AP Journalist

Chinese officials and Taliban meet as US exits Afghanistan
Asia Pacific Focus

Chinese officials and Taliban meet as US exits Afghanistan

China’s foreign minister met a Taliban delegation, on Wednesday, signalling warming ties as the US-led foreign forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Wang Yi told the nine visiting Taliban representatives, including the group’s co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, that China expected it to “perform an important role in the process of peaceful settlement and reconstruction in Afghanistan” – as per a readout of the meeting from the foreign ministry.

He said Beijing hoped the Taliban would crackdown on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as it posed a “direct threat to China’s national security”.

China says the group is active in the Xinjiang region and fears that neighbouring Afghanistan could be used as a breeding ground for separatists.

Wang Yi described the Taliban as an influential military and political force in Afghanistan.

Following the departure of American troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have rapidly expanded its presence and have gained control of large swathes of the country.

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The pace at which Afghan security forces have lost control to the Taliban has shocked almost everyone keeping an eye on the scenario.

Wednesday’s meeting is seen as the latest move by the Chinese government to build its relationship with the Islamist group.

Wang termed Afghanistan as China’s largest neighbour, and highlighted that the fate of the country should be “in the safe hands of the Afghan people.”

Reacting to the development, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China’s possible involvement in Afghanistan can prove to be “a positive thing”.

Blinken said this was if China was striving for a “peaceful resolution of the conflict”.

“No one has an apparent interest in a military takeover of the country by the Taliban and the restoration of an Islamic emirate,” said Blinken, who was inquired about the talks while on a visit to India.

He advised the Taliban to come to the “negotiating table peacefully”.

Situation gets tougher for PM Morrison as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in Australia
Asia Pacific Focus

Situation gets tougher for PM Morrison as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in Australia

Australia’s most prominent cities like Sydney and Melbourne state leaders have imposed lockdowns due to a surge in coronavirus cases. 

Australian PM is confronting criticism for handling covid’s delta variant surge in several states in Australia, due to which a significant part of the nation’s populace is currently living under stay-at-home measures. 

Morrison’s ruling government federation has on occasion attacked the states’ rigorous approach towards the pandemic yet can do little to forestall lockdowns or domestic border restrictions. 

The expenses of the current measures are way above and beyond A$10 billion (S$10 billion) and are required to shave up to 1.5 per cent off the country’s financial development in the three months to September. 

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Public opinion polls have revealed sliding support for PM Scott Morrison’s administration amid criticism of a sluggish immunisation program criticised for changing regulatory counsel and supply deficiencies. On Thursday, Scott Morrison has apologised for a slow COVID-19 immunisation program. 

Australian citizens who want to get vaccinated would get it before the year ends, and “by Christmas, we would be witnessing a different Australia to what we see presently,” Morrison added. 

Victoria’s state government as of late blamed Morrison for unreasonably preferring his home province of New South Wales, recommending that the PM had done more to give monetary aid to those influenced by the current flare-up of Covid in Sydney than last year’s protracted second-wave in Melbourne city. 

The federal and state governments also stated that expanding relief aid to help organisations and businesses to continue paying salaries to workers amid lockdowns. 

On Wednesday, Sydney has currently extended the lockdown by about a month after a stay-at-home order failed to contain the coronavirus spread in Australia.

Suga Might Not Get Support For Next Japanese Election As PM
Asia Pacific Focus

Suga Might Not Get Support For Next Japanese Election As PM

Ahead of the elections, current Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga isn’t feeling very confident of getting any support. Apparently, his decision to stage the Olympics in Japan has been so badly dampened by the Covid-19 situation that his re-election dream looks a distant possibility.

Cases of infection Olympics organisers reported 16 new Games-related COVID-19 cases on Monday, including three athletes, bringing the total since July 1 to 148. A general consensus amongst people and media has not been good. Some 56 percent are already saying that Japan’s border steps for incoming Olympics athletes and officials were ‘inappropriate’. While rules and regulations were put in place, the number of surging cases of infections amongst participants has been alarming.

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The Dutch rowing team for example, decided to step back from participation, once it came to know that some athletes, a coach and some staff members had been detected Covid positive. There are physical limitations like the tropical storm Nepartak that is looming a dark shadow over the heads of Olympic participants too.

