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Taiwan scrambles fighters to see off Chinese warplanes as Xi meets top brass

Chinese-claimed Taiwan has complained for a year or more of repeated missions by China's air force near the democratically governed island, often in the southwestern part of its air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.Taiwan calls China's repeated nearby military activities "gray zone" warfare, designed to both wear out Taiwan's forces by making them repeatedly scramble, and also to test Taiwan's responses.Over a four-day period beginning on October 1, when China marked its national day, Taiwan said that nearly 150 PLA military aircraft entered its ADIZ, not territorial air space but a broader area Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.The latest Chinese mission included 18 fighters jets plus five nuclear-capable H-6 bombers, as well as, unusually, a Y-20 aerial refueling aircraft, the Taiwan ministry said.The bombers and six of the fighters flew to the south of Taiwan into the Bashi Channel which separates the island from the Philippines, then out into the Pacific before heading back to China, according to a map the ministry provided.Those aircraft were accompanied by the refueling aircraft, suggesting China refueled the shorter-ranged fighters inflight, a skill that the country's air force is still working to hone to enable it to project power further from China's shores.Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them, the ministry said.There was no immediate comment from China, which has in the past said such moves were drills aimed at protecting the country's sovereignty.However, Chinese state media reported that President Xi Jinping had held a three-day meeting which ended on Sunday with the country's top officers to discuss how further to strengthen the armed forces through talent cultivation.While the read out of his remarks made no direct mention of Taiwan, Xi did stress the need to modernize the military to be able to win wars."It is necessary to make great efforts to strengthen scientific and technological literacy and improve the actual ability to win modern wars," the official Xinhua news agency cited Xi as saying."It is necessary to strengthen practical experience and encourage and guide officers and soldiers to experience the wind and rain, see the world, strengthen their muscles and bones, and develop their talents in fiery military practice."

110,000 Michigan Football Fans Defy World’s Rising Omicron Fears

(Bloomberg) — More than 110,000 fans packed into the University of Michigan football stadium to see the Wolverines beat rival Ohio State for the first time in a decade. The post-game celebrations offered a stark contrast to the calls for caution by world governments concerned about the emergence of the omicron variant and a winter […]

Thanksgiving traditions return to U.S.: Football, family and parades

(Reuters) - Americans flocked to parades, packed football stadiums and gathered more freely for family feasts on Thursday, grateful to celebrate Thanksgiving Day traditions...

Safe and alive, but 'traumatized,' the future of these Afghan women athletes is very uncertain

