Belgium wants sanctions against Israel for Gaza bombings — deputy PM

Demonstrators take part in a rally in solidarity with Palestinians, calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Brussels on Nov. 5, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 08 November 2023
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Belgium wants sanctions against Israel for Gaza bombings — deputy PM

  • “It is time for sanctions against Israel. The rain of bombs is inhumane,” deputy prime minister Petra De Sutter said
  • The European Union should immediately suspend its association agreement with Israel

BRUSSELS: Belgium’s deputy prime minister called on the Belgian government on Wednesday to adopt sanctions against Israel and investigate the bombings of hospitals and refugee camps in Gaza.
“It is time for sanctions against Israel. The rain of bombs is inhumane,” deputy prime minister Petra De Sutter told Nieuwsblad newspaper. “It is clear that Israel does not care about the international demands for a cease-fire,” she said.
Israel struck at Gaza in response to a Hamas raid on southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which gunmen killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. The war has descended into the bloodiest episode in the generations-long Israel-Palestinian conflict.
De Sutter said the European Union should immediately suspend its association agreement with Israel, which aims at better economic and political cooperation.
She also said an import ban on products from occupied Palestinian territories should be implemented and violent settlers, politicians, soldiers responsible for war crimes should be banned from entering the EU.
At the same time, she said, Belgium should increase funding for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate the bombings while cutting money flows to Hamas.
“This is a terrorist organization. Terror costs money and there must be sanctions on the companies and people who provide Hamas with money,” De Sutter said.
With the war now entering its second month, UN officials and G7 nations stepped up appeals for a humanitarian pause in the hostilities to help alleviate the suffering in Gaza, where buildings have been flattened and basic supplies are running out. Palestinian officials say more than 10,000 people have been killed, 40 percent of them children.


A Pakistani court acquits ex-PM Khan and wife in marriage case, paving the way for possible release

Updated 6 sec ago
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A Pakistani court acquits ex-PM Khan and wife in marriage case, paving the way for possible release

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Saturday overturned the conviction and seven-year prison sentence of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife in the case of the couple’s alleged 2018 unlawful marriage case, removing the last known hurdle in the way of his release nearly a year after he was jailed, lawyers said.
Naeem Panjutha, one of Khan’s lawyers, said the court announced the verdict in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where the former premier is being held.
The acquittal comes two weeks after another appeals court upheld the Feb. 5 conviction and sentence of Khan and his wife, Bushra Bibi.
The court in its brief order said if the couple is not wanted in any other case, they should be released.
Bibi is Khan’s third wife and a spiritual healer. She was previously married to a man who claimed that they divorced in November 2017, less than three months before she married Khan. Islamic law, as upheld by Pakistan, requires a three-month waiting period before a new marriage.
Bibi has said they divorced in August 2017 and the couple insisted during the trial that they did not violate the waiting period.
It was unclear how the government would respond to the court order. Authorities have registered multiple cases against Khan since 2022 when he was ousted from power through a vote of no-confidence in the parliament.
The latest development came a day after Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that the party of Khan was improperly denied at least 20 seats in parliament, in a significant blow to the country’s fragile governing coalition.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party was previously excluded from a system that gives parties extra seats reserved for women and minorities in the National Assembly, or lower house of the parliament. Though the verdict was a major political win for Khan, it would not put his party in a position to oust the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who came into power following a Feb. 8 election that Khan allies say was rigged.
Khan has been embroiled in more than 150 legal cases, including inciting violence, since his arrest in May 2023. During nationwide riots that followed that, Khan’s supporters attacked the military and government buildings in various parts of the country and torched a building housing state-run Radio Pakistan in the northwest.
The violence subsided only when Khan was released by the Supreme Court. Khan was again arrested in early August 2023 after a court handed him a three-year jail sentence for corruption.
Since then, Khan has been given bail by different courts in all the cases in which he has been convicted.

Philippine diving town trades plastic for rice to tackle ocean waste

Updated 1 min 50 sec ago
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Philippine diving town trades plastic for rice to tackle ocean waste

  • Philippines is the third-largest source of ocean plastic waste worldwide
  • Plastic Palit Bigas helps Mabini residents cut food spending while saving the sea

MANILA: Campaigners in Mabini, one of the Philippines’ most famous diving resorts, have found a new way to make the issue of plastic pollution everybody’s business, as they swap rice for waste in a drive to clean up the town’s shores.

