Japan hosts Ukraine reconstruction conference to showcase its support for the war-torn country

Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attend a memorandum of a cooperation exchange ceremony during the Japan-Ukraine Conference for Promotion of Economic Growth and Reconstruction in Tokyo. (AP)
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Updated 19 February 2024
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Japan hosts Ukraine reconstruction conference to showcase its support for the war-torn country

  • More than 50 cooperation deals were signed by Japanese and Ukrainian government agencies and companies

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday pledged his country’s long-term engagement in Ukraine’s reconstruction, calling it a future investment, as Japan stressed its commitment to supporting the war-torn country ahead of the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
In his keynote speech at a conference Japan co-organized with the Ukrainian government and business organizations, Kishida said Japanese public and private cooperation will be a long-term partnership based on inclusivity, humanitarianism as well as technology and knowledge. More than 50 cooperation deals were signed by Japanese and Ukrainian government agencies and companies.
Kishida stressed the importance of investment across industries for the future of that country’s development and ensuring that the support caters to Ukraine’s needs.
Support for Ukraine’s reconstruction is about “investing in the future,” Kishida said. “The war in Ukraine is still going on at this very moment and the situation is not easy. The promotion of economic reconstruction, however, is not only an investment for the future of Ukraine but also investing in Japan and the whole globe.”
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, who heads headed his country’s delegation of more than 100 people, expressed thanks for the encouragement and said that “today is the new start of cooperation between the two countries.”
He said “Ukraine is not just rebuilding, we are generating new rules of the game, new approaches,” he said. All eyes are on Ukraine, and “dictators and potential invaders” are also turning their eyes to see how Russia’s violation of the international law is seen and how the world will react to it.
About 300 people and 80 companies are to attend from the two countries, Japanese officials have said.
The Japan-Ukraine Conference for Promotion of Economic Growth and Reconstruction is co-organized by the Japanese and Ukrainian governments, Japan’s powerful business organization Keidanren, and Japan External Trade Organization, or JETRO.
The two sides issued a joint communique, stating Japan’s long-term support in helping Ukraine achieve economic stability. The two countries also noted the importance of maintaining tough sanctions against Russia. Japan also announced the start of talks toward revising a bilateral investment pact and easing of travel restrictions for Japanese business visitors to Ukraine.
Japan hopes the conference will build momentum for international support for Ukraine as the war drags on and attention has diverted to the Gaza situation.
The conference is largely about reconstruction and investment in Ukraine, but it’s also about Japan’s national security.
Kishida repeatedly said that “Ukraine today could be East Asia tomorrow,” and it is crucial for Japan to advocate its objection to Russia’s invasion and to the one-sided change of the status quo by force. Its support for Ukraine comes amid fear of China’s increasingly assertive military actions in the region.
“It is extremely important that we demonstrate our solidarity to Ukraine in our uniquely Japanese way,” Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters Friday.
Japan’s $12.1 billion contribution to Ukraine over the past two years is mostly financial and humanitarian as its military equipment provisions are limited to non-lethal weapons, and much smaller compared to $111 billion the United States has provided in weapons, equipment, humanitarian assistance.
Japan’s government has chosen seven target areas — including removal of mines and debris; improvement of humanitarian and living conditions; farming; biochemical manufacturing; digital and information industry; infrastructure in power and transportation sectors; and anti-corruption measures.
Japan, in cooperation with other Group of Seven members, hopes to link the Tokyo conference to a separate Ukraine reconstruction conference to be held in Germany in June.


G7 says will try to use frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine

Updated 3 sec ago
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G7 says will try to use frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine

STRESA: he G7 will explore ways of using the future income from frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine, finance chiefs from the Group of Seven industrial democracies said on Saturday, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters.
The G7 froze some $300 billion of Russian assets shortly after Moscow invaded its neighbor in February 2022.
“We are making progress in our discussions on potential avenues to bring forward the extraordinary profits stemming from immobilized Russian sovereign assets to the benefit of Ukraine,” the draft statement said.
The statement will not undergo significant changes before a final version to be released later on Saturday, a G7 source said.

