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China halts military, climate dialogue with US over Pelosi Taiwan trip

Publish: 09:36 AM, 06 Aug, 2022


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China announced on Friday it was halting dialogue with the United States in a number of areas, including between theatre-level military commanders and on climate change, in a furore over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.

China's foreign ministry said it was also suspending exchanges with Washington on countering cross-border crime and drug trafficking, all moves Washington called "irresponsible."

Enraged when Pelosi became the highest-level US visitor in 25 years to the self-governed island that Beijing regards as its territory, China launched military drills in the seas and skies around Taiwan on Thursday. The live-fire drills, the largest ever conducted by China in the Taiwan Strait, are scheduled to continue until noon on Sunday.

Taiwan's defence ministry said on Friday it scrambled jets to warn away Chinese aircraft that it said entered the island's air defence zone, some of which crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides.

A total of 68 Chinese military aircraft and 13 navy ships had conducted missions in the strait, the ministry said.

China's Eastern Theatre Command of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement it conducted air and sea drills to the north, southwest and east of Taiwan on Friday "to test the troops' joint combat capabilities."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington has repeatedly made clear to Beijing it does not seek a crisis over Pelosi's visit to Taiwan earlier this week during a congressional tour of Asia.

"There is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response," he told a news conference on the sidelines of Asean regional meetings in Cambodia, adding, "Now, they've taken dangerous acts to a new level".

Blinken emphasised that the United States would not take actions to provoke a crisis, but it would continue to support regional allies and conduct standard air and maritime transit through the Taiwan Strait.

"We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows," he said.

A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Chinese officials had not responded to calls made by senior Pentagon officials this week, but the move was seen as China showing displeasure over the Pelosi trip rather than severing the channel between senior defence officials including US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told a media briefing after the Asean meetings: "I heard that US Secretary of State Blinken held his news conference and spread some misinformation and was not speaking truthfully."

"We wish to issue a warning to the United States: Do not act rashly, do not create a greater crisis," Wang said.

Jing Quan, a senior Chinese Embassy official in Washington, echoed that, telling a briefing: "The only way out of this crisis is that the US side must take measures immediately to rectify its mistakes and eliminate the grave impact of Pelosi's visit."

He said Washington should "avoid pushing China-US relations down the dangerous track of conflict and confrontation".

Diplomatic Front

"There's nothing here for the United States to rectify. The Chinese can go a long way to taking the tensions down simply by stopping these provocative military exercises and ending the rhetoric," Kirby told reporters.

China has not mentioned a suspension of military talks at the senior-most levels, such as with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. While those talks have been infrequent, officials have said they are important to have in the case of an emergency or accident.

Kirby said it was not atypical for China to shut down military talks at times of tension, but that "not all channels" between the two countries' military leaders had been cut off.

The Pentagon said China was overreacting and that Washington was still open to building crisis communication mechanisms.

"Part of this overreaction has been strictly limiting its defence engagements when any responsible state would recognize that we need them now the most," Acting Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale said.

Beijing separately announced that it would impose sanctions on Pelosi personally and her immediate family in response to her "vicious" and "provocative" actions. read more

Speaking at a news conference in Japan after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Pelosi said her trip to Asia was "not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region." 

Stay Calm

Taiwan's defence ministry said on Friday the island's military had dispatched aircraft and ships and deployed land-based missile systems to monitor ships and aircraft that briefly crossed the Taiwan Strait median line. 

On Thursday, China fired multiple missiles into waters surrounding Taiwan.

Japan's defence ministry, which is tracking the exercises, first reported that as many as four of the missiles flew over Taiwan's capital, which is unprecedented. It also said that five of nine missiles fired toward its territory landed in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), also a first, prompting a diplomatic protest by Tokyo.

Later, Taiwan's defence ministry said the missiles were high in the atmosphere and constituted no threat.

Some Taipei residents, including Mayor Ko Wen-je, criticised the government for not putting out a missile alert, but one security expert said that could have been done to avoid stoking panic and playing into China's hands.

"It counteracted the effect of the Chinese Communist Party's psychological warfare," said Mei Fu-shin, a US-based analyst.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen urged residents not to panic, saying in a Facebook post: "Please rest assured, stay calm and live as normal."

