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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday he had discussed Russian aggression in Ukraine during more than five hours of talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in which he raised concerns over Beijing's alignment with Moscow.

The diplomats both described their first in-person discussions since October as "candid", with the meeting taking place a day after they attended a gathering of G20 foreign ministers on the Indonesian island of Bali.

"I shared again with the state councillor that we are concerned about the PRC's alignment with Russia," Blinken told a news conference after the talks, referring to the People's Republic of China. He said did not think China was behaving in a neutral way as it had supported Russia in the United Nations and "amplified Russian propaganda".

Blinken said Chinese President Xi Jinping had made it clear in a call with President Vladimir Putin on June 13 that he stood by a decision to form a partnership with Russia.

Shortly before Russia's February 24 Ukraine invasion, Beijing and Moscow announced a "no limits" partnership, although US officials say they have not seen China evade tough U.S.-led sanctions on Russia or provide it with military equipment.

US officials have warned of consequences, including sanctions, should China offer material support for the war that Moscow calls a "special military operation" to degrade the Ukrainian military. Kyiv and its Western allies say the invasion is an unprovoked land grab.

Asked about his refusal to hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the G20, Blinken said: "The problem is this: we see no signs whatsoever that Russia, at this moment in time, is prepared to engage in meaningful diplomacy."
Wang exchanged in-depth views on "the Ukraine issue" during Saturday's talks, according to a statement released by his ministry, without giving details.
He also told Blinken that the direction of US-China relations was in danger of being further led "astray" due to a problem with the United States' perception of China.

"Many people believe that the United States is suffering from an increasingly serious bout of 'Sinophobia'," Wang was quoted as saying.
Wang also said Washington should cancel additional tariffs imposed on China as soon as possible and cease unilateral sanctions on Chinese companies.
US officials had said before the talks that the meeting was aimed at keeping the difficult US-China relationship stable and preventing it from veering inadvertently into conflict.
"Moving forward, the United States wants our channels of communication with Beijing to continue to remain open," Blinken said.
Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping are expected to speak again in coming weeks, Blinken said.
Daniel Russel, a top US diplomat for East Asia under former President Barack Obama who has close contact with Biden administration officials, said ahead of the talks a key aim for the meeting would be to explore the possibility of an in-person meeting between Biden and Xi, their first as leaders, possibly on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Bali in November.
The United States calls China its main strategic rival and is concerned it might one day attempt to take over the self-ruled democratic island of Taiwan, just as Russia attacked Ukraine.
Despite their rivalry, the world's two largest economies remain major trading partners, and Biden has been considering scrapping tariffs on a range of Chinese goods to curb surging US inflation before November midterm elections, with control of Congress in focus.

Thousands of protesters in Sri Lanka's commercial capital Colombo broke through police barricades and stormed the president's official residence on Saturday in one of the largest anti-government marches in the crisis-hit country this year.

Some protesters, holding Sri Lankan flags and helmets, broke into the president's residence, video footage from local TV news NewsFirst channel showed.
Two defence ministry sources said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was removed from the official premises on Friday for his safety ahead of the planned rally over the weekend.

A Facebook livestream from inside the president's house showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in flags, packing into rooms and corridors, shouting slogan's against Rajapaksa.

Hundreds also milled about on the grounds outside the colonial-era white-washed building. No security officials were visible.
A demonstrator throws back a tear gas grenade towards police members as police use tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators during a protest demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, amid the country's economic crisis, near the president's residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Saturday. — Reuters At least 21 people, including two policemen, were injured and hospitalised in the ongoing protests, hospital sources told Reuters.

The island of 22 million people is struggling under a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine, plunging it into the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
Many blame the country's decline on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Largely peaceful protests since March have demanded his resignation.

Thousands of people swarmed into Colombo's government district, shouting slogans against the president and dismantling several police barricades to reach Rajapaksa's house, a Reuters witness said. Police fired shots in the air but were unable to stop the angry crowd from surrounding the presidential residence, the witness said.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the president's whereabouts.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe summoned an emergency meeting of political party leaders after the president's house was stormed by protesters. He also requested the speaker to summon parliament, a statement from the prime minister's office said.

