After several weeks of intense politicking in Malaysia, Mr Muhyiddin Yassin announced his resignation as prime minister on Monday (Aug 16).
In a palace statement issued on the same day, it was announced that he would stay on as caretaker prime minister until the next government can be formed.
The palace added that for the people’s safety, calling for a general election during the pandemic was not the best option.
This will be the second change in government within two years, since Pakatan Harapan (PH) unseated the long-time Barisan Nasional government in May 2018, only to be replaced by the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government in March last year.
Here’s what you need to know about Mr Muhyiddin’s role as caretaker prime minister, potential front-runners to replace him as well as what happens in the event of a prolonged power vacuum:
WHAT DOES THE CARETAKER ROLE ENTAIL?
Mr New Sin Yew, a committee member on the Malaysian Bar Council, said the appointment of a caretaker prime minister is more of a political rather than a legal move.
“You’re either prime minister or not, no in-between. This means Mr Muhyiddin is still the PM, but there is an understanding he will resign once a new PM is found,” Mr New noted.
This also means that Mr Muhyiddin, even in his caretaker capacity, could still exercise all the powers and functions of his office, Mr New said. The exception is by convention, a caretaker prime minister usually does not make any significant policy decision, he added.
Mr New said in this instance, the caretaker prime minister was appointed as currently no member of parliament (MP) appears to have a clear majority to be the prime minister. But the caretaker period should not be prolonged, he opined, and certainly not until the next general election.
Likewise, Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told CNA the caretaker position was merely a stop-gap measure to give the king time to look at potential candidates and verify their number of supporters in the Lower House.
“It is also important to note that the next person appointed after this is not an interim PM until the next General Election but a prime minister with full-fledged powers. So now the race is to see who this next PM would be.”
When asked on Monday if his former Cabinet would be retained as caretaker Cabinet, Mr Muhyiddin said as far as he is concerned, he would be the one running the show.
“It’s a one-man show,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama.
On the responsibilities and power as caretaker prime minister, Mr Muhyiddin said there would definitely be a limit compared to the power he had before.
“For instance, now I cannot sign a RM1 billion (US$236 million) cheque. I have to refer and follow the advice of the Attorney-General,” he added, according to Bernama.
WHO ARE THE FRONT RUNNERS?
As the search for a new prime minister kicks off, Mr New said that once the premier has resigned, the king is constitutionally required to appoint an MP, who in his judgement, is likely to command the confidence of the majority of MPs in the House.
This means that the next prime minister needs to be backed by at least 111 out of the current 220 MPs, while two seats remain vacant.
Commenting on the potential front runners, Dr Oh suggested that those who are opposed to PN would have to be considered first.
“Realistically if you think about it, Dr Mahathir Mohamad is probably the best person because he has the determination and he is likely able to command the majority. This would be followed by Mr Anwar Ibrahim and Mr Shafie Apdal.”
Dr Mahathir, the former prime minister, now leads Parti Pejuang Tanah Air. Mr Anwar who presides over Parti Keadilan Rakyat also leads the PH coalition, while Mr Shafie helms the regionalist Parti Warisan in Sabah.
Dr Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a political science professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia said that a better candidate would be Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah given his experience and clean record.
A member of Kelantan’s royal family, Tengku Razaleigh had previously served as finance minister under Tun Hussein Onn and Dr Mahathir’s prime ministerships. He is currently the longest-serving MP, having been elected for his constituency since 1974.
He vied with Dr Mahathir for control of the-then ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in the late 1980s, precipitating a political and constitutional crisis that split the party in two.
“If UMNO takes the reins of government, it has to be Tengku Razaleigh, because he has a squeaky clean record. No bad records, no allegations against him. He has not been in government for the last 30 years.
“He also has experience in the opposition. He is aging but he has no baggage. He was not involved with the baggage of this failed government,” Dr Ahmad Fauzi said.
