Chile Leans Towards Right Party

Presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera gestures after winning the presidential election, in Santiago, Chile, December 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
Presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera gestures after winning the presidential election, in Santiago, Chile, December 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
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Chile Leans Towards Right Party

Presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera gestures after winning the presidential election, in Santiago, Chile, December 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
Presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera gestures after winning the presidential election, in Santiago, Chile, December 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

This is not the first time Sebastian Pinera wins the presidency of Chile, as this is his second term after socialist Michelle Bachelet's election as president of the rich South American country, which became one of the continent's most economically developed countries.

No doubt that the election of Pinera will push Chile to achieve unprecedented economic growth rates, especially as the presidential candidate is considered one of the richest people in the country, in addition to his economic history. He managed in his previous term between 2010 and 2014 to achieve growth reaching 5 percent.

Analysts believe that Pinera's political road will not be very difficult, especially since former President Bachelet has fought political battles inside the country, paving the way for Pinera and offering him the greatest favor on his presidential path.

For years, former President Bachelet was able to change the country's abortion law, a very controversial issue in Chile where the law banned abortion. But now after that has been resolved, Pinera has no choice but to work on the country's economic frameworks.

The new president does not have a majority in the Chilean parliament, but many Chileans consider the country's ruling political classes will cooperate. However, a decline in social reforms, which aren't the main concern of right-wing party, may be noticed.

Chilean newspaper "El Mercurio" stated that the political and economic conditions in Venezuela had affected significantly the Chilean elections, as voters preferred to vote for the businessman Pinera rather than the left-wing candidate Alejandro Guillier. This is to avoid the decline of the country into the left wing already struggling in Latin America.

Left-wing party candidate Alejandro Guillier admitted his defeat in the elections, and after 96.31 percent of the votes were counted, he received 45.43 percent of the votes, while Pinera won 54.57 percent of the votes.

However, Chilean television broadcast footage of a phone call between Pinera and Bachelet congratulating him on his presidential victory. Pinera also appeared next to Guillier after the results to congratulate him, too.

President-elect Pinera will lead Chile, the world's largest copper exporter, for a four-year presidential term starting next March, taking over leadership from Bachelet who is barred by constitution from running for another term.

Since 2006, the presidency in Chile has been alternating between Bachelet and Pinera, at a time the region swung to the right with conservative presidents ruling in formerly leftist-ruled states like Argentina, President Mauricio Macri, in Brazil, President Michel Temer, and in Peru, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

Despite the increase in copper exports, contributing significantly to the economy of Chile and due to increased Chinese demand and the boom in the production of electric vehicles, the rates of economic growth fell relatively compared to previous years.

Chile’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to grow 1.4 percent, the lowest growth rate over the past eight years.



Ukraine Struggles to Hold Eastern Front as Russians Advance on Cities

 Ukrainian servicemen of the 21st Separate Mechanized Brigade rest atop of a Leopard 2A6 tank after a military exercise, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near a front line in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 12, 2024. (Reuters)
Ukrainian servicemen of the 21st Separate Mechanized Brigade rest atop of a Leopard 2A6 tank after a military exercise, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near a front line in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 12, 2024. (Reuters)
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Ukraine Struggles to Hold Eastern Front as Russians Advance on Cities

 Ukrainian servicemen of the 21st Separate Mechanized Brigade rest atop of a Leopard 2A6 tank after a military exercise, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near a front line in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 12, 2024. (Reuters)
Ukrainian servicemen of the 21st Separate Mechanized Brigade rest atop of a Leopard 2A6 tank after a military exercise, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near a front line in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 12, 2024. (Reuters)

For Ukrainian gun commander Oleksandr Kozachenko, the long-awaited US ammunition can't come fast enough as he and his comrades struggle to hold off relentless Russian attacks.

His unit's US-supplied M777 howitzer, which once hurled 100 shells a day at the encroaching enemy, is now often reduced to fewer than 10.

"It's a luxury if we can fire 30 shells."

America says it's rushing ammunition and weapons to Ukraine following the delayed approval of a $61 billion aid package by Congress last month. As of early May, though, two artillery units visited by Reuters on the eastern frontline said they were still waiting for a boost in deliveries and operating at a fraction of the rate they need to hold back the Russians.

