Prepare for possible ‘war’, N’Korea’s Kim orders military amidst US alleged threat

North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un wrapped the year with fresh threats of a nuclear attack on Seoul and orders for a military arsenal build-up to prepare for a war that can “break out at any time” on the peninsula, state media reported Sunday.

Kim lambasted the United States during a lengthy speech at the end of five days of year-end party meetings that set his country’s military, political, and economic policy decisions for 2024.

The meeting announced plans for further military development in the coming year, including launching three more spy satellites, building unmanned drones and developing electronic warfare capabilities, as well as strengthening nuclear and missile forces, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Pyongyang this year successfully launched a reconnaissance satellite, enshrined its status as a nuclear power in its constitution, and test-fired the most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in its arsenal.

At the meeting that ended Saturday, Kim accused the United States of posing “various types of military threat” and ordered his armed forces to maintain “overwhelming war response capability”, according to KCNA.

It is a “fait accompli that a war can break out at any time on the Korean peninsula due to reckless moves by the enemies to invade us”, Kim said.

In an effort to deter Pyongyang, Washington earlier this month deployed a nuclear-powered submarine in the South Korean port city of Busan, and flew its long-range bombers in drills with Seoul and Tokyo.

The North has previously described the deployment of Washington’s strategic weapons — such as B-52 bombers — in joint drills on the Korean peninsula as the “intentional nuclear war provocative moves”.

“We must respond quickly to a possible nuclear crisis and continue to accelerate preparations to pacify the entire territory of South Korea by mobilising all physical means and forces, including nuclear force, in case of emergency,” Kim said.

– ‘Uncontrollable crisis situation’ –

At the meeting, Kim said he would no longer seek reconciliation and reunification with South Korea, noting the “persisting uncontrollable crisis situation” which he said was triggered by Seoul and Washington.

Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated to a low point this year, with Pyongyang’s spy satellite launch prompting Seoul to partially suspend a 2018 military agreement aimed at defusing tensions.

“I believe that it is a mistake that we should no longer make to consider the people who declare us as the ‘main enemy’… as a counterpart for reconciliation and unification,” KCNA cited Kim as saying.

Kim ordered the drawing-up of measures for reorganising departments handling cross-border affairs, to “fundamentally shift the direction”.

Leif Easley, a professor of international relations at Ewha University in Seoul, said the emphasis on North Korea’s “significant military capabilities” was likely aimed at hiding the country’s poor economic achievements this year.

“Much of what state-controlled media publishes is recycled propaganda,” he said, adding: “Pyongyang’s bellicose rhetoric suggests its military moves are not only about deterrence but also domestic politics and international coercion.”

Pyongyang declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear power last year and has repeatedly said it will never give up its nukes programme, which the regime views as essential for its survival.

The United Nations Security Council has adopted many resolutions calling on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since it first conducted a nuclear test in 2006.


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100 Airbus employees fall sick after company’s Christmas party

Earlier this month, festivities turned sour for employees of an Airbus subsidiary in France as a holiday celebration resulted in dozens of employees falling ill after a company Christmas party.

“Around 100 Airbus Atlantic employees were taken ill after contracting a food-borne illness after eating the company-organized Christmas lunch,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CNN.

No one at Airbus experienced severe illness during the incident on December 15, and by the following Monday, all employees had returned to work, as per the spokesperson.

The outbreak of illness is currently under investigation by French health authorities, as stated by the Airbus spokesperson.

Established in January 2022, Airbus Atlantic is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Airbus focused on airplane seats.

Despite having 13,000 employees across five countries, the unfortunate Christmas lunch incident happened in France.


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US Supreme Court disqualifies Donald Trump from presidency for his involvement in Jan. 6, 2021 capitol riot

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that former President Donald Trump is disqualified from holding the presidency under the Constitution’s so-called insurrection clause and ordered the secretary of state to exclude his name from the state’s Republican presidential primary ballot.