The event in itself received massive public applause in the beginning, but as the number of cases of infection have been rising, the spirits are dampening, even though Japan has been securing quite a lot of gold medals in one or the event.

Independent analyst Atsuo Ito said public admiration for Olympic athletes was unlikely to translate into higher ratings for Suga, which will probably depend on trends in infections. National media agency Nikkei’s survey is seeing a dipping popularity for Suga. He currently features to be on the fifth position in the of preferred next prime minister’s names, with just 5% backing him.

Canada to rescue Afghan interpreters amid ‘critical’ situation
Asia Pacific Focus

Canada to rescue Afghan interpreters amid ‘critical’ situation

Canadian officials, on the ground in Afghanistan, are working to identify a new “path to protection” for the eligible Afghans – those who supported Canadian troops during the war.

“Canada is here to assist those who supported us,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in a press conference on Friday.

He added that “several thousand” people would be eligible and the first arrivals would be setting their foot in Canada very soon.

Canada announced that it would give Afghan interpreters, embassy staff and their families an escape from a “dynamic and deteriorating” situation in Afghanistan, saying that they had become targets for the Taliban.

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Mendicino said it was a “critical” time upon those who have helped Canadian soldiers as they now face the risk of death and torture by rapid Taliban advances across the country.

“We are not going to leave them behind. Lives hang in the balance here, and that is the reason why we’re taking timely and decisive action. Canada will always do right by those who did right by us,” Mendicino spoke to reporters.

He added that the Canadian government won’t be able to share specific operational details due to various security factors, but that the planning process has, for a while now, been ongoing and they’re working “swiftly.”

The Taliban now claim control over about 80 per cent of Afghanistan after the US began extracting its military forces – a move US President Joe Biden has announced to be completed by August 31.

The US has begun evacuating about 2,500 interpreters and other support staff to a military base in Virginia, but the Afghans who helped Canadian forces had, till Friday, heard no such plans from Ottawa.

Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan marked ten years of its completion this month – about a decade after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

It is a piece of welcome news for those left stranded in Afghanistan and forced into hiding after being targeted by the Taliban for their function with Canadian troops.

New Zealand Uses Hard Line Suspends Travel Bubble With Australia
Americas

New Zealand Uses Hard Line Suspends Travel Bubble With Australia

Sydney has declared an emergency due to ongoing Covid-19 outbreak while the government has now extended a ban on the travel bubble across the nation for atleast eight weeks.  This means it has suspended all travel from Australia too.

The Delta variant is said to be spreading precariously everywhere. A formal statement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that “We have always said that our response would evolve as the virus evolved. This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but it is the right decision to keep New Zealanders safe.”

The travel bubble was a concept that has been used in Asia and UK as well. It has now been paused for New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia too.

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Scheduled airline capacity between Australia and New Zealand had gone up by 44 percent in 2019, according to authentic data shared by aviation analytics firm Cirium. This was well below the initial forecasts of more than 70 percent.

Initially, the travel bubble was introduced as a test free and quarantine free arrangement between the countries. But with New Zealand introducing the testing requirements, the travel plans have become expensive to and fro.

The New Zealand government said for the next week there will be managed return flights for New Zealanders from all Australian states and territories that will require proof of a negative pre-departure test. Passengers arriving from Sydney will be required to spend two weeks in government-managed quarantine. The new Delta variant is becoming tougher to deal with and is spreading much faster than the previous ones. Air bubble travel arrangements have not yielded the results as expected as countries have changed and altered travel guidelines frequently. Travel link between Singapore and Hong Kong, first mooted last year, has never actually gotten underway. Talks between Australia and Singapore are still ongoing as well.

US slaps sanctions on Cuba’s security chief over human rights abuses on protests
Americas

US slaps sanctions on Cuba’s security chief over human rights abuses on protests

 Cuba’s communist government had imposed severe crackdown on anti-government protests, threatening human rights of the protesters in the biggest demonstrations in the country in decades. United States of America has imposed sanctions at Cuban security minister and an interior ministry special forces unit for carrying out human rights abuses against backdrop of protests.

This is also the first major step taken by Biden administration to pressurize Cuba’s government, reiterating calls from Cuban American community and US lawmakers to support the protests across island.

Biden in no mood to go softer on Cuba

The sanctions and the rapidity of them is indicative that Biden may not go easy on Cuba, very much like his predecessor Donald Trump. “This is just the beginning,” Biden said in a statement.

