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Indonesia's Ibu volcano erupts, ash up to 5 km

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Jakarta, May 13 (IANS) The Ibu volcano on Halmahera Island in the eastern Indonesian province of North Maluku erupted on Monday at around 9 a.m. local time for about five minutes, throwing ash up to 5,000 metres above its peak, according to the country’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG).

“The ash column from its eruption was observed to be grey to black with thick intensity towards the west. When this report was written, the eruption was still ongoing,” said PVMBG, reports Xinhua news agency.

Standing as high as around 1,300 meters above sea level, the Ibu volcano is classified as the third danger level, below the highest, Level IV.

The volcano has erupted more than 80 times since the beginning of this year, PVMBG said, calling on the public not to have activities within a radius of five kilometres from the crater.

Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is one of the countries with the most volcanoes in the world.

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–IANS

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North Korea warns of military action over alleged sea border incursions

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Seoul, May 26 (IANS) North Korea on Sunday threatened to take action against South Korea over what it claims are violations of the de facto western maritime border, ratcheting up tensions ahead of a trilateral summit in Seoul.

North Korea’s supreme military leadership instructed its army on Friday to take offensive action against the encroachment upon its sovereignty, North Korea’s Vice Defence Minister Kim Kang-il said, according to the country’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

“We officially warn that we can never tolerate such continued encroachment on our maritime sovereignty and that we may exercise our self-defensive power on or under the water at any moment,” Kim said in a statement carried by the KCNA, Yonhap news agency reported.

The statement came hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol will have back-to-back bilateral talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the presidential office.

The three leaders will hold a trilateral summit on Monday. It marks the first three-way summit among the Asian countries since December 2019, after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and strained Seoul-Tokyo relations over historical disputes.

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Tension remains high along the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border, Yellow Sea. North Korea has never recognised the NLL, demanding it be re-drawn further south.

Waters near the NLL have been a flashpoint between the two Koreas, where three bloody naval skirmishes took place in 1999, 2002 and 2009.

In March 2010, Pyongyang torpedoed a South Korean warship near the sea border, killing 46 sailors on board. In November of that year, the North bombarded South Korea’s border island of Yeonpyeong, killing two civilians and two Marines.

North Korea also accused South Korea and the United States of intensifying their hostile aerial espionage as it vowed to scatter “mounds of wastepaper and filth” over the inter-Korean border areas in retaliation against anti-Pyongyang leaflets.

For years, North Korean defectors in South Korea and conservative activists have sent balloons carrying leaflets critical of the North’s leader Kim Jong-un into North Korea. Pyongyang has bristled at the propaganda campaign amid concern that an influx of outside information could pose a threat to the Kim regime.

ALSO READ:  Russia, Iran maintain close ties after Raisi's death, ministers say

North Korea blew up the joint liaison office in the now-shuttered inter-Korean factory park in the North Korean border city of Kaesong in 2020 in anger over Seoul’s failure to stop North Korean defectors from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

–IANS

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Death toll rises to 11 in Russian attack on Kharkiv's DIY store

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Kyiv, May 26 (IANS/DPA) The death toll from a Russian airstrike on a DIY store in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv has risen to 11, Kharkiv region Governor Oleh Syniehubov announced on Sunday.

Russia attacked the store with at least one glide bomb on Saturday, wounding at least 40, because it said Ukraine had hidden a weapons cache in the store.

“The tactic of human shields is being used in Kharkiv – they (the Ukrainians) have set up a military camp and a command post in a shopping centre, which was discovered by our intelligence service,” the state agency TASS quoted an unnamed representative of the Russian leadership as saying.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said around 200 people were in the Epicenter home improvement store at the time of the attack.

–IANS/DPA

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Philippine troops kill suspected militant in clash

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Manila, May 26 (IANS) Philippine troops have killed a suspected militant in a clash in Maguindanao del Sur province in the southern Philippines, the Philippine Army said on Sunday.

In a report, the Army said that the alleged Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) militant was killed early Saturday morning after a five-minute clash in the village in Datu Salibo town following information from the villagers about the militants’ presence in the area, Xinhua news agency reported.

Troops seized a 45 calibre pistol and explosives from the clashed site, read the report.

The BIFF, a small armed group aligned with the Islamic State group, is blamed for bombings and other atrocities in the Central Mindanao region in the southern Philippines.

The group broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front when the latter agreed to negotiate a peace pact with the government in 2014.

–IANS

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French President heads to Germany for rare state visit

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Berlin, May 26 (IANS/DPA) Emmanuel Macron begins the first state visit to Germany by a French President in 24 years on Sunday, a pomp-filled three-day trip described as a tribute to the Franco-German friendship.

Macron is due to arrive in Berlin at 2 pm (1200 GMT). He will head first to the government district, where the “Democracy Festival” celebrating 75 years of Germany’s Basic Law – the democratic constitution adopted in West Germany after World War II – will be held.

