Australia nixes skilled-visa programme; Trump to sign executive order on reform of H-1B visa system
MMNN: 18 April 2017
Indians looking for skilled worker visas to countries like Australia and the US will no longer have it easy.
On Tuesday, Australia abolished its skilled visa programme, the employer sponsored temporary work visas, popularly known as the 457 visa. A statement from the Australia high commission said this would be replaced by a new temporary skill shortage work visa by March 2018.
In the US, President Donald Trump is expected to sign yet another executive order that will restrict H-1B visas to skilled professionals, one of the most attractive for Indian techies. While the broad aim behind the move is to add to the "buy American" programme, Trump is also expected to rework the H-1B program to move away from the lottery system to a merit-based system, as was promised by Trump in a series of tweets in recent weeks.
According to Axios, a US media network, "Trump campaigned on making major changes to the H-1B visa program, which many big tech and IT consulting firms use to bring in foreign workers to fill technical jobs. While many companies claim they need visas for job vacancies they can't find qualified Americans to fill, Trump has accused some companies of abusing the program by using the visas to hire cheaper overseas workers."
This year, the H-1B lottery system which opened in April took 1,99,000 applications for 85,000 positions. Indians take about 70 per cent of these visas.
On the other hand, Australia takes the merit based system, which they already follow, one step further. "The new visa will have two streams: A short-term stream allowing entry for up to two years, and a medium-term stream allowing entry for up to four years, similar to the current 457 visa," a statement from the Australian government said. "The occupation list for the four year visa includes IT professionals, so there continues to be visa options for skilled Indian nationals."
Australian high commissioner to India, Harinder Sindhu said, "India provides the highest number of temporary skilled workers to Australia ; eight out of the top 10 occupations for Indian 457 visa holders (as at December 2016) were IT professionals."
US won't rest until North Korea gives up nuclear weapons, Mike Pence says
MMNN:18 April 2017
The US will not relent until it achieves its objective of ensuring the Korean Peninsula is free of nuclear weapons, Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday while visiting Japan.
After meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders, Pence told reporters that President Donald Trump was confident that economic and diplomatic pressure has a chance of compelling North Korea to cooperate.
"It is our belief by bringing together the family of nations with diplomatic and economic pressure we have a chance of achieving a freeze on the Korean Peninsula," Pence said.
"We will not rest and will not relent until we obtain the objective of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula," he said.
The Trump administration has signaled a more forceful US stance toward North Korea's recent missile tests and threats, including a warning from Trump that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has "gotta behave."
So Pence struck a stern tone after arriving at a US naval base from South Korea.
"We appreciate the challenging times in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocations from across the Sea of Japan," he said. "We are with you 100 percent."
On Monday, Pence traveled to the tense Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea, where he warned North Korea's leaders that after years of testing the US and South Korea with its nuclear ambitions, "the era of strategic patience is over."
A senior North Korean official then accused the United States of bringing the countries to the brink of thermonuclear war.
Pence, on a 10-day Asia trip that will also take him to Indonesia and Australia, said Trump hopes China will use its leverage to get its longtime ally North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missiles.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a fresh appeal for calm.
Wang told reporters that although US officials have made clear that a military strike remains a possibility, he believes that Washington would still prefer to de-escalate tensions through multi-sided talks.
Abe said Japan likewise hopes for peaceful dialogue with Pyongyang, "but at the same time, dialogue for the sake of dialogue is valueless." Pressure on North Korea is crucial, the prime minister said.
After meeting with Abe, Pence held talks with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso on a new US-Japan "economic dialogue" to be led by the two.
The new forum for trade talks was launched by Trump and Abe during the Japanese leader's visit to the US in February. In part, it is meant to take the place of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the regional trade pact that Trump withdrew from shortly after taking office.
Pence and Aso said they believed the dialogue could yield opportunities to create new jobs on both sides and to fortify the economic aspects of the alliance.
"We would like to seek the best shape and forum for our bilateral relationship," Pence said. "The TPP is a thing of the past for the United States of America."
He said Trump is certain that negotiating trade deals with individual countries was the best way to ensure they yield "win-win" situations for both sides.
The talks Tuesday did not delve into sector-by-sector issues such as auto exports. With no US trade representative yet in office and other key positions still unfilled, such nitty-gritty discussions will have to come later.
Stockholm attack suspect Rakhmat Akilov admits to 'terror crime'
MMNN: 11 April 2017
Suspected Stockholm truck attacker Rakhmat Akilov, a 39-year-old Uzbek and jihadist sympathiser, admitted today to committing a "terrorist crime" by mowing down pedestrians on a busy street, killing four people and injuring 15 others. "Akilov confesses to a terrorist crime and accepts his custody detention," his lawyer Johan Eriksson told a custody hearing in a Stockholm district court.
Akilov, who was arrested in a Stockholm suburb just hours after Friday's attack, appeared in the courthouse's special heavily-guarded, high-security courtroom. Handcuffed and wearing a thick green hoodie over his head, he kept his head bowed down.
Judge Malou Lindblom ordered him to remove the hoodie and he complied, revealing dark hair with streaks of grey.
Akilov, a Russian speaker, had an interpreter at his side to help him follow the proceedings. He did not address the court directly.
After Eriksson's statement, the judge consented to the prosecution's request to have the rest of the hearing held behind closed doors due to the classified nature of the information in the investigation.
After about an hour, journalists were readmitted into the courtroom and the judge remanded Akilov in custody.
Court documents seen by AFP showed Akilov, who is facing life behind bars, had requested that his state-appointed lawyer Johan Eriksson be replaced by a Sunni Muslim, saying "only a lawyer of this faith could assert his interests in the best way". The court refused the request.
The four people killed in the attack were two Swedes -one woman and an 11-year-old girl - a British man, and a Belgian woman.
Eight people were still in hospital, two of whom were in critical condition.
Akilov, a construction worker who had been refused permanent residency in Sweden in June 2016, had gone underground last year after receiving a deportation order, police said.
Friday's attack resembled previous rampages using vehicles in Nice, Berlin and London, all of them claimed by the Islamic State (IS).
IS has not claimed responsibility for the Stockholm attack, but Swedish media reports yesterday said Akilov had told investigators that he had received an "order" from IS to carry out the attack against "infidels".
The Aftonbladet newspaper reported that he had said he was "pleased with what he had done".
"I mowed down the infidels," Aftonbladet quoted him as saying, citing sources close to the investigation and describing him as a father of four whose family had stayed behind in Uzbekistan.
"The bombings in Syria have to end," he was quoted as saying.
On Sunday, a second suspect - also from Uzbekistan according to media reports - was formally placed under arrest, Stockholm district court judge Helga Hullman told AFP, refusing to disclose any links between the two suspects.
Police have said they expect their investigation to take a long time to wrap up.
"It can take up to a year to finish the investigation," said the head of national police operations, Mats Lofving.
Swedish politicians have meanwhile expressed anger over the failure by the authorities to deport the suspect, as police said around 12,000 people had absconded after being denied the right to stay.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who led a nationwide minute of silence for the victims yesterday, said he was "frustrated" by the problem, while far-right Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson called it a "huge scandal".
However, national police commissioner Dan Eliasson said "there was nothing in the system that indicated (the suspect) would do something like what he did on Friday".
The country of 10 million people took in 244,000 asylum seekers in 2014 and 2015, the highest per capita in Europe.
Justice Minister Morgan Johansson meanwhile told AFP he wants to beef up Sweden's anti-terror laws.
"We've criminalised foreign travel for terrorism purposes, we've extended (our laws) on terrorism financing. There is a possibility to extend them further."
North Korea state media warns of nuclear strike if provoked as US warships approach
MMNN:11 April 2017
North Korean state media on Tuesday warned of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of a US pre-emptive strike as a US Navy strike group led by a nuclear-powered aircraft steamed towards the western Pacific.
Tension has escalated sharply on the Korean peninsula with talk of military action by the United States gaining traction following its strikes last week against Syria and amid concerns the reclusive North may soon conduct a sixth nuclear test.
North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the country was prepared to respond to any aggression by the United States.
"Our revolutionary strong army is keenly watching every move by enemy elements with our nuclear sight focused on the U.S. invasionary bases not only in South Korea and the Pacific operation theatre but also in the US mainland," it said.
South Korean acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn warned of "greater provocations" by North Korea and ordered the military to intensify monitoring and to ensure close communication with the United States.
"It is possible the North may wage greater provocations such as a nuclear test timed with various anniversaries including the Supreme People's Assembly," said Hwang, acting leader since former president Park Geun-hye was removed amid a graft scandal.
The North convened a Supreme People's Assembly session on Tuesday, one of its twice-yearly sessions in which major appointments are announced and national policy goals are formally approved. It did not immediately release details.
But South Korean officials took pains to quell talk in social media of an impending security crisis or outbreak of war.
"We'd like to ask precaution so as not to get blinded by exaggerated assessment about the security situation on the Korean peninsula," Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun said.
Saturday is the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country's founding father and grandfather of current ruler, Kim Jong Un.
A military parade is expected in the North's capital, Pyongyang, to mark the day. North Korea often also marks important anniversaries with tests of its nuclear or missile capabilities in breach of U.N Security Council resolutions.
Groups of men and women in colourful outfits were singing and dancing on street corners in Pyongyang, which was illuminated by better lighting than in previous years, apparently practising for the parade planned for later in the week.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent a message of congratulations to mark the event, lambasting "big powers" for their "expansionist" policy.
"The friendly two countries are celebrating this anniversary and, at the same time, conducting a war against big powers' wild ambition to subject all countries to their expansionist and dominationist policy and deprive them of their rights to self-determination," the North's KCNA news agency quoted the message as saying.
"The two peoples of Syria and the DPRK are as ever struggling for their rights to self-determination and national sovereignty and the security and prosperity of their countries."
DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
The North's foreign ministry, in a statement carried by KCNA, said the U.S. navy strike group's approach showed America's "reckless moves for invading had reached a serious phase".
"We never beg for peace but we will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs in order to defend ourselves by powerful force of arms and keep to the road chosen by ourselves," an unidentified ministry spokesman said.
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.
North Korea is emerging as one of the most pressing foreign policy problems facing the administration of US President Donald Trump. It has conducted five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.
The Trump administration is reviewing its policy towards North Korea and has said all options are on the table, including military strikes, but US officials said non-military action appears to be at the top of the list.
Russia's foreign ministry, in a statement ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said it was concerned about many aspects of US foreign policy, and particularly concerned about North Korea.
"We are really worried about what Washington has in mind for North Korea after it hinted at the possibility of a unilateral military scenario," a statement said.
"It's important to understand how that would tally with collective obligations on de-nuclearising the Korean peninsula, something that is underpinned in UN Security Council resolutions."
St Petersburg Mourns After Metro Attack By Alleged 'Suicide Bomber'
MMNN: 4 April 2017
Russia's second city Saint Petersburg was in mourning Tuesday after an explosion in the metro system killed 11 people and injured dozens, as Kyrgyzstan said a suicide bomber from the Central Asian nation was responsible.
Russian flags flew at half-mast as the city observed the first of three days of mourning.
Heightened security measures were imposed in the metro system, which has reopened, but the attack still weighed heavy on commuters.
"Everyone in the metro can only think of this," said 45-year-old Svetlana Golubeva as she entered the Saint Petersburg underground.
Investigators have launched a probe into an "act of terror" but stressed they would look into other possible causes of the blast, which hit a busy central metro line on Monday afternoon.
Kyrgyzstan security services said Tuesday the attack was staged by a "suicide bomber" named Akbarjon Djalilov, a naturalised Russian citizen born in southern Kyrgyzstan in 1995.
"He is a citizen of Russia," spokesman Rakhat Sulaimanov told AFP in Bishkek, adding that Kyrgyz security services are "in contact with Russian security services."
Russian authorities have not commented on the alleged bomber's identity.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion, which comes after the Islamic State group called for attacks on Russia in retribution for its military intervention in Syria against the jihadists.
Pictures screened on national television showed the door of a train carriage blown out, as bloodied bodies lay strewn on a station platform.
The blast occurred in the tunnel between two key hubs in the system.
President Vladimir Putin on Monday offered condolences as he was holding meetings outside Saint Petersburg and later placed a bouquet of red flowers at the entrance to one of the stations, Technological Institute, where people have improvised a memorial.
The death toll from the blast stood at 11, with 45 injured, according to anti-terror authorities.
"I will be afraid to take the metro now," said Maria Ilyina, 30, standing near the station. "Before we thought that this would not come to Saint Petersburg -- now our city is under threat."
The blast occurred in a train carriage between stations at 2:40 pm (1140 GMT), said anti-terrorist committee (NAK) spokesman Andrei Przhezdomsky.
The NAK committee later confirmed security services had found another explosive device at the Vosstaniya Square metro station. This device did not explode and was immediately "neutralised."
