Category: World

Federal government expected to borrow $990 billion this year

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The Trump administration says it expects to borrow $990 billion to fund the government in the current budget year, the second year of sizable increases in borrowing needs.

The Treasury Department on Monday projected that borrowing in the April-June quarter would total $30 billion. Borrowing in the July-September period, the final quarter of the budget year will total $160 billion.

The $990 billion borrowing total for the 2019 budget year would be down from $1.2 trillion borrowed in 2018. But both years are up from 2017’s $519 billion in government borrowing.

The big jump reflects sizable increases in the annual budget deficits, which the administration says will top $1 trillion this year and remain above $1 trillion through 2022.

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Sri Lanka’s face veil ban stokes fear of Muslims, experts say

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Under an emergency law that took effect yesterday, women in Sri Lanka are banned from wearing face veils.

The law’s implementation comes just over a week after the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels that left more than 200 people dead.

Authorities said it would be helpful to security forces in their search for remaining plotters and their network. Isis (Islamic State) claimed responsibility for the attacks, although the group’s degree of involvement was not immediately clear.

But human rights experts and regional analysts alike are concerned that the ban may do more harm than good.

The attacks were the worst violence the country had seen since its civil war ended a decade ago. That war was not fought on religious lines but between the state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, a separatist group that made suicide bombings a hallmark of its fight for the Tamil nation independent from Sri Lanka and its Sinhalese majority.

After Tamil Tiger attacks, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told the Washington Post, Tamil civilians faced discrimination. The United Nations has estimated that as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by the state in the last few months of the war.

Sri Lanka’s anti-terrorism legislation – the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1978 – has been denounced by critics who say it has permitted the targeting and detention of members of the Tamil minority.

And this is, as Ganguly put it, “the broader issue . . . collective punishment after attacks.”

“The reaction should be to find the perpetrator. . . and to prosecute those people,” she said. It should not be “the collective punishment of Muslim women,” at least some of whom will be confined to their homes if they are to both practice their faith and observe the ban, Ganguly said.

Muslims make up roughly 9.7 percent of the population of Sri Lanka. Before the Easter Sunday attacks, the Muslim community did not have a history of violent extremism in Sri Lanka, although its members have faced pressure and persecution by some in the Buddhist majority in recent years.

“The veil ban telegraphs in a counterproductive way that Sri Lanka’s Muslim community is being singled out as a security risk. That itself could further deepen suspicions between Muslims and other religious groups on the island,” Joshua White, an associate professor and South Asia expert at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, wrote in an email.

And the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka is already worried about possible retaliation in the wake of the Easter attacks. Already, some have been dealing with hateful online messages, and stones have been thrown through the windows of some Muslim homes and businesses.

“Already the Muslim community is feeling under enormous pressure,” Ganguly said. Showing true “leadership” would be to find out who was responsible and prosecute them, she added.

“Sri Lanka cannot once again fall into a state where it violates human rights,” Ganguly said.

Sri Lankan authorities, who have come under criticism for failing to stop the attacks before they happened, have presented the emergency law as necessary to help security services. Yet critics wonder whether a face-veil ban will actually be of significant use, given that it was mostly (though not exclusively) men who carried out the Easter attacks.

“Over the long term, what concerns me about the veil ban is that it involves pressuring an already vulnerable minority community to give up some of its rights in exchange for a negligible public safety benefit,” said White, a former senior adviser and director for South Asian affairs in President Barack Obama’s National Security Council.

ISIS Leader al-Baghdadi Appears in Video for First Time in 5 Years

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The shadowy leader of the Islamic State group claimed to appear for the first time in five years in a video released by the extremist group’s propaganda arm on Monday, acknowledging defeat in the group’s last stronghold in Syria but vowing a “long battle” ahead.

The man said to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the video also claimed the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka which killed over 250 people were “part of the revenge” that awaits the West.

The video released Monday by a media outlet run by the extremists, Al-Furqan, shows al-Baghdadi with a bushy grey and red beard, wearing a black robe with a beige vest and seated on the floor with what appears to be an AK47 rifle propped up next to him. He is speaking with three men seated opposite him whose faces were covered and blotted out.

It is his first video appearance since he delivered a sermon at the al-Nuri mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014. In that video, he appeared as a black-robed figure with a trimmed black beard to deliver a sermon from the pulpit of the mosque in which he urged Muslims around the world to swear allegiance to the caliphate and obey him as its leader.