At the time, West Germany was under occupation by the victorious Western Allies, which included France, Britain and the United States.

Macron and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will engage in an on-onstage discussion at the festival. The French leader will then travel to Steinmeier’s nearby official residence, the Bellevue Palace, where he will be greeted with military honours. A joint press conference by the two presidents will follow in the late afternoon.

A walk through the Brandenburg Gate with Berlin Mayor Kai Wagner and a state banquet at Bellevue Palace is scheduled for the evening.

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Sunday’s visit comes ahead of European elections to decide the next European Parliament. Far-right EU parties have seen a surge in support in recent years – including in France and Germany – and are expected to do well in the June 6-9 polls.

The relationship between Paris and Berlin has long been seen as the driving force of European policymaking. But frictions began to emerge in 2022, after Angela Merkel left the German political scene, although Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have recently made efforts to improve cooperation.

The agreement has been found on several issues, including reform of the EU’s debt and deficit rules, but other points of contention remain, notably on the type of military aid for Ukraine and the EU’s economic policy responses to protectionist measures by China and the United States.

These thorny questions and others will discussed at a meeting of French and German ministers on Tuesday.

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Macron and his wife Brigitte will be travelling to Dresden on Monday. There, he will give a speech on European policy in front of the Frauenkirche, a monumental domed church and a symbol of post-war reconciliation.

On Tuesday, they will travel to Munster, where Macron will be awarded the Peace of Westphalia Prize.

Macron came to power in France seven years ago and cannot run for a third term in the 2027 presidential election.

The official state visit is the first by a French president to Germany since 2000, although leaders from both countries regularly meet and visit in less formal ways. Macron had planned to make the state visit last July.

However, the trip was postponed due to nationwide unrest in France following the deadly police shooting of a 17-year-old that shocked the nation.

–IANS/DPA

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The Third Eye: Raisi had built Iran as a key player in the Middle East

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New Delhi: Reactions of the world community to the demise of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and some other Iranian dignitaries in a helicopter crash near the Azerbaijan border on May 19, threw light on the importance of Iran as a prime mover behind the recent developments in the Middle East and the geopolitical alignments that are shaping up in the region around the increasing polarisation between the US on one hand and the Russia-China axis on the other.

Raisi a hardliner conservative was appointed President of Iran in 2021 — he had earlier succeeded over his pragmatic rival Hassan Rouhani in 2017 in a controlled election.

He soon became the driving power behind the execution of thousands of dissidents at home in 2022, the enforcement of strict rules of the Hijab and Chastity for women and the pursuit of a strong anti-Israel policy.

Raisi was very close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme leader of Shiite Iran — who at 85 was not keeping well — and was set to succeed the latter. Raisi as a leader had been put by the US under sanction.

Born in a religious family in the Shiite Muslim city of Mashhad, the Iranian President was educated at a religious seminary in the holy city of Qom and was known to have taken part as a student in the protests against the pro-West Shah of Iran in 1979.

Raisi shared with Khamenei a deep antipathy towards the US — part of this being rooted in the ideological rejection of capitalism by the fundamentalist Shiism.

He was an anti-corruption populist who stood for self-sufficiency in the economy and an aggressive foreign policy based on the strategy of using proxy forces across the Middle East.

An advisor of the Iranian regime made it clear that the policy framework of Iran would be maintained after President Raisi’s death.

Iran with the largest army in the Middle East is likely to continue with an assertive posture in the region and beyond in the geopolitical environment created by the Ukraine-Russia military confrontation and the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Raisi pursued a hard line towards Israel and warned that any Israeli aggression against Iran could result in “there being nothing left of the Zionist regime”.

Iran-Israel hostility arises significantly from a faith-based contradiction that added to the political enmity Iran had towards the US-Israel axis. In the polarisation between the US and the China-Russia combine, Iran unsurprisingly supports the latter.

In the long-drawn Ukraine-Russia military confrontation, Iran has actively sided with Russia’s ‘war effort’ by supplying drones for the Russian offensive against Ukraine.

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Iran’s comprehensive backing of Hamas against Israel is as much of an aggressive stand against the US as it is a reflection of the basic religious divide between Islam and Zionism.

Hamas had been radicalised and its attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, was clearly a terrorist act — radicalisation goes with the ‘revivalist’ call of the Wahhabis to return of Muslim world to the Puritan Islam of the ‘Pious Caliphs’ and in the process it would also turn intensely hostile to Shiites because of the historical memory associated with the origin of Shiism as a ‘deviant’ sect in the eyes of the mainstream Sunnis.

In regard to the Taliban Emirate in Afghanistan however, it is said that Pakistan had helped to bring about an adjustment between China and the Taliban on the basis of a ‘give and take’ that enabled China to extend its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) to Afghanistan and got Taliban to give an assurance of non-interference in the affairs of the Muslim minorities of China.

