Philippine captain vows to return to sea after Houthi attack

Christian Domarique, captain of the MV Tutor, was one of the 22 Filipino crews of the coal carrier ship that was attacked by the Houthis near the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on June 12. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2024

Philippine captain vows to return to sea after Houthi attack

  • Tutor’s captain Christian Domarique: ‘We first need to rest because of the trauma’
  • Houthis claimed responsibility for a missile strike on the Liberia flagged, Greek-owned coal carrier Tutor

MANILA: The Philippine crew of a vessel attacked by Yemen’s Houthi militants was repatriated to the Philippines from Bahrain on Monday, with the ship’s captain vowing to return to the seas after the crew had recovered from the experience.
Iran-aligned Houthis claimed responsibility for a missile strike on the Liberia flagged, Greek-owned, coal carrier Tutor near the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on June 12. The ship was carrying 22 crew from the Philippines and one is still missing in the flooded engine room.
“We first need to rest because of the trauma,” the Tutor’s Captain Christian Domarique told a press conference at Manila airport. “We will recover for a few months before returning.”
Houthi attacks have struck three vessels crewed by Filipino seafarers since last year, killing two sailors, with 17 still being held captive by militants, government data showed.
A tearful Domarique thanked God, his company, and government agencies for assisting him and his fellow seafarers to get back to the Philippines.
The government has pledged financial and psychological assistance for the 21 crew members.
“The captain has good working years ahead of him so with the crew that is relatively young, they will still have more seafaring years ahead of them,” Hans Leo Cacdac, the Philippines’ migrant workers minister, told a press conference.
The vessel’s owner pledged to continue the search for the missing sailor alongside a salvaging operation to tow the stranded ship, Cacdac said, which on Friday was adrift in the Red Sea.
The Houthis, who have said their attacks are in support of Palestinians in Gaza, have disrupted global shipping, causing delays and costs to cascade through supply chains.
At least 65 countries and major energy and shipping companies — including Shell, BP, Maersk and Cosco — have been affected, according to a report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency.

Ukraine reaches preliminary deal with bondholder group on $20-billion debt restructure

Updated 56 min 33 sec ago

Ukraine reaches preliminary deal with bondholder group on $20-billion debt restructure

  • Ukraine’s finances are precarious as its 28-month war with Russia drags on. Russia’s 2022 invasion decimated its economy, leaving it heavily reliant on money – and military aid – from international partners