Since then, he has only released audio messages through the group’s media outlets.

In the video released Monday, al-Baghdadi acknowledged that IS lost the war in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz, the group’s last sliver of territory, which was captured last month by the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The fall of Baghouz marked the militants’ territorial defeat and the end of their self-declared Islamic caliphate over parts of Syria and Iraq.

Al-Baghdadi said that the battle for Baghouz demonstrated the “barbarism and brutality” of the West and the “courage, steadfastness and resilience of the nation of Islam.”

“This steadfastness shocked the hearts of the Crusaders in what increased their rage,” he added.

Referring to the setbacks in battle, he said the “brothers” of the many fallen fighters “will avenge that, as they will not forget as long as they have blood in their veins, and there will be a battle after this one.”

Al-Baghdadi called specifically on his followers to intensify attacks on France.

He made repeated references to current events, including Benjamin Netanyahu, winning the elections in Israel and the fall of longtime dictators Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Omar al-Bashir in Algeria and Sudan.

Most significantly, he praised the recent attacks in Sri Lanka which he said have “pleased the hearts of Muslims,” and said it is “part of the revenge that awaits the Crusaders and their followers.”

The group has claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, and investigators are looking into the extent of the extremist group’s involvement with the local radicalized Muslims who carried out the suicide bombings.

It is unclear when or where the video was filmed. Al-Baghdadi appeared to be in good health, although he spoke slowly and sometimes haltingly in the video.

With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, al-Baghdadi is the world’s most wanted man, responsible for steering his chillingly violent organization into the mass slaughter of opponents and directing and inspiring terror attacks across continents and in the heart of Europe.

Despite numerous claims about his death in the past few years, al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts remain a mystery. Many of his top aides have been killed, mostly in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. He is among the few senior IS commanders still at large after two years of steady battlefield losses that saw the self-styled “caliphate” shrink from an area the size of Britain to a tiny speck in the Euphrates River valley.

The video appeared to be aimed at boosting morale. He bragged his group carried out 92 attacks in eight countries to avenge the loss of territory in Syria, citing Sri Lanka, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, without offering evidence for his claim.

Although largely seen as a symbolic figurehead of the global terror network, al-Baghdadi’s capture would be a coveted prize for the various players across both Syria and Iraq.

But so far, he has eluded the Americans, Russians, Syrians, Iraqis, and Kurds.

“Our battle today is a war of attrition to harm the enemy, and they should know that jihad will continue until doomsday,” al-Baghdadi said.

United Nations gives Mozambique $13 million for Cyclone Kenneth damage

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MAPUTO, April 29 (Reuters) – The United Nations will grant Mozambique and the Comoros Islands $13 million in emergency funds to help provide food and water and repair damage to infrastructure, the organization said late on Sunday, after the second cyclone in a month slammed into the region. Cyclone Kenneth crashed into the northern province of the southern African nation on Thursday just as it was recovering from Cyclone Idai that hit further south last month.

Idai, the worst tropical storm to hit the region in decades, moved into neighboring Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing more than 1,000 people.

Weather experts are warning that Kenneth could dump twice as much rain on northern Mozambique as Idai did. It has already killed five people as it unleashed heavy rains and flooding that has seen rivers burst their banks and smash whole villages.

Cyclone Kenneth hit the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado late on Thursday, flattening entire villages with winds of up to 280 kph (174 mph).

The World Bank estimates Mozambique and other countries affected by the tropical storm will need over $2 billion to recover.

Mozambique also faces a cholera epidemic after the cyclone wiped out water and sanitation facilities.

“This new allocation of Central Emergency Response Fund funds will help humanitarian partners to scale up the response to address the needs of those most vulnerable in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth”, said UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock in a statement.

Earlier in April, The International Monetary Fund granted the southern African nation a $118.2 million credit facility.

Two US Navy warships sail through strategic Taiwan Strait

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The US military said it sent two Navy warships through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday as the Pentagon increases the frequency of movement through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.

The voyage risks further raising tensions with China but will likely be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from the Trump administration amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.

Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, which also include a trade war, US sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols.

The two destroyers were identified as the William P. Lawrence and Stethem. The 112-mile-wide (180-km) Taiwan Strait separates Taiwan from China.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said in a statement.

Doss said there were no unsafe or unprofessional interactions with other countries’ vessels during the transit.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the US ships had sailed north through the strait.