The landmark decision from the divided Colorado Supreme Court that Trump cannot hold public office under the Civil War-era provision is unprecedented, and it marks the first time a court has found him to be ineligible to return to the White House due to his conduct surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Never before has a court determined that a presidential candidate is disqualified under the clause, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

Asked about the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday, President Biden told reporters it is up to the court to determine the application of Section 3, but said there’s “no question” Trump supported an insurrection. 

The ruling does not apply outside of Colorado, and the state high court, whose justices were all appointed by Democratic governors, paused its decision until Jan. 4 — one day before the deadline for Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold to certify the candidates for the state’s March 5 primary. 

“We conclude that because President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of President under Section Three, it would be a wrongful act under the Election Code for the Secretary to list President Trump as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot,” the court’s majority wrote in an unsigned opinion. “Therefore, the Secretary may not list President Trump’s name on the 2024 presidential primary ballot, nor may she count any write-in votes cast for him.”

Lawsuits challenging Trump’s candidacy have been filed in more than 25 states ahead of the 2024 election, though the Colorado case brought on behalf of six voters marks the most immediate threat to his campaign. National polls show Trump atop the field of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, a spokesman for his campaign said, setting up a high-stakes showdown over his eligibility to run just as voters in early states begin casting their ballots in the Republican primaries. In pausing its decision, the Colorado Supreme Court said that if review to the nation’s highest court is sought before Jan. 4, its stay will remain in place, and the secretary will be required to list Trump on the 2024 primary ballot until the U.S. Supreme Court rules.

“The Colorado Supreme Court issued a completely flawed decision tonight and we will swiftly file an appeal to the United States Supreme Court and a concurrent request for a stay of this deeply undemocratic decision,” Steve Cheung, spokesman for the Trump campaign, said in a statement. “We have full confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will quickly rule in our favor and finally put an end to these unAmerican lawsuits.”

The seven-member Colorado Supreme Court divided 4-3 on the ruling, with its majority reversing the trial court’s finding as to the scope of Section 3 to conclude that it encompasses the office of the presidency and one who has taken an oath as president.

“President Trump asks us to hold that Section Three disqualifies every oathbreaking insurrectionist except the most powerful one and that it bars oath-breakers from virtually every office, both state and federal, except the highest one in the land,” the majority wrote. “Both results are inconsistent with the plain language and history of Section Three.”

Griswold, in an interview Wednesday on CBS News’ “America Decides,” said, “There shouldn’t be a loophole for the president if the president decides to engage in insurrection or rebellion.” 

“Donald Trump incited the insurrection. He tried to stop the peaceful transfer of the presidency, trying to steal the presidential election from the American people,” Griswold said. “Section 3 of the 14th Amendment has clear language. So I do believe the Colorado Supreme Court got it right. But unlike Donald Trump, I will follow whatever court decision is in place, the law, the U.S. Constitution, when it comes time to certify the election.” 

She pushed back on the argument that the decision is antidemocratic and disenfranchises voters. 

“It’s ironic because Donald Trump literally tried to steal the presidency. That is the only reason that this case moved forward, because of his actions,” she said. 

Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which brought the lawsuit in Colorado, praised the decision and said the group will work to ensure that it remains in place.

“The court’s decision today affirms what our clients alleged in this lawsuit: that Donald Trump is an insurrectionist who disqualified himself from office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment based on his role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol, and that Secretary Griswold must keep him off of Colorado’s primary ballot. It is not only historic and justified, but is necessary to protect the future of democracy in our country,” he said in a statement.

The case adds to the ongoing legal issues facing Trump and his presidential campaign, including a criminal case related to the 2020 presidential election that is set to go to trial in March if allowed to move forward.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment

The Colorado case hinged on whether Section 3 bars Trump from the nation’s highest office. The provision aims to prevent those who swore an oath to support the Constitution and engaged in insurrection from holding state or federal office.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed the lawsuit in Colorado state court on behalf of four Republican voters and two unaffiliated voters in September, arguing that Trump’s actions related to the Jan. 6 assault disqualified him under Section 3. Dozens of suits filed across the country have raised the same argument, though several have already been dismissed by state courts.

