ASEAN says ‘deeply concerned’ over escalating Myanmar violence

Soldiers from the Karen National Liberation Army patrol next to an area destroyed by Myanmar’s airstrike in Myawaddy near the Thailand-Myanmar border. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 April 2024
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ASEAN says ‘deeply concerned’ over escalating Myanmar violence

  • ASEAN foreign ministers urge ‘all parties for an immediate cessation of violence’ in Myanmar

BANGKOK: Regional bloc ASEAN said it is “deeply concerned” about a recent upsurge in fighting in Myanmar, after fierce clashes over a key trading hub near the Thai border.
The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations urged “all parties for an immediate cessation of violence” in Myanmar, which has been roiled by conflict since the military seized power in a February 2021 coup.
The ministers’ statement issued late Thursday said ASEAN was “deeply concerned over the recent escalation of conflicts, including in the area of Myawaddy.”
The military was last week forced to pull its troops out of positions in the valuable trading post after days of battling with the Karen National Union (KNU) — a long-established ethnic minority armed group — and other anti-junta fighters.
It was the latest blow suffered by the junta, which has suffered a string of battlefield losses in recent months, with some analysts warning it is its most significant threat to date.
Myawaddy is Myanmar’s main trade link to Thailand, and usually sees over a billion dollars worth of trade annually.
The clashes saw people flee across the border into Thailand — from where gunfire and the boom of artillery barrages could be heard.
Thailand has said it is ready to receive people from Myanmar, though the kingdom’s foreign minister warned it would not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty.


What to know about Trump’s outreach with Arab Americans led by his daughter Tiffany’s father-in-law

Updated 3 sec ago
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What to know about Trump’s outreach with Arab Americans led by his daughter Tiffany’s father-in-law

  • Skepticism remains among Arab American community about whether Boulos can shape potential decisions by Trump
  • Many remain offended by Trump’s first-term immigration ban from several majority Muslim countries

LANSING: Donald Trump’s allies are working to win over Arab American voter s who are unhappy with President Joe Biden’s support for Israel.
The effort is led by Massad Boulos, whose son married Tiffany Trump, the former president’s younger daughter, two years ago. Boulos, a Lebanese-born businessman, is now using his connections in the Arab American community and meeting with its leaders in Michigan, home to many Arab American Democrats who are disenchanted with Biden.
But any apparent political opportunity for Trump may be limited. Many Arab Americans remain offended by Trump’s ban, while in office, on immigration from several majority Muslim countries and other remarks they consider insulting. Trump also has criticized Biden for not being a strong enough supporter of Israel.
In interviews with The Associated Press, Boulos outlined his outreach efforts and discussed his plans. Those who have met with him shared their thoughts on whether the strategy is working.
An unknown emissary
Boulos, who is frequently overseas managing a Nigerian-based conglomerate, first became directly involved in US politics in 2019 when he met Trump. At the time, his son Michael was dating Tiffany Trump.
Before the 2020 election, Boulos assisted with Arab American outreach in a minor role. His involvement has significantly expanded this year as Trump allies aim to exploit divisions within Biden’s Democratic base. Boulos is working closely with an Arab Americans for Trump group that has set up operations in Arizona and Michigan.
The Michigan meetings
In May, Massad and Michael Boulos traveled to metro Detroit with Richard Grenell, a key foreign policy adviser to Trump and his former ambassador to Germany, to meet with a group of close to 40 Arab American activists from across the country.
A little over a week later, Boulos returned for a more extensive round of engagements. He conducted individual meetings with several prominent community leaders and organized larger gatherings, each drawing nearly 50 Arab American community members.
Those who have engaged with Boulos so far are skeptical about the impact of these efforts. They note a lack of substantial evidence supporting the assertion that Trump is the better candidate for Arab Americans.
“Massad is unable to convince people to come to Trump’s side because he hasn’t offered anything substantial to the community,” said Osama Siblani, a publisher of the Arab American News in Dearborn.
Electoral impact
Both major parties have focused on the Arab American vote due to the community’s significant population in Michigan, which is expected to play a decisive role in the presidential election.
Trump won Michigan by just over 10,000 votes in 2016. Biden retook the state for the Democrats in 2020 by a roughly 154,000-vote margin.
Michigan holds the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation, with more than 310,000 residents of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry, according to the most recent census.
More than 100,000 Michigan Democratic primary voters in February cast ballots for “uncommitted” in the presidential race, enough to pick up two delegates. In two Muslim-majority Michigan cities, including Dearborn, which holds close to 110,000 people, the “uncommitted” vote defeated Biden in the Democratic primary.
The Trump connection
Boulos is the latest relative to rise in Trump’s political circle. The former president has a long history of putting family members and their relatives in key roles in his campaigns and at the White House.
Recently, Trump handpicked his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as the Republican National Committee’s co-chair.
During his first term, he appointed his daughter Ivanka as a senior White House adviser and his son-in-law Jared Kushner to oversee major issues such as Middle East peace, criminal justice reform and the government’s coronavirus response.
Boulos calls Trump a “family friend.” But Boulos insists that his outreach efforts so far have been “more of a personal effort to reconnect with friends.” He adds that the key messages emerging from meetings with Arab Americans are communicated to Trump and influenced a recent statement on the Middle East posted on Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social.
But to some attendees of the meetings, the direct connection to Trump matters little when Boulos can’t make promises on future policy.
“Family members are are fine. But at the end of the day, we have to sit down with someone who’s going to be a policymaker,” Siblani said. “And knowing Trump, only Trump can sit down and talk about his policy.”