Local media reported that party leaders are expected to have an audience with the king on Tuesday.
But regardless of who eventually assumes the mantle, the experts said that the next prime minister should confirm his or her majority in the next parliament sitting with a confidence vote.
“Former prime ministers Tun Hussein Onn and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi both did it. They had it even during the UMNO-dominated era, but Mr Muhyiddin did not do it even when it was very much in question.”
“When parliament finally met (earlier this month), it was in question and he never confirmed it. He should have, it would have made a difference. The fact that he waited until very late itself reflects on his dubious legitimacy,” Dr Ahmad Fauzi said.
Besides a confidence motion, Mr New said, another mark of commanding majority support in the Lower House was the passing of the king’s speech, which lays out the government’s legislative agenda. Failure to pass either would mean the next prime minister would have to step aside again.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS A PROLONGED POLITICAL VACUUM?
Looking ahead, senior fellow of the National Council of Professors Dr Jeniri Amir said that what is most important is to ensure the political vacuum does not stay in place for too long.
“Last year when Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned, he was made interim and he stayed on for seven days. That cannot be the case now given the serious COVID-19 situation in the country,” Dr Jeniri added.
The academic added that as long as there was no bloc with a clear majority in the parliament, the country would face another political crisis.
An alternative solution was to form a unity government including representatives from various parties, he suggested.
Mr New said that with a caretaker premier being unlikely to make major policy changes, there would be implications for the Supply Bill, or Budget, which is normally slated for debate in the final quarter of the year.
“Budget is a major policy decision, and failure to pass the Budget is a major parliamentary confidence test by convention,” Mr New said.
Under a scenario where the caretaker prime minister has to table next year’s Budget in order to avoid furloughing government employees and disrupting services, a state of emergency would probably need to be declared to bypass the Constitution and pass the Budget, he explained.
“But that would reflect a failure on our MPs, and it would be the same in terms of securing any extra funding for managing the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In a press release issued by UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Monday night, the party called for a stable government to be quickly established for a reasonable period to focus solely on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To this end, an effective Cabinet similar to a “war Cabinet” focusing only on the process of national recovery in the face of the pandemic should be formed,” Ahmad Zahid said.
He added that once Malaysia has achieved herd immunity and conditions are possible to hold a general election, then the government must be dissolved and the people’s mandate returned.
Ahmad Zahid also said that to ensure political stability and cooperation, the persecution of opposition parties and leaders had to be halted.
“Using government agencies to weaken the opposition to remain in power will not benefit the people in any way,” he added. CNA
Indonesian president’s approval hit by handling of pandemic: Survey
Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s approval rating has fallen to the lowest level in five years on the back of a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, a survey released on Wednesday (Aug 25) showed.
Conducted by pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, the survey showed that 59 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the president, the lowest ranking since March 2016.
The survey, which involved 1,220 respondents, was conducted between Jul 30 to Aug 4, while the country was in the throes of a virulent virus wave that led to overflowing hospitals and oxygen shortages on the densely populated island of Java.
Indonesia has recorded more than 4 million cases of the coronavirus, and more than 129,000 deaths, among the highest tallies in Asia.
“While the lower approval rating for Widodo is mainly caused by the pandemic and the government’s largely inconsistent and confusing responses to the health crisis, it is unlikely the only factor,” said Todd Elliot, a senior analyst at Concord Consulting.
“Trust in a government in Indonesia normally decreases if the economy is perceived as underperforming and the latest round of coronavirus curbs have hit businesses particularly hard.”
The president said last week in his annual state of the nation speech that there was a need to strike a balance between health and economic interests during the pandemic.
Overall, 54.3 per cent of respondents surveyed said they trusted the president to properly manage the health crisis, while perceptions of the country’s economic situation were the worst since 2004.
The survey indicated widespread dissatisfaction with social restrictions intended to stem the spread of the virus that have been in place since early July.
