Chinese leader Xi Jinping met on Thursday with Saudi Arabia’s king and crown prince while on a visit to the kingdom, solidifying ties with a region crucial to his country’s energy supplies as sanctions intensify on Russia over its war on Ukraine. Xi arrived at Al Yamama Palace in Riyadh and was greeted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman’s assertive son who stands ready to rule the oil-rich kingdom in the decades to come. Xi shook hands with the prince as an honor guard on horseback carried Saudi and Chinese flags. It wasn’t immediately clear what Xi focused on in his discussions, though he wrote in a newspaper column published by Al Riyadh newspaper that “exchanges between China and Arab states date back more than 2,000 years.” The column also quoted a saying by Islam’s Prophet Muhammad: “Seek knowledge even if you have to go as far as China.” “The Arab people value independence, oppose external interference, stand up to power politics and high-handedness, and always seek to make progress,” Xi’s column read. He also noted that the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, serve as “an energy tank for world economy.” China, the world’s largest crude oil importer, relies heavily on Saudi oil, paying tens of billions of dollars annually to the kingdom. Read: China security forces are well-prepared for quashing dissent Saudi state media released silent video of Xi and Prince Mohammed meeting at the palace, with a large picture of King Salman hanging in the background. Another video showed Xi later talking with the 86-year-old monarch and signing documents alongside him. Many of the Saudi officials wore facemasks in that meeting. Saudi officials later said deals had been signed between the nations, including some involving Chinese technology company Huawei on cloud-computing, data centers and other high-tech ventures. The U.S. has already has warned its Gulf Arab allies about working with Huawei over spying concerns. Xi and King Salman also agreed to holding meetings between the two countries’ leaders every two years, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The agency later reported that Xi met with Sudanese military leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan after a deal Monday to establish a civilian-led transitional government following the military takeover there last year. However, no timeline has been set and the deal sparked renewed protests Thursday in the country. Xi separately met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as well in Riyadh. Gulf Arab states are trying to recalibrate their foreign policy as the United States turns its attention elsewhere in the world. Read: China’s protests are small but significant Russia’s war on Ukraine — and the West’s hardening stance on Moscow — has also left the Arab countries wanting to cement ties with China. For Prince Mohammed, hosting Xi boosts his own international profile after being linked to the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Beyond China’s oil purchases, its construction expertise could be tapped as well for Prince Mohammed’s planned $500 billion futuristic city of Neom on the Red Sea. Chinese construction firms have worked elsewhere in Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, particularly in Dubai in the UAE. Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest sites in Islam, also has provided political cover to China over its harsh policies toward Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. More than a million have been sent to detention centers, forced to denounce Islam and swear fealty to Xi and the party. The trip to Saudi Arabia marks a further move by Xi to restore his global profile after spending most of the pandemic inside China. The visit is his third overseas trip since early 2020. It also comes as Xi, who was granted a third five-year term as leader in October, has faced street protests over his zero-COVID-19 policies that represent the most-significant challenge to his rule. During the visit, Xi is expect to attend the inaugural China-Arab States Summit and a meeting of the GCC.
