After Months of Deadlock, UN Security Council Demands Gaza Ceasefire

The UN Security Council broke months of deadlock Monday and adopted a resolution demanding an “immediate” ceasefire in Gaza.

“This must be a turning point. This must lead to saving lives on the ground,” an emotional Palestinian UN envoy, Riyad Mansour, told the council. “This must signal the end of this assault of atrocities against our people.”

The resolution “demands” an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan, which is half over, “leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire.” It also demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, the lifting of all barriers to the provision of more humanitarian aid, and the protection of civilians in Gaza.

The text, put forward by the 10 elected members of the 15-nation council, was adopted by 14 votes to 14, with the United States abstaining, allowing the measure to pass. This was the eighth time the council attempted to agree on a ceasefire resolution, and it was greeted with applause in the packed council chamber.

Trump to Face April 15 Hush Money Criminal Trial

Donald Trump was ordered Monday to stand trial in a criminal case, the first ever against a U.S. president, on April 15 in New York.

The hush money case is perhaps the only one of four unprecedented indictments against Trump that will go to trial before the November election when he will face President Joe Biden for a new term in the White House.

Trump had sought to delay the New York case, but Judge Juan Merchan rejected his efforts to postpone it or dismiss the entirety of the allegations that he covered up a hush money payment to a porn star just ahead of the 2016 presidential election to hide it from voters before he unexpectedly won the presidency.

Merchan rejected Trump’s lawyer’s claim that a lengthy trial delay was necessary to give Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors more time to review thousands of pages of newly disclosed documents from a previous federal investigation of the case. A prosecutor told Merchan that most of the documents were irrelevant.

North Korea Says Japan’s Prime Minister Proposed Summit

North Korea said Monday that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has proposed a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim’s sister and senior official, Kim Yo Jong, made the comments in a state media dispatch. She said Kishida used an unspecified channel to convey his position that he wants to meet Kim Jong Un in person at an early date.

Kim Yo Jong said whether to improve bilateral ties hinges on Japan. She said if Kishida sticks to his push to resolve the alleged past abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea, he cannot avoid criticism that he would only pursue talks to boost his popularity.

Some experts say North Korea is seeking to improve ties with Japan as a way to weaken a trilateral Tokyo-Seoul-Washington security partnership, while Kishida also wants better ties with North Korea to increase his declining approval rating at home.

The U.S. and South Korea have been expanding their military drills and trilateral exercises involving Japan in response to North Korea’s provocative run of weapons tests since 2022.

Earlier Monday, North Korea’s state media reported that Kim Jong Un had supervised a tank exercise and encouraged his armoured forces to sharpen war preparations in the face of growing tensions with South Korea.

Italy Raises Security After IS-Claimed Russian Concert Hall Attack

Italy followed France on Monday in stepping up security following the attack on a suburban Moscow concert hall and the claim of responsibility by an affiliate of the Islamic State group.

The attack renewed attention in Europe on the risk from extremists, particularly the Central Asian affiliate, as the continent gears up for big events such as the Paris Olympics and the European Championships in Germany.

France increased its security alert posture to the highest level on Sunday. In Italy, a national security council meeting on Monday decided to increase security around Holy Week observances leading up to Easter this weekend.

Both surveillance and checks will be increased, “paying the most attention to the places of greatest aggregation and transit of people, as well as sensitive targets,’’ the Italian Interior Ministry said in a statement. Pope Francis has a busy schedule of events in Rome and at the Vatican in the days leading up to Easter Sunday.

In Germany, Interior Ministry spokesperson Cornelius Funke said the threat from Islamic extremists “remains acute,” but authorities’ risk assessment hasn’t changed so far as a result of the Moscow attack.

German Industry Skeptical of China’s Vow to Treat Foreign Firms Equally 

A fresh pledge by Beijing to treat foreign companies like domestic rivals drew a cool response from one of its biggest trading partners, Germany, where industries called for concrete actions rather than words to create a true level-playing field.

Germany’s engagement in the world’s No.2 economy has been in focus, partly because China remains its biggest trading partner but also because Berlin has asked companies to diversify away from what it calls “partner, competitor and systemic rival.”

Beijing’s efforts to ensure international companies stay engaged come as inbound foreign direct investment shrank by 8% in 2023, partly due to broader anti-espionage laws, exit bans, and raids on consultancies and due diligence firms.

However, German direct investment in China rose to a record high of 11.9 billion euros ($12.9 billion) last year, underscoring how relevant the market remains despite efforts to reduce exposure.

