If there is really no candidate to become prime minister should the opposition win, then maybe for a short while I might try to take the job. But only on condition that everybody agrees.
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan: At least eight Afghan soldiers were killed and 11 wounded on Friday when Taliban gunmen dressed in uniforms talked their way past checkpoints and attacked a military headquarters in northern Afghanistan, officials said.
The attack occurred near a mosque on the base in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, as soldiers were leaving Friday prayers, said army spokesman Nasratullah Jamshidi.
Six attackers in two military vehicles told guards at the base gates that they were carrying wounded soldiers and urgently needed to get in, he said.
After killing at least eight soldiers and wounding 11 others with rocket-propelled grenades and guns, one attacker was killed and the other five arrested, Jamshidi said.
The Western-backed Afghan government is locked in a prolonged war with Taliban insurgents as well as other militant groups.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the fighters set off an explosion, allowing suicide bombers armed with small arms to breach the base.
“Our fighters have inflicted heavy casualties on the Afghan army stationed there,” he said.
Other army officials confirmed that the attackers entered the base in disguise.
The base is the headquarters for the Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps, which covers most of northern Afghanistan, including Kunduz province where there has been heavy fighting.
A number of German and other foreign soldiers are based in Mazar-i-Sharif, including about 70 who advise the corps headquarters as part of a NATO-led multinational mission to advise and train the Afghan security forces.
German military says no German or international troops were involved in the attack.
“To our knowledge, no Germans were affected. Nor were any other soldiers in the multinational force harmed,” said a spokesman for the German Operations Command.
The NATO command in Kabul called the attack “murderous and reprehensible”.
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Alison Williams)
MANILA: Satisfaction in the Philippines with President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs declined in the first quarter this year, a survey showed on Wednesday, with opinions split about police accounts that the drug suspects they killed had resisted arrest.
Seventy-eight percent of 1,200 people surveyed by Social Weather Stations (SWS) said they were satisfied by the government’s crackdown on illegal drugs, down from 85 percent in a similar poll in December last year.
The number of dissatisfied respondents rose from eight percent to 12 percent.
Almost 9,000 people, many small-time users and dealers, have been killed in the Philippines since Duterte took office on June 30. Police say about a third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defence during legitimate operations.
Human rights monitors believe many of the remaining two thirds were killed by paid assassins operating with police backing or by police disguised as vigilantes – an accusation the police deny.
A Reuters special report published on Tuesday cited two senior law enforcement officials saying the police had received cash for executing drug suspects, planted evidence and had carried out most of the killings they had blamed on vigilantes.
Reuters was unable to independently verify if the police are behind vigilante killings.
The SWS survey on the anti-drugs campaign included questions on “extrajudicial killings”, a term the government and police strongly object to, insisting no such killings have taken place.
The latest poll was conducted from March 25 to 28 and showed 73 percent of Filipinos were worried that they, or someone they know, would be a victim of extrajudicial killing.
Ninety-two percent said it was important authorities captured drug suspects alive rather than killed them.
About a fifth of respondents felt police were “probably” telling the truth about circumstances behind their killing of drug suspects, while 14 percent believed they were “definitely” lying.
Forty-four percent of respondents were undecided. Those who said they “definitely” believed police were truthful fell from nine percent in December to six percent in the latest survey.
“This is a black eye for the Philippine National Police,” said Ramon Casiple, head of the Institute for Electoral and Police Reforms.
“I don’t think this will impact on the president, it’s more on the police whose members were seen and perceived to be more involved in crimes and in the killings. They should do more and convince the public about reforms not by words but by actions.”
Asked by reporters about the fall in satisfaction rating for the anti-drugs campaign, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said: “There seems to be consistency in the way the public appreciates the efforts.”
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)
COLOMBO: Hopes faded on Sunday for the survival of an estimated 100 people trapped under the mud and debris of a landslide at a giant rubbish dump in the Sri Lankan capital.
Police say the known death toll from the disaster has risen to 26 and emergency workers are to resume their search on Monday after halting late on Sunday night.
The 300-foot-high (90-metre) dump in the Meethotamulla area on the border of the commercial heart of Colombo collapsed after flames engulfed it late on Friday, the nation’s new year’s day, burying many homes.
Military spokesman Roshan Senivirathna told Reuters that survival was “very unlikely” but the rescue mission involving more than 1,000 emergency workers from defence establishments would continue.
Authorities are struggling to ascertain the exact number of missing people.
