Philippines summons Chinese envoy over aggression in South China Sea

Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr., right, meets with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines, Feb. 14, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2023
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Philippines summons Chinese envoy over aggression in South China Sea

  • US says China’s use of laser was a provocative action in the disputed region
  • Philippines expanded US access to its military bases in early February

MANILA: President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned Beijing’s ambassador to Manila on Tuesday, after a Chinese vessel used a laser to block a coast guard ship in contested waters in the South China Sea.

The Philippine Coast Guard said on Monday that the Chinese vessel used a “military-grade laser” on Feb. 6 that temporarily blinded crew members aboard.

“The president summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian this afternoon to express his serious concern over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against the Philippine Coast Guard and our Filipino fishermen,” Marcos’s office said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs lodged a diplomatic protest against China’s “aggressive activities,” saying that dangerous maneuvers, use of the laser, and illegal radio challenges by Chinese ships in the area were “disturbing and disappointing,” taking place right after Marcos’s state visit to Beijing.

During the trip last month, Marcos agreed with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to establish an inter-government hotline on maritime issues amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea. China claims the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea almost in its entirety, though other countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, also have overlapping claims.

The latest incident follows increasing Chinese activity in the Philippine part of the territory, the West Philippine Sea, and came days after the Philippines granted the US expanded access to its military bases, providing American forces with a strategic footing as tensions grow over the disputed South China Sea and Taiwan.

The action was “provocative and unsafe,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on Monday.

“The PRC’s dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” he said, adding that an armed attack on Philippine forces, including the coast guard in the South China Sea, would invoke US-Philippines mutual defense commitments.

Under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, Washington and Manila are committed to extend military support to each other if either of them is attacked by an external party.

International security expert Stephen Cutler told Arab News that President Marcos’s foreign policy approach, which has seen his administration engaging closely not only with China and the US, but also Japan this year, may have prompted the latest Chinese aggression.

“I think it is a provocative move within the South China Sea in that area. I don’t remember hearing about this kind of activity before,” he said.

“They might be trying to send him a message to recognize their authority, recognize them as the bosses in the areas and not these other countries, and slow down the growing rapport that President Marcos and the Philippines in general are trying to establish.”


Google employees arrested after protesting against $1bn contract with Israel

Updated 28 sec ago
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Google employees arrested after protesting against $1bn contract with Israel

  • 'Google workers do not want their labor to power Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza,' No Tech For Apartheid group said

LONDON: Several Google employees were arrested on Tuesday for taking part in a 10-hour sit-in at the company’s offices in New York and California.

The protest, organized by members of the No Tech For Apartheid movement, was meant as a challenge to the tech giant’s involvement with the Israeli government. It centered on a $1 billion cloud computing contract between Google, Amazon and the Israeli government and military, known as Project Nimbus.

The project involves creating a secure Google cloud setup in Israel to facilitate data analysis, AI training and other computing services, Time magazine reported.

According to leaked documents reported by American news organization Intercept in 2022, the project includes advanced features like AI-enabled facial detection and automated image categorization.

During the sit-in, a livestreamed video captured a security worker telling protesters at Google’s California office that they were on administrative leave and cautioned them about trespassing.

Social media videos showed police removing nine protesters from the premises. Similar actions were recorded at the company’s New York office.

A statement from the No Tech For Apartheid group said: “Google workers do not want their labor to power Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. The time is now to rise up against Project Nimbus, in support of Palestinian liberation and join calls to end the Israeli occupation.”

Last month, a Google employee from the group interrupted a talk by the company’s Israel chief, accusing the company of “powering genocide.” He was later fired.

A Google spokesman told the Telegraph: “These protests were part of a longstanding campaign by a group of organizations and people who largely don’t work at Google. A small number of employee protesters entered and disrupted a couple of our locations.

“Physically impeding other employees’ work and preventing them from accessing our facilities is a clear violation of our policies and we will investigate and take action.

“These employees were put on administrative leave and their access to our systems was cut. After refusing multiple requests to leave the premises, law enforcement was engaged to remove them to ensure office safety.”


