Explosions hit Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state

Three early morning blasts have rocked the capital city of Myanmar’s restive northwestern Rakhine state, which has been at the center of a protracted conflict between the Buddhist majority and Rohingya Muslims.

Myanmar bombings (picture-alliance/AP Photo)

The bombs reportedly targeted government officials in Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar’s Rakhine state. At least one person — a police officer — was wounded in the attack.

Security officials also seized three unexploded devices from different parts of the city.

“There were three bomb explosions around 4 a.m. local time (2130 UTC Friday), where one policeman was slightly injured. We are still investigating [the] crime scenes,” police officer Aung Myat Moe said.

One of the Saturday blasts took place in front of a high-ranking government official’s residence.

Tin Maung Swe, Rakhine’s state secretary, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency that one explosion “was nearby my home,” adding that the two other bombs targeted a school and a courthouse.

The blasts come only three days after a large bomb killed two bank employees and wounded two dozen other people in the northeastern city of Lashio.

Read more: Myanmar police kill several in Rakhine Buddhist riot

Ongoing insurgency

Last year’s violent attacks in Rakhine state by Rohingya insurgents sparked a massive military response that forced more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. Myanmar authorities now face accusations of severe human rights abuses during the operation, which security forces dub “clearance operations.”

The United Nations said the military response was disproportionate and amounted to “ethnic cleansing.”

Read more:

HRW alleges ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Rohingya in Myanmar

Myanmar bulldozed scores of Rohingya villages, says human rights group

At least 6,700 Rohingya people killed, says Doctors Without Borders

Although no group has so far claimed responsibility for Saturday’s bombings, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army has vowed to continue its “resistance” against Myanmar’s government.

Read more: Myanmar’s Rohingya rebels – What you need to know

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority in Myanmar, originating from the Indian sub-continent. For several centuries they have lived predominantly in Rakhine — also known as Arakan. They are predominantly Muslim.

Viewed by the United Nations and the United States as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh flee their countries every year in a desperate attempt to reach the Muslim-majority countries of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Watch video02:03

Rohingya crisis – pictures keep memories alive

shs/jlw (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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Can Japan compete with China over development aid?

Japan is rethinking the ways in which its official development assistance is provided to developing nations in order to promote its vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy.” Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo.

Japan's Shinzo Abe (R) and China's Xi Jinping 11.11.2014 Beijing (Reuters)

Japan’s net official development assistance (ODA) comes to around $10.4 billion (€8.5 billion) a year, representing 0.2 percent of gross national income and making Japan the fourth largest donor nation in the world and the largest in Asia.

Yet, Tokyo finds itself in competition with China, which has deeper pockets and fewer scruples about the governments that it chooses to support.

The Japanese government’s decision to rethink its ODA policies is clearly in response to China’s aggressive use of its economic might in the Asia-Pacific region, with Beijing providing vast sums to developing nations and announcing vast development plans, such as the “Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).” First outlined by Chinese President Xi Jinping, BRI puts China at the center of a growing network of transportation and trade links that will ultimately stretch to encompass more than 60 nations.

Concerned at Beijing’s growing economic and political influence in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, Japan has forged new links with the United States, Australia and India – an informal grouping referred to as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – in order to provide a counterweight to China.

And there are many who say the pushback against Chinese efforts to exert more and more pressure over smaller countries is not a moment too soon.

Read more:

Japan aims to win new allies in Africa with aid

China rejects ‘preposterous’ African Union headquarters spying report

Strategic objectives

“In comparison with Japan and the ODA budgets of other countries, Beijing clearly uses its aid budget for its own narrow strategic objectives,” said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University.

“Japan has traditionally believed its aid should be spent on programs that help people in less-developed parts of the world to improve their standards of living,” he told DW.

According to Japan’s foreign ministry, Tokyo’s primary development goals include eradicating poverty, ensuring “zero hunger,” promoting health, education, gender equality and providing water, sanitation, clean energy, infrastructure and employment opportunities.

In contrast, Shimada claims, Beijing’s foreign aid has one objective – to create jobs for Chinese corporations and to advance its own “narrow global ambitions.” He points out that China does not release statistics on the foreign aid that it provides as the figures are considered state secrets. Estimates suggest that China disbursed $354.3 billion in the 15 years up to 2014, which comes close to rivalling the $394.6 billion the US provided in the same time period.

The data suggests that China actually spends more on ODA than the US on an annual basis, while it is estimated that Beijing is financially supporting more than 4,300 projects in 140 countries around the world.

