March 24, 2023
*) Ukraine prepares counteroffensive as Russia's assault on Bakhmut flags
Friday, March 24, 2023
Fri, 24 Mar 2023 08:29:38 +0000
Ukraine's top ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi has said his forces would soon begin a counter offensive after withstanding Russia's brutal winter campaign.
He said Russia's Wagner mercenaries, who have been at the front line of Moscow's assault on eastern and southern Ukraine, "are losing considerable strength and are running out of steam".
However, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that without a faster supply of arms from Europe, the war could last years.
*) North Korea tests new underwater 'nuclear attack drone'
North Korea has tested a new nuclear underwater attack drone this week, according to state news agency KCNA, as a US amphibious assault ship arrived in South Korea for joint drills.
The drone system designed to unleash a "radioactive tsunami" is intended to make sneak attacks in enemy waters and destroy naval striker groups and major operational ports, KCNA said.
The state news agency also confirmed the firing of cruise missiles during the weapons test and firing drill that took place from Tuesday to Thursday.
*) Burundi army contingent takes over areas vacated by M23 rebels in DRC
Troops from the Burundi National Defense Forces deployed under the East African Community Regional Force have taken over three villages that had been occupied by M23 rebels.
The withdrawal of the rebels is in compliance with a communique of the East Africa Community Heads of State, marking a significant milestone towards restoring peace and stability in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The M23 rebel group, which was formed in 2012 by disgruntled Congolese militants who wanted to be enlisted in the national army, has often attacked areas in eastern DRC.
In June last year, they attacked areas in eastern DRC and occupied them until recently.
*) 'Discussion under way' between Saudi Arabia, Syria over consular services
Saudi Arabia and Syria are in talks on resuming consular services, Saudi state media have said, more than a decade after the Gulf kingdom cut ties with Bashar al Assad's regime.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in February that a consensus was building in the Arab world that a new approach to Syria would be needed to address humanitarian crises.
Damascus has seen amplified Arab engagement since two earthquakes struck southeastern Türkiye and northern Syria on February 6.
*) Biden in Canada to meet with Trudeau on issues including immigration, Haiti
US President Joe Biden has arrived in Canada’s capital Ottawa for talks that will focus on a range of issues including immigration and defense co-operation.
According to reports, Biden and Trudeau are expected to announce a deal that would restrict certain migrants from seeking protection in Canada as well as a new refugee admission program.
Canada's contributions to the North American Air Defense Command and NATO as part of defense spending are also expected to be on the agenda.
March 23, 2023
*) Israel ratifies law limiting conditions for a possible Netanyahu ouster
Thursday, March 23, 2023
Thu, 23 Mar 2023 09:23:48 +0000
Israel has ratified a law limiting the circumstances in which a prime minister can be removed, despite worries voiced by a government jurist that it may be meant to shield the incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu from any fallout from his corruption trials.
The amended definition for the "incapacity" of national leaders is among legislative measures by the religious-nationalist coalition that have tipped Israel into crisis, with the opposition arguing that judicial independence is in peril.
The coalition says the overhaul is aimed at pushing back against Supreme Court over-reach and restoring balance among branches of government.
*) California may become first US state to outlaw caste discrimination
California may become the first US state to outlaw caste-based discrimination, a safeguard that people of South Asian descent, especially Indians, say is necessary to protect them from discrimination in housing, education and the tech sector where they hold key roles.
State Senator Aisha Wahab, the first Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state legislature, introduced the bill on Wednesday.
It adds caste — a division of people related to birth or descent — as a protected category in the state's anti-discrimination laws.
*)Australia's Albanese appeals referendum voters to back Aboriginal 'voice'
Australia's prime minister has made a tearful appeal to voters, asking them to support the creation of an Aboriginal "voice" in lawmaking as he announced the wording of the referendum question.
Anthony Albanese said on Thursday Australians had a chance to make up for centuries of injustice, formally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island groups, and give them a voice in decision-making at a vote later this year.
This is "about how our nation sees ourselves. Whether we have the confidence to embrace our history", said Albanese, painting the vote as a chance for Australians to make their country fairer.
*) Biden vows to support disaster-hit Türkiye, Syria, Pakistan in Ramadan wish
US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden have marked the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, wishing Muslims worldwide "Ramadan Kareem."
