China Blasts US Military Aid to Taiwan, Saying the Island Is Entering a ‘Dangerous Situation’ 

A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
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China Blasts US Military Aid to Taiwan, Saying the Island Is Entering a ‘Dangerous Situation’ 

A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)

China on Wednesday blasted the latest package of US military assistance to Taiwan on Wednesday, saying that such funding was pushing the self-governing island republic into a “dangerous situation.”

The US Senate late Tuesday passed $95 billion in war aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after months of delays and contentious debate over how involved the United States should be in foreign wars. China claims the entire island of Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to take it by force if necessary.

The mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office said the aid “seriously violates” US commitments to China and “sends a wrong signal to the Taiwan independence separatist forces.”

Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian added that Taiwan’s ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, which won a third four-year presidential term in January, is willing to “become a pawn for external forces to use Taiwan to contain China, bringing Taiwan into a dangerous situation.”

On Tuesday, Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te told a visiting US Congressional delegation that the aid package would “strengthen the deterrence against authoritarianism in the West Pacific ally chain” and “help ensure peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and also boost confidence in the region.”

The package has had broad congressional support since Biden first requested the money last summer. But congressional leaders had to navigate strong opposition from a growing number of conservatives who question US involvement in foreign wars and argue that Congress should be focused instead on the surge of migration at the US-Mexico border.

The package covers a wide range of parts and services aimed at maintaining and upgrading Taiwan’s military hardware. Separately, Taiwan has signed billions in contracts with the US for latest-generation F-16V fighter jets, M1 Abrams main battle tanks and the HIMARS rocket system, which the US has also supplied to Ukraine.

Taiwan has also been expanding its own defense industry, building submarines and trainer jets. Next month, it plans to commission its third and fourth domestically designed and built stealth corvettes to counter the Chinese navy as part of a strategy of asymmetrical warfare, in which a smaller force counters its larger opponent by using cutting edge or nonconventional tactics and weaponry.

China launches daily incursions into waters and airspace around Taiwan by navy ships and warplanes. It has also sought to pick away Taiwan’s few remaining formal diplomatic partners.

However, only two People's Liberation Army Air Force planes and seven navy vessels were found operating in areas around Taiwan between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, possibly as a result of heavy rainstorms and low visibility overnight along the island's west coast facing China.

At times of heightened tensions, China has launched dozens of such missions over a 24-hour period, many of them crossing the center line in the Taiwan Strait dividing the sides or entering Taiwan's air defense identification zone.



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.


Putin Says Russia Wants Buffer Zone in Ukraine’s Kharkiv but Has No Plans to Capture City

 Ukrainian servicemen of the 42nd Separate Mechanized Brigade fire a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer towards Russian troops in a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine May 16, 2024. (Reuters)
Ukrainian servicemen of the 42nd Separate Mechanized Brigade fire a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer towards Russian troops in a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine May 16, 2024. (Reuters)
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Putin Says Russia Wants Buffer Zone in Ukraine’s Kharkiv but Has No Plans to Capture City

 Ukrainian servicemen of the 42nd Separate Mechanized Brigade fire a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer towards Russian troops in a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine May 16, 2024. (Reuters)
Ukrainian servicemen of the 42nd Separate Mechanized Brigade fire a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer towards Russian troops in a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine May 16, 2024. (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday during a visit to China that Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region aims to create a buffer zone but that there are no plans to capture the city.

The remarks were Putin’s first on the offensive launched May 10, which opened a new front and displaced thousands of Ukrainians within days. Earlier Friday, a massive Ukrainian drone attack on the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula cut off power in the city of Sevastopol, after an earlier attack damaged aircraft and fuel storage at an airbase.

In southern Russia, Russian authorities said a refinery was also set ablaze.

Moscow launched attacks in the Kharkiv region in response to Ukrainian shelling of Russia’s Belgorod region, Putin told reporters while visiting the Chinese city of Harbin.

“I have said publicly that if it continues, we will be forced to create a security zone, a sanitary zone,” he said. “That's what we are doing.” Russian troops were “advancing daily according to plan," he said and added there were no plans for now to take the city of Kharkiv.

Ukrainian troops are fighting to halt Russian advances in the Kharkiv region that began late last week. In an effort to increase troop numbers, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed two laws Friday, allowing prisoners to join the army and increasing fines for draft dodgers fivefold. The controversial mobilization law goes into effect on Saturday.

