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.

(AFP)

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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.”

(CBSNEWS)

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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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US inmate declared innocent after spending 48 years in prison

A 71-year-old man has been proclaimed innocent in the US state of Oklahoma after serving almost 50 years in jail for a murder he did not commit.

According to The National Registry of Exonerations, Glynn Simmons, who is Black, spend longer years in prison before being exonerated than any other inmate in US history.

Simmons was released in July after serving a total of 48 years, one month, and 18 days in jail.

Simmons and another man, Don Roberts, were sentenced to death in 1975 for the murder the previous year of a 30-year-old liquor store clerk during a robbery in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Their sentences were later commuted to life in prison.

Simmons and Roberts were convicted solely on the basis of the testimony of a teenage customer who was shot in the head during the robbery but survived.

She picked them out of a police lineup but a subsequent investigation cast significant doubt on the reliability of her identifications.

Both men had also claimed at trial that they were not even in Oklahoma at the time of the murder.

US District Court Judge Amy Palumbo threw out Simmons’ conviction in July and declared him innocent at a hearing in Oklahoma County District Court on Tuesday.

“This is a day we’ve been waiting on for a long, long time,” Simmons told reporters. “We can say justice was done today, finally.”

Roberts, Simmons co-defendant, was released from prison in 2008, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.

Simmons may now be eligible for compensation.

“What’s been done can’t be undone but there could be accountability,” he said. “That’s what I’m about right now. Accountability.”

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Over 120 killed, 700 injured in Northwest China earthquake

At least 126 people have been killed in north-west China in the country’s deadliest earthquake in 13 years.

The 6.2 magnitude quake hit mountainous Gansu province around midnight on Monday (16:00 GMT), also shaking neighbouring Qinghai.

Fatalities may rise with over 700 reported injured in icy conditions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered thousands of rescue crews to the region, among the poorest and most diverse in China.

On Tuesday, footage shown on state TV and social media networks showed entire villages split by the quake, as well as collapsed buildings and houses.

Residents who fled their homes were also shown huddling over makeshift fires at hastily erected evacuation camps. Temperatures hit -13C (8.7F) on Tuesday, Chinese media reported.

Survivors said the tremors had felt like “being tossed by surging waves”, and recalled rushing out of their apartments.

Local officials in Jishishan county, the worst hit in Gansu province, said more than 5,000 buildings in the area had been damaged.

Chinese media quoted a director of the Gansu rescue team, who attributed the widescale damage to poor building quality in the villages – many homes being old and made of clay.

Gansu lies between the Tibetan and Loess plateaus and borders Mongolia. The remote region is one of China’s poorest and most ethnically diverse.

The epicentre of the quake was in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, home to many Chinese Muslim groups, including the Hui, Bonan, Dongxiang and Salar people.

Chinese authorities said the quake measured 6.2 on the Richter scale, while the US Geological Survey (USGS) recorded a magnitude of 5.9 and a depth of 10km (6 miles). About 10 aftershocks have taken place, local authorities reported.

President Xi has said, “all efforts should be made to carry out search and rescue, treat the injured in a timely manner, and minimise casualties”.

China sits in a region where a number of tectonic plates – notably the Eurasian, Indian and Pacific plates – meet and is particularly prone to earthquakes.

Last September, more than 60 people were killed when a 6.6-magnitude quake hit south-western Sichuan province.

The Gansu earthquake is the deadliest China has seen since the devastating 2010 quake in Yushu, Qinghai province, which claimed almost 2,700 lives.

(Tribune)

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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.

(AFP)

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Some countries supporting Simon Ekpa to destabilise Nigeria – CDS

The Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Christopher Musa, said on Friday that the military was gaining nothing from the fight against insecurity in many parts of the country.

According to him, the military daily loses troops in the ongoing fight against insecurity across the federation, adding that he has nightmares.

Musa spoke during the maiden parley with journalists in Abuja on Friday.

The CDS cautioned the citizens against demoralising the troops from effectively discharging their constitutional duties with their actions.

