APEC summit host Thailand urges leaders to put aside differences

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Riot police officers stand guard in front of the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, site of the APEC Forum, in Bangkok, Thailand, on November 17, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, is greeted by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha as he arrives for the APEC summit on Nov. 18, 2022, in Bangkok, Thailand. (The Canadian Press via AP)
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Updated 18 November 2022
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APEC summit host Thailand urges leaders to put aside differences

  • APEC consists of 38 percent of the global population and 62 percent of gross domestic product and 48 percent of trade

BANGKOK: Thailand, the host of the APEC summit, urged leaders of the group meeting in Bangkok on Friday and Saturday to “rise above differences” and focus on resolving pressing global economic issues in areas such as trade and inflation.
Established to promote economic integration, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum consists of 38 percent of the global population and 62 percent of gross domestic product and 48 percent of trade.
China’s President Xi Jinping is attending the summit, while the United States is being represented by US Vice President Kamala Harris.
While Thailand hopes to make progress on forming a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), the talks come amid geopolitical tensions over the war in Ukraine and other flashpoints such as Taiwan and the Korean peninsula.
Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said on Thursday the meeting of the 21-member bloc was taking place at a “pivotal juncture” with the world facing multiple risks.
“That’s why APEC this year must rise above these challenges and deliver hope to the world at large,” he said in a statement.
Security was tight at the APEC summit with around 100 anti-government protesters gathered and planning to march on the meeting venue on Friday morning.




Protesters push anti-riot police during a demonstration near the APEC forum venue on Nov. 17, 2022, in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP)

Xi, warning against Cold War tensions in a region that is a focus for competition between Beijing and Washington, said on Thursday the Asia-Pacific is no one’s backyard and should not become an arena of big power rivalry,
“No attempt to wage a new cold war will ever be allowed by the people or by our times,” Xi said in written remarks prepared for a business event linked to the summit.
Relations between the world’s two largest economies have been strained in recent years over issues like tariffs, Taiwan, intellectual property, the removal of Hong Kong’s autonomy and disputes over the South China Sea, among others.
In a move that may be seen by Beijing as a provocation, a senior US official said Vice President Harris will on visit the Philippine islands of Palawan on the edge of the disputed South China Sea Tuesday.
The trip will make Harris the highest-ranking US official to visit the island chain adjacent to the Spratly Islands. China has dredged the sea floor to build harbors and airstrips on the Spratlys, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.




US Vice President Kamala Harris (C) and husband Doug Emhoff are welcomed by Thai officials upon arrival at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok on Nov. 17, 2022. (AFP)

Harris will visit Palawan after attending the APEC meeting, which follows a series of regional summits so far dominated by geopolitical tension over the war in Ukraine.
At a G20 meeting in Bali earlier this week, countries unanimously adopted a declaration saying most members condemned the Ukraine war, but that also acknowledged some countries saw the conflict differently.
Russia is a member of both G20 and APEC but President Vladimir Putin has stayed away from the summits. First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov will represent him at APEC.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is among those also attending the main meeting, while French President Emmanuel Macron is a special guest.
Xi held a rare summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida while in Bangkok, the first leadership-level meeting between the countries in nearly three years, after which Kishida said he conveyed concerns about peace in the Taiwan Strait.




Japanese PM Fumio Kishida, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands as they meet on the sidelines for the APEC forum on Nov. 17, 2022, in Bangkok, Thailand. (Kyodo News via AP)

China’s CCTV reported that Xi told Kishida the Taiwan issue involved the political foundation of ties between their two countries, and territorial disputes should be properly managed.
The meeting came a day after tensions simmered in Bali, where Xi criticized Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in person over alleged leaks of their closed-door meeting, a rare public display of annoyance by Xi. Trudeau is also in Bangkok. 


Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests

Updated 5 sec ago
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Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests

  • More than 100 people killed, thousands injured in clashes between police and students
  • Police on ‘highest alert’ as curfew remains in place after hearing

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Sunday scrapped most of the quotas on government jobs that have sparked student-led protests in which at least 114 people have been killed in the South Asian country, local media reported.
The court’s Appellate Division dismissed a lower court order that had reinstated the quotas, directing that 93 percent of government jobs will be open to candidates on merit, without quotas, the reports said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government had scrapped the quota system in 2018, but the lower court reinstated it last month, sparking the protests and an ensuring government crackdown.


