China imposes a record $2.75 bn fine on Alibaba for monopolistic conduct
Asia Pacific Focus

China imposes a record $2.75 bn fine on Alibaba for monopolistic conduct

Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group, the world’s greatest e-commerce company got massively fined by China’s regulator on Saturday. A record sum of $2.75 billion fine was imposed on the company for violating anti-monopoly laws and taking advantage of its dominant market position, marking the highest antitrust fine ever, Reuters reported.

Alibaba’s richest founder Jack Ma’s Company has been specially put under severe scrutiny following his strong criticism of China’s regulatory system in October 2020. 

The move is another jolt for Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma, following a decision by Chinese regulators to waive the stock market debut of Ant Group, a money platform expounded from the e-commerce goliath. It would have been the globe’s biggest initial government stock contribution in 2020.

China’s Regulators stated in December 2020, that it started an antitrust inquiry into Alibaba. That was announced after authorities scrambled a purposed $37 billion IPO from Ant Group, Alibaba’s online finance unit.

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They likewise declared their primary rival, JD.com, and four other online companies were ordered to meet and were given a warning not to utilize their market power to keep out new contenders. 

The SAMR likewise summoned Alibaba to perform precise ratifications to guard consumer rights and fortify internal compliance.

Royal family mourns Prince Philip as tributes flood in from the nook
Europe

Royal family mourns Prince Philip as tributes flood in from the nook

The Queen and royal family mourn as condolences and tributes flood in from the nook and cranny of the globe following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, aged 99.

The longest-serving consort died peacefully at Windsor Castle on Friday morning, two months away from his 100th birthday.

The tenor bell at Westminster Abbey rang 99 times and flags were lowered to half-mast honoring the late Prince, the Queen’s “strength and stay” for nearly 73 years.

To show respect, political parties halted their campaigns ahead of May’s elections. As per an official announcement, the House of Commons would be recalled on Monday to pay formal tributes. 

TV channels canceled their routine programming to run the tribute coverage as news of the Duke’s demise made headlines worldwide.

“Her Majesty the Queen, with deep sorrow, announces the death of her husband, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,” a statement from Buckingham Palace read. 

Organizers of the funeral are said to be “very anxious” not to plan anything that attracts mass gatherings. 

Several restrictions are being set in place due to which the public elements of the farewell won’t be able to happen in their original form.

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Processions are being planned in London and Windsor, as the funeral service is expected to happen at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. 

As per the current rules set forth by the government, no more than 30 people can attend a funeral. 

Originally, nearly 800 people including Commonwealth and world leaders, senior politicians, and representatives from the duke’s patronages would have been expected to attend the funeral.

Covid restrictions also compelled the government to request people not to stage any gathering at royal residences. The royal family also has requested that the public, instead of leaving flowers, should consider making a donation to charity.

An online book has been opened where people can post their condolences.

Explosive volcano eruption: St Vincent rocked as La Soufriere eruption forces thousands to flee
Americas

Explosive volcano eruption: St Vincent rocked as La Soufriere eruption forces thousands to flee

La Soufriere volcano, which had remained dormant for decades now, erupted with an ‘explosion’ leading to thousands evacuating their homes.The volcanic eruption on Caribbean island of St Vincent led to the blanketing of island with ash and smoke.

The volcano started showing some volcanic activity from December and it picked up this week. After being dormant since 1979, from December Soufriere began disgorging smoke and steam, along with some rumblings.

The first sign that an eruption is imminent was evident on Thursday evening after a lava dome was visible on the volcano. On same night Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves urged over 16,000 residents to evacuate the ‘red zones’.

On Friday just before 9:00, seismologists from University of West Indies said that an “explosive eruption” of volcano is any time possible now. People evacuated were then taken on cruise ships and to safer parts of the island.

Since then the volcano has spewed dark ash plumes 6 km high into the air. The ash fall has been recorded at least up to Argyle International Airport which is around 20 km from the volcano, informed St Vincent’s National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO).

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A resident shared that he could see “a huge ball of smoke” after which there was panic all around. A volunteer, Lavern King said, “People are still being evacuated from the red zone, it started yesterday evening and into last night. The place in general is in a frenzy.”

