G7 leaders warn China and North Korea on nukes, vow continued support for Ukraine against Russian ‘aggression’

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(L to R) US President Joe Biden, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take part in a working lunch session as part of the G7 Leaders' Summit in Hiroshima on May 19, 2023. (POOL / AFP) Hiroshima, Japan (POOL)
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(L-R) European Council President Charles Michel, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, France's President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and US President Joe Biden are given a tour of the Itsukushima Shrine during a visit in Miyajima Island as part of the G7 Leaders' Summit, on May 19, 2023. (POOL / AFP)
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Updated 20 May 2023
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G7 leaders warn China and North Korea on nukes, vow continued support for Ukraine against Russian ‘aggression’

  • G7 leaders issued a statement warning that China’s “accelerating build-up of its nuclear arsenal without transparency (or) meaningful dialogue poses a concern to global and regional stability”

HIROSHIMA, Japan: Leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies warned China and North Korea against building up their nuclear arsenals, pivoting to major northeast Asian crises ahead of the arrival later Saturday of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The focus on Asia at the Group of Seven summit comes as leaders tighten sanctions meant to punish Moscow and change the course of its 15-month invasion of Ukraine. Japan confirmed that Zelensky’s decision to attend the G7 in person stemmed from his “strong wish” to participate in talks that will influence his nation’s defense against Russia.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that President Joe Biden and Zelensky would have direct engagement at the summit, a day after Biden announced his support for training Ukrainian pilots on US-made F-16 fighter jets, a precursor to eventually providing those aircraft to Ukraine’s Air Force.
World leaders have faced a high-stakes balancing act in Hiroshima as they look to address a raft of global worries demanding urgent attention, including climate change, AI, poverty and economic instability, nuclear proliferation and, above all, the war in Ukraine.
China, the world’s No. 2 economy, sits at the nexus of many of those concerns.
There is increasing anxiety in Asia that Beijing, which has been steadily building up its nuclear bomb program, could try to seize Taiwan by force, sparking a wider conflict. China claims the self-governing island as its own and regularly sends ships and warplanes near it.
The G7 leaders issued a statement warning that China’s “accelerating build-up of its nuclear arsenal without transparency (or) meaningful dialogue poses a concern to global and regional stability.”
North Korea, which has been testing missiles at a torrid pace in an attempt to perfect a nuclear program meant to target the mainland United States, must completely abandon its nuclear bomb ambitions, the leaders said, “including any further nuclear tests or launches that use ballistic missile technology. North Korea cannot and will never have the status of a nuclear-weapon State under” international nuclear treaties, the statement said.
The green light on F-16 training is the latest shift by the Biden administration as it moves to arm Ukraine with more advanced and lethal weaponry, following earlier decisions to send rocket launcher systems and Abrams tanks. The United States has insisted that it is sending weapons to Ukraine to defend itself and has discouraged attacks by Ukraine into Russian territory.
“We’ve reached a moment where it is time to look down the road again to say what is Ukraine going to need as part of a future force, to be able to deter and defend against Russian aggression as we go forward,” Sullivan said.
An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity to brief reporters on the deliberations, said Zelensky will take part in two separate sessions Sunday. The first session will be with G7 members only and will focus on the war in Ukraine. The second session will include the G7 as well as the other nations invited to take part in the summit, and will focus on “peace and stability.”
The G7 leaders also used their summit to roll out a new wave of global sanctions on Moscow as well as plans to enhance the effectiveness of existing financial penalties meant to constrain President Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
“Our support for Ukraine will not waver,” the G7 leaders said in a statement released after closed-door meetings. They vowed “to stand together against Russia’s illegal, unjustifiable and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”
“Russia started this war and can end this war,” they said.
Zelensky has consistently called for the supply of Western fighter jets to bolster his country’s defenses against Russia’s invasion, but has until now faced skepticism from the United States that they would turn the tide in the war.
Now, as Ukraine has improved its air defenses with a host of Western-supplied anti-aircraft systems and prepares to launch a counteroffensive against Russia, officials believe the jets could become useful in the battle and essential to the country’s long-term security.
Biden’s decisions on when, how many, and who will provide the fourth-generation F-16 fighter jets will be made in the months ahead while the training is underway, Biden told leaders.
The F-16 training is to be conducted in Europe and will likely begin in the coming weeks. That’s according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Biden’s private conversations with allies.
Zelensky said Friday that he had opened a visit to Saudi Arabia, where Arab leaders were holding their own summit.
The latest sanctions aimed at Russia include tighter restrictions on already-sanctioned people and firms involved in the war effort. More than 125 individuals and organizations across 20 countries have been hit with US sanctions. The financial penalties have been primarily focused on sanctions evaders connected to technology procurement for the Kremlin. The Commerce Department also added 71 firms to its own list.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the Friday sanctions “will further tighten the vise on Putin’s ability to wage his barbaric invasion and will advance our global efforts to cut off Russian attempts to evade sanctions.”
In addition, new reporting requirements were issued for people and firms that have any interest in Russian Central Bank assets. The purpose is to “fully map holdings of Russia’s sovereign assets that will remain immobilized in G7 jurisdictions until Russia pays for the damage it has caused to Ukraine,” the US Treasury Department said.
Russia is now the most-sanctioned country in the world, but there are questions about the effectiveness.
Maria Snegovaya, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said going into the summit that while G7 countries “deserve credit” for their sanctions, “Russia still maintains capacity to fight this war in the long term.”
She added that war’s costs are “easily manageable for Russia in the next couple of years at least, and the cumulative effect of sanctions is just not strong enough to radically alter that.”
The G7 nations said in Friday’s statement that they would work to keep Russia from using the international financial system to prosecute its war, and they urged other nations to stop providing Russia with support and weapons “or face severe costs.”
World leaders Friday visited a peace park dedicated to the tens of thousands who died in the world’s first wartime atomic bomb detonation. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, wants nuclear disarmament to be a major focus of discussions.
The peace park contains reminders of Aug. 6, 1945, when a US B-29 dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, a city that has become synonymous with anti-nuclear peace efforts.
Biden, who scrapped plans to travel on to Papua New Guinea and Australia after his stay in Japan so that he can get back to debt limit talks in Washington, arranged to meet Saturday on the G-7 sidelines with leaders of the so-called Quad partnership, made up of Japan, Australia, India and the US
As G7 attendees made their way to Hiroshima, Moscow unleashed yet another aerial attack on the Ukrainian capital. Loud explosions thundered through Kyiv during the early hours, marking the ninth time this month that Russian air raids have targeted the city after weeks of relative quiet.
In a bit of dueling diplomacy, Chinese President Xi Jinping is hosting the leaders of the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for a two-day summit in the Chinese city of Xi’an.
The G7 leaders are also to discuss efforts to strengthen the global economy and address rising prices that are squeezing families and government budgets around the world, particularly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
A US official said the leaders on Saturday would issue a joint communique outlining new projects in the G7’s global infrastructure development initiative, which is meant to offer countries an alternative to China’s investment dollars.
The G7 includes Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Italy, as well as the European Union.


UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

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UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

  • PM: ‘In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality’

LONDON: Following weeks of simmering tension in the UK over the Gaza conflict, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Friday said that the “time has come” to battle extremist forces as he warned “democracy itself is a target.”
In an unusual address from outside his Downing Street home, Sunak said that “in recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.”
Regular marches protesting Israel’s military response to Hamas’ October 7th attacks have seen dozens arrested for anti-Semitic chanting and banners, inviting support for a proscribed organization and assaulting emergency workers.
Right wing conter-protesters were also arrested when they descended on London for Remembrance Day events in November.
“Islamist extremists and far-right groups are spreading a poison. That poison is extremism,” said Sunak.
Matters came to a head last week when the Speaker of the House of Commons said he bucked procedure during a debate due to concerns about the safety of MPs.
Sunak said that the protests, a regular occurence on Saturdays in the capital, “had descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.”
“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed.
“MPs do not feel safe in their home. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns,” he added.
The prime minister said that “police have a tough job in policing the protests” but that “we must draw a line.”
“I say this to the police, we will back up when you take action,” he added.
Sunak’s speech came as left-wing firebrand George Galloway was elected to the UK parliament after tapping into anger over the Israel-Hamas war in a chaotic by-election marred by allegations of anti-Semitism.
Sunak said it was “beyond alarming” that voters had elected a candidate “who dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7th, and who glorifies Hezbollah.”
The government will soon unveil a “new, robust framework” to tackle extremism, which will include backing for the counter-radicalization Prevent program and a demand for universities to stop extremist activity on campus, he explained.
“It is not enough to live side-by-side, we must live together, united by shared values and a shared commitment to this country,” said Sunak.
“The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division,” he added.


Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh

Updated 27 min 26 sec ago
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Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh

  • The individuals entered Somalia to cause harm to Muslims and Somalis and incite unrest in the country
  • It was not immediately clear if any of the men had access to legal representation or where they were being held Friday

MOGADISHU: A military court in Somalia’s northeastern semiautonomous state of Puntland sentenced to death six Moroccans believed to be foreign fighters for the Daesh group in Somalia.
The individuals entered Somalia to cause harm to Muslims and Somalis and incite unrest in the country, the presiding judge in the Puntland region, Col. Ali Ibrahim Osman, said late Thursday.
The six men, identified as Mohamed Hassan, Ahmed Najwi, Khalid Latha, Mohamed Binu Mohamed Ahmed, Ridwan Abdulkadir Osmany, and Ahmed Hussein Ibrahim, can appeal and if they are unsuccessful they will be shot to death by firing squad.
Additionally, an Ethiopian and a Somali were each sentenced to 10 years in prison, while another Somali defendant was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
It was not immediately clear if any of the men had access to legal representation or where they were being held Friday. The eight men claimed they were misled into joining the group and expressed a desire to be repatriated, Osman said.
According to Osman, the six Moroccans were accused of receiving training with Daesh at its base in the Cal-Miskaat Mountains in northeastern Somalia, which serve as a stronghold for the group.
The Moroccans were apprehended in the mountain range, located to the east of Bosaso, which is the commercial hub of the Puntland region.
The Somali branch of Daesh was established in 2015 by a group of defectors from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabab group, which is the most prominent militant group in Somalia.
The group is notorious for extorting locals and primarily carries out small-scale, sporadic attacks. This marks the first time that authorities in the semi-autonomous Puntland region have charged or sentenced foreigners for joining Daesh.


Armenia, Azerbaijan to continue peace talks after Berlin meet

Updated 01 March 2024
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Armenia, Azerbaijan to continue peace talks after Berlin meet

BERLIN: Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to continue peace talks after a new push in Berlin this week to resolve their decades-long conflict, the German foreign ministry said on Friday.
Armenia’s Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijan’s Jeyhun Bayramov held two days of talks in Berlin hosted by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who hailed their “courageous steps” toward a peace agreement.
A German foreign ministry spokeswoman on Friday said the two countries had “a great interest in continuing to clarify outstanding issues together and to meet again for this purpose.”
The foreign ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan had also said in a statement on Thursday that they wished to “continue negotiations on the open issues.”
The German spokeswoman hailed the agreement to pursue talks as “a very good sign” and said the two parties wanted to work “step by step” toward a peace agreement.
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought two wars, in the 1990s and in 2020, before Azerbaijani forces last September retook control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning offensive that ended three decades of Armenian separatist rule over the enclave.
Tensions have remained high since the Azerbaijani operation that triggered the exodus to Armenia of most of the enclave’s entire ethnic-Armenian population of more than 100,000 people.
The dialogue in Berlin built on a surprise direct meeting between the two nations’ leaders on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference last month.
Under German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s mediation, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev agreed in Munich to push on with peace negotiations.

Manila cafe sheds light on Palestinian heritage in wake of destruction

Updated 01 March 2024
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Manila cafe sheds light on Palestinian heritage in wake of destruction

  • Cafe Habib is run by Palestinian national Mahmoud Habib and his Filipino-Iraqi wife Nadia
  • Their menu is based on recipes from Habib’s mother in Gaza

Manila: Mahmoud and Nadia Habib opened their cafe in early 2023 to bring a piece of Palestine to the Philippines. Little did they know that the place would soon turn into a center of Gaza heritage and a hub of solidarity in Manila.