A rash of COVID-19 cases in schools and businesses were reported by social media users Friday in areas across China after the ruling Communist Party loosened anti-virus rules as it tries to reverse a deepening economic slump. Official data showed a fall in new cases, but those no longer cover big parts of the population after the government on Wednesday ended mandatory testing for many people. That was part of dramatic changes aimed at gradually emerging from “zero-COVID” restrictions that have confined millions of people to their homes and sparked protests and demands for President Xi Jinping to resign. Social media users in Beijing and other cities said coworkers or classmates were ill and some businesses closed due to lack of staff. It wasn’t clear from those accounts, many of which couldn’t be independently confirmed, how far above the official figure the total case numbers might be. “I’m really speechless. Half of the company’s people are out sick, but they still won’t let us all stay home,” said a post signed Tunnel Mouth on the popular Sina Weibo platform. The user gave no name and didn’t respond to questions sent through the account, which said the user was in Beijing. The reports echo the experience of the United States, Europe and other economies that have struggled with outbreaks while trying to restore business activity. But they are a jarring change for China, where “zero COVID,” which aims to isolate every case, disrupted daily life and depressed economic activity but kept infection rates low. Xi’s government began to loosen controls Nov. 11 after promising to reduce their cost and disruption. Imports tumbled 10.9% from a year ago in November in a sign of weak demand. Auto sales fell 26.5% in October. “Relaxing Covid controls will lead to greater outbreaks,” said Neil Thomas and Laura Gloudeman of Eurasia Group in a report, “but Beijing is unlikely to return to the extended blanket lockdowns that crashed the economy earlier this year.” Read: China eases controls, gives no sign when ‘zero COVID’ ends The changes suggest the ruling party is easing off its goal of preventing virus transmission, the basis of “zero COVID,” but officials say that strategy still is in effect. Restrictions probably must stay in place at least through mid-2023, public health experts and economists say. They say millions of elderly people need to be vaccinated, which will take months, and hospitals strengthened to cope with a surge in cases. Officials announced a vaccination campaign last week. On Friday, the government reported 16,797 new cases, including 13,160 without symptoms. That was down about one-fifth from the previous day and less than half of last week’s daily peak above 40,000. More changes announced Wednesday allow people with mild COVID-19 cases to isolate at home instead of going to a quarantine center that some complained were crowded and unsanitary. That addressed a major irritant for the public. A requirement for subway riders, supermarket shoppers and others to show negative virus tests also was dropped, though they still are needed for schools and hospitals. A post signed Where Dreams Begin Under Starlight by a user in Dazhou, a southwestern city in Sichuan province, said all but five students in a public school class of 46 were infected. “It’s really amazing that the school insists students go to school,” the user wrote. The user didn’t respond to a question sent through the account. The requirement for hundreds of millions of people to be tested as often as once a day in some areas over the past two years helped the government spot infections with no symptoms. Ending that approach reduces the cost of monitoring employees and customers at offices, shops and other businesses. But it increases the risk they might spread the virus. This week’s changes follow protests that erupted Nov. 25 in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities against the human cost of “zero COVID.” It isn’t clear whether any of the changes were a response to protests, which died out following a security crackdown. The ruling party’s Politburo on Wednesday declared stabilizing weak economic growth its priority, though leaders have said local officials still are expected to protect the public. “The re-pivot to growth and the exit from zero-Covid are clear from the top level,” said Larry Hu and Yuxiao Zhang of Macquarie Group, an Australian bank, in a report. However, they warned, “uncertainties remain high,” including “how disruptive the exit of zero-Covid could be.” Party leaders stopped talking about the official 5.5% annual growth target after the economy shrank by 2.6% from the previous quarter in the three months ending in June. That was after Shanghai and other industrial centers shut down for up to two months to fight outbreaks. Private sector economists have cut forecasts of annual growth to as low as below 3%, which would be less than half of last year’s 8.1% and among the weakest in decades. Social media posts suggested some cities might have outbreaks that weren’t reflected in official figures. Read: China reports 2 new COVID deaths as some restrictions eased Posts dated Thursday by 18 people who said they were in Baoding, a city of 11 million southwest of Beijing, reported they tested positive using home kits or had fevers, sore throats and headaches. Meanwhile, the Baoding city government reported no new cases since Tuesday. Drugstores were mobbed by customers who bought medications to treat sore throats and headaches after rules were dropped that required pharmacists to report those purchases, prompting fears a customer might be forced into a quarantine center. Also Friday, the market regulator announced prices of some medicines including Lianhua Qingwen, a traditional flu treatment, rose as much as 500% over the past month. It said sellers might be punished for price-gouging. Lines formed outside hospitals, though it wasn’t clear how many people wanted treatment for COVID-19 symptoms. People waited four to five hours to get into the fever clinic of Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing, according to a woman who answered the phone there and would give only her surname, Sun. She said no virus test was required but patients had to show a smartphone “health code” app that tracks their vaccine status and whether they have been to areas deemed at high risk of infection. Hong Kong, which enforces its own anti-virus strategy, has faced a similar rise in cases as the southern Chinese city tries to revive its struggling economy by loosening controls on travel and the opening hours of restaurants and pubs. Hong Kong reported 75,000 new cases over the past week, up about 25% from the previous week. But those don’t include an unknown number of people who stay at home with COVID-19 symptoms and never report to the government.