Another explosion was recorded later on Friday night by UWI Seismic Research Centre.

Issuing an advisory to people, NEMO wrote on Facebook, “Now that the La Soufrière volcano has begun erupting explosively, ash falls will soon overwhelm us. Be sure to get rid of or clean up the ash, soon after it falls. If rain falls, the ash could harden and pose a danger to you.”

Al Qaeda resurges and returns to its former strongholds in Yemen, owing to Muslim Brotherhood’s support
Middle East & Africa

Al Qaeda resurges and returns to its former strongholds in Yemen, owing to Muslim Brotherhood’s support

Sources confirmed the resurgence of Al Qaeda and re-establishing of its grip over its former strongholds in Yemen. Experts believed that Muslim Brotherhood’s wing operating in the conflict-riddled country was responsible for the return of the extremist group. The terror group became active in the country back in 2011, when rebel forces rose up against then president Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was then that the group seized the province of Abyan. It widened its reach in the country after the civil war grew intense during the reign of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi in late 2014.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) reached its peaked in 2014. It rampantly grew its presence in the country by invading towns and even took over Mukalla, one of the key port cities of the country. Western and Arab coalition forces came to the country’s rescue and wiped out the group, reducing its presence to about 10 percent over three years. But Yemeni security officials and tribal leaders who supported the coalition forces said that unfortunately the forces could not eliminate Al Qaeda completely. Besides many believed that emergence of conflict with Iran-backed Houthis created a power vacuum, which in turn helped AQAP in its regaining its hold over the country.

Last month on March 18, Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for attack over the security forces of the Arab Coalition government known as Security Belt Forces. The attack carried out in Ahwar district of Abyan province reportedly killed 12 people, including four civilians and eight  soldiers from the coalition-backed forces.

Besides earlier this month on April 6, AQAP also claimed undertaking a rocket attack on a military base in the Balhaf area of Shabwa. The base was used by Arab Coalition forces, which backed the Yemeni government. The series of recent attacks hinted at the resurgence of the terror outfit in the southern part of the country, especially in Shabwa and Abyan, which, along with Hadramawt province, were its former strongholds.

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Sheikh Salem Al Othali, a tribal leader said that dozens of Al Qaeda fighters returned to Abyan, regenerating its foothold in the country. Sheikh Al Othali told the reporters, “Unfortunately, these forces could not carry on the battle to eliminate Al Qaeda and the other terror groups in Abyan and Shabwa because the two provinces [are] under the control of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood militia, which advanced from Marib and Jawf provinces to support the government forces which clashed with the pro-STC forces in August 2019.”

“Since then, Al Qaeda militants returned to former pockets and started launching retaliatory attacks targeting security personnel, especially the Security Belt Forces and tribal leaders who fought them,” he added.

Irina Tsukerman, a human rights lawyer and security analyst, who looked into the group’s resurfacing in Yemen, told The National, “Al Qaeda has been making a comeback in Yemen since 2019, particularly in the areas controlled by or with a significant presence of the Muslim Brotherhood group in Yemen and the proliferation of the group affiliates in the pro-Yemen government forces.” She added, “Muslim Brotherhood political factions, despite occasional differences in methods from Al Qaeda, in reality share the same ideology, long-term vision, and even membership… The [Coalition] forces were instrumental in working with the US and others in the past in dismantling Al Qaeda strongholds in those areas. However, since these forces mostly withdrew, Al Qaeda are taking advantage of the situation to return.”

Illinois Rep Adam Kinzinger demands Matt Gaetz’s resignation
Americas

Illinois Rep Adam Kinzinger demands Matt Gaetz’s resignation

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger has called for Rep. Matt Gaetz’s resignation in the wake of an ongoing federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations against the Florida congressman.

“Matt Gaetz needs to resign,” Kinzinger wrote on his Twitter on Thursday night, becoming the first congressional Republican to demand Gaetz’s resignation on a public platform.

With the tweet, Kinzinger also linked a news report about details regarding the allegations of sex trafficking against the Florida Representative.