LONDON: Ukraine said on Monday it had reached an agreement in principle with a group of creditors to restructure $20 billion of international bonds, bringing the war-torn country closer to an unprecedented debt rework.
Ukraine’s announcement comes just over a week before a two-year debt suspension agreement struck in 2022 is due to run out and marks the first time a country has embarked on a debt restructuring during a full-scale war.
“After months of engagement and hard work with our private bondholders, the IMF and our bilateral partners, we have reached an agreement in principle with the Ad Hoc Creditor Committee on the comprehensive restructuring of our public external debt,” Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said in a statement.
This was an important step to ensure Ukraine maintained the budget stability and cash resources needed to continue financing its defense, he added.
Ukraine’s finances are precarious as its 28-month war with Russia drags on. Russia’s 2022 invasion decimated its economy, leaving it heavily reliant on money – and military aid – from international partners.
The US presidential election in November and the risk of wavering commitment to maintain support for Ukraine under a potential Donald Trump presidency increased pressure for a debt restructuring, sources close to the talks and analysts said.
The proposal would see a 37 percent nominal haircut on Ukraine’s outstanding international bonds, saving Kyiv $11.4 billion in payments over the next three years — the duration of the country’s program with the International Monetary Fund set to expire in 2027, according to government statements.
The government said the IMF had confirmed that the deal was compatible with the parameters of its $122 billion support package, and that the country’s official lenders, the Group of Creditors of Ukraine (GCU), had also signed off on it.
A spokesperson for the Paris Club of creditor nations, which usually handles communications for the GCU, confirmed the group was comfortable with the proposal.
The IMF welcomed the agreement and confirmed it is consistent with the current program, adding that it will be “essential to bring Ukraine’s debt burdens to sustainable levels, thereby ensuring room for critical spending and supporting growth.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in a message on the Telegram app that the deal would free up resources for urgent needs, including defense, social protection and recovery.
A source at the Germany finance ministry welcomed the draft agreement and said it was a key step to preserve the Ukraine government’s ability to act and plan ahead.
The Ad Hoc Creditor Committee, which holds 22 percent of the country’s sovereign bonds, called the agreement “swift and constructive.”
“We are pleased to be able to provide significant debt relief to Ukraine, assist its efforts to regain its access to international capital markets, and support the future reconstruction,” it said in a statement.
Under the proposal, some of the new bonds issued would start paying a 1.75 percent coupon from next year, with payments stepping up to as much as 7.75 percent from 2034 onwards. Bondholders are also in line to receive a consent fee.
Interest payments had been a sticky issue in the talks. Bondholders sought financial inducement to agree to a rework, while Ukraine’s international partners such as Group of Seven nations and the IMF objected to large amounts of money being funnelled to private lenders and away from strained government finances.
Payments to bondholders under the deal would amount to less than $200 million through to end-2025.
While the bonds have a face value of $19.7 billion, Ukraine owes around $23 billion with past due interest.
The international bonds soared more than 5 cents after the announcement, with most maturities trading around the 35 cents mark and at their strongest in about two years.
Ukraine’s $2.6 billion GDP warrants — fixed-income instruments with payouts linked to the strength of economic growth — were not part of the restructuring, though the government said it would “ensure the fair and equitable treatment of holders of the Warrants.”
Bondholders will vote on the proposal in coming weeks. If enough sign off, the government will issue new bonds.
A first payment in the wake of the two year moratorium is due on Aug. 1, but Ukraine last week passed a law allowing it to miss payments — and enter debt default, even temporarily — while the agreement is finalized.
The debt deal would be Ukraine’s second in a decade triggered by its neighbor: Ukraine restructured in 2015 following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
“Once completed, this restructuring will also pave the way for Ukraine’s market re-entry as soon as possible when the security situation stabilizes to fund our country’s swift recovery and reconstruction,” Marchenko said in the statement.

If not Kamala Harris, who else could be the Democratic nominee for November’s election?

Updated 57 sec ago

If not Kamala Harris, who else could be the Democratic nominee for November’s election?

  • Arab American analysts assess the Democrats seeking to be the candidate who will challenge Donald Trump
  • Arab Americans alienated by Biden’s Gaza stance could prove decisive in key battleground states

NEW YORK CITY/CHICAGO: President Joe Biden’s decision to end his reelection campaign and drop out of the US presidential race has created sufficient momentum for Vice President Kamala Harris to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, according to three Arab American analysts.

Biden, who endorsed Harris in his withdrawal announcement on Sunday, was trailing former President Donald Trump in opinion polls amid a growing Arab American #AbandonBiden movement, and wider demands he drop out of the 2024 race following his disastrous debate performance on June 27 in Atlanta.

What was to be a coronation for the 81-year-old Biden at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on Aug. 19 has now become an open contest in which nearly 4,700 party delegates will vote by state for the nominee of their choice to challenge Trump, the Republican Party nominee.

Rana Abtar, a talk show host in Washington D.C. for Asharq News, expects Harris to become the Democratic nominee, although several other candidates might also be considered. However, she believes the Democrats “must show unity” if they are to win the November election.

“Today, what we are noticing is that Democrats are starting to support Harris, one by one,” she told Arab News. “There were some delegates in a couple of states who have already voted to support Kamala Harris. That means that their votes will reflect in the Democratic National Convention.

“The rest of the Democrats who have not supported Harris yet are expected to fall in line soon. At some point we will see all the Democrats, or most of the Democrats, line up behind Harris. It is very important for the Democrats to present a show of unity after the dilemma that their party was facing following President Biden’s announcement that he will not seek a second term.”

Biden’s withdrawal from the race frees up his convention delegates from the nation’s 50 states and provinces to support any candidate during the convention. Many alternative names are being floated, including centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former First Lady Michelle Obama, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro.

