BEIJING: China’s military recently held multi-unit joint combat readiness exercises, patrols and combat drills in the sea and airspace around Taiwan, the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement on Friday.
The exercises were organized in response to “collusion and provocations” by the United States and Taiwan, Wu Qian, spokesman for China’s ministry of defense said, according to the ministry’s official Weibo account on Friday.
Several Chinese fighter jets crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait on Friday in the northern part of the strait, a Taiwan source briefed on the matter told Reuters, adding the aircraft did not enter Taiwan’s airspace.
Senior United States senator, Republican Rick Scott, arrived in Taiwan on Thursday for a visit and met with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday.
The Florida Republican chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee and also sits on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.
“The US side’s move seriously violates the one-China principle and the provisions of the three Sino-US joint communiqués, seriously damages the political foundation of Sino-US relations, seriously undermines the relationship between the two countries and the two militaries, and escalates tensions in the Taiwan Strait region,” Wu said, in response to a reporter’s question about the senator’s visit.
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is ready for war at all times, and will take all necessary measures to resolutely thwart the interference of external forces and the secessionist attempts of ‘Taiwan independence’, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Taiwan’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the drills.
After meeting with President Tsai in Taipei on Friday Senator Scott told reporters that he believes that following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine “the world has changed.”
“We all have to put ourselves in a position that we can make sure we defend the freedom we all believe in,” he said. “I do think it would be helpful if Taiwan participated in RIMPAC and I hope that’s what happens in the future.”
The Rim of the Pacific exercise, known as RIMPAC, is billed as the world’s largest international maritime exercise, with the latest one kicking off late last month with 26 nations participating in drills around Hawaii and southern California.
“Taiwan will continue to work closely with the United States to jointly safeguard the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region,” Tsai told Scott earlier on Friday during their meeting at her office.
US-China tensions are high over a number of issues including Taiwan, the South China Sea, trade tariffs and China’s refusal to openly criticize Russian leader Putin over the war in Ukraine.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is due to meet with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Saturday at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali.
DUBAI: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said a cease-fire with Russia without reclaiming lost territories would only prolong the war, according to an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday.
He warned that a cease-fire that allows Russia to keep Ukrainian territories seized since the invasion in February would only encourage an even wider conflict, giving Moscow an opportunity to replenish and rearm for the next round.
Zelensky also spoke about US-supplied high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), saying, “the Western supplies of Himars, while making a material difference, are much lower than what Ukraine needs to turn the tide.”
“Freezing the conflict with the Russian Federation means a pause that gives the Russian Federation a break for rest,” the Wall Street Journal reported, citing comments by Zelensky.
He said, “Society believes that all the territories must be liberated first, and then we can negotiate about what to do and how we could live in the centuries ahead.”
“A more pressing need is air-defense systems that could prevent Russia from raining long-range missiles on otherwise peaceful cities hundreds of miles from the front lines,” Zelensky added.
Referring to the deal signed with Russia to reopen grain exports Zelensky said, “Diplomatic concessions to Moscow might stabilize the markets somewhat, but would only provide a temporary respite and boomerang in the future.”
Russia and Ukraine signed a landmark deal on Friday to reopen Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports, raising hopes that an international food crisis aggravated by the Russian invasion can be eased.
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL: In a region where the first Arab immigrants arrived in the 19th century and an estimated 18 million people have Middle Eastern roots, Arabic food has become an integral part of the local cuisine in several Latin American countries. A new generation of Arabs on the continent is now seeking to expand the concepts and possibilities of their culinary traditions.
In Brazil, where researchers estimate that at least 10 million people are of Syrian or Lebanese descent, kibbeh and sfiha have become so popular that many people have forgotten their Levantine origin. “Sfiha was mainly brought to Brazil by Armenians from Aleppo,” Lebanese-born chef Georges Barakat told Arab News.