Gunners with Kozachenko's 148th Separate Artillery Brigade and the 43rd Artillery Brigade, both in the Donetsk region, said they were desperate for more 155mm rounds for their Western cannons, which had given them an edge over Russia earlier in the war.

Resurgent Russian forces, which significantly outnumber and outgun the Ukrainian defenders, have been mounting multiple attacks across the eastern Donbas region in recent months and along the country's northeastern border last week.

The drive has marked an inflection point in the conflict spawned by Russia's full-scale invasion more than two years ago.

Russia has gained more territory in 2024 than it lost control of during Ukraine's much-hyped counteroffensive in the summer of 2023, according to Pasi Paroinen, an analyst with Black Bird Group, a Finnish-based volunteer group that analyses satellite imagery and social media content from the war.

Moscow's forces have claimed 654 sq km since the beginning of this year, outstripping the 414 sq km lost to Ukraine between June 1 and Oct. 1 last year, Paroinen said. Russia has gained 222 sq km of territory since only May 2, he added.

Russia's defense ministry didn't respond to a request for comment for this article, while Ukraine's military didn't immediately respond.

Colonel Pavlo Palisa, whose 93rd Mechanized Brigade is fighting near the key strategic city of Chasiv Yar, said he believed Russia was preparing a major push to break Ukrainian lines in the east. This echoed the commander of Ukraine's ground forces who said last week he expected the war to enter a critical phase over the next two months as Moscow tries to exploit persistent delays in weapons supplies to Kyiv.

"Without a doubt, this will be a difficult period for the armed forces," said Palisa, adding that he believes the Kremlin wants to capture the entire Donbas industrial region by the end of this year.

CITIES BRACE FOR RUSSIAN ADVANCE

Russian forces are gradually making inroads that could come to threaten several big cities in the east including Kostiantynivka, Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, which serve as key military hubs for Kyiv's war effort.

Some gains are striking fear in the heart of the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians living in those Donetsk region cities as the enemy grinds ever closer.

"We live only for today," said 31-year-old school teacher Nina Shyshymarieva, standing with her young daughter outside a church in Kostiantynivka as artillery thundered in the distance.

"We don't know what will happen tomorrow."

Russian cannons are now easily within range of Kostiantynivka; the closest Russian position at the start of 2024 was about 20 km away, according to open-source maps that show shifting positions along the frontline. Now it is 14 km.

Shyshymarieva and the fighters on the frontline were among more than a dozen soldiers, commanders, residents and evacuation volunteers interviewed by Reuters in eastern Ukraine over the last two weeks. They painted a picture of deep uncertainty.

Much of the Donetsk region, which along with Luhansk makes up the greater Donbas area, is under daily bombardment, typically targeted at least a dozen times a day by Russian artillery or air strikes, according to regional governor Vadym Filashkin.

Ruins of homes, apartment blocks and administrative buildings are common sights in towns and cities.

Oleksandr Stasenko, a volunteer rescuer, said his team was receiving more evacuation requests particularly from Kostiantynivka and Kurakhove, another town further south, among other settlements.

Russian forces have encroached toward Kurakhove, too, advancing 2-3 km along the road running east from the town so far this year.

"Wherever the front line is approaching, people in those places are trying to leave as soon as possible," said Stasenko, adding that his group, East SOS, evacuates around two dozen a week, many of them elderly or infirm.

'TIME IS NOT ON OUR SIDE'

Ukraine has roughly 1,000 km of frontlines to defend in the east, north and south.

Some of the fiercest fighting in 2024 has centered on Chasiv Yar, which commands important high ground 12 km away from Kostiantynivka. It lies west of the devastated city of Bakhmut that Moscow seized last year after months of costly combat.

Russian advances near Chasiv Yar, and further south around the village of Ocheretyne, could drive wedges into territory relied upon by Ukraine's war planners for logistics, analysts said, because they would expose key roads to Russian fire.

A major highway leading west out of Kostiantynivka is already under threat. Cutting it off entirely would mean transit hubs further north, including Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, both numbering well over 100,000 people before the war, would lose a crucial supply line.