"We will continue to stand with the people of Türkiye and Syria — who have lost many loved ones during the recent devastating earthquakes — and with the people of Pakistan, who are rebuilding their lives following last summer's floods.
"To my fellow Americans observing Ramadan, and to Muslims around the world: Ramadan Kareem — we wish you a blessed and peaceful Ramadan," said Biden.
*) Qatari banker, British billionaire prepare fresh bids for Man Utd takeover
The battle to buy Manchester United football club has heated up as Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani and British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe prepared to raise bids for the 20-time English champions.
Both parties were expected to increase their initial offers on Wednesday after the submission deadline of 2100 GMT was extended by merchant bank Raine, which is assisting with the sale of the club, following confusion over the timing, the British media reported.
It is also reported that Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe had been granted extensions to submit fresh bids.
March 22, 2023
*) Putin-Xi reach deal on Russian Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline to China
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Wed, 22 Mar 2023 09:30:13 +0000
Russia and China have reached an agreement on the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline, which will connect Siberia to northwest China, Russian President Vladimir Putin said after talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
"All agreements have been reached," Putin said, adding that economic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing was a "priority" for Russia.
The planned pipeline would deliver 50 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year from Russia to China via Mongolia.
*) Israel annuls law that banned four occupied West Bank settlements
Israeli parliament has repealed legislation that ordered the evacuation of four illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
This move is one of the first by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right coalition.
The original law, passed in 2005, mandated the evacuation of four illegal Jewish settlements in the northern occupied West Bank along with Israel's disengagement from Gaza.
The repeal would allow Jewish residents to return to these settlements on condition of approval by the Israeli military.
*) Death toll climbs after strong earthquake jolts Pakistan, Afghanistan
Death toll has climbed to 11 after a magnitude 6.5 earthquake rattled much of Pakistan and Afghanistan, sending panicked residents fleeing from homes and offices and frightening people even in remote villages.
More than 100 people were brought to hospitals in the Swat valley region of Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in a state of shock.
The US Geological Survey said the centre of the magnitude 6.5 quake was located 40 kilometres south-southeast of Jurm in Afghanistan's mountainous Hindukush region, bordering Pakistan and Tajikistan.
*) UN warns 'vampiric' water use leading to imminent global crisis
Humanity's "lifeblood" - water - is increasingly at risk around the world due to "vampiric overconsumption and overdevelopment," the UN has warned in a report.
The world is "blindly travelling a dangerous path" as "unsustainable water use, pollution and unchecked global warming are draining humanity's lifeblood," United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a foreword to the report, released hours ahead of the first major UN meeting on water resources in nearly half a century.
Co-hosted by the governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands, the UN Water Conference will gather some 6,500 participants, including 100 ministers and a dozen heads of state and government Wednesday through Friday in New York.
*) Yellen says bank situation 'stabilising,' system is 'sound'
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is trying to project calm after regional bank failures, saying the US banking system is “sound” but additional rescue arrangements “could be warranted” if any new failures at smaller institutions pose a risk to financial stability.
Silicon Valley Bank, based in Santa Clara, California, failed on March 10 after depositors rushed to withdraw money amid anxiety over the bank’s health. It was the second-largest bank collapse in US history.
March 21, 2023
*) Japan PM to meet Zelenskyy as Putin, Xi hold second day of talks
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Tue, 21 Mar 2023 09:12:50 +0000
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are set to hold a second day of talks, as the Russian president said he was open to discussing China's proposals on the fighting in Ukraine.
The sit-down was to be unexpectedly mirrored in Kiev, where Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was en route to meet Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Xi's trip to Moscow has been viewed as a major boost for his strategic partner Putin, who is subject to an International Criminal Court warrant over accusations of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.
*) NYPD tightens security fearing protests over likely Trump indictment
New York police have tightened security ahead of a possible historic indictment of Donald Trump over hush money paid to an actress, with the ex-president calling for mass demonstrations if he is charged.
Trump supporters attended a protest in America's financial capital on Monday evening though, as a grand jury weighs an investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over the 2016 payment to Stormy Daniels.
Trump would become the first former or sitting president to be charged with a crime if an indictment is filed.