“US ships freely passing through the Taiwan Strait is part of the mission of carrying out the Indo-Pacific strategy,” it said in a statement.

Taiwan’s armed forces monitored the transit and nothing out of the ordinary happened during it, the ministry said.

There was no immediate comment from China.

The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide the island with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms.

The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taipei more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.

China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a wayward province of “one China” and sacred Chinese territory.

It said a recent Taiwan Strait passage by a French warship, first reported by Reuters on Wednesday, was “illegal.”

Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan are likely to factor strongly into this year’s Chinese defense budget, following a stern New Year’s speech from President Xi Jinping, threatening to attack Taiwan should it not accept Chinese rule.

China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and worked to isolate it internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.

Spain’s Socialists win an election, far right makes gains

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The Socialist Party won 123 out of 350 seats in parliament with about 29 percent of votes, leaving it short of a majority but well ahead of the 85 seats it won in the last election in 2016.

Sanchez came to power in June following a no-confidence vote against conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose Popular Party took 66 seats compared to the 137 it won in the previous poll.

“The Socialists have won the general election, and with it, the future has won and the past has lost,” Sanchez told supporters at party headquarters in Madrid late Sunday.

But the result means Sanchez will need to form a coalition with hostile forces in order to govern.

For the past ten months, he governed through alliances with hard-left Podemos or separatist parties in Catalonia, whose refusal to back Sanchez’s 2019 budget led to Sunday’s snap polls.

Sanchez could also seek a deal with centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), whose 57 seats would secure an absolute majority. However, supporters of both parties would likely frown upon such a deal.

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera built his campaign on disparaging Sanchez, namely criticizing his attempts to negotiate with separatists parties from Catalonia in a bid to ease the north-eastern region’s secessionist crisis.

Far right surges on criticism over Catalan separatists

The crisis in Catalonia, which came to a head in an unauthorized independence referendum in 2017, also fuelled the rise of ultra-nationalist party Vox in the southern region of Andalusia.

During the campaign, Vox advocated the “defense of the Spanish nation to the end” and a hard line against Catalonian separatists.

The party took just over 10 percent of the ballot on Sunday, meaning Spain has its first significant far-right political force since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Opinion polls had predicted greater results, but party leader Santiago Abascal was more optimistic. “We can tell Spain with a complete calm that Vox has come to stay,” he told supporters.

Other right-wing parties attacked Sanchez for talking with separatists that they accuse of trying to break up Spain.

The instability provoked by Catalan separatism and its aftermath is likely to continue shaping Spanish politics, with two pro-independence parties growing their shared presence in parliament from 17 to 22 seats on Sunday.

The five newly elected separatists are in jail and are currently being tried at Spain’s Supreme Court.

At least 10 dead, thousands displaced after severe Indonesia floods

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JAKARTA (AFP) – At least 10 people are dead and eight are missing after days of heavy rain-triggered floods and landslides on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, authorities said on Sunday (April 28).

Some 12,000 people have been evacuated while hundreds of buildings, bridges, and roads have been damaged by the severe weather which affected nine districts or towns across Bengkulu province, officials said.

The waters have receded in some places but officials warned that the full extent of the damage was not yet known and some areas were still cut off.

“The impact of this disaster may increase,” national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said, adding that several people were also injured in the flooding.

“Landslides and floods could happen again if rainfall is high,” he said.

A secondary disaster in the form of skin diseases and acute respiratory infection due to poor hygiene and a lack of clean water as possible, he added.

Aerial images showed swollen rivers that had burst their banks and inundated settlements in some parts of the province.

Public kitchens and evacuation shelters have been set up to cater to some 13,000 people affected by the flooding, while search and rescue teams try to reach hard-hit areas with rubber boats.

“The distribution of aid has been hampered because road access has been cut off by the floods and landslides,” Dr Sutopo said, adding that excavators were being used to clear debris from roads.

Landslides and floods are common in Indonesia, especially during the monsoon season between October and April, when rains lash the vast South-east Asian archipelago.

Flooding in parts of the Indonesian capital Jakarta this week killed at least two people and forced more than 2000 to evacuate their homes.

Residents of Bogor, a satellite city of Jakarta, had to contend with some 14 pythons that were set loose from a private property due to the high waters.

Six of the snakes – which were as long as 4m – have been found, but the remaining eight remain on the loose, officials said.