Russia's fresh assault on the northeastern Kharkiv region, which began on Friday, also risks diverting stretched Ukrainian forces from the eastern front, further compromising their ability to hold the line, according to said Emil Kastehelmi, another analyst at Black Bird Group.

"At the moment, it seems the goal of the (Kharkiv) operation is to cause confusion and tie remaining Ukrainian reserves to areas of lesser importance," he said.

Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the London-based RUSI think-tank, said Russian forces would likely mount further attacks on northern and southern points of the frontline in order to stretch Kyiv's defenses.

"Once Ukraine commits its reserves in these directions, the main effort will see the expansion of the Russian push in Donbas," he wrote in a May 14 commentary.

A new law strengthening Kyiv's mobilization effort, which has been hobbled by public skepticism, takes effect on May 18. Experts and commanders say it could take several months before fresh recruits reach the front and reinforce exhausted troops there.

Even if Ukrainian forces can hold out until all the American ammunition and weapons get through to the front, the challenge ahead remains daunting, according to many of those fighting.

"I would say that it is unlikely that time is on our side, since a long war requires more resources," said Palisa, the colonel with the 93rd Mechanized Brigade, speaking hours after Russia launched its ground incursion in Kharkiv.

He added that it would be critical to impose as heavy a cost on Russia as quickly as possible.

"The enemy's resources, whether in terms of manpower or the materiel, cannot be compared with ours. It's extraordinarily large. That is why a long war, I think, is not in our favor."


North Korea Confirms Missile Launch, Vows Bolstered Nuclear Force

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows a test fire of a tactical ballistic missile at an undisclosed location, North Korea, 17 May 2024 (issued 18 May 2024). (EPA/KCNA)
A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows a test fire of a tactical ballistic missile at an undisclosed location, North Korea, 17 May 2024 (issued 18 May 2024). (EPA/KCNA)
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North Korea Confirms Missile Launch, Vows Bolstered Nuclear Force

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows a test fire of a tactical ballistic missile at an undisclosed location, North Korea, 17 May 2024 (issued 18 May 2024). (EPA/KCNA)
A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows a test fire of a tactical ballistic missile at an undisclosed location, North Korea, 17 May 2024 (issued 18 May 2024). (EPA/KCNA)

North Korea has test-fired a tactical ballistic missile equipped with a "new autonomous navigation system", state media said Saturday, with leader Kim Jong Un vowing to boost the country's nuclear force.

Kim oversaw the Friday test-launch into the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, on a mission to evaluate the "accuracy and reliability of the autonomous navigation system", Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The launch was the latest in a string of ever more sophisticated tests by North Korea, which has fired off cruise missiles, tactical rockets and hypersonic weapons in recent months, in what the nuclear-armed, UN-sanctioned country says is a drive to upgrade its defenses.

The Friday launch came hours after leader Kim's powerful sister Kim Yo Jong denied allegations by Seoul and Washington that Pyongyang is shipping weapons to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine.

Seoul's military on Friday described the test as "several flying objects presumed to be short-range ballistic missiles" from North Korea's eastern Wonsan area into waters off its coast.

The suspected missiles travelled around 300 kilometers (186 miles) before splashing down in waters between South Korea and Japan, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said.

"The accuracy and reliability of the autonomous navigation system were verified through the test fire," Pyongyang's KCNA said Saturday, adding leader Kim expressed "great satisfaction" over the launch.

In a separate report released on Saturday, KCNA said Kim visited a military production facility the previous day and urged for "more rapidly bolstering the nuclear force" of the nation "without halt and hesitation".

During the visit, he said the "enemies would be afraid of and dare not to play with fire only when they witness the nuclear combat posture of our state", according to KCNA.

Pyongyang's nuclear force "will meet a very important change and occupy a remarkably raised strategic position" when its munitions production plan, aimed to be completed by 2025, is carried out, it added.

- Denial -

Seoul and Washington have accused North Korea of sending arms to Russia, which would violate rafts of United Nations sanctions on both countries, with experts saying the recent spate of testing may be of weapons destined for use on battlefields in Ukraine.