Despite a severe shortage of fuel that has stalled transportation services, demonstrators packed into buses, trains and trucks from several parts of the country to reach Colombo to protest the government's failure to protect them from economic ruin.
Discontent has worsened in recent weeks as the cash-strapped country stopped receiving fuel shipments, forcing school closures and rationing of petrol and diesel for essential services.

Protesters participate in an anti-government demonstration outside the Galle International Cricket Stadium during the second day play of the second cricket Test match between Sri Lanka and Australia in Galle on Saturday. — AFP Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman took an overcrowded bus from the seaside town of Negombo 45 km north of Colombo, to join the protest.
“We have told Gota over and over again to go home but he is still clinging onto power. We will not stop until he listens to us,” Perera said.
He is among the millions squeezed by chronic fuel shortages and inflation that hit 54.6 per cent in June.
Political instability could undermine Sri Lanka's talks with the International Monetary Fund seeking a $3 billion bailout, a restructuring of some foreign debt and fund-raising from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease the dollar drought.

A motorcade carrying the body of former prime minister Shinzo Abe arrived at his home in the Japanese capital on Saturday, a day after he was assassinated by a lone gunman in a rare act of political violence that has shocked the country.
Mourners gathered at his residence and at the scene of Friday’s attack in the western city of Nara, where Japan’s longest-serving modern leader was gunned down while making a campaign speech, a murder decried by the political establishment as an attack on democracy itself.

Authorities are reviewing security arrangements at the event where Abe was shot from close range by a 41-year-old unemployed man armed with a homemade gun. Police say the man held a grudge against Abe.
Read: Shinzo Abe — Japan’s longest-serving prime minister
Elections for seats in Japan’s upper house of parliament are going ahead as scheduled on Sunday.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was back on the campaign trail visiting regional constituencies after making an emergency return to Tokyo on Friday after the shooting.
A metal detector, not normally seen at election events in largely crime-free Japan, was installed at a site in Fujiyoshida city where Kishida was due to give a campaign speech. There was also a heavy police presence.
In Nara, some 450 km southwest of Tokyo, a stream of people queued up to lay flowers on a table, that also held a photograph of Abe.
“I’m just shocked that this kind of thing happened in Nara,” Natsumi Niwa, a 50-year-old housewife, said after offering her flowers, with her 10-year-old son, near the scene of the killing outside a downtown train station.
Niwa explained how Abe, a conservative and architect of the “Abenomics” policies aimed at reflating the economy, had inspired the name of her son, Masakuni.
Abe used to hail Japan as a “beautiful nation”. “Kuni” means nation in Japanese.
A night vigil will be held on Monday. Abe’s funeral will take place on Tuesday, attended by close friends, media said.
There was no immediate word on any public memorial service.
People queue up to offer flowers and pray at the site where late former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was shot while campaigning for a parliamentary election, near Yamato-Saidaiji station in Nara, Japan, on Saturday. — Reuters Police are scrambling to establish details of the motive and method of Abe’s killer.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, arrested immediately after the attack, told police he believed Abe was linked to a religious group he blamed for ruining his mother financially and breaking up the family, media reported, citing police sources.
Police have not identified the group.
The man told investigators he had also visited other spots where Abe had made campaign appearances, including in the city of Okayama, more than 200 km from Nara, media reported.
Big election turnout expected Sunday’s election is expected to deliver victory to the ruling coalition led by Kishida, an Abe protege.
Abe’s killing “heightens the prospect for stronger turnout and greater support for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)”, Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a note.
The LDP, where Abe retained considerable influence, had already been expected to gain seats before the assassination.
Abe, 67, served twice as prime minister, stepping down citing ill health on both occasions.
But he remained a member of parliament and influential leader in the LDP after stepping down for the second time in 2020.
A strong election performance by the LDP “could catalyse Kishida to push for Abe’s unfulfilled goal of amending Japan’s constitution to allow for a stronger role for the military”, James Brady, vice president at advisory firm Teneo, wrote in a note.
Kishida visited Abe’s residence in Tokyo to pay his respects on Saturday, the Kyodo news agency reported, alongside mourners clutching flowers and party officials who bowed as the hearse carrying his body arrived.
Abe’s death has drawn condolences from across political divides, and from around the world.
The Quad, a group of countries aimed at countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region which Abe was key in setting up, expressed shock at the assassination in a joint statement.
“We will honour Prime Minister Abe’s memory by redoubling our work towards a peaceful and prosperous region,” said the group which includes Japan, India, Australia and the United States.
China’s President Xi Jinping also paid tribute to Abe who he said worked hard to improve relations between the neighbours, Chinese state media reported.

