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Rockets ‘Hit US Embassy’ In Iraq Capital Amid Anti-gov’t Protests

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Five katyusha rockets have crashed into a river bank near the US embassy in Iraq capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone without causing any injuries, a statement from US Joint Operations Command has said.

Three of the five rockets fired on Sunday “directly hit the US embassy” in Baghdad, the AFP news agency quoting a security source said, including one that slammed into a cafe at dinner time.

It was the third such attack on the US embassy this month, which came amid thousands of students flooding the Iraqi streets to keep up their anti-government movement despite a crackdown.

The Sunday attack was the first time a direct hit on the US embassy was reported. The perpetrators were not immediately known.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi swiftly condemned the attack in a statement, calling it an “aggression” that could “drag Iraq into becoming a war zone”.

One killed, more than 100 wounded

Meanwhile, one protester was killed in Baghdad, police sources told Reuters news agency, and more than 100 demonstrators were hurt in the violence in the capital and several other cities after the security forces tried to clear sit-in protest camps, medical sources said.

Other medical sources said 75 of those hurt were in the southern city of Nassariya, where a Reuters witness said protesters set fire to two security vehicles and hundreds of other demonstrators controlled key bridges in the city.

The protesters are demanding the removal of what they consider a corrupt ruling elite and an end to foreign interference in Iraqi politics, especially by Iran.

Unrest resumed last week, after a lull of several weeks, following the January 3 US drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi commander of the pro-Iranian Hashd al-Shaabi militia group.

The killing, to which Iran responded with ballistic missile attacks on two Iraqi bases hosting US troops, has revived tensions in Iraqi politics and delayed the formation of a new government.

As calls for an end to interference grew louder, the Iraqi parliament on January 5 backed a nonbinding resolution for all foreign troops – including 5,200 US soldiers – to leave the country.

At least 12 demonstrators have been killed since Saturday, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights said, with three in the southern Nasiriya city, and nine in Baghdad province.

In total, at least 500 protesters have been killed since October.

Nationwide protests

In Baghdad, protesters were coughing and washing their faces and eyes to rid themselves of the effects of the gas while medical workers provided first aid, as the site was inaccessible to ambulances, a Reuters reporter said.

Tuk tuks evacuated wounded protesters in clouds of tear gas and black smoke from burning tyres.

Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of university students gathered in Tahrir Square, the main protest camp, chanting slogans against the United States and Iran.

In the southern city of Basra, more than 2,000 students arrived at a protest camp, another Reuters witness said.

Protests also continued in the cities of Karbala, Najaf and Diwaniya, defying attempts by security forces to end their months-long sit-in, police sources and Reuters witnesses said.

Shia leader cancels march

Tens of thousands protested against the US military presence in Iraq in a march on Friday.

Leading Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr had called for demonstrations against the US in Baghdad and other cities on Sunday but cancelled them, with his office giving “avoiding internal strife” as the reason.

Sadr, who has millions of supporters in Baghdad and the south, said on Saturday he would end his involvement in the anti-government unrest.

Sadr’s supporters have bolstered the protesters and at times helped shield them from attacks by security forces and unidentified gunmen, but began withdrawing from sit-in camps on Saturday following his announcement.

The Iraqi High Commission on Human Rights called on all sides to exercise self-restraint and keep the demonstrations peaceful.

 

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Asia

UAE Reduces Working Week To 4 Days

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United Arab Emirates has slashed the official working week to only 4.5days and has also moved its weekend to Saturday and Sunday.

According to government officials, the new changes are aimed at improving competitiveness and “better align the UAE with global markets.”

The “national working week” is mandatory for government bodies from January 1 and bucks the regional norm of a full day off on Friday for Muslim prayers.

Under the new timetable, the public-sector weekend starts at noon on Fridays and ends on Sunday. Friday prayers at mosques will be held after 1.15 pm all year round.

It will ensure smooth financial, trade and economic transactions with countries that follow a Saturday/Sunday weekend, facilitating stronger international business links and opportunities for thousands of UAE-based and multinational companies.

