Cyclone Remal kills four, snaps power links to millions in India, Bangladesh

A man walks on the road with a net as people fish at the shrimp and crab farms that are flooded due to heavy rain, as Cyclone Remal hits the country, in the Shyamnagar area of Satkhira, Bangladesh, May 27, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 May 2024
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Cyclone Remal kills four, snaps power links to millions in India, Bangladesh

  • Fierce winds snap power lines, uproot poles and trees as cyclone Remal lashes coastlines of India, Bangladesh 
  • Bangladesh has moved nearly 800,000 people to storm shelters while India has safely relocated around 110,000

SATKHIRA, Bangladesh: Strong gales and heavy rain brought by cyclone Remal lashed the coastlines of India and Bangladesh on Monday, killing at least four people and cutting electricity supply to millions before losing intensity.

The year's first cyclone in the region is the latest of the frequent storms that have pounded the low-lying coasts of the South Asian neighbors in recent years, as climate change drives up surface temperatures at sea.

Fierce winds snapped power lines, uprooted poles and trees and snatched the roofs off some tin and thatched houses while the rain and high tides damaged some embankments and flooded coastal areas.

"We have had no electricity since night, my mobile battery will run out anytime," said Rahat Raja, a resident of Bangladesh's coastal district of Satkhira. "By Allah's grace, the cyclone was not as violent as we thought."

Nearly 3 million people in Bangladesh were without electricity, officials of its power ministry said.

Both nations moved nearly a million people to storm shelters, about 800,000 of them in Bangladesh, and roughly 110,000 in India, authorities said.

Two people were killed in Bangladesh as they headed to cyclone shelters at the 11th hour, said disaster management chief Mijanur Rahman.

"People are usually very reluctant to leave their livestock and homes to go to cyclone shelters," he said. "They wait until the last minute when it is often too late."

Authorities will need more time to gauge the full extent of losses, he added.

The storm, packing speeds of up to 135 kph (84 mph), crossed the area around Bangladesh's southern port of Mongla and the adjoining Sagar Islands in India's eastern state of West Bengal late on Sunday, Indian weather officials said.

It began making landfall in India at about 9 p.m., a process that ran for about five hours, weather officials added, before weakening into a cyclone during Monday morning.

Now it is expected to move northeast and weaken further, bringing more rain to states there, they added, as winds and rains eased.

One person was crushed to death by falling concrete in the state capital of Kolkata, authorities said, while a woman died when a mud home collapsed on the island of Mousuni in the Sundarbans delta.

High tides breached some protective river embankments in the area, home to some of the world's largest mangrove forests, which is shared by India and Bangladesh.

Rain flooded roads and disrupted travel in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, where authorities gearing for the storm set up nearly 8,000 cyclone shelters and drafted in 78,000 volunteers.

India's navy put ships, aircraft, divers and medical supplies on standby for rescue operations.

POWER SUPPLY HIT

Though early warnings and timely evacuation helped avert major casualties, the storm took a heavy toll of utilities in both countries.

Bangladesh shut down electricity supply to many areas in advance to avoid accidents, while many coastal towns were left in the dark as fallen trees and snapped electricity lines disrupted supply, power ministry officials said.

Reports of at least 356 uprooted electricity poles and damage to scores of transformers flowed in early during the storm's landfall in India, said Arup Biswas, the power minister in its state of West Bengal.

Kolkata resumed flights on Monday after more than 50 were cancelled on Sunday, when the storm forced suspension of operations, while suburban train services were also restored.

Rains brought by the storm flooded many streets, television images showed, with reports of wall collapses and at least 52 fallen trees, some of them blocking roads.

Bangladesh suspended operations in its ports of Mongla and nearby Chittagong.


China says G7 statement ‘full of arrogance, prejudice and lies’

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China says G7 statement ‘full of arrogance, prejudice and lies’

  • Summit statement said China was sending dual-use materials to Russia which were helping Moscow’s war in Ukraine
  • China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said the statement had ‘slandered and attacked China’
BEIJING: China hit back on Monday after G7 leaders warned Beijing to stop sending weapons components to Russia, saying their end-of-summit statement was “full of arrogance, prejudice and lies.”
When Group of Seven leaders met last week in Italy, souring trade relations with Beijing as well as tensions over Ukraine and the South China Sea were a focus of their discussions.
The statement released at the end of the summit said China was sending dual-use materials to Russia which were helping Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Using stronger language than at last year’s summit, the G7 statement also criticized China’s “militarization, and coercive and intimidation activities” in the South China Sea.
On Monday China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said the statement had “slandered and attacked China.”
It had “rehashed cliches that have no factual basis, no legal basis, and no moral justification, and are full of arrogance, prejudice and lies,” he said at a regular press briefing.

