Taiwan Conducts Missile Drills Amid China Military Intrusions 

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Taiwan conducted an air defence test on Tuesday deploying US-made Patriot missiles and its anti-aircraft artillery systems, saying it will ramp up training in the face of Chinese military “intrusions” around the self-ruled island.

Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it will not rule out using force to bring the island under its control.

Chinese warplanes and ships maintain a near-daily presence around the island, as Beijing has ramped up military pressure against Taipei using what experts say are “grey zone” actions — tactics that stop short of outright acts of war.

Taiwan’s Air Force Command said it conducted an exercise between 5:00 and 7:00 a.m. (2100-2300 GMT Monday) that included the island’s domestically made Sky Bow and U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air missiles along with army and navy units.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen rejected China’s claim over the island, causing Beijing to cut all high-level communications since she came into power in 2016.

Tuesday, Tsai oversaw the handover of two domestically made warships — both Tuo Chiang-class corvettes — at Suao port in northeast Yilan county.

New Zealand said Tuesday a Chinese state-sponsored hacking operation targeted New Zealand’s parliament in 2021, an allegation that came a day after the United States and Britain took actions in response to their own attacks by China-backed hacking groups.

New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) said it linked malicious cyber activity against the country’s parliament to the group Advanced Persistent Threat 40, which the GCSB said is linked to China’s Ministry of State Security.

“The use of cyber-enabled espionage operations to interfere with democratic institutions and processes anywhere is unacceptable,” Minister Responsible for the GCSB Judith Collins said in a statement.

China’s Embassy in Wellington rejected New Zealand’s accusations, calling them “groundless and irresponsible.”

Trump Faces Gag Order in New York Hush Money Criminal Case

Donald Trump on Tuesday was hit with a judge’s gag order sought by prosecutors in his upcoming criminal trial involving hush money paid to a porn star, restricting him from publicly commenting about witnesses and court staff.

Ahead of the former U.S. president’s trial, which is scheduled to begin April 15 in the New York state court, Justice Juan Merchan granted a request for the order made last month by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office.

The prosecution sought an order blocking Trump from “making or directing others to make” statements about witnesses concerning their role in the case and from commenting on court staff and prosecutors other than Bragg himself.

Silencing Trump was necessary because of his “longstanding history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, judges and others involved in legal proceedings against him,” prosecutors said.

Trump’s lawyers argued that a gag order would violate his right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, leaving him defenceless against attacks by political opponents over the case.

Ship’s Collision Crashes Major US Bridge After Mayday Call

Pilots of the cargo ship that crashed into a major bridge in the U.S. city of Baltimore, Maryland, issued a mayday call shortly before the structure collapsed into a river, enabling authorities to save lives, according to the state’s governor.

“We can confirm that the crew notified authorities of a power issue,” Maryland Governor Wes Moore told reporters Tuesday morning, hours after the incident. Moore said the Singapore-flagged container ship Dali had no power before smashing into one of two main columns supporting the Francis Scott Key Bridge and causing the bridge to collapse.

Moore said the crew’s warning enabled transportation officials to quickly halt traffic along the interstate highway crossing over the bridge. “These people are heroes. They saved lives last night,” the governor said. The ship’s crew also dropped its anchors in a futile attempt to avert the disaster.

Even so, eight people on the bridge, reportedly all part of a construction repair crew filling highway potholes, were believed to have plummeted into the Patapsco River during the incident, which occurred at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

UK Court: Assange Can’t Be Extradited Until US Rules out Death Penalty

A British court ruled Tuesday that Julian Assange can’t be extradited to the United States on espionage charges unless U.S. authorities guarantee he won’t get the death penalty, giving the WikiLeaks founder a partial victory in his long legal battle over the site’s publication of classified American documents.

Two High Court judges said they would grant Assange a new appeal unless U.S. authorities give further assurances within three weeks about what will happen to him. The ruling means the legal saga, which has dragged on for more than a decade, will continue — and Assange will remain inside London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, where he has spent the last five years.

Judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson said the U.S. must guarantee that Assange, who is Australian, “is afforded the same First Amendment protections as a United States citizen, and that the death penalty is not imposed.”

The judges said that if the U.S. files new assurances, “we will give the parties an opportunity to make further submissions before we make a final decision on the application for leave to appeal.” The judges said a hearing will be held May 20 if the U.S. makes those submissions.

US Sanctions Assad Supporters over Drug Trafficking

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned 11 people and companies on Tuesday that it said were involved in illicit financial transfers and drug smuggling in support of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Many of those sanctioned were involved in the trade of the highly addictive amphetamine captagon, which is illegally trafficked throughout the Middle East and Europe, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

Syria has become the world’s leading producer of the powerful drug, and its trade has helped bolster the Assad government’s coffers during the country’s long-running civil war.