Located on Mabini Street, Cafe Habib is light, warm and informal with its white tables, grey sofas and ochre walls showing maps, photos and symbols of Palestinian heritage.

From the beginning, the husband — who is a native of Gaza — and the Filipino-Iraqi wife wanted their restaurant’s ambiance to make Filipinos feel as if they had stepped into a place in Palestine.

“We came up with the concept to create a special place where when customers come in, they will not think they are in the Philippines anymore. We wanted to spotlight Arab culture,” Mahmoud told Arab News.

For Nadia, it is also an attempt to “bring a piece of Palestine to the Philippines” to share its rich heritage, traditions, and flavors.

“The Palestinian-themed cafe became our platform to introduce the Filipino people to the beauty and depth of Palestinian culture. We believed that by immersing them in a unique and authentic experience, we could foster understanding and appreciation,” she said.

Their menu features authentic dishes such as falafel, shawarma, and the iconic Palestinian knafeh — crispy filo dough with cheese soaked in syrup and topped with pistachios — all based on recipes that have been in the Habib family for generations.

“These recipes all come from my mother,” Mahmoud said, adding that Nadia also learned to make them during their trips to his home in Gaza.

The last time they visited was in September, just two weeks before Israel launched its latest deadly onslaught that has since killed at least 30,000 people, wounded tens of thousands more, and displaced about 1.5 million.

They saw the destruction and hid from daily bombardment, only managing to return to Manila when Philippine authorities evacuated some of the Filipino-Palestinians from the besieged enclave in November.

Nadia was born and raised in the Philippines, while Mahmoud has been living in the country since 2013, when he arrived to study architecture at the National University.

Upon their return to Manila, they have been trying to reunite with Mahmoud’s family, but until now, it has been to no avail.

“I tried to bring them, but it is very hard,” he said.

It is their cafe, a reminder of Palestine, that keeps the couple strong and gives them space to spread awareness among Filipinos on what is happening in Gaza.

“Speaking up about Palestine is a crucial aspect of our mission, as it lies at the core of why we established this cafe. If customers initiate a conversation about … Palestine, we wholeheartedly engage in the discussion,” Nadia said.

They also helped facilitate the efforts of Filipino peace activists who organized a Gaza solidarity march in November.

“They gave me more power. This shows that our voice goes out to the world, and everyone really has a huge heart,” Mahmoud said.

“I am proud of (this cafe). I am really happy because I’m showing people what Palestine is, who the Palestinian people are.”


Ex-government adviser urges UK PM to apologize to London mayor over Islamophobia

Updated 01 March 2024
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Ex-government adviser urges UK PM to apologize to London mayor over Islamophobia

  • Faith expert Colin Bloom calls remarks against Sadiq Khan by MP Lee Anderson ‘offensive’ and ‘disgusting’
  • Rishi Sunak is ‘not showing the leadership the country needs’

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been urged by a former government advisor to apologize to London Mayor Sadiq Khan over comments made by a suspended Conservative MP.

Colin Bloom, who advised the governing Conservatives on faith matters, told the BBC that Lee Anderson’s remarks were “offensive” and “disgusting,” adding that Sunak is “not showing the leadership the country needs.”

Anderson was suspended last week for refusing to apologize after he said in a TV interview that Khan had “given away” London to Islamists who had “got control” of the mayor.

While admitting his words were “a little bit clumsy,” Anderson said he has received “lots of support privately in WhatsApp groups and messages” from Conservative colleagues. He denies that he or his words were racist or Islamophobic.

Bloom, a former executive director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship and director of Christians in Politics, was made a government advisor by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019.

Bloom told the BBC’s “Newsnight” program that the “vast majority” of British Muslims are “kind, decent, generous, peaceful people,” and that Anderson’s rhetoric and the muted government response to it are putting people at risk.

Bloom said Sunak needs to apologize to Khan and it is “clearly wrong” for Anderson to have equated the Muslim mayor with being a religious extremist.

Khan has publicly called on Sunak to denounce Anderson’s words as Islamophobic, but while admitting they were “wrong,” the prime minister has so far failed to do so.

A government spokesperson told “Newsnight” that Sunak is “clear there must be zero tolerance for any form of extremism, racism or hatred” in British politics.