Twenty-seven people were lashed in public on Thursday in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan as punishment for alleged adultery, theft, drug offenses and other crimes, according to a court official. Afghanistan’s new authorities have implemented hard-line policies since they took over the country in August 2021 that have underlined their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. The country’s Supreme Court issued the final rulings after appeals. In a statement, the court said the lashings took place in the northern province of Parwan, with 18 men and nine women punished in all. Abdul Rahim Rashid, an official with the court, said the men and women were each lashed between 25 to 39 times. An unspecified number of those punished also received two-year prison terms in Charakar, the provincial capital, he added. The lashings were carried out before a “public gathering of locals and officials,” Rashid added. Read: Rights group: Taliban unlawfully killed 13 ethnic Hazaras Provincial officials and local residents attended the public punishments, during which officials spoke about the importance of Sharia law, added the court statement. Thursday’s lashings come a day after the Taliban authorities executed an Afghan convicted of killing another man, the first public execution since the former insurgents returned to power last year. The execution, carried out with an assault rifle by the victim’s father, took place in western Farah province before hundreds of spectators and many top Taliban officials, according to Zabihullah Mujahid, the top government spokesman. Some officials came from the capital Kabul. The execution was met with international criticism. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “the death penalty cannot be reconciled with full respect for the right to life,” spokeswoman Stephanie Tremblay said. In comments late Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. condemned the public execution. Price said the Taliban’s future relationship with Washington depended “largely on their actions when it comes to human rights.” No foreign state has officially recognized the Taliban government that took over as U.S. and NATO troops withdrew last year. The Taliban formerly ruled Afghanistan before the U.S. invasion of 2001. On Thursday, spokesman Mujahid rejected international criticisms of the Taliban government. “Unfortunately, a number of countries and institutions still do not have a proper knowledge and understanding of Afghanistan,” he said. Read: Now silent under Taliban, a Kabul cinema awaits its fate Mujahid pointed out that capital punishment was practiced in many other countries including the United States. A separate court statement said that earlier this week, three men convicted of theft were lashed in public in the eastern province of Paktika. During the previous Taliban rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the group carried out public executions, floggings and stonings. After they overran Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban initially promised to allow for women’s and minority rights. Instead, they have restricted rights and freedoms, including imposing a ban on girl’s education beyond the sixth grade. The former insurgents have struggled in their transition from warfare to governing amid an economic downturn and the international community’s withdrawal of aid.
