Over two million children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are at risk of starvation if they do not receive the aid they need, the UN has warned.
The comments come in advance of a meeting between Mark Lowcock, the UN humanitarian chief, and potential donors willing to commit aid money to help the country in its dire situation.
"We have a great responsibility in the DRC ... Now is the time to stay the course," Jens Laerke, UN spokesman, said during a briefing in Geneva.
Inter-ethnic violence and protests against President Joseph Kabila are the main reasons for the turmoil in the Central African country.
Last weekend at least 79 people were killed when fighting broke out between Hema herders and the Lendu farmers in the northern Ituri province.
Ethnic strife between the Hema and Lendu dates back to the 1970s.
The communities were embroiled in a violent, armed conflict between 1998 and 2003, in which tens of thousands were killed.
In recent years, the two groups have maintained a low-level conflict, with occasional flare-ups in violence.
Because of the conflict, farmers have been unable to plant crops for several years, leading to high rates of malnourishment.
Other provinces have also seen violence, particularly Kasai and Tanganyika, where hundreds of thousands of people are at risk.
In Tanganyika and the nearby area of Haut Katanga, more than 12,000 reports of human rights violations were recorded in 2017, according to the UN.
Ethnic violence between the Bantu and Twa ethnic groups has intensified since mid-2016.
The International Rescue Committee said more than 400 villages were destroyed between July 2016 and March 2017 as a result of the conflict.
The DRC has also seen an increase in protests against President Joseph Kabila, who has led the country since 2001.
His term ended in 2016, but the elections will not take place until later this year.
Calls for Kabila to step down have resulted in violent clashes between the protesters and security forces.
Last year, conflict forced 1.7 million people across the DRC to flee their homes.
In October 2017, the UNHCR said there were 3.9 million internally displaced persons in the country, and more than 600,000 refugees from the DRC spread over 11 African countries.


Aid finally enters Syrian rebel enclave

Tuesday, 06 March 2018 03:28

An aid convoy of lorries carrying urgently needed humanitarian supplies has begun entering the rebel-held Syrian area of the Eastern Ghouta.
The 46 trucks will be the first to reach the besieged enclave since mid-February, despite a recent UN-backed ceasefire and short, daily truces ordered by Russia.
At least 719 people have been killed in that period, many of them children.
Fourteen civilians died in government air strikes overnight, activists say.
Another 5,640 people have been injured in the Eastern Ghouta, an agricultural region east of the capital Damascus, according to a local opposition-run health directorate.
If the convoy of trucks are able to deliver their food and aid supplies to the 27,500 people it is supposed to, despite nearby shelling, it would be a "significant beginning", according to the BBC.
A World Health Organization official told Reuters that Syrian government officials had removed 70% of the supplies, which included surgical materials and trauma kits, from the trucks before they had left warehouses. This is believed to be part of the government's efforts to ensure rebels are not treated.
The Syrian regime and its allied forces have reclaimed a third of the rebel enclave in the Eastern Ghouta in a matter of days. The region had been under the control of Islamist and jihadist groups since the civil war began in 2012.
President Bashar al-Assad said on state television on Sunday that the offensive against "terrorism" should continue, and he dismissed dire assessments of the humanitarian situation in the enclave as ridiculous lies.
He said he supported a Russian-sponsored daily truce of five hours, to allow "the majority of those in Eastern Ghouta" to escape the areas under the control of "terrorists".
The US has condemned the government assault and said Russia, a key ally of Damascus, is killing innocent civilians.
Neither the daily pause ordered by the Russians - Syria's main backers - nor the ordering of a nationwide ceasefire by the UN Security Council have led to any humanitarian relief for the enclave.
The UN says that the "collective punishment of civilians is simply unacceptable".
"Instead of a much-needed reprieve, we continue to see more fighting, more death, and more disturbing reports of hunger and hospitals being bombed," UN regional humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis said on Sunday.
Some 393,000 people are trapped in the besieged enclave.
Opposition sources and journalists on the ground say that hundreds of people have been fleeing the bombardment of Beit Sawa, south of Douma, and on the eastern edge of the densely populated center of the Eastern Ghouta. The enclave is an agricultural region about the size of Manchester in the UK.
Residents, many of them women and children, are reported to have fled into the center of the enclave to seek shelter. Fighting has intensified in Beit Sawa between government forces and the Islamist faction Jaysh al-Islam.
The Eastern Ghouta is dominated by Jaysh al-Islam. But Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance led by al-Qaeda's former affiliate in Syria, also has a presence there.
A resident speaking to the BBC described the situation in the Eastern Ghouta as "beyond critical".
Several reports suggest government forces are attempting to cut the region in two.
Syrian state media say the army has advanced on several fronts, and has taken control of villages and farms while attacking from the eastern side of the enclave.
The Syrian Observatory said regime forces were 3km (two miles) from Douma.
The military has been accused of targeting civilians, but it says it is trying to liberate the region, one of the last rebel strongholds, from those it terms terrorists.
US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in a phone call on Sunday that Syria and its Russian backers bore responsibility for the "heart-breaking human suffering", Downing Street said.
The leaders agreed that Russia must act now to persuade the Syrian government to stop the bombing.