When the Taliban seized control in mid-August as the United States and Western allies withdrew their forces, women and girls were quickly instructed to stay home from work and school, and hundreds of the country's athletes went into hiding or sought to be evacuated from the country fearing reprisals.  During the last period of Taliban rule, women were banned from participating in sports, and by late August, Khalida Popal, the former captain of the Afghan women's soccer team, had urged players to delete social media profiles and burn their kits to protect themselves. "They are like a nightmare for my generation. They took over all of our country in one night. And after that night, we were able to see the Taliban on the streets. They were cruel. They didn't have mercy for anyone," 19-year-old defender Narges Mayeli told CNN. Mayeli is one of two Afghan women footballers now living in the UK who spoke to CNN about their experiences. Once the Taliban seized power, the women feared for their lives and the safety of their families. An attempt to board an evacuation flight to Qatar failed in August following a suicide attack at Kabul airport, so the young women scrambled to leave Afghanistan overland, via Pakistan, through the Torkham border, in mid-September. They eventually secured a flight to the UK in November after two precarious months. "I feel sad and worried, and I want to be able to go back to my home. We never dreamt of leaving our country, but it's very difficult and scary knowing that as women, we lost our light, our freedom that we had in Afghanistan," Sabreyah Nowrozi, the 24-year-old team captain of the women's team, told CNN.  In August, the UK government announced a resettlement scheme for Afghan citizens facing "threats of persecution from the Taliban." The scheme, which prioritizes women, girls, and religious and other minorities, will see the UK take in up to 20,000 refugees over the next five years, and grant indefinite rights to stay in the country or pursue citizenship. But the women's football team has been given no assurances, Copenhagen-based Popal, who spearheaded efforts to evacuate the women and girls, who only have six-month temporary visas, told CNN. "These girls have no refugee status," Popal, who lives in Denmark after she was forced to flee her home country in 2011 in fear for her life because of her role in establishing Afghanistan's national women's team, said. "They are in kind of a limbo of not knowing what will happen to them in six months' time," she said.  Restrictive policies and uncertainty The United Kingdom's stance on immigration has hardened in recent years: Home Secretary Priti Patel has repeatedly vowed to make the English Channel crossing to the UK from France "unviable" for migrants. Last Wednesday, 27 people -- including a pregnant woman -- drowned in bitterly cold waters off the coast of France after an inflatable boat carrying migrants bound for Britain capsized in the English Channel.  Thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty in the world's poorest or war-torn countries risk the dangerous crossing, often in dinghies unfit for the voyage and at the mercy of people smugglers, seeking asylum or economic opportunities in Britain. Ministers from both sides of the Channel on Thursday laid blame on their counterparts after Wednesday's tragedy, which was one of the largest losses of life in the English Channel in recent years. It is unclear whether Afghans are among those who perished, but the route is one that other Afghans have used in the past. The Afghan women players say they feel safer and more secure now they have reached the UK. "Now we can have a calm sleep, we are less worried," Mayeli said.  But without the guarantee of refugee status, the young women say they feel insecure.  "Of course, you cannot focus on studying, you cannot focus on integrating, knowing that maybe tomorrow you will be kicked out of the country," Popal said.  Nowrozi told CNN: "It's worrying for me that after six months the UK could say, go back to Afghanistan."  "These girls, these families, the entire group have been through a lot. Their life was in great danger. They have lost a lot," Popal told CNN. "They didn't want to leave Afghanistan, but they were forced to. They were pushed to. They have lost so many things on the way. They were scared of their lives," Popal said.  "It was not only the fear from losing their life by the Taliban, but it was from the neighborhood, from the society that were against the participation of women, especially through football," she said. And it wasn't just the girls in danger, according to Popal: "The brothers, and some of the fathers were threatened, beaten.  "And there, some of them, they lost their homes. They were put on fire because the minute the Taliban took over the country, those ideologies were supported by [the] Taliban." The UK granted the group six months of leave to facilitate their entry to the UK, according to a Home Office official. They will be processed for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK before their six months of initial leave expires, in line with the government's standard approach during and since the evacuation, according to the official. If they are granted ILR, there will be no time limit on their ability to stay in the UK. The future of women's sport The future of women's sport in Afghanistan remains unclear. Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban's cultural commission, told Australia's SBS News that Afghan women should not play cricket and other sports in which they would be "exposed." "In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this," Wasiq said to SBS News. The chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, Azizullah Fazli, later told Al Jazeera that Taliban officials had indicated there was "officially no ban on women's sport," but many remain concerned.  Popal told CNN that the Taliban was sharing inaccurate information about the status of women to seem more progressive to the international community. "I have been receiving a lot of phone calls, messages, emails: people are desperate, especially the women athletes. They are really trying to just find a way to get out, to feel freedom, to get access to education," Popal said.  In October, CNN spoke to women in Kabul who were returning to public spaces after staying inside during the initial first few uncertain weeks of Taliban rule.  Still, there has been concern about a steady rollback of women's freedoms since the group seized power three months ago, most recently with women barred from appearing in television dramas. "We started playing football in a small area in a community where all of the people know us as football players. We were the women who were playing football, not only as a game, but we were playing football in order to empower other girls in order to raise our voices for women rights," Mayeli told CNN.  "As a woman, as a football player, I didn't feel safe in Afghanistan." An opportunity -- but not "endgame"  The young women say they are hopeful for their "bright futures" in the UK.  Mayeli said she is thankful to all of the people who worked to help her reach the UK, including the UK government, Popal, ROKIT (a UK-based charity that has helped the footballers) and Kim Kardashian. "I want to have higher education, and help other people as I can. As I have abilities, I wanna raise my voice for other girls, because they're still in Afghanistan and they are in danger," she said.  Popal told CNN that the girls need to be given refugee status, education support, mental health and financial support. "The main focus in the beginning is to get them mental health support, because they are traumatized. They need special care, and they have been on the go for such a long time now," she said. "They have done their job. They have been through a lot, and they have risked their life to get out of Afghanistan. They have shown leadership. They have shown bravery. We need the community to come together to support the team to achieve their dreams and goals." Nowrozi told CNN that she wants to become a child psychologist, as she studied psychology at university in Afghanistan. And the players can't wait to carry on playing football.  "To play for Chelsea, it's my ambition." "I love it, because when I'm playing football, I feel free. I feel relaxed. At first, it was a hobby, but after that it became my love," she said.

