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Emperor Akhito steps down as Japan marks the end of ‘Heisei’ period

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Tokyo: Emperor Akihito of Japan formally stepped down Tuesday, the first abdication for 200 years in the world’s oldest monarchy, as his son Naruhito prepared to take the Chrysanthemum Throne and usher in a new imperial era.

In the “Room of Pine” in Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, the popular 85-year-old performed the abdication ritual in the presence of the imperial regalia — an ancient sword and sacred jewel that are considered to legitimise an emperor.

In his final speech, Akihito offered his “deepest heartfelt gratitude to the people of Japan” and said he would “pray for the peace and happiness of all the people in Japan and around the world.”

 

Despite near-constant rain in Tokyo, several hundred wellwishers congregated outside the Palace during the historic ceremony attended by around 300 people, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and around a dozen members of the royal family.

“I feel overwhelmed emotionally,” said a tearful Yayoi Iwasaki, a 50-year-old bank employee, standing outside the palace.

“In the past, enthronements followed the death of emperors and people weren’t sure whether they should be happy and celebrating, but with this transition, I am sure that we can celebrate while welcoming the new era,” she said.

Akihito will technically remain emperor until the stroke of midnight when Naruhito takes over and the new era of “Reiwa” — meaning “beautiful harmony” — begins, lasting for as long as he reigns.

Earlier Tuesday, draped in ornate golden-brown robes and wearing a towering black hat, Akihito reported his abdication to his ancestors and Shinto gods at several sanctuaries in the palace.

On Wednesday, the 59-year-old Naruhito will inherit the imperial regalia in a 10-minute ceremony that is off-limits to female royals, even his wife Masako. He will shortly afterwards make his first address to the nation as its 126th emperor.

Crowds were expected to gather to count down to the new era outside the palace and at the scramble crossing in Tokyo’s lively Shibuya district, although the drizzle threatened to dampen some of the enthusiasm.

Security has been beefed up with extra police patrols on the streets, sniffer dogs scouring the palace grounds and even divers inspecting the moat.

A more public enthronement ceremony will take place on October 22, during which Naruhito will parade through the streets of the capital and be congratulated by other world leaders and royalty.

President Donald Trump sent congratulations, offering “heartfelt appreciation” to the outgoing imperial couple and stressing the “close relationship” between the US and Japan.


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International

North Korea asks UN chief to address ship seizure by ‘gangster’ US

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SEOUL: North Korea has asked United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deal with the “illegal” seizure of one of its cargo ships by the United States, state media said on Saturday. “This act of dispossession has clearly indicated that the United States is indeed a gangster country that does not care at all about international laws,” the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations said in a letter sent to Guterres dated Friday, according to North Koreas KCNA news agency. Pyongyangs protest to the United Nations over the seizure comes amid mounting tensions since a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, aimed at bringing about the denuclearisation of the North, broke down in Hanoi in February.
The letter also called for “urgent measures” by Guterres and claimed that Washington infringed the North`s sovereignty and violated U.N. charters. With the denuclearisation talks stalled, North Korea went ahead with more weapons tests this month. The tests were seen as a protest by Kim after Trump rejected his calls for sanctions relief at the Hanoi summit.
North Korea has said the ship seizure violated the spirit of the summit and demanded the return of the vessel without delay. The U.S. Justice Department said the North Korean cargo ship, known as the “Wise Honest”, was seized and impounded to American Samoa. The vessel was accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of sanctions and was first detained by Indonesia in April 2018.