In November, a trial court in Denver found that the events on Jan. 6 satisfy the definition of insurrection, and concluded that Trump engaged in insurrection through incitement. Judge Sarah B. Wallace ultimately determined that the language of Section 3 is unclear as to whether it covered the presidency and the former president, and ordered Griswold to list Trump on the GOP presidential primary ballot.

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed to review the district court’s ruling, and held arguments in the case earlier this month. The justices weighed whether the events of Jan. 6 could be considered an “insurrection,” and, if so, one that Trump “engaged in.” They also considered whether the president is an “officer of the United States” under Section 3.

In their ruling, the four justices in the majority acknowledged that “we travel in uncharted territory, and that this case presents several issues of first impression.”

“We do not reach these conclusions lightly. We are mindful of the magnitude and weight of the questions now before us,” the majority wrote. “We are likewise mindful of our solemn duty to apply the law, without fear or favor, and without being swayed by public reaction to the decisions that the law mandates we reach.”

The justices rejected claims from Trump’s lawyers that the breach of the Capitol by his supporters on Jan. 6 was not an insurrection and instead concluded that the record in the case “amply established that the events of January 6 constituted a concerted and public use of force or threat of force by a group of people to hinder or prevent the U.S. government from taking the actions necessary to accomplish the peaceful transfer of power in this country.”

In determining that Trump engaged in insurrection, the Colorado high court said there is “substantial evidence” that the former president was “laying the groundwork for a claim that the election was rigged” before the November presidential contest.

Trump, the majority said, “continued to fan the flames of his supporters’ ire, which he had ignited” by making false claims about the integrity of the election on social media and in a speech outside the White House on Jan. 6.

“President Trump’s direct and express efforts, over several months, exhorting his supporters to march to the Capitol to prevent what he falsely characterized as an alleged fraud on the people of this country were indisputably overt and voluntary,” the justices wrote. “Moreover, the evidence amply showed that President Trump undertook all these actions to aid and further a common unlawful purpose that he himself conceived and set in motion: prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election and stop the peaceful transfer of power.”

The high court found that Trump “did not merely incite the insurrection,” but “continued to support it” by continuing to urge then-Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally toss out state Electoral College votes.

“These actions constituted overt, voluntary, and direct participation in the insurrection,” the majority wrote.

Justices Richard Gabriel, Melissa Hart, Monica Márquez and William Hood were in the majority, while Chief Justice Brian Boatright and Justices Carlos Samour and Maria Berkenkotter dissented.

In his dissent, Samour warned that because other states differ from Colorado in their election laws, Trump will likely be disqualified from the presidential primary ballot in less than all 50 states, “risking chaos in our country.”

“This can’t possibly be the outcome the framers intended,” he wrote.

Other legal challenges

Enacted in 1868, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment sought to keep former Confederate civil and military officeholders from serving in federal or state government, and was primarily invoked in the years after the Civil War. It has seldom been used in modern times, and never against a former president.

The Jan. 6 riot and allegations that Trump incited the attack, followed by his decision to seek a second term in the White House, led to lawsuits in more than half the states seeking to keep him off the ballots. 

In Michigan, a judge ruled in November in part that it is up to Congress to determine whether Trump is disqualified from holding public office. The state court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling last week, finding that the secretary of state’s role in the presidential primary is “chiefly that of an administrator,” and it’s the political parties and candidates that determine who to place on the primary ballot.

“Even if Trump were disqualified from holding the office of President of the United States by the Insurrection Clause, nothing prevents the Michigan Republican Party from identifying him as a candidate in the upcoming primary election,” a three-judge appeals court panel concluded. Michigan voters challenging Trump’s candidacy have appealed to the state supreme court.

 In Minnesota, the state’s high court dismissed a lawsuit seeking to exclude Trump from the ballot for the Republican primary because it is an “internal party election to serve internal party purposes” and doesn’t automatically qualify the winner for the general election ballot.