Beijing targets Taiwanese companies with operations in China

China has targeted a large corporate donor to Taiwanese political election campaigns with extensive business in the mainland as it broadens efforts to undermine support for the country’s governing pro-democracy party. “We will not allow any company to make money in the Chinese mainland and then donate money to diehard Taiwanese independence groups,” Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told reporters. Beijing’s warning to Taiwanese companies came after Chinese authorities fined the island’s Far Eastern Group (FEG), the largest corporate funder of election campaigns in Taiwan, Rmb88.62m ($13.9m) for environmental, labour and tax violations. FEG, which is known in Taiwan for its upscale department stores and has assets worth $85bn in 10 industries, was the biggest corporate donor in the past three general elections, according to analysis by Taiwanese outlet Tianxia. The group donated money to both the ruling Democratic Progressive party (DPP) and the China-friendly Kuomintang party.The case underlines the increasingly fraught environment that an estimated 1.2m Taiwanese working in China face as Beijing ratchets up economic and military pressure on the island, which the mainland claims as part of its territory. “This is the most significant example to date of China going after Taiwanese companies with mainland operations,” said Chen Kuan-ting, head of the DPP-linked think-tank NextGen. “These companies risk becoming a political weapon for Beijing to attack Taiwan.” Beijing insists that the fines against FEG subsidiaries were due to regulatory violations and rejects Taipei’s accusation that they amount to interference in its politics. But DPP officials argue that the timing of the punishment reveals the underlying political motivation. This month, Beijing threatened to publish a blacklist of “stubbornly pro-independence” entities that would be prohibited from making money in the mainland. It also sanctioned three prominent Taiwanese politicians, including Su Tseng-chang, head of the cabinet and premier, who received campaign financing from an FEG subsidiary in 2018. “In China, ensuring you have good relations with the government is the most important way to avoid getting a fine,” said one Taiwanese factory manager in China’s eastern city of Wuxi, speaking to the Financial Times on condition of anonymity. “The reality is that environmental and labour regulations are very strict and 99 per cent of manufacturers have no means of complying.” “We have to be well behaved,” said the manager, explaining that for taishang, as Taiwanese businesspeople in China are known, that means working with the United Front Organisation, a Chinese Communist party body promoting unification with Taiwan. Even as relations between Taipei and Beijing have deteriorated, with the Chinese air force making regular incursions into the island’s air defence identification zone, China has until now resisted targeting Taiwanese living in the mainland. The CCP views these businesspeople as its most influential lobbyists back in Taiwan.The FT found online records of meetings in Suzhou, a city bordering Wuxi, of meetings in 2018 between officials from the United Front Organisation and FEG’s Yadong Industry unit. These discussed preferential policies to support Taiwanese companies in China. But the public rebuke of FEG, which is one of Taiwan’s best-connected companies in the mainland, has cast a chill through the taishang community. The FEG, with a network of 30 subsidiaries in mainland China, had a reputation for deftly handling its relations with the party. Beijing’s threat to go after companies with links to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen marks a significant escalation in its campaign to turn Taiwanese public sentiment against the DPP. China has already been accused of infiltrating the island’s media, spreading disinformation against pro-independence groups and using trade sanctions to punish Tsai’s government.Beijing’s targeting of FEG came as a surprise, said Chen Fang-yu, an assistant professor in political science at Taiwan’s Soochow University, noting that the company did not have a pro-independence stance and had close historic ties to the Beijing-friendly KMT. While it was common for large companies in Taiwan to donate to both parties during elections, they usually avoided endorsing particular candidates and avoided cross-strait politics, said Dafydd Fell, an academic at the Centre of Taiwan Studies at Soas University in London. By targeting Taiwanese companies, Fell said Beijing risked alienating its closest allies on the island and inadvertently fuelling support for the pro-independence government. “The KMT would like to argue that closer economic integration is the answer for Taiwan’s economic problems, but China’s threats make that argument less convincing to voters,” said Fell.

