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VOI, Jakarta - Philippine authorities were trying to track the whereabouts of six Chinese nationals who were abducted in the capital region this week, police said on Thursday.

Police anti-kidnapping chief Cosme Abrenica said authorities were investigating the abduction of nine people on Monday in an upscale neighbourhood in southern Metro Manila. Six of the victims were Chinese, who remain missing, and three were Filipino who were released shortly after they were abducted.

"We have no information if it's kidnap-for-ransom, kidnapping or what the motive is. We haven't established it yet," Abrenica said.

Abrenica did not disclose the identities of the victims or give any details on their status in the Philippines.

Philip Aguilar, the police chief of Calauan town where the Filipino victims were recovered, said one of the survivors told them the kidnappers had barged into their home before dawn on Monday.

The Chinese embassy in Manila said it had noted a request from Reuters for comment.

While police said the motive for this week's kidnapping was not known, China has in the past complained to the Philippines about its citizens being lured to work in online gaming firms and then being cheated, extorted and exposed to “modern slavery”. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - Pakistani authorities began rounding up undocumented foreigners, most of them Afghans, on Wednesday, ahead of a midnight deadline for them to leave or face expulsion.


The removal of people to temporary holding centres began a day earlier than previously announced. The interior ministry said 140,322 people had already voluntarily left after days in which trucks piled high with belongings and crammed with people have jammed major roads out of the country.


Pakistan set the Nov. 1 start date last month for the expulsion of all undocumented immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Afghans. It cited security reasons, brushing off calls to reconsider from the United Nations, rights groups and Western embassies.


Some of those ordered to leave have spent decades in Pakistan.


"A process to arrest the foreigners... for deportation has started as of Nov.1," the interior ministry said in a statement, while adding that voluntary return would still be encouraged.


Within hours of the interior ministry statement, authorities had begun detaining and transferring what they said were undocumented foreigners to transit centres.


In the southern port city of Karachi, home to a large number of Afghan migrants and refugees, deputy commissioner Junaid Iqbal Khan said up to 74 people had so far been moved to one of the transit centres, up to 40 of them without any proper documents.


Reuters witnesses saw police bring some people in police vehicles. Inside the centre, authorities had set up tents to shelter those rounded up. Media were not allowed access inside.


Most of the Afghan nationals were brought to the centers in rickety busses, some of them handcuffed.


Some complained about mishandling by the authorities.


Jan Muhammad, 40, said his cousin was detained even though he had all the legal documents.


"I have shown up here with his original card," he told Reuters, saying the guards were now asking for another document. "We didn't bring that with us."



Of the voluntary returnees, around 104,000 Afghan nationals have left the country via the main Torkham border crossing in northwest Pakistan during the last two weeks.


"Some of them have been living in Pakistan for more than 30 years without any proof of registration," said Nasir Khan, the area deputy commissioner.


Another 35,000 Afghan nationals who didn't have legal documents to stay returned voluntarily by the Chaman border crossing in the southwestern province of Balochistan, provincial caretaker minister Jan Achakzai said. About 100 such Afghan nationals were arrested, he said.


Local media pictures showed long queues of busses heading to the Torkham crossing where thousands of people waited for clearance and would likely spend night in open as the crossing closes at 9pm.


Some of them said they had never been to Afghanistan, and wondered how would they start a new life there.


"We have never been to Afghanistan," Rizwan Khan, 25, told Reuters in Khyber tribal district before heading to the border. "We would be strangers to the people and they would be unknown to us. We do not have a house to live in in our native village," he said.


His grandfather had migrated from Afghanistan.


Of the more than 4 million Afghans living in Pakistan, the government estimates 1.7 million are undocumented.


Many fled Afghanistan during its decades of internal conflict since the late 1970s, while the Taliban takeover after the U.S. withdrawal in 2021 led to another exodus.


Pakistan has taken a hardline stance, saying Afghan nationals have been behind militant attacks, smuggling and other crimes in the South Asian nation.


Kabul has dismissed the accusations.


In the Afghan capital, the Taliban administration asked all countries hosting Afghan refugees to give them more time to prepare for repatriation.


"We call on them not to deport forcefully Afghans without preparation, rather give them enough time and countries should use tolerance," it said in a social media posting on Afghans in Pakistan and elsewhere.