The Minnesota Supreme Court said voters could, however, pursue their case regarding the general election ballot after the state’s March 5 primary.

Republicans rally behind Trump

The decision from the Colorado Supreme Court prompted widespread condemnation from Republicans, including his opponents in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.

Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, said in a town hall Tuesday evening in Agency, Iowa, that “we don’t need judges making these decisions. We need voters to make these decisions. So I want to see this in the hands of the voters.”

“The last thing we want is judges telling us who can and can’t be on the ballot,” she added.

Trump’s other major challenger in the Republican primary, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, did not address the ruling during a campaign event in Ankeny, Iowa, but later tweeted that “the Left invokes ‘democracy’ to justify its use of power, even if it means abusing judicial power to remove a candidate from the ballot based on spurious legal grounds. SCOTUS should reverse.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the most vocal GOP critic of Trump in the race for the White House, said the former president has not been tried for inciting an insurrection and is entitled to due process.

“I do not believe Donald Trump should be prevented from being president of the United States by any court,” he said during an event in New Hampshire. “I think he should be prevented from being president of the United States by the voters of this country.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who remains in the primary race, predicted that the court’s finding that Trump supported an insurrection “will haunt his candidacy.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson criticized the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court, calling it “nothing but a thinly veiled partisan attack.”

“Regardless of political affiliation, every citizen registered to vote should not be denied the right to support our former president and the individual who is the leader in every poll of the Republican primary,” he said in a post to social media. “We trust the U.S. Supreme Court will set aside this reckless decision and let the American people decide the next President of the United States.”


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Gaza death toll hits 20,000 as UN Security Council delays vote on aid

Palestinian sources claim that since Israel started bombing the territory more than ten weeks ago, at least 20,000 people have died in the Gaza Strip.

According to the Gaza Government Media Office, at least 8,000 children and 6,200 women were among the deceased on Wednesday.

The somber milestone was reached as the UN Security Council had to postpone a crucial vote on a proposal to increase humanitarian supplies for Gaza for a third time in order to withstand a veto from the US, which usually protects its partner Israel from UN action.

Since a seven-day truce collapsed on December 1, the war has entered a more intensive phase with ground combat previously confined to the northern half of the territory now spread across its length.

When asked about the ever-growing casualty count, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it is “clear that the conflict will move and needs to move to a lower intensity phase”.

“We expect to see and want to see a shift to more targeted [Israeli] operations with a smaller number of forces that’s really focused in on dealing with the leadership of Hamas, the tunnel network and a few other critical things,” he said. “And as that happens, I think you’ll see as well the harm done to civilians also decrease significantly.”

Air strikes continued across Gaza on Wednesday with at least 46 people killed and dozens wounded in Israeli attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, according to the enclave’s Ministry of Health.

In Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousand of people have been pushed since early December by Israel’s continued onslaught, air strikes hit a building near a hospital close to an Al Jazeera crew reporting live on air, killing at least 10 people.

“More air strikes are conducted, more victims fall due to the expansion of the Israeli military operations in the areas that are supposed to be safe zones where the majority of Gazans have been urged to flee,” Al Jazeera’s Tareq Abu Azzoum said in reporting from Rafah.

“The air strike took place in an area considered to be very densely populated, and it’s a miracle that no more than this number of people were killed,” he added.

The UN Security Council vote on a bid to boost aid to the Gaza Strip and ask the UN to monitor humanitarian aid deliveries there has been delayed at the request of the US, diplomats said.

According to the United Arab Emirates envoy to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh, the vote will take place on Thursday.

“Everyone wants to see a resolution that has impact and is implementable on the ground, and there are some discussions going on on how to make that possible,” Nusseibeh, whose country drafted the resolution, told reporters in New York.

The text aims to dilute Israel’s control over all humanitarian aid deliveries to the 2.3 million people of Gaza. The initial text has been reportedly modified to soften calls to end the fighting in Gaza to avoid yet another veto from the US.

