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Biden’s adviser meets China foreign minister in bid to ease tensions



China has accused the US of weaponising tech and trade issues under the guise of national security while Washington has warned Beijing against its military ambitions in Taiwan and the Pacific (pic Aljazeera)

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has held “candid” talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Malta this weekend, as the world’s two largest economies seek to stabilise troubled relations over trade and militarisation of the Pacific.

During the two days of talks on Saturday and Sunday, Wang brought up the issue of Taiwan – a self-governing, democratic island that China claims as its own territory – as a “red line that cannot be crossed in Sino-US relations”. The US has vowed to defend Taiwan against possible Chinese aggression.

“The United States noted the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” said the White House in a statement, adding that the two officials “committed to maintain this strategic channel of communication and to pursue additional high-level engagement”.

A Chinese government statement on the Malta meeting largely echoed the US version, saying “the two sides conducted candid, substantive and constructive strategic communication”.

China has accused the US of weaponising tech and trade issues under the guise of national security while Washington has warned Beijing against its military ambitions in Taiwan and the Pacific. The US has forged security alliances in the Pacific to counter growing Chinese influence.

Sullivan’s meeting with Wang was the latest in a series of high-level discussions between US and Chinese officials that could lay the groundwork for a meeting of US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping later this year.

Sullivan last met Wang in the Austrian capital Vienna in May.


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Foreign News

South Africa floods: At least 11 people die after Western Cape deluge




Rivers overflowed sweeping away parts of some major roads (pic BBC)

At least 11 people have been killed after heavy rain and winds hit South Africa’s Western Cape province, including Cape Town, over the weekend leaving a trail of destruction.

Authorities warn that the death toll may rise as the floodwater subsides.

The destructive weather flooded homes, tore off roofs, destroyed crops and damaged roads and other infrastructure. Rescue teams are still searching for people who are feared trapped in their partially submerged homes.

Eight of the 11 people who died were electrocuted in an informal settlement when waters swamped illegal connections to the power lines.

Seventy-two primary school pupils and 10 adults were trapped in a resort in the town of Oudtshoorn after the nearby Le Roux River overflowed. They were rescued on Wednesday morning, after the water had subsided. About 200 farm workers remain stranded in areas that were cut off by flooding. Efforts are being made to rescue them.

More than 80 roads were closed and at least 15,000 homes were cut off from the power grid, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said. Rail services in parts of both the Western and Eastern Cape provinces have been suspended.

The floods also badly affected the area’s farmland, including its famous vineyards, with the impact on harvests expected to be severe.

City of Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has signed a major incident declaration appealing for additional resources and relief measures to deal with the aftermath of the rainfall. The city has also closed the popular Steenbras Nature Reserve and Gorge hiking route to assess the impact of the floods.

Anton Bredell, a provincial cabinet minister in charge of environmental affairs, said that helicopters were searching for some people who had been trapped. “We expect the worst there,” he said.

The damaging rains, which ended on Monday, came a week after larger than normal spring tides hit the area. Climate change has been blamed for some recent weather-related incidents in South Africa.

In 2022, flooding in KwaZulu-Natal led to the deaths of more than 430 people, while the coastal city of Gqeberha almost ran out of water last year.


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Trump liable for fraud, judge finds in New York civil case




Donald Trump “repeatedly” misrepresented his wealth by hundreds of millions of dollars to banks and insurers, a New York judge has ruled.

The decision resolves the key claim made by New York’s attorney general in her civil lawsuit against the former president.

“The documents here clearly contain fraudulent valuations that defendants used in business,” the judge wrote.

It is a major blow for the former President before the case goes to trial next Monday.

An attorney for Donald Trump called the judge’s decision “a miscarriage of justice” in a statement on Tuesday evening.

Attorney General Letitia James sued Donald Trump last September, accusing him, his two adult sons and the Trump Organization of lying about his net worth and asset values between 2011 and 2021.

Ms James claimed the defendants issued false business records and financial statements in order to get better terms on bank loans and insurance deals, and to pay less tax.

In a trial that will now resolve six remaining claims in her suit, she will seek $250m in penalties and a ban on Mr Trump doing business in his home state.

The non-jury trial is scheduled to begin 2 October and last until at least December.


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Manhunt for gang boss who controlled luxury jail in Venezuela




The Venezuelan authorities have issued a wanted poster for the fugitive (pic BBC)

Police across South America are searching for the leader of a Venezuelan gang who escaped from the luxurious prison which he controlled, shortly before it was raided.

When 11,000 soldiers and police entered the inmate-run Tocorón jail in Venezuela on Wednesday, Héctor Guerrero Flores was nowhere to be found.

Under Guerrero Flores’s rule, Tocoron came to resemble a luxury resort. The jail boasted a small zoo, a nightclub and a swimming pool.

The 39-year-old from Aragua state in Venezuela has been in and out of Tocorón prison for more than a decade.In 2012, the leader of the Tren de Aragua transnational crime gang managed to escape from the jail by bribing the guards.After his re-arrest in 2013, he was returned to the same prison, but it appears his power inside the jail – and over those tasked with guarding him – only grew.

Not only did he turn Tocorón into the nerve centre of the Tren de Aragua criminal enterprise, but under his rule, the jail was equipped with all the trappings of a luxury hotel. Families of inmates moved into the compound. Inmates had access to a makeshift bank, a betting shop, a restaurant and a baseball diamond, while their children could marvel at flamingos and ostriches in the animal enclosure.

Guerrero Flores reportedly could come and go as he pleased. Venezuelan author Ronna Rísquez, who has written a book about the Tren de Aragua, recounts how police came across him once at a party on a yacht in 2016.

According to Rísquez, the convict calmly showed officers a safe conduct issued by Venezuela’s prison service allowing him to travel freely through the country.

Humberto Prado, the director of the Venezuelan Prison Observatory NGO, told BBC Mundo that Guerrero Flores lived “like a king” inside the jail and probably returned to it because of the security it offered.

“He had an entire floor to himself, with all the luxuries… double beds, plasma screens, sound systems. He even had his own bodyguards and no one could enter the floor without his permission.”

According to Mr Prado and others familiar with the conditions inside the prison, Guerrero Flores had no rivals inside the prison and could therefore rule safely over his ever-expanding criminal network.

The Tren de Aragua has under his leadership expanded into Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile and diversified from extorting migrants into sex-trafficking, contract killing and kidnapping.

The gang’s reach is such that the Chilean President, Gabriel Boric, referred to it directly, saying that “we are going to hunt them down, jail them, and in cases where it is necessary, expel them”.

Pressure from Latin American leaders is thought to have led to the massive security operation launched by the Venezuelan authorities last week at the Tocorón prison.

Officials said 11,000 soldiers and police were deployed to regain control of the jail from the inmates.

It was during the raid that the absence of Héctor Guerrero Flores was first noted, but Venezuelan officials did not make his escape public at the time.

It was not until Saturday, three days after the security operation, that Venezuela’s interior ministry offered a reward for information leading to the capture of Guerrero Flores.

Despite the escape of its most powerful inmate, President Nicolás Maduro said the raid had been carried out “impeccably”. He did concede that “some inmates had escaped due to the corruption of officials, who had alerted the prisoners to the impending security operation”and added that those responsible would be “severely punished”.

Meanwhile, police in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Venezuela are searching for Héctor Guerrero Flores.


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