Chinese fighters, weather balloon cross Taiwan Strait a month before election

Chinese J-15 fighter jets wait for take-off on the deck of the Liaoning aircraft carrier during military drills in the Bohai Sea in China’s northeast coast in December 2016. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 08 December 2023

Chinese fighters, weather balloon cross Taiwan Strait a month before election

  • Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary polls on January 13 and campaigning has kicked into high gear

TAIPEI: Taiwan said on Friday that 12 Chinese fighter jets and a suspected weather balloon had crossed the Taiwan Strait’s sensitive median line, in a ratcheting up of tensions about a month before the island’s presidential election.
Democratically governed Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has complained for the past four years of regular Chinese military patrols and drills near the island.
Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary polls on Jan. 13 and campaigning has kicked into high gear with how the next government handles relations with China a major point of contention.
Taiwan’s defense ministry, offering details of Chinese missions on Thursday night, said 12 fighter jets had crossed the median line, that once served as an unofficial barrier between the two sides but which Chinese planes now regularly fly over.
In an unusual addition to its statement, the ministry said that around midday on Thursday it had also detected a Chinese balloon 101 nautical miles (187 km) southwest of the northern Taiwanese city of Keelung, which traveled eastward for about an hour, crossing the strait before disappearing.
Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters at parliament that their “initial understanding” was it was probably a weather balloon, but felt the ministry had an obligation to report this to be public.
“Otherwise, if after other units or other countries have reported it, everyone will wonder why (we) did not report it. The defense ministry requires all our subordinate units to have a grasp of the enemy situation,” he added.
China’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
The potential for China to use of balloons for spying became a global issue in February when the United States shot down what it said was a Chinese surveillance balloon but which China said was a civilian craft that accidentally drifted astray.
Taiwan is on high alert for Chinese activities, both military and political, ahead of its election, especially what Taipei views as Beijing’s efforts to interfere in the ballot to get electors to vote for candidates China may prefer.
Vice President Lai Ching-te and running mate Hsiao Bi-khim from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party are leading in the polls. China views then as separatists and has rebuffed Lai’s offers of talks.
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on Friday that China’s Taiwan Affairs Office was being “blatant” in its interference. It has called Lai and Hsiao an “independence double act.”
“They are commenting in very negative language about Vice President Lai or the vice presidential candidate Bi-khim Hsiao. Those kinds of statements have already told the Taiwanese people that they want to interfere in Taiwan’s election and they want to shape the results of the election,” Wu said.
“They are doing all sorts of things to interfere in our election and we can expect more leading up to our polling date.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to a request for comment on Friday about Taiwan’s interference accusations. Previously it has said only that it respects Taiwan’s “social systems.”
It has, however, framed the election as a vote between war and peace, and urged Taiwan’s people to carefully consider their choices.

Vaccine group Gavi seeks $9 billion to immunize world’s poorest children

Updated 58 min 3 sec ago

Vaccine group Gavi seeks $9 billion to immunize world’s poorest children

  • A separately funded $1.2 billion scheme to boost vaccine production in Africa, the African Vaccine Manufacturing Accelerator, also launched
  • Gavi helps low-income countries buy vaccines to protect against killer diseases

LONDON: The global vaccine organization Gavi wants $9 billion from governments and foundations to fund immunization efforts in the world’s poorest countries over five years, it said on Thursday.
The amount was finalized at a meeting in Paris, where donors also began announcing commitments for the organization’s plan for 2026-2030. Gavi said it had already raised $2.4 billion of the total with months more fundraising to go, including $1.58 billion from the United States.
A separately funded $1.2 billion scheme to boost vaccine production in Africa, the African Vaccine Manufacturing Accelerator, also launched.
Gavi helps low-income countries buy vaccines to protect against killer diseases. Around one billion children have been immunized as a result of Gavi’s work since 2020.
Gavi Chief Executive Sania Nishtar said the group aims to move more quickly and offer more vaccines. This will include expanding a malaria vaccine roll-out, which began in Cameroon this year, as well as catching up on routine programs for diseases like measles, which were set back by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The global vaccine alliance wants to reach “the highest number of children, covering them against the widest number of diseases ... in the shortest possible time,” Nishtar told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday, ahead of the meeting.
The organization wants to reach 500 million children in the next five years, including 50 million children with the malaria vaccine.
Gavi board documents had suggested the alliance needs up to $11.9 billion for its work from 2026 on. The remaining money will come from leftover COVID-19 financing and some financial instruments the organization has in place, Nishtar said, although she acknowledged it was a very challenging time for global health, with aid budgets stretched worldwide by demands from conflicts to climate change.
“Gavi has never had to make trade-offs,” she said. “On the one hand, there is a wide portfolio of vaccines available. On the other hand, we’re looking at an environment where donors are resource constrained.”
But she said she was cautiously optimistic that the organization would raise the amount needed.
Gavi also plans to further expand its work in the coming years, for example by setting up an mpox vaccine stockpile. It is also likely to add a dengue vaccine to its program as climate change puts more countries at risk of outbreaks. It will also establish a “day zero” $500 million pandemic response fund for quick action on major outbreaks.