Known for its pristine waters, the town in Batangas province — some 100 km south of Manila — is considered the birthplace of the Philippine scuba-diving industry and every weekend draws crowds of tourists to enjoy its sandy beaches.

While they significantly contribute to Mabini’s economy, many have been arriving and leaving behind trails of plastic waste, compounding the problem of ocean pollution, which was already threatening the region’s marine wildlife.

“Marine plastic washes up on shore. During the habagat (southwest monsoon) season, onshore winds can cause a lot of plastic to pile up on our beaches from faraway places, but we also noticed that tourists from all over the country spend the day at our beaches and sadly some of them leave garbage behind,” said Ronald Necesito, the founder of Plastic Palit Bigas, an initiative to tackle the problem by mobilizing local communities.

Launched in mid-2022, Plastic Palit Bigas translates to “trade plastic for rice.” It offers to exchange a bag of plastic waste collected by Mabini residents for a sack of rice.

Necesito told Arab News: “I just thought rice would encourage citizens to clean the shores and segregate household plastic. Everyone needs rice. This way, we can reduce pollution as well.”

Poor waste management has plagued the Philippines’ waterways for years. According to the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the country is the third-largest source of ocean waste worldwide. Every year it discards an estimated 3.3 kg of plastic waste per person, emitting 350,000 tonnes of non-degradable litter into the ocean.

Necesito’s campaign is trying to address the issue on a local scale and is concentrated along a 3-km-long shoreline, which every Saturday will see a few dozen volunteers who, for 3 kg of the collected waste, can bring home 1 kg of rice.

The program is sustained by donations from individuals, local resorts and small enterprises.

“According to the families participating in this program, it is a big help for them because the cost they need to spend on buying rice is reduced,” Necesito said.

“So far, it has greatly helped our environment and even the sea. We have noticed less plastic on our shores. Mabini relies heavily on tourism, so having clean beaches is very important to our economy as well.”

The campaign has provided over 2,600 kg of rice to families in need to date.

Sheila Casa, a 35-year-old schoolteacher who regularly participates in the program, said that it had also helped raise awareness and incentivize people to care more as it reduces their food expenditure, with one sack of rice being enough to feed a family for a few days.

“There are some people who, even at home, avoid dumping their plastic waste … There are also more volunteers who want to join in the cleaning. This is a huge help for us,” she told Arab News.

“Waste becomes valuable because we can exchange it for rice.”


North Korea threatens to boost nuke capability in reaction to US-South Korea deterrence guidelines

Updated 38 min 10 sec ago
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North Korea threatens to boost nuke capability in reaction to US-South Korea deterrence guidelines

  • The US has repeatedly promised to use all its military capabilities to protect South Korea if it is attacked by North Korea
  • North Korea has argued it was forced to pursue nuclear weapons to deal with US-led nuclear threats

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea threatened Saturday to boost its nuclear fighting capability and make the US and South Korea pay “an unimaginably harsh price” as it slammed its rivals’ new defense guidelines that it says reveal an intention to invade the North.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol authorized the signing of joint nuclear deterrence guidelines as part of efforts to enhance their capabilities to cope with North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal. The guidelines were adopted a year after the two countries established a consultation body to bolster information-sharing on nuclear operations and discuss how to integrate US nuclear weapons and South Korean conventional weapons in contingencies.
In a statement carried by state media, North Korea’s Defense Ministry said the US-South Korea guidelines betrayed “their sinister intention to step up their preparations for a nuclear war against” North Korea.
The statement said its enemies’ escalating nuclear threats urgently require North Korea to further improve its nuclear deterrent readiness and add unspecified “important elements to the composition of the deterrent.” It said the US and South Korea will “pay an unimaginably harsh price” if they fail to stop provocative acts.
Details of the US-South Korean guidelines weren’t available, but experts say they are largely about how the two countries would integrate US nuclear weapons and South Korean conventional weapons to respond to various potential contingencies caused by North Korean attacks and provocations. Experts say the US and South Korea are expected to map out detailed concept and operation plans based on the guidelines and review them via bilateral military exercises.
The guidelines are the first of kind between the allies. The US has repeatedly promised to use all its military capabilities to protect South Korea if it is attacked by North Korea, but many experts in South Korea believe the US lacks plans on how it would implement its extended deterrence to its ally. South Korea has no nuclear weapons.
North Korea has argued it was forced to pursue nuclear weapons to deal with US-led nuclear threats. US and South Korean officials have steadfastly said they have no intention of attacking North Korea.
Concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown in recent years as the North has performed a slew of provocative missile tests and openly threatened to use nuclear weapons preemptively in potential conflicts with its adversaries.


