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US will pay the price for diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics, warns China

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BEIJING: China warned on Tuesday the United States would “pay the price” for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics over human rights concerns.

The US move — which stopped short of preventing athletes from attending — comes after Washington spent months wrangling over what position to take on the Games, beginning in February next year, over what it has termed China’s “genocide” of the Uyghur minority.

The move drew fiery opposition from Beijing, which threatened unspecified countermeasures, warning the US would “pay the price for its wrongdoing”.

“Stay tuned,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily press briefing.

“The US attempt to interfere with the Beijing Winter Olympics out of ideological prejudice, based on lies and rumours, will only expose (its) sinister intentions,” Zhao said.

“The Winter Olympics are not a stage for political shows and political manipulation,” he added, accusing the US of “actions that interfere in and undermine the Beijing Winter Olympics.” But Washington’s move was broadly welcomed by rights groups and politicians in the US, where President Joe Biden has been under pressure to speak out against Chinese rights abuses.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration would send no diplomatic or official representation to the Games given China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.” Sending official representation would signal that the Games were “business as usual,” Psaki said. “And we simply can’t do that.” “The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home,” she added.

The International Olympic Committee called it a “purely political decision for each government, which the IOC in its political neutrality fully respects.” The announcement “also makes it clear that the Olympic Games and the participation of the athletes are beyond politics and we welcome this,” an IOC spokesperson said.

Russia — whose predecessor state the USSR was subject to a full boycott of the Olympics by the United States in 1980 following its invasion of Afghanistan — slammed the decision.

“Our position is that the Olympic Games should be free of politics,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, but said it was positive that participants were not impacted by the decision.

US-China relations hit a low point under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, with a massive trade war and incendiary debate over how the Covid-19 virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Biden has sought to re-engage with Beijing while at the same time focused on strengthening traditional US alliances to counter China’s growing economic clout and military presence across the Indo-Pacific region.

His administration has left Trump-era trade tariffs on China in place and continues to order naval patrols through sensitive international sea lanes that Beijing is accused of trying to bring under its control.

But with Biden also emphasising the need for dialogue, critics on the right say he is being too soft, making the looming Olympic Games a political flashpoint.

Members of Team USA, their coaches, trainers and other staff will still receive consular and diplomatic security assistance, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Campaigners say that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour. Bob Menendez, chair of the powerful US Senate foreign relations committee, welcomed the diplomatic boycott as “a powerful rebuke” of the “genocide in Xinjiang.” Human Rights Watch called the Biden administration’s decision “crucial” but urged more accountability “for those responsible for these crimes and justice for the survivors.”

The Beijing Olympics have also been overshadowed by sexual assault accusations made by former tennis star Peng Shuai against a retired top Communist Party politician. The three-time Olympian was not heard from for nearly three weeks before re-emerging, after her claims were rapidly censored.

Coming just six months after the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Summer Games, the Winter Olympics will be held from February 4 to 20 in a “closed loop” bubble because of Covid-19 restrictions

On the streets of Beijing, residents said that they didn’t agree with the US move.

“Sports is sports. How is it connected to politics? Besides, should political standards be set by the US? Does whatever standard you say become the de facto standard?” said a 72-year-old retired teacher, who gave her surname as Wang.

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Bitcoin rises 2.1% to reach $50,000

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Bitcoin rose on Sunday to reclaim levels above $50,000.

The world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency gained 2.11% to $50,445.34 at 1803 GMT on Sunday, adding $1,044.80 to its previous close.

Bitcoin is up 81.9% from the year’s low of $27,734 on Jan. 4

Ether , the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, rose 0.26% to $4,100 on Sunday, adding $10.78 to its previous close.

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Israeli PM Bennett on historic visit to UAE

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Israel’s Naftali Bennett arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday (Dec 12) for the first official visit by a prime minister of the Jewish state, after the countries established diplomatic ties last year.

The trip announced by Bennett’s office comes with Israel making a renewed diplomatic push against international talks which global powers resumed with its arch foe Iran over the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme.

Bennett on Monday meets Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to discuss “deepening the ties between Israel and the UAE, especially economic and regional issues,” the prime minister’s office said.

There was no immediate comment from the UAE on the visit which Bennett called “historic”.

He was received in Abu Dhabi by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and an honour guard, according to his office.

The prime minister said he appreciated the “very warm hospitality”.

“I’m very excited to be here … as the first official visit of an Israeli leader here. We are looking forward to strengthening the relationship.”

Bennett’s Abu Dhabi visit follows a trip to Washington by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who has repeatedly stressed that military options must be ready if negotiations with Iran collapse.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was in London and Paris last month, where he called for tighter sanctions against Tehran.

Since the Abraham Accords were signed, Israel and the UAE have inked a series of deals on economic and trade cooperation.

Palestinians strongly condemned the Abraham Accords as they broke with decades of Arab League consensus against recognising Israel until it signs a peace establishing a Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem.

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Narendra Modi’s twitter account briefly hacked

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal Twitter account has been “very briefly compromised,” the prime minister’s office has said.

A swiftly deleted tweet from his main @narendramodi handle declared India had adopted Bitcoin as legal tender and was distributing the cryptocurrency to citizens.

It said the Indian government had officially bought 500 Bitcoins and was “distributing them to all residents of the country”, along with a scam link.

The matter was escalated to Twitter and the prime minister’s personal Twitter handle was immediately secured, Modi’s office wrote in a tweet late on Saturday.

Any tweet shared during the brief period when the account was compromised must be ignored, it said.

It was not immediately known how long the personal Twitter handle of Modi, which has more than 73 million followers, was compromised.

Twitter users grabbed screenshots of the since-deleted tweet.

A Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Reuters news agency that the company took all necessary steps to secure the compromised account as soon as it became aware of the activity. An investigation revealed no signs of any other affected accounts, the spokesperson added.

Modi’s account was previously briefly compromised in September 2020, when hackers asked followers in a series of tweets to donate to India’s National Relief Fund through cryptocurrency.

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