Shimada points out that the three largest recipients of Chinese assistance in the 15 years to 2014 were Pakistan, Russia and Angola. It is no coincidence, he stresses, that China is very keen to obtain natural resources from Russia’s Far East region, that Angola has large amounts of natural resources and acts as a foothold onto the entire African continent, and that Pakistan is a fierce rival of India, with which Beijing is also locked in a dispute over territories along their frontier.

Read more:

BRICS leaders meet in China to forge new path

Japan seeks influence in Mekong region with aid pledge

Watch video42:45

China’s way to the top

Taking advantage

And Beijing is not above exploiting a recipient nation’s situation, he claimed.

“Sri Lanka took out loans from Beijing but was not able to pay them back within the time frame, so China has taken out a 99-year lease on a strategic port in Sri Lanka as repayment, turning the island into one of its strategic bases in the region – what Beijing calls its ‘string of pearls’ policy,” Shimada said.

Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University, agrees that China is using its economic strength to Japan’s disadvantage and that it is “trying to woo support in countries where Japan has previously had a long-standing relationship.”

Myanmar is one example of a nation where Tokyo has long supported infrastructure, health and development projects, said Kingston, although it has been harder to extend unequivocal support for the regime since news about atrocities against the Rohingya minority started to come to light.

“For Japan, that makes providing aid to the regime very delicate,” he said. “China, on the other hand, simply does not care about human rights issues and has stepped in.”

It is a similar story in a number of other nations in Southeast Asia, he points out, including Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia.

“This money is not strictly ‘aid,’ but the recipient nation does not care what it is called,” Kingston said. “And we are also seeing Chinese companies bidding for projects in Africa at a very low cost and essentially making a loss because it helps to keep Chinese companies in business at the same time as increasing China’s profile and presence in a nation.”

Read more: Chinese firms boost presence in Africa

Watch video02:19

Chinese companies in Africa

Ulterior motives?

Kingston says both Japan and China can be considered to have “ulterior motives” in the ways in which they use their ODA budgets, although there are some stark differences.

“Japan still has principles on how development money is spent, and if it helps Japanese companies win contracts, it’s a bonus,” he said. “China, on the other hand, seems to care less about doing good in a recipient country and is primarily motivated by promoting domestic companies’ operations abroad and Beijing’s strategic interests.”

Shimada believes it is high time that Japan adopted similar tactics and provides more assistance to allied countries.

“Frankly speaking, our power is quite limited, so Japan should focus its efforts on assisting countries in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said. “But we should immediately stop providing ODA to countries that have any sort of trade with North Korea and those that are siding with China in the region.”

COURTESY: DW

Indian police arrest three in $1.8 billion state-owned Punjab National Bank scam

Among those arrested were two Punjab National Bank employees believed to be at the center of the fraud — India’s biggest-ever bank scam. The third suspect is an official from celebrity jewelry designer Nirav Modi’s firm.

Pedestrians walk past a sign board of Punjab National Bank in New Delhi

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has made first arrests in the state-run Punjab National Bank scam that allegedly involved billionaire jeweler Nirav Modi obtaining fake documents for overseas loans.

Among those arrested were two employees at Punjab National Bank believed to be at the center of a staggering $1.77 billion (€1.43 billion) fraud.

The two — Gokulnath Shetty and Manoj Kharat — are suspected of steering fraudulent loans to companies linked to Modi and to entities tied to jewelry retailer Gitanjali, which is led by Modi’s uncle, Mehul Choksi.

Read moreOne year after demonetization – Has India eliminated ‘black money’?

The third person arrested was Hemant Bhat, described as the “authorized signatory” of the companies tied to Modi, accused of embezzling about $44 million from the bank.

A Mumbai court ordered all three suspects to remain in police custody until March 3, as the federal investigators probe the fraud — the country’s biggest-ever bank scam — that has raised serious questions about India’s banking system.

PNB, the second-largest state-run bank in India, took to Twitter to calm the nerves of its customers.

Dear Customer,
We very well understand your anxiety after this unfortunate event. Please click https://goo.gl/WES8tN  to know about the measures that have been taken so far in this regard.

Modi’s whereabouts unknown

The whereabouts of Modi, whose high-end jewelry has been worn by Hollywood stars including Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts, is unknown.

Indian broadcaster NDTV reported on Friday that Modi was staying at an apartment in New York’s Manhattan.

The broadcaster said Modi, his wife, brother and uncle, Mehul Choksi, had left India before the scandal was discovered. Modi was recently seen in a group photo with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi taken during the World Economic Forum in Davos. Nirav Modi is not related to the Indian prime minister.

Naomi Watts, Nirav Modi and Deborra-Lee Furness posing for cameras at the opening of Modi's boutique in New YorkNaomi Watts (L) is among the Hollywood stars who have worn jewelry designed by Nirav Modi (C)

India on Friday suspended the passports of Modi and Choksi. Modi’s brother and wife are not Indian nationals.