North Korea is barred by UN sanctions from any tests using ballistic technology, but its key ally Moscow used its UN Security Council veto in March to effectively end UN monitoring of violations, for which Pyongyang has specifically thanked Russia.

But leader Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong said Friday that Pyongyang had "no intention to export our military technical capabilities to any country", adding that the North's priority was "to make the war readiness and war deterrent of our army more perfect in quality and quantity".

She accused Seoul and Washington of "misleading the public opinion" with their allegations that Pyongyang was transferring arms to Russia.

The Friday launches come as Russian leader Vladimir Putin was in China on Friday, the final day of a visit aiming to promote crucial trade with Beijing -- North Korea's most important ally -- and win greater support for his war effort in Ukraine.

North Korea's latest weapons tests were likely intended to attract the attention of Putin while he was in China, said Ahn Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies.

The North would benefit greatly from an expected visit by Putin to Pyongyang, and "they want their country to be used as a military logistics base during Russia's ongoing war (in Ukraine)", he told AFP.

Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said: "China and Russia's irresponsible handling of North Korea, riding on the new Cold War dynamics, is further encouraging Pyongyang's nuclear armament."

Inter-Korean relations are at one of their lowest points in years, with Pyongyang declaring Seoul its "principal enemy".

It has jettisoned agencies dedicated to reunification and threatened war over "even 0.001 mm" of territorial infringement.


Trump Campaigns in Minnesota, Predicting He Will Win the Traditionally Democratic State in November

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at the annual Lincoln Reagan Dinner hosted by the Minnesota Republican party on May 17, 2024 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Getty Images via AFP)
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at the annual Lincoln Reagan Dinner hosted by the Minnesota Republican party on May 17, 2024 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Getty Images via AFP)
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Trump Campaigns in Minnesota, Predicting He Will Win the Traditionally Democratic State in November

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at the annual Lincoln Reagan Dinner hosted by the Minnesota Republican party on May 17, 2024 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Getty Images via AFP)
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at the annual Lincoln Reagan Dinner hosted by the Minnesota Republican party on May 17, 2024 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Getty Images via AFP)

Former President Donald Trump used a day off from his hush money trial Friday to headline a Republican fundraiser in Minnesota, a traditionally Democratic state that he boasts he can carry in November.

Trump took the stage late as he headlined the state GOP’s annual Lincoln Reagan dinner in St. Paul after attending his son Barron's high school graduation in Florida.

Declaring his appearance to be “an official expansion” of the electoral map of states that could be competitive in November, Trump said, “We’re going to win this state."

“This November the people of Minnesota are going to tell Crooked Joe Biden — right? ‘The Apprentice'? ’You’re fired!'” Trump said, referencing his former reality television show and the catchphrase he used on it.

Trump boasted that the steep tariffs he imposed on foreign steel while serving as president bought the Iron Range, the iron mining area of northeastern Minnesota, “roaring back to life.” The area, with a heavy population of blue-collar workers and union workers, used to be solidly Democratic, but the region has been trending Republican in recent elections.

He also made a profane attack on President Joe Biden, calling him “a horrible president” who is “destroying our country” and then adding, “He’s a horrible human being too.”

Trump then shifted to calling the president a “non-athlete” and attacked his golf game, accusing him of inflating his golfing abilities and making other misrepresentations before using an expletive that drew loud laughs and sustained applause.

Trump was using part of the day granted by the trial judge for the graduation to campaign in Minnesota, a state he argues he can win in the November rematch with Biden. No Republican presidential candidate has won Minnesota since Richard Nixon in 1972, but Trump came close to flipping the state in 2016, when he fell 1.5 percentage points short of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump returned to Minnesota several times in 2020, when Biden beat him by more than 7 percentage points.

“I think this is something Trump wants to do. He believes this is a state he can win. We believe that’s the case as well,” David Hann, the chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota, said in an interview.

Democratic US Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota, a Biden ally, said the Trump campaign is “grasping at straws” if it thinks he can win the state.

“The Biden campaign is going to work hard for every vote,” Smith said in an interview. “We’re going to engage with voters all over the state. But I think Minnesota voters are going to choose President Biden.”