Russia enlisted prisoners early on in the war, and personnel shortages compelled the new measures. The legislation allows for “parole from serving a sentence and further enlistment for military service" for a specific period for some people charged with criminal offences. It doesn't extend to those convicted of crimes against Ukraine’s national security.

Penalties will be increased to 25,500 hryvnias ($650) for citizens and 51,000 hryvnias ($1,300) for civil servants and legal entities for ignoring draft notices or failing to update the draft board of their information. Fines were previously 5100 hryvnias ($130) for citizens and 8500 hryvnias ($215) for civil servants and legal entities.

Ukrainian authorities have evacuated around 8,000 civilians from the recent flashpoint town of Vovchansk, 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Russian border. The Russian army’s usual tactic is to reduce towns and villages to ruins with aerial strikes before troops move in.

At least two people were killed and 19 were wounded in the Russian bombing of Kharkiv, regional chief Oleh Syniehubov said on his Telegram posting on Friday. Four of the wounded were in critical condition.

Russia's new offensive has “expanded the zone of active hostilities by almost 70 kilometers” (45 miles), in an effort to force Ukraine to spread its forces and use reserve troops, Ukraine’s military chief, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, said Friday.

In the Kharkiv region, Russian forces have advanced 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border, Zelenskyy said Friday.

Separately, speaking about Ukraine’s upcoming peace conferences in Switzerland next month, Putin said it was a vain attempt to enforce terms of a peaceful settlement on Russia and stressed that Russia wasn’t invited to the meeting.

He said that Russia was ready for talks but shrugged off Zelenskyy’s peace formula as wishful thinking. Any prospective peace talks should be based on a draft deal negotiated by Russia and Ukraine during their Istanbul talks in 2022, he said.

Ukraine meanwhile carried out drone raids on Crimea in an attempt to strike back during Moscow's offensive in northeastern Ukraine, which has piled on pressure on outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian forces awaiting delayed deliveries of crucial weapons and ammunition from Western partners.

A Ukrainian intelligence official confirmed to The Associated Press that the country's intelligence services struck Russia’s military infrastructure sites in Novorossiysk, on the Black Sea coast, and in Russian-occupied city of Sevastopol. The official was not authorized to make public comments and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The operation, carried out by Ukraine-built drones, targeted Russian Black Sea Fleet vessels, the official said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said air defenses downed 51 Ukrainian drones over Crimea, 44 over the Krasnodar region of Russia and six over the Belgorod region. Russian warplanes and patrol boats also destroyed six sea drones in the Black Sea, it said.

At least three fighter jets were destroyed in an earlier attack in Crimea a few days ago, according to satellite imagery of the airbase provided by Maxar Technologies.

Mikhail Razvozhayev, the governor of Sevastopol, which is the main base for Russia's Black Sea Fleet, said the drone attack damaged the city’s power plant. He said it could take a day to fully restore electricity and warned residents of power cuts. He also announced city schools would be closed temporarily.

In the Krasnodar region, authorities said a drone attack early Friday caused a fire at an oil refinery in Tuapse, which was later contained. There were no casualties. Ukraine has repeatedly targeted refineries and other energy facilities deep inside Russia, inflicting damage.

The Krasnodar region’s governor, Veniamin Kondratyev, said fragments of downed drones around the port of Novorossiysk caused several fires, but there were no casualties.

Belgorov Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said a Ukrainian drone struck a vehicle, killing a woman and her 4-year-old child. Another attack there set a fuel tank ablaze at a gas station, he said.

Recent Russian attacks have also targeted the eastern Donetsk region, as well as the Chernihiv and Sumy regions in the north and in the southern Zaporizhzhia region — apparently seeking to further stretch depleted Ukrainian resources.

Having boosted their forces in northern Ukraine, Russian forces are now pushing to advance near the village of Lyptsi, as well as the town of Vovchansk, according to Syrskyi, the Ukrainian military commander.

Syrskyi also said he inspected units that are “preparing for defense” of Sumy. On Tuesday, the head of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, reportedly said Russia's military planned to launch offensive actions in Sumy.

Russia has also been testing defenses elsewhere along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line, which snakes north-to-south through eastern Ukraine. The line has barely changed over the past 18 months, in what has become a war of attrition.


