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US VP Harris visits Philippine island near China-claimed waters

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US Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday visited a Philippine island near waters claimed by China to show support for the longtime US ally and counter Beijing’s growing influence in the region.

Harris is the highest-ranking US official ever to visit the western island of Palawan, the closest Philippine landmass to the Spratly archipelago in the hotly contested South China Sea.

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Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire sea and has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of it.

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Harris met with fisherfolk in a coastal village and members of the Philippine Coast Guard.

In a speech, Harris said “international rules and norms” must be upheld and the UN-backed tribunal decision rejecting China’s claims over the South China Sea respected.

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“The United States — and the broader international community — have a profound stake in the future of this region,” she said, on board a Philippine Coast Guard vessel.

“As an ally, the United States stands with the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea.”

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Harris’s trip to Palawan comes a day after she held talks with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in Manila.

She reaffirmed the United States’ “unwavering” commitment to defending the Philippines if its vessels or aircraft were attacked in the South China Sea.

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Washington has a decades-old security alliance with the Philippines that includes a mutual defense treaty and a 2014 pact, known by the acronym EDCA, which allows for the US military to store defense equipment and supplies on five Philippine bases.

It also allows US troops to rotate through those military bases.

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EDCA stalled under former president Rodrigo Duterte, but the United States and the Philippines have expressed support for accelerating its implementation as China becomes increasingly assertive.

As regional tensions rise, fueled by China’s recent wargames around Taiwan, Washington is seeking to repair ties with Manila, whose cooperation would be critical in the event of a conflict.

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Relations between the two countries fractured under the mercurial Duterte, who favored China over his country’s former colonial master.

Marcos has sought to strike more of a balance between his superpower neighbors, insisting he will not let China trample on Manila’s maritime rights.
Harris’s visit conveyed a “stronger sense of commitment” to the Philippines’ position on maritime claims, but also underscored the need for EDCA’s continued implementation, said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’s Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

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“The US cannot adequately carry out its obligations if it is forced to stay several thousand kilometers away in Japan or Guam,” he said.

Of all the claimants to the South China Sea, Beijing has in recent years pressed its stance most aggressively.

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Hundreds of Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels prowl the waters, swarming reefs, harassing and attacking fishing and other boats, and interfering in oil and gas exploration as well as scientific research.

Chinese state outlet Global Times on Tuesday accused Harris of “fanning the flames of the South China Sea issue.”

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“The Philippines has the right to receive any foreign visitor. What we want to emphasize is that any bilateral exchanges should not be at the expense of the interests of any third country as well as regional peace and stability,” it said in an editorial.

On the eve of Harris’s visit to Palawan, a senior Philippine navy official accused the Chinese coast guard of “forcefully” seizing parts of a rocket that landed in the Spratlys.

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Beijing — which has built militarised artificial islands in the archipelago — insisted the handover took place after “friendly consultation.”

Tensions between Manila and Beijing flared last year after hundreds of Chinese vessels were detected at Whitsun Reef in the Spratlys.

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Last November, Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannon at Philippine boats delivering supplies to marines at Second Thomas Shoal in the same archipelago.

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Foreign

Peruvian PM Anibal Torres resigns amid crisis

Peruvian
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Peruvian President, Pedro Castillo has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Anibal Torres, the El Comercio newspaper reported on Friday.

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According to the report, Peru’s opposition-controlled Congress rejected leftist Torres’ request to hold a confidence vote on Thursday, indicating that the executive and legislative branches are still at odds.

In his address, Torres sought the repeal of the law, which establishes that all constitutional reform initiatives submitted to a referendum must first be approved by Congress.

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Castillo accepted Torres’ resignation, noting that he would reshuffle the Cabinet.

He said that the decision of the Congress was “a clear denial of trust,” the newspaper reported.

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Torres was the country’s fourth prime minister since Castillo took office in July 2021.

Former Prime Minister Hector Valer worked for about a week and stepped down amid allegations of corruption and domestic violence against him.

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Opposition lawmakers impeached Castillo twice but failed to oust him, although they managed to fire several cabinet members.

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Vice-President of Malawi, Saulos Chilima arrested for corruption

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By Gloria Ikibah

Vice-President of Malawi, Saulos Chilima has been arrested on allegations that he accepted money in exchange for awarding government contracts.

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According to the country’s anti-corruption agency, he is accused of receiving $280,000 (£230,000) from a British businessman “and other items”.

Chilima has appeared in court but has not commented on the charges.

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He had already been stripped of his powers in June when he was first accused by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

It had named him and another 83 Malawian officials as allegedly having corrupt dealings with the British businessman, named as Zuneth Sattar.

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Chilima is now facing a six count charge relating to corruption.

His supporters appeared to clash with police as he entered the court in the capital, Lilongwe, the Reuters news agency reports video from local media as showing.

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Mr Sattar was arrested in the UK in October last year and is out on bail.He is accused of using connections with senior Malawi government officials and politicians to fraudulently obtain contracts to supply goods and services.