Russian forces have installed multiple rocket launchers at Ukraine's shut-down Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukrainian officials claimed Thursday, raising fears Europe's largest atomic power station could be used as a base to fire on Ukrainian territory and heightening radiation dangers. Ukraine's nuclear company Energoatom said in a statement that Russian forces occupying the plant have placed several Grad multiple rocket launchers near one of its six nuclear reactors. It said the offensive systems are located at new “protective structures” the Russians secretly built, "violating all conditions for nuclear and radiation safety.” The claim could not be independently verified. The Soviet-built multiple rocket launchers are capable of firing rockets at ranges of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles), and Energoatom said they could enable Russian forces to hit the opposite bank of the Dnieper River, where each side blames the other for almost daily shelling in the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets. The plant is in a southern Ukrainian region the Kremlin has illegally annexed. The Zaporizhzhia station has been under Russian control since the war’s early days. Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling the plant and risking a radiation release. Although the risk of a nuclear meltdown is greatly reduced because all six reactors have been shut down, experts have said a dangerous radiation release is still possible. The reactors were shut down because the fighting kept knocking out external power supplies needed to run the reactors' cooling systems and other safety systems. Read more: Ukraine leader defiant as drone strikes hit Russia again The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has stationed inspectors at the plant and has been trying to persuade both sides in the conflict to agree to a demilitarized zone around it. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the reported Grad installation. Ukraine has accused the Russians before of having heavy weapons at the plant. The Kremlin has said it needs to maintain control of the plant to defend it from alleged Ukrainian attacks. With renewed focus on the dangers at Zaporizhzhia in the war, dragging on past nine months, the Kremlin is sending new signals about how to end it. It said Thursday it’s up to Ukraine’s president to end the military conflict, suggesting terms that Kyiv has repeatedly rejected, while Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to press on with the fighting despite Western criticism. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "(Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy knows when it may end. It may end tomorrow if he wishes so.” The Ukraine war has deteriorated relations between Russia and much of the rest of the world, but limited cooperation continues in some areas, such as exchanges of prisoners. On Thursday, in a dramatic swap that had been in the making for months, Russia freed American basketball star Brittney Griner while the United States released a jailed Russian arms dealer. The Kremlin has long said that Ukraine must accept Russian conditions to end the fighting. It has demanded that Kyiv recognize Crimea — a Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow illegally annexed in 2014 — as part of Russia and also accept Moscow’s other land gains in Ukraine. Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have repeatedly rejected those conditions, saying the war will end when the occupied territories are retaken or Russian forces leave them. In an acknowledgement that it’s taking longer than he expected to achieve his goals in the conflict, Putin said Wednesday that the fighting in Ukraine “could be a lengthy process” while describing Moscow's land gains as “a significant result for Russia." During a conference call with reporters, Peskov said Moscow wasn’t aiming to grab new land but will try to regain control of areas in Ukraine from which it withdrew just weeks after incorporating them into Russia in hastily called referendums — which Ukraine and the West reject as illegal shams. After earlier retreats from the Kyiv and Kharkiv areas, Russian troops last month left the city of Kherson and parts of the Kherson region, one of the four illegally annexed Ukrainian regions. Read more: Russian airfield hit, a day after drone strikes on bases Putin vowed Thursday to achieve the declared goals in Ukraine regardless of the Western reaction. “All we have to do is make a move and there is a lot of noise, chatter and outcry all across the universe. It will not stop us fulfilling combat tasks,” Putin said. He described Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy facilities and other key infrastructure as a legitimate response to an Oct. 8 truck bombing of a key bridge linking Crimea with Russia’s mainland, and other attacks the Kremlin claimed Ukraine carried out. Putin also cited Ukraine’s move to halt water supplies to the areas in eastern Ukraine that Russia controlled. “There is a lot of noise now about our strikes on the energy infrastructure,” Putin said at a meeting with soldiers whom he decorated with the country’s top medals. “Yes, we are doing it. But who started it? Who struck the Crimean bridge? Who blew up power lines from the Kursk nuclear power station? Who is not supplying water to Donetsk?” While stopping short of publicly claiming credit for the attacks, Ukrainian officials welcome their results and hint at Ukrainian involvement. Heavy fighting continues, mostly in regions Russia annexed. Zelenskyy's office said 11 civilians were killed in Ukraine Wednesday. The Donetsk region has been the epicenter of the recent fighting. Russian artillery struck the town of Yampil during distribution of humanitarian aid to civilians, Ukrainian officials said. Buildings were damaged in Kurakhove, 35 kilometers (22 miles) west of the regional capital, Donetsk, officials said. More than ten cities and villages in the region were shelled, including the town of Bakhmut, which has remained in Ukrainian hands despite Moscow’s goal of capturing the entire annexed Donbas region bordering Russia.