Hann co-hosted Friday's dinner along with Trump’s state campaign chair, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, who represents a central Minnesota district. Hann said Emmer was instrumental in bringing the former president to Minnesota.

The dinner coincided with the party’s state convention and the roughly 1,400 attendees included former US Sen. Rudy Boschwitz and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, who has been a prominent promoter of false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Tickets started at $500, ranging up to $100,000 for a VIP table for 10 with three photo opportunities with Trump. Hann declined to say how much money he expects it will raise, but he anticipates a full house of around 1,400 people.

All the money from the dinner tickets will go to the state party, Hann said, though he added that some money from photo opportunities may go to the Trump campaign. Ahead of Trump’s remarks Friday night, Emmer and Hann told the crowd that thanks to the fundraiser, the state party was out of debt for the first time in 10 years.

“No sham trial is going to keep President Trump off the campaign trail. And it’s definitely not going to stop us from turning Minnesota red in November,” Emmer said in his remarks.

Experts are split on whether Minnesota really will be competitive this time, given its history and the strong Democratic Party ground game in the state. But Hann said there's “great dissatisfaction with President Biden” in the state, noting that nearly 19% of Democratic voters in its Super Tuesday primary marked their ballots for “uncommitted.” That was at least partly due to a protest-vote movement over Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war that has spread to several states.

Trump on Friday night repeated a false claim that he won Minnesota in the 2020 election, wrongly declaring he won “a landslide in your state.”

There’s no evidence that there were any serious irregularities in the state.

Trump’s youngest son, Barron Trump, graduated Friday morning from the private Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. The former president, who attended the graduation with his wife, Melania Trump, and her father, Viktor Knavs, had long complained Judge Juan M. Merchan would not let him attend the graduation before Merchan agreed not to hold court Friday.


Philippines to Vigorously Defend Territory, President Says

Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. looks on as he meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines, March 19, 2024. (Reuters)
Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. looks on as he meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines, March 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Philippines to Vigorously Defend Territory, President Says

Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. looks on as he meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines, March 19, 2024. (Reuters)
Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. looks on as he meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines, March 19, 2024. (Reuters)

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Saturday the country will "vigorously defend what is ours", in a thinly veiled reference to mounting tensions with China over maritime disputes.

The conduct against intruders disrespecting Philippine territorial integrity will be guided by law and the responsibility as a rules-abiding member of the international community, Marcos said in a speech to graduating military cadets.

"Against intruders who have been disrespecting our territorial integrity, we will vigorously defend what is ours," Marcos said.

He did not identify the intruders, but Manila and Beijing have been in escalating standoffs in the South China Sea, including China's use of water cannon that resulted in injuries and property damage, a military-grade laser directed at Philippine vessels and what the Philippines calls "dangerous maneuvers" in the disputed waterway.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, a conduit for $3 trillion in annual ship-borne trade, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. A 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration found that China's sweeping claims have no legal basis.


Fifty Dead in Heavy Rain, Floods in Central Afghanistan

An Afghan boy walks along a flooded street in Sheikh Jalal, Baghlan province, Afghanistan May 12, 2024. (Reuters)
An Afghan boy walks along a flooded street in Sheikh Jalal, Baghlan province, Afghanistan May 12, 2024. (Reuters)
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Fifty Dead in Heavy Rain, Floods in Central Afghanistan

An Afghan boy walks along a flooded street in Sheikh Jalal, Baghlan province, Afghanistan May 12, 2024. (Reuters)
An Afghan boy walks along a flooded street in Sheikh Jalal, Baghlan province, Afghanistan May 12, 2024. (Reuters)