Restrictions were eased on Monday in certain regions, including in Jakarta, to allow for limited capacity at malls, restaurants and places of worship after a recent drop in cases.
Only 42 per cent of respondents agreed with the curbs, the survey showed.
With more than 50 per cent of Indonesians employed in the informal sector, the curbs have impacted people’s livelihoods hard with 79.2 per cent of respondents saying their income had declined during the pandemic, and 53.3 per cent describing their household economic situation as worse, or much worse. REUTERS
What is the Islamic State threat in Afghanistan?
As desperate Afghans crowd Kabul airport trying to get on any evacuation flights to flee the Taliban, officials have warned of another jihadist threat: The Islamic State group.
President Joe Biden said there is “an acute and growing risk” of an attack at the airport by the group’s regional chapter, called Islamic State-Khorasan or ISIS-K.
The United States, Britain and Australia have told people to leave the area for safer locations.
When asked directly about the threat, a Taliban spokesman acknowledged a risk of “nuisances” causing trouble in a chaotic situation they blamed entirely on the US-led evacuation.
What is Islamic State-Khorasan?
Months after the Islamic State declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014, breakaway fighters from the Pakistani Taliban joined militants in Afghanistan to form a regional chapter, pledging allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The group was formally acknowledged by the central Islamic State leadership the next year as it sunk roots in northeastern Afghanistan, particularly Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces.
It also managed to set up sleeper cells in other parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Kabul, according to United Nations monitors.
Latest estimates of its strength vary from several thousand active fighters to as low as 500, according to a UN Security Council report released last month.
“Khorasan” is a historical name for the region, taking in parts of what is today Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
What kind of attacks has it carried out?
The Islamic State’s Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks of recent years.
It has massacred civilians in both countries, at mosques, shrines, public squares and even hospitals.
The group has especially targeted Muslims from sects it considers heretical, including Shiites.
Last year, it was blamed for an attack that shocked the world – gunmen went on a bloody rampage at a maternity ward in a predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of Kabul, killing 16 mothers and mothers-to-be.
Beyond bombings and massacres, IS-Khorasan has failed to hold any territory in the region, suffering huge losses because of Taliban and US-led military operations.
According to UN and US military assessments, after the phase of heavy defeats IS-Khorasan now operates largely through covert cells based in or near cities to carry out high-profile attacks.
What is IS-Khorasan’s relationship with the Taliban?
While both groups are hardline Sunni militants, there is no love lost between them.
They have differed on the minutiae of religion and strategy, while claiming to be the true flag-bearers of jihad.
That tussle has led to bloody fighting between the two, with the Taliban emerging largely victorious after 2019 when IS-Khorasan failed to secure territory as its parent group did in the Middle East.
In a sign of the enmity between the two jihadist groups, Islamic State statements have referred to the Taliban as apostates.
How has the Islamic State reacted to the Taliban victory in Afghanistan?
Islamic State had been highly critical of the deal last year between Washington and the Taliban that led to the agreement for withdrawing foreign troops, accusing the latter of abandoning the jihadist cause.
Following the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan, a number of jihadist groups around the world congratulated them – but not Islamic State.
One Islamic State commentary published after the fall of Kabul accused the Taliban of betraying jihadists with the US withdrawal deal and vowed to continue its fight, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant communications.
What is the threat at Kabul airport?
US officials say Kabul airport, with thousands of US-led foreign troops surrounded by huge crowds of desperate Afghans, is under high threat from IS-Khorasan.
A flurry of near-identical travel warnings from London, Canberra and Washington late Wednesday urged people gathered in the area to move to safer locations.
They have not provided any specific details about the threat.
“ISIS-K is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, and they have a history of fighting one another,” Biden said Sunday.
“But every day we have troops on the ground, these troops and innocent civilians at the airport face the risk of attack from ISIS-K.”