UK police arrest man over discovery of human remains on bridge

Updated 13 July 2024
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UK police arrest man over discovery of human remains on bridge

  • On Friday police said the remains were of two adult men and that the main suspect had traveled from London with the bags

LONDON: British police arrested a man on Saturday in connection with the discovery of human remains in two suitcases at a famous bridge in western England last week.
The 24-year-old was arrested in Bristol, where the bodies were found on the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and will be taken to London for questioning later in the day, the capital’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
On Friday police said the remains were of two adult men and that the main suspect had traveled from London with the bags.
Police have said that they received reports just before midnight on Wednesday of a man with a suitcase acting suspiciously on the bridge. A second suitcase was found nearby.
On Saturday they said inquiries were ongoing, but that they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident at this stage.
“We understand the concerns of local communities in both Bristol and London and officers will remain in the ... areas over the coming days to reassure those affected by this tragic incident,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Valentine said.


Pakistan reaches $7 bn aid deal with IMF

Updated 13 July 2024
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Pakistan reaches $7 bn aid deal with IMF

  • Pakistan last year came to the brink of default as the economy shrivelled amid political chaos, catastrophic 2022 monsoon floods and decades of mismanagement

Islamabad: The International Monetary Fund said it reached a new $7 billion loan deal with Pakistan in a bid to bolster its faltering economy.
Islamabad agreed in exchange to conduct further unpopular reforms, including widening the South Asian nation’s chronically low tax base.
Pakistan last year came to the brink of default as the economy shrivelled amid political chaos, catastrophic 2022 monsoon floods and decades of mismanagement — as well as the global economic downturn.
The nation was saved by last-minute loans from friendly countries, as well as support from the IMF, but its finances remain in dire straits with high inflation and staggering public debts.
The new three-year deal, which still needs approval by the IMF Executive Board, should enable Pakistan to “cement macroeconomic stability and create conditions for stronger, more inclusive and resilient growth,” it said in a statement Friday.
Islamabad wrangled for months with IMF officials to unlock the new loan — its 24th payout from the lender in more than six decades.
It came on condition of far-reaching reforms, most notably increasing the chronically low tax base.
In a nation of over 240 million people and where most jobs are in the informal sector, only 5.2 million filed income tax returns in 2022.
During the 2024-25 fiscal year which started at the beginning of July, the government aims to raise nearly $46 billion in taxes, a 40 percent increase from the previous year.
More unusual methods have seen the tax authority block 210,000 SIM cards of mobile users who have not filed tax returns in a bid to widen the revenue bracket.
Islamabad also aims to reduce its fiscal deficit by 1.5 percent to 5.9 percent in the coming year, heeding another key IMF demand.
But Pakistan’s public debt remains huge at $242 billion and servicing it will still swallow up half of the government’s income in 2024, according to the IMF.
Analysts have criticized Islamabad’s measures as surface-level reforms — aimed at courting the IMF without addressing underlying problems.
“It is hard to not see old patterns in this new IMF deal,” Ali Hasanain, associate professor of economics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, told AFP.
“The IMF has issued a loan similar in size and conditions as the one agreed to five years ago, and five years before that.”
“Will authorities seize the opportunity thus created to embark on fundamental reforms to how the country is run?” he asked. “You would be well-advised not to hold your breath.”
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif came to power in February elections marred by allegations of rigging — with ex-prime minister Imran Khan jailed and barred from running.
The diet of strict economic measures introduced by his shaky coalition government is likely to undermine their popularity.
There have already been scattered protests over tax and bill hikes introduced in last month’s budget — prepared with IMF oversight — and more demonstrations are scheduled for the coming weeks.
While around 40 percent of the population already lives below the poverty line, the World Bank said in April it feared that 10 million additional Pakistanis would fall below this threshold.
Pakistan’s last $3 billion loan from the IMF in 2023 proved a lifeline.
But it also came on the condition of unpopular austerity measures, including an end to subsidies cushioning consumer costs.
In recent months, the current account balance has recovered slightly and high inflation has started to subside.
The IMF anticipates two percent growth this year, with inflation still expected to reach nearly 25 percent year-on-year, before gradually coming down in 2025 and 2026.