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Tuvalu’s new premier says democracy and loyalty are reasons for preferring Taiwan over Beijing

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The new prime minister in the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu said on Friday his country shares democratic values with Taiwan and reaffirmed that his government would maintain diplomatic ties with Taipei, ruling out a shift to Beijing.

Prime Minister Feleti Teo spoke to The Associated Press via Zoom, his first interview with international media since his government took office earlier this week.

“Our ties with Taiwan are purely based on democratic principles and they have been very loyal to us,” Teo said.

Teo, a 61-year-old first-time lawmaker, and his eight Cabinet ministers were sworn into office on Wednesday, a month after general elections in the strategically significant nation of 11,500 people half way between Australia and Hawaii.

Election campaign issues included whether Tuvalu should switch its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing. An elected candidate proposed scrapping a treaty, which has yet to be ratified, that would give Australia veto power over any security-related agreement Tuvalu wants to make with any other country, including China.

The new administration announced it would maintain diplomatic ties with the self-governing Taiwan. China has claimed Taiwan since a 1949 split amid civil war.

“We don’t see any reason why we need to invest in time to discuss and engage in the two-China discussion,” he added, referring to the counter-policy from the “One China” principle, which is China’s view that it has sovereignty over the mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

Seve Paeniu, who was finance minister in the previous government and was considered a leadership contender in the election, had argued for Tuvalu’s relationships with both Taiwan and Beijing to be reviewed. Paeniu was excluded from Teo’s Cabinet.

Tuvalu’s Parliament has 16 lawmakers and no political parties so a prime minister must garner the support of at least eight independent lawmakers to command a majority.

After Teo was chosen by 10 of his fellow lawmakers to be prime minister on Monday, China’s foreign ministry urged Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to “stand on the right side of history and make the right decision that truly serves their long-term interest” by switching allegiances to Beijing.

When the tiny atoll country of Nauru switched alliances to Beijing in January, Tuvalu was left one of only three Pacific island nations aligned with Taiwan, a self-governed democracy that China claims as its own territory.

Teo, a former long-term Tuvaluan public servant and regional bureaucrat, said the question of changing allegiances was “definitely not” an issue for his people.

Teo said he hopes to renegotiate development assistance agreements with Taiwan and that impacts of climate change and sea level rises remain top priorities for his nation of low-lying atolls.

The treaty with Australia, announced by previous Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in November, offered Tuvaluans an option of resettlement in Australia to escape rising oceans and worsening storms.

Australia would initially allow up to 280 Tuvaluans to immigrate each year. The treaty would also commit Australia to helping Tuvalu in response to major natural disasters, pandemics and military aggression.

But Teo wants Australia to drop a clause that both countries must “mutually agree” on any third-country security agreement that Tuvalu may seek.

Teo said he had been involved in drafting the treaty as a legal consultant for Tuvalu and the original intention had been only for Australia to be informed of such third-party agreements. Australian approval had not been expected.

Teo would not speculate on whether Australia wants veto power to avoid a repeat of the security pact signed between China and the Solomon Islands in 2022 that raised the prospect of a Chinese naval foothold being established in the South Pacific.

Teo said while his government is “certainly behind the broad principle and objectives of the treaty,” it still has ways to go. In his view, the treaty would become acceptable if Australia dropped the mutual agreement provision.

“We need to revisit that provision,” Teo said. “The general perspective here in Tuvalu is that it might encroach on Tuvalu’s sovereignty.”

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s office did not immediately respond to a request or comment on whether further negotiation was possible.


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Bangladeshi leader says a shopping mall that caught fire had no emergency exits. Death toll climbs

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A six-story shopping mall that caught fire in the Bangladeshi capital had no fire exits, the country’s prime minister said Friday, as the death toll climbed to at least 46 and rescuers continued to search for more victims.

The fire started late Thursday in a restaurant on the first floor of the Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall in downtown Dhaka. More than a dozen firefighting units were deployed.

Firefighters rescued survivors and pulled out bodies, and by early Friday, at least 43 people were confirmed dead. Three injured people died later, said Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen. He said the toll could rise further as at least a dozen critically injured people were being treated in two state-run hospitals.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her shock at the loss of lives and said that it was a result of negligence.

“What could be more painful than this?” she said, speaking at an unrelated event in Dhaka.

“We always request our architects, at least when they design homes or buildings, (to) keep a small open balcony, a fire exit or ventilation. But architects … will not design that properly and also the owners do not want to leave an inch of space,” she said.