To attract more foreign money, Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Guo Tingting told the China Development Forum in Beijing that the country would “fully guarantee national treatment for foreign companies” without elaborating further.

China Proposes Dialogue with Australia Amid Rising Tension in South China Sea

China said it may propose talks on maritime issues with Australia amid ongoing tensions in the South China Sea.

Following Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s trip to Australia last week — during which he exchanged views on trade, consular affairs, and regional security with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong — the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on March 21 that Beijing is actively considering “launching a dialogue on maritime affairs” with Australia.

In response to Beijing’s proposal, Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Department told VOA in a written response that Wang and Wong exchanged views on maritime safety and security during their meeting on March 20, adding that Canberra will “consider the most practical and useful format for dialogue on maritime issues.”

The announcement comes amid efforts from Beijing and Canberra to improve bilateral relations after China imposed sanctions worth $12.7 billion on Australian products, most of which have been lifted in recent months.

While China and Australia have agreed to stabilise trade relations, regional security remains a sensitive issue between the two countries. Following her meeting with Wang, Australia’s Wong told journalists that she reiterated Canberra’s “serious concern” about unsafe conduct at sea.

China Releases South Korean Soccer Star After Detention over Bribery Suspicions

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that a star South Korean soccer player who was detained and investigated in China for nearly a year over bribery allegations has been released and returned home.

Son Jun-ho, a former South Korean national team member who had played professionally in China, was detained by Chinese authorities at the Shanghai airport in May on suspicion of taking bribes.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed that Son was back in South Korea but didn’t provide further details, including when he returned or whether the charges against him were proven.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, citing anonymous sources, reported that Son returned Monday afternoon.

Son had played for Shandong Taishan and won the 2021 Chinese championship with the Jinan-based club. Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post reported last year that the bribery allegations concerned suspected match-fixing involving the team’s coach, Hao Wei.

Son, 31, played seven seasons with South Korea’s Pohang Steelers and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors before signing a four-year contract with Shandong Taishan in 2021, according to industry website He has played for South Korea 18 times, including the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Chinese soccer has struggled for years to rid itself of a reputation for corruption.

Security Concerns in Haiti Hinder Creation of Council That Will Choose Country’s Next Leader

Fresh turmoil involving a transitional presidential council that will be responsible for choosing Haiti’s new leader triggered a flurry of meetings with Caribbean leaders and officials from the U.S., Canada and France, officials said Monday.

A regional official who was not authorised to talk to the media on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that the council has yet to be sworn in, given concerns over the security of its members, among other things. The official is based in Guyana, which serves as headquarters for the regional trade bloc known as Caricom, which is helping create the transitional council.

The delay in establishing the council comes as gangs continue to launch attacks across Haiti’s capital. Since February 29, gunmen have burned police stations, opened fire on the main international airport that remains closed and stormed the country’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

Scores of people have been killed, and more than 33,000 people have fled the capital of Port-au-Prince as a result of the attacks. Next Leader

Philippines Says Chinese Envoy Summoned Over ‘Aggressive Actions’ Off Reef

The Philippines said Monday it had summoned a Chinese envoy over “aggressive actions” by the China Coast Guard and other vessels near a reef off the Southeast Asian country’s coast.

Beijing and Manila have a long history of maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and in recent months, their vessels have repeatedly confronted each other near disputed reefs.

The latest incident took place Saturday near Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands during a regular Philippine mission to resupply Filipino troops garrisoned on the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded navy ship.

The Philippines said the China Coast Guard blocked its supply vessel and damaged it with a water cannon, injuring three crewmembers.

The China Coast Guard has defended its actions, describing them as “lawful regulation, interception and expulsion” of a foreign vessel that “tried to forcefully intrude” into Chinese waters.

Second, Thomas Shoal is about 200km from the western Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000km from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan Island.

New Zealand, EU Trade Agreement to Take Effect on May 1

New Zealand said Monday a free trade agreement with the European Union would come into effect on May 1, after the country’s parliament ratified the deal.

Trade and Agriculture Minister Todd McClay said in a statement that New Zealand notified the European Union earlier on Monday that it had ratified the agreement.

Wellington and Brussels signed the deal in July 2023, with the European Parliament ratifying its side of the agreement in November.

New Zealand expects the deal to benefit its beef, lamb, butter, and cheese industries and remove tariffs on other exports, such as its iconic kiwi fruit.

The EU will see tariffs lifted on its exports, including clothing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, cars, and wine and confections.

According to government data, the EU is New Zealand’s fourth-largest trade partner, with two-way goods and services trade worth $12.10 billion in 2022.

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