Authorities on Monday said the Moscow metro as well as transportation hubs and crowded spots around the country were stepping up security.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the explosion as a "barbaric act," while US President Donald Trump spoke with Putin.
"President Trump offered the full support of the United States Government in responding to the attack and bringing those responsible to justice," the White House said in a statement about the phone call.
"Both President Trump and President Putin agreed that terrorism must be decisively and quickly defeated."
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini wrote on Twitter that she was following developments "together with all EU foreign ministers" gathered for a meeting in Luxembourg.
"Our thoughts are with all the people of Russia," she wrote.
Russia has not been hit by an apparent attack this deadly since the bombing of a plane carrying holidaymakers back to Saint Petersburg from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in October 2015, which was claimed by IS. All 224 people onboard were killed.
Russian ground transport has also been hit by extremists before.
In 2013, twin suicide strikes within two days at the main railway station and a trolleybus in the southern city of Volgograd -- formerly known as Stalingrad -- claimed 34 lives and raised alarm over security at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
A suicide raid on Moscow's Domodedovo airport claimed by Islamic insurgents from the North Caucasus killed 37 people in January 2011.
Syria: Suspected chemical attack in Idlib claims 58 lives, 11 children among dead
MMNN:4 April 2017
A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria's northern Idlib province killed dozens of people on Tuesday, Syrian opposition activists said, describing the attack as among the worst in the country's six-year civil war.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group put the death toll at 58, saying there were 11 children among the dead. Meanwhile, the Idlib Media Center said dozens of people had been killed.
The media center published footage of medical workers appearing to intubate an unresponsive man stripped down to his underwear and hooking up a little girl foaming at the mouth to a ventilator.
There was no comment from the government in Damascus or any international agency in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
It was the third claim of a chemical attack in just over a week in Syria. The previous two were reported in Hama province, in an area not far from Khan Sheikhoun, the site of Tuesday's alleged attack.
Tuesday's reports came on the eve of a major international meeting in Brussels on the future of Syria and the region, to be hosted by the EU's High Representative Federica Mogherini.
The Syrian American Medical Society, which supports hospitals in opposition-held territory, said it had sent a team of inspectors to Khan Sheikhoun before noon and an investigation was underway.
The Syrian activists had no information on what agent could have been used in the assault. They claimed the attack was caused by an airstrike carried out either by the Syrian government or Russian warplanes.
It was also not immediately clear if all those killed died from suffocation or wounds sustained in the airstrikes.
Makeshift hospitals soon crowded with people suffocating, activist said.
Mohammed Hassoun, a media activist in nearby Sarmin - also in Idlib province where some of the critical cases were transferred - said the hospital there is equipped to deal with such chemical attacks because the town was also struck, early on in the Syrian uprising. The Sarmin hospital is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) away from the scene of the attack.
"Because of the number of wounded, they have been distributed around in rural Idlib," he told The Associated Press by phone. "There are 18 critical cases here. They were unconscious, they had seizures and when oxygen was administered, they bled from the nose and mouth."
Hassoun, who is documenting the attack for the medical society, said the doctors there have said it is likely more than one gas.
"Chlorine gas doesn't cause such convulsions," he said, adding that doctors suspect sarin was used.
Hussein Kayal, a photographer for the Idlib Media Center, said he was awoken by the sound of a bomb blast around 6:30 a.m. When he arrived at the scene there was no smell, he said.
He found entire families inside their homes, lying on the floor, eyes wide open and unable to move. Their pupils were constricted. He put on a mask, he said. Kayal said he and other witnesses took victims to an emergency room, and removed their clothes and washed them in water.
He said he felt a burning sensation in his fingers and was treated for that.
A Turkey-based Syrian man whose niece, her husband and one-year-old daughter were among those killed, said the warplanes struck early, as residents were still in their beds. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for the safety of family members back in Syria.
The province of Idlib is almost entirely controlled by the Syrian opposition. It is home to some 900,000 displaced Syrians, according to the United Nations. Rebels and opposition officials have expressed concerns that the government is planning to mount a concentrated attack on the crowded province.
Claims of chemical weapons attacks, particularly the use of the chlorine agent, are not uncommon in Syria's conflict. The worst attack was what a U.N. report said was an attack by toxic sarin gas in August 2013 on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta that killed hundreds of civilians.
The Syrian Coalition, an opposition group based outside the country, said government planes carried out the airstrike on Khan Sheikhoun, south of the city of Idlib, the provincial capital.
It said the planes fired missiles carrying poisonous gases, killing dozens of people, many of them women and children. The coalition described the attack as a "horrifying massacre."
Photos and video emerging from Khan Sheikhoun show limp bodies of children and adults. Some are seen struggling to breathe; others appear foaming at the mouth.
A medical doctor going by the name of Dr. Shajul Islam for fears for his own safety said his hospital in Idlib province received three victims, all with narrow, pinpoint pupils that did not respond to light. He published video of the patients on his Twitter account.
Pinpoint pupils, breathing difficulties, and foaming at the mouth are symptoms commonly associated with toxic gas exposure.
The opposition's Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, which released photos showing paramedics washing down victims, has not published a casualty toll.
The activist-run Assi Press published video of paramedics carrying victims from the scene by a pickup truck. The victims were stripped down to their underwear. Many appeared unresponsive.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused the Syrian government of conducting at least eight chemical attacks using chlorine gas on opposition-controlled residential areas during the final months in the battle for Aleppo last year that killed at least nine civilians and injured 200.
Also, a joint investigation by the United Nations and the international chemical weapons watchdog determined the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks in 2014 and 2015 involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas.
Pakistan temporarily opens two border crossings with Afghanistan
Islamabad: MMNN:7 March 2017
Pakistan on Tuesday temporarily reopened two border crossings with Afghanistan which were closed in February after a spate of terror attacks in the country.
The opening of the Torkham and Chaman border crossing points on March 7 and 8 is being seen as a move to ease tension between the two neighbours and relieve some of the backlog of people and vehicles at the border, Dawn online reported.
According to the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, Afghans and Pakistanis with valid travel documents will be allowed to cross the border points for two days. The two crossing points are major arteries for trade and commerce between Islamabad and Kabul. Other crossings, which are less in use, will remain closed. "We have only allowed patients to cross borders on the basis of valid documents," a Pakistani official told The News International.
According to an Afghan official, no trade activity between Pakistan and Afghanistan has resumed so far. Another security official at Chaman said hundreds of Afghans were crossing the border and Pakistanis were returning amid tight security. Pakistan shut the crossings hours after a bombing at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan town of Sindh on February 16.
Nearly 90 persons died in the attack which Islamabad blamed on militants operating from Afghanistan. Islamabad also sought to use the closure as a tool to pressure Kabul to act against militants with sanctuaries across the border.
The reopening came a day after the killing of five Pakistani soldiers in a gunfight with militants crossing over from Afghanistan, officials said. Islamabad demanded that Afghanistan take action against militants launching attacks in Pakistan. Afghanistan has described the allegations as baseless.
Iraqi forces regain control of Mosul airport from ISIS
MOSUL:MMNN:7 March 2017
Iraqi forces said Tuesday they had seized the main government offices in Mosul and its famed museum as they made steady progress in their battle to retake the city's west from jihadists.
News of the advances came on the third day of a renewed offensive against the Islamic State group in west Mosul -- the largest remaining urban stronghold in the "caliphate" declared by the jihadists in 2014.
Supported by the US-led coalition bombing IS in Iraq and Syria, Iraqi forces began their push against west Mosul on February 19. The advance slowed during several days of bad weather but was renewed on Sunday.
Recent advances have brought government troops and police closer to Mosul's densely populated Old City, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still be trapped under IS rule.
Iraq's Joint Operations Command said in a statement that federal police and the elite Rapid Response unit had been able to "liberate" the headquarters for the Nineveh provincial government.
They also seized control of the Al-Hurriyah bridgehead, it said, in a step towards potentially relinking west Mosul with the city's east, which government forces seized from the jihadists earlier in the offensive.
All the bridges crossing the Tigris in Mosul have been damaged or destroyed, and Iraqi forces would either have to repair them or install floating bridges to reconnect the two banks of the river, which divides the city.
Officers said Tuesday that security forces had also managed to recapture the Mosul museum, where the jihadists destroyed priceless artefacts, releasing a video of their rampage in February 2015.
The video showed militants at the museum knocking statues off their plinths and smashing them to pieces. In another scene a jackhammer was used to deface a large Assyrian winged bull at an archaeological site in the city.
The jihadists' attacks on ancient heritage in Iraq and Syria have sparked widespread international outrage and fears for some of the world's most important archaeological sites.
The museum was on a police list released Tuesday of sites recently recaptured from IS, which also included Mosul's central bank building, which the jihadists looted along with other banks in 2014, seizing tens of millions of dollars.
Other sites recaptured during the last few days include the provincial police headquarters, the courts complex and the water and electricity directorates.
The recent fighting in west Mosul has forced more than 50,000 people to flee their homes, according to the International Organization for Migration.
But the number who have fled is still just a fraction of the 750,000 people who are believed to have stayed on in west Mosul under IS rule.
Emerging from the chaos of the civil war in neighbouring Syria, IS seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq in mid-2014, declaring its Islamic "caliphate" and committing widespread atrocities.
The US-led coalition launched air strikes against the jihadists in both countries several months later and has backed both Iraqi forces and fighters in Syria battling IS.
The jihadists have been pushed from most of the territory they once seized but remain in control of key bastions including west Mosul and the caliphate's de facto Syrian capital Raqa.
In Syria they have faced offensives by three rival forces.
Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies have pushed south from the Turkish border and drove IS out of the northern town of Al-Bab.
Syrian government troops have pushed east from second city Aleppo with Russian support and seized a swathe of countryside from the jihadists.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the conflict, said Tuesday that regime forces had neared a key water pumping station for Aleppo and a military airport under IS control.
North Korea Has Large Chemical Weapons Stockpile: Seoul
SOUTH KOREA: MMNN:24 Feb. 2017
North Korea has up to 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, South Korean experts said Friday, including the toxin used to assassinate its leader's half-brother.
Traces of VX -- a nerve agent listed as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations -- were detected on swabs from the face and eyes of Kim Jong-Nam, who was poisoned at Kuala Lumpur's international airport last week, Malaysian police said Friday.
Malaysian detectives are holding three people -- women from Indonesia and Vietnam, and a North Korean man -- but want to speak to seven others, four of whom are believed to have fled to Pyongyang.
South Korea's defence ministry said in its 2014 Defence White Paper that the North began producing chemical weapons in the 1980s and estimated that it has about 2,500 to 5,000 tonnes in stock.
North Korea has chemical weapons production facilities in eight locations including the northeastern port of Chongjin and the northwestern city of Sinuiju, it said in the 2012 edition of the document.
"North Korea is believed to have a large stockpile of VX, which can easily be manufactured at low cost," defence analyst Lee Il-Woo at the private Korea Defence Network told AFP.
Developed some 100 years ago, VX can be produced at small laboratories or facilities producing pesticides, he said.
"Chemical and biological weapons can be delivered through various means such as artillery, missiles and planes", he added.
If absorbed through the skin, eyes or nose, just a tiny drop of the colourless, odourless nerve agent is enough to fatally damage a victim's central nervous system.
- Bubonic plague -
Military science professor Kim Jong-Ha at Hannam University said the North has 16 kinds of nerve agents including VX and sarin, used by a Japanese doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, in the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people.
It also possesses other lethal chemicals, including suffocating, blistering and blood agents, Kim said, as well as 13 types of biological weapons such as anthrax and bubonic plague.
Defence analyst Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. has said that North Korea "produces and possesses the capability to effectively employ throughout the Korean peninsula, significant quantities and varieties of chemical weapons", and could have as many as 150 chemical weapons warheads for ballistic missiles.
"It also has, to a lesser extent, the ability to employ these weapons worldwide using unconventional methods of delivery," he wrote on the closely-watched US-Korea Institute's website 38North in 2013.
There was a "growing body of evidence" that the North had an "ominous" history of proliferating chemical weapons capabilities to countries such as Syria and Iran, he added.
North Korea has not signed a global chemical weapons convention that prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.
More than 160 countries signed the treaty, that went into force in 1997.
In a 2015 assessment, the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative wrote: "North Korea claims that it does not possess chemical weapons.
"While assessing stockpiles and capabilities are difficult, the DPRK is thought to be among the world's largest possessors of chemical weapons, ranking third after the United States and Russia."
Iraqi forces regain control of Mosul airport from ISIS
MMNN:24 Feb. 2017
Iraqi forces closely supported by the US-led international coalition have seized control of the airport in the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.
The three-pronged attack began just after sunrise, with three convoys of Iraqi forces snaking north across Nineveh's hilly desert on Mosul's southern approach.
