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WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday backed Taiwan’s assertion that the strait dividing the island from the Chinese mainland is an international waterway, a further rebuff to Beijing’s claim to exercise sovereignty over the strategic passage.
The Taiwan Strait has been a frequent source of military tension since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the communists, who established the People’s Republic of China.
In recent years, US warships, and on occasion those from allied nations such as Britain and Canada, have sailed through the strait, drawing Beijing’s anger.
On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry said the country “has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait” and called it “a false claim when certain countries call the Taiwan Strait ‘international waters’.”
Commenting on Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in an email to Reuters: “The Taiwan Strait is an international waterway, meaning that the Taiwan Strait is an area where high seas freedoms, including freedom of navigation and overflight, are guaranteed under international law.”
Price added that the world has “an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and we consider this central to the security and prosperity of the broader Indo-Pacific region.”
He reiterated US concerns about China’s “aggressive rhetoric and coercive activity regarding Taiwan” and said the United States “would continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and that includes transiting through the Taiwan Strait.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou called China’s position a “fallacy.”
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control and views the island as an inherent part of Chinese territory.
Taiwan says China has no right to speak for it or claim sovereignty, saying only Taiwan’s people can decide their own future and that the People’s Republic of China has never controlled any part of the island.
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s main opposition party called on Saturday for a Parliament session to address attacks against peaceful protesters by security forces a day earlier, as the new government under President Ranil Wickremesinghe faces widespread condemnation over the use of violence.
Protesters have consistently rejected Wickremesinghe, a former prime minister who was sworn in on Thursday after winning a vote in Parliament. Protests have continued despite announcements of a state of emergency and the deployment of troops to secure order.
Hundreds of armed officers violently dispersed peaceful protesters at the main anti-government camp outside the president’s office in Colombo on Friday, just hours before new premier Dinesh Gunawardena and an 18-member Cabinet were sworn in.
More than 50 people were injured during the raids, including journalists and lawyers, according to reports, with at least nine people having been arrested and later released on bail.
The main opposition party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya, has requested Gunawardena to summon Parliament on Monday to discuss the attacks, which it described as “a blow to democracy.”
SJB lawmaker and chief opposition whip Lakshman Kiriella said in a statement on Saturday: “The unwarranted attack was vehemently condemned by the international community and it can further damage the country’s image.
“The economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka at the moment will exacerbate owing to yesterday’s incident.”
Sri Lankans have taken to the streets for months to demand their top leaders step down and take responsibility for the country’s economic meltdown, as the island nation of 22 million people struggles with shortages of essentials, including fuel, medicine and food.
The demonstrations led to former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, after he fled to the Maldives and then Singapore last week to escape the popular uprising over the role his family played in the crisis. Wickremesinghe, as a perceived Rajapaksa surrogate, has also drawn protesters’ ire.
Various rights groups and foreign diplomats have expressed concerns over the use of force against protesters, who have held their campaigns since March and announced that they would voluntarily vacate the site on Friday.
US Ambassador Julie Chung said that she had expressed concerns over “the unnecessary and deeply troubling escalation of violence against protesters” during a meeting with the new president on Friday evening.
“This is not the time to crack down on citizens, but instead to look ahead at the immediate and tangible steps the government can take to regain the trust of the people, restore stability and rebuild the economy,” Chung said in a tweet.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that Friday’s attacks “send a dangerous message to the Sri Lankan people that the new government intends to act through brute force rather than the rule of law.”
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka also condemned the violence and called for an immediate halt to the use of force by troops.
“The use of the Armed Forces to suppress civilian protests on the very first day in office of the new President is despicable and will have serious consequences on our country’s social, economic and political stability,” BASL president Saliya Pieris said in a statement.
Kyle Ward, Amnesty International’s deputy secretary general, said that the right to protest must be respected.
“It is shameful that the new government resorted to such violent tactics within hours of coming to power.”
ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party on Saturday launched a Supreme Court challenge to a key vote in Punjab province, which it lost a day earlier due to a controversial ruling by the local assembly’s deputy speaker.

The vote was held to determine whether the province’s Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz, the son of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, had the backing of the majority of MPs in the country’s most populous province.

Shehbaz retained the post in a blow to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and its allies, which last week won 15 out of 20 seats that were up for grabs in the election for the 371-member provincial assembly.

Khan’s candidate for chief minister, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, won 186 votes, but the assembly’s deputy speaker, Dost Mohammad Mazari, invalidated 10 of them, citing voting rules violations.

Elahi challenged Mazari’s ruling in the Supreme Court on Saturday, but after an hours-long hearing the apex court decided Shehbaz would remain in office as the trustee chief minister until Monday to prevent a vacuum of power.

“Hamza Shehbaz will work in accordance with the law and the constitution until then,” the court said, as it summoned the deputy speaker to explain his position on the ruling during the next hearing.

Khan called on supporters to rally against the Punjab assembly deputy speaker, and protesters on Friday began taking to the streets in major cities across Pakistan. The demonstrations remained peaceful.

The former PM was removed from office in a vote of no-confidence on April 10 after he lost a majority in parliament.

He has since held several anti-government demonstrations across the country, saying his ouster was part of a Washington-backed “foreign conspiracy.” The US has repeatedly denied the allegations.

The former premier has refused to recognize the new government of Sharif and has repeatedly called for early parliamentary elections.

