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Iran, Russia and China on Friday began a joint naval drill in the Indian Ocean aimed at boosting marine security, state media reported.

Iran’s state TV said 11 of its vessels were joined by three Russian ships including a destroyer, and two Chinese vessels. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard will also participate with smaller ships and helicopters.

The report said the maneuvers would cover some 17,000 square kilometers, or 10,600 miles, in the Indian Ocean’s north, and include night fighting, rescue operations and firefighting drills.

This is the third joint naval drill between the countries since 2019. It coincided with a recent visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Russia that ended on Thursday.

“Improving bilateral relations between Tehran and Moscow will enhance security for the region and the international arena,” Raisi said upon returning from Russia on Friday, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Tehran has sought to step up military cooperation with Beijing and Moscow amid regional tensions with the United States. Visits to Iran by Russian and Chinese naval representatives have also increased in recent years.

Iran has been holding regular military drills in recent months, as attempts to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers flounder.

Russia is also at loggerheads with the US and the West over its neighbor Ukraine, where it has sent some 100,000 troops that Washington, Kiev and their allies fear will be used to invade the country.

Russia on Thursday announced sweeping naval maneuvers in multiple areas involving the bulk of its naval potential — over 140 warships and more than 60 aircraft — to last through February. The exercises will be in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the northeastern Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, in addition to the joint exercise with Iran in the Indian Ocean.

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Uyghurs urge UN rights chief to ask hard questions in Xinjiang

Uyghurs have urged UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to avoid falling victim to a public relations stunt as her trip to China enters a delicate new phase on Tuesday with a visit to the remote Xinjiang region.

The ruling Communist Party is accused of detaining over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region as part of a years-long security crackdown the United States has labelled a “genocide.”

China vehemently denies the allegations, calling them the “lie of the century.”

Bachelet is expected to visit the Xinjiang cities Urumqi and Kashgar on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a six-day tour.

“I hope she can also ask the Chinese government for the whereabouts of my mother,” said Jevlan Shirememet, adding that he had not been able to contact her in four years.

The Turkey-based 31-year-old — from the province’s northern reaches near the border with Kazakhstan — also said he hoped Bachelet would venture further than her itinerary.

“I don’t know why she can’t visit these places,” he told AFP.

Nursimangul Abdureshid — another Uyghur living in Turkey — was “not very hopeful that her trip can bring any change.”

“I request them to visit victims like my family members, not the pre-prepared scenes by the Chinese government,” she told AFP.

“If the UN team cannot have unlimited access in Xinjiang, I will not accept their so-called reports.”

Regional capital Urumqi — population four million — houses major government bodies believed to have orchestrated the province-wide campaign China described as a crackdown on religious extremism.

It is home to a sizeable Uyghur community and was the site of deadly ethnic clashes in 2009 as well as two terrorist attacks in 2014.

Meanwhile, Kashgar — home to 700,000 people — lies in the Uyghur heartland of southern Xinjiang.

An ancient Silk Road city, it has been a major target of Beijing’s crackdown, researchers and activists say, with authorities accused of smothering the cultural hub in a high-tech security blanket while bulldozing Uyghur homes and religious sites.

The outskirts of both cities are pockmarked with what are believed to be detention camps, part of a sprawling network of recently built facilities stretching across the remote province.

Campaigners have voiced concern that Chinese authorities will prevent Bachelet from conducting a thorough probe into alleged rights abuses and instead give her a stage-managed tour with limited access.

The US has said it is “deeply concerned” that she had not secured guarantees on what she will see, adding that she was unlikely to get an “unmanipulated” picture of China’s rights situation.

Speaking in Guangzhou where she met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday, Bachelet said she would be “discussing some very important issues and sensitive issues.”

“I hope this will help us build confidence, and enable us to work together,” she added.

Bachelet also gave assurances on her access to detention centers and rights defenders during a Monday virtual meeting with the heads of dozens of diplomatic missions in China, according to diplomatic sources in Beijing.

Caroline Wilson, the UK’s Ambassador to China, was on the call and said she stressed “the importance of unfettered access to Xinjiang and private conversations with its people.”

“There is no excuse for preventing UN representatives from completing their investigations,” Wilson wrote on Twitter.

Bachelet’s office has also said she will meet with civil society organizations, business representatives and academics.

In addition to mass detentions, Chinese authorities have waged a campaign of forced labor, coerced sterilization and the destruction of Uyghur cultural heritage in Xinjiang, researchers and campaigners say.

Uyghurs overseas have staged rallies in recent weeks pressing Bachelet to visit relatives believed to be detained in Xinjiang.

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Moscow not sure it needs resumed ties with West, will work on ties with China

Russia’s Foreign Minister said on Monday that Moscow will consider offers of re-establishing ties with the West and think whether that is needed, but will focus on developing ties with China.

“If they (the West) want to offer something in terms of resuming relations, then we will seriously consider whether we will need it or not,” Lavrov said in a speech, according to a transcript on the foreign ministry’s website.

He also said Moscow’s goal now is to further develop ties with China.

“Now that the West has taken a ‘dictator’s position’, our economic ties with China will grow even faster,” Lavrov said.

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UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan

Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was a “disaster and betrayal” hampered by a lack of leadership from senior politicians and civil servants, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report released Tuesday.

The committee criticized the Foreign Office for the “total absence” of a plan for evacuating Afghans who supported the UK mission despite knowing for 18 months that such an evacuation might be necessary.

This was compounded by the fact that there seemed to be no clear lines of leadership among political leaders, with decisions made on the basis of “untraceable and unaccountable political interventions,” the committee said in its report.

“The fact that the Foreign Office’s senior leaders were on holiday when Kabul fell marks a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency,” the committee said.

The report was based on an eight-month inquiry during which the committee heard testimony from 20 witnesses and reviewed written evidence from 36 organizations.

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