Bonnie Glaser, a Washington-based Asia security specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said China may be rehearsing for a blockade, "demonstrating it can block Taiwan's ports and airports and prevent shipping."

Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong's communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists in a civil war, prompting the KMT-led government to retreat to the island.

Beijing has said its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter, and that it reserves the right to bring Taiwan under Chinese control, by force if necessary.

- Reuters


China   USA   Taiwan   Nancy Pelosi  


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World Inside

Nearly 20 dead, 300 injured in Indonesia's 5.6 magnitude quake

Publish: 03:25 PM, 21 Nov, 2022


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More than a dozen people were killed in a 5.6-magnitude quake that rattled Indonesia's West Java province on Monday, a local official said.

Herman Suherman, a government official from Cianjur, the town in West Java where the epicentre of the quake was located, told news channel MetroTV that up to 20 people had died at one hospital in the area.

The epicentre was on land in Cianjur in West Java, about 75 km southeast of Jakarta, and at a depth of 10 km (6.2 miles), BMKG said, adding there was no potential for a tsunami.

Some people evacuated offices in the central business district of Jakarta, while others reported feeling buildings shake and seeing furniture move, Reuters witnesses said.

Muchlis, who was in Cianjur when the quake hit, said he felt "a huge tremor" and the walls and ceiling of his office building were damaged.

"I was very shocked. I worried there will be another quake," Muchlis told the Metro TV news channel, adding that people ran out of their houses, some fainting and vomiting because of the strong tremors.

BMKG chief Dwikorita Karnawati, speaking to reporters at parliamentary building, advised people to stay outdoors in case of aftershocks.

Suko Prayitno Adi of the BMKG said authorities were checking the extent of the damage caused by the quake.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recorded the earthquake at a magnitude of 5.4 on the Richter scale.

– Reuters



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Turkey launches airstrikes over northern Syria

Publish: 12:21 PM, 20 Nov, 2022


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Turkey launched airstrikes over several towns in northern Syria on Saturday, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces reported.

The airstrikes occurred a week after a bomb rocked a bustling avenue in the heart of Istanbul, killing six people and wounding over 80 others. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as well as Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with it. The Kurdish militant groups have, however, denied involvement.

Ankara and Washington both consider the PKK a terror group, but disagree on the status of the Syrian Kurdish groups, which have been allied with the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Following the strikes, the Turkish ministry of defense posted a photo of a fighter plane with the phrase, “The treacherous attacks of the scoundrels are being held to account."

The airstrikes targeted Kobani, a strategic town near the Turkish border that Ankara had previously attempted to overtake in its plans to establish a “safe zone” along northern Syria. SDF spokesperson Farhad Shami in a tweet added that two villages heavily populated with displaced people were under Turkish bombardment. He said the strikes had resulted in “deaths and injuries.”

Syrian opposition media reported that Turkish airstrikes targeted Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces positions.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, reported that the strikes had also hit Syrian army positions and that at least 12 had been killed, including both SDF and Syrian army soldiers.

The observatory said about 25 air strikes were carried out by Turkish warplanes on sites in the countryside of Aleppo, Raqqa and Hasakah.

The Kurdish-led authority in northeast Syria said Saturday that if Turkey attacks, then fighters in the area would have “the right to resist and defend our areas in a major way that will take the region into a long war.”

Turkey has launched three major cross-border operations into Syria since 2016 and already controls some territories in the north.

– AP/UNB


Turkey   Airstrikes   Northern Syria  


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World Inside

Nord Stream leaks confirmed as sabotage, Sweden says

Publish: 10:10 AM, 19 Nov, 2022


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Investigators have found traces of explosives at the site of the damaged Nord Stream gas pipelines, confirming sabotage had taken place, a Swedish prosecutor said on Friday.

Swedish and Danish authorities are investigating four holes in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines which link Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea and have become a flashpoint in the Ukraine crisis as gas supplies in Europe run short.

Denmark last month said a preliminary investigation had shown that the leaks were caused by powerful explosions.

"Analysis that has now been carried out shows traces of explosives on several of the objects that were recovered," the Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a statement, adding that the findings establish the incident as "gross sabotage".

It said the continued probe would determine whether it would be possible to identify those responsible.

Cooperation with authorities in Sweden as well as in other countries was going very well, lead prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said.

