UK foreign secretary says he raised human rights on China visit

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly (L) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi shake hands before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. (AFP)
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Updated 30 August 2023
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UK foreign secretary says he raised human rights on China visit

  • Cleverly, the first UK foreign minister to visit China for five years, held talks with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng

BEIJING: British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said he had raised human rights concerns at “every single one” of his meetings with top Chinese officials, as he made a state visit to Beijing on Wednesday.
Cleverly, the first UK foreign minister to visit China for five years, held talks with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng and met top diplomat Wang Yi.
The foreign office previously said his talking points would include China’s crackdown on freedoms in the former British colony of Hong Kong as well as Beijing’s alleged rights abuses in the Xinjiang and Tibet regions.
“I’ve had a number of conversations with senior representatives of the Chinese government and I have raised human rights in every single one of those meetings,” Cleverly said Wednesday.
“This is an issue that is discussed extensively not just bilaterally, but at the United Nations,” he said.
“I think the Chinese government understand the UK is consistent in our approach... and I will keep raising these issues with (them).”
Beijing’s foreign ministry brushed off questions about the role of human rights in the discussions.
“Hong Kong and Xinjiang are purely China’s internal affairs and brook no interference from other countries,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing.
China last month accused the United Kingdom of giving protection to fugitives after Cleverly blasted the Hong Kong government for offering bounties for information leading to the capture of prominent democracy activists based overseas.
And on Sunday, the state-backed Global Times newspaper set off a domestic online firestorm when it demanded the British Museum “return Chinese cultural relics for free.”
Britain ruled Hong Kong for over 150 years before it was handed over to China in 1997 under an agreement to preserve its unique civic freedoms.
Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the city in 2020 after huge, sometimes violent protests.
China’s ruling Communist Party is also accused of a litany of rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet, including mass incarceration and forced labor.
Cleverly has called for a pragmatic and united Western approach to China’s rise, acknowledging the need to partner with Beijing on global issues.
But a critical report by British MPs on Wednesday said London’s line on China lacked clarity and needed a “coordinated, whole-of-government approach.”
The 87-page report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee also labelled China “a threat to the UK and its interests” and urged London to boost “deterrence diplomacy” to counter threats from Beijing.
Hawkish elements in the United Kingdom’s ruling Conservative party have urged Cleverly to act tougher on China.
Cleverly said Wednesday that “attempts to distil the UK’s relationship with China down to a single word or a soundbite are fundamentally flawed.”
China’s size, influence and complexity mean Britain’s relationship with Beijing will be “complicated and sophisticated,” he said.
“We are clear-eyed about the areas where we have fundamental disagreements with China, and I raise those issues when we meet,” Cleverly added.
“We will pursue a pragmatic working relationship, but that does of course mean raising the issues where we disagree.”


EU ministers to discuss air defense for Ukraine, Iran sanctions

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EU ministers to discuss air defense for Ukraine, Iran sanctions

  • The EU already has multiple sanctions programs against Iran – for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuses and supplying drones to Russia

LUXEMBOURG: European Union foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg on Monday to discuss bolstering Ukraine’s air defenses and expanding sanctions on Iran.
While the ministers will also discuss the war in Sudan, most of their focus will be on the conflicts raging on the 27-member bloc’s eastern and southern doorsteps – in Ukraine and the Middle East.
With Russia having stepped up air attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and other targets, EU governments are under pressure to supply more air defense systems such as Patriots to Kyiv.
Kyiv and its European allies got a big boost at the weekend when the US House of Representatives approved a package worth more than $60 billion to address the war in Ukraine.
But EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg have been urging European countries to step up their own efforts to give arms to Ukraine, particularly air defense.
After a video conference of NATO defense ministers with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday, Stoltenberg said he expected announcements soon.
“NATO has mapped out existing capabilities across the alliance and there are systems that can be made available to Ukraine,” he said.
“In addition to Patriots, there are other weapons that allies can provide, including (the French system) SAMP/T,” he added.
So far, Germany is the only EU member to declare it will send an additional Patriot system in response to Ukraine’s latest pleas.
The ministers will be joined by their defense counterparts for Monday’s Ukraine talks, as well as Ukraine’s foreign and defense ministers, before turning to the Middle East crisis sparked by the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 last year.

IRAN SANCTIONS
The ministers will seek agreement on how much further to go in sanctioning Iran, following Tehran’s missile and drone attack on Israel the weekend before last.
The EU already has multiple sanctions programs against Iran – for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuses and supplying drones to Russia.
EU leaders agreed last week they would impose further sanctions against Iran. Many EU countries have called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to Iranian proxy forces in the Middle East.
EU countries are also debating whether to impose fresh sanctions related to missile production, according to diplomats.
Some countries are also pushing for the EU to find a way to designate Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards force as a terrorist organization.
But officials say they have not yet found a legal basis for such a step are not sure all EU members would favor it.