Man guilty of attacks near UK mosques given hospital order

Updated 13 min 19 sec ago
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Man guilty of attacks near UK mosques given hospital order

  • Abbkr has paranoid schizophrenia and believed he was controlled by people possessed by evil spirits

LONDON: A man convicted of attempted murder after deliberately setting fire to two elderly men shortly after they left mosques in the UK was on Wednesday handed an indefinite hospital order.
Mohammed Abbkr, from Edgbaston in Birmingham, central England, deliberately set fire to Hashi Odowa, 82, and Mohammed Rayaz, 70, in February and March last year.
Abbkr, originally from Sudan, was convicted of two counts of attempted murder last year at Birmingham Crown Court in central England.
Judge Melbourne Inman told Abbkr, who has paranoid schizophrenia and believed he was controlled by people possessed by evil spirits: “You threw petrol over your victims and then set them alight — the attacks were horrific.”
“The two victims in this case were, on any rational view, chosen at random,” the judge told Abbkr, who watched the proceedings by video-link from Ashworth high security hospital in northwest England.
“You, however, genuinely believed each of them was one of those trying to take control of you.
“I am wholly satisfied that you committed both of these offenses at a time when you were suffering a severe mental illness.”
Abbkr sprayed petrol on the two men outside or near mosques they had attended and then set them alight. The attacks took place in west London on February 27 and Birmingham on March 20.
Odowa, who was attacked in London, was treated for severe burns to his face and arms. The Birmingham attack left Rayaz hospitalized with severe injuries.


70 killed as Afghanistan hit by heavy rains

Updated 38 min 33 sec ago
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70 killed as Afghanistan hit by heavy rains

  • Rains between Saturday and Wednesday triggered flash floods in most Afghanistan provinces
  • Fifty-six people injured, over 2,600 houses have been damaged or destroyed, says Afghan official 

KABUL: Around 70 people have been killed by heavy rains lashing Afghanistan over the past five days, the government’s disaster management department said Wednesday.
Afghanistan was parched by an unusually dry winter which desiccated the earth, exacerbating flash-flooding caused by spring downpours in most provinces.
Disaster management spokesman Janan Sayeq said “approximately 70 people lost their lives” as a result of rains between Saturday and Wednesday.
Fifty-six others have been injured, he said, while more than 2,600 houses have been damaged or destroyed and 95,000 acres of farmland wiped away.
Giving a smaller death toll last week, Sayeq said most fatalities at that point had been caused by roof collapses resulting from the deluges. 
Neighbouring Pakistan has also been hammered by spring downpours, with 65 people killed in storm-related incidents as rain falls at nearly twice the historical average rate.
The United Nations last year warned that “Afghanistan is experiencing major swings in extreme weather conditions.”
After four decades of war the country ranks among the nations least prepared to face extreme weather events, which scientists say are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change.
At least 25 people were killed in a landslide after massive snowfall in eastern Afghanistan in February, while around 60 were killed in a three-week spate of precipitation ending in March.


President Widodo urges Apple CEO to open manufacturing facility in Indonesia

Updated 17 April 2024
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President Widodo urges Apple CEO to open manufacturing facility in Indonesia

  • Country has ‘endless’ investment ability, Tim Cook says on visit to Jakarta
  • Tech giant announces opening of new Apple Developer Academy in Bali

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday met the head of tech giant Apple and urged him to open a manufacturing facility in the country.

CEO Tim Cook was in Jakarta following a trip to Hanoi, where the company announced plans to increase spending on suppliers in Vietnam, its most important manufacturing hub outside China.

Before the meeting between Widodo and Cook, Apple announced plans to boost its investment in Indonesia and said it would open a new Apple Developer Academy — facilities designed to nurture local talent in the tech sector — in Bali, its fourth in the country.

“The meeting with Tim Cook focused on exploring strategic plans, including the opportunity of Apple expanding to Indonesia and further integration into the global supply chain,” Widodo said in a statement.

“I invited Apple to establish an innovation hub with potential universities in Indonesia for human resources development. I also urged Apple to develop a manufacturing facility in the country.”

Apple currently does not have a manufacturing facility in Indonesia but opened its first developer academy there in 2018.

The new facility takes the company’s total investment in Indonesia to 1.6 trillion rupiah ($98.4 million), according to Industry Minister Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita.

“After this, the Ministry of Industry will conduct a business-matching program. We already have a list of the components (that Apple needs) and mobile components that are already produced in Indonesia, so perhaps there can be a partnership,” he said.

Apple has based much of its key manufacturing of iPads, Airpods and Apple Watches in Vietnam, and more recently India, as it explores ways to diversify its supply chains away from China.