The prosecutor's office declined to give further comment, including on which explosives were believed to have been used to damage the pipelines.

Russia will wait until a full damage assessment is done before deciding on repairs, if any, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.

"The very fact that data has already begun to come in, in favour of confirming a subversive act or a terrorist act... once again confirms the information that the Russian side has," Peskov told his daily call with reporters.

"It is very important not to stop, it is very important to find the one behind this explosion."

Neither Gazprom, nor the Nord Stream 1 and 2 replied to Reuters requests for comment.

Seismologists in Denmark and Sweden previously said they had registered tremors in the immediate vicinity of the leaks and that the signals did not resemble those from earthquakes.

Danish police declined to comment on the Swedish findings.

The 26 Sept ruptures of the seabed pipelines, spewing gas into the ocean that bubbled to the surface in the week that followed, triggered warnings of public hazard and fears of environmental damage.

A section measuring at least 50 metres (164 feet) is missing from Nord Stream 1, Swedish daily Expressen reported on 18 Oct after filming what it said were the first publicly released images of the damage.

Russia's defence ministry last month said that British navy personnel blew up the pipelines, a claim that London said was false and designed to distract from Russian military failures in Ukraine.

- Reuters



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World Inside

Four wounded in shooting near Canada college

Publish: 02:53 PM, 12 Nov, 2022


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A shooting that sent four people to hospital and another gun-related incident forced thousands of students at two Montreal area colleges to go into lockdown on Friday.

At 5:30 pm local time (2230 GMT), gunshots rang out at a park across the street from Montmorency College in the Montreal suburb of Laval, police spokeswoman Genevieve Major told AFP.

Four people who had been shot sought refuge at the college and were later taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The college, which is attended by nearly 10,000 students and faculty, remained locked down into the evening as police swarmed the area in search of the shooter.

Mayor Stephane Boyer tweeted that a police operation was "underway", while television footage showed parents of students crowding the roads around the college after they rushed to the scene.

Earlier, a 19-year-old man wearing a bulletproof vest was arrested at a junior college 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Montreal and charged with allegedly uttering threats.

Students and staff at the Cegep Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu told local media they were ordered to barricade themselves in classrooms and turn off the lights for most of the day, while a police operation unfolded outside.

"At the beginning we were very scared," student Alejandra Montequin told Canadian broadcaster Global News. "It was very tense; people were talking to their parents."

Quebec Public Security Minister Francois Bonnardel said in a Twitter post that the students in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu had "experienced a difficult situation today."

"I'm relieved at the turn of events," he said, adding that he would wait for the results of the police investigation "to fully understand what happened."

– BSS/AFP



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Ukrainians celebrate retaking of Kherson

Publish: 02:42 PM, 12 Nov, 2022


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Jubilant residents welcomed Ukrainian troops arriving in the centre of the strategic city of Kherson after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since its invasion began in February.

KHERSON RETREAT

President Zelenskiy hailed "a historic day" in getting Kherson back. Special units of the military were inside with defending troops on the outskirts, he said.

Russia's defence ministry said it had withdrawn more than 30,000 soldiers across the Dnipro River in its retreat, without losing a soldier. But Ukrainians described a chaotic retreat, with Russian troops ditching their uniforms or drowning trying to escape.

The Kremlin said Russia's withdrawal from Kherson's capital would not change the region's status as annexed by Russia.

Significant new damage to the major Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine can be seen following Russia's withdrawal from nearby Kherson, US satellite imagery company Maxar said.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, at an Asian summit in Cambodia, on Saturday urged Southeast Asian countries to take all measures possible to stop Russia from playing "hunger games" over a Black Sea grain deal that could expire next week.

Ukraine says it is building a reinforced concrete wall and other fortifications on its border with Belarus, a Kremlin ally that Moscow used as a staging ground for its 24 Feb invasion.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog said an investigation of a research plant in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv found it was badly damaged, but there were no signs of a radiological release or diversion of nuclear material.

Senior UN officials met with a Russian delegation in Geneva to discuss Moscow's grievances about the Black Sea grains export initiative and address the need for unimpeded food and fertilizer exports, a UN spokesperson said.

Russian-based international ballet dancers from elite companies like the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky who fled the country, leaving behind their lives, jobs and belongings, are reuniting for one performance in California on Saturday.

– Reuters 



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