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Chinese Ambassador Shares Seven Buzzwords To Showcase Fast-changing China

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Chinese Ambassador to the United States Qin Gang on Wednesday shared with Americans seven buzzwords that are currently popular in China to illustrate what is going on in his country.

“The buzzwords I shared with you today reflect the changing and unchanging elements in our values when China experiences rapid economic growth and profound social transformation,” said Qin in his keynote speech at the online Forum on Tourism, Hospitality and Cultural Exchange co-hosted by the U.S.-Asia Institute and Las Vegas Sands Corp.

The first buzzword Qin mentioned was “People First, Life First,” which was widespread during China’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and reflects a deep concern for humanity.

Likewise, “Heroes in Harm’s Way” has also gone viral in China, which refers to the everyday heroes who put their mission before their lives and made fearless sacrifices to fight the pandemic, Qin said.

To “Lie Flat” is a term to describe the youngsters who give up ambitions and do the bare minimum to get by, Qin said, adding “lie-flatters” are either people from well-off families or those who believe in whatever comes their way.

“Versailles,” originally from the “Palace of Versailles” in French, was borrowed to describe the self-claimed aristocratic spirit. On social media, it is used to label humble-braggers, he said.

“Involution,” one of the latest buzzwords in China, indicates irrational or involuntary competitions, while “Double Reduction” is a recent policy formulated by the government to address involution in education, which aims to restore the original purpose of education by restricting capital in the sector, Qin said.

The last buzzword, “Celebrity Fan Clubs,” refers to the phenomenon that some celebrities use internet to hype up themselves and cause their fans to admire them in an irrational manner, while such abnormalities stem from a chain of interests dominated by online platforms and the capital that supports them, he said.

In his speech, Qin said that socialism with Chinese characteristics requires material progress and cultural-ethical advancement, adding, “We need to keep fine traditional values, uphold fairness and justice, and not get lost in a market economy.”

“(Being) rooted in traditional Chinese values is a concern for the common good of humanity,” he added.

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Singapore Parliament Approves Law To Tackle Foreign Interference

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Singapore’s parliament has approved a law that gives broad powers to the government to deal with foreign interference that has sparked concern from the opposition and experts about its wide scope and limits on judicial review.

The small and open city-state, which says it is vulnerable to foreign meddling, targeted fake news with a far-reaching law in 2019, and joins nations such as Australia and Russia that have passed laws in recent years to deter foreign interference.

The bill, formally known as the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act (FICA), was passed late on Monday with 75 members voting in favour, 11 opposition members objecting and two abstaining, local media reported.

Among the measures, FICA allows authorities to compel internet, social media service providers and website operators to provide user information, block content and remove applications.

Those deemed or designated as “politically significant persons” under the law will have to comply with strict rules relating to donations and declare their links to foreign entities.

Instead of court, an independent tribunal, chaired by a judge, will hear appeals against the minister’s decisions, a move the government says is necessary to protect national security.

The tribunal’s decisions will be final.

The government said FICA does not cover the building of overseas partnerships, soliciting overseas businesses, networking with foreigners, sourcing for donations or those discussing policies or political matters that affect their businesses with foreign colleagues or business partners, or supporting charities.

“As long as they are done in an open and transparent manner, and not part of an attempt to manipulate our political discourse or undermine public interest such as security,” K Shanmugam, minister for home affairs, said in parliament.

It will also not affect Singaporeans expressing their own views or engaging in advocacy.

The home affairs ministry has also previously said it would not apply to foreign individuals or publications “reporting or commenting on Singapore politics, in an open, transparent and attributable way.”

But some critics say its broad language risks capturing even legitimate activities, while rights group Reporters Without Borders said the law could ensnare independent media outlets.

Experts and Singapore’s opposition parties have called for narrowing the scope of executive powers and more oversight through the judiciary.

The bill was passed without strengthening “the circumscribed checks and balances, particularly judicial review,” said Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University.

“While assurances were given, they could have been given unequivocal expression through legislative codification.”

However, Shanmugam said the bill represented the “best balance…between dealing with the risks and providing checks against abuse.”

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