Iraq's special forces joined federal police and rapid response units in the push — part of a major assault that started earlier this week to drive IS from the western half of Iraq's second-largest city. By afternoon they had entered the Ghazlani military base south of the city, as well as the airport.
Iraqi helicopters circled above Mosul firing down onto the city's southwestern edge. Coalition and Iraqi airstrikes that hit targets inside Mosul sent plumes of white smoke into the air on the horizon.
"We've broken the first line of IS defenses," said Iraqi special forces Lt. Yaser Mohsen, whose troops captured the key village of Tell al-Rayan, where Islamic State snipers had been slowing the government offensive. They then moved to the edge of Mosul's western Mamun neighborhood, where they were working to surround it before punching into the city.
Several armored coalition vehicles could be seen in the line of military vehicles, and security officials said coalition troops were embedded with the forward advancing forces, advising the Iraqi troops as they conducted the assault. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
The cautious advance stood in sharp contrast to the first days of Iraq's push into Mosul from the east, when Iraqi forces quickly advanced deep into the city's congested neighborhoods, where they were hit with heavy IS counterattacks, including dozens of car bombs that struck the slow-moving Iraqi convoys with deadly consequences.
Clashes at Mosul's airport continued for hours, with IS militants hunkered down inside several airport buildings. By early afternoon, federal police commander Maj. Gen. Raid Shakir Jawdat told Iraqi state TV that his troops had control of "more than half" of the airport complex. About 200 families were evacuated to safe areas in government-controlled areas, he said.
Separately, the spokesman of the Joint Military Operation Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool confirmed to the AP that Iraqi special forces entered the Ghazlani military base next to the airport on the southern edge of the city.
On Sunday, after weeks of preparations, Iraqi forces launched the operation to take Mosul's western half, with the Iraqi regular army and federal police forces taking part in the initial push. Since then, the military says they have retaken some 120 square kilometers (nearly 50 miles) south of the city.
Thursday marked the first time the Iraqi special forces, which played a key role in securing the eastern half of the city, joined the fight for western Mosul.
A special forces officer overseeing the operation said IS targeted the advancing troops with dozens of bombs dropped from drones. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said his troops sustained at least a dozen casualties, including some inflicted by a car bomb attack.
Making up for a lack of fighters, IS militants are increasingly relying on modified commercial drones to guide suicide car bombers to their targets and to launch small-scale airstrikes on Iraqi forces.
While some 750,000 civilians are estimated to be trapped in Mosul's western sector, only a few dozen could be seen fleeing the city on foot Thursday alongside convoys of Iraqi Humvees.
Hamad Khalaf fled the Mamun neighborhood in southern Mosul with his wife and four children. Covered in dust, he said IS fighters were targeting people as they tried to escape.
"There are many injured still inside," he said.
"We've been walking since the morning," said his wife, Badriya, cradling their 1 ½-year-old daughter in her arms. A few meters (yards) away a mortar fired from inside the city hit a nearby hill.
In January, Iraqi authorities declared the eastern half of Mosul "fully liberated" from IS. The battle for western Mosul, the extremist group's last major urban bastion in Iraq, is expected to be the most daunting yet.
The streets are older and narrower in the sector of the city that stretches west from the Tigris River that divides Mosul into its eastern and western halves. The dense urban environment will likely force Iraqi soldiers to leave the relative safety of their armored vehicles.
Mosul fell to IS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq. But the Sunni militant group has been steadily losing territory, as backing by the U.S.-led coalition proved critical for Iraqi government efforts clawing back territory lost to the extremists.
IS has suffered losses in Syria as well: Turkish troops and Syrian opposition forces seized the center of the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab on Thursday, breaking a weeks-long deadlock between the two sides at the periphery of the town, Turkey's state news agency and opposition activists said. The northern Syrian town in Aleppo province is one of the militants' last urban strongholds in Syria west of Raqqa, the Islamic State group's de facto capital.
The Iraqi special forces officer overseeing this week's operation said he expected heavier IS resistance once his forces punched inside the city, but he said Iraqi forces wouldn't make the same mistakes they made in the east: quickly punching into dense neighborhoods only to be hit with overnight IS counterattacks.
"It's not caution," he said, adding, "They've learned, they're smarter now."
Turkey: Police detain six after Russian ambassador shot dead
TOKYO: MMNN:20 Dec. 2016
Turkish police have detained six people over the killing of the Russian ambassador, state media said, who was shot in the back as he gave a speech in Ankara on Monday by an off-duty police officer shouting “Don’t forget Aleppo” and “Allahu Akbar”. The state-run Anadolu agency said on Tuesday the attacker’s mother, father, sister and two other relatives were held in the western province of Aydin, while his flatmate in Ankara was also detained.
Police paced up and down behind a cordon on Tuesday morning outside the art gallery where the ambassador, Andrey Karlov, was shot. A crime scene investigation van was parked outside the building.
The United States said its three missions in Turkey would be closed on Tuesday after a gun was fired in front of the U.S. embassy in Ankara overnight. The embassy was near the art gallery where Karlov was shot and Turkish police detained a man over the incident, state media reported.
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday the two countries’ foreign ministers had underlined the need to put more effort into effectively fighting terrorism in a phone call overnight.
The Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers will meet in Moscow later on Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Syria. A Russian delegation was due to arrive in Ankara at 11 a.m. (0800 GMT) to conduct investigations into the attack, broadcaster CNN Turk reported.
Turkey faces multiple security threats, including from the Islamic State militant group. A spokesman for the hardline Sunni Muslim group urged sympathisers around the world this month to carry out a fresh wave of attacks, singling out Turkish diplomatic, military and financial interests as preferred targets.
However, a senior Turkish security official said there were “very strong signs” the gunman belonged to the network of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says orchestrated a failed coup in July. Erdogan has denounced Gulen as a terrorist, but the cleric, a former ally, denies the accusation, and has also denied any role in the assassination.
A video showed the attacker shouting: “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” and “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Greatest”) as screams rang out. He paced about and shouted as he held the gun in one hand and waved his other hand in the air.
Russia is an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its air strikes helped Syrian forces end rebel resistance last week in the northern city of Aleppo. Turkey, which seeks Assad’s ouster, has been repairing ties with Moscow after shooting down a Russian warplane over Syria last year.
US expects China to return drone by Tuesday in South China Sea
Washington/beijing:MMNN:20 Dec. 2016
The United States expects China to return soon an underwater US drone seized by a Chinese naval vessel last week, with one U.S. official telling Reuters the exchange could happen as early as Tuesday at an agreed location in the South China Sea. China’s seizure of the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) triggered a diplomatic protest and speculation about whether it will strengthen US President-elect Donald Trump’s hand as he seeks a tougher line with Beijing.
A Chinese warship took the drone, which the Pentagon says uses unclassified, commercially available technology to collect oceanographic data, on Thursday about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines. The US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said talks with Beijing on the timing of the exchange were advancing, with two saying they expected the incident to be resolved satisfactorily “relatively soon.”
One said the exchange could take place near the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea as early as Tuesday, local time. A U.S. destroyer would likely receive the drone, although the mechanics of the exchange were unclear. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook at a news briefing said only that “We’re working out the logistical details with Chinese officials”. In Beijing, China’s foreign ministry said the Chinese and US militaries were having “unimpeded” talks about the return.
The seizure has added to US concerns about China’s growing military presence and aggressive posture in the disputed South China Sea, including its militarization of maritime outposts. The US Navy has about 130 such underwater drones, made by Teledyne Webb, each weighing about 60 kg (130 pounds) and able to stay underwater for up to five months. They are used to collect unclassified data about oceans, including temperature and depth. They are used around the world, but it is unclear how many are used in the South China Sea.
KEEP THE DRONE!
Trump, who takes office on January 20, waded into the dispute over the weekend, saying in a tweet: “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back – let them keep it!” Trump has threatened to declare China a currency manipulator and force changes in U.S.-Chinese trade policy, which he says has led to the greatest theft of American jobs in history. Trump has also raised questions about the most sensitive part of the U.S.-China relationship: whether Washington would stick to its nearly four-decades-old policy of recognizing that Taiwan is part of “one China.” Asked about Trump’s comments, Hua said describing the drone as stolen was “completely incorrect”.
“China’s navy had a responsible and professional attitude to identify and ascertain this object,” she said. “If you discover or pick something up from the street you have to examine it and if somebody asks you for it you have to work out if it’s theirs before you can give it back.” Cook called the seizure illegal and said Washington was using military and diplomatic channels to secure the drone’s return. Pentagon officials have sought to be firm without escalating the incident.
Another senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the somewhat muted U.S. response to the seizure, coupled with Trump’s abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s erratic policies and Malaysia’s corruption scandal, has caused some U.S. allies to worry increasingly about the possibility of a declining American commitment to the region. The Philippines said it was troubling that the incident took place inside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), saying it increased the likelihood of “miscalculations that could lead to open confrontation” very near the Philippine mainland.
China is deeply suspicious of any US military activities in the resource-rich South China Sea, with state media and experts saying the use of the drone was likely part of U.S. surveillance efforts in the disputed waterway. The overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily said in a commentary on Monday the USNS Bowditch, which was fielding the drone and was set to pick it up, was a “serial offender” when it came to spying operations against China. Ni Lexiong, a naval expert at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, told Reuters he believed the Chinese navy probably had orders to take the drone.
But Ni said the incident was very different from the 2001 intercept of a U.S. spy plane by a Chinese fighter jet that resulted in a collision that killed the Chinese pilot and forced the American plane to make an emergency landing at a base on Hainan. “This is a much smaller incident, it won’t affect the overall picture of China-U.S. relations,” he said, adding he did not expect China to seek an apology. The 24 US air crew members were held for 11 days before being released, souring U.S.-Chinese relations in the early days of President George W. Bush’s first administration.
However, Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.S. military could feel compelled to take steps to further assert freedom of navigation in the region. “For a lot of folks in the Pentagon, this over-stepped that line between legal contestation and a military threat,” he said.
While the US Navy under the Obama administration has sent warships periodically sailing near artificial islands claimed by China over the last year or so, it has mostly acted cautiously, seeking to avoid escalation with Beijing, which claims large swathes of the resource-rich waterway. In October, the United States carried out a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea, sailing within waters claimed by China, but not within the 12-nautical-mile territorial limits of the islands. Despite Trump’s more aggressive tone, he has given no clear policy on how he plans to deal with the dispute in the South China Sea.
Japan And Russia Wrap Up Peace Treaty Summit
TOKYO: MMNN:16 Dec. 2016
Japan and Russia on Friday struck economic deals to build confidence towards a peace treaty to formally end World War II that has been prevented by a spat over Russian-occupied islands claimed by Tokyo.
The second and final day of talks in Tokyo comes after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin met Thursday in Abe's ancestral hometown in western Japan in the hopes of achieving a breakthrough.
But despite a "frank" exchange of views the leaders announced no major headway on a peace treaty, though they did make progress on ways to cooperate economically, including in the contested area.
Mr Abe, speaking at a luncheon with Mr Putin, said they had agreed on "more than 60 projects" in economic-related areas, with details to be announced at a news conference later in the day.
"I believe there are a wide range of areas where Japan and Russia have not exercised our fullest potential, despite the fact that we are neighbouring nations," Mr Abe said.
Mr Putin said business ties were a way to build confidence.
"Our work together on the economic front will help us create a foundation to improve relations," he said.
Local media reported Japan was expected to agree to provide an economic package worth about 300 billion yen ($2.5 billion), including private sector projects in areas such as mining, and loans for natural gas exploration and economic development in Russia's Far East.
The Soviet Union seized four islands off Japan's northern coast in 1945 in the closing days of the war.
The dispute over the islands, known as the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, has prevented the two sides from fully putting the conflict behind them.
The summit is the latest attempt to reach an agreement since Japan and the former Soviet Union began discussions in 1956.
Mr Putin, who is accomplished in the Japanese martial art of judo, has said he sees the lack of a peace treaty as an "anachronism" and wants to resolve the issue, while acknowledging that progress has been "difficult".
Mr Abe has looked to win concessions by dangling the prospect of major Japanese investment in front of Moscow, which is mired in an economic crisis made worse by falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Crimea and Ukraine.
He said Thursday that the two discussed joint economic development of the islands and making it easier for former Japanese residents, whose average age is 81, to visit.
Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin adviser, told reporters Thursday that the two leaders called for experts to find ways to achieve joint exploitation of the four islands, citing "fishing, tourism, culture and medicine".
Business leaders from the two countries are also meeting Friday.
But few believe Mr Putin is likely to hand the islands back, not least because of their strategic value sitting astride the entrance to the Sea of Okhotsk as well as Russian pride at having taken them as spoils of war.
