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People cross a street in the city centre following further easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Sydney, Australia on Dec 10, 2020. (File photo: Reuters/Loren Elliott) - 



SYDNEY: Australia on Monday (Dec 11) said it would tighten visa rules for international students and low-skilled workers that could halve its migrant intake over the next two years as the government looks to overhaul what it said was a "broken" migration system.

The decision comes after net immigration was expected to have peaked at a record 510,000 in 2022 to 2023. Official data showed it was forecast to fall to about a quarter of a million in 2024 to 2025 and 2025 to 2026, roughly in line with pre-COVID levels.

"We've worked around the clock to strike the best balance in Australia's migration system," Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil said in a statement ahead of the formal release of the government's new migration strategy later on Monday.

"The government's targeted reforms are already putting downward pressure on net overseas migration, and will further contribute to this expected decline," O'Neil said.

O'Neil said the increase in net overseas migration from 2022 to 2023 was mostly driven by international students.

Australia boosted its annual migration numbers last year to help key businesses recruit staff to fill shortages after the COVID-19 pandemic brought tighter border controls, and kept foreign students and workers out of the country for nearly two years.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese over the weekend said Australia's migration numbers needed to be wound back to a "sustainable level", adding that "the system is broken".

Long reliant on immigration to supply what is now one of the tightest labour markets in the world, Australia's Labor government has pushed to speed up the entry of highly skilled workers and smooth their path to permanent residency.

Under the new policies, international students would need higher ratings on English tests. It will also end settings that allow students to prolong their stay in Australia.

A new specialist visa for highly skilled workers will be set up with the processing time cut to one week, helping businesses recruit top migrants amid tough competition with other developed economies//CNA-VOI


Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (R) pose at the Central Office of the Communist Party of Vietnam in Hanoi on Dec 12, 2023. (Photo: AFP/MINH HOANG) - 



HANOI: China and Vietnam, at odds over claims in the South China Sea, agreed on Tuesday (Dec 12) to boost ties and build a community with a "shared future", three months after Hanoi upgraded its formal relations with the United States.

On Chinese President Xi Jinping's first visit to Hanoi in six years, the two countries announced 37 deals, including on diplomatic ties, railways and telecommunications.

As China and the United States vie for influence in the strategic nation, the agreements mark an achievement of Vietnam's "Bamboo diplomacy", although analysts and diplomats said the improvement in relations could be more symbolic than real.

Vietnam agreed to "support the initiative of building a community of shared future for humankind", according to a joint statement shown to reporters on Tuesday, after sources said China had been pushing for it. The joint statement is expected to be formally signed on Wednesday.

The countries' diplomats had debated the "shared future" phrase for months, following Hanoi's initial reluctance to use it, say officials and diplomats.

The Chinese term literally means "common destiny", but its translation in English and Vietnamese is "common future", which may be seen as less demanding.

"One declaration, many translations," said a diplomat based in the Vietnamese capital, commenting on the interpretation of the term.

In diplomatic ties, the upgrade is symbolic, Le Hong Hiep, a specialist in Vietnamese strategic and political issues at Singapore's Iseas–Yusof Ishak Institute, said.

"Vietnam's mistrust of China runs deep, and from the Vietnamese people's viewpoint, there is little to no 'shared destiny' between the two countries, as long as China continues to claim most of the South China Sea," he said.

Despite close economic ties, the neighbours have been at odds over boundaries in the South China Sea and have a millennia-long history of conflict.

In a sign of possible de-escalation, however, they signed two cooperation agreements for joint patrols in the Tonkin Gulf in the South China Sea and to establish a hotline to handle fisheries incidents, according to one of the agreements.

Apart from taking ties to a level Beijing may consider above those with the United States, the upgraded status came with the announcement of 36 cooperation deals, according to a list of documents seen by Reuters, and the joint statement on diplomatic ties.

That was short of the 45 initially proposed, according to one Vietnamese official, and missed agreements on critical minerals and rare earths on which Xi had urged more cooperation in an opinion piece published on Tuesday in a Vietnamese state newspaper//CNA-VOI


FILE PHOTO: A view through a fence shows the Russian Olympic Committee headquarters in Moscow, Russia, October 13, 2023. The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) was banned by the International Olympic Committee for recognizing regional organizations




The Paris 2024 Olympics will welcome neutral Russian and Belarusian athletes at the event next year following the decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the chief of the organising committee told Reuters on Tuesday.

