US vice president Kamala Harris caps Asia trip with stop at DMZ dividing Koreas

Kamala Harris met US service members and some of their relatives at the Camp Bonifas Dining Facility, above. (AP)
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Updated 29 September 2022

US vice president Kamala Harris caps Asia trip with stop at DMZ dividing Koreas

  • The visit comes on the heels of North Korea’s latest missile launches
  • At the DMZ, Harris went to the top of a ridge, near guard towers and security cameras

PANMUNJOM, Korea: US Vice President Kamala Harris capped her four-day trip to Asia with a stop Thursday at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean Peninsula as she emphasized US commitment to the security of its Asian allies in the face of an increasingly aggressive North Korea.
The visit comes on the heels of North Korea’s latest missile launches and amid fears that the country may conduct a nuclear test. Visiting the DMZ has become something of a ritual for American leaders hoping to show their resolve to stand firm against aggression.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday, while Harris was in Japan, and had fired one before she left Washington on Sunday. The launches contribute to a record level of missile testing this year that is intended to move Pyongyang closer to being acknowledged as a full-fledged nuclear power.
At the DMZ, Harris went to the top of a ridge, near guard towers and security cameras. She looked through bulky binoculars as a South Korean colonel pointed out military installations on the southern side. Then an American colonel pointed out some of the defenses along the military demarcation line, including fence topped with barbed wire and claymore mines. He said American soldiers regularly walk patrols along a path.
“It’s so close,” Harris said.
Her tour visit to the observation post came after she met US service members and some of their relatives at the Camp Bonifas Dining Facility, where she said she wanted them to know “how grateful and thankful we are.”
“I know it’s not always easy. Most of the time it’s not,” she said.
She asked a soldier from Florida on whether he checked in on his family after Hurricane Ian.
“Yeah, they’re up on a hill,” he said.
When another soldier stammered nervously while introducing himself, Harris said, “You know your name!”
“They’re going to give you such a hard time when this is over,” she joked.
Earlier, Harris met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at his office in Seoul where they condemned North Korea’s intensifying weapons tests and reaffirmed the US commitment to defend the South with a full range of its military capabilities in the event of war, Yoon’s office said.
They expressed concern over North Korea’s threats of nuclear conflict and pledged an unspecified stronger response to major North Korean provocations, including a nuclear test, which South Korean officials say could possibly take place in coming months.
Harris and Yoon were also expected to discuss expanding economic and technology partnerships and repairing recently strained ties between Seoul and Tokyo to strengthen their trilateral cooperation with Washington in the region.
Harris’ trip was organized so she could attend the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but her itinerary was dominated by security concerns, a reflection of fears about China’s growing power and North Korea’s ramped-up testing activity.
In every meeting, Harris tried to lay to rest any fears that the United States was wavering in its commitment to protect its allies, describing American partnerships with South Korea and Japan as the “linchpin” and “cornerstone” of its defense strategy in Asia.
Yoon, who took office earlier this year, had anchored his election campaign with vows to deepen Seoul’s economic and security partnership with Washington to navigate challenges posed by the North Korean threat and address potential supply chain risks caused by the pandemic, the US-China rivalry and Russia’s war on Ukraine. But the alliance has been marked by tension recently.
South Koreans have expressed a sense of betrayal over a new law signed by President Joe Biden that prevents electric cars built outside of North America from being eligible for US government subsidies, undermining the competitiveness of automakers like Seoul-based Hyundai.
There are indications North Korea may up its weapons demonstrations soon as it refines its missiles and delivery systems and attempts to pressure Washington to accept the North as a nuclear power. South Korean officials said last week that they detected signs North Korea was preparing to test a ballistic missile system designed to be fired from submarines.
The US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was to train with South Korean and Japanese warships in waters near the Korean Peninsula on Friday in the countries’ first trilateral anti-submarine exercises since 2017 to counter North Korean submarine threats, South Korea’s navy said Thursday.
US and South Korean officials also say North Korea is possibly gearing up for its first nuclear test since 2017. That test could come after China holds its Communist Party convention the week of Oct. 16, but before the United States holds its midterm elections Nov. 8, according to South Korean lawmakers who attended a closed-door briefing from the National Intelligence Service.


Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center

Updated 28 November 2022

Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center

  • Major fire at JIC in late October destroyed dome of grand mosque
  • Islamic centers with ‘significant role’ in promoting tolerant Islam

JAKARTA: Indonesian officials have thanked Saudi Arabia after its pledge to finance the restoration of the Jakarta Islamic Center.

The announcement, which was made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this month, has reaffirmed the close and important relations between the two countries.

A major fire broke out at JIC in late October, destroying the iconic dome of a grand mosque located at the complex.

The crown prince announced the Kingdom’s financing of the center’s restoration earlier this month, and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the planned restoration “confirms his keenness and interest in Islamic centers in all brotherly and friendly countries.” 

Saudi’s financial help is expected to help speed up the restoration process which, according to the center’s management, could have taken as long as five years without assistance.

Paimun Abdul Karim, spokesman of JIC’s management, told Arab News: “We are very grateful for such help from the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We are filled with thanks because it means the restoration will be faster.

“His action shows the solidarity between Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia’s plan to help us shows the good relations between the Saudi and Indonesian governments, and it will bring great benefits for us.

“This is another way to open up JIC’s diplomacy and connection to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

JIC’s work has centered on the promotion of tolerant and moderate Islam, with the complex housing not only a grand mosque, but also a research studies center and a conference hall which hosts various programs and gatherings.

