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Death toll rises to 81 in Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border clashes | Conflict News

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on both countries to resolve their differences using ‘peaceful, political and diplomatic means’.

Tajikistan said that 35 of its citizens were killed in the latest border clashes with Kyrgyzstan, raising the overall death toll to at least 81.

On its Facebook page, the Tajik foreign ministry reported 35 people dead including civilians, women, and children.

A further 139 people had been wounded in the fighting on the southwestern border, it said.

The previous toll given by the ministry was 24 dead.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths on the Kyrgyz side rose to 46, making it the worst flare-up between the two Central Asian countries in years.

Kyrgyzstan said nearly 136,000 residents were also evacuated from villages near Tajikistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called for “no further escalation” between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

In phone calls with the leaders of the Central Asian nations, Putin also urged them to “take steps to resolve the situation as soon as possible by exclusively peaceful, political and diplomatic means”.

Both former Soviet Union countries are now part of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) but they regularly have escalating tensions.

On Friday, the two sides agreed to a ceasefire but since then the fighting continued with both sides accusing each other of breaching the agreement.

After more clashes on Saturday, the night passed “quietly, without incidents” the Kyrgyz authorities said on Sunday morning.

“The country’s leadership is taking all measures to stabilise the situation, prevent attempts of escalation … in a peaceful way,” they added.

On Sunday afternoon, the Kyrgyz authorities issued a statement saying the situation at the border “remains calm, trending towards stabilisation”.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the leadership of both sides “to engage in dialogue for a lasting ceasefire”, said a spokesman.

Border disputes have dogged the former Soviet republics through their three decades of independence. Around half their 970-kilometre (600-mile) border is still to be demarcated.

Unprecedented clashes between the two countries happened in 2021, killing at least 50 people and raising fears of a wider conflict.

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Malaysian defence contractor ‘Fat Leonard’ seeks Venezuela asylum | News

Local media reported that Leonard Glenn Francis had requested to remain in Venezuela on health and political grounds.

A fugitive Malaysian defence contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” who orchestrated a huge bribery scheme involving dozens of United States Navy officials, has requested asylum in Venezuela almost a week after he was arrested in the South American country.

Leonard Glenn Francis — arrested on September 21 at Caracas international airport as he prepared to depart for Russia — appeared in court the day after his arrest and announced that he wished to remain in Venezuela on medical and political grounds, local media reported on Monday.

Venezuela’s government-allied newspaper Ultimas Noticias, citing judicial sources in its report, said that Francis told the court hearing that he wanted to appeal for political asylum and that he was suffering from metastatic kidney cancer.

Agencia Venezuela News also carried the report by Ultimas Noticias, adding that Francis told the court that he wished to remain in Venezuela and reunite with his wife and family.

Neither Venezuela’s Information Ministry nor its Attorney General’s Office immediately responded to a request for comment.

By law, the Venezuelan government must consider the asylum request.

Francis fled his home in San Diego, California, on September 4, just weeks before he was to be sentenced in a bribery case where he acknowledged overbilling the US Navy by $35m with the help of dozens of US naval officers.

Francis admitted to providing prostitutes, luxury travel, expensive meals and cigars, and other bribes to the naval officials who in return directed US Navy ships to ports Francis controlled in Southeast Asia.

The owner of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd, which supplied food, water and fuel to naval vessels for decades, Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 and faced up to 25 years in prison.

While awaiting sentencing, he was given home confinement in San Diego to receive medical care as he cooperated with the prosecution, which led to the convictions of 33 of 34 defendants.

After removing a GPS ankle monitor and fleeing his home, the US issued an Interpol red-notice request for his arrest which led to his capture in Caracas last week.

Francis had arrived in Venezuela via Mexico and Cuba, and planned to continue on to Russia, Venezuela’s Interpol office said in a statement.

Though US President Joe Biden’s administration does not officially recognise Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government, Venezuela and the US have an extradition agreement.

US authorities have 30 days to formally request that he be extradited.

Washington does not have an embassy in Venezuela and has imposed crushing sanctions on Caracas, which has further embittered relations between the two countries.

That Maduro could use Francis’ extradition as a bargaining chip to have sanctions reduced or lifted by Washington has been mooted in Venezuela and abroad.

Agencia Venezuela News tweeted a cartoon over the weekend depicting Maduro holding a basketball emblazoned with the name “Fat Leonard” over the head of Uncle Sam.

Neither US nor Venezuelan officials have yet commented on Francis’s request for asylum.



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Japan honours Shinzo Abe with controversial state funeral | News

Japan prepares to bid farewell to assassinated leader as anger grows over the cost of the state funeral and his party’s ties to the Unification Church.

Japan is set to honour former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was killed while on the campaign trail in July, with a rare state funeral that has deeply split the nation.