*) Nigeria's two big parties emerge strong after deadly governorship polls
Nigeria's two biggest parties won the majority of states in weekend governorship polls, official figures have shown, maintaining their political dominance following elections in which European Union observers said 21 people died from violence.
Voters were choosing governors in 28 of the country's 36 states to bring to an end this year's election cycle that began with disputed presidential and legislative elections last month.
*) Erdogan lauds int'l solidarity as $7B pledged for quake-hit Türkiye, Syria
Türkiye will never forget the solidarity displayed by the EU, the UN and other international organisations after the February 6 earthquakes, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a virtual address for the opening session of the International Donors' Conference, organised by the European Commission and the Swedish Presidency of the EU Council to support victims affected by the devastating earthquakes in southern Türkiye.
*) Biden signs bill to declassify US intelligence on Covid-19 origins
US President Joe Biden signed a bill that requires Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify information related to the origins of Covid-19, the White House has said.
Biden said he shared Congress' goal of releasing as much information as possible about the origin of Covid-19.
However, he said his administration would keep national security in mind when deciding what to release.
March 20, 2023
*) Russia hails China's willingness to resolve Ukraine conflict
Monday, March 20, 2023
Mon, 20 Mar 2023 08:39:42 +0000
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has welcomed China's willingness to play a "constructive role" in ending the conflict in Ukraine, saying Sino-Russian relations were "at the highest point" in history.
His Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping heads to Russia hoping to deliver a breakthrough on Ukraine as Beijing seeks to position itself as a peacemaker.
The quality of ties between Moscow and Beijing is "higher than the political and military unions of the Cold War era", Putin said in an article written for a Chinese newspaper and published by the Kremlin on the eve of Xi's visit.
*) Biden in call with Netanyahu expresses 'concern' over judicial reform plan
US President Joe Biden has spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express "concern” over his government’s planned overhaul of the country’s judicial system which has sparked widespread protests across Israel.
The White House said on Sunday Biden reiterated US concerns about the measure to roll back the judiciary’s insulation from the country’s political system, in a call a senior administration official described as “candid and constructive.”
There was no immediate indication that Netanyahu was shying away from the action after rejecting a compromise offered by the country’s figurehead president last week.
*) North Korea's Kim supervises drills 'simulating a nuclear counterattack'
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un led two days of military drills "simulating a nuclear counterattack", including the firing of a ballistic missile carrying a mock nuclear warhead, state news agency KCNA has reported.
Kim expressed "satisfaction" over the weekend drills, which were held to "let relevant units get familiar with the procedures and processes for implementing their tactical nuclear attack missions", the report said on Monday.
The drills were the fourth show of force from Pyongyang in a week and came as South Korea and the United States stage their own military manoeuvres - 11 days of joint drills known as Freedom Shield, their largest in five years.
*) Governing party in Kazakhstan sweeps parliamentary election: exit polls
Kazakhstan voted in a snap parliamentary election widely expected to cement President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's position and complete a reshuffle of the ruling elite that began after he fully assumed leadership last year.
Exits polls showed the ruling Amanat party winning 53-54 percent of the vote, enough to retain a comfortable majority. Voter turnout stood at 54.2 percent, the Central Election Commission said.
A stronger mandate will help Tokayev navigate through regional turmoil caused by Russia-Ukraine conflict and the subsequent damage to trade, investment and supply chains throughout the former Soviet Union.
*) 'Jurassic Park' actor Sam Neill diagnosed with stage-three blood cancer
Actor Sam Neill has revealed he is being treated for stage-three blood cancer, writing in a memoir that he was "possibly dying" from the illness diagnosed a year ago.
The New Zealander, who burst to fame after starring as Dr Alan Grant in the 1993 blockbuster "Jurassic Park", said he began treatment last March.
Neill, 75, makes the revelation in his book "Did I Ever Tell You This?", which is being released next week.
March 17, 2023
*) Ukraine vows to drag Russia into court
Friday, March 17, 2023
Fri, 17 Mar 2023 08:31:00 +0000
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed that those guilty of war crimes in Russia’s war against Ukraine will be brought to justice.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine was carrying out legal processes and mobilising its allies to have Russia appear in the International Criminal Court, as well as in national courtrooms.
Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, though the conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions, and pulverised Ukrainian cities.