Taiwan President Takes Office Under Close Scrutiny

Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te, of Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP), holds a press conference, following the victory in the presidential elections, in Taipei, Taiwan January 13, 2024. (Reuters)
Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te, of Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP), holds a press conference, following the victory in the presidential elections, in Taipei, Taiwan January 13, 2024. (Reuters)
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Taiwan President Takes Office Under Close Scrutiny

Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te, of Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP), holds a press conference, following the victory in the presidential elections, in Taipei, Taiwan January 13, 2024. (Reuters)
Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te, of Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP), holds a press conference, following the victory in the presidential elections, in Taipei, Taiwan January 13, 2024. (Reuters)

Taiwan's president-elect Lai Ching-te, a staunch defender of the island's democracy, will be sworn into office Monday as Beijing ratchets up military and diplomatic pressure on Taipei.

China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, has branded Lai a "dangerous separatist" who will bring "war and decline" to the self-ruled island.

Lai will succeed President Tsai Ing-wen in a ceremony that will be closely watched by China and the United States, the island's key partner and weapons provider.

Taiwan, a vibrant democracy of 23 million people, is separated by a narrow 180-kilometer (110-mile) strait from communist-ruled China.

Beijing has intensified military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan during Tsai's eight years in power over her Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) rejection of China's claims on the island.

Lai, who hails from the same party, has previously described himself as a "pragmatic worker for independence".

In recent years, Lai and the DPP have toned down past rhetoric pushing for formal independence, arguing that since Taiwan is already self-ruled, there is no need for a declaration that would enrage Beijing.

Given the high stakes, Lai is expected to "maintain the responsible policies of his predecessor," Amanda Hsiao of the International Crisis Group said.

His inaugural speech will be scrutinized for clues of how he will handle the delicate relationship.

Lai has made repeated overtures to Beijing, indicating a wish for a resumption of high-level communications, which China severed after Tsai took office.

"We will work to safeguard the status quo on both sides," Lai told a democracy summit on May 14.

"I will not rule out dialogue with China on the principles of mutual respect, mutual benefits, and dignity, with no preconditions."

Eight heads of state and around 50 foreign delegations are expected to attend the inauguration, including from the United States and Canada, in a show of support for the island's democracy.

- 'Resolutely opposed' -

The dispute between Beijing and Taipei dates back to China's civil war, which ended in 1949 with Mao Zedong's communist forces defeating the nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek.

The nationalists fled to Taiwan and claimed rulership of all of China, while the mainland claimed Taiwan.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office, which handles cross-strait issues, said Wednesday it has always "resolutely opposed Taiwan independence".

"Taiwan independence and peace in the strait are incompatible like water and fire," spokesman Chen Binhua said.

China has for decades vowed to bring Taiwan under its control, by force if necessary, with President Xi Jinping upping the rhetoric in recent years of "unification" being "inevitable".

Chinese warplanes, drones and naval vessels maintain a near-daily presence around Taiwan.

China's growing assertiveness in pressing its claims on Taiwan, and over the South China Sea, have raised concerns of a potential military conflict that could draw in the United States and its allies.

Many fear that a regional war, while not thought to be imminent, would devastate the global economy.

Taiwan is located on a maritime gateway connecting the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean -- a key route for international trade -- and is a major supplier of semiconductor chips, which have been called the "lifeblood" of the modern world.

Taiwan and China have engaged in a diplomatic tug-of-war to lure allies in the Pacific region, offering generous aid packages and assistance in agricultural and educational development.

Only 12 states, including the Vatican, fully recognize Taiwan, and China does not maintain relations with any country that recognizes Taipei.

After Lai's election win in January, the tiny South Pacific nation of Nauru severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China.

Taipei has also seen daily cyber attacks targeting its government agencies increase from one million to 2.5 million since the polls.

- 'Dangerous' -

Lai will also have to contend with domestic challenges as he seeks to reverse growing disillusionment with the DPP.

While the party won an unprecedented third term in the last election, it lost its majority in parliament.

With wages stagnating and the cost of living rising, some voters are frustrated with the DPP's handling of relations with China.

"It's dangerous," retiree Chou-ta Chung, 66, told AFP of Lai's policy on China and the United States.

"The DPP focuses too much on the United States... you must strike a balance between the two sides."