“We want to make sure that the resolution … doesn’t do anything that could actually hurt the delivery of humanitarian assistance, make it more complicated. That’s what we’re focused on,” Blinken told reporters on Wednesday. “I hope we can get to a good place.”

Currently, Israel monitors the limited humanitarian aid and fuel deliveries to Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt and the Israel-controlled Karem Abu Salem crossing, known as Kerem Shalom in Hebrew.

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Iran executes man convicted of spying for Israel

Iran on Saturday executed a man who was sentenced to death after being convicted of working with Israel’s intelligence services, the judiciary said.

“The death sentence was carried out this morning against a spy of the Zionist regime in Zahedan prison” in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said.

It did not identify the man but said he had been convicted of “intelligence cooperation and espionage for the benefit for the hostile Zionist regime (Israel)”.

He was also found guilty of “collecting and providing classified information to the Mossad spy service with the aim of disrupting public order”, Mizan added.

It was not immediately clear when or where the man was arrested or put on trial.

Iran has previously announced the arrests of alleged agents working for foreign countries, including Israel, its regional arch-foe.

In December 2022, the Islamic republic hanged four people who had been convicted of collaborating with Israel’s intelligence services.

Iran does not recognise Israel and the two countries have engaged in a shadow war for years.

Tehran accuses Israel of carrying out a wave of sabotage attacks and assassinations targeting its nuclear programme.

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of using drones and missiles to attack US forces and Israel-linked ships in the Gulf.

According to human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Iran executes more people per year than any other nation except China.

In a November report, the Norway-based Iran Human Rights group said the Islamic republic had executed more than 600 people so far this year, marking the highest figure in eight years.

Iran generally carries out executions by hanging.


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Niger coup leaders agree to transition terms, says Togo mediator

Niger’s ruling military has agreed to terms and conditions of a transition back to civilian rule, and will present the plan to a regional bloc, the chief diplomat from mediator Togo announced Thursday.

Speaking on Niger’s national television, Togo Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said he had reached an agreement “on the content and timing of the transition” with Niger’s junta-appointed prime minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine and foreign minister Bakary Yaou Sangare.

“We are ready to present the plan… to the mediating heads of state and the ECOWAS Commission,” he said, referring to the Economic Community of West African States.

After Niger became the latest country in the Sahel to experience a coup with July’s ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum, the regional grouping imposed tough sanctions and suspended trade, while also floating the option of military intervention.

The sanctions and suspension of international finance and aid have left Niger, already one of the world’s poorest countries, economically hanging by a thread.

In October, the military leaders announced a 40-percent cut in the 2023 budget due to the “heavy sanctions imposed by international and regional organisations”.

On Sunday, ECOWAS leaders in Abuja said any easing of the punitive measures against Niger was contingent on a “short transition” period.

The bloc also decided that a committee made up of the presidents of Benin, Togo and Sierra Leone would lead negotiations with the Nigerien military leaders on the commitments to be implemented.

According to Niger’s broadcaster, Tele Sahel, mediator Dussey will return to Niamey in January with his counterpart from Sierra Leone, Timothy Kabba.

ECOWAS said on Thursday that Niger is now “suspended from all decision-making bodies” of the organisation, “until constitutional order is re-established”.

Niger’s military leaders have previously said they want up to three years for a transition back to civilian rule.

Since the coup, Niger — one of the Sahel nations battling long-running and bloody insurgencies by rebels affiliated with Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group — has rowed back security cooperation with Western partners and expelled French troops based there.


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Fighting resumes in Gaza as Israel presses ahead with renewed US military support

In the midst of fierce fighting in the now-third month-old conflict, which has no end in sight, Israeli tanks encountered opposition on Monday as they attempted to advance farther west in their struggle against Hamas in and around Khan Younis.

Israel has redirected its war effort southward as seen by the fighting in Khan Younis, the biggest city in the southern Gaza Strip with a population of about 626,000, including those displaced by Israeli bombing in the north.

