US Doubles Size of Military Exercise with Philippines
The United States and the Philippines on Monday launched their biggest joint military exercise in 15 years, with a focus on enhancing preparedness in the region.
This year's annual 10-day Balikatan exercise is twice as large as last year's, involving around 11,000 troops from both nations. The expanded drill is part of Washington's Pacific Pathways program, an effort to boost the U.S. military presence in the Pacific in the face of China's rapid territorial expansion in the South China Sea.
China's rapid reclamation activities around seven reefs in the Spratly Islands has alarmed other claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said Washington is concerned China is using its "sheer size and muscle" to push around smaller nations in the disputed sea.
Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident
Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily.
Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said migrants, seeking a better life in Europe, are taking a variety of routes to reach their destination.
As many as 700 people are feared dead from the capsized vessel off the coast of Libya.
By nightfall Sunday, authorities said 28 people had been rescued about 200 kilometers south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, and another 24 bodies were recovered. Rescue workers said the majority of the missing appeared trapped in the 20-meter vessel at the bottom of the sea.
Sami said a survivor of the capsized boat says there were children onboard.
The latest drownings would push the 2015 Mediterranean death toll past 1,500, compared to about 90 such refugee deaths in the same period a year ago.
Analysts say they expect human trafficking in the Mediterranean to worsen in the coming months as warming weather and the promise of European stability and prosperity lure desperate refugees from Africa and beyond.