KUWAIT: An Expat was arrested for inciting an expat woman to commit an immoral act. A 32 yr old expat woman registered a case with Jahra police station that she had received messages on her WhatsApp number from two different phone numbers. The messages were clear incitement to engage in sexual activities. The search is on to hunt down the owner of the phone line from which similar messages were sent.

RIYADH: The Saudi General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) said Friday the total number of pilgrims this year topped 899,353, including 779,919 pilgrims from abroad and 119,434 from inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia whether Saudi citizens or residents. The ratio of pilgrims from Arab countries to the overall number hit 21.4 percent, from Asian non-Arab countries 53.8 percent and from African non-Arab countries 13.2 percent, the authority added.
General President of the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and Prophet’s Mosque Sheikh Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais announced the success of the first phase of the Presidency’s plan for this year’s Hajj. No single incident was reported among pilgrims, he said in statements to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA). Sheikh Al-Sudais affirmed that the plan aimed to ensure the best possible service for the pilgrims. He commended the fruitful cooperation among all relevant sectors in serving the pilgrims, citing the integrated and harmonious efforts of all institutions
A sea of white-clad pilgrims descended from mount Arafat at sunset Friday and moved to the nearby rock area of Muzdalifa. After their arrival, the pilgrims performed Maghreb and Esha prayers, the Saudi Press Agency reported. They will spend the night praying and sleeping on the floor in the open, before heading back to Mina before sunrise of Saturday to perform the ritual of the symbolic “Stoning of the Devil”. (KUNA)

A group of Afghan children were grazing sheep in fields near the village of Bolak Wandi in eastern Helmand when they spotted a metallic object half-buried in the ground. Crowding round excitedly, they argued over who had found it first and who could sell it for scrap.

The mortar shell exploded, killing one child instantly.
Three more children died from their wounds as they were taken to hospital by Taliban fighters who had been nearby. Another passed away on arrival.

“I don’t blame anyone,” said Haji Abdul Salam, the father of two of the children. He tries to focus on comforting his wife, who cries for her lost children.

“This mortar could have been left over from the Americans or the Soviet Union. However, not only our area, but all of Afghanistan should be cleared of this problem.”

That mission has become more difficult.
Ahmad Zia, 17, who lost his leg in a magnetic mine in a car, is seen with his uncle at the Red Cross rehabilitation center in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Taliban’s return to power last summer, ending their 20-year insurgency, should have helped de-mining efforts, with swathes of territory that were off-limits during the fighting finally accessible.

Yet foreign governments have now frozen development aid to the Afghan government, unwilling to use their taxpayers’ money to prop up the Taliban, an Islamist group that restricts women’s rights and has been at war with much of the West since harbouring Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.

One unintended consequence: In a previously unreported development, the Afghan government agency that oversees mine clearance told Reuters it had lost its roughly $3 million funding and laid off about 120 staff in April — the majority of the organisation — because it couldn’t pay salaries.

“All the sanctions have severely affected us,” said Sayed Danish, deputy head of the agency, the Directorate of Mine Action Coordination (DMAC). “We can’t do strategic work, which is our main responsibility.”

The cost to ordinary Afghans of isolating the Taliban, who say they are being unfairly treated, was also highlighted after an earthquake last month left thousands homeless and the health system under huge strain, sparking some calls for a new approach to the group.

