China, Iran, Russia Host Naval Drills

China, Russia and Iran are holding joint naval exercises this week near the Gulf of Oman, according to the Chinese defence ministry.

According to a ministry statement Monday, the exercises, dubbed “Security Bond-2024,” will take place from Monday to Friday and aim to “strengthen maritime cooperation” and “jointly safeguard regional maritime security.”

A similar round of drills was held last year in the same area between the three countries.

According to Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, the drills are set to start Tuesday, with naval representatives from Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Oman, India, and South Africa also set to observe the exercises.

Iranian state media added that the purpose of the drills is to “consolidate security and its foundations in the region and expand multilateral cooperation among the participating countries.”

In a statement published Monday, Beijing announced that China will be sending the “guided missile destroyer Urumqi, guided missile frigate Linyi and comprehensive supply ship Dongpinghu.”

According to Russian news agencies, Moscow’s defence ministry said, “The practical part of the exercise will take place in the waters of the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea.” Moscow also added that the drills would facilitate maritime safety.

India Successfully Tests Domestically Produced Multi-Warhead Missile

In a message posted to social media Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his nation has successfully tested its first domestically produced missile capable of carrying multiple warheads.

From his account on X, formerly known as Twitter, Modi said he was “Proud of our DRDO scientists for Mission Divyastra, the first flight test of indigenously developed Agni-5 missile with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology.”

DRDO stands for India’s Defense Research & Development Organisation. Defence officials said the test flight, Mission Divyastra, was carried out from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Island, off the coast of Odisha state.

The island, named for a former Indian president, is home to the nation’s top missile testing range.

A statement said the test missile was tracked by various telemetry and radar stations and reported the mission accomplished the designed parameters.

Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are among the nations that use MIRV technology. Pakistan tested it in 2017, according to the Washington-based advocacy group Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

MIRV technology can deliver multiple warheads from a single missile.

Four European Countries Seal Free Trade Pact with India, Pledge $100bn Investment  

India has signed a free trade pact with four European nations that aims to attract $100 billion in investment over the next 15 years.

The deal announced Sunday with the European Free Trade Association, whose members are Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, comes weeks ahead of India’s national elections in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made economic growth a key poll plank as he seeks a third term in office.

The trade deal is one of several New Delhi is pursuing as it steps up efforts to grow its exports and take advantage of geopolitical shifts that are seeing many Western countries trying to reduce trade dependence on China.

The pact was sealed after about 16 years of negotiations. 

“The pact is significant because it is India’s first with developed countries,” said Biswajit Dhar, trade analyst and Distinguished Professor at the Council for Social Development in New Delhi. “So far India, which has many protectionist barriers, only had such agreements with developing countries.”

To ease access to its vast market of 1.4 billion people, India will reduce tariffs on goods ranging from industrial imports to processed foods, beverages and items such as Swiss watches. New Delhi hopes to boost its exports in information technology and business services.

Swedish Flag Raised over NATO Headquarters

The Swedish flag was raised for the first time over NATO headquarters in Brussels Monday ahead of the formal ceremony welcoming the Nordic country as the 32nd member of the alliance.

At a news conference immediately after, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson joined NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in touting a stronger, more unified NATO.

“The security situation in our region has not been this serious since the Second World War, and Russia will stay a threat to Euro-Atlantic security for a foreseeable future,” Kristersson said. “It was in this light Sweden applied to join the NATO defence alliance to gain security, but also to provide security.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 prompted both Sweden and Finland to seek membership in NATO after years in which both countries maintained military neutrality. Stoltenberg said, once again, that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goals when he began the invasion have backfired.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally welcomed Sweden into NATO last Thursday. About 20,000 Swedish military personnel participated in NATO exercises alongside Finnish and Norwegian troops last week in Norway and Finland.

Biden Calls for $7.3tn US Budget for Fiscal 2025

U.S. President Joe Biden laid out his 2025 government spending priorities on Monday in a $7.3 trillion plan that has little chance of being enacted by the politically divided Congress.

It does, however, set the stage for a political debate with former President Donald Trump as they head to the November national election against each other.

Biden’s budget for the fiscal year starting October 1 calls for a liberal wish list of policies favoured by many Democrats — sharply higher taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals and more assistance for low- and middle-income earners to help them pay for high housing and child care costs.

The president’s plan would raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, impose a rate increase on individuals earning more than $400,000 a year and force those with more than $100 million in wealth to pay at least a 25% income tax.