Turkiye ready to build Cyprus naval base ‘if necessary’: Erdogan

Updated 21 July 2024
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Turkiye ready to build Cyprus naval base ‘if necessary’: Erdogan

ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that his country was ready to build a Cyprus naval base “if necessary,” 50 years after Turkish forces invaded the now-divided island.
“If necessary, we can construct a base and naval structures in the north” of the divided island, the official Anadolu news agency reported him as saying.
“We also have the sea,” Erdogan said he flew back to Turkiye after visiting northern Cyprus on Saturday to mark 50 years since Turkiye’s invasion.
He also accused rival Greece of wanting to establish a naval base of its own on Cyprus, on whose future both sides remain as divided as ever.
In 1983, Turkiye installed what it calls the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which no other country has recognized four decades after it was proclaimed by Turkish Cypriot leaders.
As Greek Cypriots mourned those killed and still missing since the 1974 convulsion of violence, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said Saturday that reunification was the only option.
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 still divided after Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected a UN plan to end their differences with Turkish Cypriots.
But on the other side of the UN-patrolled buffer zone that separates the two communities, Erdogan on Saturday rejected the federal model championed by the United Nations, saying he saw no point in relaunching talks on such a plan.
“Frankly, we do not think it is possible to start a new negotiation process without establishing an equation whereby both parties sit down as equals and leave the table as equals,” Erdogan said.
The last round of UN-backed talks to reunify the island collapsed in 2017.
“We are constructing on the island the building of the presidency of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the parliament building. They are constructing a military base, we are building a political base,” Erdogan added.
He also hailed the “precious” presence during Saturday’s visit of the leader of Turkiye’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, saying it demonstrated the “unity” of Turkiye’s population with regards to Cyprus.


Taliban ban on girls’ education takes mental, financial toll on Afghan teachers

Updated 21 July 2024
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Taliban ban on girls’ education takes mental, financial toll on Afghan teachers

  • Scores of teachers lost their jobs after Taliban suspended secondary schools for girls
  • While female teachers cannot teach boys, women are also restricted from many workplaces

KABUL: Najiba’s life as an educator came to a halt after the Taliban imposed a ban on girls’ education almost three years ago, a controversial policy that also forced many Afghan teachers out of the classroom.

When secondary schools for girls were suspended in September 2021 — a month after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan — it resulted in about 1.1 million girls being denied access to formal education and scores of female teachers losing their jobs, as the new policies only allowed them to teach in girls’ primary schools.

“We had this fear but didn’t know it would happen so soon. It was the hardest thing to know that I wouldn’t be able to teach anymore,” Najiba, an English teacher in Kabul, told Arab News.

“The change happened so suddenly and so quickly that it was difficult for me to cope with it. I developed very serious levels of stress and depression as a result of losing my job and my profession.”

For the 37-year-old who used to teach at a local high school, the consequences on her mental health were “irreversible” not just for her, but also for her family, as she was forced to stay at home most of the time.

“I feel I am becoming illiterate because I don’t study. I miss my students and colleagues every day and every moment. I feel lonely most of the time at home,” she said.  

When the policy went into force, all female teachers from secondary and high schools were reassigned to elementary schools “where there was a shortage of teachers,” an official from the Afghan Ministry of Education told Arab News, declining to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

“In addition, some of them were assigned to mixed schools, where boys and girls study in different shifts, to teach in the girls’ shift. The rest are staying at home,” the official said.

“The ministry’s plan is that only female teachers will teach in girls’ schools and male teachers will be transferred to boys’ schools. This has been successfully implemented in Kabul and other provinces.”

A year after their takeover, the Taliban had eliminated 14,000 government jobs held by women, the majority of which were teaching positions, according to a report published by the US government’s oversight authority on Afghanistan’s reconstruction known as SIGAR.  

Yet despite the increasing uncertainty over the future of education for girls in Afghanistan, Najiba is still holding out hope.