Sri Lanka's Parliament approved a budget Thursday that includes reforms aimed at improving the country's finances as it attempts to recover from its worst economic crisis. The 5.82 trillion rupee ($15 billion) budget includes a 43 billion rupee ($117 million) relief package for those affected by the crisis. The budget provides for a restructuring of state-owned enterprises, reduced subsidies for electricity, and tax increases to boost state revenue based on proposals by the International Monetary Fund under a preliminary $2.9 billion bailout plan. Read more: Bangladesh Bank asks banks to stop ACU transactions with Sri Lanka Unsustainable government debt, a severe balance of payments crisis and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a shortage of essentials such as fuel, medicine and food, and soaring prices have caused severe hardships for most Sri Lankans. Many have lost their jobs because businesses have become unsustainable. The government announced in April that it was suspending repayment of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due this year. It has since entered a preliminary agreement with the IMF, which has agreed to provide $2.9 billion over four years depending on the willingness of Sri Lanka's creditors to restructure their loans. Sri Lanka's total foreign debt exceeds $51 billion, of which $28 billion has to be repaid by 2027. The economic meltdown triggered a political crisis in which thousands of protesters stormed the official residence of the president in July, forcing then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and later resign. Read more: IMF agrees to provide crisis-hit Sri Lanka $2.9 billion President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa, has somewhat reduced the shortages of fuel and cooking gas, but power outages continue, along with shortages of imported medicines.
Iran said Thursday it executed a prisoner convicted for a crime allegedly committed during the country's ongoing nationwide protests, the first such death penalty carried out by Tehran. The execution of Mohsen Shekari comes as other detainees also face the possibility of the death penalty for their involvement in the protests, which began in mid-September, first as an outcry against Iran's morality police. The protests have expanded into one of the most serious challenges to Iran's theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Activists warn that others could also be put to death in the near future, saying that at least a dozen people so far have received death sentences over their involvement in the demonstrations. The execution “must be met with strong reactions otherwise we will be facing daily executions of protesters,” wrote Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights. “This execution must have rapid practical consequences internationally.” The Mizan news agency, run by Iran's judiciary, said Shekari had been convicted in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which typically holds closed-door cases. The tribunals have been internationally criticized for not allowing those on trial to pick their own lawyers or even see the evidence against them. Read more: Iran morality police status unclear after 'closure' comment Shekari was accused of blocking a street in Tehran and attacking with a machete a member of the security forces, who required stitches for his wounds, the agency said. The Mizan report also alleged that Shekari said he had been offered money by an acquaintance to attack the security forces. Iran's government for months has been trying to allege — without offering evidence — that foreign countries have fomented the unrest. Protesters say they are angry over the collapse of the economy, heavy-handed policing and the entrenched power of the country's Islamic clergy. Mizan said Shekari had been arrested on Sept. 25, then convicted on Nov. 20 on the charge of "moharebeh," a Farsi word meaning “waging war against God.” That charge has been levied against others in the decades since 1979 and carries the death penalty. Mizan said an appeal by Shekari's lawyer against the sentence failed. After his execution, Iranian state television aired a heavily edited package showing the courtroom and parts of Shekari’s trial, presided over by Judge Abolghassem Salavati. Salavati faces U.S. sanctions for meting out harsh punishments. “Salavati alone has sentenced more than 100 political prisoners, human right activists, media workers and others seeking to exercise freedom of assembly to lengthy prison terms as well as several death sentences,” the U.S. Treasury said in sanctioning him in 2019. “Judges on these Revolutionary Courts, including Salavati, have acted as both judge and prosecutor, deprived prisoners of access to lawyers and intimidated defendants.” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock condemned Shekari’s execution in a Twitter post, saying “the Iranian regime’s contempt for humanity is limitless.” Read more: Iran executes four people accused of working for Israel’s Mossad: State news James Cleverly, the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, described himself as “outraged” and said: “The world cannot turn a blind eye to the abhorrent violence committed by the Iranian regime against its own people.” France’s Foreign Ministry said the “execution is yet another instance of the serious, unacceptable violations of fundamental rights and freedoms committed by the Iranian authorities.” Iran has been rocked by protests since the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after being detained by the country's morality police. At least 475 people have been killed in the demonstrations amid a heavy-handed security crackdown, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that's been monitoring the protests since they began. Over 18,000 have been detained by authorities. Iran is one of the world's top executioners. It typically executes prisoners by hanging. Already, Amnesty International said it obtained a document signed by one senior Iranian police commander asking an execution for one prisoner be “completed ‘in the shortest possible time’ and that his death sentence be carried out in public as 'a heart-warming gesture towards the security forces.'” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Thursday reiterated the organization's strong opposition to the death penalty. “And we deplore what we see today in Iran and sadly we see in other countries,” Dujarric said. “What we would want to see is a world where there is no death penalty.”