Some military transports taking off from Kabul airport in recent days have been seen launching flares, which are normally used to attract heat-seeking missiles. AFP
Taliban show conciliatory face at first Kabul news conference
The Afghan Taliban said on Tuesday (Aug 17) they wanted peaceful relations with other countries and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law, as they held their first official news briefing since their shock seizure of Kabul.
The Taliban announcements, short on details but suggesting a softer line than during their rule 20 years ago, came as the United States and Western allies resumed evacuating diplomats and civilians the day after scenes of chaos at Kabul airport as Afghans thronged the runway.
“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” the movement’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said.
Women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam,” he added.
As they rushed to evacuate, foreign powers assessed how to respond to the transformed situation on the ground after Afghan forces melted away in just days, with what many had predicted as the likely fast unraveling of women’s rights.
US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they had agreed to hold a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders next week to discuss a common strategy and approach to Afghanistan.
During their 1996-2001 rule, also guided by Islamic sharia law, the Taliban stopped women from working and meted out punishments including public stoning. Girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out and then only when accompanied by a male relative.
The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session in Geneva next week to address “serious human rights concerns” after the Taliban takeover, a UN statement said.
Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, told Reuters in an interview the Taliban had assured the United Nations it can pursue humanitarian work in Afghanistan, which is suffering from a drought.
‘WALK THE TALK’
The European Union said it would only cooperate with the Afghan government following the Taliban’s return to power if they respected fundamental rights, including those of women.
Within Afghanistan, women expressed scepticism.
Afghan girls’ education activist Pashtana Durrani, 23, was wary of Taliban promises. “They have to walk the talk. Right now they are not doing that,” she told Reuters.
Several women were ordered to leave their jobs during the Taliban’s rapid advance across Afghanistan.
Mujahid said private media could continue to be free and independent in Afghanistan and that the Taliban were committed to the media within their cultural framework.
He also said families trying to flee the country at the airport should return home and nothing would happen to them.
RESISTANCE AND CRITICISM
Mujahid’s conciliatory tone contrasted with comments by Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself the “legitimate caretaker president” and vowed not to bow to Kabul’s new rulers.
It was not immediately clear how much support Saleh enjoys in a country wearied by decades of conflict.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban should allow all those who wanted to leave the country, adding that NATO’s aim was to help build a viable state in Afghanistan and warning that the alliance could strike if the country again becomes a breeding ground for terrorism.
The decision by Biden, a Democrat, to stick to the withdrawal deal struck last year by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, has stirred widespread criticism at home and among US allies.
Biden’s approval rating dropped by 7 percentage points to 46 per cent, the lowest level of his seven-month-long presidency, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Monday. It also found that less than half of Americans liked how he has handled Afghanistan.
US forces took charge of the airport – the only way to fly out of Afghanistan – on Sunday as the militants wound up a week of rapid advances by taking over Kabul without a fight.
US General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, was at Kabul’s airport on Tuesday to evaluate security.
The State Department said on Tuesday that Washington had completed a drawdown of embassy personnel from Kabul and remaining diplomats were assisting in the evacuation.
US military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians restarted after having been suspended on Monday due to chaos at Kabul airport.
Asked how Washington would hold the Taliban to their pledge to respect women’s rights, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, signalled that options included sanctions and marshalling international condemnation and isolation.
Washington was blocking the Taliban from accessing any Afghan government funds held in the United States, including about US$1.3 billion of gold reserves held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a Biden administration official said.
Biden said he had had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal deal.
He blamed the Taliban takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled and the army’s unwillingness to fight. REUTERS
More than 600 fleeing Afghans cram into dramatic US military flight
A striking new photograph shows 640 Afghans packed tightly into a U.S. plane leaving Kabul in a desperate bid to escape the Taliban.
The photo, from national security publication Defense One, captures the Air Force evacuation from Kabul to Qatar.
The Afghans were all evacuated safely, even though the crowd nearly topped the record for the most people ever flown in the Boeing aircraft, a military cargo plane which has been in service for nearly three decades.