The contracts related to armoured personnel carriers, food rations and water cannons, the Financial Times reported in May.

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Sattar has denied all wrong doing.

Chilima came to power in 2020 as the running mate of President Lazarus Chakwera.

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He had previously campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, promising to end decades of sleaze in government and ending poverty in one of the worlds most poorest countries.

“Corruption has the power to rupture a country and its people beyond repair. Corruption has the power to make a government lose its legitimacy over its people,” the vice-president is quoted in a 2021 Anti-Corruption Bureau newsletter as saying.

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Ukraine Battles To Reconnect Millions In The Cold And Dark

Ukraine threatens
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Ukraine battled Friday to get water and power to millions of people cut off after Russia launched dozens of cruise missiles that battered the country’s already crippled electricity grid.

The energy system in Ukraine is on the brink of collapse and millions have endured emergency blackouts over recent weeks.

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The World Health Organization has warned of “life-threatening” consequences and estimated that millions could leave their homes as a result.

“The situation with electricity remains difficult in almost all regions,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday evening. “However, we are gradually moving away from blackouts — every hour we return power to new consumers.”

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More than 24 hours after Russian strikes smashed Kyiv, mayor Vitali Klitschko said late Thursday that 60 percent of homes in the capital were still suffering emergency outages. Water services had been fully restored however, said city officials.

But the shelling had killed seven people at Vyshgorod, on the outskirts of the city, said Oleksiy Kuleba, head of the Kyiv Regional Military Administration.

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And a fresh round of strikes Thursday killed at least four people in the southern city of Kherson, recently recaptured by Ukraine, said a senior official there.

The latest attacks on the power grid come with winter setting in and temperatures in the capital hovering just above freezing.

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The western region of Khmelnytsky was one of the worst affected by power outages, with just 35 percent of its normal capacity, but that was enough to connect critical infrastructure, according to Serhii Hamaliy, the head of the regional administration.

About 300,000 residents in the eastern Kharkiv region, near the border with Russia, were still without power on Thursday evening, but electricity supply had been restored for nearly 70 percent of consumers, said Oleh Synehubov of the regional military administration.

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“We’ve restarted power supplies,” said Igor Terekhov, mayor of Kharkiv city, adding that water was being restored to homes and municipal workers were reconnecting public transport.

“Believe me, it was very difficult.”

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Ukraine accused Russian forces of launching around 70 cruise missiles as well as drones in attacks that left 10 dead and around 50 wounded.

But Russia’s defence ministry denied striking any targets inside Kyiv, insisting that Ukrainian and foreign air defence systems had caused the damage.

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“Not a single strike was made on targets within the city of Kyiv,” it said.

‘Scariest day’
Moscow is targeting power facilities in an apparent effort to force capitulation after nine months of war that has seen its forces fail in most of their stated territorial objectives.

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“The way they fight and target civil infrastructure, it can cause nothing but fury,” said Oleksiy Yakovlenko, chief administrator at a hospital in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kramatorsk.

Despite the increasingly frequent blackouts, Yakovlenko said his resolve was unwavering.

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“If they expect us to fall on our knees and crawl to them it won’t happen,” Yakovlenko told AFP.

Russian troops have suffered a string of battlefield defeats.

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Ukraine’s recapture of Kherson meant a withdrawal from the only regional capital Russia had captured, Moscow’s troops destroying key infrastructure as they retreated.

On Thursday, Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the Kherson military administration, said Russian strikes there had killed at least four people.

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“The Russian invaders opened fire on a residential area with multiple rocket launchers. A large building caught fire,” he said on Telegram.

Ukraine prosecutors also said Thursday that the authorities had discovered a total of nine torture sites used by the Russians in Kherson, as well as “the bodies of 432 killed civilians”.

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Wednesday’s attacks disconnected three Ukrainian nuclear plants automatically from the national grid and triggered blackouts in neighbouring Moldova, where the energy network is linked to Ukraine.

All three nuclear facilities had been reconnected by Thursday morning, said the energy ministry.

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Power was nearly entirely back online in ex-Soviet Moldova, where its pro-European president Maia Sandu convened a special meeting of her security council.

‘Shutdowns’
The Kremlin said Ukraine was ultimately responsible for the fallout from the strikes and that Kyiv could end the strikes by acquiescing to Russian demands.

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Ukraine “has every opportunity to settle the situation, to fulfil Russia’s demands and as a result, end all possible suffering of the civilian population,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Zelensky said Ukraine’s forces were “preparing to advance” in some areas.

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“Almost every hour I receive reports of occupiers’ attacks on Kherson and other communities of the region,” he said.

“Such terror began immediately after the Russian army was forced to flee from Kherson region. This is the revenge of those who lost.”

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The Ukrainian leader struck an optimistic tone at the end of his nightly address.

“We have withstood nine months of full-scale war, and Russia has not found a way to break us.”

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