India’s massive election faces heatwave challenge in penultimate phase

Updated 3 min 16 sec ago
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India’s massive election faces heatwave challenge in penultimate phase

  • Next-to-last phase of voting with temperatures forecast to surge to 47° Celsius in the capital New Delhi
  • More than 111 million people in 58 constituencies across eight states and federal territories are eligible to vote

NEW DELHI: Millions of Indians are voting Saturday in the next-to-last round of a grueling national election with a combined opposition trying to rattle Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign for a third-consecutive term for himself and his Hindu nationalist party.
Many people lined polling stations before the start of voting at 7 a.m. to avoid the blazing sun later in the day at the peak of Indian summer. The temperature soared to 43 Celsius (109.4 Fahrenheit) in the afternoon in the Indian capital.
Lakshmi Bansal, a housewife, said while the weather was hot, people usually went out to shop and even attend festivals is such heat.
“This (election) is also like a festival, so I don’t have a problem voting in the heat,” Bansal said.
Saturday’s voting in 58 constituencies, including seven in New Delhi, will complete polling for 89.5 percent of 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament.
The voting for the remaining 57 seats on June 1 will wrap up a six-week election. The votes will be counted on June 4.
President Droupadi Murmu and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar were among the early voters. Opposition Congress party leaders, Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, also voted in New Delhi.
Mehbooba Mufti, a former top elected official of Indian-controlled Kashmir, held a protest with her supporters Saturday claiming that scores of her party workers were detained by the police to prevent them from voting. Mufti, the chief of the People’s Democratic Party who is contesting the parliamentary election in the Anantnag-Rajouri district, said she complained to election officials.
In West Bengal state, workers belonging to the All India Trinamool Congress party, blocked the car of Agnimitra Paul, one of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party candidates, as she proceeded to vote in Medinipur constituency. The two parties are rivals in the state and their workers often clash on the streets.
This election is considered one of the most consequential in India’s history and will test Modi’s political dominance. If Modi wins, he’ll be only the second Indian leader to retain power for a third term, after Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister.
A less-than-expected voter turnout in the previous five rounds of voting seems to have left both sides guessing about the outcome of the election.
Election authorities said they are taking steps to ensure voters’ comfort, such as setting up fans and tents and providing drinking water.
Most polls predict a win for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is up against a broad opposition alliance led by the Indian National Congress and powerful regional parties.
Modi was involved in a highly acrimonious and mudslinging campaign with the opposition, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that has produced three prime ministers.
“When the polls began it felt like a one-horse race, with Modi leading from the front. But now we are seeing some kind of shift,” political analyst Rasheed Kidwai said. “The opposition is doing better than expected and it appears that Modi’s party is rattled. That’s the reason you see Modi ramping up anti-Muslim rhetoric to polarize voters.”
Kidwai said the opposition has challenged Modi by centering its campaign narrative on social justice and rising unemployment, making the contest closer than expected.
Modi ran his campaign like a presidential race, a referendum on his 10 years of rule. He claimed to help the poorest with charity, free health care, providing toilets in their homes, and helping women get free or cheap cooking gas cylinders.
But he changed tack after a poor turnout of voters in the first round of the election and began stirring Hindu nationalism by accusing the Congress party of pandering to minority Muslims for votes.
Hindus account for 80 percent, and Muslims nearly 14 percent, of India’s over 1.4 billion people.
Manish Bhatia, a New Delhi voter, said that “politics on the basis of caste and religion is dangerous for the country,” adding that voting should be based on how candidates perform.
Nearly 970 million voters — more than 10 percent of the world’s population — were eligible to elect 543 members to the lower house of Parliament for five years.
Voters’ relative apathy has surprised some political analysts. In the five rounds of polling the voter turnout ranged between 62.2 percent to 69.16 percent — averaging 65.9 percent. By comparison, India’s 2019 national election registered the highest-ever voter turnout — 67.11 percent. Modi’s BJP won 303 seats in parliament in 2019.
Modi’s inauguration of a massive Hindu temple for the most revered Lord Rama, his massive roadshows, and big public rallies raised the BJP’s hopes of a massive a surge of voters in its favor.
The current prim minister came to power in 2014, dislodging the Congress party that governed the country for nearly 55 years after India won independence from British colonialists in 1947.
Before the election, the opposition INDIA alliance was seen bickering, but it has since held together, particularly after two chief ministers of two opposition-controlled states were sent to jail on corruption charges. Both deny the accusations.
One of them — New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal — has since been released on bail and returned to the campaign trail.
In March, Gandhi completed a 6,713-kilometer (4,171-mile) walk across the country, starting in the violence-hit northeastern state of Manipur, to raise awareness on issues of poverty, unemployment, and democracy with voters.
“The walk helped Gandhi boost his image as a serious politician among the voters, and that is helping the opposition,” Kidwai, the political anaylast, said.
 