“The revenue from the illicit Captagon trade has become a major source of income for the Assad regime, the Syrian armed forces, and Syrian paramilitary forces,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

Those sanctioned include a Syrian national called Taher al-Kayali, who allegedly operates a company that purchased vessels to smuggle captagon and hashish.

Maya Exchange Company, another Syria-based firm, is alleged to have facilitated “millions” of dollars of illicit transactions to benefit the Syrian government.

China Files WTO Dispute Against US over ‘Discriminatory’ EV Subsidies  

China began dispute settlement proceedings against the United States at the World Trade Organization on Tuesday, accusing Washington of “discriminatory” electric vehicle subsidies.

The subsidies, starting this year under the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, render U.S. car buyers ineligible for tax credits ranging from $3,750 to $7,500 if certain battery components were made by Chinese, Russian, North Korean or Iranian manufacturers.

China’s permanent mission to the WTO said the policies are “under the disguise of responding to climate change,” but are “in fact contingent upon the purchase and use of goods from the United States, or imported from certain particular regions.”

According to a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Commerce, Beijing has urged Washington to “promptly correct discriminatory industrial policies and maintain the stability of the global industrial and supply chains for new energy vehicles.”

In an online statement, the Ministry of Commerce said the subsidy restrictions excluded Chinese products but also negatively impacted the global supply chain and fair competition in the EV market.

Suicide Bombing Kills 5 Chinese Citizens in Pakistan

Police in northern Pakistan said Tuesday that at least five Chinese nationals and their local driver were killed when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into their convoy.

The attack occurred on the main highway linking Pakistan to China.

Beijing swiftly denounced what it called a terrorist attack and demanded that Pakistani authorities bring the perpetrators to justice.

Local police officer Bakht Zahir told VOA an investigation into the “suicide blast” was underway.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks on Chinese nationals in recent years.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the attack and conveyed his condolences to the victims’ families and the government in neighbouring China.

Ex-President Bolsonaro Stayed at Hungarian Embassy After Revelations of Coup Investigation

Lawyers for former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are denying speculation that their client may have been attempting to evade arrest when he stayed at the Hungarian embassy for two nights last month.

The New York Times reported Monday on its website that Bolsonaro stayed at the embassy between February 12 and 14, highlighted by security camera video depicting Ambassador Miklós Halmai greeting the former president when he arrived at the embassy, Bolsonaro walking in the parking lot at various times, and ending with footage of him leaving the embassy.

His lawyers issued a statement late Monday saying Bolsonaro was invited to stay at the Hungarian embassy to maintain contacts with officials of “the friendly country” and to share “updates on the political situation of both nations.” They said any other interpretation about the visit is “fictional” in nature.

Bolsonaro is a close ally of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a fellow leader of a global far-right movement.

Bolsonaro’s stay at the embassy came days after investigators seized his passports and arrested two of his aides on suspicion they plotted to ignore his loss to Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the 2022 presidential election and keep Bolsonaro in office.

Brazil’s foreign ministry summoned Halmai Monday night to explain why he hosted Balsonaro at the embassy.

UNICEF: Climate Change Leaves ‘Dire Situation’ for 45 Million African Children

The United Nations children’s fund says there is a “dire situation” in several eastern and southern African countries, where at least 45 million children are dealing with severe food insecurity made worse by climate change.

In a statement, Eva Kadilli, the UNICEF director for eastern and southern Africa, said millions of people are living through multiple and often overlapping crises intensified by the 2023-24 El Nino weather phenomenon, one of the strongest on record.

Christiane Rudert, a nutrition adviser for UNICEF in eastern and southern Africa, told VOA that many countries in her region have very high rates of child stunting or acute malnutrition. She said the rates are getting worse because of extreme weather patterns associated with climate change, such as a prolonged heat wave and droughts.

South Sudan Opposition Parties Criticize New Election Laws 

A new electoral regulation in South Sudan has received harsh criticism from opposition parties, which see the move as a way to lock them out of the forthcoming general election, which will be a first for the world’s youngest nation.

Key opposition parties in South Sudan have branded the contentious electoral law a government scheme to prevent them from participating in the upcoming December elections.

The Coalition of Opposition Parties petitioned the country’s Political Party Council Monday, demanding revocation of the $50,000 registration fee imposed on parties seeking to field candidates in the upcoming polls.

The world’s youngest nation is set to have its first democratically elected government in December this year.

But parties like the People’s Progressive Party, SSOA, Coalition of Opposition Parties, and United People’s Party now see the new registration fee as an attempt by the government to stifle democracy and restrict opposition parties’ participation in the polls.

Opposition politician Lam Akol is the leader of the National Democratic Movement (NDM) and had challenged President Salva Kiir in the first election held in 2010 when South Sudan was seceding from Sudan.

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