German officials say they expect more people to be detained in connection with an alleged far-right plan to topple the government that saw 25 people rounded up Wednesday, including a self-styled prince, a retired paratrooper and a judge. The plot was allegedly hatched by people linked to the so-called Reich Citizens movement, which rejects Germany’s postwar constitution and the legitimacy of the government. Georg Meier, the top security official in Thuringia state, told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Thursday that he expects a second wave of people being detained as authorities review evidence. Meier accused the far-right Alternative for Germany party of fueling conspiracy theories like those that allegedly motivated the plotters detained across the country this week. Those held include a former Alternative for Germany lawmaker, Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, who is also a Berlin judge. The party condemned the alleged coup plans. Read: Germany commits EUR 15 million to pay poor rural people for their work to preserve ecosystems Also detained was Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, whom prosecutors consider one of the two ringleaders of the plot. The 71-year-old member of the House of Reuss continues to use the title of ‘prince’ despite Germany abolishing any formal role for royalty more than a century ago. Some in Germany have questioned whether the suspected extremists would actually have been able to pull off any serious attack. But Germany’s top security official, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, said it would be wrong to underestimate such groups, especially if their members include people who are trained to use firearms, such as soldiers or police officers. The head of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police, Holger Muench, said officers searched about 150 locations across the country. At about 50 locations they found weapons, he told public broadcaster ZDF late Wednesday, without elaborating. Read: Germany postpones decision on mandatory speed limits Muench said he expected the raids and detentions to continue in the coming days. Thomas Haldenwang, who heads Germany’s domestic intelligence agency BfV, said authorities had been monitoring the group since the spring of this year. The threat posed by the group had gradually become more concrete as members had obtained weapons, he said. Germany is highly sensitive to far-right extremism because of its Nazi past and repeated acts of violence carried out by neo-Nazis in recent years, including the killing of a regional politician and the deadly attack on a synagogue in 2019. Two years ago, far-right extremists taking part in a protest against the country’s pandemic restrictions tried and failed to storm the Bundestag building in Berlin.
Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) have agreed to develop the first draft of a legally binding agreement designed to protect the world from future pandemics. This “zero draft” of the pandemic accord, rooted in the WHO Constitution, will be discussed by Member States in February 2023. Agreement by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), comprised of WHO’s 194 Member States, was a milestone in the global process to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent a repeat of the devastating impacts it has had on individuals and communities worldwide. The INB gathered at WHO headquarters in Geneva from 5-7 December for its third meeting since its establishment in December 2021, following a special session of the World Health Assembly. The Body today agreed that the INB’s Bureau will develop the zero draft of the pandemic accord in order to start negotiations at the fourth INB meeting, scheduled to start on 27 February 2023. This draft will be based on the conceptual zero draft and the discussions during this week’s INB meeting. The INB Bureau is comprised of six delegates, one from each of the six WHO regions, including the Co-Chairs Mr Roland Driece of the Netherlands and Ms Precious Matsoso of South Africa. Read more: Declare COVID-19 vaccines a global common good: Global leaders “Countries have delivered a clear message that the world must be better prepared, coordinated and supported to protect all people, everywhere, from a repeat of COVID-19,” said Driece, Co-Chair of the INB Bureau. “The decision to task us with the duty to develop a zero draft of a pandemic accord represents a major milestone in the path towards making the world safer.” Fellow INB Bureau Co-Chair, Matsoso, said government representatives stressed that any future pandemic accord would need to take into account equity, strengthen preparedness, ensure solidarity, promote a whole-of-society and whole- of-government approach, and respect the sovereignty of countries. “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human lives, economies and societies at large must never be forgotten,” said Matsoso. “The best chance we have, today, as a global community, to prevent a repeat of the past is to come together, in the spirit of solidarity, in a commitment to equity, and in the pursuit of health for all, and develop a global accord that safeguards societies from future pandemic threats.” Read more: WHO DG announces Global Health Leaders Awards The WHO pandemic accord is being considered with a view to its adoption under Article 19 of the WHO Constitution, without prejudice to also considering, as work progresses, the suitability of Article 21.