At least 50 people are dead following a fresh bout of heavy rain and flooding in central Afghanistan, an official said on Saturday.
Mawlawi Abdul Hai Zaeem, the head of the information department for the central Ghor province, told Reuters that there was no information about how many people were injured in the rain spell that began on Friday, which had also cut off many key roads to the area.
Zaeem added that 2,000 houses were completely destroyed, 4,000 partially damaged, and more than 2,000 shops were under water in the province's capital, Feroz-Koh.
Last week, flash floods caused by heavy rains devastated villages in northern Afghanistan, killing 315 people and injuring more than 1,600, authorities said on Sunday.
On Wednesday, a helicopter used by the Afghan air force crashed due to "technical issues" during attempts to recover the bodies of people who had fallen into a river in Ghor province, killing one and injuring 12 people, the country's defense ministry said.
Afghanistan is prone to natural disasters and the United Nations considers it one of countries most vulnerable to climate change.
It has battled a shortfall in aid after the Taliban took over as foreign forces withdrew from the country in 2021, since development aid that formed the backbone of government finances was slashed.
The shortfall has worsened in subsequent years as foreign governments grapple with competing global crises and growing condemnation of the Taliban's curbs on Afghan women.


Taliban Supreme Leader Makes Rare Visit to Kabul

Taliban Supreme Leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada. (AP)
Taliban Supreme Leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada. (AP)
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Taliban Supreme Leader Makes Rare Visit to Kabul

Taliban Supreme Leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada. (AP)
Taliban Supreme Leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada. (AP)

Taliban Supreme Leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, who has been rarely seen outside his reclusive compound in Kandahar, made a rare visit to Afghanistan’s capital to meet with the country’s senior officials, a government website said Friday.

The organization's El Emara website published video clips of Akhundzada giving a speech in front of the 34 provincial governors on Thursday at the Interior Ministry.

The leader, of whom only one photo has been publicly circulated, emphasized "unity and harmony," according to the website.

"Obedience was highlighted as a divine obligation," it said, adding that the implementation of Islamic Sharia law and principles "should take precedence over personal interests."

The purpose of the visit was likely about "enforcing internal discipline and unity," a Western diplomat told AFP, adding that it could be motivated by the unrest in Badakhshan in eastern Afghanistan.

Witnesses reported that Taliban forces opened fire to disperse villagers protesting against poppy clearing — a lucrative crop banned by Akhundzada in April 2022.

Experts believe that Akhundzada is creating a rift between the two main Taliban camps in power: Kandahar, the movement's southern stronghold where the supreme commander runs the country by decree, and Kabul, where the supposedly less strict government is based.

"Whenever you see cracks or disagreements, then you have Kandahar stepping in reminding everyone and enforcing that (unity) as well," the diplomat added.

The supreme commander has visited Kabul only once since the Taliban's return to power in mid-August 2021 and has rarely spoken since taking office in 2016.

Last March, the leader of Afghanistan's Taliban government has said it is determined to enforce the Islamic criminal justice system, including the public stoning of women for adultery.


Vessel in Red Sea Sustains Slight Damage after Being Struck, UKMTO Says

Representation photo: 19 November 2023: A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: dpa
Representation photo: 19 November 2023: A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: dpa
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Vessel in Red Sea Sustains Slight Damage after Being Struck, UKMTO Says

Representation photo: 19 November 2023: A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: dpa
Representation photo: 19 November 2023: A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: dpa

A vessel in the Red Sea was struck by an unknown object and sustained slight damage, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said early on Saturday.
"The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call," it said in an advisory note, adding that the incident occurred 76 nautical miles northwest of Yemen's Hodeidah.
No further details were immediately available, said Reuters.
The Houthi militia that controls the most populous parts of Yemen and is aligned with Iran has staged attacks on ships in the waters off the country for months in solidarity with Palestinians fighting Israel in Gaza.
The Houthi militants have launched repeated drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden since November.
That has forced shippers to re-route cargo on longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa and stoked fears the Israel-Hamas war could spread and destabilize the Middle East.