Spain Denies Port of Call to Ship Carrying Arms to Israel

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares speaks to the media, on the day of a meeting to discuss the post-Brexit future of Gibraltar, at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Yves Herman/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares speaks to the media, on the day of a meeting to discuss the post-Brexit future of Gibraltar, at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Yves Herman/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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Spain Denies Port of Call to Ship Carrying Arms to Israel

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares speaks to the media, on the day of a meeting to discuss the post-Brexit future of Gibraltar, at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Yves Herman/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares speaks to the media, on the day of a meeting to discuss the post-Brexit future of Gibraltar, at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Yves Herman/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

Spain has refused permission for a ship carrying arms to Israel to dock at a Spanish port, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said.

"This is the first time we have done this because it is the first time we have detected a ship carrying a shipment of arms to Israel that wants to call at a Spanish port," he told reporters in Brussels.

"This will be a consistent policy with any ship carrying arms to Israel that wants to call at Spanish ports. The foreign ministry will systematically reject such stopovers for one obvious reason. The Middle East does not need more weapons, it needs more peace," he added, AFP reported.

The Spanish minister did not provide details on the ship but Transport Minister Oscar Puente said it was the Marianne Danica which had requested permission to call at the southeastern port of Cartagena on May 21.

El Pais newspaper said the Danish-flagged ship is carrying 27 tonnes of explosive material from Madras in India to the port of Haifa in Israel.

The announcement that permission had been denied comes amid a row between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists and his coalition partners, the hard-left Sumar party, over another ship, the Borkum, which is due to dock in Cartagena on Friday.

Pro-Palestinian groups say the Borkum is carrying arms to Israel, prompting Sumar to demand that it be turned away. But Puente said the Borkum was transporting military material to the Czech Republic, not Israel.

Spain has been one of Europe's most critical voices about Israel's Gaza offensive and is working to rally other European capitals behind the idea of recognizing a Palestinian state.

Spain halted arms sales to Israel after it launched a military onslaught against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.


Türkiye Opposition Chief Cool to Constitution Talks with Erdogan

A Turkish flag with the Bosphorus Bridge in the background, flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey September 30, 2020. (Reuters)
A Turkish flag with the Bosphorus Bridge in the background, flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey September 30, 2020. (Reuters)
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Türkiye Opposition Chief Cool to Constitution Talks with Erdogan

A Turkish flag with the Bosphorus Bridge in the background, flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey September 30, 2020. (Reuters)
A Turkish flag with the Bosphorus Bridge in the background, flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey September 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Türkiye's main opposition leader, boosted by sweeping local election gains in March, said he is "far off" opening talks with Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party over a new constitution since the president doesn't abide by the existing one.

In an interview with Reuters, Ozgur Ozel, who was elected chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP) last November, also called on the government to once again raise the minimum wage, which continues to lag the soaring inflation rate.

The question of whether and how to rewrite Türkiye's constitution could dominate domestic politics this year after Erdogan and his AK Party (AKP) said it is a priority. Analysts say a new document could potentially extend Erdogan's rule beyond 2028 when his current term ends.

"It would be a waste of time to discuss a new constitution while there has been so much violation of the constitution by the ruling party..." Ozel, 49, said at the CHP headquarters in Ankara this week.

"If the ruling party abides by the current constitution, we would get closer to discussing a new one. We are far-off from that point at the moment," he said.

Ozel's comments come after his secularist-centrist CHP won most major cities and made big gains in the AKP's rural heartland in the March 31 local elections, surpassing the conservative ruling party's share of the popular vote for the first time in more than two decades.

In response, Erdogan vowed to correct mistakes and called for a "softer" politics. Ozel held talks with the president this month, Erdogan's first with a CHP leader in nearly eight years.

Ozel said he had wanted to meet Erdogan after the local elections to help end political polarisation.

"If Türkiye is going to normalize, it needs to solve the issue of political detainees within its own domestic law," Ozel said, referring to cases such as the incarceration of philanthropist Osman Kavala.

In a ruling that critics and rights advocates say shows how Turkish courts silence political dissent, Kavala and seven others were convicted of trying to overthrow Erdogan's government by organizing the 2013 nationwide Gezi Park protests with seven others. Kavala denies the charges.

Ozel's election as CHP leader ended a 13-year term under Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who lost to Erdogan in the 2023 presidential vote. In the March elections, Ozel's CHP broke through its historic ceiling of 25% support nationwide.