One survivor said people escaped by heading to the building’s roof.

“I knew about the fire when it was at the first floor. We moved to the roof of the building. Around 30 people were there. After the fire was under control, fire service personnel broke into one side of the roof and rescued us,” Mohammed Siam said.

Forty-one victims have been identified and 38 of the bodies have been handed to their families, said Bacchu Mia, who is in charge of a police outpost at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

“Overnight many families waited here for their loved ones. It’s a heartbreaking scene as they desperately looked for their family members who died in the tragedy,” Mia said.

Five members of one family were among the dead, while the toll also included students, teachers and two reporters. The fire broke out at the beginning of the country’s weekend and many people were dining.

A fire department team entered the charred building Friday morning to see if there were more bodies, and forensic experts began looking for evidence.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. But the fire service department said the building owner was served at least three times with notice to correct the building’s fire extinguishing system.

Bangladesh has a history of such fires in commercial buildings in Dhaka and outside. Experts say lax monitoring and violation of building codes by construction companies and owners have proved deadly.


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Cambodia’s pioneering post-Khmer Rouge era Phnom Penh Post newspaper will stop print publication

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The Phnom Penh Post, a newspaper founded in 1992 as Cambodia sought to re-establish stability and democracy after decades of war and unrest, said Friday that it will stop publishing in print this month, the latest blow to the country’s dwindling independent media.

The Post was founded as an English-language biweekly in 1992. It later added a Khmer-language edition, and in 2008 began publishing daily.

It wrote on social media accounts that it would stop publishing both English and Khmer editions by March 29, citing a decline in advertising revenues due to a pandemic-related economic downturn, which added to financial difficulties caused by the spread of social media and other new technology.

One of its reporters, Chheng Niem, posted on X, the social network formerly called Twitter that the newspaper would continue to publish online, though the paper did not mention such plans.

The government of then-Prime Minister Hun Sen cracked down heavily on independent media in 2017. The Cambodia Daily, a competitor of the Post, was forced to close when it was presented with a huge tax bill which it felt was presented for political reasons.

The Post came under similar political pressure as it also lagged in advertising revenue, and in 2018 was sold by its Australian publisher to a Malaysian investor who was widely seen as acting as a proxy for the interests of the ruling Cambodia People’s Party. Several senior staff resigned and it ceased most of the sort of aggressive independent reporting that had once been its hallmark.

The Post was founded on a shoestring by Americans Michael Hayes and Kathleen O’Keefe as Cambodia with U.N. help, sought to recover from the devastation wrought by the brutal rule of the Khnmer Rouge in the late 1970s. The Khmer Rouge still posed a military threat into the late 1990s, and much of the early coverage focused on that conflict, aided by a multinational staff and freelancers.

Its journalism flourished, in competition from The Cambodia Daily, founded in 1993 and also heavily staffed by young Westerners. Both papers served as a sort of training ground for young journalists early in their careers.

The Post, which was never very profitable, was sold by its founders to an Australia-led media group in 2008. By that time, all independent media was caming under increasing pressure as then-Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodia People’s Party tightened their grip on power and sought to silence most critics. Hun Sen stepped down last year after 38 years as prime minister and was succeeded by his son, Hun Manet.

Last year, one of Cambodia’s few remaining independent media outlets, Voice of Democracy radio, ceased operations after Hun Sen ordered its closure for allegedly slandering his son in a story.


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Myanmar junta’s access to arms, cash must be cut off, UN rights chief says

GENEVA (Reuters) – The international community must take “targeted action” to restrict the Myanmar junta’s access to arms, jet fuel and foreign currency to prevent it from committing “atrocities” against its people, the U.N. human rights chief said on Friday.

“I repeat my call to the international community to refocus its energy on preventing atrocities against all people in the country, including the Rohingya,” Volker Turk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva, referring to the junta.

He said countries should “end the military’s access to arms, jet fuel and foreign currency that it needs to sustain its campaign of repression against civilians.”

Myanmar has been plunged in turmoil since the military seized power from an elected government in a 2021 coup.

Muslim Rohingya have faced persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for decades and nearly a million of them live in crammed camps in Bangladesh’s border district of Cox’s Bazar. Most fled a military crackdown in 2017.

Myanmar’s military rulers view the Rohingya as foreign interlopers and have denied them citizenship.

“After suffering decades of systematic discrimination, repression, massive forced displacement, and other serious human rights violations, the Rohingya today remain essentially imprisoned in villages and internment camps,” Turk said.

