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Italy recovers eight bodies from migrant boat

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Italy recovers eight bodies from migrant boat

Italy’s coastguard recovered the bodies of eight migrants in the Mediterranean, officials said Friday, as a debate rages over Rome’s crackdown on rescue charities in the world’s deadliest crossing.

Rescuers found the bodies of five men and three women — one of whom was pregnant — in a boat late Thursday, according to Filippo Mannino, the mayor of the tiny island of Lampedusa.

The 42 survivors on board were brought ashore, he told AFP.

The deaths come ahead of a European Council summit next week at which Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will push for greater assistance from the bloc on managing boat migrants.

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Italy’s geographical position makes it a prime destination for asylum seekers crossing from North Africa to Europe, and Rome has long complained about the number of arrivals.

Mannino said he had only been mayor six months but migrant arrivals were continuous and bodies of those who died were being brought to the island almost weekly.

“The situation is becoming truly dramatic. Europe must do something, the government must do something. I’ve lost count of the number of dead,” he said.

Nearly 5,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the start of the year, according to the interior ministry, up from just over 3,000 in the same period last year and 1,000 in 2021.

Meloni was visiting Berlin and Stockholm Friday as she attempted to rally support ahead of the summit for EU mechanisms to boost repatriations and readmissions of migrants whose asylum bids fail.

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Her new right-wing government has sought to limit the actions of charity vessels that rescue migrants, sparking criticism last week from the Council of Europe that the policy would risk lives.

Baby overboard

Charity vessels only rescue a small percentage — around 10 percent — of migrants brought to safety in Italy, with most saved by Italian coastguard or navy vessels.

But the government accuses charity ships of acting as a pull factor and encouraging people traffickers.

The migrants brought to Lampedusa late Thursday were soaked through and those who perished were believed to have died of cold and hunger, according to Italian media reports, citing translators who spoke to the survivors.

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The migrants told translators they had sailed from Sfax in Tunisia in the early hours of Saturday.

The bodies of two people were still missing, ANSA news agency said Friday.

Survivors said a four-month-old baby on board had died, and his mother in her grief had put the body in the sea. A man then jumped in to recover it, but drowned, they said, according to ANSA.

The baby’s mother was believed to be one of the three women who died.

Some 1,377 people died or went missing during the crossing last year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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Hinder life-saving assistance

Rescue charities say they perform an essential role in preventing deaths at sea.

The decree law brought in by Meloni’s government at the start of January tightens the rules, obliging charity ships to only perform one rescue at a time.

They have also been routinely ordered to take survivors to ports in northern rather than southern Italy.

Those journeys are much longer and more costly and the charities warn it reduces their abilities to help those in need.

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In a letter to Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi last week, the Council of Europe warned the decree law “could hinder the provision of life-saving assistance by NGOs in the Central Mediterranean”.

It might also “be at variance with Italy’s obligations under human rights and international law”, Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic wrote.

Piantedosi insisted in a reply Wednesday that the decree was not putting lives at risk. 

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

The US Coast Guard and Kiribati police boarded two Chinese fishing boats during a patrol against illegal fishing in the Pacific Islands nation’s vast exclusive economic zone this month but found no issues aboard, a coast guard official said.

The United States is seeking a bigger role for its coast guard in helping remote Pacific Islands nations monitor millions of kilometres of ocean – a rich tuna fishing ground – a move that also boosts surveillance as a rivalry with China over security ties in the region intensifies.

Reuters reported on Friday that Chinese police are working in Kiribati, with uniformed officers involved in community policing and a crime database program.

Kiribati, a nation of 115,000 residents, is considered strategic despite being small, as it is relatively close to Hawaii and controls a 3.5 million square kilometre (1.35 million square mile) exclusive economic zone. It is also host to a Japanese satellite tracking station.

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Washington has flagged plans to build an embassy in Kiribati to compete with China, but has not yet done so.