The plane, C-17, belongs to the 436th Air Wing and is normally based in Delaware.
Its crew had not intended to take so many passengers but panicked Afghans had pulled themselves on the aircraft’s half-open ramp, according to one official.
The official said “the crew made the decision to go” rather than attempt to force off the excess passengers, and was only able to count the travelers when they all disembarked.
The Afghans sat on the floor of the plane’s hold, hanging onto cargo straps on the walls as makeshift seatbelts.
It was just one of several planes which took off with hundreds of passengers from Kabul – the anonymous official told Defense One that some may have carried a load even larger than 640 people.
Disturbing videos also circulated online on Monday showing people clinging to the outside of departing aircrafts in Kabul airport, with some still holding on even after takeoff and ultimately falling to their deaths. At least seven people died in the chaos.
Kabul airport is one of the few places in the country which is still controlled by U.S. troops meaning it has become a key escape route.
The Taliban have torn through Afghanistan in a matter of days, filling the power vacuum left by the U.S. troops who pulled out of the country after spending 20 years fighting the so-called “war on terror.”
More than 600 Afghans – women, men, children and the elderly – sitting packed on the floor of a cavernous United States military plane, part of a dramatic airlift hours after Kabul fell to the Taliban.
The now-viral image, obtained and posted by the respected military news site Defense One, was taken inside a US Air Force C-17 transport.
The Afghans crammed in the giant cargo hold on the Sunday (Aug 15) night flight were among those approved for evacuation by US authorities, according to the site.
The interior of a United States Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, on Aug 15, 2021. (File photo: Reuters/Defense One handout)
The US military said that about 640 Afghans were on board.
But such a large number on one flight was not planned, a US official told Defense One – many climbed onto the half-open ramp at the back of the plane in desperation.
“The crew made the decision to go” rather than force them out, the official said.
It came as Taliban fighters flooded the streets of Kabul, with panicked citizens rushing to the airport to try and find a flight out of Afghanistan.
“The unusually high number of passengers aboard this aircraft … was the result of a dynamic security environment that necessitated quick decision-making by the crew,” US Central Command spokesperson Karen Roxberry said in a statement.
It “ultimately ensured that these passengers were safely taken outside the country”.
Among the people visible in the photo is a small child holding a feeding bottle in the lap of a woman. Several other people are seen holding small children.
Hardly any belongings are visible among the passengers, except a small suitcase and a backpack in the foreground.
The flight – which Defense One said had the call sign Reach 871 – landed in Qatar in the early hours of Monday, according to the tracking website FlightAware.
The US military did not specify the destination.
This C-17 was not the only one to take so many Afghans out of the country – Defense One cited the US official as saying that several planes took off from Kabul with similar numbers.
It is also not the first time Boeing C-17s – workhorses of the US Air Force transport fleet – have been used for such a large evacuation.
In 2013, a US C-17 flew out more than 670 people from the eastern Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan.
In its usual configuration, a C-17 carries about 100 troops with equipment.
There have been desperate and chaotic scenes at Kabul airport, where the apron and runway were flooded on Monday by thousands of people hoping to get a flight out of the country.
Many were not eligible for evacuation flights and did not have tickets on commercial flights or even visas.
In harrowing videos shared on social media, hundreds of people are seen running next to a C-17 as it appears to gather speed, some clinging to the sides of the plane.
In another, attack helicopters are seen flying low near the crowds in an apparent attempt to clear the runway for an aircraft.
Afghan media reported that several people died after falling from planes as they took off.
One person died in the landing gear well of a C-17 that took off from Kabul, the Washington Post and Politico reported. AFP
Indonesia president says need to balance health and economy in pandemic
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday in his annual state of the nation speech that there was a need to strike a balance between health and economic interests amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia’s biggest country.