Asked about government efforts to tame inflation, Ozel said savings from the government's new cost-cutting plan would be "cosmetic" and "inefficient".

"This plan aims to save 100 billion lira ($3.1 billion), but the central bank's loss last year alone amounts to 800 billion lira," Ozel said.


Belgium’s Ghent University Severs Ties with Three Israeli Institutions 

Activists paint their hands and make a banner in an encampment, set up by pro-Palestinian students and activists at Ghent University, as students occupy parts of the campus in Ghent, Belgium, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP) 
Activists paint their hands and make a banner in an encampment, set up by pro-Palestinian students and activists at Ghent University, as students occupy parts of the campus in Ghent, Belgium, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP) 
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Belgium’s Ghent University Severs Ties with Three Israeli Institutions 

Activists paint their hands and make a banner in an encampment, set up by pro-Palestinian students and activists at Ghent University, as students occupy parts of the campus in Ghent, Belgium, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP) 
Activists paint their hands and make a banner in an encampment, set up by pro-Palestinian students and activists at Ghent University, as students occupy parts of the campus in Ghent, Belgium, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP) 

Belgium's University of Ghent (UGent) is severing ties with three Israeli educational or research institutions which it says no longer align with UGent's human rights policy, its rector said.

Pro-Palestinian protesters in Ghent have been protesting against Israel's military offensive in Gaza and have been occupying parts of the university since early this month.

The university's rector, Rik Van de Walle, said in a statement that ties were being cut with Holon Institute of Technology, MIGAL Galilee Research Institute, and the Volcani Center, which carries out agricultural research.

"We currently assess these three partners as (very) problematic according to the Ghent University human rights test, in contrast to the positive evaluation we gave these partners at the start of our collaboration", Van de Walle said.

Partnerships with MIGAL Galilee Research Institute and the Volcani Center "were no longer desirable" due to their affiliation with Israeli ministries, an investigation by the University of Ghent found, and collaboration with the Holon Institute "was problematic" because it provided material support to the army for actions in Gaza.

A spokesperson for the university said the move would affect four projects.

The three Israeli institutions did not immediately comment.

The protesters told Belgian broadcaster VRT they welcomed the decision but regarded it as only a first step. They said they would continue their occupation of parts of the university "until UGent breaks its ties with all Israeli institutions".

The actions mirror those of students in the United States and elsewhere in Europe, calling for an immediate permanent ceasefire and for schools to cut financial ties with companies they say are profiting from what they regard as the oppression of Palestinians.


North Korea Fires Multiple Short-Range Ballistic Missiles, Seoul Says 

This picture taken on May 15, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 16, 2024 shows North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting the completed construction of the Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadre School in Pyongyang. (KCNA via KNS / AFP) 
This picture taken on May 15, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 16, 2024 shows North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting the completed construction of the Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadre School in Pyongyang. (KCNA via KNS / AFP) 
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North Korea Fires Multiple Short-Range Ballistic Missiles, Seoul Says 

This picture taken on May 15, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 16, 2024 shows North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting the completed construction of the Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadre School in Pyongyang. (KCNA via KNS / AFP) 
This picture taken on May 15, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 16, 2024 shows North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting the completed construction of the Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadre School in Pyongyang. (KCNA via KNS / AFP) 

North Korea fired multiple short-range ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast on Friday, South Korea's military said, the latest in series of weapon tests carried out by Pyongyang in recent months.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles were fired from the east coast town of Wonsan, while Japan's public broadcaster NHK reported a short-range missile appeared to have been launched and had already fallen, citing a government official.

North Korea has launched ballistic and cruise missiles as well as tactical rockets in recent months, describing them as part of a program to upgrade its defensive capabilities.

Earlier on Friday, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said its tactical weapons were intended solely as a deterrent against South Korean military aggression, while again denying that Pyongyang was exporting the weapons.

US and South Korean officials have accused the North of shipping weapons to Russia to help Moscow replenish stocks for use in its war against Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied the accusation.

Friday's missile launches come at the same time as a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Chinese northeastern city of Harbin.

Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping criticized Washington and its allies for what the leaders called "intimidation in the military sphere" against North Korea at a meeting in Beijing on Thursday.