Russians and Belarusians who qualify in their sport for the Paris Games can take part as individual neutral athletes at the July 26-Aug. 11 event without flags, emblems or anthems, the IOC said on Friday.

"As the organising committee, we welcome and respect this decision," the head of Paris 2024 Tony Estanguet said.

"We will welcome these athletes ... to participate within the rules that have been indicated, meaning no flags, no hymns, no officials, no team sports. So these delegations will be very small but will be welcomed by Paris 2024."

The neutral athletes will compete only in individual sports, while no Russian or Belarusian government or state official would be invited to or accredited for Paris 2024, the IOC said.

Russians and Belarusians had initially been banned from competing internationally following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year, for which Belarus has been used as a staging ground.

In March, however, the IOC issued a first set of recommendations for international sports federations to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to return and they have since done so in most events.

Athletes who actively support the war in Ukraine are not eligible, nor are those contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military//CNA-VOI


A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket lifts off with a crew of six, including Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of the first American in space Alan Shepard, for whom the spacecraft is named, from Launch Site One in west Texas, U.S. Dec



Jeff Bezos' space venture Blue Origin is planning to return its suborbital New Shepard rocket to flight as soon as Dec 18, the company said on Tuesday (Dec 12) as it looks to resume its space tourism business.

"We're targeting a launch window that opens on Dec. 18 for our next New Shepard payload mission," Blue Origin wrote on social network X, formerly known as Twitter. No humans, but 33 science and research payloads will be on board, the company added, referring to cargo that will support experiments in space.

New Shepard, which flies cargo and humans on short trips to the edge of space, has been grounded since a September 2022 uncrewed mission failed roughly a minute after liftoff from Texas, forcing the rocket's capsule full of NASA experiments to safely eject mid-flight.

The company in March determined that a "structural failure" in the rocket's engine nozzle caused last year's failure. No humans were aboard, though New Shepard has previously flown several missions carrying tourists, as well as Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000, on the rocket's maiden flight in 2021.

The US Federal Aviation Administration closed its review of Blue Origin's New Shepard investigation in September, agreeing with the company's findings. It required Blue Origin to make 21 corrective actions, including an engine redesign and "organizational changes."

New Shepard returns to flight as Blue Origin races to get its much bigger rocket, New Glenn, off the ground for the first time, which it plans for late 2024.

While New Shepard only reaches the brim of space, New Glenn is designed to deploy heavier payloads into orbit as the centrepiece of Blue Origin's goal to rival Elon Musk's dominant SpaceX.

Bezos has shaken up the company's leadership and corporate structure in recent months, Reuters reported. Longtime Amazon executive Dave Limp started as Blue Origin's new CEO earlier this month//CNA-VOI


Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim addressing the media after a Cabinet meeting on Feb 8, 2023. (Photo: Facebook/Anwar Ibrahim) - 



Voinews, Jakarta - Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is expected to announce changes to his cabinet on Tuesday (Dec 12) in his first leadership reshuffle since taking power a year ago, according to various reports by Malaysian media. 

The Star, citing “highly placed” sources, reported that the cabinet reshuffle is likely to affect “several ministries” and could see the return of “several senior MPs who had previously served as ministers”. 

It added that a few MPs may make their debut as ministers. 

The Bernama news agency said a swearing-in ceremony of federal ministers is scheduled to be held at the Istana Negara at 2.30pm.

Apart from taking the oath of office, loyalty and secrecy, the new members of the cabinet will also be awarded their respective letters of appointment during the ceremony, said the report, citing sources. 

Broadcaster Astro Awani said that the reshuffle will involve “more than six people” and that some ministers will be “swapping portfolios”. 

The reports come amid speculation that Mr Anwar will announce a major overhaul across different ministries. 


He is expected to announce a new Minister of Domestic Trade and Cost of Living to replace Dr Salahuddin Ayub, who died in July due to a brain haemorrhage. 


Local media have also speculated that Mr Anwar could appoint a second finance minister, with The Star previously reporting that United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) member Johari Abdul Ghani could be a possible candidate. Mr Anwar currently holds the Finance Minister portfolio. 


Mr Johari, who is Member of Parliament for Titiwangsa, served as second finance minister from 2016 to 2018 during former premier Najib Razak’s administration. 


There is also talk that Mr Anwar could make changes to the Ministry of Human Resources as well as the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change. 