In recent days, the United States has once again provided crucial support to the offensive by vetoing UN Security Council attempts to halt the battle, which received widespread international support, and by forcing through an emergency sale of more than $100 million worth of tank ammunition to Israel.×280&!5&btvi=2&fsb=1&dtd=13

U.S. President Joe Biden was commended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for providing “important ammunition for the continuation of the war” and for standing behind Israel at the Security Council.

Amid reports of a “catastrophic” health situation in Gaza from the World Health Organization, Palestinian activists called for a global strike on Monday as part of a coordinated effort to pressure Israel into a cease-fire.

“It is time – WORLD WIDE TOTAL STRIKE,” urged one call. But it was unclear whether the effort would catch on globally or have an impact on Israel’s war plans.

The 193-member United Nations General Assembly was likely to vote on Tuesday on a draft resolution demanding a ceasefire, diplomats said on Sunday.

On Friday, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council proposal demanding an immediate cease-fire for humanitarian reasons.

The U.S. vote was criticized by Arab foreign ministers on Sunday at an international conference in Doha, the capital of Qatar, which played a key role in negotiating the cease-fire late last month.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he would “not give up” appealing for a ceasefire.

“I urged the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and I reiterated my appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared,” Guterres said. “Regrettably, the Security Council failed to do it, but that does not make it less necessary.”×280&!6&btvi=4&fsb=1&dtd=309

The fighting began on Oct. 7 when Hamas staged a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages. In response, Israel has vowed to annihilate the militant Islamist group Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007.

According to Gaza health authorities, around 18,000 people have been killed by Israeli attacks, with 49,500 injured. About 100 of the Israeli hostages were freed during a week-long truce that ended on Dec. 1.

On Sunday, residents of Khan Younis said tanks had reached the city’s main north-south road. Warplanes were attacking an area to the west.

Guterres said the city could be on the verge of collapse with the possibility of epidemic diseases engulfing it.

Israel and Hamas meanwhile engaged in a war of words on Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised statement that dozens of Hamas fighters had surrendered, while Hamas rebutted the claim and said it had destroyed 180 Israeli military vehicles. It did not provide evidence, however.

Meanwhile, hospitals in Gaza were at maximum capacity with dead and injured Palestinians, according to the main Nasser hospital in Khan Younis.

While the world’s attention has been riveted on the military action in the Gaza Strip, worries of the war spreading were further fed by fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is backed by Iran.

Also on Sunday, Ayman Safadi, the foreign minister of Jordan, accused Israel of “a systematic effort to empty Gaza of its people” and pushing them to leave the territory.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy called the accusation “outrageous and false,” saying his country was defending itself “from the monsters who perpetrated the Oct. 7 massacre” and bring them to justice.


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Australia plans to slash immigrant numbers into country

Australia on Monday unveiled plans to slash the number of migrants arriving in the country.

This is said to curb a post-pandemic surge and address voter anger at the rising cost of living.

The country’s centre-left Labour government announced a raft of measures making it harder for everyone from foreign students to low-skilled workers to enter — including tougher English-language requirements and higher wage thresholds.

Roughly half a million temporary migrants entered the country in the last year, a post-pandemic boom after years of closed borders.

The government believes its reforms — along with short-term trends — will bring the number closer to 250,000 in 2024-2025.

“We are going to make sure that we bring numbers back under control,” said Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, sketching parts of a 100-page strategy seen by AFP.

Despite near-record employment rates, Australians are increasingly frustrated at soaring prices and an eye-watering real estate market.

The Grattan Institute, a think tank, is among those who have linked high levels of immigration to rising rental costs.

O’Neil stressed that immigration was essential to Australia’s prosperity, describing foreign workers as the “special sauce” that had made Australia great.

“Virtually everything that we have done as a country that’s truly mattered has involved asking the best and brightest from around the world to come and try to help us,” she said.

But nodding to growing public unease, she also vowed to “build a better-planned system around essential things like housing”.

On Sunday, her government said it would impose a dramatic increase in fees on foreigners who buy homes and leave them empty.

Rental prices in some areas of Sydney and Melbourne have risen about 25 percent in the last year.

