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Survey of Americans: Fighting terror top foreign policy task, promoting democracy last

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Washington, April 23 (IANS) Preventing terrorist strikes in the US was cited as the top foreign policy priority by most Americans in a recent opinion poll, and not promoting democracy and human rights around the world, which have been the gratuitous goals of successive presidencies and administrations.

Stopping the inflow of illegal drugs and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction were the second and third on the list of top priorities.

Limiting the influence of Russia and China and fighting climate change came in the middle, with strengthening the United Nations, and promoting human rights making up the bottom part of the list with promoting democracy being absolutely the last.

The findings present an opportunity for Indian policymakers for a more robust and effective engagement with Americans on cooperation against terrorism, which is a top foreign policy objective for India as well.

While the two sides have extensive and in-depth engagement in combating terrorism, Indians have felt disappointed by what they view as a lack of adequate response to the growing resurgence in Khalistan militancy by activists based in the US.

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There have been no arrests of people responsible for two incidents of assault and arson at the Indian consulate in San Francisco in March and July of 2023.

Pew Research Center surveyed 3,600 Americans in the first week of April for this poll.

With memories of the devastating September 11, 2001 attacks seared into their minds, most Americans — 73 per cent — said preventing terrorist attacks should be a top foreign policy priority for the US.

Two passenger flights commandeered by Al Qaeda terrorists slammed into the two World Trade Center towers in New York, one into the Pentagon on the outskirts of Washington DC, and the fourth, which was headed for the White House, crashed instead in Pennsylvania.

In all 2,996 people were killed in these attacks, including 35 of Indian descent.

The second top foreign policy priority cited by American respondents in the survey was sopping the inflow of illegal drugs at 64 per cent, followed by preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction (63 per cent), maintaining US military might (54 per cent), and stopping the spread of infectious diseases such as Covid-19 (52 per cent).

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Limiting the power and influence of arch-enemy Russia and arch-rival China came in next at 50 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively. North Korea and Iran were a lesser priority at 38 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively, but they were counted among foreign policy priorities.

Dealing with climate change, 44 per cent, came in between perceived threats from Russia and China on one hand, and North Korea and Iran on the other.

The issue of global warming has not become a bipartisan issue, with Democrats more concerned about it than Republicans, some of whom, such as former President Donald Trump, have dismissed it as a hoax played by China to slow down the US.

It was Trump again who pulled the US out of the Paris Accord on climate change, which has since been rejoined by the US under President Joe Biden.

But the bottom few priorities displayed the wide chasm, or disconnect, between the high-mindedness of US policymakers and average Americans. Only 26 per cent said the US foreign policy should accord priority to defending human rights around the world which is a far cry from the time, money and effort expended by policymakers in Washington DC.

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The State Department produces annual country reports on human rights, for instance. The other part of global policing by the US that received a significant thumbs-down from the respondents was the promotion of democracy around the world. Only 18 per cent of the respondents said it should be a foreign policy priority.

Absolutely the last.

Yet, both the White House and the State Department push democracy in dealings with foreign counterparts, cutely couched in diplomatese as “frank” discussions.

–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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Taiwan's opposition-led Parliament amends law to expand power

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Taipei, May 28 (IANS/DPA) Taiwan’s Parliament, dominated by the China-friendly opposition, on Tuesday amended a controversial law to expand the lawmakers’ investigative powers, which opponents have slammed as an erosion of democracy.

Outside the Parliament building, more than 30,000 protesters showed their outrage by giving the move a thumbs-down.

“This is a law that is most difficult to operate and enforce because it had never been fully discussed,” Puma Shen, a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said at the legislative session after the passage of the amendment, adding that the legislative procedure lacks transparency.

Protesters said the amendment’s passage would hinder the normal functioning of the government under new President Lai Ching-te of the independence-leaning DPP, who took office last week, and create chilling effects on Taiwan’s democracy.

In Taiwan, the directly-elected President appoints the premier to head the Executive Yuan, which formulates policy.

The Legislative Yuan then reviews policies and enacts laws.

The DPP lost its majority in the Legislative Yuan in January’s elections.

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The opposition lawmakers have moved to increase their powers over the work of the president and the executive. Now the president should deliver the state-of-the-nation report during the legislature’s annual assembly and he must appear himself in person, according to state-run Central News Agency.

The new rules also stipulate that counter-questions are not allowed when being questioned by lawmakers, and the person being questioned may not refuse to reply or else they will be considered in contempt.

Violators can be fined up to NT$200,000 ($6,215).

In addition, lawmakers have expanded the number of people they can call in to question to include government agencies, military units, legal representatives, groups or other relevant people.

Those who refuse to appear can be fined up to NT$100,000 by resolution of the legislature.

Tuesday’s demonstration was the fourth since mid-May.

The protesters have expressed concerns about what they see as a dysfunctional legislature and the violation of procedures by China-friendly opposition parties, including the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

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KMT chairman Eric Chu said on Facebook on Tuesday that this reform is not only in line with public opinion after the 2024 presidential election, but is also a milestone in Taiwan’s third wave of democratic reforms.

Chu called on President Lai to abide by the constitutional system, respect the Legislative Yuan, and comply with the expectations of the majority.

KMT legislative caucus whip Fu Kun-chi said on Tuesday that, with the amendment, opposition lawmakers will soon launch investigations into certain corruption cases as soon as possible.

“We will bring sunlight into Taiwan,” Fu told reporters.

But DPP legislator Kuo Kuo-wen said, “The Parliament will become a platform for secret leakage because Beijing can gain key information through China-friendly lawmakers.”

“We, as people from the civil society, will urge the Executive Yuan to ask the legislature to reconsider the amendment,” Taiwan Economic Democracy Union convener Lai Chung-chiang told the crowd outside Parliament, saying that the government is entitled to do so in accordance with the constitution.

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“Why are the adults in power unable to practise the rules and spirit of democracy?” Chiu She-ching, a high-school student said on the stage to the crowd.

“I cannot tolerate irresponsible lawmakers skipping the procedure to review the bill clause by clause. I’m so worried about the gradual erosion of democracy and freedom,” a woman surnamed Lai, 39, with her two-year-old girl sleeping in a baby cart, told dpa at the protest.

On stage, Wu Rwei-ren, a researcher at the prestigious Academia Sinica’s Institute of Taiwan History, told protesters that foreign observers had pointed out that Taiwan’s opposition-controlled Parliament was seeking to rebalance power.

“The third reading passed today in Taiwan will ultimately benefit the Beijing regime,” Wu said, citing a new article in the current affairs magazine — The Diplomat.

–IANS/DPA

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