Awani reported that Mr Anwar is reportedly likely to recreate the Ministry of Federal Territories as a standalone entity. The ministry was administratively restructured under the Prime Minister’s Office after the last general election. 


Last month, Mr Anwar’s unity government celebrated its one-year anniversary. Mr Anwar has consolidated power to command a strong majority in parliament, giving him a clear runway to the remainder of his five-year mandate.


However, his approval rating has taken a hit one year after he assumed office, with pollsters citing concerns over the economy and cost of living as drivers for the dip in voter sentiment//CNA-VOI




United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths gestures as he stands near damaged buildings, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in Aleppo, Syria on Feb 13, 2023.




Voinews, Jakarta - The United Nations on Monday (Dec 11) appealed for US$46 billion in funding for 2024 to help millions of people affected by humanitarian crises around the globe, including in the occupied Palestinian territories, Sudan and Ukraine.

In its Global Humanitarian Overview for 2024, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that nearly 300 million people will require humanitarian assistance next year due to conflicts, climate emergencies and economic factors.

That includes 74.1 million people in East and Southern Africa, a large portion of whom are affected by the crisis in Sudan.

"We will target for our specific needs, for the agencies that I represent, 181 million of those 300 (million)," said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.

He said that other organisations, including the Red Cross and national Red Cross societies, had made their own funding appeals.

The humanitarian system is facing a major funding crisis, with just over one-third of the US$57 billion required to provide aid funded last year, OCHA said in its annual assessment of global humanitarian needs.

Griffiths described this as the "worst funding shortfall in years". He said it had been difficult to decrease the appeal for 2024 and ensure aid agencies were "realistic, focused and tough-minded" when assessing needs.

"I think the Middle East as a whole and Gaza and West Bank is probably going to be the area of greatest need," Griffiths said.

"But Ukraine is going through desperate times and a war that will restart in full swing next year. It will need a lot of attention."//CNA-VOI



Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has called Italy's joining of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative a ''mistake". (Photo: AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard) - 



Voinews, Jakarta - Italy has formally withdrawn from China’s global Belt and Road initiative that seeks to deepen relations with foreign countries through infrastructure investments, Italian media reported on Wednesday (Dec 6).

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni had previously signalled Italy's intention to withdraw from the agreement, which was up for renewal. The Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that a letter with the formal notice had been delivered to Beijing in recent days. Meloni’s office declined to comment on the report.

Italy became the first G7 country to sign on to the initiative in 2019, when the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement party-led government promoted it as a way of increasing trade with China while getting investments in major infrastructure projects.

Neither appeared. In the intervening years, Italy’s trade deficit with China has ballooned from €20 billion to €48 billion. Investments in Italian ports that were trumpeted in newspaper headlines were never achieved.

Meloni, in opposition at the time, was against the deal from the start. Her foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, said this summer that Italy had not “obtained great results” from the pact.

Analysts said Italy had little incentive to continue in the pact, and that China can fall back on the face-saving narrative that Italy dropped out under US pressure.

The initiative involves Chinese companies building transportation, energy and other infrastructure overseas funded by Chinese development bank loans.

It has built power plants, roads, railroads and ports around the world and deepened China’s relations with Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Mideast. It is a major part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s push for China to play a larger role in global affairs.

More than 150 countries have signed Belt and Road agreements with China//CNA-VOI


Wavel Ramkalawan President of Seychelles addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, Sep 20, 2023. (File photo: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs) - 




Voinews, Jakarta - A blast at an explosives store wrecked buildings and caused "massive damage" to an industrial zone on the Seychelles' main island Mahe, officials said, prompting the president to declare a state of emergency on Thursday (Dec 7).

The blast shook the island as heavy rains triggered flooding which killed at least two people, authorities said.

Footage broadcast on national television showed streets covered in deep mud and strewn with debris and uprooted trees.

"Following an explosion at the CCCL explosives store that has caused massive damage to the Providence Industrial area and the surrounding areas and major destruction caused by flooding due to heavy rains, the President has declared a State of Emergency for today the 7th December," President Wavel Ramkalawan's office said in a statement.

"Everyone is being asked to stay at home. All schools will be closed. Only workers in the essential services and persons travelling will be allowed free movement."

A public radio station reported that two people were killed and one injured by floods overnight on Mahe.