Rachel Stevens, an expert on the history of immigration at the Australian Catholic University, said the immigration reforms were “as much about politics as policy”.

She told AFP that linking the rising cost of living with migration was misleading and risked scapegoating 2.2 million people who are on temporary visas.

“They are separate things entirely,” she said, citing the impact of rising interest rates and surging markets after Covid lockdowns, among other factors.

“Whenever there is a scarcity of a resource, whether it’s jobs or housing, it’s a very common reaction for people in many countries to blame immigrants.”

Stevens suggested that the Labor government may have one eye on the conservative opposition’s rising poll numbers and elections expected by 2025.

“It polls well”, she said, but “it’s really dangerous and quite reckless to put it all on migrants”.

Conservative opposition leader Peter Dutton has accused the government of having a “big migration programme”.

“Our cities are full, the roads are congested, the infrastructure can’t keep up”, he said earlier this month while suggesting immigrant numbers should be cut.


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US F-16 fighter jet crashes in S. Korea during training

A US F-16 fighter jet crashed on Monday, in South Korea during a training exercise.

The pilot was rescued after making an emergency escape, Yonhap news agency reported.

“The jet crashed into the waters after taking off from an air base in Gunsan, 178 kilometers south of Seoul,” the agency reported, referring to waters in the Yellow Sea.

The pilot ejected from the jet and was rescued, Yonhap reported.

South Korea’s defence ministry declined to comment.

United States Forces Korea, which oversees American soldiers based in the South, was not immediately available to confirm the report.

In May, a US F-16 jet crashed during a routine training exercise in a farming area south of Seoul. The pilot ejected safely and the accident caused no other casualties.

Washington is Seoul’s key security ally and stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help protect it from the nuclear-armed North.

In neighbouring Japan, the US military announced last week that it was grounding its fleet of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft following a deadly crash that killed eight US airmen.


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Edo 2024 guber poll: I’m not Obaseki’s candidate, says ex-NBA chair, Akpata

A former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata, says his governorship ambition is not being sponsored by Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki.

Akpata, who is an aspirant on the platform of the Labour Party, said there was no truth that Obaseki would back him if his preferred candidate in the Peoples Democratic Party lost the ticket.

Akpata also said that those alleging that he was attempting to buy the LP ticket with cash were displaying immaturity.

He spoke to journalists in Benin on Saturday when he appeared as the Special Guest at the award day of the 2023 Press Week of the Edo State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists.

He said, “That I am sponsored by Godwin Obaseki is an unfounded and baseless rumour. It was bandied around by two irresponsible online blogs that I shall be going after with all the venom that I can muster because my approach to fake news is that you nip it in the bud and you deal with it before it festers.

“It has also been bandied around by some disgruntled politicians, including in my party, and I said to them that it is a very weak argument or reasoning.

“My relationship with the governor has never been hidden, so it is only politicians who don’t know how to agree to disagree that quickly conclude that when two contenders sit together, they must belong to the same camp.

“In the old Bendel State, my father’s elder brother,  Senator Olu Akpata, was in the UPN in 1979, his cousin, Tayo Akpata, was the Chairman of NPN in the same state. They had lunch and dinner together.

“The family I belong to are honourable people. Those who know the Akpata family in Benin know that we are honourable people. If I cannot go into politics on my own, and get the prize that I am looking for I will stay at home.

“I am a successful lawyer. Politics is not my job. It is out of interest that we have come to the rescue of this state and Nigeria. I cannot be the hireling of anybody,” he added.

On the issue of being a moneybag, Akpata said, “As the Americans would say, I put my money where my mouth is and you know, these people who say I am a moneybag have been spending before I came into the scene. So, I just wonder what the issue really is. You know when people get uncomfortable with a competition that they cannot match up to, they must look for something to say.

“They are only giving a dog a bad name to hang it. The LP is not as financially buoyant as the other parties. So it is important that all of us who are true party members come together and help our party. I shrug off the claim that I am a money bag. However, Politics is expensive all over the world,” he added.


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