Germany arrests Ukrainian, Russian on spying charges

Updated 53 min 51 sec ago

Germany arrests Ukrainian, Russian on spying charges

  • The three men were arrested in the western city of Frankfurt on Wednesday after allegedly trying “to gather information about a Ukrainian national“
  • Prosecutors did not specify which foreign secret service the men were allegedly working for

BERLIN: German prosecutors said Friday they had arrested three men — a Russian, a Ukrainian and an Armenian — on suspicion of spying for a foreign intelligence service.
The three men were arrested in the western city of Frankfurt on Wednesday after allegedly trying “to gather information about a Ukrainian national,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
The men were only identified as Robert A. from Ukraine, Vardges I. from Armenia and Russian citizen Arman S.
Prosecutors did not specify which foreign secret service the men were allegedly working for, and declined to comment further when contacted by AFP.
“The three suspects were acting on behalf of a foreign intelligence service in Germany,” the statement said, adding that the trio had on June 19 “scouted a cafe in Frankfurt am Main where the target person was thought to be.”
Germany has uncovered numerous espionage cases on its soil since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
A former German intelligence officer is currently on trial in Berlin, accused of handing information to Moscow that showed Germany had access to details of Russian mercenary operations in Ukraine. He denies the charges.
Last month, a German former soldier was sentenced to three and a half years in jail for sharing secret military information with Russia in the wake of the outbreak of war in Ukraine.
Russian authorities for their part have levelled treason charges against dozens of people accused of aiding Ukraine and the West since the invasion.

Court blocks Modi opponent Kejriwal’s release from prison

Updated 21 June 2024

Court blocks Modi opponent Kejriwal’s release from prison

  • He was released from detention to campaign partway through India’s weeks-long general election but returned to jail after voting ended this month

NEW DELHI: An Indian court stopped on Friday the release from jail of one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chief opponents, a day after he was granted bail in a long-running corruption case, reports said.
Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi and the leader of the opposition Aam Aadmi party, denies the charges as a “political conspiracy” by Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
He was released from detention to campaign partway through India’s weeks-long general election but returned to jail after voting ended this month.
A trial court ordered his release late Thursday, but before he could walk out of jail on Friday the country’s top economic crimes investigative agency, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), appealed to the Delhi High Court.
It suspended his release until it could decide on the appeal, local media reported.
The decision could come in “two-three days,” legal news portal Live Law posted on social media platform X.
Kejriwal is one of several opposition leaders in India under criminal investigation over various corruption-related probes, which Modi’s opponents say are being used by the premier to weaken any potential challengers.
The 55-year-old has been chief minister of Delhi, the region which includes the capital New Delhi, for nearly a decade.
He first came to prominence as an anti-corruption crusader, but his government was itself accused of graft when it liberalized liquor sales in 2021.
His party is a key member of the opposition INDIA bloc, led by the main opposition Congress party, which defied polls and expectations to deprive Modi’s BJP of its overall parliamentary majority in the election.

Hijabi heavy metal trio to make Indonesia’s debut at Glastonbury

Updated 21 June 2024

Hijabi heavy metal trio to make Indonesia’s debut at Glastonbury

  • Voice of Baceprot will play Glastonbury’s Woodsies stage on June 28
  • Hijabi trio has toured Europe, US, and was named to Forbes Asia’s 30-Under-30 list

JAKARTA: Hijabi heavy metal band Voice of Baceprot is set to become the first Indonesian act to perform at the UK’s iconic Glastonbury Festival next week, marking another milestone in the all-female trio’s trailblazing career.

More than a decade after first emerging, Voice of Baceprot was named in Forbes Asia’s 30-Under-30 list just last month. The group has toured Europe and the US, and released its debut album last year.

With lyrics that address issues from gender inequality to climate change, members of the group from Garut, West Java said on Friday that they hope to help improve the world for future generations through their music.

“We care about what’s happening around us, that’s why we make a lot of songs about what we ourselves experience, see, and hear. We only want the world that we live in to become a better place for the generations after us,” Firda “Marsya” Kurnia, who is the lead singer and guitarist, told reporters.

“We certainly feel excited and proud, especially after finding out that we are going to be the first Indonesian musicians to perform in Glastonbury. It will also be our first performance in the UK.”

Voice of Baceprot will play the Woodsies stage at Glastonbury on June 28, sharing the glory of performing at the legendary music festival alongside artists such as Coldplay, Dua Lipa and Cyndi Lauper.

“We will try to use this opportunity to also uplift Indonesian culture through music, including using tonal elements from Sundanese music,” Marsya said, referring to their ethnic origins.