A South Korean delegation left for North Korea on Monday, a presidential official said, aiming to bring the North and the United States together for talks in a bid to rein in the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
Both North Korea and the United States have expressed willingness to talk, but US President Donald Trump demands the North “denuke” first.
The North, which has vowed never to give up its nuclear deterrent against US hostility, says it will not sit down to talks under preconditions.
Reclusive North Korea, which has made no secret of its pursuit of a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the mainland United States in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, is also concerned over a joint US-South Korea military exercise, which it sees as a preparation for war.
South Korean officials have said the drill will start next month as planned, after being postponed for the Winter Olympics held last month in the South.
The 10-member South Korean delegation, headed by National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong, left from Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, near the capital, the official said, on condition of anonymity.
“We will deliver President Moon Jae-in’s wish to bring about denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and permanent peace by extending the goodwill and better inter-Korean relations created by the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics,” Chung said at the presidential Blue House before he left.
The delegation hopes to speak with North Korean officials on starting dialogue between the North and the United States as well as other countries, he added.
The delegation includes National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon and Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung.
The delegation is expected to attend a meeting set for early Tuesday, said another administration official, who sought anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Officials at the Blue House said they were unsure whether or when the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, would meet the delegation.
The government hopes the visit will create “a positive atmosphere”, Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular briefing.
Thawing relations between the neighbors have prompted speculation of future direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang after months of tension and exchanges of bellicose insults between Trump and Kim Jong Un fueled fears of war.
North Korea has not carried out any weapons tests since late November, when it tested its largest intercontinental ballistic missile. Inter-Korean talks began after Kim Jong Un said in his New Year’s address that he wanted to engage the South.
Pyongyang has since sent athletes to participate in the Olympics, as well as a high-ranking delegation that included Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong.
Impoverished North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
The North regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the United States, which stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the Korean War, and carries out regular joint military exercises.
“Neither sanctions nor provocations nor threats can ever undermine our position of a nuclear weapons state,” the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said recently.
“Hoping that the DPRK would abandon its nuclear programs is as foolish an act as trying to wish seas to get dried up,” it said, referring to itself by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


Saudi Arabia and Egypt set up a $10 billion joint fund on Sunday to develop a planned mega-city, committing more than 1,000 square kilometers in the south Sinai, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.
The deal came at the start of Prince Mohammed’s first public trip abroad since becoming heir apparent last year and purging the kingdom’s business and political elite in a crackdown on corruption that saw top princes and businessmen detained.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have strengthened ties since Sisi took power in 2013 after ousting the Muslim Brotherhood, which both countries have banned and designated as a terrorist organization.
A Saudi official told Reuters that Riyadh’s part of the new joint investment fund will be cash to help develop the Egyptian side of NEOM, which Prince Mohammed unveiled last October as part of plans to wean the world’s top crude exporter off oil revenues.

The investment deal underlines the strategic ties between the richest Arab state and the most populous.
Cairo supports Riyadh in its fight against Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen, and last year joined a Saudi-led boycott of Gulf state Qatar and agreed to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi despite widespread criticism at home.
The day before Prince Mohammed’s visit, Egypt’s top court dismissed all outstanding legal challenges to the deal on the Red Sea islands.
The Saudi visit comes three weeks ahead of an election where former general Sisi is seeking a second term. He is guaranteed a win in a vote where, critics say, authorities have locked up opponents or forced them to halt election campaigns.
As Egypt tries to keep a lid on any internal unrest, it has sided firmly with Saudi Arabia on key foreign policy issues including the face-off between the Sunni kingdom and its Shi’ite foe Iran.
Egypt eagerly joined Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies last June in a trade and diplomatic boycott of Qatar, whose government and media it accuses of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, hundreds of whose members Cairo has imprisoned and sentenced to death. Doha denies the charges.
The Saudi prince will head to Britain on March 7 following his three-day visit to Cairo and then to the United States, Riyadh’s closest Western ally, later in the month.