It assured Afghans leaving over political concerns that they could return and live peacefully in Afghanistan. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - More foreigners prepared to leave the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday as its Hamas-run government said at least 195 Palestinians died in Israel's attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp, strikes that U.N. human rights officials said could be war crimes.


At least 320 foreign citizens on an initial list of 500, as well as dozens of severely injured Gazans, crossed into Egypt on Wednesday under a deal among Israel, Egypt and Hamas.


Passport holders from Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, the United Kingdom and the United States were in the evacuation.


Gaza border officials said the border crossing would reopen on Thursday so more foreigners could exit. A diplomatic source said some 7,500 foreign passport holders would leave Gaza over about two weeks.


Pressing an offensive against Hamas militants, Israel has bombed Gaza by land, sea and air in its campaign to wipe out Hamas after the Islamist group's cross-border rampage into southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel said Hamas killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 200 hostages.


The Gaza health ministry says at least 8,796 Palestinians in the narrow coastal enclave, including 3,648 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes since Oct. 7.


Explosions were heard in the early hours of Thursday around the al-Quds hospital in densely populated Gaza City, the Palestinian Red Crescent said. Israeli authorities had previously warned the hospital to evacuate immediately, which U.N. officials said was impossible without endangering patients.



Israel said its strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday killed two Hamas military leaders in Jabalia, Gaza's biggest refugee camp. Israel said the group had command centres and other "terror infrastructure under, around and within civilian buildings, intentionally endangering Gazan civilians".


Gaza's Hamas-run media office said on Thursday that at least 195 Palestinians were killed in the two Israeli attacks on Jabalia, with 120 missing under the rubble. At least 777 people were wounded, it said in a statement.


Palestinians on Wednesday sifted through rubble in a desperate hunt for trapped victims. "It is a massacre," said one witness.


U.N. human rights officials said strikes on the camp could be a war crime.


"Given the high number of civilian casualties and the scale of destruction following Israeli air strikes on Jabalia refugee camp, we have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes," the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote on social media site X.


The Israeli military said one soldier was killed in Gaza on Wednesday. Fifteen were killed on Tuesday.


Amid growing international calls for a humanitarian pause in hostilities, conditions in the seaside enclave are increasingly desperate under Israel's assault and tightened blockade. Food, fuel, drinking water and medicine have run short.


Dr Fathi Abu al-Hassan, a U.S. passport holder waiting to cross into Egypt on Wednesday, described hellish conditions in Gaza without water, food or shelter.


"We open our eyes on dead people and we close our eyes on dead people," he said.


Hospitals have struggled as shortages of fuel forced shutdowns including Gaza's only cancer hospital. Israel has refused to let humanitarian convoys bring in fuel, citing concern that Hamas fighters would divert it for military purposes.


Ashraf Al-Qudra, a spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry, said the main power generator at the Indonesian Hospital was no longer functioning due to lack of fuel.


The hospital was switching to a back-up generator but would no longer be able to power mortuary refrigerators and oxygen generators. "If we don't get fuel in the next few days, we will inevitably reach a disaster," he said.



U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to depart on Thursday for his second visit to Israel in less than a month. He plans to meet Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday to voice solidarity but also to reassert the need to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties, his spokesperson said.


Blinken will also stop in Jordan, one of a handful of Arab states to have normalised relations with Israel. On Wednesday Jordan withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv until Israel ends its assault on Gaza. Israel said it regretted Jordan's decision.


In Jordan, Blinken will underscore the importance of protecting civilian lives and reiterate a U.S. commitment to ensure Palestinians are not forcibly displaced from Gaza, a growing concern of the Arab world, the spokesman said.


He will pursue talks led by Egypt and Qatar on securing the release of all of the hostages held by Hamas.


Also on Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives could pass with Republican support a bill providing $14.3 billion in aid for Israel.


But it is unlikely to become law, as it faces stiff opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House has threatened a veto. President Joe Biden wants a $106-billion bill that would fund Ukraine, border security and humanitarian aid as well as money for Israel. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with their Indian counterparts later this month in New Delhi to discuss "concerns and developments in the Indo-Pacific", the State Department said on Wednesday.


The meeting with India's foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and the country's defense minister Rajnath Singh comes amid tensions between the United States and China in the Indo-Pacific region. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - Twenty Australians were among the first group of foreign citizens who entered Egypt from the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts said on Thursday.