Türkiye’s Erdogan Pardons Elderly Generals Imprisoned over 1997 'Postmodern Coup'

FILED - 18 December 2023, Hungary, Budapest: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during a press conference in Budapest. Photo: Marton Monus/dpa
FILED - 18 December 2023, Hungary, Budapest: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during a press conference in Budapest. Photo: Marton Monus/dpa
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Türkiye’s Erdogan Pardons Elderly Generals Imprisoned over 1997 'Postmodern Coup'

FILED - 18 December 2023, Hungary, Budapest: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during a press conference in Budapest. Photo: Marton Monus/dpa
FILED - 18 December 2023, Hungary, Budapest: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during a press conference in Budapest. Photo: Marton Monus/dpa

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday pardoned seven former top military officers who were sentenced to life terms in prison over the ouster of an Islamic-led government in 1997.
The former generals, who are in their late 70s and 80s, were pardoned due to health issues and old age, according to a decision published in the country’s Official Gazette overnight.
A court sentenced the generals to life in prison in 2018 for their role in a campaign that was led by Türkiye’s pro-secular military and forced the resignation of the prime minister of the time, Necmettin Erbakan. Their sentences were confirmed by a court of appeals in 2021, The Associated Press said.
The ouster was later dubbed Türkiye’s “postmodern coup” because unlike previous military takeovers in the country, no tanks or soldiers were used. Erbakan’s government was replaced by a coalition that was nominated by the president.
Those released from prison Friday following the decision included Cetin Dogan, 83, who was head of military operations at the time. Former Gen. Cevik Bir, 85, who was deputy chief of military staff, was released along with other officers earlier due to ill-health. The main defendant, former Chief of General Staff İsmail Hakkı Karadayı, died in 2020, while the appeals process was still continuing.
On Feb. 28, 1997, the military-dominated National Security Council threatened action if Erbakan did not back down. He resigned four months later.
The trial was one of several held in the country against military officers as Erdogan pressed ahead with efforts to make generals account for intervening in government affairs.
Türkiye’s military, which had long regarded its role as protector of the country’s secular traditions, staged three coups between 1960 and 1980. In July 2016, Türkiye quashed a coup attempt that the government has blamed on supporters of a US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen. The cleric denies involvement.
The pardon comes a week after Erdogan met with main opposition party leader Ozgur Ozel, who raised the issue of clemency. Ozel’s pro-secular Republican People’s Party swept local elections in March.


Cyprus Says 8 EU States Back Plan to Return Syria Refugees

Migrants leave Pournara refugee camp during clashes in Kokkinotrimithia on the outskirts of Nicosia, Cyprus October 28, 2022. (Reuters)
Migrants leave Pournara refugee camp during clashes in Kokkinotrimithia on the outskirts of Nicosia, Cyprus October 28, 2022. (Reuters)
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Cyprus Says 8 EU States Back Plan to Return Syria Refugees

Migrants leave Pournara refugee camp during clashes in Kokkinotrimithia on the outskirts of Nicosia, Cyprus October 28, 2022. (Reuters)
Migrants leave Pournara refugee camp during clashes in Kokkinotrimithia on the outskirts of Nicosia, Cyprus October 28, 2022. (Reuters)

Cyprus said Friday it is among at least eight EU member states who want safe zones to be declared in parts of Syria to allow the repatriation of refugees from its more than decade-old civil war.

The Mediterranean island, which is much the closest EU member state to Syria, was hosting a conference of member states who support its proposal, just days after the 27-member bloc signed off on a major overhaul of its migration and asylum policies.

The other participants were Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland. The eight countries are part of a wider group of 15 member states, who called Wednesday for "new ways" to handle irregular migrants, including sending some to third countries, as the bloc plots out how to implement its overhaul of asylum policy.

Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said the eight governments believe that after 13 years of conflict, the bloc needs to reassess changing security conditions in Syria.

"It is time for the European Union to... redefine our stance" on Syria, Ioannou said in a statement.

"Stability in the country has not been fully restored... (but) we must expedite the processes to take all necessary measures to create conditions that will allow the return of individuals to Syria," he added.

Less than 200 kilometres (125 miles) away across the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has long been a favored destination for Syrian refugees and arrivals have risen sharply in recent months. In a bid to stem the influx, the government has stepped up maritime patrols and suspended the processing of asylum applications for Syrians, denying arrivals access to benefits.

The Cypriot minister also called for more financial support for Lebanon, a major transit country which has been mired in economic crisis since 2019. "If Lebanon is left to collapse, the consequences for the entire European Union will be incalculable," he said.

Lebanon says it hosts around two million people from neighbouring Syria -- the world's highest number of refugees per capita -- and needs help from donor governments.