South Korea's air force has said US and South Korean stealth fighters conducted "intense" joint exercises on Thursday in the central region to test and enhance offensive and defensive maneuverability.


South Africa Urges UN's Top Court to Order Ceasefire in Gaza to Shield Citizens in Rafah 

Protesters stand in front of a police officer during a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside Leiden University, on the day of a hearing where South Africa requests new emergency measures over Israel's attacks on Rafah, as part of an ongoing case South Africa filed at the International Court of Justice in December last year accusing Israel of violating the Genocide Convention during its offensive against Palestinians in Gaza, in The Hague Netherlands May 16, 2024. (Reuters)
Protesters stand in front of a police officer during a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside Leiden University, on the day of a hearing where South Africa requests new emergency measures over Israel's attacks on Rafah, as part of an ongoing case South Africa filed at the International Court of Justice in December last year accusing Israel of violating the Genocide Convention during its offensive against Palestinians in Gaza, in The Hague Netherlands May 16, 2024. (Reuters)
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South Africa Urges UN's Top Court to Order Ceasefire in Gaza to Shield Citizens in Rafah 

Protesters stand in front of a police officer during a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside Leiden University, on the day of a hearing where South Africa requests new emergency measures over Israel's attacks on Rafah, as part of an ongoing case South Africa filed at the International Court of Justice in December last year accusing Israel of violating the Genocide Convention during its offensive against Palestinians in Gaza, in The Hague Netherlands May 16, 2024. (Reuters)
Protesters stand in front of a police officer during a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside Leiden University, on the day of a hearing where South Africa requests new emergency measures over Israel's attacks on Rafah, as part of an ongoing case South Africa filed at the International Court of Justice in December last year accusing Israel of violating the Genocide Convention during its offensive against Palestinians in Gaza, in The Hague Netherlands May 16, 2024. (Reuters)

South Africa urged the United Nations’ top court on Thursday to order a ceasefire in Gaza during hearings over emergency measures to halt Israel’s military operation in the enclave’s southern city of Rafah.

It was the third time the International Court of Justice held hearings on the conflict in Gaza since South Africa filed proceedings in December at the court, based in The Hague in the Netherlands, accusing Israel of genocide.

The country’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusimuzi Madonsela, urged the panel of 15 international judges to order Israel to “totally and unconditionally withdraw” from the Gaza Strip.

The court has already found that there is a “real and imminent risk” to the Palestinian people in Gaza by Israel’s military operations. “This may well be the last chance for the court to act,” said Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, who is part of South Africa’s legal team.

Judges at the court have broad powers to order a ceasefire and other measures, although the court does not have its own enforcement apparatus. A 2022 order by the court demanding that Russia halt its full-scale invasion of Ukraine has so far gone unheeded.

During hearings earlier this year, Israel strongly denied committing genocide in Gaza, saying it does all it can to spare civilians and is only targeting Hamas fighters. The country says Rafah is the last stronghold of the armed group.

The latest request focuses on the incursion into Rafah.

South Africa argues that the military operation has far surpassed justified self-defense. “Israel’s actions in Rafah are part of the end game. This is the last step in the destruction of Gaza,” lawyer Vaughan Lowe said.

According to the latest request, the previous preliminary orders by The Hague-based court were not sufficient to address “a brutal military attack on the sole remaining refuge for the people of Gaza.” Israel will be allowed to answer the accusations on Friday.

In January, judges ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza, but the panel stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive that has laid waste to the Palestinian enclave. In a second order in March, the court said Israel must take measures to improve the humanitarian situation.

South Africa has to date submitted four requests for the international court to investigate Israel. It was granted a hearing three times.

Most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people have been displaced since fighting began.

The war began with a Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which Palestinian gunmen killed around 1,200 people and took about 250 hostages. Gaza’s Health Ministry says over 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, without distinguishing between civilians and combatants in its count.

South Africa initiated proceedings in December 2023 and sees the legal campaign as rooted in issues central to its identity. Its governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the occupied West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Blacks to “homelands.” Apartheid ended in 1994.

On Sunday, Egypt announced it plans to join the case. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Israeli military actions “constitute a flagrant violation of international law, humanitarian law, and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 regarding the protection of civilians during wartime.”

Several countries have also indicated they plan to intervene, but so far only Libya, Nicaragua and Colombia have filed formal requests to do so.