 


India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence

Updated 21 April 2024
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India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence

  • Friday marked start of voting by nearly 1 billion people in world’s most-populous country
  • The main opposition Congress party had demanded a rerun at 47 Manipur polling stations

NEW DELHI: India, staging the world’s biggest election, will rerun voting at 11 polling stations in the northeastern state of Manipur on Monday after reports of violence and damage to voting machines in the state torn by months of ethnic clashes.
The election authorities declared the voting void at the 11 locations and ordered the fresh poll, the chief electoral officer of Manipur said in a statement late on Saturday.
Friday marked the start of voting by nearly one billion people in the world’s most-populous country, in an election running through June 1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is forecast to win a rare third term on the back of issues such as growth, welfare and Hindu nationalism.
The main opposition Congress party had demanded a rerun at 47 Manipur polling stations, alleging that booths were captured and elections were rigged.
There were scattered incidents of violence on Friday in the state, including clashes among armed groups and attempts to take over polling stations under heavy security. Voters turned out in large numbers, despite the threat of clashes that have killed at least 220 people in the past year.
Manipur has been roiled by fighting between the majority Meitei and tribal Kuki-Zo people since May. It remains divided between a valley controlled by Meiteis and Kuki-dominated hills, separated by a stretch of no-man’s land monitored by federal paramilitary forces.


UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody

Updated 21 April 2024
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UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody

  • Dughman had died “while attempting to escape prison on Friday” when he fell “from a window, fracturing his skull"

TRIPOLI: The United Nations Support Mission in Libya called Sunday for an investigation into a political activist’s death while detained at an eastern military base controlled by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
UNSMIL also demanded the “immediate release” of other prisoners it said were being detained “arbitrarily” by the war-torn country’s eastern-based authorities.
In a statement on X, the UN mission said it was “deeply saddened by the death of activist Siraj Dughman while in custody at Rajma military camp” and urged the Libyan “authorities to conduct a transparent and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.”
Plagued by political instability and violence since the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya is split between an internationally recognized government, based in Tripoli, and a rival administration in the east backed by Haftar.
The base at Rajma, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) east of Benghazi, serves as Haftar’s headquarters.
In a video published on Saturday, the Haftar-affiliated Eastern Internal Security Agency confirmed Dughman’s death.
The agency said it had commissioned a forensic examination according to which Dughman had died “while attempting to escape prison on Friday” when he fell “from a window, fracturing his skull.”
The agency said he was arrested in October 2023 together with several others accused of “participating in a campaign” inciting the “overthrow of official state agencies” including Haftar’s forces.
UNSMIL said that Dughman “was arbitrarily arrested and detained in 2023” with other Benghazi-based staff members of the Libyan Center for Future Studies, an independent think tank, who “were never formally charged or appeared in court.”
Dughman was the director of the organization’s office in Benghazi, eastern Libya’s main city.
Extrajudicial arrests, detentions and assassinations of political dissidents, activists and human rights defenders have become common in Libya, particularly in the North African country’s east.
The Libyan Center for Future Studies said the security agency was “responsible for his death” which occurred in “obscure circumstances.”


Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’

Updated 21 April 2024
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Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’

  • US House of Representatives swiftly approves $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other allies in a rare Saturday session