He alleged that some individuals and countries were sponsoring Simon Ekpa to destabilise the country.

He urged them to desist from such act, adding that the military would not relax in its effort to ensure that peace returned to the South-East.

Musa said, “On the issue of Nnamdi Kanu, there are people that have continued to sponsor these people by contributing money. And you can see that they are not only killing people outside, they are also killing their people.

“So, you are funding to somebody who is also killing you. So, our appeal is that people should stop supporting them, and expose all those doing those things, especially people like Simon Ekpa.

“He is sitting down there in comfort. Some countries are encouraging him to do what he is doing to Nigeria, and we are here supporting him. So, people must desist. We must call what is wrong, wrong. But I know that we are making efforts to ensure that we secure the whole of South-East and we will continue to do that.”

On the accidental bombing in Kaduna, the CDS promised that any personnel found culpable would be punished.

The CDS noted that the solution to the ravaging insecurity in the country was good governance, adding that the military solution currently being in use would solve 30 per cent of the problem.

He said, “Military solution is only 30 per cent, 70 per cent is good governance, equity, fairness and justice. Anywhere you apply this, you will see that you have a good community.”

Musa said porous borders and unmanned forests had contributed to the challenges faced by the military.

He said, “If you go to Chad, Cameroon and Niger, once you come as a foreigner, they know because they have a database; they can identify you. And then there’s this security awareness within the public, which we lack.

(Punch)

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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.

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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.”

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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.

(Reuters)

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Niger: ECOWAS panel to resume talks, more sanctions loom

The Authority of Heads of the Economic Community of West African States, on Sunday, resolved to begin talks with Niger’s National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland—also known as the CNSP—on a short transition roadmap, establish transition organs and to facilitate the setting up of a transition monitoring and evaluation mechanism.

It said the goal was to ensure a speedy restoration of constitutional order in the country whose constitutional leadership was toppled in late July 2023.

The President of ECOWAS Commission, Dr Omar Touray, revealed this when he read the communique at the 64th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja.

At Sunday’s meeting, the third since President Bola Tinubu assumed the chairmanship of the body last June, the bloc agreed that the committee would comprise Presidents Faure Gnassingbé of Togo, Julius Bio of Sierra Leone and Patrice Talon of the Republic of Benin.

According to Touray, the bloc will either progressively ease the current sanctions on the Niger Republic if the junta cooperates with these efforts or maintain current sanctions in the event of non-compliance.

The ECOWAS also threatened to request the African Union to impose harsher sanctions on members of the CNSP and their associates even as it readies its standby force for possible military intervention.

Touray said, “The Authority decides to set up a committee of heads of state made up of the President and head of state of the Republic of Togo, the President and the head of state of the Republic of Sierra Leone, the President and head of state of the Republic of Benin, to engage with CMSP and other stakeholders with a view to agreeing on a short transition roadmap, establishing transition organs as well as facilitating the setting up of a transition monitoring and evaluation mechanism towards the speedy restoration of constitutional order.

“Based on the outcomes of the engagement by the committee of heads of state with the CNSP, the Authority will progressively ease the sanctions imposed.

“On failure by the CNSP to comply with the outcomes of the engagement with the committee, ECOWAS shall maintain all sanctions, including the use of force and shall request the African Union and all other partners to enforce the targeted sanctions on members of the CNSP and their associates.”

While commending the efforts of its Chairperson, President Tinubu, towards a peaceful resolution of the political crisis, the Authority said it “deeply deplores the continued detention of President Mohamed Bazoum, his family and associates by the CNSP administration.”

The bloc also criticised the “lack of commitment on the part of the CNSP to restore constitutional order.”

Consequently, it called on the junta to “release President Mohamed Bazoum, his family and associates immediately and without condition.”

Sunday’s resolutions follow the earlier decisions made during Extraordinary Summits on July 30, 2023, and August 10, 2023.

In the fight against terrorism and other related security issues, the Authority asserted its commitment to eradicating extremism and other threats to the region’s peace, security and stability.