Putin Concludes Trip to China by Emphasizing Its Strategic, Personal Ties to Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a concert marking the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and China and opening of China-Russia Years of Culture at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, China, on Thursday, May 16, 2024. (Alexander Ryumin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a concert marking the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and China and opening of China-Russia Years of Culture at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, China, on Thursday, May 16, 2024. (Alexander Ryumin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
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Putin Concludes Trip to China by Emphasizing Its Strategic, Personal Ties to Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a concert marking the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and China and opening of China-Russia Years of Culture at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, China, on Thursday, May 16, 2024. (Alexander Ryumin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a concert marking the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and China and opening of China-Russia Years of Culture at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, China, on Thursday, May 16, 2024. (Alexander Ryumin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin concluded a two-day visit to China on Friday, emphasizing the countries’ burgeoning strategic ties as well as his own personal relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as they sought to present an alternative to US global influence.

Putin praised the growth in bilateral trade while touring a China-Russia Expo in the northeastern city of Harbin. He met students at the Harbin Institute of Technology, which is said to work closely with the People's Liberation Army.

Harbin, capital of China’s Heilongjiang province, was once home to many Russian expatriates and retains some of that history in its architecture, such as the central St. Sophia Cathedral, a former Russian Orthodox church.

Underscoring the personal nature of the relationship, Putin said the Harbin institute and his alma mater, St. Petersburg State University, will open a joint school for 1,500 students. “I’m sure that it will become a flagship of the Russian-Chinese cooperation in science and education,” he said

Speaking to reporters, Putin thanked Xi and praised their talks as “substantive,” saying that he spent “almost a whole day, from morning till evening” with the Chinese leader and other officials in Beijing the previous day.

The partnership between China and Russia “is not directed against anyone,” Putin said in a veiled reference to the West. “It is aimed at one thing: creating better conditions for the development of our countries and improving the well-being of the people of China and the Russian Federation.”

But he still had a back-handed rebuke for the US, and others who oppose the Moscow-Beijing relationship, saying an “emerging multipolar world ... is now taking shape before our eyes.”

“And it is important that those who are trying to maintain their monopoly on decision-making in the world on all issues ... do everything in their power to ensure that this process goes naturally,” he said.

Both Russia and China have frequently spoken of the “emerging multipolar world” in response to what they view as US hegemony.

Joseph Torigian, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, said the message being sent by China and Russia was clear: “At this moment, they’re reminding the West that they can be defiant when they want to.”

Russia has become isolated globally following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. China has a tense relationship with the US, which has labeled it a competitor, and faces pressure for continuing to supply key components to Russia needed for weapons production.

Putin began the day by laying flowers at a Harbin monument to fallen Soviet soldiers who had fought for China against the Japanese during the second Sino-Japanese war, when Japan occupied parts of China.

At the trade exhibition in Harbin, Putin emphasized the importance of Russia-China cooperation in jointly developing new technologies.

“Relying on traditions of friendship and cooperation, we can look into the future with confidence,” he said. “The Russian-Chinese partnership helps our countries’ economic growth, ensures energy security, helps develop production and create new jobs.”

A joint statement issued Thursday described their world view and expounded on criticism of US military alliances in Asia and the Pacific. The meeting was yet another affirmation of the friendly “no-limits” relationship China and Russia signed in 2022, just before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Talks of ending the fighting featured frequently in Thursday's remarks, although Russia has just opened a new front by launching attacks in Ukraine's northeastern border area. The war is at a critical point for Ukraine, which had faced delays in getting weapons from the US.

China offered a broad plan for peace last year that was rejected by both Ukraine and the West for failing to call for Russia to leave occupied parts of Ukraine.

Since the invasion and subsequent Western sanctions on Moscow, Russia has increasingly depended on China. Trade between the two countries increased to $240 billion last year.

European leaders have pressed China to influence Russia to end its invasion, to little avail. Experts say the Moscow-Beijing relationship offers strategic benefits, particularly when both have tensions with Europe and the US.

“Even if China compromises on a range of issues, including cutting back support on Russia, it’s unlikely that the US or the West will drastically change their attitude to China as a competitor,” said Hoo Tiang Boon, who researches Chinese foreign policy at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. “They see very little incentive for compromise.”

Xi and Putin have a longstanding agreement to visit each other’s countries once a year, and Xi was welcomed at the Kremlin last year.