Bangladesh said last month it will not allow any more Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to enter the country because supporting the huge numbers already there threatens its own security.

“My Office has received multiple credible reports that hundreds of Rohingya fleeing violence are being prevented from entering Bangladesh,” Turk said.

“I appeal to all member states to ensure international refugee protection to people fleeing persecution and conflict in Myanmar.”

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Miral Fahmy)


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Artillery shelling kills 12 in Myanmar market, injures 80 – rebel militia

(Reuters) – At least 12 civilians were killed in Myanmar when artillery shells landed in a busy market in western Rakhine State, as the ruling military and anti-junta forces traded blame for the latest violence to rock the Southeast Asian country.

The insurgent group Arakan Army (AA) operating in Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh, said that a military warship off the port city of Sittwe fired shells into Myoma market on Thursday, killing 12 and injuring more than 80 people.

The junta published a statement on state TV channel Myawaddy, claiming the shells were fired by the AA. It did not confirm the number of casualties.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the incident.

Sittwe and other towns in Rakhine are facing information blackouts as the junta has reimposed internet and mobile data curbs in the state.

Myanmar has been locked in a cycle of violence since the military seized power from an elected government in a 2021 coup. The junta has since October been in the throes of the biggest challenge to its grip on power, after armed rebel groups launched coordinated attacks on military outposts in several states across the country.

In Rakhine, conflict between the AA and the junta has intensified, with fighting focused near the state capital Sittwe, a significant port and trading hub on the Bay of Bengal.

A spokesperson for the ethnic armed group said the AA has pushed out the junta’s troops from at least five towns including Paletwa, a key trading post, and Ponnagyun, only 34 km (21 miles) from Sittwe.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)


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The Latest | Condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza grows after dozens killed while seeking aid

Turkey has joined Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan in condemning Israeli forces firing on Palestinians waiting for the delivery of aid, with its foreign ministry calling the event “yet another crime against humanity.”

Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a chaotic crush for the food aid, and that its troops only fired when they felt endangered by the crowd.

The Health Ministry in Gaza says more than 100 people were killed and at least 700 wounded. That brings the Palestinian death toll to more than 30,000 in the Gaza Strip since Israel’s war on Hamas began nearly five months ago after Hamas-led militants stormed across southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 others hostage.

Israel responded with a blistering offensive in the Gaza Strip that has created a humanitarian catastrophe and devastation in northern areas like Gaza City, which are largely cut off from the rest of the territory with little aid entering. In a statement issued late Thursday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry accused Israel of using “starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza.”

Currently:

— A Palestinian American woman who faces trial in Israeli military court is released on bail.

— Colombia pauses buying Israeli weapons and president calls war in Gaza “genocide.”

— Journalism leaders ask for more protection for those covering the war.

— Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.

Here’s the latest:

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey denounced Israeli forces firing on Palestinians waiting for the delivery of aid as “yet another crime against humanity.”

In a statement issued late Thursday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry accused Israel of using “starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza” and alleged that the latest event, which left more than 100 people dead, was evidence “of Israel’s intention to destroy the entire Palestinian population.”

“The entire world must realise that the atrocity in Gaza is about to become a global catastrophe with repercussions far beyond the region,” the ministry said. “We therefore call on all those with influence over the Israeli government to stop the ongoing violence in Gaza.”


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Malaysia may permanently waive rules for foreign ships working on undersea cables

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) -Malaysia has decided to reverse an earlier decision and allow foreign vessels to repair undersea cables in its waters, its transport minister said on Friday, adding the move may be made permanent to encourage tech investments and support the digital economy.

The government had revoked permission for international vessels from conducting such work in 2020, citing the outflow of foreign funds via freight payments and the need to develop the domestic shipping industry.

Major tech companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon had previously sought a reinstatement of the cabotage waiver, due to potential delays in submarine cable repair and maintenance. Such rules regulate shipping or trade activities in a country’s waters or airspace.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke told reporters the government had agreed to restore the exemption following discussions with international technology and telecommunications industry participants.

“We will do everything necessary to ensure (the industries) that there is certainty in terms of this policy… and to attract more international investment not only on undersea cables but also in data centres,” Loke said.

Loke also announced other changes to Malaysia’s shipping rules, including reinstating its cabotage policy on vessels shipping cargo from the country’s peninsula to Sarawak state on Borneo island.