“The United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people,” he said.

Bruno Rodriguez, Foreign Minister of Cuba, took on to Twitter to share his displeasure on US’s action. He expressed his rejection of sanctions calling the allegations “unfounded and slanderous”. He in turn asked US to apply the sanctions on itself for “systematic repression and police brutality”.

The sanctions have been imposed on an entire interior ministry security unit and on Gen Alvaro López Miera, minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The US treasury department described him as leader of an entity “whose members have engaged in serious human rights abuse”.

White House said that it is looking at ways to ease humanitarian plight of people of Cuba. On Thursday President Biden said that the government is looking ways to help Cuban people regain access of internet services after Havana restricted social media and messaging platforms access.

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“We will work closely with our partners throughout the region, including the Organization of American States, to pressure the regime,” Biden said.

Cuba’s historic protests against communist government

Last week thousands of Cubans took on to streets protesting against economic crisis in the country led by power outages and lack of basic goods. Hundreds of activists were detained as they also protested over curbed civil freedom in the country.


The sanctions are imposed under Global Magnitsky Act that is used to punish violators of human rights. The sanctions include freezing of US assets and ban on travel to US.

Peru has next President: Teacher turned politician Pedro Castillo officiated as next president
Americas

Peru has next President: Teacher turned politician Pedro Castillo officiated as next president

 Following longest electoral count in 40 years, Peru has its next President. Pedro Castillo, a teacher in rural Peru turned politician has been declared the winner of Presidential election in the South American country.

President-elect Pedro Castillo addressed the country in his first comments after the win and called for unity on a national front. He said, “I ask for effort and sacrifice in the struggle to make this a just and sovereign country.”

The final vote count of presidential election was declared in a televised ceremony on Monday, a month after the election was conducted nationwide. Castillo defeated Keiko Fujimori, the right wing politician, by 44,000 votes. After the final declaration of Castillo’s win, his supporters came out on the streets chanting “Yes, we could.” Castillo had major support from the rural and poor citizens of Peru.

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On July 28, Pedro Castillo will officially take the office as leader of Peru, the world’s second largest producer of copper, for five year term.

Castillo – Representative of Peru’s common man

Pedro Castillo, 51 year old former school teacher, emerged as the voice of Peru’s common man and rural population. As he decided to run for the presidential election, his one of the main agenda was to redraft the country’s constitution as well as increase taxes for the mining firms. But as he neared win and in weeks leading to formal announcement of results, his outlook turned into a more market friendly approach.

Castillo during his campaign popularized the phrase “No more poor in a rich country”. Peru’s economy has witnessed increasing downfall during the coronavirus pandemic. Poverty in the South American country has reached to cover one-third of population. Castillo has also promised to utilize revenues from mining industry to improve public services like health and education.

Castillo is the first ever peasant to be elected as President of Peru. Until now Indigenous people were the people at least receiving end of already depleted public services.

Fujimori said on Monday that she would accept the official election result. “I am going to recognise the results because it is what the law and the constitution that I have sworn to defend, mandates. The truth is going to come out anyway,” she said.

Is Havana Syndrome Killing US Citizens?
Americas

Is Havana Syndrome Killing US Citizens?

It started in 2016 and has now emerged as a dangerous health hazard- the Havana Syndrome. Recent reports claim that the Havana Syndrome is again affecting people in the US adversely, especially CIA operatives and others connected to the government and allied bodies.

Working through energy devises, the syndrome leaves people listening to high- and low-pitched sounds apart from feeling other strange physical symptoms. It has led to unexplained brain injuries to diplomats, spies and other government workers at home and abroad. Biden administration is trying to ascertain why the victims were potentially targeted, according to one current and two former officials?

Some US officials feel the Havana Syndrome which has till date affected 200 people, could be an unintentional byproduct of intelligence gathering tactics from other countries. However, a leading theory is saying that strong electromagnetic waves travelling through devices that extract information from mobile phones or laptops could be adversely affecting US citizens.

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The vast majority of the victims were overseas when they came down with the unusual symptoms. But in a previously undisclosed case, a former Defense Department employee came forward in the past month reporting symptoms that developed late last year while the person was in the Washington area, according to the officials.