Sharif’s administration has rejected the challenge, saying the next polls will be held on time in 2023.
LONDON: The World Health Organization (WHO) said the expanding monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is an “extraordinary” situation that now qualifies as a global emergency.
Saturday’s declaration could spur further investment in treating the once-rare disease and worsen the scramble for scarce vaccines.
Although monkeypox has been established in parts of central and West Africa for decades, it was not known to spark large outbreaks beyond the continent or to spread widely among people until May, when authorities detected dozens of epidemics in Europe, North America and elsewhere.
Declaring a global emergency means the monkeypox outbreak is an “extraordinary event” that could spill over into more countries and requires a coordinated global response. WHO previously declared emergencies for public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak, the Zika virus in Latin America in 2016 and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio.
The emergency declaration mostly serves as a plea to draw more global resources and attention to an outbreak. Past announcements had mixed impact, given that the UN health agency is largely powerless in getting countries to act.
Last month, WHO’s expert committee said the worldwide monkeypox outbreak did not yet amount to an international emergency, but the panel convened this week to reevaluate the situation.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 74 countries since about May. To date, monkeypox deaths have only been reported in Africa, where a more dangerous version of the virus is spreading, mainly in Nigeria and Congo.
In Africa, monkeypox mainly spreads to people from infected wild animals like rodents, in limited outbreaks that typically have not crossed borders. In Europe, North America and elsewhere, however, monkeypox is spreading among people with no links to animals or recent travel to Africa.
WHO’s top monkeypox expert, Dr. Rosamund Lewis, said this week that 99 percent of all the monkeypox cases beyond Africa were in men and that of those, 98 percent involved men who have sex with men. Experts suspect the monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America were spread via sex at two raves in Belgium and Spain.
Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, said it was surprising WHO hadn’t already declared monkeypox a global emergency, explaining that the conditions were arguably met weeks ago.
Some experts have questioned whether such a declaration would help, arguing the disease isn’t severe enough to warrant the attention and that rich countries battling monkeypox already have the funds to do so; most people recover without needing medical attention, although the lesions may be painful.
“I think it would be better to be proactive and overreact to the problem instead of waiting to react when it’s too late,” Head said. He added that WHO’s emergency declaration could help donors like the World Bank make funds available to stop the outbreaks both in the West and in Africa, where animals are the likely natural reservoir of monkeypox.
In the US, some experts have speculated whether monkeypox might be on the verge of becoming an entrenched sexually transmitted disease in the country, like gonorrhea, herpes and HIV.
“The bottom line is we’ve seen a shift in the epidemiology of monkeypox where there’s now widespread, unexpected transmission,” said Dr. Albert Ko, a professor of public health and epidemiology at Yale University. “There are some genetic mutations in the virus that suggest why that may be happening, but we do need a globally-coordinated response to get it under control,” he said.
Ko called for testing to be immediately scaled up rapidly, saying that similar to the early days of COVID-19, that there were significant gaps in surveillance.
“The cases we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The window has probably closed for us to quickly stop the outbreaks in Europe and the US, but it’s not too late to stop monkeypox from causing huge damage to poorer countries without the resources to handle it.”
In the US, some experts have speculated that monkeypox might become entrenched there as the newest sexually transmitted disease, with officials estimating that 1.5 million men are at high risk of being infected.
Dr. Placide Mbala, a virologist who directs the global health department at Congo’s Institute of National Biomedical Research, said he hoped any global efforts to stop monkeypox would be equitable. Although countries including Britain, Canada, Germany and the US have ordered millions of vaccine doses, none have gone to Africa.
“The solution needs to be global,” Mbala said, adding that any vaccines sent to Africa would be used to target those at highest risk, like hunters in rural areas.
“Vaccination in the West might help stop the outbreak there, but there will still be cases in Africa,” he said. “Unless the problem is solved here, the risk to the rest of the world will remain.”
DAKAR: Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Mali claimed responsibility on Saturday for an attack on the country’s main military base, which it said was a response to governmental collaboration with Russian mercenaries.
Friday’s raid on the Kati base 15 km (10 miles) outside the capital Bamako killed at least one soldier and represented the first time in Mali’s decade-long insurgency that Islamist militants have hit a military camp so close to Bamako.
The raid, carried out using two car bombs, also wounded six people, while seven assailants were killed and eight arrested, Mali’s military said.
The media unit for Al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, Jama’at Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), said in a statement its Katiba Macina branch had carried out the attack, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist statements.
The Malian military had blamed Katiba Macina for the attack in a statement on Friday.
The JNIM statement said a Malian fighter had detonated a car bomb at the base’s gate and a fighter from Burkina Faso detonated another inside the base, allowing additional fighters to enter the camp.
It justified the attack by citing the presence in Mali of mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group, which began supplying hundreds of fighters last year to support the Malian military and has since been accused by human rights groups and local residents of participating in massacres of civilians.
“We say to the Bamako government: if you have the right to hire mercenaries to kill the defenseless innocent people, then we have the right to destroy you and target you,” it said.
The Russian government has acknowledged Wagner personnel are in Mali but the Malian government has described them as instructors from the Russian military rather then private security contractors. Wagner has no public representation and has not commented on the accusations of human rights violations.
In a separate statement on Saturday, JNIM also claimed responsibility for attacks in five central and southern Mali towns on Thursday, which the Malian military said had killed one soldier and wounded 15.
ATHENS: Residents were evacuated on Saturday as a wildfire which started in mountainous forests in the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos threatened properties at the beach resort of Vatera.
Thick billowing smoke fanned by strong winds could be seen in the area. One fleeing resident told state TV ERT that her home was on fire.
“We are battling to save homes,” Taxiarchis Verros, mayor of western Lesbos, told the broadcaster.
Vatera, an 8 km (five miles) long sandy beach in the southern part of Lesbos, is a popular tourist attraction.
A wildfire in mountains near Athens earlier this week damaged homes and forced hundreds of people to flee, with authorities calling this summer one of the toughest in the Mediterranean.
Last year, wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland across Greece during the country’s worst heatwave in 30 years.

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