The reported participation of Taliban leaders of Afghanistan in the last prayers for Raisi in Tehran showed the primacy of the political opposition to the US that put Iran and the Taliban on the same side of the fence.

Iran’s political and ideological hostility towards Israel at the same time, led it to support Hamas and set upon its proxies like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthis against Israel in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Responses of major powers to the demise of President Raisi of Iran give an idea of the geopolitical scene around the Middle East and the power play that was evident in the region.

President Xi Jinping of China called the ‘tragic death’ of Raisi a great loss to the Iranian people and added that the Chinese people had lost a good friend.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov offering condolences on the demise of the Iranian President lauded his role in strengthening mutually beneficial Russia-Iran cooperation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Raisi an outstanding political leader who had made invaluable personal contributions in taking good neighbourly relations between Russia and Iran to the level of a ‘strategic partnership’.

The US conveyed ‘official condolences’ to Iran and reiterated its support to the Iranian people in their ‘struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms’. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin clarified that the US had no insight into the cause of the helicopter crash that killed President Raisi.

The EU expressed sincere condolences while Italy’s Prime Minister Georgia Meloni noted that the crash was looked upon as an accident and no conspiracy theories had cropped up. She felt there would be no change in Iran’s internal order and hoped that the future leadership would work for the ‘stabilisation and pacification’ of Iran.

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There was a report that Putin had offered to help Iran in the process of enquiry into the helicopter crash. These reactions amply showed the closeness Iran had developed towards Russia and China while a distinct lack of trust existed between Iran and the US-led West.

The Arab states in the region conveyed their condolences to the people of Iran — considering them more as part of Ummah and rising above the Shia-Sunni divide somewhat — which certainly reflected their desire to keep the Middle East free of violence and check radicalisation.

Saudi Arabia had tense relations with Iran and there were proxy conflicts between them. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman however, called Iran’s Acting President Mokhber to express his condolences.

UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohd. Bin Rashid Al Maktoum told the people of Iran “our hearts are with you in this difficult time” and more in line with the Islamic Brotherhood sentiment expressed that “the deceased would dwell in God’s spacious Paradise”.

Jordan’s King Abdullah conveying his deepest condolences expressed Jordan’s solidarity with “our brothers in Islam” of Iran while Emir Sheikh of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani expressed his condolences to the people of Iran saying “we belong to Allah and to Him we shall return”.

Egyptian President Abdul Fateh Al Sisi expressed solidarity with the Iranian leadership and people on the terrible incident that caused the death of the Iranian President and other leaders.

It is relevant to mention that the US had since 2020 mediated to bring about the Abraham Accord between UAE and Israel with the concurrence of Saudi Arabia and that China took a similar initiative in 2023 to secure the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The two big powers were apparently trying to strengthen their foothold in the Middle East without precipitating any serious conflict.

Outside the region, it is important to note the reactions of Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey — countries that have lately shown a marked convergence on accommodating Islamic radical forces and correspondingly striking a posture of independence towards the US.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif recalled the ‘historic’ visit of Iranian President Raisi to Islamabad a month ago, described Iran as a good friend of Pakistan and announced a day of mourning during which Pak flags would fly half-mast as a mark of respect and solidarity with ‘brotherly’ Iran.

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Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia praised President Raisi for his dedication to “justice, peace and upliftment of the Ummah” and said that good Malaysia-Iran relations would lead to the “betterment of Muslim world”.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan at a joint press conference with his Pak counterpart at Islamabad, expressed his condolences and gave credit to Raisi for building good Iran-Ankara relations.

Iran under Raisi’s presidency had apparently reached out to potential friends in the Muslim world who would be sympathetic towards Iran in the latter’s tussle against the US.

Also, since both Iran and Saudi Arabia are members of the OPEC, the world powers were compelled to keep the Middle East from serious conflicts for their economic interests. However, the two major players in the region, Iran and Israel with their differing alignments in the developing Cold War between the US-led West and the Russia-China axis, are likely to continue with their adversarial postures — a close vigil by the international community on the Middle East seemed necessary.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to convey his condolences on a personal note saying that he was “deeply saddened and shocked” over Raisi’s death. He stated that Raisi’s contribution to the strengthening of bilateral Iran-India relations will always be remembered and added that “India stood with Iran in this time of sorrow”.

India has done well to independently maintain friendship with the three major players in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran. This is consistent with India’s foreign policy of building mutually beneficial bilateral friendships with the US and Russia without prejudicing the cause of world peace.

This is how Prime Minister Modi had reached out to the Presidents of both Russia and Ukraine at the outbreak of military conflict between them and advocated for cessation of hostilities and peaceful negotiations based on an understanding of the ‘security concerns of both sides’.

This independent stand won the approval of the international community and brought recognition to India as the promoter of the ‘sane voice’ of the world. This has enabled India to maintain strategic friendship with the US without giving up on the deep political and economic relations with Russia. There is little doubt that India’s handling of international relations has been a success story so far.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)

–IANS

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