“The pandemic has indeed significantly slowed down our economic growth, but it must not hinder the process of structural reforms of our economy,” the president said in the annual speech to parliament.
Struggling with a jump in infections driven by the Delta variant, Indonesia has become Asia’s epicentre for COVID-19, with hospitals overwhelmed at times and the daily death toll the highest globally and total fatalities topping 100,000.
Jokowi, as the president is known, cited the introduction last month of tighter social restrictions, which require staff in non-essential sectors to work from home and limit the operations of malls or restaurants, as examples of the balance.
“What we need to do is find the best combination between public health and economic interests,” said Jokowi, who wore a traditional outfit of Indonesia’s Baduy people during his speech.
Southeast Asia’s biggest economy pulled out of recession in the second quarter with 7% annual gross domestic product growth, but the rise in coronavirus cases and the mobility restrictions threaten the recovery momentum in the third quarter.
The restrictions are due to be in place until Monday on Java and Aug. 23 on the other four main islands.
Though infections have started to plateau in the most populous island of Java, cases have been spreading to other parts of the archipelago, authorities have said.
In a video released on Sunday, Jokowi said that COVID-19 hospital bed occupancy across Java had declined, adding that the level in the capital Jakarta had fallen to 29.4% from about 90% at its peak in late June.
The government has faced criticism over its handling of the pandemic, with some health experts citing a resistance from authorities to harder lockdowns in order to protect the economy.
Jokowi acknowledged criticism directed at his government and said constructive criticism was important, “particularly on matters that we have not been able to resolve.” REUTERS
Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin resigns after failing to garner majority support
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has sent his resignation to the king, becoming the country’s shortest-ruling leader after failing to garner majority support, according to reports.
Mr Yassin failed to get majority support less than 18 months after taking office. The resignation has spurred a fresh political crisis in the country amid a worsening pandemic situation.
Several political leaders had started to haggle over clinching the top post, with deputy prime minister Ismail Sabri attempting to rally support, reported news agency Associated Press (AP).
Mr Yassin will, however, tell the king that his alliance still has the biggest bloc of support despite losing the majority, cabinet minister Mohamad Redzuan Mohamad Yusof told AP on Sunday.
Any prime minister who does not have majority support must resign under Malaysia’s constitution. The king can then appoint another leader who he believes will have the confidence of the parliament.
Over a dozen lawmakers from the biggest party in the alliance withdrew support for Mr Yassin’s government. Two ministers from the United Malays National Organisation (UNMO) also resigned from the Cabinet before the prime minister submitted his resignation.
Some media reports pointed to mounting public anger against the government for its handling of the pandemic situation in the country, which has one of the world’s highest infection rates.
Daily Covid cases surged to the 20,000-mark this month despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June, reported AP.
“Muhyiddin has been ruling on borrowed time. His poor governance, focus on survival politics and unwillingness to acknowledge his failings have led to his undoing,” Bridget Welsh, an expert in Malaysian politics from Malaysia’s University of Nottingham, was quoted as saying by AP.
“The focus now is on Malaysia having a peaceful transition to a new government that can manage the crisis,” she added.
No one coalition can, however, claim a majority. The largest opposition bloc has 90 lawmakers, 21 short of a simple majority needed to form the government. This is also less than 100 lawmakers who back Mr Yassin.
Apart from the opposition’s Anwar Ibrahim as a candidate, other contenders include Mr Sabri and Razaleigh Hamzah from UNMO. Mr Hamzah is an 84-year-old prince who served as a finance minister and is perceived to be a neutral candidate who could unite UNMO’s several warring factions.
Mr Yassin initiated the collapse of the government of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that won a national election in 2018 and seized power after forming a coalition with UNMO, a party that has led Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957.
The government was ousted in 2018 after a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal rocked the country. Mr Mohamad had resigned to protest Mr Yassin’s party Beratsu’s plan to form a government with UNMO. AP (With inputs from agencies)
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