The loss of de-mining funds could have profound consequences for the country of 40m people which is one of the most heavily mined places on Earth after four decades of war.
Almost 80 per cent of civilian casualties from “explosive remnants of war” are children, the UN mining agency estimates, partly due to their curiosity as well as their regular role in collecting scrap metal to sell to bolster families’ incomes.
Idris, 8, who lost his leg in a mine in Ghorband, poses for a photograph at the Red Cross rehabilitation center in Kabul, Afghanistan. In the seven months to March, about 300 Afghan children were killed or maimed by landmines and other unexploded devices, according to the UN’s children’s agency.
The five children from Bolak Wandi, four boys and a girl aged between five and 12, died in April.

Thousands of devices
Foreign governments have exempted humanitarian aid from their freeze, and hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into the country, allowing aid organisations to function.

But the limitations of such funds to meet urgent needs and aimed at bypassing the government are becoming apparent, with many economists and experts saying the population will suffer without robust state services and a viable banking sector.

DMAC’s funding is part of roughly $9 billion a year in international development and security aid that the World Bank says has been frozen since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, which relies on foreign donors for the bulk of its budget.

The de-mining work itself is largely carried out by aid groups, but DMAC provides strategic guidance to prioritise high-danger areas and maps the nationwide de-mining work to avoid duplicating efforts, according to Danish and aid workers.

“Mine action works best when national-level coordination and oversight is in place,” said Sren Srensen, head of Humanitarian Disarmament and Peacebuilding for Afghanistan at the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), an international organisation.

“At the moment all that is being done is that we select areas from an outdated list,” he added. “That is not effective and is not addressing the most serious hazards.”

Srensen stares out of the window of a car on the way back to the capital Kabul from Qafas Kalay, a small village in the eastern district of Khaki Jabbar, an area once used by Soviet forces as a military outpost and which more recently saw heavy fighting as the Taliban took the area.

Hundreds of devices have been detonated in the vicinity but almost 40,000 square miles still need to cleared. Across Afghanistan, thousands of unexploded devices lie in wait, the UN de-mining agency says.

“We finally have this amazing window of opportunity to actually clear this country,” Srensen said. “There is so much we could do.”

Members of a demining organisation are seen after their search for unexploded ordnance in Khaki Jabbar district of Kabul province, Afghanistan on April 4. Read: Junkyard of empires: Afghans sift through leftovers of US occupation

On a hillside outside Qafas Kalay, about 20 miles east of Kabul, DRC mine-clearance workers in protective vests and visors peer at the ground and sweep detectors.

They place a small flag on a barely visible device found nestled in the dirt — a Soviet anti-personnel mine — and then connect it by wires that run hundreds of metres to a small makeshift control centre where the countdown begins. The device blows up and the de-miners return to their painstaking work.

A few miles away, children on the doorstep of a mosque pore over cartoons that show different kinds of explosive devices and the kinds of places they might be hidden.

Their tutor tells them what to do if they spot one.
“We don’t go to that place and we report it to our parents,” the children repeat back enthusiastically.
Afghan children learn the dangers of explosives in the village of Qafas Kalay in Kabul, Afghanistan on April 4. The community nearby is already eking out patches of de-mined land to farm wheat and fruit and working on irrigation projects, developments that could help alleviate the growing hunger crisis in Afghanistan.

‘The people are suffering’
Asked about the cash crunch and layoffs at DMAC, the US Department of State said it was continuing to support humanitarian de-mining in Afghanistan by directly funding NGO partners. A spokesperson said it had provided $720m in overall humanitarian assistance to Afghans since last August.

Smoke from a controlled landmine explosion is seen in Khaki Jabbar district of Kabul province, Afghanistan on April 4. Germany’s foreign minister said in June there was no room to recognise the Taliban as a legitimate government until it changed policies on issues such as women’s rights.

Foreign capitals want to squeeze the Taliban’s finances to pressure the group to lift restrictions on the rights of girls and women to education, freedom of expression and employment.