Some 130 people have recently come forward with symptoms of hearing impairment, mental disturbance, brain injuries and disorientation. Of these 60-80 of them were all from the U.S. Defense Department. There are possible indications that Russia could be behind these attacks over civilians, but there isn’t any conclusive evidence to prove so.

In the most recent attempt by lawmakers to address the situation, the Senate on Monday passed legislation titled the Havana Act that would authorize the CIA and the State Department to make financial payments to workers who suffer related injuries to the brain. Among the sponsors of the legislation are the Democratic and Republican co-chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has received classified briefings from administration officials about the ongoing threat.

The newly established CIA’s Havana Syndrome task force will be led by the man who was instrumental in hunting down Bin Laden. According to an official statement the intelligence veteran “will bring that same intensity” to the hunt for the source of the health incidents that have plagued diplomats.

South Korean President cancels trip to Japan Olympics over lewd remarks by diplomat
Asia Pacific Focus

South Korean President cancels trip to Japan Olympics over lewd remarks by diplomat

On Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in office said he would not visit Tokyo for the Olympics, dashing expectations that the two nations could improve stressed ties if their chiefs held their first bilateral meeting on the sideline of the Olympics.

The cancellation announcement came amid a row in South Korea over lewd comments by a Seoul-based senior Japanese representative, who described Moon’s endeavors to further develop relations between the two nations as “masturbating”. 

However, Suga refused to remark on Moon’s decision; and described the Japanese representative’s comments as “improper.” 

Moon will instead send the way of life priest to Friday’s initial function as top of the Korean appointment, his office said, wishing Japan protected and compelling Olympics. 

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Tokyo Olympics 2020 is the greatest and one of the most anticipated games of this year. On Monday, Moon’s press secretary Park Soo-Hyun said the two nations had a “significant conversation” on the best way to progress from past issues and build the future, including holding the primary summit among Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. 

“The discussion was held agreeably and gained impressive headway, yet it fell short of being recognised as a summit result, and we considered different circumstances into account,” Park stated. 

On Saturday, South Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choi Jong-Kun, ordered Aiboshi to protest. Moon’s office said it noted Kato’s remark. However, it called for Tokyo to find ways to prevent such things from repeating.

Moon was hoping that the Olympics may offer North and South Korea a chance to improve relations further and restore peace talks before Pyongyang declared it would not participate due to Covid-19.

The European Parliament condemns Hungary on LGBTQ + rights
Europe

The European Parliament condemns Hungary on LGBTQ + rights

The European Parliament “condemns with the utmost firmness” the recent anti-LGBTIQ legislation and denounces the “dismantling of democracy and the rule of law” in Hungary. In a resolution adopted last week in Strasbourg with 459 votes in favor, 147 against, and 58 abstentions, MEPs describe the law adopted by the Hungarian Parliament as a clear violation of fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter, the Treaties, and EU legislation relating to the internal market.

Parliament stressed that this is not an isolated case but “rather constitutes a further intentional and premeditated example of the gradual dismantling of fundamental rights in Hungary.” In the country, hostility towards LGBT people and disinformation campaigns have become tools of political censorship.

These human rights violations are part of a broader political agenda that is leading to the dismantling of democracy and the rule of law, including freedom of the media, and should be seen as systematic violations of EU values, they add. Recent examples of this problem include the amendment to the country’s constitution to declare that “the mother is a woman and the father is a man” and the de facto ban on legal gender recognition for transgender and intersex people.

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In this context, MEPs argue that promoting tolerance, acceptance, and diversity should guide principles to ensure respect for children’s interests. MEPs ask the Commission to launch an accelerated infringement procedure and to use, if necessary, all procedural tools of the Court of Justice, such as interim measures and sanctions for non-compliance. Furthermore, they ask the EU countries to take the matter to the EU Court of Justice in the Commission’s inaction and lodge an interstate appeal with the European Court of Human Rights.

 Furthermore, the Parliament indicates several issues in Hungary for which should activate the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation to protect the EU budget and express deep concern about the compliance of the draft plan for recovery and resilience of Hungary. The Council and the Commission are also invited to unblock the anti-discrimination directive and follow up on Parliament’s initiative to create a binding EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights. Finally, warned that the Hungarian legislation resembles the “so-called 2013 Russian law on LGBT propaganda”, MEPs ask the Commission further to investigate the financing of anti-LGBTI campaigns in the EU.

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