KYIV: Ukrainian and Western leaders welcomed a desperately needed aid package passed by the US House of Representatives, as the Kremlin claimed the passage of the bill would “further ruin” Ukraine and cause more deaths.
The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s invasion.
With an overwhelming vote, the $61 billion in aid for Ukraine passed in a matter of minutes. Many Democrats cheered on the House floor and waved Ukrainian flags.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who had warned that his country would lose the war without US funding, said that he was grateful for the decision of US lawmakers.
“We appreciate every sign of support for our country and its independence, people and way of life, which Russia is attempting to bury under the rubble,” he wrote on social media site X.
“America has demonstrated its leadership since the first days of this war. Exactly this type of leadership is required to maintain a rules-based international order and predictability for all nations,” he said.
The Ukrainian president noted that his country’s “warriors on the front lines” would feel the benefit of the aid package.
One such “warrior” is infantry soldier Oleksandr, fighting around Avdiivka, the city in the Donetsk region that Ukraine lost to Russia in February after months of intense combat.
“For us it’s so important to have this support from the US and our partners,” Oleksandr told The Associated Press. He did not give his full name for security reasons.
“With this we can stop them and reduce our losses. It’s the first step to have the possibility to liberate our territory.”
Ammunition shortages linked to the aid holdup over the past six months have led Ukrainian military commanders to ration shells, a disadvantage that Russia seized on this year — taking the city of Avdiivka and currently inching toward the town of Chasiv Yar, also in the Donetsk region.
“The Russians come at us in waves — we become exhausted, we have to leave our positions. This is repeated many times,” Oleksandr said. “Not having enough ammunition means we can’t cover the area that is our responsibility to hold when they are assaulting us.”
Other Western leaders lauded the passing of the aid package.
“Ukraine is using the weapons provided by NATO Allies to destroy Russian combat capabilities. This makes us all safer, in Europe & North America,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on X.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “Ukraine deserves all the support it can get against Russia.”
In Russia, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the approval of aid to Ukraine “expected and predictable.”
The decision “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Ria Novosti.
“The new aid package will not save, but, on the contrary, will kill thousands and thousands more people, prolong the conflict, and bring even more grief and devastation,” Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs, wrote on Telegram.
The whole aid package will go to the US Senate, which could pass it as soon as Tuesday. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.


From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era

Updated 21 April 2024
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From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era

  • Opened in 1895 in Karachi, Bhagat Tarachand has over 25 branches in India
  • Founder’s family migrated to Mumbai upon the partition of British Raj in 1947

New Delhi/Karachi: Some of the first dishes cooked at the Bhagat Tarachand restaurant were the potato curries that Prakash Chawla’s grandfather prepared at a small eatery in 19th-century Karachi. Nearly 130 years later, they are still on the menu, albeit across the border in Mumbai.

Established by Tarachand Chawla in 1895, the restaurant started in the seaside megalopolis and the capital of what is now the Pakistani province of Sindh.

It served simple meals of Sindhi roti — wheat-flour bread spiced with onions and ghee — and seasonal vegetables.

Initially nameless, Chawla’s eatery soon became known by his name and the honorific “bhagat” (a noble man) that people added to it in reverence.

“My grandfather was a generous man, and he wouldn’t let anyone go hungry, whether that person had money or not. That way ‘bhagat’ was added to his name,” Prakash told Arab News.

Bhagat Tarachand died in Karachi in 1942, a few years before the partition of the British Raj.

In 1947, when it was split into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, his sons, including Prakash’s father, Khemchand, moved to Mumbai on the Indian side — some 900 km away.

The family became part of one of the biggest migrations in history, which forced about 15 million people to swap countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.

“It was not an easy beginning after moving to India, with my father struggling to establish the restaurant in Zaveri Bazaar,” Prakash said. “It was just a six-table eatery.”

Since then the restaurant has been officially known as Bhagat Tarachand, in memory of its founder.

The undated file photo shows popular items from the menu of Bhagat Tarachand restaurant. (Bhagat Tarachand)

Once the business started to flourish, Khemchand’s brothers opened other branches. He remained at the original location in the historical Mumbai gold market, where Prakash started to work at the age of 19.

Nearly half a century later, he is still leading the business, having expanded it into a four-story restaurant and added new dishes to the menu.

Now one of India’s leading vegetarian restaurants, Bhagat Tarachand has 25 branches led by Prakash and his cousins across the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

The most popular meal at his outlets is a vegetarian platter.

“In the veggie platter, we give three types of vegetables, lentils, chapati, rice or pilav, as per your choice, one sweet dish, one crispy item, and a pickle,” he said. “It is sufficient for two people”.

Some other flavors have been there since the Karachi times: aloo matar — potato and pea curry; and aloo methi — potato and fenugreek curry.

“Those are some of the oldest dishes that we’ve been serving since at least my father remembers,” said Vishal Chawla, Prakash’s son, who helps him run the business.

“When my great-grandfather ran the restaurant, my grandfather, and even to a certain extent my father, there was no menu card. They used to write just the dish of the day ... It depended on, you know, what were the fresh vegetables available in the market.”

Setting sights on expansion to the UAE and Singapore, both of which have significant Indian diasporas, Vishal has also been thinking about his ancestral city.

But as long as India and Pakistan have a complicated relationship, even obtaining a visa is not easy. One of his uncles has already tried, but to no avail.

“I hope that our countries have better relations in the future, at least in my lifetime ... And if that becomes a possibility, I would love to reconnect with the roots of this restaurant,” he said.

“From the perspective of our restaurant and family, they are all proud that they are able to continue this legacy.”