Dutch police arrest couple that fled COVID quarantine

AMSTERDAM — Dutch military police on Sunday said they had arrested a married couple who left a hotel where they were in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, and were attempting to flee the country. The police known as the Marechausse said in a statement the pair were arrested “in an airplane that was about […]

Virgil Abloh, rising LVMH designer, dies of cancer aged 41

Virgil Abloh, an American designer known for bringing streetwear into luxury fashion and a rising star within the LVMH group, has died of cancer at the age of 41, the company said on Sunday. Abloh, who had designed menswear for the Louis Vuitton brand since 2018, infusing lines with a mix of sportswear and tailoring that had won praise, had been promoted in July to a broader role within the world’s biggest luxury goods conglomerate. The DJ and creator of the Off-White high-end leisurewear label, a first-generation American born of Ghanaian parents, was one of the most high-profile black people working in the luxury industry and within LVMH.“Virgil was not only a designer with a lot of genius, a visionary, he was also a beautiful soul and a man with a lot of wisdom,” Bernard Arnault, LVMH’s chief and controlling-shareholder, said in a statement. In a post on Abloh’s Instagram account, his family said he had been battling an aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma, and had chosen to keep his 2019 diagnosis private. He is survived by a wife and two children.His death sparked tributes in the fashion world, with rival brands such as Kering’s Gucci praising his vision, and from outside the sector too, with French footballer Kylian Mbappé among those crediting his impact. Abloh rose to prominence in the early 2000s as a creative collaborator with the singer Kanye West. A first clothing label from 2012, Pyrex, did not last long, but the designer quickly built up Off-White into a brand sought after for its hoodies and trainers. It also won credit and prizes in the fashion industry and hosted glitzy catwalk shows in Paris.At Vuitton, LVMH’s main revenue and profitability driver, Abloh mixed his trademark hoodies with suits and impressed some dubious early critics with twists on more classic looks, amid some scepticism in fashion circles over whether sportswear would be more than a fad Conglomerates such as LVMH have been looking to woo ever younger luxury customers, pushing them to rethink styles, while also trying to improve their record on diversity.Michael Burke, chief executive of Louis Vuitton, told the Financial Times in July that LVMH’s desire to “disrupt a number of businesses” had formed part of its attraction towards Abloh, and had pushed the group to promote him further. He was due to help LVMH launch new brands among other responsibilities.“I look for people with an immigrant mentality, who are strangers in an industry or strangers in a country, and they’re very hungry, they want to learn, want to be different inside an industry that requires new ideas all the time,” Burke said.Abloh was not a traditionally trained designer. He had described his inspirations as taken from the street and from modern women, to which he believed some brands were not catering. His shows were infused with music references. In a 2016 Billboard magazine interview, Abloh said: “I’m trying to create a luxury version, a designer version, of what I see in the street.“For me, I analyse the modern girl, the girl that I’m friends with. And they’re empowered, they pay their own bills, they have their own style. They wear clothes, the clothes don’t wear them. I see women’s collections that don’t even address that.”Abloh had also taken part in offbeat collaborations — aside from lines with Nike and LVMH-owned luggage maker Rimowa, one of many brands trying to boost sales with limited-edition collections, he also made rugs with Ikea. LVMH bought a 60 per cent stake in Off-White in July.

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