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IAEA chief stresses further monitoring of Fukushima nuke wastewater discharge

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Tokyo, March 13 (IANS) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi has emphasised continued efforts in monitoring Japan’s ocean discharge of nuclear-contaminated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, local media reported on Wednesday.

The IAEA chief reiterated the organisation’s commitment to further monitoring the discharge as he met with local fishermen in Iwaki City of the northeast prefecture of Fukushima during a three-day trip in the country, Xinhua news agency reported.

Underscoring that the discharge marks merely the initial phase of a long process, Rafael Grossi stated that “much effort will be required in the lengthy process ahead,” national news agency Kyodo reported.

Rafael Grossi, emphasising the IAEA’s role as an independent observer, reiterated the organisation’s stance on maintaining vigilance throughout the process.

The visit to Fukushima Prefecture marks Rafael Grossi’s first since July last year and notably, his first visit following the commencement of the discharge. He is also expected to inspect the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to assess the discharge later in the afternoon.

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While the Japanese government and the plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) have asserted the safety and necessity of the discharge, concerns have been raised by neighboring countries and local stakeholders regarding potential environmental impacts.

Last month, TEPCO started its fourth round of release of the nuclear-contaminated wastewater from the power plant into the Pacific Ocean.

–IANS

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Palestinian presidency blames US for escalation in Rafah

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Ramallah, May 29 (IANS) Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for the Palestinian presidency, has blamed the US administration for the ongoing escalation in Rafah, the southernmost city of the Gaza Strip.

“We hold the US administration fully responsible for the situation in Rafah and across Gaza,” Abu Rudeineh told reporters in Ramallah, adding that the Israeli side ignored the ruling of an international court and has turned the city “unlivable.”

He criticized the US administration’s “silence” on Israeli actions, calling it an endorsement of what he termed as a “genocidal war” against Palestinians, Xinhua news agency reported.

Abu Rudeineh also pointed out the continued political, financial, and military support provided by the United States to Israel, despite widespread international opposition to Israeli aggression.

He warned of the potential complete reoccupation of Gaza with “unprecedented American support” for the Israeli government’s plans, urging immediate compliance with the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s ruling.

ALSO READ:  Top EU diplomat urges Israel to end military operation in Rafah

Israel has been persisting in its assault on Rafah, where over 1 million displaced Palestinians are taking refuge, despite the recent ruling by ICJ ordering a halt to its attacks.

Additionally, Abu Rudeineh saw the recognition of Palestine by Spain, Norway, and Ireland as a sign of growing European support, with ongoing efforts from Palestine and other Arab states to persuade more countries to recognize the Palestinian state.

–IANS

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Civilian deaths in Rafah caused by unexpected secondary explosions, fire: Israeli army

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Jerusalem, May 29 (IANS) The Israeli military has said its initial investigation findings indicated that it was unexpected secondary explosions and fire that caused dozens of civilian deaths in its airstrike on Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on Sunday night.

In a video posted on Tuesday on the website of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari said that the army had launched a “precise” attack on a structure where two senior Hamas commanders, Yassin Rabia and Khaled Najjar, were located, Xinhua news agency reported. The IDF accused the two Hamas officials of “orchestrating and executing terror attacks against Israelis”.

Hagari said that “due to unforeseen circumstances, a fire was tragically ignited, resulting in the loss of lives of nearby Gazan civilians”.

He noted that two munitions “with only 17 kilos of explosive material” were used for the strike, “the smallest amount that the IDF jets can use,” stressing the army’s munition alone “could not ignite a fire of this size.”

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The investigation was still ongoing to verify the cause of the fire, Hagari said, adding, “We are looking into all possibilities, including the option that weapons stored in a compound next to the original target were the cause of the fire.”

Hagari released video and photos of the targeted structure, pointing out that “no tents” were nearby and that the entire area had been evacuated in advance.