The article said that Gaetz paid money to an alleged sex trafficker, named Joel Greenberg. As per reports, Greenberg, who is a former Seminole County tax collector, has been slapped with more than 30 criminal charges, including wire fraud, stalking, and sex trafficking, in a federal court of Florida.

On Thursday, his lawyer Fritz Scheller and federal prosecutors told the court that Greenberg is likely to plead guilty in the case that led the Justice Department to investigate sex trafficking allegations against Rep. Gaetz.

Meanwhile, Gaetz has repeatedly denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, even as no charges have been filed against him so far. Speaking to Fox News, Gaetz claimed that he was the “victim of an elaborate extortion scheme”. On Monday, Gaetz wrote an op-ed in the Washington Examiner, addressing the allegations against him.

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“First, I have never, ever paid for sex. And second, I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old,” he wrote in the op-ed, targeting the Justice Department.

The Florida Republican has also vowed not to resign, as federal investigators continue to probe the case.

“I am a representative in Congress, not a monk, and certainly not a criminal,” wrote Gaetz, a close ally of former US President Donald Trump.

Reportedly, the Justice Department is also investigating the connection between Gaetz and Greenberg along with other associates in the sex trafficking case. Sources have stated that the investigators are probing Gaetz’s trip to the Bahamas and whether women were given money to travel to the Caribbean country for sexual activity with the Florida congressman and other officials.

Responding to the development, a spokesperson for Gaetz denied the allegation and said that the Gaetz had ever paid for sex.

“What began with blaring headlines about ‘sex trafficking’ has now turned into a general fishing exercise about vacations and consensual relationships with adults,” the spokesperson added.

Earlier, former Rep. Katie Hill called for Rep. Gaetz’s resignation, if the claims of sexual misconduct against him proved to be true after the investigation.

We don’t recognize your authority: Israel tells ICC
Middle East & Africa

We don’t recognize your authority: Israel tells ICC

JERUSALEM: Israel will tell the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it does not recognise the authority, which is currently planning to investigate the war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

In a statement on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would never cooperate with the inquiry, but will send a response.

“It is to be made clear that Israel is a sovereign country with a hefty importance on rule of law and knows how to investigate itself,” he said in a statement. 

Israel’s response will say that it categorically rejects” the allegation that it was carrying out any war crimes in the said territory.

Netanyahu met senior ministers and government officials ahead of Friday’s deadline to respond to an ICC notification letter.

“Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute and ICC was by it, therefore by definition Israel is not a party to the court,” he expressed in the meeting.

ICC prosecutors named groups on both the Palestinian and Israeli as possible perpetrators. 

They said letters had been sent out on March 9 to all the concerned parties, giving them a one-month time to inform the court whether they were conducting their investigations of the alleged crimes and want to defer the ICC inquiry while that is ongoing.

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The Palestinian officials say that they would cooperate with the ICC. 

“We have sent the response to the ICC,” said Omar Awadallah, an official in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry.

“The State of Palestine assures the ICC of full cooperation, as a member state of the court, to get justice for the victims of the war crimes and hold Israel accountable for its actions,” Awadallah said

The ICC inquiry will be undertaken to investigate war crimes in the Israel-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinians took over after Israel withdrew in 2005.

Greenland Is Not Completely Ready For Rare Earth Trade With The World
Asia Pacific Focus

Greenland Is Not Completely Ready For Rare Earth Trade With The World

Greenland has made it very clear that it is not interested in trading its rare earth minerals with everyone, at least not at the moment. Earlier, it was Trump that was that was shooed away.  Now, it is Australia and China too. Greenland is one of the richest sources of rare earth in the world that still remains unexcavated for trade to the world.

Greenland holds some great geopolitical importance too. But dealing with the descendents of the Vikings isn’t getting any easier for any nation that now wants to have a prominent place in the geopolitical power game at the Arctic.

Earlier, Donald Trump wished to buy an island off and Denmark flatly refused. Now the An Australian company with Chinese connections called Greenland Minerals has been showing interest to develop the Kvanefjeld rare earth and uranium project in the south-west of the country. But Greenland is not interested in getting into a trade war.