Eko Hartono, Indonesia’s consul general in Jeddah, told Arab News that the support offered by Saudi Arabia “reaffirmed the closeness of friendly relations” between Jakarta and Riyadh.

He added: “Saudi’s assistance also reaffirms the country’s commitment to help the Muslim world and glory of Islam in every part of the world, including Indonesia.”

Marzuki Abubakar, researcher and lecturer at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh, said Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has always had a very close relationship with the Kingdom.

He told Arab News: “Islam in Indonesia certainly has its own unique characteristics that have captured the world’s attention, and this has led to campaigns for religious tolerance and moderation, which are also important for Saudi Arabia.

“This is why Saudi Arabia’s participation in supporting programs related to tolerance and moderation, including at the Jakarta Islamic Center, has become very important.”


WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

Updated 28 November 2022

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

  • Bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name
  • Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year

GENEVA: Monkeypox is to be renamed mpox in English, the World Health Organization announced Monday, in a bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name.
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
“Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term ‘mpox’ as a synonym for monkeypox. Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
“WHO will adopt the term mpox in its communications, and encourages others to follow these recommendations, to minimize any ongoing negative impact of the current name and from adoption of the new name.”
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread among humans since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries where it is endemic.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year, from 110 countries.


Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

Updated 28 November 2022

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

  • Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex
  • UN nuclear watchdog wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station

KYIV: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine remains under Russian control, authorities installed by Moscow in the nearby city of Enerhodar said on Monday, after a Ukrainian official suggested Russian forces were preparing to leave.
“The media are actively spreading fake news that Russia is allegedly planning to withdraw from Enerhodar and leave the (plant). This information is not true,” the Russia-installed administration wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
The head of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy company said on Sunday there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to vacate the vast Zaporizhzhia plant which they seized in March, soon after invading Ukraine.
Ukraine, which suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident in Chornobyl in 1986, and Russia have accused each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex.
Both sides have warned of the danger of a nuclear catastrophe. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency), wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station, which is Europe’s largest.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said late on Sunday that he had no doubt that Russian forces would leave the plant, where Ukrainian staff are still operating. Many of these workers live in Enerhodar.
“The defense line is starting to retreat to the borders of the Russian Federation,” Podolyak told Ukrainian television, adding that Ukraine would “take it (the plant) back.”
Ukraine’s military said on Monday its forces late last week destroyed six units of Russian military equipment and that about 30 Russian servicemen were wounded in fighting near Enerhodar.
Reuters was not able to immediately verify the reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin moved in September to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine where his forces say they have partial control. Kyiv and its Western allies condemned the move as illegal.


US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

Updated 28 November 2022

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

  • Russia and the US have been discussing a deal that could see the basketball star in exchange for convicted weapons trafficker Viktor Bout

MOSCOW: The United States and Russia are discussing the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan through special channels, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Monday, citing a top US diplomat.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Russia, was quoted as saying that the United States had submitted a serious proposal for consideration but it had not received a “serious response” back from Russia.
Russia and the United States have been discussing a deal that could see Griner, who is facing nine years in jail in Russia on drug charges, return to the United States in exchange for convicted Russian weapons trafficker Viktor Bout.
No deal has materialized amid heightened tensions between the two countries.


More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters

Updated 28 November 2022

More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters

  • The protests are a major headache for Gautam Adani’s $23 billion ports-and-logistics company
  • Located on the southern tip of India, the port seeks to plug into lucrative East-West trade routes

KOCHI, India: More than 80 people were wounded in southern India as villagers halting the construction of a $900 million port clashed with police, the latest escalation of a months-old protest waged by a mostly Christian fishing community against Asia’s richest man.

The protests are a major headache for Gautam Adani’s $23 billion ports-and-logistics company which has been forced to stop work on the Vizhinjam seaport that is seen winning business from rivals in Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

Construction, however, has been halted for more than three months after villagers blocked the entrance of the site, blaming the port of causing coastal erosion and depriving them of their livelihoods.

Over the weekend, police arrested several protesters after they blocked Adani’s construction vehicles from entering the port, despite a court order for work to resume.

The arrests prompted hundreds of protesters, led by Roman Catholic priests, to march on the police station, clash with personnel and damage vehicles there, according to police documents and footage on local television.

Senior local police official M R Ajith Kumar said 36 officers were wounded in the clashes. Joseph Johnson, one of the protest leaders, said at least 46 protesters were also hurt.

Located on the southern tip of India, the port seeks to plug into lucrative East-West trade routes, adding to the global reach of the business led by billionaire Adani, estimated by Forbes to be the world’s third richest man.

Asked about the latest protest, the Adani Group did not immediately comment. The company has said that the port complies with all laws and cited studies that show it is not linked to shoreline erosion. The state government has also said that any erosion was due to natural causes.

The protests have continued despite repeated orders by the Kerala state’s top court to allow construction to start. Police have largely been unwilling to take any action, fearful that doing so will set off social and religious tensions.

In the latest clashes, police documents said the protesters “came with lethal weapons and barged into the station and held the police hostage, threatening that if people in custody were not released they would set the station on fire.” Eugine H. Pereira, the vicar general of the archdiocese and a protest leader, said the police pelted the protesters with stones.

The port protests recall the backlash Adani faced in Australia over his Carmichael coal mine. There, activists concerned about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef forced Adani to downsize production targets and delayed the mine’s first coal shipment by six years.