At the same time, Biden wants to increase the government’s authority to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of drug prices. 

Palestinians Mark Ramadan as Israeli Strikes Hit Gaza Strip

As Palestinians marked the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Monday, Israel reported carrying out attacks across the Gaza Strip.

The continued violence followed weeks of negotiations that included Egypt, the United States and Qatar to secure a new ceasefire between Israel and the militant group Hamas before Ramadan, which would have included a release of hostages held by militants in Gaza and Israel setting free Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas negotiators said when departing talks in Cairo last week that ceasefire negotiations would resume this week.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his appeal for a ceasefire for the Muslim holy month to speed adequate aid to Gazans and secure the release of all hostages held by Hamas.

“The eyes of the world are watching. The eyes of history are watching,” Guterres told reporters. “We cannot look away. We must act to avoid more preventable deaths.”

He said desperate civilians need “immediate action.”

First European Climate Risk Assessment Finds Continent Unprepared

The European Environment Agency said in its first-ever risk assessment for the bloc on Monday that Europe is facing growing climate risks and is unprepared for them.

The agency said Europe is prone to more frequent and more punishing weather extremes — including increasing wildfires, drought, more unusual rainfall patterns and flooding — and needs to immediately address them to protect its energy, food security, water and health.

These climate risks “are growing faster than our societal preparedness,” Leena Ylä-Mononen, the EEA’s executive director, said in a statement.

The report identified 36 major climate risks for the continent, such as threats to ecosystems, economies, health and food systems, and found that more than half demand greater action now. It classified eight as needing urgent attention – like conserving ecosystems, protecting people against heat, protecting people and infrastructure from floods and wildfires, and securing relief funds for disasters.

The report said Europe is the world’s fastest-warming continent and has been heating up twice as fast as other regions since the 1980s. The heat has been linked to more intense rains and floods, and the report predicts rainfall decline and more severe droughts in southern Europe.

Chinese Government Cracks Down on Academic Fraud

China is cracking down on academic research fraud following revelations in January that publishers have retracted thousands of works by Chinese academics in recent years. However, observers say addressing the problem will be difficult because it is pervasive.

According to the scientific journal Nature, some 14,000 papers were retracted from English language journals in 2023 alone, three-quarters of which involved a Chinese co-author.

Last month, the Chinese Ministry of Education gave universities a deadline to submit a full list of academic articles that journals have retracted over the past three years, allowing the ministry to audit the retracted research and determine how widespread fraud is in Chinese academic settings.

Although the Education Ministry’s review findings have yet to be released, Chinese academics, students, and professors say the problem is pervasive.

They say part of the issue is that it is easy to pay for research to be ghostwritten and published in low-quality journals.

China Concludes Annual Parliamentary Meetings as Xi Consolidates Power

China concluded its week-long annual parliamentary meetings in Beijing on Monday, passing amendments that will further consolidate Chinese President Xi Jinping’s power and vowing to adopt several new pieces of legislation to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security interests.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament passed revisions to the Organic Law of the State Council on Monday. The revisions include clauses stipulating that the council shall uphold the leadership of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and safeguard the centralized leadership of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, led by Xi.

“Under the strong leadership of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee with comrade Xi Jinping at its core, we must adhere to Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era as our guide and unswervingly push forward the Chinese-style modernization,” Zhao Leji, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, said at the closing ceremony of the week-long meeting.

The amendments come after the Chinese Communist Party announced an abrupt cancellation of Premier Li Qiang’s annual press conference at the end of the week-long parliamentary meetings.

India Announces Steps to Implement Citizenship Law That Excludes Muslims

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced on Monday the rules to implement a 2019 citizenship law that excludes Muslims, weeks before the Hindu nationalist leader seeks a third term in office.

The Citizenship Amendment Act provides a fast track to naturalization for Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who fled to Hindu-majority India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before December 31, 2014. The law excludes Muslims, who are a majority in all three nations.

The law was approved by the Indian Parliament in 2019, but Modi’s government held off on its implementation after deadly protests broke out in the capital, New Delhi, and elsewhere. Scores were killed during days of clashes.

The nationwide protests in 2019 drew people of all faiths who said the law undermines India’s foundation as a secular nation. Muslims were particularly worried that the government could use the law, combined with a proposed national register of citizens, to marginalize them.

The National Register of Citizens is part of the Modi government’s effort to identify and weed out people it claims came to India illegally. The register has only been implemented in the northeastern state of Assam, and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has promised to roll out a similar citizenship verification program nationwide.

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