Hamburg police fire shots at axe-wielding person at Euro 2024 fan parade

Updated 19 min 59 sec ago
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Hamburg police fire shots at axe-wielding person at Euro 2024 fan parade

  • Major police operation is now underway and the attacker is currently receiving medical care for injuries

FRANKFURT: German police fired shots at a person who threatened officers with a pickaxe and an incendiary device on the sidelines of a Euro 2024 soccer fan parade in central Hamburg on Sunday, according to a police post on social media platform X.
A major police operation is now underway and the attacker is currently receiving medical care for injuries, the post added.
The incident occurred in the St. Pauli district of the city as Poland and the Netherlands prepare to play against each other in Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT).
Fan marches are scheduled ahead of the games, and a parade for Dutch supporters was held at 12:30 p.m. (1030 GMT), around the time of the incident.
Germany is hosting the month-long tournament that began on Friday night.


Ukraine peace summit says ‘dialogue between all parties’ needed to end war

Updated 29 min 26 sec ago
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Ukraine peace summit says ‘dialogue between all parties’ needed to end war

  • More than 90 countries had gathered in the Swiss resort of Burgenstock for the summit
  • Moscow was not invited and has rejected the summit as ‘absurd’ and pointless

BURGENSTOCK, Switzerland: Dozens of countries said Sunday that Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” should be respected in any peace deal to end the war, as they said “dialogue between all parties” would be necessary for a lasting settlement.
In a final communique issued at the end of a major two-day diplomatic summit in Switzerland, the vast majority of countries also backed a call for the full exchange of captured soldiers and return of deported Ukrainian children.
But not all attendees backed the document, with India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates among those not included in a list of supporting states displayed on screens at the summit.
“We believe that reaching peace requires the involvement of and dialogue between all parties,” the document stated.
It added: “We reaffirm our commitment to ... the principles of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine, within their internationally recognized borders.”
More than 90 countries had gathered in the Swiss resort of Burgenstock for the summit, dedicated to discussing Kyiv’s proposals for a route out of the conflict.
Moscow was not invited and has rejected the summit as “absurd” and pointless.
Kyiv had worked hard to secure attendance from countries that maintain warm relations with Russia.
The final document also called for all prisoners of war to be released in a “complete exchange” and for all Ukrainian children who had been “deported and unlawfully displaced” to be returned to Ukraine.
Kyiv accuses Russia of abducting almost 20,000 children from parts of the east and south of the country that its forces took control of.
Working groups at the summit also addressed the issues of global food security and nuclear safety.
“Food security must not be weaponized in any way,” the declaration stated, adding that access to ports in the Black and Azov Seas was “critical” for global food supply.
And the countries also called for Ukraine to have “full sovereign control” over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Located in the south of Ukraine, the facility is Europe’s largest nuclear energy site and has been controlled by Russian forces since early in the war.


On Bhasan Char, Rohingya refugees observe Eid without family festivities

Updated 26 min 36 sec ago
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On Bhasan Char, Rohingya refugees observe Eid without family festivities

  • More than 35,000 Rohingya have been relocated to Bhasan Char since end of 2020
  • It is illegal for refugees to leave the remote Bangladeshi island

DHAKA: Sebon Bahar’s fondest memories of Eid Al-Adha are the hug she would share with her mother to celebrate the occasion, an experience that has grown distant now that she is living on a remote Bangladeshi island.