Taiwan calls China’s military drills a ‘blatant provocation’ to world order

Updated 25 May 2024
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Taiwan calls China’s military drills a ‘blatant provocation’ to world order

  • The drills were launched three days after Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te took office
  • Exercises involved simulating strikes targeting the island’s leaders as well as its ports and airports

TAIPEI: China’s two-day military drills around Taiwan were a “blatant provocation to the international order,” Taipei said in a statement Saturday after the war games encircling the self-ruled island ended.
The drills were launched three days after Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te took office and made an inauguration speech that China denounced as a “confession of independence.”
China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, regards Lai as a “dangerous separatist.”
By Friday evening, a presenter for state-run military news channel CCTV-7 said the Chinese army had “successfully completed” the operation dubbed “Joint Sword-2024A.”
In a statement, Lai’s presidential spokesperson Karen Kuo reiterated that ensuring peace and stability across the region was “related to the common interests of the international community.”
“However, China’s recent unilateral provocation not only undermines the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait but it is also a blatant provocation to the international order, triggering serious concern and condemnation from the international community,” she said.
Kuo added that Taiwan hopes “China will take the safety and happiness of the people on both sides into consideration, pursue mutual benefit, coexistence... stop all kinds of political and military intimidations on Taiwan and the region.”
Self-ruled Taiwan has its own democratically elected government, military and currency, but Beijing has said it would never renounce the potential use of force to bring the island under its control.
Chinese military analysts told state news agency Xinhua that the People’s Liberation Army vessels had inched “closer than ever before” to Taiwan’s shores during the two-day military drills.
The exercises involved simulating strikes targeting the island’s leaders as well as its ports and airports, they said.
In regards to China’s various military actions, Kuo said that “the president and the national security team have a full grasp of the situation” and called for the public to “rest assured.”


Utah man declined $100K offer to travel to Congo on ‘security job’ that was covert coup attempt

Updated 25 May 2024
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Utah man declined $100K offer to travel to Congo on ‘security job’ that was covert coup attempt

  • American Daniel Gonzalez said one of his friends from West Jordan, Utah, was among the 6 killed last week during a foiled coup attempt in DR Congo
  • He said the offer was made by the son of coup leader Christian Malanga, who was killed by Congo security forces while resisting arrest

SALT LAKE CITY: The friend of a prominent Congolese opposition leader’s son said he turned down a six-figure offer to travel there from the US as part of the family’s security detail in what turned out to be a failed coup attempt.