All local and foreign ships carrying out cargo services in Malaysian waters will also be required to apply for a domestic shipping license due to national security concerns, Loke said, while adding that approval processes will be eased.

The new rules are expected to come into effect within the next two months, he said.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Kim Coghill)


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India’s richest man is bringing Rihanna and 1,200 guests to a pre-wedding bash for his son

NEW DELHI (AP) — It could be the biggest party this small west Indian city has ever seen. As billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani prepares for the wedding of his son this summer, he’s expecting billionaires from around the world, heads of state, and Hollywood and Bollywood royalty to attend a three-day bash in the family’s hometown, starting Friday.

The nearly 1,200-person guest list includes Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sunder Pichai, and Ivanka Trump; Indian billionaires Gautam Adani and Kumar Mangalam Birla; and cricketers and Bollywood film stars such as Deepika Padukone, Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Salman Khan and Sachin Tendulkar, Arijit Singh and Diljeet Dosanjh.

They’ll be entertained by pop superstar Rihanna, magician David Blaine and famous Bollywood singers.

The party is in Jamnagar, a city of around 600,000 in a near-desert part of Gujarat state. It’s the family’s hometown, and the home of the main oil refinery of their business empire, Reliance Industries. There will also be traditional ceremonies in a temple complex.

On Wednesday, the Ambani family sought organized a community food service for 51,000 people living in nearby villages.

Anant Ambani, 28, is set to marry his long-time girlfriend Radhika Merchant, in July. Merchant is the daughter of Viren Merchant, CEO of Encore Healthcare Pvt. Ltd., and entrepreneur Shaila Merchant.

The three-day pre-wedding bash starting Friday will provide a glimpse of the wedding itself, which is expected in July.

Guests will don “jungle fever” outfits when visiting an animal rescue center run by Anant Ambani. Known as “Vantara,” meaning “Star Of The Forest,” the 3,000 acre (1,200 hectare) center houses abused, injured and endangered animals, especially elephants.

The invitation says guests will find a mood board for each day’s dress code, with an army of hair stylists, makeup artists and Indian wear designers at their hotel.

Forbes lists Mukesh Ambani as the richest person in Asia. His Reliance Industries is a massive conglomerate, reporting over $100 billion in annual revenue, with interests ranging from petrochemicals, and oil and gas to telecoms and retail.

Indian tycoons are never in a hurry to pass on the baton, but the 66-year-old Mukesh Ambani has begun handing over leadership to his sons and daughter.

Elder son Akash is now chairperson of Reliance Jio; daughter Isha oversees retail; and younger son Anant has been inducted into the new energy business.

The guest list also includes Mohammed Bin Jassim al Thani, the prime minister of Qatar; Stephen Harper, former Canadian prime minister; and the king and queen of Bhutan.


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Scandinavian Airlines medevac plane lands in Malaysian island where Norwegian king is hospitalized

LANGKAWI, Malaysia (AP) — A Scandinavian Airlines medical evacuation plane arrived on Friday in Malaysia’s northern resort island of Langkawi, where the Norwegian king is in hospital and being treated for an infection.

King Harald V, Europe’s oldest monarch at 87, was hospitalized after he fell ill during a vacation, the royal palace in Oslo announced on Tuesday. There were no details of his illness. His son, Crown Prince Haakon, has said his father’s condition was improving and that he needed rest before being brought back.

Norwegian TV2 said that a Scandinavian aircraft with the tail number LN-RPJ took off from Oslo Airport on Thursday, The Boeing 737-700 airline, which has previously been used as a flying ambulance, landed in Langkawi on Friday.

The Norwegian Defense Force reportedly declined to confirm if the plane will pick up King Harald. Norwegian TV2 said the same aircraft was used last summer for the medical evacuation of patients from Ukraine.

King Harald V, Europe’s oldest monarch at 87, was hospitalized after he fell ill during a vacation, the royal palace in Oslo announced on Tuesday. There were no details of his illness. His son, Crown Prince Haakon, has said his father’s condition was improving and that he needed rest before being brought back.

Norwegian TV2 said that a Scandinavian aircraft with the tail number LN-RPJ took off from Oslo Airport on Thursday, The Boeing 737-700 airline, which has previously been used as a flying ambulance, landed in Langkawi on Friday.

The Norwegian Defense Force has declined to confirm if the plane will pick up King Harald. Norwegian TV2 said the same aircraft was used last summer for the medical evacuation of patients from Ukraine.