Since returning to power, the group has kept girls’ secondary schools closed and demanded women cover their faces in public and only leave home with a male relative or husband.

Some people have also accused the Taliban of reprisal attacks against former members of the Western-backed administration, including soldiers and intelligence officials.

The Taliban has said it would respect human rights and promised to investigate allegations of revenge killings, saying they have put an amnesty against former foes in place.

The Taliban also says it is addressing issues including girls’ secondary education and has called on Washington to unfreeze billions of dollars of central bank assets, saying they belong to the Afghan people and the country needs a functioning banking system to alleviate poverty.

Late last month, a temporary deal was reached when DMAC agreed that the United Nations could set up an office in the country for about six months. But with funding for the stopgap UN regulator half of that of the Afghan agency before the Taliban takeover, it has only employed about 30 from the original 120 staff, according to Paul Heslop, Chief of the UN Mine Action Programme in Afghanistan.
He added that for long-term sustainability, the responsibility of coordinating de-mining should be with a state and not an outside humanitarian body like the UN agency.
“We’re in a situation where we have a government that’s not recognised,” said Heslop, adding that the lack of funding was “very difficult”.
“Even if you pay people they can’t get the money out of the banks, it’s very difficult for the people of Afghanistan at the moment, they are really suffering.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was defiantly hanging onto power on Thursday despite the resignation of four top ministers and a seemingly unstoppable revolt by his own lawmakers, threatening to paralyse the government.

More than 50 ministers have quit the government in less than 48 hours, saying Johnson was not fit to be in charge after a series of scandals, while dozens in his Conservative Party are in open revolt.

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, became the latest Cabinet minister to quit early on Thursday, following the resignations of the finance, health and Welsh ministers.

“I cannot sacrifice my personal integrity to defend things as they stand now,” Lewis said.
"It is clear that our party, parliamentary colleagues, volunteers and the whole country, deserve better."
A delegation of senior ministers and a senior figure representing Conservative lawmakers who are not in government went to Downing Street on Wednesday evening to tell Johnson he needed to go and to make a dignified exit.

But he refused to budge, and even sacked Michael Gove, one of his most effective ministers who, according to media reports, had told the British leader he should quit.
Not going
“I am not going to step down,” Johnson told a parliamentary committee.
The Sun newspaper quoted an ally of the prime minister as saying that rebels in his party would “have to dip their hands in blood” if they wanted to get rid of him.
Johnson has suggested that he had a mandate to govern from the almost 14 million voters who voted for the Conservatives in December 2019 when he swept to power with a promise to sort out Britain's exit from the European Union after years of bitter wrangling.
He says it would not be responsible to walk away from the job in the middle of an economic crisis and war in Europe.
Johnson has been a visible supporter of Ukraine following Russia's invasion in late February.
He has also refused to say if he would try to stay in the job even if he lost a confidence vote from his own lawmakers.
That could come next week if they agree to change the party's rules, which only allow one such challenge a year. He narrowly won a similar vote last month.
Opposition lawmakers said the chaos meant government could not function. Committees due to meet on Thursday to scrutinise legislation, including the National Security Bill, were being cancelled because there was no minister available.

“I do think the time has come for the prime minister to step down,” Suella Braverman, the attorney general for England and Wales, told ITV late on Wednesday, although she said she herself would stay in post.

“If there is a leadership contest I will put my name into the ring.”
There have also been suggestions Johnson might try to call a snap national election if rebel lawmakers tried to force him out, although he said such a vote was “the last thing this country needs”.
“The prime minister is deluded if he feels he can cling on in the face of collapsed parliamentary support,” said a senior Conservative lawmaker on condition of anonymity.

“He is embarrassing the Conservative Party and showing contempt for the electorate.”
The crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher who held a government role involved in pastoral care was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member's club.
Johnson had to apologise after it emerged that he was briefed that Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him, with the prime minister saying he had forgotten.

The issue followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke strict Covid-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by police.

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