The leader of Inuit Ataqatigiit party (IA), and likely next Prime Minister of Greenland, Mute Egede, has said he is opposed to the development of Kvanefjeld but not other possible mining projects. Inuit Ataqatigiit party candidate is clear that he does not want the uranium ore to be exploited. The use of uranium has been the biggest bone of contention for the Western world. The whole drama around the 2015 Nuclear Deal with Iran started over America wishing to ensure that Iran does not arm twist the world with its uranium reserves and would use it for peaceful purposes only.

Now, with the winning of the Inuit Ataqatigiit party, the possibility of any progress on the mining of the Kvanefjeld Mines looks like a distant dream. However, economists feel that the party will have to reassure the mining community that it is not averse to mining development itself.

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Rare earths are key to a wide range of modern technology, including smartphones, batteries and wind turbines. Their trade is becoming important for Greenland owing to challenges that the country faces in the face of global warming and need for self sufficiency. Its resources are becoming more and more visible and therefore it is only in favour of the country to use them for trade. Today, China accounts for nearly 60 percent of global production and it handles the vast majority of separating and refining — an uncomfortable situation for the U.S. and its allies such as Japan and Australia as tensions with Beijing continue to simmer.

Sofa-Gate: polemics also on the EU Council president Charles Michel
Europe

Sofa-Gate: polemics also on the EU Council president Charles Michel

Two armchairs for three presidents. The meeting between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the representatives of the European Union Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel turned into a diplomatic incident. The President of the Commission and the President of the Council arrived in Ankara to restart relations between the EU and Turkey, but also to express their concern for the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention against violence against women on March 20. Europeans found themselves faced with a rude protocol: in the hall of the sumptuous presidential palace, there were only two armchairs with their respective flags behind them.

Michel and Erdogan did not hesitate and sat in front of von der Leyen, amazed, clearly embarrassed, and irritated. In the end, the European leader waved her right hand and, muttering an “ehm” of disapproval, positioned herself on a sofa in front of the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, who however is below her in protocol diplomatic.The unfortunate episode, immortalized by the official video of the meeting, immediately bounced on social networks with the hashtag #sofagate.

Many have wondered why Michel did not react. In diplomacy, but not only, form is substance. And the most widespread criticism invests the credibility of the EU in demanding respect for women’s rights when the president of the European Council allowed von der Leyen to be side-lined.

Many have read the rudeness as an act of sexism. “The #vonderLeyen chair becomes the flag of European values ​​and the shame of #Erdogan” tweeted the secretary of the Democratic Party, Enrico Letta. And the EPP Group in the EU Parliament said: “Someone should be ashamed of the lack of an adequate place for von der Leyen in Erdogan’s palace.” The socialist groups are also indignant.

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The word hem “is the new term for: this is not how EU-Turkey relations should be,” he said of the Greens. For League MEPs “it is time for Brussels to pull the plug from negotiations with the dictator.”Late yesterday, Michel said that “while perceiving the deplorable nature of the situation” he and von der Leyen “chose not to make it worse by creating a public accident.” He spoke of a “desolating situation” produced by the strict interpretation of the protocol rules by the Turkish services.

However, on 16 November 2015, in a meeting at the same level, on the side-lines of the G20 chaired by Turkey in Antalya, both EU leaders of the time, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, were seated in two armchairs equidistant to Erdogan’s sides. The same had happened on other occasions.Something must not have worked in the organization because it is evident that von der Leyen had not even been warned of the seating arrangement. And usually, the so-called scene setter is an important moment in planning the visit.

“Von der Leyen expects to be treated according to the protocol rules and has asked his people to ensure that these incidents never happen again” explained yesterday the spokesman of the Commission, Eric Mamer, underlining that the president “has chosen to concentrate on the substance of the problems ».

For Carlo Marsili, former Italian ambassador to Turkey, “when a visit is prepared, there are two parties who decide what happens: one is the local protocol, in this case Turkish, the other that of the embassy of the guest delegation”. The EU ambassador to Turkey is the German Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, adviser to Merkel from 2011 to 2015: “It was enough that he demanded equal treatment,” says Marsili.

However, the Socialist MEPs do not think so. In addition to criticizing President Michel for failing to take a stance, they believe that the President of Parliament should apologize or renounce his role. It should be remembered that the Socialists represent the majority in Brussels and their demands will have to be taken into account in a special session expected in the next few hours.