At least 320 foreign nationals left the Palestinian enclave to cross into Egypt on Wednesday, the first to benefit from a deal mediated by Qatar.


Watts said there were still 65 Australians trapped in Gaza and the government had urged them, using all available communication channels, to move toward the Rafah crossing as soon as possible.


"We are providing all possible support we can, communicating through all available channels," Watts told ABC television. "It is not always perfect. This is a conflict zone."


Watts said the government was not planning for more assisted flights at the moment as there were enough commercial options available. Since the conflict began on Oct. 7, the Australian government has conducted several repatriation flights.


Israel sent ground forces into Hamas-ruled Gaza late last week after weeks of air and artillery strikes to retaliate for a surprise Hamas attack in which Israel says 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed and 240 were taken hostage.


The Gaza health ministry says at least 8,796 Palestinians in the narrow coastal enclave, including 3,648 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes.


Watts said he also "strongly encouraged" Australians in Lebanon to leave the country after deadly clashes between Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group.


"We can't make any guarantees that Beirut airport will remain open if the conflict spreads to the south of Lebanon and departure options become much more complex and more difficult at that point," Watts said.


"We don't know what the situation is going to look like in the coming days and coming weeks." (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - North Korea is poised to close as many as a dozen embassies including in Spain, Hong Kong, and multiple countries in Africa, according to media reports and analysts, in a move that could see nearly 25 percent of Pyongyang's missions close worldwide.


North Korea's recent closing of its diplomatic missions was a sign that the reclusive country is struggling to make money overseas because of international sanctions, South Korea's unification ministry said on Tuesday.


On Monday, North Korean state media outlet KCNA said the country's ambassadors paid "farewell" visits to Angolan and Ugandan leaders last week, and local media in both African countries reported the shutdown of the North's embassies there.


Both Angola and Uganda have forged friendly ties with North Korea since the 1970s, maintaining military cooperation and providing rare sources of foreign currency such as statue-building projects.


The embassy closings set the stage for what could be "one of the country’s biggest foreign policy shakeups in decades", with implications for diplomatic engagement, humanitarian work in the isolated country, as well as the ability to generate illicit revenue, wrote Chad O'Carroll, founder of the North Korea-focused website NK Pro.


More than a dozen missions may close, likely because of international sanctions, a trend of Pyongyang's disengaging globally and the probable weakening of the North Korean economy, he said in a report on Wednesday.


Seoul's unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the pullout reflected the impact of international sanctions aimed at curbing funding for the North's nuclear and missile programs.


"They appear to be withdrawing as their foreign currency earning business has stumbled due to the international community's strengthening of sanctions, making it difficult to maintain the embassies any longer," the ministry said in a statement.

"This can be a sign of North Korea's difficult economic situation, where it is difficult to maintain even minimal diplomatic relations with traditionally friendly countries."


North Korea has formal relations with 159 countries, but had 53 diplomatic missions overseas, including three consulates and three representative offices, until it pulled out of Angola and Uganda, according to the ministry.


North Korea will also shut down its embassy in Spain, with its mission in Italy handling affairs in the neighbouring country, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.


Correspondence with the Spanish Communist Party released on the party's website showed the North Korean embassy announcing the closing in a letter dated Oct. 26.


The North's embassy in Madrid was in the spotlight after members of a group seeking the overthrow of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un staged a break-in in 2019, during which they bound and gagged staff before driving off with computers and other devices.


Pyongyang denounced the incident as a "grave breach of sovereignty and terrorist attack," and accused the United States of not investigating the group thoroughly and refusing to extradite its leader. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - A first group of civilian evacuees from Gaza crossed into Egypt under a Qatari-mediated deal on Wednesday while Israeli forces bombed the Palestinian enclave from land, sea and air as they pressed their offensive against Hamas militants.


The evacuees, who had been trapped in Gaza since the start of the war more than three weeks ago, were driven in ambulances through the Rafah border crossing. A source at the border said they were undergoing security checks on the Egyptian side.


Under the deal reached between Egypt, Israel and Hamas, a number of foreign nationals and critically wounded people will be allowed to leave the besieged territory.