Liyanage Menaka, who lost her house in the disaster, urged the government to provide homes for those who live in danger around the country’s biggest garbage pile.
“The lives of more than 100 are lost. What we are asking is (that they) give us a solution and take care of our kids,” she told Reuters.
President Maithripala Sirisena has instructed the authorities to ensure financial resources are not an obstacle in the relief operation, his office said in a statement.
The police said they were investigating whether the landslide was natural or man-made. They also said about 145 houses had been damaged.
Residents of the area, mostly living in shanties, had been demanding the removal of the dump, saying it was causing health problems. The government had said it would remove it soon, under an infrastructure plan.
(Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Andrew Bolton)
BEIJING: A conflict over North Korea could break out “at any moment”, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi said Friday (Apr 14), warning there would be “no winner” in any war as tensions soar with the US.
The sharp language came after President Donald Trump said the North Korea problem “will be taken care of”, as speculation mounts that the reclusive state could be preparing another nuclear or missile test.
“Lately, tensions have risen … and one has the feeling that a conflict could break out at any moment,” Wang said. “If a war occurs, the result is a situation in which everybody loses and there can be no winner.”
Whichever side provoked a conflict “must assume the historic responsibility and pay the corresponding price,” he said in a joint press conference with his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault.
Trump has sent a aircraft carrier-led strike group to the Korean peninsula to press his point, one of a series of signals that indicate his willingness to shake up foreign policy strategy.
The US military on Thursday dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb it possesses on Afghanistan, targeting a complex used by the Islamic State group.
Trump also flexed his military muscle last week by ordering cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airbase the US believed was the origin of a chemical weapons attack on civilians in a northern Syria town.
The moves are seen as an implicit warning to North Korea that Washington is not afraid to use force.
Trump has repeatedly said he will prevent Pyongyang from its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.
A White House foreign policy advisor said Friday that the US is assessing military options in response to the North’s weapons programs, saying another provocative test was a question of “when” rather than “if”.
There are reports of activity at a nuclear test site in North Korea ahead of Saturday’s 105th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il-Sung, which have fuelled speculation it could carry out a sixth test.
But Beijing has long opposed dramatic action against Pyongyang, fearing the regime’s collapse would send a flood of refugees across its borders and leave the US military on its doorstep.
“Dialogue is the only possible solution,” Wang said.
Any US strike on North Korea could prompt retaliation against allies or US forces in South Korea or Japan. But there are few good diplomatic or economic options for the Trump administration.
The North is already under multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and appears to see these programs as insurance against regime change.
Rattled by Trump’s behaviour, Beijing – Pyongyang’s sole major ally and economic lifeline – has adopted a tougher line against its neighbour, including suspending coal imports from the country for the remainder of the year.
MANILA: A 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck the centre of Mindanao island in the Philippines on Wednesday (Apr 12), the US Geological Survey said.
The quake, initially reported as a 6.0-magnitude, struck at 5:21am on Wednesday (2121 GMT on Tuesday). It was very shallow, at a depth of six kilometres, which would have amplified its effect. Its epicentre was 75.5 kilometres northeast of Cotabato on the large southern island of Mindanao.
A 5.6-magnitude quake is considered moderate and is capable of causing considerable damage.
Marvel Comics is planning to take disciplinary action against an Indonesian artist who sneaked several controversial references into his artwork for the first issue of X-Men Gold, according to reports citing a statement by the comics giant.
X-Men Gold #1, which was published on Wednesday (Apr 5), was illustrated by Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf.
His artwork allegedly contained several hidden religious references and sparked an outcry by comic book fans on social media.
In one scene, Jewish mutant Kitty Pryde is seen standing in front of a crowd of humans. Her head is adjacent to a sign saying “Jewelry”, which some took to be a reference to her heritage.
In the same panel, there is a building with the numbers “212” on it – a reference to a mass rally by Indonesian Muslims on Dec 2 last year against Jakarta’s Christian Chinese governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Ahok is on trial for blasphemy over accusations that he insulted the Islamic holy book, the Quran.
Another scene in the issue shows Colossus wearing a t-shirt with “QS 5:51” on it, a reference to a verse in the Quran used by some in Indonesia to support their view that non-Muslims should not lead the government.
Ardian shared artwork for the panel on his Facebook page on Thursday. By Sunday evening, the post had drawn almost 200 comments.
Many criticised him for the alleged political messages. “The X-Men message at its core is integration, not division,” Facebook user Zauri Severino Junior wrote.