Modi is on India’s richest 100 list with a total worth of $1.73 billion, according to Forbes.

Indian authorities have seized over $870 million worth of diamonds, jewelry and gold in raids on showrooms and offices linked to firms run by Modi and his uncle, NDTV reported.

India’s Income Tax Department has also seized 29 properties and 105 bank accounts of Modi and his group companies, Reuters reported, citing a spokeswoman.

Modi is the latest Indian businessman to have left the country to escape facing charges of financial crimes, prompting opposition parties to question Prime Minister Modi’s fight against corruption.

Embattled liquor baron Vijay Mallya fled India in 2016 just as the enforcement agencies were closing in on him to recover the $1.3 billion he was reported to have owed Indian banks.

ap/jm (Reuters, AFP)

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Pakistan: Man sentenced to death for rape, murder of 7-year-old

A Pakistani man has been handed four death sentences for a rape and murder that shocked the country. Many in Pakistan, including the murdered girl’s parents, have called for a public execution.

Father shows picture of murdered daughter (picture-alliance/AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

A Pakistani court on Saturday sentenced a 24-year-old man to death on four counts for the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl in a case that sparked nationwide outrage.

State prosecutor Ehtesham Qadir said Imran Ali, who had pleaded guilty during the five-day trial, was in the courtroom for the verdict. No journalists were allowed inside the courtroom.

“The court handed down death on four counts and life imprisonment to Imran Ali in the rape and murder of the little girl, Zainab Ansari,” Qadir said.

Ali faces further charges in the cases of at least seven other children attacked in the Punjab city of Kasur, several of whom were killed. He has confessed to all eight attacks.

Anti-government protests

Ali was arrested in January, two weeks after the body of 7-year-old Zainab Ansari was found in a garbage dump in Kasur, about 340 kilometers (210 miles) south of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Zainab’s brutal murder sparked anti-government demonstrations across the country. Protesters accused the government of inaction and a media campaign subsequently led to Ali’s arrest.

Mother of has pleaded the court to order the hanging of her daughter’s alleged murderer at the same place where he killed her daughter

Local residents said the murder was the 12th such incident over the past year.

Hundreds of local residents protested after Zainab’s body was discovered, and two were killed when police fired shots to break up the crowd.

Ali was a neighbor of Zainab, and closed-circuit video footage from the day Ansari was abducted shows her walking off calmly with a man.

Watch video03:14

@dwnews – Zainab Ansari’s death sparks protests in Pakistan

A public execution?

The girl disappeared during the first week of January while walking to a nearby home for Quranic studies. Her parents had gone to Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage at the time, and she had been left with relatives.

Ali said he lured the girl by saying that her parents had returned and she should go with him to meet them.

On hearing of their daughter’s disappearance, the parents quickly returned home, but by that time Zainab’s body had been found and preparations for her funeral and burial were underway amid tight security.

A number of children have gone missing in the Kasur district since 2015, when police say they uncovered a pedophile ring tied to a prominent local family. So far at least two people have been convicted in that case. Police say hundreds of children in the district were abused.

Widespread problem

Zainab’s case has sparked debate in Pakistan about whether children should be taught to guard against sex abuse, a subject that is generally taboo in the majority Muslim country.

Many Pakistanis, including Zainab’s parents, have demanded Ali be publicly executed.

“I want him to be hanged publicly at the place where he took Zainab,” the mother told reporters after the verdict.

bik/tj (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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Death toll rises in Taiwan earthquake as bodies pulled from rubble

The prospect of finding any more survivors, more than three days after the earthquake struck, are slim. But rescuers are diligently continuing the search.

Rescuers comb through the remains of a collapsed building.

The death toll from a magnitude 6.4 earthquake in Taiwan rose to 15 on Saturday after rescuers found three bodies in a partially collapsed building.

Rescuers are combing the rubble of the 12-story Yunmen Tsuiti apartment block that also housed a hotel popular with tourists. The building was left tilting at about a 45-degree angle, complicating search efforts amid fears of a complete collapse.

Watch video00:23

6.4 magnitude earthquake rocks Taiwan

The bodies found Saturday, an adult woman, an adult man and a 12-year-old boy, are believed to be members of a Chinese family that was visiting the city on vacation.

The two people still missing are thought to be part of the same family that arrived from Beijing on Monday, little more than 24 hours before the deadly quake struck.

The chances of finding anyone else alive are slim, but rescuers are continuing their search, authorities said.

“[We] are digging from the fourth floor down and even though the site is leaning at 45 degrees we are making an all-out effort for the rescue,” the Hualien fire department said in a statement.