The spokesman said the IDF has taken “all measures” in advance to prevent harm to civilians, as “the war is against Hamas, not the people of Gaza”.

The Palestinian official news agency WAFA reported that an Israeli airstrike targeted on Sunday evening the tents in a newly established camp for the displaced civilians in Rafah.

The attack, which resulted in the deaths of at least 45 Palestinians and injuries to numerous others, has sparked severe criticism from regional countries and the international community.

–IANS

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Indian woman Army major to receive UN award for gender advocacy

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United Nations, May 29 (IANS) Indian Army Major Radhika Sen has been selected to receive a UN award recognising her advocacy for women and girls while serving as a peacekeeper, Stephane Dujarric, the Spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, announced here.

Dujarric said that Guterres will present Sen with the 2023 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award on Thursday, which is observed as the International Day of UN Peacekeepers.

The award recognises the efforts of a military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of the 2000 Security Council resolution that calls for protecting women and girls from conflict-related sexual violence and sets gender-related responsibilities for the UN.

Congratulating her, Guterres called her “a true leader and role model. Her service was a true credit to the United Nations as a whole”.

Sen served with the Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) where she helped create the Community Alert Networks in North Kivu as a platform that brought in community leaders, young people, and women “to voice their security and humanitarian concerns”, according to the UN.

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With her MONUSCO colleagues, she worked to address those concerns.

Guterres said that “with humility, compassion and dedication”, she earned the trust of “conflict-affected communities, including women and girls” as her troops engaged with them “in an escalating conflict environment in North Kivu”.

Sen said, “Gender-sensitive peacekeeping is everybody’s business – not just us, women. Peace begins with all of us in our beautiful diversity.”

“This award is special to me as it gives a recognition to the hard work put in by all the peacekeepers working in the challenging environment of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and giving their best to bring a positive change in the society,” she added.

Hailing from Himachal Pradesh, Sen is a biotech engineer who was studying for a master’s degree at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay when she decided to join the Army.

She was assigned to MONUSCO in 2023 as the Engagement Platoon Commander with the Indian Rapid Deployment Battalion, and completed her tenure in April 2024.

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Sen is the second Indian peacekeeper to receive the honour after Major Suman Gawani, who served with the UN Mission in South Sudan and received the award in 2019.

Of the 6,063 Indian personnel in UN peacekeeping operations, 1,954 serve with MONUSCO, 32 of them women.

The UN said that Sen, who led mixed-gender engagement patrols and activities, became a role model for both men and women by fostering “a safe space for men and women to operate together under her command”.

She also made sure that peacekeepers under her command operated with sensitivity to gender and sociocultural norms in the eastern DRC “to help build trust and thereby increase her team’s chance of success”, the UN said.

Among the activities she launched for women were English language classes for children, and health, gender, and vocational training for adults.

“Her efforts directly inspired women’s solidarity, providing safe spaces for meetings and open dialogue”, the UN said.

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She encouraged women in the village of Kashlira, near Rwindi town, to organise themselves to advocate for their rights, particularly in local security and peace discussions.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed at @arulouis)

–IANS

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Jurors hear final arguments before deciding Trump's fate in porn star hush money case

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New York, May 28 (IANS) Hearing final arguments from lawyers for the defence and the prosecution on Tuesday, jurors prepared on Tuesday to decide the fate of former President Donald Trump in the historic criminal case charging him with faking business ledgers during an attempt to buy a porn star’s silence.

Trump is the first former President to face a criminal trial and his conviction or acquittal could impact the closely fought presidential election pitching him against President Joe Biden.

This is the only one of four criminal cases pending against him that will be decided before the November election where early opinion polls show them virtually tied with Trump having a 1.1 per cent lead, according to the aggregation of polls by RealClear Politics.

Trump’s lawyers took aim at the credibility of his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen who paid off the porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public with allegations that she had a sexual encounter with him. The case hinges on a payment of $130,000 to Daniels that was recorded in Trump’s business ledgers as legal fees to Cohen.