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Trump tells Pentagon chief he doesn’t want war with Iran

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KARACHI: Senior officials in Washington have begun looking for ways to defuse tensions with Tehran after President Donald Trump has made it clear that he doesn’t want a war with Iran, sources say.
The New York Times has reported that during a meeting Mr Trump told his acting defence secretary, Patrick Shanahan, that he does not want to go to war with Iran.
The president’s statement was meant to apprise his hawkish aides that he did not want the intensifying US pressure campaign against the Iranians to turn into an open conflict, said the newspaper.
According to another statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the leader of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, to discuss the threat posed by Iran. Oman has long been seen as an intermediary between the West and Iran.
Pompeo also asked European officials for help in persuading Iran to “de-escalate” tensions, which rose after American intelligence indicated that Iran had equipped small boats in the Persian Gulf with missiles. The information prompted fears that Tehran might strike at the United States troops and assets or those of its allies.
When asked on Thursday whether the United States was going to war with Iran, Mr Trump replied: “I hope not.”
The developments have served to highlight internal tensions in the Trump administration and prompted fears that even though the president may not be spoiling for a fight with Iran some of his aides could be.
This is happening at a time when US officials are holding an internal debate about the “gravity of the Iranian threat”. While officials and British allies say the intelligence about the threat is valid, lawmakers and some inside the administration accuse Mr Trump’s aides of exaggerating the danger and exploiting the intelligence to justify a military clash with Tehran.
Iran has dismissed any suggestion of a dialogue with the Trump administration. “The escalation by the United States is unacceptable,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday.
Indeed, there was a new potential flash point in Iran’s standoff with the United States, stemming from its vow last week to step away from some of the limitations imposed by the nuclear deal, a year after the US pulled out of the agreement that was negotiated between Tehran and world powers in 2015.
State Department officials, meanwhile, have set a “red line” that they warn Iran would cross at its peril: It could not ramp up its nuclear fuel production to the point where it would produce a nuclear weapon in less than one year.
The administration officials, however, did not specify what kind of reaction — military or otherwise — would come if Iran built up enough of a stockpile of uranium and took other steps to cross that threshold.

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More than 250,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh get first ID cards: UN

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Geneva: The UN said it has registered more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, providing many with their first ever identification cards and proof of their right to return to Myanmar in the future.
The UN refugee agency also said the registration could serve as a tool for law enforcement to help counter human trafficking.
Over a quarter of a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have now been jointly registered and provided with identity cards by Bangladesh authorities and UNHCR,” spokesman Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
Some 740,000 Rohingya refugees fled a military crackdown in August 2017 to cross into Bangladesh where 300,000 members of the persecuted Muslim minority were already in camps.
Many Rohingya refugees who fled said there had been mass rapes and slaughters in the villages, and in a report published last September, the fact-finding mission said there were reasonable grounds to believe the atrocities amounted to “genocide”.
UNHCR puts the number of Rohingya refugees currently crowded into settlements in Cox’s Bazar at around 900,000, although the UN often gives a lower number than Bangladesh authorities and other aid organisations.
They are stateless, despite the fact that many of their families have lived in Myanmar for generations, since members of the Muslim minority have had their citizenship eroded over decades.
“The registration exercise, which began in June 2018, is about safeguarding the right of Rohingya refugees to be able to return home voluntarily to Myanmar in future,” Mahecic said.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a memorandum of understanding about repatriating the Rohingya, but so far safety fears and concerns over citizenship mean the refugees have refused to return.
The new ID cards, provided to all refugees over the age of 12, lists important information, including names, family links and fingerprints and Iris scans.
Mahecic also said that the cards list Myanmar as the refugees’ country of origin.
In total, 270,348 refugees, or nearly 60,000 families, have been registered, and around 4,000 people are added to the roster each day, he said.
UNHCR’s goal is to complete the process of registering all the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar by November.
Mahecic pointed out that comprehensive registration is important for improving the accuracy of data on refugees in Bangladesh, and provides authorities and humanitarians with a better understanding of the population and its needs.
He also said that the registration “can also serve as a better tool vis-a-vis the authorities to prevent and combat smuggling and trafficking”.
His comment came after a rise in attempted human smuggling of Rohingya in the last few months, amid growing desperation in the camps.
Earlier this week, Bangladeshi police shot dead two suspected Rohingya human traffickers, after rescuing 103 refugees in two days about to make the perilous sea voyage to Malaysia.

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