A Japanese official briefing reporters on the summit suggested that legal questions could be a formidable stumbling block, notably regarding the regulatory framework for any economic projects in the islands.
"In any case, not damaging our country's legal position is a prerequisite to joint economic activities on the four islands," he said.
South China Sea row: China's first aircraft carrier conducts maiden live-fire drills
BEIJING:MMNN:16 Dec. 2016
China's first aircraft carrier battle group has carried out its maiden live-fire exercises on a massive scale, in a show of strength amid increasing tensions with the US over the South China Sea and Taiwan.
Aircraft carrier 'Liaoning' conducted the mammoth drills with live ammunition in the Bohai Sea involving dozens of ships and aircraft as well as several air-to-air, air-to-ship and ship-to-air missiles, the PLA Navy said in a statement.
The exercise was aimed at testing combination of various types and numbers of ships to optimise the carrier's combat ability, the navy said.
The carrier, destroyers and frigates carried out exercises covering air interception, sea-based attacks and air-defense as well as reconnaissance, early warning and anti-missile systems.
The carrier's original design allows it to carry about 30 fixed-wing aircraft.
The time and exact location of the exercises were not disclosed accept that they were held in the Bohai Sea which is located between Chinese coast off Dalian and North and South Korea.
Earlier reports said the aircraft carrier would be deployed in the disputed South China Sea when it is ready.
It was the first time that the weapons used on the carrier were displayed in public since it entered service in 2012.
Videos of the Liaoning's J-15 fighters firing missiles were broadcast on China Central Television, the first time images of J-15 live-fire exercises have been shown to the public.
Rear Admiral Chen Yueqi, commander of the Liaoning carrier battle group, said the exercise is a "milestone" for the unit.
"It enabled us to explore how to organise a carrier battle group exercise and to test the training levels of our sailors and pilots. It can also boost the battle group's efforts to become combat ready as early as possible," he told CCTV.
The exercises were conducted as China struck a more aggressive posture over the disputed South China Sea issue and braces to have a showdown with US President-elect Donald Trump, who questioned 'One-China' policy and held an unprecedented phone talk with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, which drew strong diplomatic protests from Beijing.
China has become more assertive over the South China Sea after an international tribunal struck down its claim over all most all of the area.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have counter claims over the disputed SCS.
China on Thursday confirmed that it is building military facilities in some of the reclaimed islands, saying the deployment of necessary defensive facilities on some islands in the South China Sea is legitimate and normal.
Reacting to the reports showing satellite images of the military facilities in the islands revealed by US think tank, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the South China Sea islands are China's inherent territory and China is building necessary defensive facilities on its own territory which is completely normal and has nothing to do with militarisation.
"If China's building normal facilities and deploying necessary territorial defensive facilities on its own islands is considered militarisation, then what is the sailing of fleets in the South China Sea?" he said questioning the movement of US naval fleet in the area.
Besides Liaoning, China is currently building two more aircraft carriers one of which was expected to be ready by next year.
Chinese defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said in earlier briefings that there will surely be more carriers in future.
Commander Xu Ying, chief of a J-15 squadron that participated in the event, was quoted by the State broadcaster as saying that through the exercise, pilots improved their use of tactics and weapons and enhanced confidence in their equipment.
Though the Navy did not disclose components of the carrier battle group, Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told China Daily that the battle group would have three Type 052C or Type 052D destroyers, both of which have advanced vertical-launch missile systems and cutting-edge air defence radar, three Type 054A frigates, one replenishment ship and one attack submarine.
"The recent exercise is really a landmark for the carrier battle group because it means the group's ships and aircraft have achieved a high level of integration and cooperation and that the unit is closer to gaining combat readiness," Zhang said.
"Next, the group would focus on honing its air defence and counter-submarine capabilities."
Wu Peixin, an aviation industry observer in Beijing, said the news indicates that the J-15 fighter force has obtained initial operational capability.
"The J-15 is as mighty as the United States' F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. It is capable of carrying out multiple operations such as fleet air defense and anti-ship strikes," he said.
"Given that dozens of ships were used in this drill, the aircraft carrier was likely to be accompanied by submarines, depot ships and fast combat support ships, in addition to guided missile destroyers as well as two guided missile frigates," Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told state run Global Times.
Liaoning is a refitted vessel based on an unfinished Russian-made carrier and delivered to the Chinese Navy on September 25, 2012.
Its battle group took shape in December 2013, when the carrier and several escort vessels, including two guided missile destroyers, two guided missile frigates and an attack submarine took part in a long-range formation drill in the South China Sea.
Taiwan not ‘bargaining chip’, committed to ‘One China’: White House
Washington:MMNN:13 Dec. 2016
The Obama administration has made it clear that Taiwan was not a “bargaining chip” and America was firmly committed to the decades-old “One-China” policy, an assertion that came after President-elect Donald Trump questioned the policy’s relevance. “The United States government, under the leadership of President Obama, has been and remains firmly committed to our One-China policy. That’s also the policy, by the way, that previous presidents in both parties have pursued and our country has benefited from adherence to that policy,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
“One reason that we have pursued that policy is because the Obama administration does not view Taiwan and our relationship with Taiwan as a bargaining chip,” he said, adding that Taiwan is the ninth-largest trading partner of the US. Earnest made the remarks after Trump questioned the relevance of continuing with the “One-China” policy if Beijing refuses to make any concessions on trade and other issues. He had said that China was “very badly” hurting the US by devaluing its currecy and accused the communist nation of not helping in reigning in North Korea.
Trump has suggested he can leverage Taiwan by questioning the “One China” policy and force China to “make a deal”. Trump’s “One China” rhetoric prompted the strongest public warning from China yesterday that bilateral ties will be damaged. “Adherence to one-China principle is the political bedrock of the China-US relations. If it is compromised or disrupted, the sound and steady growth of China-US relationship as well as bilateral cooperation in major field would be out of question,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
The US since 1979 has respected China’s stance on Taiwan, which it sees as a breakaway province. But Trump said, without concessions from China, he did not see why it should continue. “Bargaining that away is not something that this administration believes is in our best interest. In fact, I think you would be hard-pressed to make the case that it’s in the interest of Taiwan,” Earnest said.
Under Obama administration, the US has been able to lower tensions around cyber issues and they have been able to work effectively with the Chinese to ramp up pressure on the North. “We certainly don’t agree with the Chinese on everything, but where common ground does exist, we’ve been able to make progress in a way that benefits the American people and benefits the Chinese people… That kind of progress is much more difficult if tensions are heightened around our one-China policy,” Earnest said.
Obama, he noted, has worked hard to manage relationships with China and Russia in a way that gives the US the opportunity to capitalise on common ground where it exists. “In each case, our differences are substantial, but in each case effective diplomacy resulted in both those countries bolstering our effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and further isolate the North Korean regime for their
destabilising activities on the (Korean) peninsula,” he said.
Trump selects Exxon CEO Tillerson for State, dismissing Russia ties
MMNN:13 Dec. 2016
President-elect Donald Trump has selected Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to lead the State Department, dismissing concerns about the businessman’s close ties with Russia, two people close to Trump’s transition said Monday night.
Trump’s decision caps a lengthy process that often played out in public and exposed rifts within his transition team. It also sets Trump up for a potential fight with Congress over confirming Tillerson, who has connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump was set to announce Tillerson’s nomination on Tuesday morning. The people close to his transition team insisted on anonymity because they were not authorised to disclose the decision ahead of that announcement.
The president-elect had moved toward choosing Tillerson after a meeting Saturday, their second discussion in a week. Trump was said to be drawn to the idea of having an international businessman serve as the nation’s top diplomat.
Concern on Capitol Hill
But the prospect of Tillerson’s nomination sparked immediate concern on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are already grappling with intelligence assessments suggesting Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election to help Trump. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote on Twitter that “being a ‘friend of Vladimir’” was not an attribute he was seeking in a secretary of state.
In a weekend interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Trump cast Tillerson’s deep relations with Moscow as a selling point. As Exxon Mobil’s head, he maintained close ties with Russia and was awarded by Putin with the Order of Friendship in 2013, an honour for a foreign citizen.
“A great advantage is he knows many of the players, and he knows them well. He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company,” Trump said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Tillerson’s test will be whether his corporate deal-making skills translate into the delicate world of international diplomacy. He would face immediate challenges in Syria, where a civil war rages on, and in China, given Trump’s recent suggestions that he could take a more aggressive approach to dealing with Beijing.
A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Tillerson came to Exxon Mobil Corp. as a production engineer straight out of the University of Texas at Austin in 1975 and never left. Groomed for an executive position, Tillerson came up in the rough-and-tumble world of oil production, holding posts in the company’s central United States, Yemen and Russian operations.
Early in the company’s efforts to gain access to Russian market, Tillerson cut a deal with state-owned Rosneft. The neglected post-Soviet company didn’t have a tremendous amount to offer, but Exxon partnered with it “to be on the same side of the table,” Tillerson said, according to Private Empire, an investigative history of Exxon by reporter Steve Coll.
Tillerson, who became CEO on Jan. 1, 2006, is expected to retire in 2017. Tillerson’s heir apparent, Darren Woods, was put in place a year ago, so there would be virtually no additional disruption to Exxon’s succession plans if Tillerson were to become Secretary of State.
Trump’s choice to serve as Secretary of State initially appeared to be a toss-up between former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee. But Giuliani’s prospects fell amid revelations of his overseas business ties. And Romney became the source of a fierce fight within the transition team, with some advisers strongly opposed to the prospect of tapping a Republican who was critical of Trump during the campaign.
Indeed, Romney blasted Trump as a “fraud” during his White House run, but was full of praise for the President-elect after they discussed the State Department post over a private dinner in Manhattan.
Late Monday, Romney wrote in a Facebook post that he was honored to have been considered to lead the State Department. He said his discussions with Trump were “enjoyable and enlightening.”
“I have very high hopes that the new administration will lead the nation to greater strength, prosperity and peace,” Romney wrote.
International Anti-Corruption Day: 70% corporate employees feel note ban will curb graft, says EY survey
MMNN:9 Dec. 2016
Indicating popular support to the government's effort to curb illicit wealth, about 70 percent of India Inc employees feel demonetisation can help control corruption in the long run, says a survey by EY.
The findings are based on survey of 650 individuals working for corporate houses in India, ahead of International Anti-Corruption Day, which is being observed today.
Noting that black money and corruption have been the key challenges for global economies, including India, in recent times, EY India Partner Yogen Vaidya (Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services) said, "Broadly, this (demonetisation) is expected to boost India's anti-money laundering efforts and curb the menace of unaccounted illicit wealth, which has been hoarded in the form of cash."
"Though still at an initial stage, the demonetisation move can help banks identify and report suspicious transaction patterns through close monitoring," Vaidya added.
Besides, he said at the macro-level the move can help in the ease of doing business, improve investor confidence and enable a more ethical way of conducting business in India.
Further, on anti-bribery and anti-corruption (ABAC) frameworks adopted by corporate houses, 40 percent of the respondents said they have never attended training sessions sensitising them on the issue, the survey noted.
However, only 15 percent of the respondents were found to be "not aware that they may be held personally liable for improper activities, done on behalf of their organisation".
Also, 94 percent of the respondents believe the private sector should be covered under the amendments proposed in the Prevention of Corruption Act, it added.
South Korean president is impeached in stunning fall
SEOUL:MMNN:9 Dec. 2016
South Korean lawmakers on Friday impeached President Park Geun-hye, a stunning and swift fall for the country's first female leader amid protests that drew millions into the streets in united fury.
Once formal documents are handed over to the presidential Blue House later Friday, Park will be stripped of her power and her No. 2, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, will assume leadership until the country's Constitutional Court rules on whether Park must permanently step down.
Park did not immediately comment, but she convened a Cabinet meeting for later Friday where she was expected to speak publicly. The hand-over of power prompted the prime minister to order South Korea's defense minister to put the military on a state of heightened readiness to brace for any potential provocation by North Korea. No suspicious movements by the North were reported, however.
The Constitutional Court has up to 180 days to decide on Park's fate. She will be formally removed from office if at least six of the court's nine justices support her impeachment, and the country would then hold a presidential election within 60 days.
Once called the "Queen of Elections" for her ability to pull off wins for her party, Park has been surrounded in the Blue House in recent weeks by millions of South Koreans who have taken to the streets in protest. They are furious over what prosecutors say was collusion by Park with a longtime friend to extort money from companies and to give that confidante extraordinary sway over government decisions.
National Assembly speaker Chung Sye-kyun said the bill on Park's impeachment was passed by a vote of 234 for and 56 opposed, with seven invalid votes and two abstentions. That well surpassed the necessary two-thirds vote needed in the 300-seat assembly, with the opposition getting strong support from members of Park's party.