Home to more than 270 million people, Indonesia has a young, tech-savvy population with more than 100 million people aged under 30.

According to figures from Statista, as of January, Apple had an 11.5 percent share of Indonesia’s mobile phone market, behind Oppo (18 percent) and Samsung (17 percent).

“We talked about the president’s desire to see manufacturing in the country and it’s something that we will look at,” Cook told reporters after meeting Widodo.

“I thought we had a great conversation and I really appreciated the time with him. It was a dialogue about how much potential there is in the country and our commitment to the country.”

Cook later met president-elect, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who will take over from Widodo in October.

“I think the investment ability in Indonesia is endless, I think that there’s a lot of great places to invest and we’re investing,” Cook said. “We believe in the country.”


Hundreds of Myanmar troops flee to Bangladesh amid clashes with anti-junta rebels

Updated 17 April 2024
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Hundreds of Myanmar troops flee to Bangladesh amid clashes with anti-junta rebels

  • Insurgents in Rakhine and Chin states launched offensive against Myanmar junta forces in October 2023
  • Bangladesh has already repatriated 300 Myanmar soldiers who crossed the border since February

DHAKA: Hundreds of Myanmar troops have abandoned their posts and crossed to Bangladesh since February amid intensifying clashes between the junta and an ethnic minority army, Bangladeshi border agency officials said on Wednesday.
Fighting between Myanmar’s military-controlled government forces and insurgents in Rakhine and Chin states began in late October 2023, with a multi-pronged offensive against the junta, which took over the country in early 2021.
Since then, the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army has been locked in fierce battles against the Myanmar Armed Forces and border police in the two states bordering Bangladesh.
“Between last night and Wednesday morning, 46 members of Border Guard Police of Myanmar took shelter in Bangladesh through different borders of Jamchari, Rejupara and Baishfari under Bandarban district,” Shariful Islam, spokesperson of the Border Guard Bangladesh, told Arab News.
“With these, a total of 260 BGP members are currently in Bangladesh.”
The latest intrusion into Bangladeshi territory took place as authorities observed heavy gunfire on the Myanmar side of the border.
“Our border guard members are on high alert ... The battle situation is continuing between the Myanmar army, Arakan Army, RSO (Rohingya Solidarity Organization), and other separatist groups on the other side of the border in Myanmar,” said Lt. Col. Mohiuddin Ahmed, commanding officer of the BGB on Teknaf border, in Cox’s Bazar district.
“Since last February, Myanmar border guard members started fleeing into Bangladesh. When they take refuge in Bangladesh, first we disarm them and then shelter them in a safe place arranged by the district administration.”
Bangladeshi officials then repatriate the troops.
“Our top officials, home ministry, and foreign ministry contact Myanmar for the return of their border guard members,” Ahmed said. “Earlier, more than 300 Myanmar BGP members were handed over to Myanmar.”
The insurgents, who are in an alliance with Maynmar’s exiled National Unity Government, have captured a significant chunk of the territory neighboring Bangladesh, but are still far from controlling it, according to Maj. Gen. (rtd) Shahidul Haque, a security analyst who served as military attache at the Bangladeshi Embassy in Myanmar.
“The Arakan Army still hasn’t started their activities in some strategic cities of Rakhine like Sittwe, which is the capital of Arakan. There is another city named Kyaukphyu, where there are huge Chinese investments. If the Arakan Army takes over the control of Sittwe, then control of northern Rakhine will be under the Arakan Army,” he told Arab News.
While Sittwe is currently under curfew imposed by Myanmar junta forces, the escalation of fighting in Rakhine State has curtailed Bangladesh’s trade with Myanmar.
“Our official trade with Myanmar has fallen drastically as the Myanmar government officials who were in charge of different port operations have fled from those areas,” Haque said.
“It’s a huge loss for Bangladesh as we imported a significant amount of agricultural produce from Myanmar.”
The intensifying fighting was also likely to unleash a new wave of Rohingya seeking shelter in Bangladesh, which was already facing a refugee crisis.
More than a million Rohingya Muslims, most of whom fled Rakhine after a brutal military crackdown in 2017, have been staying in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, turning the coastal district into the world’s largest refugee settlement.
“Bangladesh may face another influx of Rohingya,” Haque said.
“Myanmar military has started massive bombings in some areas. Recently, more than a dozen Rohingya lost their lives in such attacks. This will cause a dangerous situation for us.”
ENDS