Noting that Harris is popular among African American voters, a traditional core pillar of the Democratic Party support, Abtar said many still view her as a part of the Biden administration’s policies that fueled the #AbandonBiden movement, in which Arabs and Muslims voted in key swing state primaries for “uncommitted” or “no vote” options rather than for the president.

“Harris is not that popular in the polls,” Abtar said. “A lot of Democrats are worried that her chances against Trump are the same as the chances of President Biden against Trump. Of course, in the coming days we will see Harris getting out there, talking to the voters, because in the past, in her role as vice president, she did not speak directly to the American people on many occasions.

“Biden gave her the immigration matter, which by itself put her in a very awkward position, especially given that the Republicans’ main attack against Democrats concerns immigration and border security.

“But I do believe that the most important element here is not Harris. It will be who she will pick as her running mate because voters need excitement. Democratic voters need excitement to get out and vote.”

Abtar said third-party candidates, such as independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, are often viewed as “election spoilers” — people who might drain votes from Harris or even from Trump.

“Kennedy’s numbers are considered pretty high for an independent candidate and his voters might make a difference in the election season by taking away votes from … Trump or Harris … if she gets the official nomination,” Abtar said.

Any of the individuals currently being suggested as replacements for Biden could become nominees for vice president, including Pritzker, a billionaire with presidential ambitions of his own.

Amal Mudallali, a former ambassador to the UN and CEO of Bridges International Group, thinks Harris has a “problem of perception.”

She told Arab News: “The perception is that she was not a strong vice president, that she will not be a strong candidate and that she will not be able to defeat Trump.”

Although Democrats seemed to be moving fast to rally behind Harris, including former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement on Monday, Mudallali remains cautious.

“It’s all up in the air because there are still very powerful Democrats calling for an open convention and to have an open field for everybody to throw their hats into the ring, and to see if they can get the strongest candidate for the Democratic Party to be able to defeat Trump,” she said.

The impact of the independent candidates in the election cannot be written off either, she added.

“In very close elections, independent candidates can do a lot of harm. Because this election is a very close race — you are talking about a couple of thousands of, or a thousand, votes — that could make or break an election campaign,” Mudallali said.

“Let’s say if Kennedy was able to get a lot of votes from the Democrats, this could hurt Democrats more and that will be a big problem for them.

“But so far we don’t know who the Democratic Party candidate will be. If the individual is a very strong candidate, the party might be able to unite the anti-Trump constituency, which will overwhelmingly vote for the candidate on the Democratic side. In that case, the independents will not make a difference.”

Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, believes Harris is “all but certain” to replace Biden as the nominee, and suggested that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could be her running mate on the first “all woman ticket.”

He told Arab News: “The speculation is heavily focused on who will be her vice-presidential running mate, including possibly an all-women ticket should she choose Whitmer. That’s unprecedented and carries risks. But Whitmer could help deliver the key swing state of Michigan, and an all-woman team could re-energize the currently largely demoralized Democratic base.”

He added: “Harris’s likability ratings with the American public have never been high. But at this point, the decision by the Democratic Party and President Biden to put her name forward is largely based on funding and finances. She is the only one who will be able to qualify for all the money, the hundreds of millions of dollars, that have been raised so far. Therefore, her choice for a running mate will also be key in terms of bringing around that Democratic base and for the general likability of that Democratic ticket.”

Maksad believes Biden’s withdrawal from the presidential race, and speculation about Whitmer’s addition to the ticket, might hold sway over the strong Arab and Muslim vote in Michigan, many of whom voted against the Biden-Harris team in the Feb. 27 Democrat Party primary contest.

“Arab Americans are not monolithic,” he said. “They are a diverse group with differing priorities spread out across four battleground states. Michigan gets a lot of attention, but also Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“In Michigan, where there are 100,000 of them, they have strong feelings about the war in Gaza and President Biden not doing enough to stop the war. Having Biden step aside opens up the potential for the Democratic Party to make inroads among Arab Americans in Michigan again. And should the vice president (choice) in fact be the governor of Michigan, that will then give Democrats even more opportunities to make inroads and win Michigan over again, as a key battleground state.”