Present for the vote were relatives of the victims of a 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 and was blamed in part on government incompetence and corruption; they cheered and clapped after the impeachment was announced. Most lawmakers left the hall quietly, though some could be seen taking selfies as they waited to vote.
Lawmakers from both parties faced huge pressure to act against Park, the daughter of a military dictator still revered by many conservatives for lifting the country from poverty in the 1960s and 1970s.
Her approval ratings had plunged to 4 percent, the lowest among South Korean leaders since democracy came in the late 1980s, and even elderly conservatives who once made up her political base have distanced themselves from her. An opinion survey released Thursday showed about 78 percent of respondents supported Park's impeachment.
South Korean lawmakers last voted to impeach a president in 2004, when they accused late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun of minor election law violations and incompetence. The Constitutional Court restored Roh's powers about two months later, ruling that his wrongdoings weren't serious enough to justify his unseating.
The chances of the court reinstating Park are considered low because her charges are much graver. Some legal experts say the court might need more than a couple of months to decide. This is because Park's case is much more complicated than Roh's, and because her lawyers will likely press the court not to uphold the impeachment unless the suspicions against her are proven.
More than 1,500 protesters massed in front of the National Assembly building to urge lawmakers to impeach. Some had spent the night on the streets after traveling from other cities. There were scuffles between angry anti-Park farmers, some of whom had driven tractors to the parliament from their farms, and police.
Bernard Cazeneuve named French PM after Manuel Valls quits: Official
Paris: MMNN:6 Dec. 2016
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was appointed as the new prime minister on Tuesday after Manuel Valls resigned to seek the Socialist nomination in the presidential election, the presidency said.
Cazeneuve, who has overseen the security forces’ reaction to a string of jihadist attacks that have killed more than 230 people in France over the past two years, will take control of the Socialist government until legislative elections in June.
Cazeneuve was named prime minister after Valls presented his resignation to President Francois Hollande early on Tuesday. Hollande’s office said Valls’ resignation had been accepted. “The President of the Republic has appointed Bernard Cazeneuve as prime minister and asked him to form the new government,” the statement said.
Valls, who had been prime minister for the past two and a half years, announced yesterday he would step down to try to rally the fractured French left ahead of a primary in January.
In a combative speech, 54-year-old Valls vowed to take the fight to the conservative opposition and the far-right National Front, who are both leading the Socialists in election polls.
His announcement came four days after Hollande said he would bow out after a single term, paving the way for Valls to try to become the left’s new standard bearer.
Iran will not let Trump rip up nuclear deal: Rouhani
BEIRUT:MMNN:6 Dec. 2016
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday he would not let US President-elect Donald Trump rip up a global nuclear deal, warning of unspecified repercussions if Washington reneges on the agreement.
Trump had said during campaigns for the White House that he would scrap Iran's pact with world powers - under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in return for lifted sanctions - describing it as "the worst deal ever negotiated".
" wants to do many things, but none of his actions would affect us," Rouhani said in a speech at University of Tehran broadcast live on state television.
"Do you think the he can rip up the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal)? Do you think we and our nation will let him do that?"
Analysts have said Trump's comments could signal a harder U.S. line on Iran, a development that could in turn empower hardliners on Iran's political scene, including rivals of Rouhani.
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned against any changes to the nuclear deal after Trump's comments in June, and said last month that an extension of a U.S. sanction regime would be viewed as a violation of the accord.
Rouhani echoed Khamenei's comments on the U.S. Congress decision last month to pass legislation to extend the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) for 10 years to make it easier for Washington to reimpose sanctions if Tehran contravenes the nuclear deal.
U.S. President Barack Obama still needs to sign the legislation.
"There is no doubt that the United States is our enemy," said Rouhani, who is expected to stand again in Iran's own presidential elections in 2017.
"If Obama signs ISA but uses waiver rights to cease its implementation, it still infringes the nuclear agreement and we will react to it."
Rouhani said he will attend the meeting of an experts committee on Wednesday to decide on Iran's reaction to what he called the US violation.
Thailand's new king makes first public appearance
BANGKOK: MMNN:2 Dec. 2016
Thailand's new king on Friday made his first public appearance since ascending the throne the previous day, ending a period of uncertainty since the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, on October 13.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, 64, took part in a merit-making ceremony at Bangkok's Grand Palace to mark 50 days since his father's death plunged the country into grief.
Civil servants dressed in black and white, the official colours of mourning, lined the streets to the palace as the new king's convoy passed.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who was then the crown prince, surprised some when he asked to delay his succession following the death of his father, leaving the throne unoccupied for seven weeks.
His official taking of the throne, in a brief ceremony televised late on Thursday, ends that unprecedented interregnum while raising new questions about the palace's relationship with the generals who have been in power since a 2014 coup.
The military government has made it clear it wants to oversee economic and political developments for years to come, even after a general election it has promised to hold in 2017.
Critics say a military-backed constitution, which will need the new king's stamp of approval, will consolidate the army's power, but financial analysts were upbeat about the outlook.
"Forget about Game-of-Thrones intrigue. With a new constitution in place and the royal succession behind, the conditions for institutional stability are in place," Tim Condon, chief economist for Asia at ING in Singapore, said in a note.
"We blame its absence since 2013 for the dismal economic performance and we consider its return an important turning point."
Southeast Asia's second-largest economy has suffered over more than a decade of on-off political unrest stemming from confrontation between the old royalist establishment and new populist political forces.
Since taking power in 2014, the junta has struggled to revive an economy hobbled by weak exports and slack domestic demand.
"Thailand remains politically fragile and it remains to be seen how the new king will navigate uncertain waters," a senior Western diplomat based in Bangkok, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but the palace is one of its most influential institutions.
On a street near the Grand Palace, shops on Friday displayed gold-framed portraits of the new king alongside pictures of his father.
Criticism of the monarch, the regent or the heir, known by the French term lese majeste, is a crime that carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years in Thailand.
Donald Trump unlikely to ‘insert’ himself in Kashmir issue: Expert
Washington:MMNN:2 Dec. 2016
Donald Trump is unlikely to “insert” himself in resolving the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan as the US President-elect has signaled his interest in deepening ties with India, a top American expert has said. “It is highly doubtful that Trump administration will consider inserting itself into the volatile Indo-Pakistani dispute, especially when Trump has signaled his interest in prioritising deepening ties with India,” Lisa Curtis of The Heritage Foundation said in an op-ed in The Daily Signal.
“Indeed, if there is any useful role the US can play in tamping down tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals, it is to press Pakistan to crackdown on anti-India militants that operate freely in Pakistani territory,” Curtis said. In her op-ed, Curtis said concerns are being raised about the US President-elect Donald Trump’s phone conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and what it might mean for his policies toward the subcontinent.
Pakistan in a statement said that Trump, during a telephonic conversation with Prime Minsiter Nawaz Sharif, offered to play “any role” in helping Pakistan address its outstanding issues, which it claimed was a reference to Kashmir issue. “These comments, however, should merely be seen as friendly banter that could have been made to almost any foreign leader,” Curtis said.
“It is not surprising that Pakistani leaders would take advantage of a polite and warm exchange to push their agenda of bringing international attention to the Indo-Pak conflict in Kashmir,” Curtis wrote. Observing that the US handling of India-Pakistan relations is a delicate matter, she said it is important for US officials to avoid the mediation trap and “any illusion that the US itself can resolve this nearly 70-year-old dispute.”
Referring to the series of attacks against Indian Army bases, Curtis said the Uri attack demonstrates Pakistan’s willingness to up the ante in order to draw international attention to Kashmir at a time when civil protests had been wracking the region. “The US must demonstrate that such Pakistani behaviour is unacceptable and will have consequences,” Curtis said.
Colombian government, FARC sign revised peace agreement
MMNN:25 Nov. 2016
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Londono, signed a revised peace agreement here on Thursday.
This came less than two months after a plebiscite narrowly rejected the original agreement, which took four years to negotiate, Xinhua news agency reported.
In his speech, Londono apologised to the victims of the conflict in the name of the FARC, and hailed the new agreement as the common wish of all Colombians to end the war.
“Words are the only weapons that Colombians allow us to use,” said Mr. Londono, who called on the former enemies to coexist despite their differences.
Mr. Santos said the revised agreement was the result of a rigorous discussion between the government and FARC, who had gathered for weeks in Havana, Cuba, to consider proposals to those who opposed the first peace agreement.
‘Colombia as peace model’
Mr. Santos stated that peace must be the most important topic for any nation and that Colombia should become an example in a world riven by conflicts.
“Building a country at peace is the most ambitious and transformational project that any generation has ever had the opportunity to fulfil. I cannot imagine a more noble, a more sublime task, a more elevated effort than protecting life and building peace,” he stated.
Unlike the previous agreement, this new deal will not be subject to a public vote but will have to be approved by Congress over the course of the next week.
Next step: laying down arms
Within 90 days after the approval, the FARC will begin to lay down arms. And within five months, all the weapons of the FARC will be in the hands of the United Nations.
IS recruiter Neil Prakash survived drone strike, arrested in Middle East
MMNN:25 Nov. 2016
Australia’s most wanted Islamic State terror suspect Neil Prakash, who was believed to have been killed in an air strike earlier this year, is still alive and was recently arrested by a Middle Eastern government, according to a media report.
Prakash, the child of Cambodian and Fijian migrants, was wounded when he was targeted in a drone strike in Iraq in April, The New York Times reported.
“In the last few weeks, however, a Middle Eastern government arrested Mr Prakash, another senior American military official said,” the report added without giving details or naming the country that had detained the IS operative.
Prakash, who was known as Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, was linked to several failed attacks in Sydney and Melbourne. Australian and American authorities had earlier said he had a prominent and influential role as a senior recruiter for the group.
Australia’s attorney general George Brandis called him “the most dangerous Australian involved with ISIL in the Middle East”, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “If you wanted to describe him as Australia’s number one terrorist you wouldn’t be off the mark,” Brandis told Sky News.
Australia had been informed by US authorities in May that Prakash died in Mosul, Iraq, on April 29 after Canberra provided intelligence on his identity and location.
Besides being linked to several Australia-based attack plans, Prakash had called for lone-wolf attacks against the US.
He was a member of several Melbourne gangs as a teenager. He converted to Islam in 2012 in the company of Harun Mehicevic, a radical preacher linked to Melbourne’s al-Furqan Islamic Centre. Prakash sneaked into Syria in 2013 and appeared in several IS propaganda videos.
In recent months, Australia has worked closely with the US to target Australian nationals fighting with the IS in Iraq and Syria. Australian officials have said some 60 Australians have so far been killed fighting in Iraq or Syria.
Japan earthquake: A look back at other major quakes that hit the country this decade
MMNN:22 Nov. 2016
The Japan Meteorological Agency says the strong earthquake that struck Tuesday off the coast of Fukushima prefecture was an aftershock of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that spawned a deadly tsunami in the same region in 2011.
The agency warned that another large quake could hit in the next few days and urged residents to remain cautious for about a week.
Tuesday's magnitude 7.4 quake triggered moderate tsunamis, but nothing high enough to cause major damage. It was the largest earthquake in the northeast Japan region since the 2011 quake and some large aftershocks the same day.
Here are some major earthquakes to have hit Japan in the past decade:
2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami
A 8.9-magnitude earthquake — Japan's most powerful since records began has struck the north-east coast — struck about 400 kilometres north-east of Tokyo, triggering a massive tsunami.
The earthquake and subsequent tsunami left 15,894 dead, 2,557 missing and 6,152 injured. Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant also experienced full meltdowns at three reactors.
2015 off the Ogasawara islands
A 8.5 magnitude earthquake struck near remote Japanese islands and shook most of the country, although it occurred well beneath the earth’s surface and did not trigger a tsunami warning. Several people suffered non-life-threatening injuries, and there were no reports of deaths or major damage.
The quake struck off the Ogasawara islands at a depth of 590 kilometres.
2010 Bonin Islands earthquake
A 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck in the Pacific Ocean off southern Japan. The epicentre of the earthquake was 155 kilometres off the Bonin Islands, some 1,000 kilometres south-east of Tokyo, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).
There were no reports of casualties or damage from the earthquake, reported BBC.
2012 Kamaishi earthquake
A 7.3-magnitude quake struck off Japan's eastern coast, triggering a small tsunami, reported NBC News.
The quake's epicentre was around 245 kilometres south-east of Kamiashi at a depth of around 36 kilometres, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.
The US-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had said there was no threat to the wider Pacific Ocean, reported the BBC.
2016 Kumamoto earthquakes
Two strong earthquakes hit southern Japan's Kumamoto prefecture followed by more than 1,700 aftershocks, leaving at least 50 dead and causing widespread damage.
Donald Trump Backs Nigel Farage As British Ambassador To US
WASHINGTON: MMNN:22 Nov. 2016
Donald Trump has tweeted that Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage "would do a great job" as British ambassador to the US, in the latest unorthodox intervention by the president-elect.