With Russia threatening its borders, Ukraine urges NATO to ramp up its membership
Geopolitics

With Russia threatening its borders, Ukraine urges NATO to ramp up its membership

Russia is aligning its troops along Ukraine’s borders. This has prompted Ukraine to urge NATO and key member states to hasten its membership process. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy talked to Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, urging for putting country on membership process in order to put an end to conflict in the eastern Donbas region. The move came after Russia actively started gathering its forces along the Ukrainian borders, threatening the country.

After the call Ukraine presidency said that the most important and urgent issue at hand was “the possibility of obtaining the NATO membership action plan”. This will put Ukraine on the path of future membership. Zelenskiy also made calls for boosting Ukraine’s NATO membership to other members including UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau.

“NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbas. Ukraine’s MAP [membership action plan] will be a real signal for Russia,” Zelenskiy told Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg soon tweeted raising concerns of Russia’s buildup along Ukraine’s borders and said that the alliance “firmly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Russia’s move of increasing number of troops to the north and east of Ukraine and also in occupied Crimea is though unclear, has managed to keep Ukraine’s president on toes. Last few days have seen Zelenskiy has engaged in a rather frantic series of diplomatic talks.

Russia has not denied assembly of troops but has said that it isn’t threatening anyone. Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov said that NATO membership is not going to resolve the conflict. “From our point of view, it will only worsen the situation. If you ask the opinion of several million people living in the self-declared republics [in the east of the country] you will see that for them NATO membership is deeply unacceptable.”

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Chairman of the NATO military committee and senior military advisor to the Secretary General, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach visited Kyiv on 6-7 April. He met Zelenskiy and attended briefings on NATO-Ukraine partnership and military training progress. Security situation in and around Ukraine were also discussion points of the visit.

Why is Ukraine not still a NATO member?

This question indeed makes a lot of sense. Ukraine at present has been countering Russia’s aggression successfully in the region for seven years now. It is a security donor in the region by protecting a wide region between Black and Baltic Seas from Russia. Battling Russia on traditional field, Ukraine’s invaluable experience is unmatched. This war extends from cyber war to traditional battle.

Keeping in mind Russia’s regular aggressions in and around region, will NATO ramp up its membership process is to be watched out with series of diplomacies surrounding the decision.

US and Iran exhibit openness towards restoration of nuclear deal, but things may take some time
Middle East & Africa

US and Iran exhibit openness towards restoration of nuclear deal, but things may take some time

Iran and US both showed willingness to work towards the restoration of nuclear deal. On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani referred to the Vienna talks, held between the European powers, party to the deal, as opening of a “new chapter” towards rescuing the deal. Rouhani during a Cabinet meeting said that he was hopeful that diplomats from the member nations would be able to negotiate a pact with US on board, if latter showed its honesty and sincerity.

United States also signaled a positive response towards the resumption of the talks, though it was not directly involved in the talks. “We do see this as a constructive and certainly welcome step,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Vienna talks were held on Tuesday. During the meeting in Austrian capital, Enrique Mora, deputy secretary general of the EU External Action Service, said, “There’s unity and ambition for a joint diplomatic process with two expert groups on nuclear implementation and sanctions lifting… As co-ordinator, I will intensify separate contacts here in Vienna with all separate parties, including the US.”

The Russian diplomat hinted that the restoration of the deal would take some time. He said, “It will take some time. How long? Nobody knows. The most important thing after today’s meeting of the joint commission is that practical work towards achieving this goal has started.”

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Since the former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran the ties between both the nations took a downward turn. Trump accused Tehran of  violating the terms of the deal and in turn imposed crippling sanctions, stifling Iranian economy. The tensions between the two reached its maximum last year in January, when US forces in an airstrike, killed Iranian top General Qassim Suleimani. Iran has been looking forward to transition in US presidency from Trump to Joe Biden, who signalled willingness to join the 2015 nuclear deal, on the condition that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons development program. As a response to this condition, Khamenei said that Tehran was in no rush for Washington to re-enter the deal, but wanted it to lift sanctions on immediate basis.

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