices, which is quite comfortable for the budget of the terrorist state,” Zelensky said, referring to Russia. He said the $60-per-barrel level would still allow Russia to bring in $100 billion in revenues per year.
“This money will go not only to the war and not only to further sponsorship by Russia of other terrorist regimes and organizations. This money will be used for further destabilization of those countries that are now trying to avoid serious decisions,” Zelensky said.
Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the 27-nation European Union agreed Friday to cap what they would pay for Russian oil at $60 per barrel. The limit is set to take effect Monday, along with an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea.
Russian authorities have rejected the price cap and threatened Saturday to stop supplying the nations that endorsed it.
In yet another show of Western support for Ukraine’s efforts to battle back Russian forces and cope with fallout from the war, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland on Saturday visited the operations of a Ukrainian aid group that provides support for internally displaced people in Ukraine, among her other visits with top Ukrainian officials.
Nuland assembled dolls out of yarn in the blue-and-yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag with youngsters from regions including northeastern Kharkiv, southern Kherson, and eastern Donetsk.
“This is psychological support for them at an absolutely crucial time,” Nuland said.
“As President Putin knows best, this war could stop today, if he chose to stop it and withdrew his forces — and then negotiations can begin,” she added.


Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupts, people warned to stay away

Updated 04 December 2022

Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupts, people warned to stay away

  • Semeru volcano on Java island spews a column of ash 1.5km into the air
  • Indonesia has the largest population globally living in close range to a volcano
JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Semeru volcano on Java island erupted early on Sunday, spewing a column of ash 1.5km into the air, prompting authorities to warn residents to stay away from the eruption area.
Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency, BNPB, warned residents not to conduct any activities within 5km of the eruption center and to stay 500 meters from riversides due to risks of lava flow.
Japan’s Meteorology Agency said was monitoring for the possibility of a tsunami there after the eruption, public broadcaster NHK reported.
The volcano began erupting at 2:46 a.m. (1946 GMT on Saturday), BNPB said in a statement. Videos posted on social media showed grey ash clouds in nearby areas.
BNPB did not immediately respond to Japan’s warning of tsunami risk.
Indonesian authorities have distributed masks to local residents, BNPB said in a statement, adding that volcanic activity remained at level III, below the highest level of IV.
With 142 volcanoes, Indonesia has the largest population globally living in close range to a volcano, including 8.6 million within 10km.

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing

Updated 04 December 2022

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing

  • FOI request shows 20 percent of 2022 intake ‘disappeared’ while in Kent County Council care

LONDON: Up to 20 percent of Albanian child migrants relocated to an English council in 2022 have been classified as disappeared after going missing, the BBC reported.

Kent County Council admitted 197 unaccompanied Albanian child migrants up to Oct. 31, but figures show that 39 have gone missing.

Officials said that the council is working closely with the UK Home Office to protect and safeguard vulnerable migrant children.

It comes as figures revealed that almost 12,000 Albanians crossed into the UK this year.

The number is an almost 4,000 percent increase on last year’s figure.

Ecpat UK, a campaign group that aims to protect vulnerable children, described the figures obtained by the BBC through a Freedom of Information request as “concerning.”

Head of policy, advocacy and research Laura Duran said that the 20 percent figure represented a “really high” number of missing children.

“We’re really concerned they are at risk of exploitation or have effectively been trafficked,” she said.

“They could be facing labor exploitation in different industries such as construction or car washes. They could be criminally exploited in drug distribution or in cannabis farms, or they could be sexually exploited.”

In a statement, Kent County Council said: “While all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are vulnerable to exploitation, research and experience evidences that some nationalities are particularly vulnerable and can go missing from local authority care very quickly.

“Kent County Council has used both established safeguarding protocols, including the National Referral Mechanism, and initiated multi-agency strategies to minimize the risks for these children as much as possible.

“The council continues to take a proactive role in safeguarding all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in its care.”


Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

Updated 03 December 2022

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

  • The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday
  • The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities
KYIV: Ukraine has detained eight people over the theft from a wall in the Kyiv suburbs of a mural painted by elusive British street artist Banksy, the authorities said.
The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday, they said.
“A group of people tried to steal a Banksy mural. They cut out the work from the wall of a house destroyed by the Russians,” Kyiv governor Oleksiy Kuleba said in a post on Telegram late Friday.
He attached the image of a gaping hole in the wall where the image once stood.
“Several people were detained on the spot,” he said. “The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities.”
Other works in the area thought also to be the work of Banksy are under police protection, he said.
Kyiv police chief Andriy Nebitov said “eight people had been identified” as possibly involved, and a preliminary inquiry had been opened into the matter.
“All were aged between 27 and 60 years old. They are residents of Kyiv and Cherkasy” some 200 km (120 miles) southeast of the capital, he said.
Last month, Banksy posted an image of the stencil of a gymnast performing a handstand on the wall of a wrecked building in Borodyanka, another suburb of the capital.
He then posted a video of several more of his artworks, including the person in a gas mask holding the fire extinguisher.
Others included the portraits of a bearded man scrubbing up in a bathtub, and a young boy in a karate outfit slamming his adult opponent to the ground.
Together with towns such as Bucha and Irpin, Borodyanka and Gostomel were severely hit by Russian bombardment after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

Updated 03 December 2022

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

  • Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine
  • The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal

Tallinn, Estonia: Estonia has agreed to buy six HIMARS rocket systems from the United States worth over $200 million, the state defense investment agency said on Saturday.
It is the largest arms purchase in the country’s history.
Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as has its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania.
The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal, as the pro-Western country fights back against Russian troops.
Magnus-Valdemar Saar, director general of the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI), signed a contract on Friday with the United States’ Defense Security Cooperation Agency to boost the country’s indirect fire capability, the ECDI said in a statement.
Estonia will also “procure ammunition, communications solutions, as well as training, logistics, and life-cycle solutions,” said armament category manager Ramil Lipp.
The ECDI did not provide details on how many rockets were ordered but said the purchase included those which can strike targets at a distance of 300 kilometers (186 miles), and rockets of shorter range.
The first deliveries will arrive in 2024.
Lithuania last month said it would buy eight HIMARS rocket systems from the United States for $495 million.