UK Conservative Party to announce new leader Nov 2, Times report says

Former British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech at Number 10 Downing Street, following the results of the elections.
Updated 22 July 2024

UK Conservative Party to announce new leader Nov 2, Times report says

  • The Times said up to eight candidates were expected to put their name forward
  • Contest would last almost four months, culminating in a ballot of rank and file members to select one of the final two candidates, Times political editor said

LONDON: Britain’s Conservative Party will name its new leader on Nov. 2, the Times reported on Monday, following the party’s worst ever election performance earlier this month that prompted former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to say he would stand down.
The contest would last almost four months, culminating in a ballot of rank and file members to select one of the final two candidates, Times Political Editor Steven Swinford said in a post on X.
Sunak’s election campaign ended in failure on July 4, when the center-left Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer, won a landslide election victory that ended 14 years of Conservative-led government.
Sunak said in his final speech outside the Prime Minister’s Downing Street office that he would quit as leader of the party once the formal arrangements for his successor were in place.
The Times report came ahead of the formal announcement of those arrangements later this week. The Conservative Party did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
The Times said up to eight candidates were expected to put their name forward.
Conservative Party leadership contests usually involve a series of ballots among its elected lawmakers to whittle down the number of candidates, before the whole party gets to choose between the final two.

Blinken headed to Asia to reaffirm US leadership

Updated 22 July 2024

Blinken headed to Asia to reaffirm US leadership

  • Secretary of State will visit Laos, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Mongolia
  • Blinken will also travel to Vietnam to attend the funeral of late communist leader Nguyen Phu Trong

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Asia this week in a bid to assert US leadership against the backdrop of China’s rising influence, an official said Monday.
The message of Blinken’s trip, which starts Wednesday, is that “America is all in on the Indo-Pacific from day one of this administration,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
“We have significantly and dramatically stepped up our engagement,” he added.
Blinken will visit Laos, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Mongolia.
He will also travel to Vietnam to attend the funeral of late communist leader Nguyen Phu Trong, and will separately meet with government officials in Hanoi in an effort to boost diplomatic relations.
In Laos, he will attend a ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and is scheduled to meet with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the event.
Blinken will then visit Japan for a four-party meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japanese counterparts, which will focus on defense deterrence, according to the State Department and Japan’s foreign ministry.
He is also due to take part in a meeting of the so-called Quad — a strategic security dialogue of the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
In the Philippines, Blinken will have talks with the country’s diplomatic and defense chiefs that will center on Chinese behavior in the South China Sea.
Kritenbrink said Monday that the United States welcomed efforts to ease tensions in the South China Sea, after the Philippines and China agreed to a provisional arrangement for resupplying Filipino troops stationed on a disputed shoal.
After a stopover in Singapore focused on strengthening bilateral relations, Blinken will conclude his Asia tour in Mongolia for a meeting with the country’s foreign minister.

France’s Macron praises Biden’s ‘courage’ and ‘sense of duty’

Updated 22 July 2024

France’s Macron praises Biden’s ‘courage’ and ‘sense of duty’

  • In early June, Biden traveled to France on a state visit and attended commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings
PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday praised US counterpart Joe Biden’s “courage” and “sense of duty,” and called for the “spirit of partnership” between the two countries to continue beyond the next presidential election.
Biden, 81, announced on Sunday that he was dropping out of the US presidential race following intense pressure to step aside after a dismal debate performance last month. He has since endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as candidate.
“I appreciate the courage, the spirit of responsibility and the sense of duty that led you to this decision,” wrote Macron in a letter to Biden, extracts of which were made public by the Elysee Palace.
“At a time when we have just celebrated the 80th anniversary of D-Day together, I hope that this spirit of partnership between the two sides of the Atlantic will continue to drive the historic relations between our two countries,” Macron said.
In early June, Biden traveled to France on a state visit and attended commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings that changed the course of World War II.
At that time Macron emphasized unity with the United States under Biden and expressed gratitude for his counterpart’s approach to Europe.
“I thank you, Mr.President, for being the president of the world’s number one power but doing it with the loyalty of a partner who likes and respects the Europeans,” he said in June.