EU leaders gather to discuss nominees for bloc’s top jobs

Updated 37 min ago
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EU leaders gather to discuss nominees for bloc’s top jobs

  • The June 6-9 elections saw the European Parliament shift to the right
  • Under the EU’s treaties, their choice should take into account the results of the election

BRUSSELS: The 27 leaders of the European Union gather in Brussels on Monday evening to take stock of recent European election results and begin the fraught process of dividing up the bloc’s top jobs, but they will be playing their usual political game with a deck of reshuffled cards.
The June 6-9 elections saw the European Parliament shift to the right and dealt major blows to pro-European governing parties in Paris and Berlin. The Franco-German motor that usually propels EU politics along was weakened, and new dynamics could be on show at the informal dinner.
Under the EU’s complicated division of powers, the presidents and prime ministers get to nominate the next head of the bloc’s powerful executive branch, the European Commission, which is responsible for drawing up EU policy on everything from climate to the colossal shared budget.
Under the EU’s treaties, their choice should take into account the results of the election.
German conservative Ursula von der Leyen looks likely to stay on as president for another five years after a strong showing for her center-right European People’s Party parliamentary group.
In an interview with Germany’s Welt TV on Saturday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “it is clear after the results of the elections that everything indicates that there can be a second term in office for Ursula von der Leyen.” He said he believes the top job nominations could be agreed “quickly.”
Von der Leyen, at the helm of the EU since 2019, led a huge drive during the pandemic to secure billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses, set up a historic post-pandemic economic recovery fund and, from 2022, drummed up support for Ukraine in its war with Russia and extended a hand to Kyiv to join the bloc.
But nothing is guaranteed. Von der Leyen’s presidential style has at times riled her commission colleagues, and she is deeply unpopular in some corners of the EU Parliament, where she will need the support of 361 of the 720 lawmakers to hold on to her job.
The other big posts up for grabs are that of European Council president, held by Belgian centrist Charles Michel, and EU foreign policy chief, occupied by Josep Borrell of Spain from the center-left. The council president’s job is to broker deals between the 27 member states, while the top diplomat represents the EU on the world stage.
In Brussels, names for the big posts have circulated for months. Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister António Costa is frequently mentioned to become council president. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, well known for her tough line on Russia, has been floated as the bloc’s potential top diplomat.
French President Emmanual Macron said the aim Monday is “to try to have a quick consensus. But perhaps we need to wait until June 27-28,” when the leaders meet again in Brussels for a formal EU summit.
“I don’t want to preempt things,” Macron said on Saturday. “These discussions are happening with 27 of us, so we have advanced, several of us have called each other, and I think it’s possible. I think it’s possible in the days to come, or in the week to come.’’
Von der Leyen’s own path to power in 2019 shows that the tussle over EU top jobs can be unpredictable. Then a German defense minister somewhat tainted by scandal in her ministry, von der Leyen was a relative unknown in Brussels when her name was raised by leaders in closed-door discussions.
Back then, the support of her close ally, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Macron helped her clinch the nomination. Given the current balance of power in Europe, it’s hard to imagine Macron and Scholz pulling a major surprise this time.
Scholz is licking his wounds after his Social Democrats took a drubbing, while Macron is tied up with the snap elections he called last week in a risky bid to see off the far right.
In a secret ballot in 2019, von der Leyen made it over the line with 383 votes, nail bitingly close to the threshold of 374. She was an unpopular nominee because she had not campaigned in elections as a lead candidate and was seen as being imposed on Parliament by the leaders.


Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers

Updated 17 June 2024
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Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers

  • Russia sends about a third of its seaborne oil exports, or 1.5 percent of global supply, through the Danish straits

COPENHAGEN: Denmark is considering ways to limit the passage of old tankers carrying Russian oil through the Baltic Sea, the Nordic country’s foreign minister said in a statement on Monday, in a move that could trigger confrontation with Moscow.
Russia sends about a third of its seaborne oil exports, or 1.5 percent of global supply, through the Danish straits that sit as a gateway to the Baltic Sea, so any attempt to halt supplies would send oil prices higher and hit the Kremlin’s finances.
Denmark has brought together a group of allied countries evaluating measures targeting the so-called shadow fleet of aging ships transporting the Russian oil, Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said.