When he arrived in the city of Sao Paulo in 2004, he realized that Brazilians were very interested in Arabic food. Since he opened his restaurant Shahiya in 2012, he has been reinventing Lebanese dishes, giving them contemporary attributes without making them lose their roots.
“As with any other cuisine, the Arabic one can be transformed, but always keeping its essence,” he said.
“I try to offer my clients nostalgic recipes that remind them of the food they used to eat with their grandmothers, but with a modern touch.”
Both in Shahiya, located in an upscale area of Sao Paulo, and in his work as a culinary consultant at the Mount Lebanon Club — one of the most traditional institutions of the Lebanese community in the city — Barakat offers high-level food presentation and a sumptuous atmosphere.
His experiments include grape-leaf rolls stuffed with Portuguese cod, a fusion of the traditional Lebanese dish with a popular filling in Brazil. “I want to please different tastes. Nobody will lose anything with that effort,” he said.
Brazilians have transformed sfiha into their own dish, and now make sausage and even chocolate versions. In Mexico, the historical presence of Arab immigrants has also generated a curious synthesis with the local cuisine. The most notorious example is the taco arabe, a fusion between the Arabic shawarma and the Mexican taco.
It was a creation of Assyrian-Chaldean immigrants who settled in the city of Puebla at the beginning of the 1920s.
“My grandfather and his brother realized that it wasn’t easy to find pita bread, so they began using tortillas,” Zacarias Galiana, the heir of Tacos Bagdad — the pioneering restaurant in the production of tacos arabes — told Arab News.
“They also replaced the yogurt with chipotle sauce, and the preferred meat became pork.”
Galiana, who manufactures the chipotle sauce that his grandfather created, also serves a more Arabized version of the taco, using a tortilla more similar to pita bread and traditional shawarma fillings such as yogurt and onions. “We’re totally connected, and fusion food is a natural consequence,” he said.
In Chile, where at least 600,000 Palestinians form their largest community outside the Middle East, the new generation seems to be eager to innovate.
Jad Alarja, a 33-year-old Palestinian-born chef in the capital Santiago, is a culinary instructor at the online platform Ochomil.cl, and has been teaching viewers how to make traditional Arabic dishes. He is not afraid of experimenting with new flavors and textures.
“The new generations are willing to have new food experiences, but we Arabs tend to be stuck with the same old ways of doing things,” he told Arab News. Alarja’s classes have been shared on social media by Chile’s Palestinian community. At times, he receives negative feedback.
“Once I taught how I prepare tabbouleh and a person said, ‘I come from a family with five generations of cooks, and that isn’t how tabbouleh should be done’,” he said.
“Why do people prefer to compete over who makes things more traditionally instead of creating new things?”
Alarja said during the COVID-19 pandemic, many Arab Chileans began cooking and selling food, something that may contribute to expanding the reach of Arabic cuisine in the country.
The expansion of Arabic food in Latin America is also a result of the influx of Syrian refugees, who have been coming to the region for the last 10 years due to humanitarian visas distributed by countries such as Brazil and Argentina.
Some of them opened restaurants and have been serving the food they used to prepare in Syria, which can at times surprise Latin Americans used to a specific Arabic cuisine.
Haneen Nasser, a 30-year-old Syrian who came to Argentina six years ago, married a Lebanese Argentinian and settled in Santa Rosa, a small city in La Pampa province.
There, they began cooking in 2018 and soon caused some surprise among their clients. “The city doesn’t have a large Lebanese community like Buenos Aires and Cordoba, but people have their established ideas about Arabic food. At times we impact them,” she told Arab News.
That was the case with the mint and cheese sfiha, a traditional dish in her hometown Latakia but until then unknown in Argentina.
“Even my Lebanese mother-in-law didn’t know it. Now it’s a success, especially among vegetarians and kids,” Nasser said.
A graduate in English studies, she never cooked professionally in Syria but fell in love with the idea in Argentina. At time, she asks for help from her mother and aunt in Syria with some recipes.
“We’re now starting a small restaurant with the idea of not only serving food, but also presenting our culture to the people,” Nasser said. “It’s our life project for the future.”