At least three cranes are seen trying to prop up the Yunmen Tsuiti building, which is tilting at about a 45 degree angle.At least three cranes are proping up the Yunmen Tsuiti building

A deadly inn

The family — a couple, their son and two grandparents — was staying in the Beauty Inn, which occupied the lower floors of the building. Most of the dead and injured — 280 at last count — were staying in the hotel.

It was located on Taiwan’s east coast, in the city of Hualien — one of the island’s most popular tourist destinations. But the mountains that give the city its picturesque background also hint at the deadly tectonic fault lines that cut through Taiwan.

Three other partially collapsed buildings in Hualien were being demolished for public safety, including the local landmark Marshal Hotel where one employee was killed.

A 7.6 earthquake in September 1999 killed about 2,400 people, making it the deadliest quake to shake the island in decades.

That trembler ushered in stricter building codes but many of the island’s older buildings are still vulnerable to even moderate quakes.

bik/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)

COURTESY: DW

North Korea flexes muscles ahead of Winter Olympics with military parade

North Korea has staged a huge military parade less than 24 hours ahead of the opening of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. The extravaganza celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of North Korea.

Watch video01:45

North Korea holds military parade before Olympics

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watched on as tanks and thousands of troops staged a military parade on Thursday, marking seven decades since the formation of the country’s armed forces.

Dressed in a long black winter coat and fedora, Kim could be seen at the beginning of the event walking on a red carpet with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and Kim Yong Nam, the country’s ceremonial head of state.

North Korea Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju (picture-alliance/AP Photo/KRT)Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju appeared together at the event, brought forward from April

The north is using the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea to stage a charm offensive, including sending performers, cheerleaders and Kim Jong Un’s sister to the games.

As well as an estimated 13,000 soldiers, the parade included artillery tanks and trucks and a band forming the Korean word for “victory.”

“We … have become capable of showcasing our stature as a world-class military power to the world,” said Kim, who took his place on a rostrum to watch the parade.

He added that, even during the games, the military should ensure that invaders could not impinge on the North’s sovereignty “even by 0.001 mm.”

Soldiers taking part in the event (picture-alliance/AP Photo/KRT)Thousands of soldiers took part in the event, with no foreign journalists invited as would normally be the case

The North’s last parade took place in April 2017, when state television showed the event live. This time, instead, it was aired hours later and foreign reporters were not invited to the event. The North usually invites hundreds of foreign journalists to show off the spectacle.

As well as including Kim Yong Nam, the North’s high-level delegation to the South for the Olympics will include Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong, who appears to be an increasingly powerful and influential figure.

Among the most noteworthy pieces of hardware that made an appearance at the parade were four giant Hwasong-15 long-range missiles, part of the ballistics program that has attracted further sanctions from the world community against the country.

Missiles in North Korea parade (picture-alliance/AP Photo/KRT)The parade included trucks, artillery, tanks and four giant Hwasong-15 ICBMs

rc/sms (dpa, AFP, AP)

COURTESY: DW

Taiwan earthquake leaves several dead, hundreds injured

A deadly 6.4 magnitude quake has devastated the eastern city of Hualien. Rescuers have been searching for more than 140 people who are still missing.

Watch video00:23

6.4 magnitude earthquake rocks Taiwan

Rescuers scoured through rubble in the port city of Hualien on Wednesday in search of survivors from a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked Taiwan late on Tuesday.

At least 140 people are missing, officials said, and 117 people have been rescued. Many of the missing are believed to be trapped within collapsed buildings.

The quake, which struck about 21 kilometers (13 miles) northeast of Hualien shortly before midnight local time (1550 UTC), left at least four people dead and 225 injured — two dozen critically.

President on site

Thousands of homes suffered from power and water supply disruptions and about 830 people are in shelters.

President Tsai Ing-wen, who arrived in Hualien Wednesday to oversee rescue efforts, said: “This is when the Taiwanese people show their calm, resilience and love.”

Officials said magnitude 5 aftershocks could hit the island during the next two weeks.

Popular tourist spot

Hualien, home to about 100,000 people, is one of Taiwan’s most popular tourist destinations due to its location along the country’s scenic eastern coast rail line and location near the well-known Taroko Gorge national park.

The latest quake comes just two days after twin tremors struck the island nation within two hours of each other. About 100 other small tremors have occured over the past few days.

Taiwan’s position at the edge of two tectonic plates makes it a regular site for earthquakes. In 2016, an earthquake off of southern Taiwan killed 117 people.  In 1999, a 7.6 magnitude quake killed about 2,400 people in one of the country’s worst natural disasters.

amp,es/aw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

Courtesy: DW