The decision on who is appointed to represent the United Kingdom in Washington is a matter for the British government, but that did not stop the controversial property mogul turned world leader from weighing in on social media.
"Many people would like to see @Nigel_Farage represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States," Trump said on his Twitter account. "He would do a great job!"
Farage, interim leader of the nationalist UK Independence Party which campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union, met recently with the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York.
The British politician said he was flattered by Trump's tweet.
"I'm very flattered by the comments," Farage told Britain's Press Association. "I have said since I met the president-elect that I would like to do anything I can to act in a positive way to help relationships between our two countries."
But according to a Downing Street spokesman, "there is no vacancy. We already have an excellent ambassador."
Kim Darroch, the UK's former national security adviser, took over the diplomatic post in January.
During the divisive US presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly compared his presidential bid to the Brexit referendum in which a majority of Britons voted to split from the EU.
Trump's call on Twitter is unusual -- ambassadors are appointed by the governments they represent, not by the administration of the country in which they serve.
Britain is keen to build bridges with Trump after many of its leading government figures criticized the president-elect during his successful election campaign.
London is also interested in sounding out a US trade deal as it plots its departure from the European Union.
Queen Elizabeth II could host Trump within months of him becoming president, with the British government confirming Monday that it was considering a state visit next year.
Royal officials said the government was responsible for organizing state visits, and a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May said the proposal was "under consideration".
Trump told May that he was a "big fan of the Queen" when the pair spoke by telephone following his victory, and is also reported to have told Farage that his late mother Mary would be "chuffed to bits when I meet the Queen."
Britain will not issue an invitation to a president-elect, but is expected to make its move shortly after Trump's inauguration on January 20.
Britain has no Brexit plan, leaked memo claims
London: MMNN:15 Nov. 2016
The British government has no overarching plan for Brexit and may take another six months to agree a negotiating strategy, according to a leaked memo today. Civil servants are struggling to cope with more than 500 Brexit-related projects and an extra 30,000 extra staff may be needed to handle the workload, according to the memo published by The Times, reportedly prepared for the government by a consultant. The document, dated November 7 and titled “Brexit update”, says “no common strategy has emerged” for leaving the European Union, despite lengthy debate among senior officials. The government of Prime Minister Theresa May denied the claims and said it did not commission the report.
“This is not a government report and we don’t recognise the claims made in it,” a spokesman for May’s office said. “We are focused on getting on with the job of delivering Brexit and making a success of it,” he said. It could take another six months for the British government to agree on its priorities for Brexit, the memo, also seen by the BBC, suggests.
Although each government department has developed plans to cope with the departure, “this falls considerably short of having a ‘Government plan for Brexit’ because it has no prioritisation and no link to the overall negotiation strategy,” the memo reportedly states. It criticises May’s approach, accusing her of “drawing in decisions and details to settle matters herself”.
May has promised to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March next year to formally start the
process of leaving the EU, but she has so far given few details of her strategy. The leaked memo also says big businesses are expected to “point a gun at the government’s head” after the government assured carmaker Nissan that it would not lose out on investment after Britain leaves the EU.
May used a key address in the City of London late yesterday to say that Britain will seize on Brexit to become a
global leader on free trade and “forge new and dynamic trading agreements”.
As Trump mellows, Obama calls him non-ideological pragmatist
New York:MMNN:15 Nov. 2016
With signs of a mellowing Donald Trump backtracking on some of the harshest elements of his election promises, President Barack Obama, who had called him unfit for the high office, has now described him as a non-ideological pragmatist and hoped he would build on his successes.
"President-elect Trump is now trying to balance what he said in the campaign and the commitments he made to his supporters with working with those who disagreed with him, and members of Congress, and reaching out to constituencies that didn't vote for him," Obama said at his White House news conference in Washington on Monday.
"My advice, as I said, to the President-elect when we had our discussions was that campaigning is different from governing," he added. "I think he recognises that. I think he's sincere in wanting to be a successful President and moving this country forward."
A somber Trump softened some of the controversial election rhetoric in his first extensive media interview that he gave to Lesley Stahl of CBS and was broadcast Sunday.
While during his campaign the Republican had threatened wholesale deportation of the estimated 11 million illegal - or undocumented - immigrants, he said he would round up and deport or detain only the criminals and drug dealers among them, whom he estimated to number about two to three million.
As for the rest, whom he called "terrific people," he said their future would be determined later when the borders have been secured.
On building a wall along the Mexican border, he said he was now open to a mix of wall and fence.
He also came out in favour of some elements of Obamacare, the universal health insurance program that is the capstone of Obama's presidency. During the heat of the campaign, he had vowed that dismanting it was his first priority.
In a direct threat to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton during a presidential debate, Trump said he would have a special prosecutor appointed to look into her cases.
He repeated it during his rallies, calling her "Crooked Hillary," while the crowds chanted "Lock her up."
But asked about this during his interview he said of the Clintons: "I don't want to hurt them. They're, they're good people. I don't want to hurt them."
Obama, who had declared during the campaign that Trump was unqualified for the job, now reciprocated his turn around with a states manly gesture.
"He is coming to this office with fewer set hard-and-fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other Presidents might be arriving with," Obama said. "I don't think he is ideological. I think ultimately he's pragmatic in that way."
From coast to coast, Democratic party supporters have been holding protests against Trump since his election, chanting: "He is not our president."
In a message directed at them, Obama said, "Look, the people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next President, the 45th President of the United States."
Recalling the caustic opposition he had faced after his election, Obama said, "When I won, there were a number of people who didn't like me and didn't like what I stood for. And I think that whenever you've got an incoming President of the other side, particularly in a bitter election like this, it takes a while for people to reconcile themselves with that new reality."
Obama, who left for Europe Monday night after his news conference, had a calming message for the allies across the Atlantic troubled by Trump's election.
He said that Trump had in conversations with him "expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships." Obama said from this, "one of the messages I will be able to deliver is his commitment to NATO and the Transatlantic Alliance."
During his campaign, Trump had criticised the international alliances saying that they had forced the US to bear the their burden and that he would insist on the allies picking up the tab and being more responsible for their defences.
To Beat China, Japan Wants New Bullet Train Deals In India
MMNN:11 Nov. 2016
In the strategic rivalry between Japan and China, high-speed rail contracts are one of the best ways to project power. And no Asian country offers more opportunities than India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets counterpart Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Friday, almost a year after the Indian leader picked Japan as a partner for the nation's first line -- a 980-billion-rupee ($15 billion) rail linking Mumbai and Ahmedabad, roughly the distance from Paris to London. Abe hopes that will make Japan the front-runner if India implements five other planned lines.
"The 'Rail Wars' between China and Japan are a battle for influence in the region that is way more important than just sales and profits," said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's Japan campus. "Modi would prefer to play one off the other and see what he can get for India, but geostrategically his government is leaning towards the U.S. and Japan."
The competition between Asia's biggest economies for high-speed rail contracts has been intense. China beat out Japan for a line in Indonesia last year, and the two are set to face off again over a proposed Singapore-Kuala Lumpur link. A Chinese proposal to build one in Thailand fell through this year, while a Japanese-backed plan for Vietnam was rejected by the country's national assembly. Taiwan's Japan-sponsored line has proved to be a financial flop and had to be bailed out by the government last year.
Since taking office in May 2014, Modi has boosted defense and energy ties with the U.S. and allies like Japan, including getting close to signing a long-awaited deal on nuclear power cooperation. At the same time, tensions have increased with China, in part because of its support for Pakistan, India's main adversary.
Indian Railways carries 23 million people daily on congested and aging tracks with roots dating back to British colonial rule. Sometimes, trains slow to a walking pace. Modi plans to spend 8.5 trillion rupees through 2020 on new tracks, including bullet trains and modern stations, as he looks to spur a manufacturing boom.
The project Japan is backing will see the financial capital Mumbai linked by a 508-kilometer (316-mile) high-speed track to the economic hub of Ahmedabad, the largest city in Modi's home state of Gujarat. Japan has agreed to provide loans to cover up to 81 percent of the cost of one of India's biggest infrastructure endeavors.
Modi's meeting with Abe in Tokyo will be the eighth between the two leaders since he took office. In those talks, Abe has persistently been a key salesman for Japan's signature Shinkansen technology as he looks to triple infrastructure exports to 30 trillion yen ($287 billion) by 2020.
While Japan is happy to divvy up the huge market for urban transit in increasingly traffic-choked cities across Asia, Abe wants to take the lead in high-speed rail, according to Hiroto Izumi, an adviser to the prime minister who has been negotiating the rail deal with India. He said it's important to get a foothold in Asia's second-most populous country to outpace China, Japan's primary competitor.
"If Japan gets to work on the first plan, of course we have expectations" to win India's other high-speed rail projects, Izumi said in an interview at the prime minister's residence. "With urban railways, you can have various different plans mixed up together, but with high-speed rail, I don't think you would have several different systems in one country."
China, which boasts the world's largest high-speed rail network, supports main manufacturer CRRC Corp. through financing from state-run banks and an ecosystem of railway construction firms. The nation has the ability to build train lines in areas with extreme weather and challenging geographical conditions, said Chen Suming, an analyst at Shanghai Chongyang Investment Management Co.
"CRRC is poised to win train orders if purely judged by technology, pricing and quality," Chen said. "But there are political factors at play in overseas market which will complicate its chances of winning orders outside China."
Japan's sales pitch revolves around quality: its network boasts a record of zero fatal accidents in more than half-century of history. Izumi said Japan's relatively high initial costs can be offset by lower repair expenses over a lifespan of decades. The nation's main manufacturers are Hitachi Ltd. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., while Mitsubishi Electric Corp. makes electric parts for bullet trains.
Modi is set to take a Shinkansen trip on Saturday to Kobe, where the Indian leader will visit a Kawasaki Heavy rolling stock factory.
Izumi traveled to India last month for a third round of talks on the project, focusing on technology transfer ahead of this month's visit to Japan by Modi, who is looking to ensure a chunk of the funds go to local contractors Larsen & Toubro Ltd., Gammon India Ltd. and GMR Infrastructure Ltd.
"When the start of construction on Mumbai-Ahmadebad is in sight, the question will arise about where is next," Izumi said. "That's a problem that has to be considered from a political perspective."
Japan has already built up a positive reputation in India with construction of a subway system in Delhi, a success that Tokyo has touted in advertisements playing on CNN and BBC.
In India, safety and durability are more important than equalizing ties between Japan and China, according to Gaurang Shah, vice president at Geojit BNP Paribas Financial Services Ltd. in Mumbai, which offers investment advisory services to more than 840,000 clients in India and the Middle-East.
"Striking a balance is not necessary," he said. "You should give it to the country which has credibility, technology and a past track record that is proven."
Taliban Attack On German Consulate In Afghanistan Kills 6
AFGHANISTAN:MMNN:11 Nov. 2016
The death toll from a powerful Taliban truck bombing at the German consulate in Afghanistan's Mazar-i-Sharif city rose to at least six Friday, with more than 100 others wounded in a major terrorist assault.
The Taliban said the bombing late Thursday, which tore a massive crater in the road and overturned cars, was a "revenge attack" for US air strikes this month in the volatile province of Kunduz that left 32 civilians dead.
The explosion, followed by sporadic gunfire, reverberated across the usually tranquil northern city, smashing windows of nearby shops and leaving terrified local residents fleeing for cover.
"The suicide attacker rammed his explosives-laden car into the wall of the German consulate," local police chief Sayed Kamal Sadat told AFP.
All German staff from the consulate were unharmed, according to the foreign ministry in Berlin.
But seven Afghan civilians were killed, including two motorcyclists who were shot dead by German forces close to the consulate after they refused to heed their warning to stop, said deputy police chief Abdul Razaq Qadri.
A suspect had also been detained near the diplomatic mission on Friday morning, Qadri added.
Local doctor Noor Mohammad Fayez said the city hospitals received six dead bodies, including two killed by bullets.
At least 128 others were wounded, some of them critically and many with shrapnel injuries, he added.
"The consulate building has been heavily damaged," the German foreign ministry said in a statement. "Our sympathies go out to the Afghan injured and their families."
A diplomatic source in Berlin said Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had convened a crisis meeting.
"There was fighting outside and on the grounds of the consulate," a ministry spokesman said. "Afghan security forces and Resolute Support (NATO) forces from Camp Marmal (German base in Mazar-i-Sharif) are on the scene."
Afghan special forces have cordoned off the consulate, previously well-known as Mazar Hotel, as helicopters flew over the site and ambulances with wailing sirens rushed to the area after the explosion.
The carnage underscores worsening insecurity in Afghanistan as Taliban insurgents ramp up nationwide attacks despite repeated government attempts to jump-start stalled peace negotiations.