Some 4,000 mourners — including United States Vice President Kamala Harris and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — are expected to attend Tuesday’s ceremony for Abe, who was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. Hundreds of Japanese lined up outside the funeral venue in the capital, Tokyo, ahead of the official ceremony to offer floral tributes to Abe.

But the event, which is costing taxpayers some $11.5m, as well as revelations about ties between Abe, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the South Korean Unification Church, has prompted a huge public outcry in Japan.

Critics consider the religious group a “predatory cult” responsible for forcibly extracting exorbitant donations from its followers in Japan.

The relatives of Abe’s assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, say the 41-year-old’s mother donated some 100 million yen ($692,000) to the group, bankrupting his family. Yamagami has told investigators that he shot Abe on July 8 because of the prime minister’s support for the church. An internal LDP survey has since found that nearly half the governing party’s 379 national legislators also have ties with the church and affiliated groups. These range from attending the church’s events to receiving donations and accepting volunteers for election support.

Protesters took to the streets of Tokyo on Tuesday hours before Abe’s state funeral was due to get underway [Issei Kato/Reuters]

The revelations have caused Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s approval ratings to plunge below 30 percent.

But Kishida has defended the state funeral as necessary because of Abe’s achievements.

The incumbent leader, the heads of Japan’s lower and upper houses of parliament, and the chief justice will speak at Tuesday’s event.

It will begin at 2pm local time (05:00 GMT) with Abe’s ashes carried into the venue as an honour guard fires 19 rounds from a cannon.

Security has been tightened in Tokyo, with schools in the vicinity of the funeral venue closed and some 20,000 police officers mobilised to ensure security for the event. Protests against the funeral are expected, with some 62 percent of respondents surveyed by the Mainichi newspaper saying they do not approve of holding such an event.

Critics say Abe is also not deserving of the honour because of his legacy of divisive policies.

These include Abe’s push to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, and nationalistic rhetoric that soured relations with neighbouring countries, including South Korea.

Members of Japan Self-Defense Forces stand in front of sacred funeral curtains creating shadows on the ground during a rehearsal for Abe's state funeral
Members of Japan Self-Defence Forces will take part in the funeral, which has divided opinion in Japan and led to a sharp drop in support for the government [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]

The former leader, at the time of his resignation for health reasons in 2020, had also become mired in scandals in which he was alleged to have misused political funds and engaged in cronyism. He was also facing criticism at the time for his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his determination to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics despite the outbreak of the disease.

“Kishida’s decision to honour Abe with a state funeral without consulting the Diet or judiciary smacks of exactly the arrogance of power that the public associates with Abe. By a 2-1 margin the public opposes the state funeral and much of this opposition can be attributed to Abe’s toxic legacies and limited achievements,” said Jeffrey Kingston, professor of history and Asian studies at Temple University in Japan.

“Polls suggest few believe Kishida has handled the Church issue competently and this is part of the reason he has plunged in the polls. Supporters hope it will all blow over but the media spotlight may sustain the anger and now there are the Olympic bribery scandals that provide further reminders about the sleazy ways and means of the Abe government.”

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Japan lodges protest after Russia detains diplomat in Vladivostok | Politics News

Tatsunori Motoki, accused of spying by Russia’s FSB, was held for a few hours before being released and ordered to leave the country.

Japan has accused Russia of “unreasonable” behaviour and threatened “equivalent steps” after the FSB, the Russian federal security agency, detained a diplomat in the eastern port city of Vladivostok and accused him of being a spy.

Tatsunori Motoki, who worked at the Japanese Consulate General in the city, was released after a few hours and declared ‘persona non grata’, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said, citing an unnamed government source. It said Motoki had been ordered to leave Russia within 48 hours.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno described Motoki’s detention as “regrettable, unacceptable and unbelievable” and accused the FSB of taking the diplomat into custody in an “intimidating manner”.

Russia’s security agency announced it had detained a Japanese consul in Vladivostok on Monday for alleged espionage and ordered him to leave the country.

“A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region,” the FSB security service said in a statement, carried by Russian news agencies on Monday.

The diplomat had also been soliciting information about “the impact of Western sanctions” on the eastern Primorsky region, the FSB added, according to the agencies.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement the diplomat had been ordered to leave the country within 48 hours, and the FSB had lodged a complaint with Japan.

Local media released footage allegedly showing Motoki receiving documents at what appears to be a restaurant, and him admitting to the accusations during FSB questioning.

Japan’s embassy in Russia earlier lodged a protest about the detention to Moscow’s foreign ministry, saying “it was a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations” and the order to leave the country was “unreasonable”, according to Kyodo.

Russia considers Japan to be a “hostile” country, a designation it shares with all European Union countries, the United States and allies, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

Moscow and Tokyo have traded tit-for-tat sanctions since February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Even before the war, Tokyo’s relations with Moscow were complex. The two sides are involved in a dispute over islands Russia calls the Kurils and Japan the Northern Territories, which has prevented them from signing a post-war peace treaty.

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