China has set its GDP growth target at around 6.5 percent for 2018, unchanged from that of 2017, according to a government work report released Monday.
Given China's economic fundamentals and capacity for job creation, GDP growth of around 6.5 percent will enable China to achieve relatively full employment, according to the report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang Monday morning at the first session of the 13th National People's Congress, China's top legislature.
China aims to maintain inflation level at around 3 percent and create over 11 million new urban jobs. The surveyed urban unemployment rate is projected to stay within 5.5 percent, the registered urban jobless rate within 4.5 percent, the report showed.
The above targets take into consideration the need to secure a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and are fitting given the fact that China's economy is transitioning from a phase of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development, Li said.
The GDP growth target is the same as that of last year, but might deliver different growth as China makes it clear to prioritize growth quality over pace.
The projected growth rate reflects China's position of not over-emphasizing speed but stressing improvements in the quality and effect of development, according to another report from the country's top economic planner.
"We will strongly promote high-quality development," said Premier Li.
Chinese economy outperformed its annual growth target by expanding 6.9 percent last year, picking up for the first time in seven years.
The same GDP target set for this year should also be within reach without much difficulty, according to global China watchers.
The International Monetary Fund in January raised its forecast for China's GDP growth from 6.5 percent to 6.6 percent amid an upbeat outlook for the global recovery. International investment banks including UBS, J.P. Morgan and Nomura also revised their China 2018 GDP growth prediction upward to as high as 6.7 percent.
Today, China's material and technological foundations are much stronger; its industrial system is complete, its market is vast, its human resources are abundant, and its entrepreneurs and innovators are dynamic, Li pointed out.
"We enjoy composite advantages, and all this means that we have the ability and the conditions to achieve higher quality, more efficient, fairer, and more sustainable development," Li added.
Although it has bid farewell to breakneck expansion, China, with a higher-quality growth, will continue its role of stabilizing the global economy by further opening up its market.
The country will completely open up its general manufacturing sector to foreign investors this year. Meanwhile, access to sectors like telecommunications, medical services, education, elderly care and new energy vehicles will also be expanded for foreign investment, according to Li.
China's rising middle-income group, with a population of around 400 million, show increasingly bigger appetite for imported products.
To encourage imports, China will host the first China International Import Expo this year and lower import tariffs on products including automobiles and some everyday consumer goods, said Li.


President Trump blasted former President George W. Bush on Saturday over the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, calling it "the single worst decision ever made."
Speaking at a closed-door event with Republican donors in Florida, Trump mocked Bush's intellect and compared his decision to invade Iraq to "throwing a big fat brick into a hornet's nest."
"Here we are, like the dummies of the world, because we had bad politicians running our country for a long time," Trump said, according to CNN, which obtained a recording of the president's remarks.
"That was Bush. Another real genius. That was Bush," Trump joked. "That turned out to be wonderful intelligence. Great intelligence agency there."
Trump has repeatedly attacked U.S. intelligence community, once pointing to its faulty assessment that the government of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as evidence of its unreliability.
He has long held that he has always opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the United States' prolonged engagement in the country. Interviews recorded before the invasion, however, suggest otherwise.
Trump has had a strained relationship with the Bush family. He was never given the endorsement of George W. Bush or his father, former President George H.W. Bush. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who briefly ran against Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, never endorsed him either.
In the audio obtained by the CNN, he also praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for his bid to consolidate his power and extending his potential tenure, musing he wouldn't mind making such a maneuver himself.
"He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great," Trump said. "And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot someday."