“It’s shameful to see (an) Indonesian artist make a fool of himself worldwide just because of his impaired religious views and racism,” another commenter, Nuri Agustiani Setiawan, wrote.
In a statement published by ComicBook on Saturday, Marvel said the artwork “was inserted without knowledge behind its reported meanings”.
“These implied references do not reflect the views of the writer, editors or anyone else at Marvel and are in direct opposition of the inclusiveness of Marvel Comics and what the X-Men have stood for since their creation,” the statement said.
Marvel added that disciplinary action would be taken against Syaf, but did not give further details.
It added that the artwork would be removed from subsequent printings, digital versions, and trade paperbacks.
TOKYO: The Japanese government has decided to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea by two years, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said on Friday.
Tokyo will continue its prohibition of all trade between Japan and North Korea and ban on all North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports, Kyodo News reported earlier.
North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, the latest it has test-fired in recent months.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Chris Gallagher)
HONG KONG: A giant diamond named the “Pink Star” broke the world record for a gemstone sold at auction when it fetched US$ 71.2 million in Hong Kong on Tuesday (Apr 4).
The 59.60-carat “Pink Star”, the largest in its class ever graded by the Gemological Institute of America, was sold to the city’s Chow Tai Fook jewellery chain.
“Sotheby’s Hong Kong is very proud to have this record,” its Asia chairman Patti Wong told AFP after the sale.
Sotheby’s worldwide chairman for international jewellery David Bennett, who conducted the auction, called it a “historic sale”.
Bidding started at around US$ 56 million. The sale lasted for five minutes and involved three bidders before the winning offer came by phone from Chow Tai Fook, prompting a round of applause.
The jewellery group is chaired by Henry Cheng, whose family is ranked third on Forbes’ Hong Kong rich list with US$ 17.9 billion.
The group has a large network of stores in China plus outlets in Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, but is relatively unknown in the West.
The sparkling oval-cut rock measures 2.69 by 2.06 centimetres (1.06 by 0.81 inches) and weighs 11.92 grams (0.026 pounds).
It was 132.5 carats in the rough when it was mined by De Beers in South Africa in 1999, according to Sotheby’s. The stone was cut and polished over two years by Steinmetz Diamonds and unveiled to the public in 2003 under the title of the “Steinmetz Pink”.
The near-translucent rock was renamed after it was first sold four years later for an undisclosed sum to an unidentified buyer.
At an auction in Geneva in 2013 the stone fetched US$ 83 million.
But Sotheby’s was forced to take it back after that buyer, a New York-based diamond cutter, defaulted on the sale.
The auction house said it was confident of getting its money this time around.
“Of course, the buyer definitely has the financial capability,” Wong told reporters, adding all three bidders were vetted and had a longstanding relationship with the auction house.
Sotheby’s had previously said Hong Kong was the right place for the sale.
“Today Hong Kong has proven itself to be again the international sale centre,” Wong said.
Asian buyers have been making record diamond purchases in the past few years.
A 12.03-carat “Blue Moon of Josephine” was bought for the then-record price of US$ 48.4 million in Geneva by Hong Kong property tycoon Joseph Lau in 2015, a day after he spent US$ 28.5 million on a rare 16.08-carat pink diamond.
The previous record for a jewel successfully sold at auction was US$ 57.54 million in May 2016 for the 14.62-carat “Oppenheimer Blue” sold by Christie’s in Geneva.
SEOUL: A South Korean cargo vessel is missing after making its last contact in the South Atlantic about 2,500km from shore and 22 crew members are unaccounted for, South Korea’s foreign ministry and news reports said on Sunday.
Two Filipino crew members have been rescued floating in a life raft on Saturday, but other lifeboats and rafts found in the area were empty, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
“A search operation is continuing for the 22 people,” a South Korean foreign ministry official in Seoul said by telephone, adding eight of the missing are South Korean nationals and 14 are Filipinos.
South Korea has requested Brazil and Uruguay to aid in the search and rescue, the official said asking not to be identified.
The very large ore carrier (VLOC) Stellar Daisy owned and operated by South Korea’s Polaris Shipping based in Busan was sailing from Brazil to China carrying iron ore when it sent a distress signal to the ship operator on Friday, Yonhap said.
A message last received on Friday by Polaris from a crew member said the ship was taking in water on the port side and was listing rapidly, Yonhap said.
(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Mary Milliken)