The royal palace in Oslo said late Thursday that ”the aim is that the king can return home by plane in a few days” but did not say when that would be.

Malaysian national news agency Bernama has reported that Harald was undergoing treatment at the Sultanah Maliha Hospital in Langkawi. It cited unnamed sources as saying he was staying in the hospital’s Royal Suite. The hospital declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

Prince Haakon said Wednesday the king was in good spirits.

“It is clear that his age means that it is good to treat this properly. They are very good at the hospital,” Haakon told Norwegian reporters. “We don’t know when he will come home. We will have to decide on that later.” The palace said that “no decision has been made regarding his return home.”

Earlier, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said that “we get worried when our king gets ill and is admitted to hospital, whether in Norway or abroad.”

“We should do what we can to contribute to getting the king home as quickly as possible and as healthy as possible,” he told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Two days before his birthday last week, Norwegian news agency NTB said that the king would be undertaking a private trip abroad together with his wife Queen Sonja, without specifying the destination or dates.

Media in Norway have reported that Harald traveled to Malaysia to celebrate his 87th birthday.

In the past, the Norwegian king has traveled privately in connection with his birthdays. When he turned 80, he and his family traveled to South Africa and they were on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to mark his 85th birthday, media in Norway reported.

The monarch, who has been seen using crutches in recent years, has been repeatedly ill in recent months, raising concern about the head of state’s health. In January, the palace said he was on sick leave until Feb. 2 because of a respiratory infection.

In December, he was admitted to a hospital with an infection and was treated with intravenous antibiotics. He also was hospitalized last August with a fever.

___

Ng reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.


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South Korea’s Yoon calls for unification, on holiday marking 1919 uprising against colonial Japan

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s president lambasted North Korea on Friday over what he called its repressive rule and vowed to achieve a free, unified Korean Peninsula, weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rejected the idea of peaceful unification and threatened to occupy the South in the event of war.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol spoke on March 1 Independence Movement Day, a holiday marking a 1919 Korean uprising against Japanese colonial rule.

“Now, we must move toward a free, unified Korean Peninsula,” Yoon said in a televised speech. “The North Korean regime relies solely on nuclear weapons and missiles while trapping its 26 million citizens in a quagmire of misery and despair.”

“Unification is precisely what is needed to expand the universal values of freedom and human rights,” Yoon said. “Our unification efforts must become a source of hope and a beacon of light for the people of North Korea.”

Yoon and Kim’s conflicting comments on unification come after Korean animosities have run high for more than two years, with North Korea ramping up missile tests and South Korea expanding military drills with the U.S. in a tit-for-tat cycle.

For most of the 70 years since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, unification was a prized goal of leaders in both Koreas, which are divided by the world’s most heavily fortified border. But the prospects for unifying the rich, democratic South and the nominally socialist, authoritarian and poor North any time soon are extremely dim, observers say.

Despite extensive U.S.-led sanctions and its own economic mismanagement, North Korea has appeared politically stable. Exchange programs between the Koreas have been dormant since Kim’s high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with then-President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019.

In a speech in January, Kim vowed to rewrite the constitution to remove the long-running state goal of a peaceful Korean unification and cement South Korea as an “invariable principal enemy.” He said the new constitution must specify North Korea would annex and subjugate the South if another war breaks out. The sudden abandonment of a policy to seek peaceful unification took observers by surprise.

Many experts say Kim likely aimed to take the initiative in dealings with the South while trying to diminish South Korean cultural influence and bolster his family’s rule at home.

During Friday’s speech, Yoon called Kim’s vow of enmity “truly deplorable.” He earlier said Kim’s speech showed the “anti-national and anti-historical” nature of the North Korean government.

Yoon’s speech didn’t touch on the abuses of the Japanese colonial rulers in Korea, which left painful memories and have long been a source of tension between the two countries.

“On a holiday commemorating Korea’s resistance against Japanese colonialism a century ago, Yoon touted his administration’s improved relations with Tokyo,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul. “He emphasized that the independence movement will only be complete once the northern and southern halves of the Korean Peninsula are finally unified and free.”

Since taking office in 2022, Yoon has worked to beef up South Korea’s military alliance with the U.S. and resolve historical disputes with Japan, aiming to forge a stronger Seoul-Washington-Tokyo partnership against North Korea’s nuclear threats.

“Now, Korea and Japan are working together to overcome the painful past,” Yoon said. “Sharing the values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law, our two countries have become partners in the pursuit of common interests for global peace and prosperity.”


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