*) Israelis stage 'day of resistance' against judicial reforms
Tens of thousands of protesters have returned to the streets of Israel to stage another day of resistance against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reforms.
The fresh protests in Tel Aviv, West Jerusalem and Haifa came after Netanyahu rejected a compromise plan touted by the country's President Isaac Herzog.
The judicial overhaul has raised concerns for Israel’s democracy, as it would upend the country's system of checks and balances and give the prime minister too much power.
*) Erdogan hails Turkic world's solidarity after quakes
Hosting the extraordinary summit of leaders of the Organization of Turkic States, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the Turkic world’s solidarity after the deadly earthquakes in southern Türkiye.
The Turkic world was among the first to help after the February 6 quakes, Erdogan said at the summit focusing on Disaster-Emergency Management and Humanitarian Assistance.
You did not leave us alone in our most difficult moment. Our beloved nation will never forget your support, Erdogan told fellow heads of state.
*) Cyclone Freddy kills hundreds in Malawia
Rescuers in storm-ravaged Malawi have made a grim hunt for buried bodies after Cyclone Freddy struck the eastern African country, killing more than 300 people.
Search and rescue efforts were a joint operation by the military and local inhabitants, who lacked sniffer dogs and were armed just with shovels.
As the rains ceased for the first time in five days, rescuers dug up decomposing bodies from the mud and the debris of homes that had been swept away by the storm.
*) Australian breaks record for world's longest surf
Former surfing pro Blake Johnston has shredded the world record for the longest surfing session, catching waves for over 30 exhausting hours.
The 40-year-old Australian broke down in tears at Sydney's Cronulla Beach after beating South African Josh Enslin's previous record of 30 hours 11 minutes.
Johnston briefly thanked the crowd lining the beach during one of the short food and water breaks he was allowed, before paddling back out to try and push the record to 40 hours.
March 16, 2023
*) South Korea premier arrives in Japan to open 'new chapter'
Thursday, March 16, 2023
Thu, 16 Mar 2023 11:48:02 +0000
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has arrived in Japan looking to open a "new chapter" in relations, just hours after North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile.
Yoon's two-day trip comes after Seoul this month announced a plan to compensate Korean victims of Japan's wartime forced labour without any direct involvement by Tokyo.
Reports suggest the visit could herald the restart of shuttle diplomacy, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida possibly inviting Yoon to the G7 summit in Hiroshima in May, and then visiting Seoul.
*) Pakistan court postpones police operation to arrest Imran Khan
A Pakistani high court has ordered police to postpone an operation to arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
A lower court in Islamabad had issued a warrant against Khan for defying orders to present himself in court over charges that he unlawfully sold state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries when he was prime minister.
The court-ordered attempt to arrest Khan, which began on Tuesday, triggered clashes between his supporters and security forces in his Lahore neighbourhood, raising fears about Pakistan’s political stability
*) IAEA says tonnes of uranium missing from Libya site beyond govt control
UN nuclear watchdog inspectors have found that roughly 2.5 tonnes of natural uranium have gone missing from a Libyan site that is not under government control.
In a statement, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it would carry out "further activities" to determine the circumstances of the uranium's removal from the site, which it did not name, and where it is now.
The IAEA statement said: "The loss of knowledge about the present location of nuclear material may present a radiological risk, as well as nuclear security concerns".
*) No signs of Ukraine withdrawing from Bakhmut - Russian official
According to the Russian-installed leader of Ukraine's Donetsk region, the situation for Russian forces trying to capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is "difficult", because there are no signs Kiev is ready to order a withdrawal of its troops.
Russia says capturing the city will allow it to launch more offensives deeper into Ukrainian territory which it says it is fighting to "liberate".
The head of Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin has said his forces are in control of practically half the city and only one exit road remains available to Ukraine.
*) Greek unions launch 24-hour walkout over train tragedy
Greek unions have started a 24-hour walkout with demonstrations planned in major cities to voice outrage over last month's train disaster, which claimed 57 lives.
The strike called by the country's leading private and public sector unions will disrupt transport and the civil service.
The fatal crash occurred shortly before midnight on February 28 when a passenger train crashed head-on into a freight train in central Greece after both were mistakenly left running on the same track.
The stationmaster and three other railway officials have been charged, but public anger has focused on long-running mismanagement of the network.