Despite the breakthrough on the humanitarian front, Israeli war planes, naval boats and artillery pounded Gaza throughout the night, inflicting scores more casualties among the civilian population, Palestinian residents said.


Hospitals struggled to cope as fuel shortages forced shutdowns.


Israel sent its forces into Hamas-controlled Gaza following weeks of air and artillery strikes in retaliation for a deadly attack by the Islamist group on southern Israel on Oct 7.


Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas. But the civilian death toll in Gaza and desperate humanitarian conditions have caused concern across the world as food, fuel, drinking water and medicine run short.



An Egyptian security source had said earlier that up to 500 foreign passport holders would pass though the Rafah crossing on Wednesday. About 200 people were waiting at the Palestinian side of the border, the source said.


A second source said not all were expected to make it out on Wednesday and there was no timeline for how long the crossing would remain open.


A Western official said a list of people with foreign passports who can leave Gaza had been agreed between Israel and Egypt. An Israeli official confirmed that Israel was coordinating the exits with Egypt.


Egypt has prepared a field hospital in Sheikh Zuwayed, medical sources said. Ambulances were waiting at Rafah.


The first source said the deal was not linked to other issues, such as the release of about 240 hostages held by Hamas or a "humanitarian pause" in the fighting which many countries have called for but which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected.


Indonesia said it was trying to get out 10 nationals but three of them, volunteers at an Indonesia-run hospital, have decided to stay. The Philippines, Jordan and Italy also said they said they hoped to bring citizens out on Wednesday.


The Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 that triggered the hostilities killed about 300 soldiers and 1,100 civilians, Israel says.


The Gaza health ministry says at least 8,796 Palestinians, including 3,648 children, have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since then.



On Tuesday, an Israeli air strike killed about 50 people and wounded 150 in Jabalia, Gaza's largest refugee camp, Palestinian health officials said.


The Israeli military said the attack had killed Ibrahim Biari, a Hamas commander it said was pivotal in organising the Oct. 7 assault, as well as dozens of Hamas militants.


The European Union's foreign policy chief said he was appalled by the high number of casualties in Jabalia and he urged all sides to respect the rules of war.


Josep Borrell said Israel had a right to defend itself but "laws of war and humanity must always apply".


The EU last week called for pauses in Israeli bombing and Hamas rocket attacks to get humanitarian aid into Gaza through safe corridors.


"With each passing day, as the situation becomes more and more dire, this is more urgent than ever," Borrell said.


Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that Israeli hostages held in Gaza were subject to the same "death and destruction" that Palestinians have faced.


Eleven Israeli soldiers were also killed in fighting on Tuesday, the Israeli military said, its biggest one-day loss since the initial assault.


Netanyahu mourned mounting military losses and cautioned that the war would be long.


"We are in a tough war," he said. "I promise to all citizens of Israel: We will get the job done. We will press ahead until victory."


Cross-border Hamas rocket fire continued, with warning sirens sounding in southern Israel communities as well as the port cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.



Overnight Israeli ground forces clashed with fighters from Hamas and other groups in the north, southern and eastern areas of Gaza - part of a series of incursions apparently aimed at incremental gains rather than a full-scale invasion.


Communications and internet services were cut off in Gaza again on Wednesday, telecommunications provider Paltel said.


"They don't want the world to see their crimes against civilians," said Gaza resident Ahmed Muhey.


Dozens of Palestinians gathered outside the Nasser Hospital morgue waiting to get the bodies of their relatives for burial.


Inside, bodies lay on the ground being prepared to be shrouded in white after they were cleaned of dust and blood.


Health officials said they had received 15 bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes overnight in Khan Younis, including four children.


"Everyday there are dead and every day there are children or women among them or both," said one doctor.

Two hospitals - Al Shifa Medical and the Indonesian Hospital - faced power outages as their generators were running out of fuel.


Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship hospital, Gaza's only cancer treatment facility, was now out of service due to the lack of fuel.


The violence - the worst in many years of sporadic warfare - erupted at a time when Palestinian apirations for an independent state and an end to Israel's occupation have little prospect of being fulfilled.


Peace talks are now a distant memory and Netanyahu's right-wing government has expanded Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel sees Hamas, which has vowed to destroy the Jewish state, as an existential threat. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - Residents in three areas in Australia's northern Queensland state were ordered to evacuate their homes on Wednesday, as bushfires burned out of control.