Australia’s government on Thursday said it was seeking assurances from Indonesia that the man convicted of making the bombs used in the 2002 Bali terrorist attacks would continue to be monitored after his release from prison. Islamic militant Hisyam bin Alizein, also known as Umar Patek, was paroled Wednesday after serving about half of his original 20-year sentence, despite strong objections from Australia. The attacks killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said it was a difficult day for those who lost loved ones in the bombings. Also read: Indian police detain man accused of killing Australian woman because ‘her dog barked at him’ He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that his government had advocated against Patek’s early release and would urge the Indonesian government to ensure he was under constant surveillance while on parole. Indonesian authorities have said Patek, 55, was successfully reformed in prison and they will use him to influence other militants to turn away from terrorism. Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said it was a horrible day for the victims and their families. “This is a person who was in the Indonesian justice system. My personal view is his actions are inexcusable and completely abhorrent,” O’Neil said at the National Press Club in Canberra. ”We don’t control the Indonesian justice system, and that is the way of the world.” Bombing survivor Peter Hughes, who gave evidence at Patek’s trial, said he and other survivors were skeptical the bomber was a changed man. “There is a history of people like him, they won’t stop. For him to be let out is laughable,” Hughes told the ABC. Another survivor, Jan Laczynski, said he was shocked and appalled at Patek’s release. “I still can’t understand how this person that created so much loss of life, and not just for 88 Australians — 202 people — could be walking free this morning,” he told Channel 9. Lawmaker Chris Bowen said Patek’s release was concerning but the Australian government respected Indonesia’s legal system. “Indonesians and Australians were killed by these terrible murders, Indonesians and Australians went through this terrible ordeal together,” he told the ABC. Patek was a leading member of Jemaah Islamiah, which was blamed for the blasts at two nightclubs in Kuta Beach. He was found guilty by the West Jakarta District Court of helping build a car bomb that was detonated by another person outside the Sari Club in Kuta on the night of October 12, 2002. Moments earlier, a smaller bomb in a backpack was detonated by a suicide bomber in the nearby Paddy’s Pub nightclub.