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The prosecutors, who were to follow Trump’s lawyers, allege that it is a criminal falsification of business records as the money was a payoff to avoid a scandal during the 2016 election campaign and the money was not lawyer’s fees, and, therefore, the payoff was also an election interference.

Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche in his closing arguments on Tuesday countered that the business records were accurate as the payments were made directly to Cohen and the former President was not aware of what Cohen did with the checks. He said that the prosecution’s star witness Cohen, who admitted on the witness stand to stealing $30,000 from Trump and made contradictory statements, was not a credible witness.

Blanche said that the sexual encounter claimed by Daniels 18 years ago and denied by Trump was not an issue in the case.

The panel of 12 jurors made up of ordinary citizens under the New York State legal system are expected to begin deliberating the case in private on Wednesday.

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Each juror has a veto because a unanimous verdict is required to convict or acquit him and if they cannot agree on a united verdict, Judge Juan Merchan will have to declare a mistrial, which will not amount to an acquittal, and allow the prosecution to retry him.

The jury could also convict him unanimously on some parts of the charges. If convicted, Trump faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

That would create the strange spectacle of Secret Service agents accompanying him to prison to provide protection mandated for him as a former President by US law.

He would certainly appeal a conviction, keeping him out of prison during the presidential campaign and the Republican Party Convention in July that will officially make him the party candidate.

Merchan, however, has threatened Trump with being sent to prison for contempt of court if he continued to criticise persons connected to the case, which Trump has defiantly continued.

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Before entering the court, Trump told reporters: “This is all election hunting, election interfering, going after Joe Biden’s opponent because he can’t do it himself.”

The prosecutor waited seven years to bring the case in the middle of the campaign, he said.

Manhattan Public Prosecutor Melvin Bragg, who brought the case, is a Democrat elected to the post in a partisan election. While the lawyers made their final arguments, outside a raucous scene played out with his supporters and opponents holding demonstrations with colourful banners and posters. President Joe Biden’s campaign added to the drama, bringing Actor Robert DeNiro outside the courthouse to denounce Trump accusing him of wanting to “destroy not only this city and country, but the whole world” and reciting an obscenity-laced litany of the former President’s failings.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed at @arulouis)

–IANS

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Former spy chief chosen to lead right-wing Dutch government

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Amsterdam, May 28 (IANS/DPA) Dick Schoof, the former head of the Dutch intelligence service, is set to become the new Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the incoming right-wing government announced on Tuesday.

Schoof, 67, is the top civil servant at the Justice Ministry and has no current party affiliation.

He is regarded as an expert on security and migration — two burning issues for the four coalition partners.

Schoof was head of the intelligence and security service AIVD, coordinator in the fight against terrorism, and also director of Immigration Services.

The Netherlands has been in political limbo since November’s general election, which sent shockwaves across Europe.

Geert Wilders’ nationalist and right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) scored a dramatic victory, but not enough to govern outright.

It took months for the “anti-Islam, anti-immigration and anti-EU” firebrand to persuade other parties to join him in a coalition.

Wilders has promised “the strictest asylum policy ever” and drastic curbs on immigration.

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His programme also includes relaxing environmental regulations for farmers and cancelling subsidies for sustainable energy.

In a concession to make the coalition possible, Wilders said he would not seek to be Prime Minister and renounced some of his most controversial demands, such as the ban on mosques.

Wilders finally announced two weeks ago that his PVV had agreed a four-way coalition with the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the conservative New Social Contract (NSC) party and the populist Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB).

Wilders said Schoof, who was once a member of the centre-left Labour Party, “stands above the parties and has our trust”.

It is expected to take several weeks before a Cabinet line-up will be finalised and King Willem-Alexander swears them into office.

Rutte, who has been Prime Minister since 2010, is on track to become NATO’s next Secretary General toward the end of the year.

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–IANS/DPA

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