For the last three years, the Islamic holiday that is synonymous with family gatherings has not felt the same for Bahar following her move to Bhasan Char.

“My Eid celebrations remain incomplete without this precious hug with my mother … Here on this island, I miss this most during Eid as my mom is living at Cox’s Bazar,” she told Arab News on Sunday.

“Without my family members, especially my mother … I feel like it’s not a special day … I haven’t seen my relatives who live in Cox’s Bazar for over three years.” 

Bahar is among more than 35,000 Rohingya who since the end of 2020 have been moved to Bhasan Char as authorities seek to ease pressure on the congested camps at Cox’s Bazar, which is home to more than 1 million refugees who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar.

Located in the Bay of Bengal, the island settlement is several hours by boat away from the mainland.

The fourth Eid Al-Adha on Bhasan Char has not eased the feeling of isolation for its residents, many of whom are missing their extended family even more during the Feast of Sacrifice as leaving the facility is illegal for refugees on the island.

On Eid, Bahar said she makes calls to relatives in an attempt to “feel the special day,” trying to replicate the time she was still living in Cox’s Bazar, when the holiday meant friends and families visiting each other and gossiping over shared food.

While the 30-year-old is grateful for the improved parts of her life in Bhasan Char, where there is more safety, access to fresh seafood and good housing, refugees still struggle with a lack of access to quality education, high cost of goods and also inability to leave the island.

“There is no hope in this island life, and also Cox’s Bazar camp life. I am living life with only one hope nowadays, that one day I will be able to return to Myanmar with citizenship rights,” Bahar said.

Eid celebrations are not the same for Mohammed Abdul Jalil either, as he celebrates his third such holiday on the island.

“Eid celebrations without relatives and family members here at Bhasan Char are boring to me,” Jalil told Arab News.

“Yes, we are in touch with each other through mobile phones, but having chit-chat sitting face to face can’t be compared with two to three minutes of mobile phone conversation. Visiting each other is the most special thing we usually practice as part of Eid.”

He is hoping that the day comes soon when he can return to Myanmar.

“On this island, I just want to reside until our dignified repatriation to our motherland with full rights. As a refugee on this island, I have no other dream or expectations,” Jalil said.

In spite of the hardships and uncertainties, many refugees try their best to make a festive occasion such as Eid as special as possible.

“My Eid celebrations center around the joy of my children, and I always try to do my best to make the day special for my children,” Monira Begum said.

Like Bahar and Jalil, Eid for Begum was also about spending time and sharing food with her extended family — an experience she has not been able to have for the last four years in Bhasan Char.

As she prepares for Eid Al-Adha, which will be observed on Monday in Bangladesh, Begum plans to make traditional snacks for her family.

“I have powdered rice grain to make our traditional snacks, sweet sticky rice cake. I bought some clothes for my children, cosmetics for my daughters, though I am unable to offer a sacrificial animal … This is how I am going to celebrate Eid this year,” Begum said.


Kremlin says Kyiv should ‘reflect’ on troop withdrawal

Updated 16 June 2024
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Kremlin says Kyiv should ‘reflect’ on troop withdrawal

  • Kremlin: The current dynamic of the situation at the front shows us clearly that it’s continuing to worsen for the Ukrainians

MOSCOW: Ukraine should “reflect” on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call to withdraw its troops from the east and south of the country to open peace talks as its military situation is worsening, the Kremlin said Sunday.
“The current dynamic of the situation at the front shows us clearly that it’s continuing to worsen for the Ukrainians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and world leaders met in Switzerland to discuss how to end the conflict.
“It’s probable that a politician who puts the interests of his country above his own and those of his masters would reflect on such a proposal,” Peskov said.
Zelensky and other leaders have rejected Putin’s demand that Ukraine pull its troops out of the east and south of the country and drop its bid for NATO membership, in order for Moscow to halt its offensive.
Peskov said it was not an “ultimatum” but “a peace initiative that takes into account the realities on the ground.”
Zelensky has pledged to make peace proposals once they have the backing of the international community at the talks in Burgenstock, Switzerland, to which Putin was not invited.