South Korean President Moon Jae-in has picked two senior security officials as special envoys to North Korea, Yonhap news agency reported Sunday, as upcoming joint military drills by US and South Korean troops drew condemnation from Pyongyang.
National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Suh Hoon and National Security Office (NSO) head Chung Eui-yong will lead the visit as part of an effort to lower tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as possibly arrange talks between Pyongyang and Washington, according to a senior presidential aide cited by Yonhap.
That mission could be complicated by the planned drills, as a commentary published by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency warned that North Korea would “counter the US” if the United States holds joint military exercises with South Korea.
South Korea and the United States will start in early April a joint military exercise postponed until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, a South Korean presidential security adviser said according to Yonhap.
North Korea reiterated on Saturday that it was willing to talk to the United States but said it would never sit with any precondition.
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by KCNA as saying “we will neither beg for dialogue nor evade the military option claimed by the US.”
The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last month gave a boost to recent engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of sharply rising tensions over the North’s missile program and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.
Moon hopes to capitalize on that thaw in relations by arranging talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
During a phone call on Thursday, Moon told US President Donald Trump of his plan to send a special envoy to North Korea in response to an invitation from leader Kim Jong Un.
In sending an envoy to Pyongyang, Moon said he would be seeking to reciprocate Kim Jong Un’s decision to send a senior delegation, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the Olympics, marking the first visit by a member of the North’s ruling bloodline since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The White House has said any talks with North Korea must lead to an end of its nuclear program, and on Feb. 23, the United States said it was imposing its largest package of sanctions to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
Trump also warned of a”phase two” that could be “very, very unfortunate for the world” if the steps did not work.

Tehran will consider negotiating over its ballistic missiles only after the US and Europe dismantle their nukes, a top Iranian military official said. Iran has repeatedly dismissed Western calls to disarm as unreasonable.
“The condition for negotiating Iran’s missiles is the destruction of the nuclear weapons and long-range missiles of the United States and Europe,” Iranian Armed Forces spokesman Masoud Jazayeri said on Saturday, as cited by state media.
Although agreeing to limit its nuclear energy program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, Iran – which is surrounded by US military bases and war-torn failed states – has never expressed interest in negotiating over its ballistic missiles, insisting that they are a much-needed deterrent.
In February, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated unequivocally that: “We will negotiate with no one on our weapons.” He added that Iran’s missiles “are defensive and are not designed to carry weapons of mass destruction, since we don’t have any.”
Several weeks later, Tehran was compelled to lay out its position once again after French President Emmanuel Macron called on Iran to place its missile program under international surveillance. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi dismissed Macron’s remarks, saying that Iran’s missile capabilities were within the framework of the country’s military doctrine, which is based on a policy of defense and deterrence.
The spokesman went on to suggest that the real threat to the region stems from the United States and Europe flooding the Middle East with sophisticated weapons.
Washington and Europe have tried on numerous occasions to use the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known colloquially as “the nuclear deal,” as a springboard for forcing concessions to Iran’s missile program – but to no avail.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister and chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi noted that Western powers must adhere to the 2015 deal before pressing Tehran to negotiate on other issues.
“Now they ask Iran to enter discussions on other issues. Our answer is clear: make the [deal] a successful experience and then we discuss other issues,” Araghchi said in February.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull the US out of the historic agreement, describing it as “a very, very bad deal.” In January, Trump said the US would withdraw from the deal unless its “terrible flaws” are fixed.
“The US is trying to pressure us into withdrawing from the nuclear deal, but we will not fall into their trap,” Araghchi stated. “If the US withdraws, no country would hold negotiations with them any longer.”


Germany parties strike coalition deal

Monday, 05 March 2018 03:23

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to form her fourth government after the opposition Social Democrats voted in favor of another grand coalition.
The vote by 464,000 rank-and-file members ends five months of political deadlock since September's election.
The Social Democrats (SPD) had been split between the party's leadership, which backed joining the coalition, and its radical youth wing, which did not.
Mrs Merkel, who has been in power for 12 years, congratulated the SPD.
On her party's Twitter feed. she said she "looks forward to working together again for the benefit of our country".
SPD voters approved continuing the coalition with 66% in favor. Vote counting went on through the night at the party headquarters in Berlin.
Interim SPD leader Olaf Scholz declared: "Now we have clarity. The SPD will enter the next government".
Senior Christian Democrat member, Volker Bouffier, called the result a "good day for the people in our country and positive for the future of Germany".
The chancellor now faces a range of challenges, including strong opposition from the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The anti-immigrant party entered the federal parliament for the first time in September with just over 12% of the vote and now makes up the largest opposition group.
The SPD suffered its worst ever election result and many blamed their coalition with Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) for that poor performance. Merkel, who lost 65 seats in the election, had tried and failed to form an alliance with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens.
She was forced to pay a higher price for continuing the existing coalition - the new finance minister will be a Social Democrat.
The end to uncertainty, including the possibility of fresh elections, will be greeted with relief in the European Union's institutions, where Germany, Europe's largest economy, is a major influence.


The UN's human rights chief has warned that attacks on Syria's Eastern Ghouta probably amount to "war crimes" and that those behind the targeting of civilians will be held to account.