'America's Longest War'
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the "martyrdom attack" on the consulate had left "tens of invaders" dead. The insurgents routinely exaggerate battlefield claims.
Posting a Google Earth image of the consulate on Twitter, Mujahid said the assault was in retaliation for American air strikes in Kunduz.
US forces conceded last week that its air strikes "very likely" resulted in civilian casualties in Kunduz, pledging a full investigation into the incident.
The strikes killed several children, after a Taliban assault left two American soldiers and three Afghan special forces soldiers dead near Kunduz city.
The strikes triggered impassioned protests in Kunduz city, with the victims' relatives parading mutilated bodies of dead children piled into open trucks through the streets.
Civilian casualties caused by NATO forces have been one of the most contentious issues in the 15-year campaign against the insurgents, prompting strong public and government criticism.
The country's worsening conflict has prompted US forces to step up air strikes to support their struggling Afghan counterparts, fuelling the perception that they are increasingly being drawn back into the conflict.
The latest attack in Mazar-i-Sharif comes just two days after a bitter US presidential election.
Afghanistan got scarcely a passing mention in the election campaign -- even though the situation there will be an urgent matter for the new president.
President-elect Donald Trump is set to inherit America's longest war with no end in sight.
Indonesia: Muslim protesters march to demand Jakarta governor's resignation
Jakarta: MMNN:4 Nov. 2016
Tens of thousands of hardline Muslim protesters in Indonesia marched on Friday to the presidential palace to demand the resignation of the governor of the capital, Jakarta, who they said had insulted the Koran.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, where many people follow a moderate form of Islam. While hardliners have launched occasional agitation in the past, protests on such a large scale have been rare.
The atmosphere in Jakarta was tense and some companies asked employees to work from home, access to business districts was restricted and embassies urged caution.
Truck loads of soldiers and police, some equipped with rifles, were on patrol and others secured shopping malls. A total of about 18,000 security personnel are expected to be deployed in the sprawling city of 10 million, police said.
The protesters, led by a group called the Islamic Defenders Front, are calling for Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama, a Christian and the first ethnic Chinese in the job, to be jailed for blasphemy.
They say he insulted the Koran by dismissing a political attack by an opponent who urged opposition to Purnama by citing a verse from the Koran.
"He is not Muslim but he humiliated the Koran," protester Muhammad Said told Reuters.
"Don't refer to anything in the Koran, especially interpreting it incorrectly ... I call on God to jail him."
Purnama served as deputy to President Joko Widodo when Widodo was city governor from 2012 to 2014, and has long been seen as an ally of the president.
Widodo would work as usual on Friday, with plans to visit a rail construction project at the capital's airport, presidential spokesman Johan Budi told reporters.
Budi said Wiranto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, and state secretary Pratikno were expected to meet representatives of the protesters.
Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla called for a peaceful protest in a joint statement on Thursday, saying "everything and everyone should continue to work as normal".
Police are investigating the case against Purnama, who has apologised for the remarks. Widodo, a Muslim, has vowed not to interfere in any legal proceedings against Purnama, according to the Indonesian Clerical Council.
Many of the protesters wore white robes and Muslim caps and gathered at the central Istiqlal Mosque, the biggest mosque in the country, before they began moving towards the presidential palace, with their numbers expected to swell.
Critics say Widodo's government has not done enough to contain the religious and ethnic tension that is mounting ahead of a city governor election in February.
Purnama, popularly known as "Ahok", has a reputation as a tough reformer. He will compete for re-election against two Muslims - Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, a son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and a former education minister, Anies Baswedan.
Ethnic Chinese make up just over one percent of Indonesia's 250 million people, and they typically do not enter politics.
There has been opposition to the hardliners on social media and some banners draped from an overpass called for respect of diversity.
"Your religion or ethnicity doesn't matter, as long as you can do something good for everybody," said one banner.
Indonesia suffered a series of Islamist militant attacks early in the last decade. In the most serious incident, 202 people were killed in bombings of a nightclub on the island of Bali in 2002.
An attack in Jakarta early this year by supporters of Islamic State raised fears of a new wave of violent militancy.
Voice shaking, S Korean leader says scandal ‘all my fault’
South Korea:MMNN:4 Nov. 2016
In an extraordinary display of abject apology during a moment of supreme crisis, South Korean President Park Geun-hye took sole blame Friday for a “heartbreaking” scandal amid rising suspicion that she allowed a mysterious confidante to manipulate power from the shadows.
Park also vowed to accept a direct investigation into her actions, but the opposition, sensing weakness, immediately threatened to push for her ouster if she doesn’t distance herself from domestic affairs and accept a prime minster chosen by the Parliament.
“I feel a huge responsibility (for the scandal) deep in my heart,” Park said, her voice shaking during the high-stakes televised address to the nation. “It is all my fault and mistake.”
Park’s comments were rife with astonishing moments, and included a frank assessment of her relationship with the woman at the heart of the scandal, Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of a cult leader and a longtime friend of Park’s.
“I put too much faith in a personal relationship and didn’t look carefully at what was happening,” Park said. “Sad thoughts trouble my sleep at night. I realize that whatever I do, it will be difficult to mend the hearts of the people, and then I feel a sense of shame and ask myself, ‘Is this the reason I became president?’“
In another exceptional moment, Park denied media speculation that she had “fallen into worshipping cult religions or that shamanistic rituals were held at the presidential Blue House.”
Her comments come at what may well prove to be the crucial moment of her presidency. Park is attempting to show the contrition and sense of responsibility that South Koreans demand while also trying to re-establish her tarnished credibility. She is in the fourth year of a single five-year term and faced criticism even before this scandal, particularly for the government’s response to a 2014 ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people.
One national poll released earlier Friday had her approval rating at 5 percent, the lowest for any president in South Korea since the country achieved a democracy in the late 1980s following decades-long dictatorships.
“Anyone found by the current investigation to have done something wrong must be held responsible for what they have done, and I am also ready to face any responsibility,” Park said. “If necessary, I’m determined to let prosecutors investigate me and accept an investigation by an independent counsel too.”
Last week Park surprised many when she acknowledged that she had relied on Choi for help editing presidential speeches and other undefined “public relations” issues.
Anger has exploded in the days since, with media reports claiming that the influence Choi had went much deeper. There are reports that Choi reviewed and made recommendations on government policy papers and pushed businesses to donate millions of dollars to two foundations that she controlled. Other reports speculate Choi also helped choose presidential aides and even picked out Park’s wardrobe.
Thousands have protested. Park has fired eight presidential secretaries and nominated three new Cabinet members, including the prime minister, in an effort to regain public confidence. Opposition parties have described Park’s personnel reshuffles as a diversionary tactic.
Soon after Park’s speech, the main opposition Democratic Party said her apology lacks sincerity and issued a set of demands that it says Park must immediately accept if she doesn’t want see rallies calling for the end of her government. The demands include Park withdrawing her prime minister nomination which the opposition says is “unilateral”; nominating a new person recommended by the National Assembly for the country’s No.2 job; and accepting separate investigations by lawmakers and an independent counsel.
“The president now comes right into a dead end,” party chief Choo Mi-ae told a televised conference. Park “must comply with what the people want.”
Park may survive what has become the worst patch of an already rocky term. But if she is forced to name a prime minister chosen by the opposition, it will hamstring her authority and may end her ability to govern.
Only Choi has been formally arrested in connection with the scandal. Prosecutors on Friday requested an arrest warrant for ex-Park aide, Ahn Jong-beom, for his alleged involvement in extracting $70 million in donations. On Wednesday night, prosecutors detained another ex-presidential aide, Jeong Ho-seong, for allegedly leaking confidential documents to Choi, and are reviewing whether to seek an arrest warrant for him, too.
Park said she couldn’t talk about many specifics because of the investigation, but she was frank in her comments about Choi, who has been the subject of widespread rage.
Choi was “a person who stood with me during the hardest moment in my life,” Park said in her speech, apparently referring to the assassinations of Park’s mother and later her father, the dictator Park Chung-hee. “It’s true that I lowered my guard and my sense of wariness” of Choi.
US markets not fully buying into polls showing a Hillary Clinton win
New York:MMNN:28 Oct. 2016
As the US presidential election moves into the home stretch, financial markets are not fully invested in polls that show a win for Hillary Clinton.
Even though polls show the Democratic candidate with a strong lead over Republican Donald Trump, analysts say investors are waiting until after 8 November to lay their money on the table.
"I don't think it's fully 100 percent Clinton is in," said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade, who sees a pullback in risk-oriented investments as a sign of investor caution.
"Usually people are looking to take on extra risk for reward," he said. "I think this is one case where people are paring back on their risk."
Wall Street is thought to generally favor Clinton over Trump for president, and equity markets have hovered at historically high levels since July, with the S&P 500 less than three percent below its all-time peak.
Clinton is considered the more market-friendly outcome, expected to maintain the policies of outgoing President Barack Obama, while the market views Trump as a great unknown, both because of his penchant for controversy and his lack of a record in public office.
Trump has attacked trade partners China and Mexico and accused Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen of being a political tool of the Democratic party. Investors are also unsettled by Trump's seeming embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a sign he may take foreign policy in radical new directions.
Signs of nervousness have been seen in certain trades, analysts say, like the Mexican peso. Trump's pledge of immigration controls and trade restrictions with Mexico have raised worries over its economy.
The peso sank against the dollar as Trump's campaign added momentum, but then rebounded on Clinton's gains following the first presidential debate on 26 September.
But it remains down about 9 percent since Trump secured his party's nomination in May.
On the other hand, another gauge of market sentiment has been the biotechnology sector, which is seen as vulnerable in a Clinton presidency given the Democrat's vow to address runaway drug prices. The Nasdaq biotechnology index has fallen about nine percent over the last month.
Some analysts say the markets have already assumed a Clinton victory.
"To me, the markets clearly want a Clinton win and they have priced that in," said Nathan Thooft, senior managing director at Manulife Asset Management.
"That's what they predict, and that's what they want. If that doesn't happen, I feel there's a great level of uncertainty and possible downside to the markets."
Some 'complacency' over Trump
Indeed, investors are aware that Trump has been consistently underestimated by the political, media and business establishment. Many are also loath to repeat the error of Britain's June referendum to leave the European Union, when polling supported the market bet on a "stay" vote, only to be thrown into turmoil when Brexit passed.
"There's a bit of complacency in the market." said Kathy Lien of BK Asset Management,
"I think the market's underestimating the possibility of things going wrong as a result of either a Trump victory or the possibility of internal strife in the nation as a result of Clinton winning," she said.
Briefing.com analyst Patrick O'Hare cited sluggish trading volume, as well as the flatness of the S&P 500, as a sign investors are in "seeing is believing mode" with respect to polls pointing to a Clinton triumph.
One sign of a pickup in caution is the VIX volatility index, also known as the "fear" index. The index has risen the last three days and jumped nearly 8 percent Thursday to 15.36. Still, that is far below the 25.76 level on the day after the Brexit shock.
A big jump in the VIX before 8 November would signal "that the market is fearing something odd," Kinahan said.
Indian-origin bus driver burnt alive in Australia
MELBOURNE:MMNN:28 Oct. 2016
In a horrific incident, a 29-year- old Indian-origin bus driver was today burned to death when a man poured some flammable liquid on him in front of several shocked passengers in Australia's Brisbane city, police said.
Manmeet Alisher, a well-known singer in the Punjabi community, was driving a Brisbane City Council bus when he was targeted by the man who threw an "incendiary device" at him which sparked a fire.
Alisher died on the spot while several passengers on board the bus at the time managed to escape through the rear door, said police in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland.
Six persons were rushed to a nearby hospital for smoke inhalation and minor injuries, they said.
Police said there was "no apparent motive" including terror or race related.
A 48-year-old man was taken into custody over the incident.
Detectives from South Brisbane district and the state crime command's homicide group have commenced a homicide investigation, Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said.
Preliminary inquiries indicate just after 9 AM (local time) passengers were boarding a bus on Beaudesert Road when a man threw an item at the driver causing fire, police said.
Police said the bus, carrying six passengers, pulled into Moorvale Shopping Centre on Beaudesert Road to pick up three passengers when the incident took place.
Flags will be flown at half mast across Brisbane tomorrow as a mark of respect for the Alisher.
Stewart ruled out any possibilities of the attack being a racially motivated one, saying there was no such indication.
"There is no evidence at this time of any linkage to terrorist-type activities and certainly that has not become evident through the ongoing investigations that have occurred. We do not believe there is any evidence at this stage linking this to a racial complaint or concern by either of the people involved," Stewart said.
"While we do not know the actual motive at this stage, I want to reassure the community that we take these incidents very seriously and that is why as a precaution, officers from the state security and counter terrorism group have also been involved," he said.
Meanwhile, the Punjabi community in Brisbane expressed shock over the death of Manmeet Alisher, also known as Manmeet Sharma.