Marcel Malanga, the 21-year-old son of eccentric coup leader Christian Malanga, was detained by Congolese forces Sunday morning, along with a former classmate from their hometown of West Jordan, Utah, after his father was killed in a shootout while resisting arrest. His high school football teammate, Tyler Thompson, 21, was one of two other Americans arrested after an ill-fated attack on the presidential palace in Kinshasa.
Six people were dead and dozens arrested, including the three Americans, following that attack and another on the residence of a close ally of President Felix Tshisekedi, the Congolese army spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Sylvain Ekenge, said.
Daniel Gonzalez, a former teammate of the two Utah residents caught up in the foiled coup, told The Associated Press that Marcel had offered him $50,000 to $100,000 to spend four months in Congo as a security guard for his politician father. The 22-year-old FedEx worker strongly considered it, but said it lacked concrete details. He ultimately declined so he could spend the summer with his girlfriend.
“I feel really sad for Tyler and Marcel but, at the end of the day, I can just be grateful that I didn’t go because I would be stuck in the same scary situation,” Gonzalez said.
Marcel’s lucrative offer to Gonzalez sheds light on how he might have enticed Thompson to come along on what his stepmother, Miranda, said was supposed to be a vacation.
It was one of many propositions the coup leader’s American son made to former football teammates in what many described as a desperate effort to bring someone with him to Congo. He pitched the trip to some as a family vacation and still to others as a service trip to build wells in drought-stricken communities.
Although it’s unclear whether Thompson was offered money, multiple teammates told the AP that he had alluded to such incentives, telling one friend that the trip could be a “big financial opportunity.”
Thompson’s family insists he’s a political pawn who was dragged into an international conflict under false pretenses. They’ve had no direct communication with their son since the coup and are worried for his safety, his stepmother said.
Marcel’s mother, Brittney Sawyer, said her son is innocent and had followed his father.
Christian Malanga, the slain leader of the Congolese opposition political party, considered himself president of a shadow government in exile, which he called the “New Zaire.” He described himself on his website as a refugee who settled in Salt Lake City with his family in the 1990s, pursuing business opportunities in gold mining and used car sales before eventually moving back to Congo to fight for political reforms.
While campaigning for the Congolese Parliament, he claimed he was jailed and endured torturous beatings. He later published a manifesto detailing plans to reform Congo’s security services and described his movement as an effort to organize fellow emigres against the “current Congolese dictatorship government regime.”
“Marcel was pretty secretive about his dad. He didn’t even know him well until he spent last summer in Africa,” Gonzalez said. “There’s no way Marcel had any idea what he’d be getting us into or he never would’ve offered. He’s one of the best friends a person could have.”
In the early hours Sunday, Christian Malanga began livestreaming video on social media from inside the palace. He is seen with his armed son, who hastily pulls a neck gaiter over his face, looking around wide-eyed. Congo officials have not commented on how the attackers were able to get inside.
Gonzalez, of Herriman, Utah, said he had communicated with Marcel about the financial offer over Snapchat, in messages that have since disappeared, in the months leading up to the coup attempt. He was shocked to learn how the trip played out.
Marcel had told Gonzalez that his father was letting him hire a friend so he would have company during his summer abroad. He seemed excited to be able to offer such a substantial amount of money to a close friend who needed it, Gonzalez explained.
The Malangas had promised on-the-job training, full coverage of travel expenses and the chance to explore a new part of the world while making an income, he said. Marcel insisted repeatedly that it was safe, but didn’t share details about his father’s background.
Neither Gonzalez nor his mother thought the trip would be unsafe, he said, despite the US State Department strongly discouraging travel to Congo — but he turned it down when his girlfriend asked him not to leave for four months.
He later saw private Snapchat videos filmed by Marcel that showed Thompson looking frightened as armed Congolese soldiers surrounded their vehicle. In Gonzalez’s final Snapchat exchange with his friend before their capture, he asked whether Thompson was OK and urged them to stay safe.
Marcel assured him that they were.
Other former football teammates, including Luke Barbee and Jaden Lalor, had heard different pitches about the trip and wondered why Marcel seemed so desperate to bring someone along. Neither could fathom their friends’ possible involvement in a violent attack.
“I consider Marcel a brother to me and Tyler a friend, and I truly believe Marcel’s father must have pressured them for his own wants,” Lalor said. “I just want them back safely.”


Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumes duty after undergoing procedure at Walter Reed

Updated 25 May 2024
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumes duty after undergoing procedure at Walter Reed

WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin underwent a medical procedure at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Friday evening and has resumed duty after temporarily transferring power to his deputy, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.
Austin is continuing to deal with bladder issues that arose in December following his treatment for prostate cancer, Ryder said.
The procedure was successful, elective and minimally invasive, “is not related to his cancer diagnosis and has had no effect on his excellent cancer prognosis,” the press secretary said.
Austin transferred authority to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks for about two-and-a-half hours while he was indisposed, the Pentagon said.
The Pentagon chief returned home after the procedure. “No changes in his official schedule are anticipated at this time, to include his participation in scheduled Memorial Day events,” Ryder said.
Austin, 70, has had ongoing health issues since undergoing surgery to address a prostate cancer diagnosis. He spent two weeks in the hospital following complications from a prostatectomy. Austin faced criticism at the time for not immediately informing the president or Congress of either his diagnosis or hospitalization.
Austin was taken back to Walter Reed in February for a bladder issue, admitted to intensive care for a second time and underwent a non-surgical procedure under general anesthesia at the time.
The Pentagon has notified the White House and Congress, Ryder said.