Barakat said: “Many Arab chefs go to Europe for training and end up becoming chefs of foreign food. I’m the opposite: I want to be an ambassador of Lebanese — and Arabic — food all over the world.”
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed on Friday a new Cabinet comprising allies of the country’s ousted leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa, despite earlier promises to form a unity government with opposition members.
Former president Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives and then Singapore last week to escape a months’-long popular uprising over the role his family played in the country’s worst economic meltdown since independence from Britain in 1948.
Wickremesinghe, a former prime minister holding the finance portfolio under Rajapaksa, won a vote in parliament to complete the ex-leader’s term and was sworn in on Thursday, amid protests which were violently dispersed by security forces on Friday night.
The violence overshadowed a Friday morning ceremony during which he appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as his successor to the premiership.
Wickremesinghe’s former classmate at Royal College in Colombo, Gunawardena is a lawmaker from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party led by the Rajapaksa family, and is seen as the right-hand man of the ex-president’s most prominent brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was forced to resign from the premiership in May when anti-government demonstrations turned deadly.
Hours after Gunawardena’s appointment, the new 18-member Cabinet was sworn in.
“The new interim Cabinet of Ministers was sworn in before President Ranil Wickremesinghe today. The swearing-in ceremony took place at the Prime Minister’s Office on Flower Road, Colombo,” the presidential office said in a statement.
While Wickremesinghe last week urged all parties in parliament to come to a “common consensus on the establishment of an all-party interim government,” previous ministers were retained in his new Cabinet, except for former Justice Minister Ali Sabry, who was appointed as foreign minister.
Wickremesinghe retained his portfolio as finance minister.
Both the new president and his Cabinet have been rejected by protesters who since March have been taking to the streets of Colombo and across the country despite continuous announcements of a state of emergency and the deployment of troops to secure order.
“The new Cabinet has no meaning, the only change is the new foreign minister Ali Sabry who was also a former justice minister,” Namal Jayaweera, leader of the protest movement, told Arab News.
“Ranil (Wickremesinghe) spoke about the all-party government and unity government and finally ended up with the old group of ministers who are allies of the Rajapaksa family, their cronies and persons who were notorious for corruption and nepotism.”
Senaka Perera, a lawyer representing the protesters, said that they had seen Wickremesinghe from the beginning as a “henchman” of the Rajapaksa family.
“We will continue our fight to oust Ranil (Wickremesinghe), as we did to expel Gotabaya from office,” he told Arab News from a protest site at the Galle Face Green park in Colombo.
Protests have continued in the Sri Lankan capital since March and have spread across the country as people struggle with daily power cuts and shortages of basic commodities such as fuel, food and medicines.
Sri Lanka has run out of foreign currency reserves, leaving it unable to pay for imports.
In May, the island nation of 22 million people officially defaulted on its debt and is seeking a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund to put its public finances back on track.
LONDON: A former Afghan interpreter and his wife who live in Britain have been separated from their infant son for more than six months due to visa problems, The Times newspaper reported.
Sajid Naeemi, 29, told The Times that the situation was devastating for him, adding that his wife Mena was “crying every single day” after they left their son in Afghanistan because of visa delays.
The UK Ministry of Defence in January requested copies of the child’s passport and birth certificate to commence a reuniting effort, but the couple have not heard from them due to a growing backlog of cases for civil servants to work through.
“I am devastated,” Naeemi told The Times. “I feel like I am being betrayed by the MoD and the government as a whole. My wife is feeling the same. She is crying when she sees him over the phone. She tells me every single day to send her back to Afghanistan.”
Ministry officials are struggling to process thousands of asylum applications since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last year.
Rules for who can move to Britain from Afghanistan have gradually relaxed in recent years, with family members being offered the opportunity to join interpreters.
But many people who worked with British troops have struggled to acquire the necessary clearances and permission to move to the UK, even as restrictions are eased.