The EU approved $1 billion in aid for Lebanon earlier this month to help it stem the exodus of Syrian refugees seeking to reach Europe. But the bloc's focus on preventing refugees reaching its shores rather than helping them return to their homeland has sparked criticism in Lebanon and beyond.


Slovak PM Underwent Another Operation, Remains in Serious Condition

A supporter of the Slovakian government holds a Slovakian flag as he stands on May 17, 2024 in front of the hospital in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is being treated after he was shot "multiple times" the day before. (AFP)
A supporter of the Slovakian government holds a Slovakian flag as he stands on May 17, 2024 in front of the hospital in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is being treated after he was shot "multiple times" the day before. (AFP)
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Slovak PM Underwent Another Operation, Remains in Serious Condition

A supporter of the Slovakian government holds a Slovakian flag as he stands on May 17, 2024 in front of the hospital in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is being treated after he was shot "multiple times" the day before. (AFP)
A supporter of the Slovakian government holds a Slovakian flag as he stands on May 17, 2024 in front of the hospital in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is being treated after he was shot "multiple times" the day before. (AFP)

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has undergone another operation two days after being shot multiple times and remains in serious condition, officials said Friday.

Fico, 59, was attacked as he was greeting supporters after a government meeting in the former coal mining town of Handlova. A suspected assailant has been arrested.

Miriam Lapunikova, director of the University F. D. Roosevelt hospital in Banska Bystrica, where Fico was taken by helicopter after he was shot, said Fico underwent a CT scan and is currently awake and stable in an intensive care unit. She described his condition as “very serious.”

She said the surgery removed dead tissues that had remained inside Fico's body.

“I think it will take several more days until we will definitely know the direction of the further development,” Robert Kaliniak, the defense minister and deputy prime minister, told reporters at the hospital.

Still, Kaliniak stressed that the government continues to work.

“The ministries are working on all their duties, nothing is frozen or halted, the country goes on," he told reporters. “The state is stable and today the patient is stable as well.”

Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond. His return to power last year on a pro-Russian, anti-American platform led to worries among fellow European Union and NATO members that he would abandon his country’s pro-Western course, particularly on Ukraine.

Earlier Friday the man charged with attempting to assassinate Fico was escorted by police to his home. Local media reported that it was part of a search for evidence.

Markiza, a Slovak television station, showed footage of the suspect being taken to his home in the town of Levice on Friday morning, and reported that police had seized a computer and some documents. Police did not comment.

Prosecutors have told police not to publicly identify the suspect or release other details about the case. The suspect's detention will be reviewed at a hearing Saturday at Slovakia's Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok, outside the capital Bratislava.

Unconfirmed media reports suggested he was a 71-year-old retiree who was known as an amateur poet, and may have previously worked as a security guard at a mall in the country’s southwest.

Government authorities on Thursday gave details that matched that description. They said the suspect did not belong to any political groups, though the attack itself was politically motivated.

Slovakia’s presidential office said Friday that it was working to organize a meeting of leaders of all parliamentary parties for Tuesday. Outgoing President Zuzana Caputova announced the plan together with President-elect Peter Pellegrini, who succeeds her in mid-June, in an attempt to reduce social tensions in the country.

At the start of Russia’s invasion, Slovakia was one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, but Fico halted arms deliveries to Ukraine when he returned to power, his fourth time serving as prime minister.

Fico’s government has also made efforts to overhaul public broadcasting — a move critics said would give the government full control of public television and radio. That, coupled with his plans to amend the penal code to eliminate a special anti-graft prosecutor, have led opponents to worry that Fico will lead Slovakia down a more autocratic path.

Thousands of demonstrators have repeatedly rallied in the capital and around the country of 5.4 million to protest his policies.

Fico said last month on Facebook that he believed rising tensions in the country could lead to the murder of politicians, and he blamed the media for fueling tensions.

Before Fico returned to power last year, many of his political and business associates were the focus of police investigations, and dozens have been charged.

His plan to overhaul of the penal system would eliminate the office of the special prosecutor that deals with organized crime, corruption and extremism.