The president of Peru was ousted by Congress and arrested on a charge of rebellion Wednesday after he sought to dissolve the legislative body and take unilateral control of the government, triggering a grave constitutional crisis. Vice President Dina Boluarte replaced Pedro Castillo and became the first female leader in the history of the republic after hours of wrangling between the legislature and the departing president, who had tried to prevent an impeachment vote. Boluarte, a 60--year-old lawyer, called for a political truce and the installation of a national unity government. “What I ask for is a space, a time to rescue the country,” she said. Lawmakers voted 101-6 with 10 abstentions to remove Castillo from office for reasons of “permanent moral incapacity.” He left the presidential palace in an automobile that carried him through Lima’s historic downtown. He entered a police station and hours later federal prosecutors announced that Castillo had been arrested on the rebellion charge for allegedly violating constitutional order. Witnesses saw some small-scale clashing between police and some protesters who had gathered near the station. “We condemn the violation of constitutional order,” federal prosecutors said in a statement. “Peru's political constitution enshrines the separation of powers and establishes that Peru is a democratic and sovereign Republic ... No authority can put itself above the Constitution and must comply with constitutional mandates.” Also read: Peru extends state of emergency due to COVID-19 amid fourth wave Fluent in Spanish and Quechua, Boluarte was elected as vice president on the presidential ticket that brought the center-left Castillo to power July 28, 2021. During Castillo’s brief administration, Boluarte was minister of development and social inclusion. Shortly before the impeachment vote, Castillo announced that he was installing a new emergency government and would rule by decree. He ordered a nightly curfew starting Wednesday night. The head of Peru's army then resigned, along with four ministers, including those over foreign affairs and the economy. The Ombudsman's Office, an autonomous government institution, said before the congressional vote that Castillo should turn himself in to judicial authorities. After years of democracy, Peru is in the midst of a constitutional collapse “that can't be called anything but a coup,” the statement said. International reaction was at times outpaced by events. United States Amb. Lisa Kenna called on Castillo via Twitter to reverse his decree to dissolve Congress, saying the U.S. government rejected any “extra-constitutional” actions by the president to interfere with Congress. A short time later the Congress voted to remove Castillo. Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said via Twitter that given recent events in Peru, Mexico had decided to postpone the Pacific Alliance summit scheduled for Dec. 14 in Lima. He said he regretted the recent developments and called for democracy and human rights to be respected. The administration of Chilean President Gabriel Boric lamented the political situation in Peru and trusted that the crisis would be resolved through democratic mechanisms. Spain's government strongly condemned the break in constitutional order and congratulated the country on righting itself democratically. Castillo had said in an unusual midnight address on state television ahead of the vote that he would never stain “the good name of my honest and exemplary parents, who like millions of Peruvians, work every day to build honestly a future for their families.” The peasant-turned-president said he’s paying for mistakes made due to inexperience. But he said a certain sector of Congress “has as its only agenda item removing me from office because they never accepted the results of an election that you, my dear Peruvians, determined with your votes.” Castillo has denied allegations of corruption against him, saying they’re based on “hearsay statements by people who, seeking to lighten their own punishments for supposed crimes by abusing my confidence, are trying to involve me without evidence.” Federal prosecutors are investigating six cases against Castillo, most of them for alleged corruption, under the theory that he had used his power to profit from public works. The power struggle in Perú’s capital has continued as the Andes and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in a half-century. Without rain, farmers can’t plant potatoes, and the dying grass can no longer sustain herds of sheep, alpacas, vicuñas and llamas. Making matters worse, avian flu has killed at least 18,000 sea birds and infected at least one poultry producer, endangering the chicken and turkeys raised for traditional holiday meals. The government also confirmed that in the past week, the country has suffered a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 4.3 million Peruvians have been infected, and 217,000 of them have died. The first president to come from a poor farming community in the nation’s history, Castillo arrived in the presidential palace last year without any political experience. He changed his cabinet five times during his year and a half in office, running through 60 different cabinet officials, leaving various government agencies paralyzed. Although Castillo is the first president to be investigated while still in office, the probes are no surprise in a country where nearly every former president in the last 40 years have been charged with corruption linked to multinational corporations, such as the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. Since 2016, Perú has been entrenched in political crises, with congresses and presidents trying to eliminate each other in turn. President Martín Vizcarra (2018-2020) dissolved Congress in 2019 and ordered new elections. That new legislature removed Vizcarra the next year. Then came President Manuel Merino, who lasted less than a week before a crackdown killed two protesters and injured 200 more. His successor, Francisco Sagasti, lasted nine months before Castillo took over. Castillo on Wednesday became the second ex-president currently in custody in the country. A former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, is serving a 25-year sentence for murder and corruption charges dating to his 1990-2000 rule.