The government's official Visit Seychelles account on X said the international airport and ferries between its islands remained operational for tourists.

The Seychelles, a major tourist destination, is made up of 115 islands and is the least populous country in Africa with about 100,000 people//CNA-VOI


FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen for the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority), the UK's financial regulatory body, at their head offices in London, Britain March 10, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo - 



Britain's banks and building societies should make sure customers can still access cash before closing a branch as more financial services move online, the country's markets regulator proposed on Thursday.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said it was using powers under a new financial services law approved earlier this year to require banks, such as Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and NatWest to undertake "cash access assessments" when they are considering closing a branch.

Britain is also likely to issue a digital version of the pound in the second half of the decade, raising fears that cash will be even harder to use as some shops already insist on cards for payments.

"We know that, while there is an increasing shift to digital payments, over 3 million consumers still rely on cash – particularly people who may be vulnerable – as well as many small businesses," said Sheldon Mills, the FCA's executive director of consumers and competition.

"These proposals set out how banks and building societies will need to assess and plug gaps in local cash provision. This will help manage the pace of change and ensure that people can continue to access cash if they need it," Mills said.

In the first quarter of this year, 95.1 per cent of the UK population was within a mile of a free-to-use cash withdrawal point, the FCA said.

Separately, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said on Thursday that last year cash was used for 19 per cent of purchases at its members, who are mostly large chains that account for just over a third of UK retail spending.

The proportion of cash transactions rose last year for the first time in a decade, after falling to a low of 15 per cent in 2021 when pandemic restrictions encouraging the use of contactless card payments were still in place, the BRC said.

The FCA said that existing law allowed retailers to decide whether to accept cash or not, and that it would finalise its new rules by the third quarter of 2024//CNA - VOI


A picture taken in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Dec 7, 2023, shows smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment on Gaza, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo: AFP/Menahem



Voinews, Jakarta - Israel battled Hamas militants in Gaza's biggest cities on Thursday (Dec 7) and said it had attacked dozens of targets, leaving Palestinians struggling to survive, a situation the United Nations described as "apocalyptic".

Gazans crammed into neighbouring Rafah on the border with Egypt on the basis of Israeli leaflets and messages saying that they would be safe in the city. But they remained fearful after an Israeli strike on a house there killed 15 on Wednesday, according to health officials in Rafah.

Israel said on Thursday it had killed a number of gunmen in southern Gaza's largest city, Khan Younis, including two militants who emerged firing from a tunnel, a day after Israeli troops entered the heart of the city. Hamas' armed wing, al-Qassam Brigades, said earlier that combat was fierce.

Palestinian health officials said an Israeli air strike had killed four people in a house in Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza Strip overnight and another strike killed two people in Khan Younis on Thursday morning.

Residents in Gaza City in the north reported all-night bombing and fierce gunbattles in Shejaia, east of the centre and the Jabalia refugee camp further north as well as bombing in another district, Sabra.

Israel said it had raided a Hamas compound in Jabalia, killing several gunmen and locating a network of tunnels, a training area and a weapons cache.

In Khan Younis, Israeli forces had encircled the house of Hamas leader Yahya Al-Sinwar, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday evening.


"His home may not be his castle, and he can escape, but it's only a matter of time before we get him," he said in a video statement.


Khan Younis residents said Israeli tanks had neared Sinwar's home but it was not known whether he was there. Israel has said it believes many Hamas leaders and fighters are holed up in underground tunnels.


Israeli warplanes also bombed targets across the densely populated coastal strip in one of the heaviest phases of the two-month-old war. WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, said late on Wednesday at least 17 were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a house in Maghazi in Central Gaza.


Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network said an Israeli bombardment of Jabalia Camp in northern Gaza killed 22 relatives of its Gaza correspondent Moamen Al-Sharafi.


In Geneva, the UN human rights chief said the situation in Gaza was "apocalyptic" with the risk that serious rights violations were being committed by both sides.

Hundreds of thousands of people made homeless in north Gaza during the war were desperately seeking shelter in the few places in the south designated as safe by Israel.

The UN humanitarian office said on Wednesday that most of the homeless people in Rafah, about 13km south of Khan Younis, were sleeping rough due to a lack of tents although the UN had managed to distribute a few hundred.

While some aid had entered Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, the surge in hostilities since a week-long truce collapsed on Dec 1 was hindering its distribution, the UN report said//CNA-VOI


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