Consequently, the Authority instructed the Commission to urgently “resume efforts to activate the ECOWAS standby force in its kinetic mode for counterterrorism operations in zones infested by terrorist groups.”

It also instructed the Commission to expedite the convening of the meeting of ministers of finance and defense to agree on the modalities for the “mobilisation of internal financial, human and material resources on a mandatory basis for support the deployment of the regional counterterrorism force.”

In this regard, it acknowledged the commencement of assignment by its special envoy of counterterrorism, Baba Kamara, and directed the Commission to “facilitate his mission.”

The Authority also urged member states to increase funding for joint maritime operations and exercises in the region and to improve coordination and collaboration among various ministries, departments, and agencies responsible for maritime security.

On the transition process in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali, the ECOWAS authority welcomed the successful national referendum in Mali. It commended the transition authorities for the efforts they have deployed.

However, it frowned at the “reluctance” of the transition authorities to “cooperate with ECOWAS in the implementation of transition programmes and other activities of interest to the region.”

It also lamented the unilateral decisions taken on the implementation of the transitional programmess agreed with ECOWAS, requesting the Troika, under the leadership of President Talon of the Republic of Benin, to “urgently undertake visits of Burkina Faso, the Republic of Guinea and Mali,” to re-engage the three countries in the inclusive implementation of the transition programme.

The Authority also directed member-states to exempt the transition presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers of states in transition from the travel ban and other targeted individual sanctions imposed on the three member-states.

This was as it urged Mali to cooperate with countries contributing troops to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali to safely remove contingent-owned equipment from Mali before the deadline.

The ECOWAS Authority also condemned the coup attempt of November 26, 2023, that led to the loss of lives and destruction of property.

It urged the judiciary to conduct “a thorough and transparent investigation into the event, with a view to identifying and bringing in the perpetrators to justice.”

(Punch)

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Israel, Hamas in talk over ceasefire, hostage release as death toll hits 15,000

Hopes mounted on Tuesday that Hamas could release dozens of hostages from war-torn Gaza after the militant group’s leader and key mediator Qatar said a truce deal was in sight and the Israeli premier pointed to “progress.”

The announcements are the most optimistic yet of a potential breakthrough in the conflict, which has been raging for more than six weeks and left thousands dead on both sides.

“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, according to a statement sent by his office to AFP.

In Qatar, foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said, “We’re very optimistic, very hopeful” and told reporters: “We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas, was more circumspect, telling soldiers at a military base only that “we are making progress” on the return of hostages.

“I hope there will be good news soon,” he added, with speculation that an announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday evening after his office announced meetings of his war and security cabinets and government.

In Washington, United States President Joe Biden, who does not support a full ceasefire, said a temporary truce was “now very close”.

“We could bring some of these hostages home very soon,” he said at the White House. “But I don’t want to get into the details of things because nothing is done until it’s done.”

The BRICS group of nations including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa on Tuesday called for an “immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” in Gaza, during a summit in Johannesburg aimed at drawing up a common response to the conflict.

Deaths hit 15,000

Despite talk of a temporary truce, fighting raged on in Gaza’s bloodiest-ever war, sparked by the October 7 attack in which Israel says Hamas gunmen killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. According to the Hamas government, the war has killed more than 14,100 people, including nearly 6,000 children and close to 4,000 women, AFP reported.

S’Africa may shut Israeli embassy

South African lawmakers voted on Tuesday in favour of closing down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and suspending all diplomatic relations until a ceasefire is agreed in its war with Palestinian terror group Hamas in Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post in a report, crediting Reuters, gathered the resolution was largely symbolic as it would be up to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government whether to implement it; a presidency spokesperson did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

But Ramaphosa and senior foreign ministry officials have been vocally critical of Israel’s leadership during its devastating military campaign against Hamas in the densely populated Gaza Strip, calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate them for potential war crimes.

The report said the Israeli embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, the Israeli ambassador in Pretoria was recalled to Tel Aviv for consultations ahead of the vote, which on Tuesday was resoundingly adopted by a 248-91 margin.

(Punch)

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