“I really hope and pray something good happens and girls’ schools reopen so we can go back to where we belong, in the classroom and school. Nothing else will make us happy and help us get back to our normal condition,” she said.

For Khaperai, who used to teach at a secondary school in Jalalabad, the capital of the eastern Nangarhar province, the Taliban’s policies were taking a toll on her mental health and financial situation.

The 42-year-old has tried to no avail to get transferred to a primary school as there are no vacancies in her area.  

“And I couldn’t leave my family. The change in my condition has not only impacted me psychologically but has posed economic challenges as well,” she told Arab News, adding that her husband has also lost his job due to the ongoing economic crisis.

“I was supporting my children’s education with my salary but since the last few months, our salaries have decreased. We only receive 5,000 afghanis ($70) in our accounts now. It’s not sufficient to support myself and my children. I don’t know what I will do.”

With women also restricted from many workplaces under the Taliban, Khaperai found herself with no other alternative.

“I can’t do any other job. Women have very few work opportunities under the Taliban, making it almost impossible for female heads of the family to support their families,” she said.

“I can only hope for a positive change. I can’t do anything else. No one seems to listen to us or care about us. We are left to the mercy of God.”


Bangladesh extends curfew ahead of court hearing on controversial job quotas

Updated 21 July 2024
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Bangladesh extends curfew ahead of court hearing on controversial job quotas

  • Violent student protests in Bangladesh have killed at least 114 people as per news reports
  • Nationwide protests are biggest challenge to Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh government 

DHAKA: Bangladesh extended a curfew on Sunday to control violent student-led protests that have killed at least 114 people, as authorities braced for a Supreme Court hearing later in the day on government job quotas that sparked the anger.

Soldiers have been on patrol on the streets of capital Dhaka, the center of the demonstrations that spiralled into clashes between protesters and security forces.

Internet and text message services in Bangladesh have been suspended since Thursday, cutting the nation off as police cracked down on protesters who defied a ban on public gatherings.

A curfew ordered late on Friday has been extended to 3 p.m. (0900 GMT) on Sunday, until after the Supreme Court hearing, and will continue for an “uncertain time” following a two-hour break for people to gather supplies, local media reported.

Universities and colleges have also been closed since Wednesday.

Nationwide unrest broke out following student anger against quotas for government jobs that included reserving 30 percent for the families of those who fought for independence from Pakistan.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government had scrapped the quota system in 2018, but a court reinstated it last month.

The Supreme Court suspended the decision after a government appeal and will hear the case on Sunday after agreeing to bring forward a hearing scheduled for Aug. 7.

The demonstrations — the biggest since Hasina was re-elected for a fourth successive term this year — have also been fueled by high unemployment among young people, who make up nearly a fifth of the population.

The US State Department on Saturday raised its travel advisory for Bangladesh to level four, urging American citizens to not travel to the South Asian country.


EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

Updated 21 July 2024
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EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

  • The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas

BRUSSELS, Belgium: The top UN court’s ruling that Israel’s 57-year occupation of Palestinian land was “illegal” is “largely consistent with EU positions,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief said Saturday.
The sweeping opinion on Friday by The Hague-based International Court of Justice — which called for the occupation to end as soon as possible — was immediately slammed as a “decision of lies” by Israel.
But the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs said that the bloc had taken “good note” of the court’s ruling and urged further backing for the court’s opinion.
“In a world of constant and increasing violations of international law, it is our moral duty to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to all ICJ decisions in a consistent manner, irrespective of the subject in question,” Josep Borrell said.
He added in a statement that the opinion “will need to be analyzed more thoroughly, including in view of its implications for EU policy.”
The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas sparked by the group’s brutal October 7 attacks, as well as increased tensions in the West Bank.
Its intervention is likely to increase diplomatic pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza, as will the EU’s backing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ruling.
“The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land — not in our eternal capital Jerusalem, nor in our ancestral heritage of Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank), he said in a statement.
In June 1967, Israel seized the then-Jordan-annexed West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in a crushing six-day war against its Arab neighbors.
It then began to settle the 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of seized Arab territory.
The UN later declared the occupation of Palestinian territory illegal, and Cairo regained the Sinai under its 1979 peace deal with Israel.