Kiribati police officers were on patrol with the US Coast Guard as “ship riders” for the first time in almost a decade, between Feb. 11-16, a US Coast Guard Guam spokeswoman said.

“The two People’s Republic of China (PRC) flagged fishing vessels were boarded as part of routine maritime law enforcement activities to ensure compliance with regulations within the Kiribati Exclusive Economic Zone,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed comments.

No concerns were reported during the boardings, she said.

“Both Kiribati officers from the Kiribati Police Maritime Unit and US Coast Guard officers were involved in the boarding operations. This collaboration underscores the partnership between the two nations in upholding maritime law and good governance,” she added.

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The Kiribati president’s office and Chinese embassy did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Kiribati’s acting police commissioner, Eeri Aritiera, told Reuters last week that Chinese police on the island work with local police.

China built a large embassy on the main island, Tarawa, after Kiribati switched ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. 

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Russia launched 14 attack drones and a barrage of missiles at Ukraine overnight, with air defence systems destroying nine drones as well as three guided missiles over the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, Ukraine’s air force said on Monday.

Russia also launched two S-300 missiles from anti-aircraft missile systems and one air-to-surface Kh-31P missile, the air force said on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not clear what happened to the missiles and drones that were not downed. 

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Tuvalu on Monday announced former attorney general and fisheries official Feleti Teo as its new prime minister, after he was elected unopposed by lawmakers in the Pacific Islands nation, officials said.

Former Prime Minister Kausea Natano lost his seat in a general election on Jan. 26 closely watched by Taiwan, China, the US and Australia, amid a geopolitical tussle for influence in the South Pacific.

Tuvalu, with a population of about 11,200 spread across nine islands, is one of three remaining Pacific allies of Taiwan, after Nauru cut ties last month and switched to Beijing, which had promised more development help.

Teo received unanimous support from the 16 lawmakers, two lawmakers told Reuters on Monday.

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Teo, who was educated in New Zealand and Australia, was Tuvalu’s first attorney general. He has decades of experience as a senior official in the regional fisheries organisation and has worked with the Pacific Islands Forum, the region’s major political and economic group. Fishing is a major source of revenue in the Pacific islands.

“Feleti Teo was declared by the Governor General as Prime Minister for Tuvalu,” Tuvalu’s government secretary, Tufoua Panapa, said in an emailed statement.

Tuvalu lawmaker Simon Kofe congratulated Teo in a social media post.

“It is the first time in our history that a Prime Minister has been nominated unopposed,” he said.

The election result in Tuvalu had been delayed by a month as dangerous weather stopped boats from bringing new lawmakers to the capital to vote for prime minister, highlighting why climate change is the top political issue in the Pacific Islands nation.

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Taiwan’s foreign ministry said its ambassador to Tuvalu, Andrew Lin, expressed Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s congratulations to Teo, adding that deputy foreign minister Tien Chung-kwang will visit Tuvalu in the near future.

Teo is a friend of Taiwan’s and has visited many times, and has said relations are stable and that maintaining ties is the widespread consensus in Tuvalu, the ministry added.

Taiwan previously said it was paying close attention to the election after Tuvalu’s finance minister in the previous government, Seve Paeniu, said the issue of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China should be debated by the new government.

There had also been calls by some lawmakers to review a wide-ranging deal signed with Australia in November, that allows Canberra to vet Tuvalu’s police, port and telecommunication cooperation with other nations, in return for a defence guarantee and allowing citizens threatened by rising seas to migrate.

The deal was seen as an effort to curb China’s rising influence as an infrastructure provider in the Pacific Islands.

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Teo’s position on Taiwan ties, and the Australian security and migration pact, have not been made public.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on social media he looked forward to working with Teo.

“Australia deeply values our relationship with Tuvalu, in the spirit of the Falepili Union,” he wrote, referring to the migration pact.

Tuvalu’s ministry would be announced at an oath taking ceremony for the new government later this week, Panapa said.

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