Voice of Baceprot sings a mix of English, Indonesian and Sundanese — their native tongue. The word “baceprot” is Sundanese for “annoyingly noisy.”

Marsya met the other band members — drummer Euis Siti Aisyah and bassist Widi Rahmawati — at an Islamic boarding school and established the group in 2014.

Now in their early 20s, they have been overcoming prejudice and shattering stereotypes about Muslims and Islam.

“We try to introduce the other side that is closer to the truth,” Marsya said.
The band has already gained praise from Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, and was met with great interest during its 2021 and 2022 Europe tours.

“It was beyond expectation. Every time we have an international tour, I am afraid that no one will show up ... because we’re not that big yet,” Siti said.

“But after a few times performing there, we’ve seen how enthusiastic the audience was. Some would even wait for our performance.”

The trio’s accomplishments have also been noticed by the Indonesian government, which is supporting the group’s upcoming UK trip.

“This is a form of soft diplomacy,” Desra Percaya, Indonesia’s ambassador to the UK, told reports.

“Voice of Baceprot is truly taking up the role of Indonesia’s ambassadors and, of course, they are on a mission to make Indonesia proud.”


Medical brain drain worsens in Sri Lanka as 25% of doctors ready to migrate

Updated 21 June 2024

Medical brain drain worsens in Sri Lanka as 25% of doctors ready to migrate

  • More than 1,800 medical doctors left Sri Lanka in 2022 and 2023
  • Their salaries in the UK and Australia are often 30 times higher

COLOMBO: The biggest trade union of government doctors in Sri Lanka warned on Friday about a wave of economic crisis-driven brain drain among medical professionals, as 25 percent of them have already taken the necessary exams to find employment abroad.

Before the worst economic crisis pummeled Sri Lanka in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, on average 200 doctors would migrate to work in another country, according to Ministry of Health statistics.

The number has surged since early 2022, when the country defaulted on its foreign debt. Sri Lankans started experiencing power cuts and shortages of basics such as fuel, food and medicine, and the inflation rate rose to 50 percent a year.

“If we consider the situation within the last two years, more than 1,800 doctors have left the country in 2022 and 2023,” Dr. Chamil Wijesinghe, spokesperson of the Government Medical Officers Association, told Arab News.

Many more are likely to follow in their footsteps as GMOA data shows that at least 25 percent of doctors currently serving in the government health system have already passed the necessary exams to find employment abroad.

To practice medicine in the UAE or Oman, doctors need to take the Prometric Exam for GP Doctor. To work in the UK, they are required to complete the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board’s exams, while in Australia they have to follow the examination of the Australian Medical Council.

“Considering only those three … recent statistics show that nearly 5,000 Sri Lankan doctors have completed these exams and they’re waiting to take their decision of leaving the country,” Wijesinghe said.

“In government health institutions of Sri Lanka … there are around 20,000 doctors.”

He warned that an increasing number of those leaving were specialists, mainly in emergency medicine and anesthesia, followed by pediatricians, psychiatrists, neurologists and cardiac surgeons.

Some of the world’s most rigorously trained, Sri Lankan doctors are required by their country’s health system to obtain both local and international training before they practice as consultants. At the same time, and compared with the years of experience, they are among the most underpaid, earning between $170 and $720 per month.

In the past two years, those who had left for compulsory training in countries such as the UK, Australia or the US, are not willing to return.

“The high salaries they are being paid in those countries, compared to Sri Lanka, is the main reason. If you consider Middle East countries, it is nearly tenfold of the salary they are getting in Sri Lanka. In the UK and Australia, around 20 to 30-fold,” Wijesinghe said, adding that they are attracted by better working environments, better living standards, and education opportunities for their children.

“Majority of the Sri Lankan doctors migrate to Australia and the United Kingdom … They are migrating with their family members as well.”

He estimated that nearly 400 specialists have left in the past two years, which was becoming a “huge problem” for the Sri Lankan health sector.

“It has affected from the biggest hospital in Sri Lanka, the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, which is situated in Colombo, to the rural hospital system … Patients have to travel hundreds of kilometers sometimes to get their surgeries done,” he said.

“The brain drain of professionals and intellectuals from this country has affected many sectors, but it’s a well-known fact that health is the most affected sector.”

The GMOA has proposed to the Sri Lankan government ways to mitigate the brain drain of doctors, but as the solutions involve financial incentives and restructuring of the salary system, the Ministry of Health does not expect it to happen immediately.

“Increasing the salary is really difficult at this time since the country is just recovering from the economic crisis,” Dr. Asela Gunawardena, the ministry’s director-general of health services, told Arab News.

“However, we will do our best to attend to their needs to attract them to come back to their country and work for the nation.”

He was also hopeful that a sense of duty would help bring them home as well.

“Sri Lanka is the country which gave them free education from the kindergarten to university,” he said. “They have an obligation to help the country when in trouble.”