NATO in talks to put nuclear weapons on standby, Stoltenberg tells UK’s Telegraph

Updated 17 June 2024
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NATO in talks to put nuclear weapons on standby, Stoltenberg tells UK’s Telegraph

  • Jens Stoltenberg tells paper there are live consultations between members to use transparency around its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent
  • ‘Transparency helps to communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance’

LONDON: NATO is in talks to deploy more nuclear weapons, taking them out of storage and placing them on standby, in the face of a growing threat from Russia and China, the head of the alliance said on Monday.
Jens Stoltenberg told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that there were live consultations between members to use transparency around its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent.
“I won’t go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” he told the paper.
“Transparency helps to communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance.”
“NATO’s aim is, of course, a world without nuclear weapons, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, we will remain a nuclear alliance, because a world where Russia, China and North Korea have nuclear weapons, and NATO does not, is a more dangerous world.”
Stoltenberg said last week that nuclear weapons were NATO’s “ultimate security guarantee” and a means to preserve peace.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned that Moscow could use nuclear weapons to defend itself in extreme circumstances. It accuses the US and its European allies of pushing the world to the brink of nuclear confrontation by giving Ukraine billions of dollars worth of weapons, some of which are being used against Russian territory.
NATO, which has taken on a greater role in coordinating arms supplies to Kyiv, rarely talks about weapons publicly, although it is known that the US has deployed nuclear bombs to several locations in Europe.


Afghan Taliban govt says to attend next round of UN talks in Doha

Updated 17 June 2024
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Afghan Taliban govt says to attend next round of UN talks in Doha

  • Taliban government were not included in first set of talks, refused invitation to second round in February
  • The talks in Doha are scheduled for June 30 and July 1 and have already been criticized by women’s groups

KABUL: Taliban authorities will attend the third round of United Nations-hosted talks on Afghanistan in the Qatari capital, a government spokesman said on Sunday, after snubbing an invitation to the previous round.

The Taliban government’s participation in the conference of foreign special envoys to Afghanistan had been in doubt after it was not included in the first set of talks and then refused an invitation to the second round in February.

“A delegation of the Islamic Emirate will participate in the coming Doha conference. They will represent Afghanistan there and express Afghanistan’s position,” Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

The talks in Doha are scheduled for June 30 and July 1, and have already been criticized by women’s groups.

Mujahid told Afghan media on Sunday that a delegation — yet to be announced — would attend because the talks’ agenda appeared “beneficial to Afghanistan.”

The agenda includes “topics such as aid for Afghanistan and creating opportunities for investors in Afghanistan, which are important,” he said.

However, foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi warned in a post on social media site X later on Sunday that “if there are any changes to the agenda and participation, it would naturally affect our decision” to attend.

Launched by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in May 2023, the series of talks aim to “increase international engagement with Afghanistan in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner,” according to the UN.

Civil society groups that included women were invited to the February talks but the Taliban government refused to participate unless its members could be the sole representatives of Afghanistan.

It also requested to meet Guterres, who at the time said the set of conditions to participate “were not acceptable.”

In recent weeks, multiple UN representatives and international envoys have held meetings with the Taliban government on the next Doha talks, which Guterres will not attend.

Diplomatic sources told AFP there were plans to consult with Afghan civil society groups before and after the next talks, but that they would not take part in meetings that include the Taliban authorities.

The sources said the official meetings were due to cover finance and economic issues, as well as counternarcotics efforts.

Several civil society groups have urged the UN to prioritize women’s rights and include Afghan women.

“The world must provide platforms for the people and women of Afghanistan to discuss the future of their country,” Afghan women’s rights activist Hoda Khamosh, now based in Norway, told AFP.

“Still, they are not heard because the world is interacting anyway with the Taliban, even if they say they do not recognize them.”

The international community has wrestled with its approach to the Taliban government since it returned to power in 2021, still not officially recognized by any other state.

The Taliban government has imposed a strict interpretation of Islam, with women subjected to laws characterised by the UN as “gender apartheid.”

Human Rights Watch’s Associate Women’s Rights Director, Heather Barr, said the Taliban should not have been allowed to make demands on the conditions of the meetings considering their policies targeting women.

“It is unthinkable that diplomats could gather to discuss Afghanistan in the middle of such a crisis and do so without women’s rights being the main issue on the agenda and Afghan women being full participants in the discussion,” she told AFP.

Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, extended Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi an advance invitation to the talks during a visit to Afghanistan in May, a statement said.

A key element of the talks held in the Gulf state, which hosted the Taliban during years of peace talks with the United States, is a UN independent assessment on Afghanistan released late last year.

The assessment, backed by Western nations, suggested recognition of the Taliban authorities be tied to the removal of restraints on women’s rights and access to education.

It also recommends the appointment of a UN special envoy, which the Taliban government has rejected.