Firefighters including those flown in from across Australia and New Zealand have been battling blazes in the state that have already killed two and destroyed dozens of homes.


People in two adjacent areas, near the town of Dalveen, were on Wednesday ordered to evacuate immediately.


"Every Australian's heart goes out to the people... who are being impacted once again by these bushfires," Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers, whose electorate is in the state, told a news conference on Wednesday. "I really wanted to express our gratitude as well for all of the people who are reinforcing the efforts in those affected communities."


The blazes in the area also affected the neighbouring state of New South Wales (NSW) to the south.


"It was a pretty horrifying experience," NSW resident Michelle Balint told state broadcaster ABC on Wednesday, recounting a wall of flames racing across the family's land. "(We've) never seen anything like it."


Authorities on Wednesday imposed a third evacuation warning in the far north of the state, near Watsonville. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Kazakhstan on Wednesday on the first leg of a trip to Central Asia, a region long regarded as Russia's backyard which has drawn fresh Western attention since the war in Ukraine began.


Oil-rich Kazakhstan has already emerged as a replacement supplier of crude to European nations turning off Russian supply and an important link in the new China-Europe trade route bypassing Russia.


In addition to oil, Kazakhstan is a major exporter of uranium, and France's Orano already operates a joint venture with its state nuclear firm Kazatomprom.


At a meeting with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Macron complimented Kazakhstan for refusing to side with Moscow on Ukraine and said the two countries signed business deals, including a declaration of intent for a partnership in the much-sought area of rare earths and rare metals.


"I don't underestimate by any means the geopolitical difficulties, the pressures ... that some may be putting on you," Macron told Tokayev, who called the visit "historic."


"France values ... the path you are following for your country, refusing to be a vassal of any power and seeking to build numerous and balanced relations with different countries."


Russia has voiced concern at the West's growing diplomatic activity in former Soviet Central Asian nations.


While on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Kazakhstan as a sovereign state was free to develop ties with any countries, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week the West was trying to pull Russia's "neighbours, friends and allies" away from it.


Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where Macron goes next, have refused to recognise Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territories and have pledged to abide by Western sanctions against Moscow, while calling both Russia and Western nations such as France their strategic partners.


"We respect our friends, we are here when they need us and we respect their independence," Macron said. "And in a world where major powers want to become hegemons, and where regional powers become unpredictable, it is good to have friends who share this philosophy."


Asked about Macron's visit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia valued its relations with Kazakhstan "very highly."


"In our turn, we have historical ties, ties of strategic partnership with Kazakhstan, they are our allies and our interests are united in many international bodies," Peskov told reporters. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - Two Chinese icebreaker research vessels and a cargo ship set sail on Wednesday for the Antarctic with more than 460 personnel on board to help complete construction of China's fifth station on the world's southernmost continent.


China's biggest flotilla of research vessels deployed to the Antarctic will focus on building the station on the rocky, windswept Inexpressible Island near the Ross Sea, a deep Southern Ocean bay named after a 19th century British explorer.


Work on the first Chinese station in the Pacific sector began in 2018. It will be used to conduct research on the region's environment, state television reported.


China has four research stations in the Antarctic built from 1985 to 2014. A U.S.-based think tank estimated the fifth could be finished next year.


The facility is expected to include an observatory with a satellite ground station, and should help China "fill in a major gap" in its ability to access the continent, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said in a report this year.


The station is also well situated to collect signals intelligence over Australia and New Zealand and telemetry data on rockets launched from Australia's new Arnhem Space Centre, it said.


China rejects suggestions that its stations would be used for espionage.


The two icebreakers, Xuelong 1 and Xuelong 2, the name means "Snow Dragon" in Chinese, set sail from Shanghai with mostly personnel and logistics supplies on board.


The cargo ship "Tianhui", or "Divine Blessings", taking construction material for the station, set off from the eastern port of Zhangjiagang.


The five-month mission will include a survey on the impact of climate change.


The two icebreakers will also conduct environmental surveys in the Prydez Bay, the Astronaut Sea in southeast Antarctic, and in the Ross Sea and Amundsen Sea in the west.


The mission, China's 40th to the Antarctic, will also cooperate with countries including the United States, Britain, and Russia on logistics supply, state media said. (Reuters)

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