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Syria’s Assad wins 4th term with 95% of vote, in election the West calls fraudulent

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(Last Updated On: May 28, 2021)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad won a fourth term in office with 95.1% of the votes in an election that will extend his rule over a country ruined by war but which opponents and the West say was marked by fraud.

Assad’s government says the election on Wednesday shows Syria is functioning normally despite the decade-old conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million people – about half the population – from their homes.

Head of parliament Hammouda Sabbagh announced the results at a news conference on Thursday, saying voter turnout was around 78%, with more than 14 million Syrians taking part.

The election went ahead despite a U.N.-led peace process that had called for voting under international supervision that would help pave the way for a new constitution and a political settlement.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the United States said in a statement criticising Assad ahead of the election that the vote would not be free or fair. Turkey, an Assad adversary, has also said the election was illegitimate.

The win delivers Assad, 55, seven more years in power and lengthens his family’s rule to nearly six decades. His father, Hafez al-Assad, led Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000.

Assad’s years as president have been defined by the conflict that began in 2011 with peaceful protests before spiralling into a multi-sided conflict that has fractured the Middle Eastern country and drawn in foreign friends and enemies.

“Thank you to all Syrians for their high sense of nationalism and their notable participation. … For the future of Syria’s children and its youth, let’s start from tomorrow our campaign of work to build hope and build Syria,” Assad wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page.

Assad’s biggest challenge, now that he has regained control of around 70% of the country, will be an economy in decline.

Tightening U.S. sanctions, neighbouring Lebanon’s financial collapse, the COVID-19 pandemic hitting remittances from Syrians abroad and the inability of allies Russia and Iran to provide enough relief, mean prospects for recovery look poor.

Rallies with thousands of people waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of Assad while singing and dancing took place all day Thursday in celebration of the election.

Officials have told Reuters privately that authorities organised the large rallies in recent days to encourage voting, and the security apparatus that underpins Assad’s Alawite minority-dominated rule had instructed state employees to vote.

The vote was boycotted by the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces who administer an autonomous oil-rich region in the northeast and in northwestern Idlib region, the last existing rebel enclave, where people denounced the election in large demonstrations on Wednesday.

Assad was running against two obscure candidates, former deputy Cabinet minister Abdallah Saloum Abdallah and Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, head of a small, officially sanctioned opposition party.

Marei got 3.3% of the vote, while Saloum received 1.5%, Sabbagh said.

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US, South Korea, Japan hold missile defense exercise with eye on North Korea, China

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(Last Updated On: August 16, 2022)

The United States, South Korea and Japan participated in a ballistic missile defense exercise off Hawaii’s coast last week, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, reviving combined drills with an eye on North Korea as well as China.

It was the first time the three countries have held such drills since 2017, after relations between Seoul and Tokyo hit their lowest in years in 2019 amid renewed historical disputes dating to Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean Peninsula, Reuters reported.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative who took office in May, has vowed to improve relations with Japan and deepen the U.S. alliance to better deter North Korea, including by expanding or resuming joint drills.

The missile warning and ballistic missile search and tracking exercise took place Aug. 8-14 during the multinational Pacific Dragon drills, and demonstrated the three countries’ commitment to respond to challenges posed by North Korea, protect shared security and bolster the rules-based international order, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The participants shared tactical data link information in accordance with a trilateral information sharing agreement, the statement said.

U.S.-led joint missile defence measures have been a sore point with China, which retaliated economically against South Korea’s 2016 decision to host a U.S. military Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery.

Beijing says the THAAD radar can penetrate its territory and has called on Yoon to honour assurances made by his predecessor to not to increase THAAD deployments, participate in a U.S.-led global missile shield or create a trilateral military alliance involving Japan.

Yoon has said those do not represent formal agreements and that Seoul is not bound by them.

South Korea’s ministry of defense also confirmed on Tuesday that its troops would resume long-suspended live field training during their joint military drills with the United States to be held from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1.

The two sides have scaled back combined military drills in recent years due to COVID-19 and efforts to lower tensions with the North, which has accused the exercises of being a rehearsal for invasion.

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Putin says Russia and North Korea will expand bilateral relations

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(Last Updated On: August 15, 2022)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told North Korean leader Kim Jong-un the two countries will “expand the comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations with common efforts,” Pyongyang’s state media reported on Monday.

In a letter to Kim for Korea’s liberation day, Putin said closer ties would be in both countries’ interests, and would help strengthen the security and stability of the Korean peninsula and the Northeastern Asian region, North Korea’s KCNA news agency said.

Kim also sent a letter to Putin saying Russian-North Korean friendship had been forged in World War II with victory over Japan, which had occupied the Korean peninsula, Reuters reported.

The “strategic and tactical co-operation, support and solidarity” between the two countries has since reached a new level is their common efforts to frustrate threats and provocations from hostile military forces, Kim said in the letter. KCNA did not identify the hostile forces, but it has typically used that term to refer to the United States and its allies.

Kim predicted co-operation between Russia and North Korea would grow based on an agreement signed in 2019 when he met with Putin.

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Author Salman Rushdie on ventilator after stabbing in New York

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(Last Updated On: August 13, 2022)

Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born British author of a controversial book titled “The Satanic Verses” was stabbed as he was about to give a lecture in New York on Friday.

Police said Rushdie was stabbed “at least once in the neck, and at least once in the abdomen” after an assailant rushed to the stage and lunged at the 75-year-old writer just as he was being introduced to the audience.

Rushdie was airlifted to hospital where he spent hours in surgery. On Friday evening, Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak.

“The news is not good,” Andrew Wylie, his book agent, wrote in an email to Reuters news agency. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”

Police identified the suspect as 24-year-old Hadi Matar from New Jersey.

Stacey Schlosser, who witnessed the attack, told The Associated Press that Rushdie was stabbed six to eight times before the attacker was restrained.

“Nobody knew what to do. Nobody knew how to react. I mean, there were tons of people that rushed the stage,” Schlosser said.

Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, has been banned in several countries, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous.

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