Naeemi has been luckier than most interpreters, moving to Britain in 2016 ahead of the fall of Kabul under a government relocation scheme. He spent two years on the frontline in Helmand province, serving alongside British troops.
He moved with his last wife, who he divorced after moving to the northwest of England, and married his current wife Mena in 2019 on a visit to his home country.
Naeemi, who found work with Amazon, applied for Mena to join him in Britain, saying he spent £1,400 ($1,600) on a fast-track visa service.
The service was advertised as taking six weeks to process, but their son was born while they waited. Naeemi was told that if he restarted the application for the new family member, then it would be rejected due to his limited funds from his work.
Naeemi’s life became additionally strenuous when the Taliban took over last autumn.
Mena, 25, attempted to board a flight for Britain but was turned away due to having insufficient paperwork.
His brother, Halimjan, was shot while commuting to work, which his family believes was a revenge attack due to their support as interpreters.
Naeemi then asked the ministry to bring his wife, son, and Halimjan’s five children to Britain.
Last October, Mena was granted a short-time visa by the UK Home Office. She took it, fearing that there was a risk she would never be united with her husband in Britain if she waited for a better deal.
Naeemi this year responded to a ministry request for documentation on his son and Halimjan’s five children, who were adopted by Naeemi with their mother’s blessing.
He replied with the full official documentation but has been kept in the lurch, sending requests for an update.
He told The Times: “They haven’t sent me a single letter in all that time. Now I’m worried they are stuck thinking about the Ukraine crisis and focusing on us less and less.”
The ministry said: “We can’t comment on the details of individual cases, but we regret any delays incurred as we work through complex cases, which often include duplicate or ineligible applications. We are investing in a new casework system, which will enable swifter processing and improved communications with applicants, and we are putting more resources into processing applications.”
ISTANBUL: Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements Friday with Turkey and the United Nations clearing the way for exporting millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain — as well as Russian grain and fertilizer.
This came to end a wartime standoff that had threatened food security around the globe.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed separate deals with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. The ceremony was witnessed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea,” Guterres said. “A beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”
“You have overcome obstacles and put aside differences to pave the way for an initiative that will serve the common interests of all,” he said, addressing the Russian and Ukrainian representatives.
Last week, Ukrainian and Russian military delegations reached a tentative agreement on a UN plan that would also allow Russia to export its grain and fertilizers.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, stressed earlier that Ukraine and Russia would sign separate agreements.
“Ukraine does not sign any documents with Russia,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter, adding that his country would sign an agreement with Turkey and the UN, with Russia signing a separate “mirror agreement.”
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion of the country and naval blockade of its ports have halted shipments. Some grain is being transported through Europe by rail, road and river, but the prices of vital commodities like wheat and barley have soared during the nearly five-month war.
The deal makes provisions for the safe passage of ships. It foresees the establishment of a control center in Istanbul, to be staffed by UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials, to run and coordinate the process, Turkish officials have said. Ships would undergo inspections to ensure they are not carrying weapons.
Podolyak insisted that no Russian ship would escort vessels and that there would be no Russian representative present at Ukrainian ports. Ukraine also plans an immediate military response “in case of provocations,” he said.
Guterres first raised the critical need to get Ukraine’s agricultural production and Russia’s grain and fertilizer back into world markets in late April during meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.
He proposed a package deal in early June amid fears that the war was endangering food supplies for many developing nations and could worsen hunger for up to 181 million people.
Russian and Ukrainian officials have blamed each other for the blocked grain shipments. Moscow accused Ukraine of failing to remove sea mines at the ports to allow safe shipping and insisted on its right to check incoming ships for weapons. Ukraine has argued that Russia’s port blockade and launching of missiles from the Black Sea made any shipments unviable.
Ukraine has sought international guarantees that the Kremlin wouldn’t use the safe corridors to attack the Black Sea port of Odesa. Ukrainian authorities have also accused Russia of stealing grain from eastern Ukraine and deliberately shelling Ukrainian fields to set them on fire.