"Words escape me, it is a horrific incident here in the quiet suburb of Moorooka," Queensland Police Superintendent Jim Keogh said.
"A bus driver, going about doing his business, supporting the community, has had his life taken from him in what is a senseless and needless act. The fire was substantial, he would have stood little chance," he said.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Hits Out At US, Then Heads To Japan
MANILA/TOKYO:MMNN:25 Oct. 2016
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out anew at the United States on Tuesday and said it could forget a bilateral defence deal if he stayed in power long enough, in the latest jarring statement from Manila about the future of the alliance.
The fresh broadside from Duterte came as he was about to board a plane for an official visit to fellow U.S. ally Japan, a big investor in the Philippines that is becoming nervous about its apparent pivot towards rival power China.
The volatile, crime-busting Duterte had on the eve of the visit softened his remarks last week about a "separation" from Washington, telling Japanese media he wasn't planning to change alliances and was only seeking to build trade and commerce with China.
But he pulled no punches on Tuesday when he said he hated having foreign troops in the Philippines and told the United States not to treat his country "like a dog with a leash".
Commenting on a visit to Manila on Monday by Daniel Russel, an Assistant Secretary of State, Duterte said Washington should forget about an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippines if he were to stay in charge longer.
"You have the EDCA, well forget it. If I stay here long enough," he said. "I do not want to see any military man of any other nation except the Filipino. That's the only thing I want."
He did not elaborate on what staying longer meant. In the Philippines, a president is allowed only one six-year term in office.
The remarks were another perplexing swing from Duterte, who last week announced in China his "separation" from the United States, before assuring that ties were not being severed and he was merely pursuing an independent foreign policy.
His latest swipe at Washington could rattle Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to keep ties with the Philippines tight.
In a composed reading of a statement prior to departure for Tokyo, Duterte described Japan as a true friend that had played a "preeminent and peerless role" as a big investor and Philippine development partner.
'I Didn't Start This Fight'
But he quickly became vexed when answering questions and held up the front page of a Philippine newspaper which carried the headline "Duterte sparking international distress - U.S.".
Duterte vented at Washington on several fronts, from its bombings of Manila at the end of World War Two to embassy officials once questioning his intentions when he applied for a visa to visit a girlfriend.
"You know, I did not start this fight," he said of the spat with Washington.
His overtures to China and hostility towards the United States have raised questions about what Duterte's overall goal is and the extent to which his actions could shake up the geopolitical dynamic of a region wary about Beijing's growing influence and U.S. staying power.
Abe has sought to strengthen ties with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries, particularly Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, as a counter-balance to Beijing.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday said both presidents would have a meeting to "further the strategic partnership with the Philippines".
It is unclear where Duterte's latest diatribe leaves U.S.-Philippines ties. Russel had left Manila in confident mood and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had expressed optimism the two countries could "work through" a period of confusion caused by Duterte's remarks last week.
Duterte has railed against U.S. expressions of concerns about the high loss of life in his campaign against drugs and Washington's calls for due process.
Japanese officials said Abe would not overtly try to mediate between Tokyo and Washington but would probably explain the importance of the U.S. role in the region.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will meet Duterte on Tuesday for a low-key dinner, and Abe will hold rare one-on-one talks with Duterte at his residence in Tokyo the next evening following a larger, more formal meeting with senior officials.
As New Zealand PM John Key makes his way to India, here's what you should know
MMNN:25 Oct. 2016
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has been delayed by a day in his trip to India after the Air Force Boeing 757 carrying him and 80 other passengers broke down in Townsville.
Key was due to land in Mumbai on Monday at around 7 pm but, will be picked up by a second plane sent from New Zealand on Tuesday, reported NzHerald. Due to this unfortunate incident, his Mumbai programme has been scrapped altogether. He will now directly fly to New Delhi via Jakarta.
He will hold a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed by official delegation level meeting to discuss growing bilateral relations in Delhi.
During this, his second visit to India, he is also scheduled to go to Kochi and undertake a short tour of the new Cochin International Terminal and the work undertaken by the New Zealand company, Glidepath.
The agenda of both the countries for Key’s bilateral visit might not be the same but, it will ensure stronger economic and social ties between the two countries. It might also strengthen the political relation between the two leaders.
In an editorial written for The Times of India, Key says that the ties are based on “our shared democratic values, social outlook and passion for sport and our ambition for greater prosperity for Indians and New Zealanders.”
While Key and Modi have had talks on similar lines while in Washington during the two-day Nuclear Security Summit hosted by US president Barack Obama, this visit will be more crucial for India, which is struggling to muster Wellington's support for its Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership.
New Zealand has been one of the countries who have expressed reservation over India’s inclusion in the elite 48-member grouping because New Delhi is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Key is looking at better ways to engage the countries with increasing opportunities for New Zealand businesses. From education, manufacturing and food and beverage to IT and aviation, every sector is expected to benefit from his visit. Modi’s sole agenda seems to be to convince New Zealand of its readiness to join NSG.
Despite President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to New Zealand, Wellington had stuck to its reservations unless a new criterion is formed about the non-NPT countries. Modi might have decided to charm Key or simply flatter him to try and change his decision.
New Zealand also wants to push for Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations, which both the countries have been working on since 2010. Even after 10 rounds of talks, the nations are still a fair way from arriving at a deal.
Key is also travelling with a 35-strong business delegation to capture the huge market in India. Both the countries are also committed to negotiating improved trade and investment agreements via two ways. “One is through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and secondly through our bilateral free trade agreements discussions,” wrote Key.
There is an urgent need to significantly increase or at the least maintain the bilateral trade figures between the two countries. India’s total bilateral trade with New Zealand is $855 million, and the deficit stands at $240 million. However, there has been a 42 percent growth in two-way trade in goods and services over the last five years, according to Key.
The revival of this disappointing trade relation should be one of the core agendas for India to turn around unfavourable economic ties.
One of the main concerns that widens the trade deficit between the two countries is India’s tariff on dairy products.
According to NewsHub, New Delhi has a policy of being self-sufficient for milk production and protecting its smaller farmers. Tariff on some agricultural products can also be as high as 100 percent, which makes it uneconomic for outsiders.
According to the Department of Commerce, the export of dairy products has reduced from $0.25 million to $0.07 million since 2015. Considering that almost 40 to 50 percent of food goes waste in India, New Zealand believes that its storage and distribution systems can help in a major way.
A Wellington official told The Indian Express that “India is protective of its market in in agricultural products and loathe to drop tariffs.”
Signing more trade deals and agreements with new Zealand might restore the balance in trade, which India desperately needs at the moment. But aside from goods trade, an important aspect of India-New Zealand economic relations are the education services the Antipodean nation offers.
“India is New Zealand’s largest source of skilled migrants and 29,000 indian students are currently enrolled in our academic institutions, making them the second largest overseas student population studying in New Zealand,” writes Key.
The number of Indian tourists to New Zealand has also increased significantly. Last year around 46,000 Indians visited New Zealand and this number is expected to grow to 93,000 by 2022.
Further, a report by former New Zealand High Commissioner Graeme Waters, for the Asia New Zealand Foundation suggests that the future of trade between India and New Zealand lies in services such as IT, fashion design, film making and aviation.
Both the countries still don’t have direct flights, which forced Key to skip the Mumbai leg of his India trip. According to Waters' report, India is reputedly a price-sensitive market and with no direct flights, and hub carriers can try to offset time increases with cheaper fares.
The trade deficit and the need to start direct flight between the two countries should be the focus of Key's visit. Apart from this, New Zealand can also help India in finding sustainable ways to keep up with the pace of development. Almost 83 percent of Wellington's electricity generation comes from renewable sources and identifies itself as a "world leader" in geothermal energy, writes Key in the editorial.
Britain accuses Russia of “making the situation worse” in Syria
GENEVA:MMNN:21 Oct. 2016
Britain sought to shame Russia on Friday for its deadly air strikes on the Syrian city of Aleppo,
during a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council called by London to set up a special inquiry into violations.
“Russia, you are making the situation worse, not solving it,” Tobias Ellwood, the British government Minister for Africa and the Middle East,
said in a speech to the Geneva forum.
“This is shameful and it is not the action or leadership that we expect from a P5 nation,” he said,
referring to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
6.2 Earthquake Hits Western Japan: US Geological Survey
TOKYO:MMNN:21 Oct. 2016
A strong 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit western Japan on Friday, the US Geological Survey said, but there was no tsunami risk.
The quake, at a shallow depth of 10 kilometres (six miles), struck shortly after 2:00 pm (0500 GMT) in Tottori prefecture.
Initially, the USGS had pegged the quake's magnitude at 6.6 before downgrading it.
Public broadcaster NHK quoted local officials as saying they had received reports that a house collapsed in the town of Yurihama, while fires broke out in another part of the prefecture, without giving details.
In Kurayoshi City, the fire department reported receiving seven emergency calls for injuries.
Television images showed severe shaking in the region.
"We felt fairly strong jolts, which I think were the biggest in years, but we have not seen any damage or things falling," Suminori Sakinada, a local government official, told AFP.
Bullet train services were suspended in the area, while nearly 40,000 homes were left without electricity as the quake damaged power lines, officials said.
NHK said switched-off nuclear reactors in the region were not affected.
Japan sits at the junction of four tectonic plates and experiences a number of relatively violent quakes every year, but rigid building codes and their strict enforcement mean even strong tremors often do little damage.
A massive undersea quake however that hit in March 2011 sent a tsunami barrelling into Japan's northeast coast, leaving more than 18,000 people dead or missing, and sending three reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
In April, two strong earthquakes hit southern Japan's Kumamoto prefecture followed by more than 1,700 aftershocks, and left at least 50 dead and caused widespread damage.
UN Security Council Condemns North Korea Failed Missile Launch
UNITED STATES:MMNN:18 Oct. 2016
The UN Security Council on Monday denounced North Korea's latest test of a powerful missile that one leading US expert warned could be put into operational service as early as next year.
North Korea test-fired the medium-range Musudan -- capable of hitting US bases as far away as Guam -- on Saturday.
Although the exercise was a failure, with the missile exploding soon after lift-off, it still represented a breach of UN resolutions prohibiting the North's use of ballistic missile technology.
In a unanimous statement backed by the North's main ally China, the council "strongly condemned" the test, branding it a "grave violation" of North Korea's international obligations.
Council members agreed to "closely monitor the situation and take further significant measures," the statement said.
First unveiled as an indigenous missile at a military parade in Pyongyang in October 2010, the Musudan has a theoretical range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers (1,500 and 2,500 miles).
The lower estimate covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include US military bases on Guam.
The missile has now been tested seven times this year -- but only once successfully.
A Musudan launched in June flew 400 kilometers into the Sea of Japan (East Sea), and was hailed by leader Kim Jong-Un as proof of the North's ability to strike US bases across "the Pacific operation theater".
Despite the string of failures, John Schilling, an aerospace engineer specializing in rocket propulsion, said the missile was moving swiftly towards operational deployment.
The aggressive launch schedule, while multiplying the risk of failure, also increases the information gleaned from each test, Schilling said.
"If they continue at this rate, the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile could enter operational service sometime next year -- much sooner than had previously been expected," he wrote on the 38North website of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
The latest Musudan test came with the United States and China still thrashing out a new sanctions resolution to punish Pyongyang for its fifth nuclear test carried out last month.
North Korea has been hit by five sets of UN sanctions since it first tested a nuclear device in 2006.
After Pyongyang carried out its fourth nuclear test in January, the Security Council adopted the toughest sanctions resolution to date, targeting North Korea's trade in minerals and tightening banking restrictions.
The ongoing negotiations on the new sanctions measure are focused on closing loopholes and zeroing in on North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile technology industry, according to Security Council diplomats.
Saudi Arabia welcomes liberation of Dabiq from ISIS
JERUSALEM:MMNN:18 Oct. 2016
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has welcomed the liberation of the Syrian town of Dabiq from ISIS and has commended the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army forces for the success.
A statement released by the Saudi Press Agency quoted an official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as confirming that “this victory is a blow to ISIS given the symbolic significance this town represents to this terrorist organization, and it is an important step towards defeating terrorism.”
Reports earlier said that Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces captured the symbolically-significant town of Dabiq from ISIS militants on Sunday as government forces reversed recent rebel advances in the center of the country.
Though only a small town of marginal strategic importance in northern Syria, Dabiq has figured centrally in ISIS propaganda.
China to sign $24 billion in loans to Bangladesh, overtakes PM Modi’s $2 billion credit line
Dhaka/beijing:MMNN:14 Oct. 2016
China is set to sign off on loans worth over $24 billion to Bangladesh during President Xi Jinping’s visit on Friday, Dhaka’s biggest foreign credit line to date that will help it build power plants, a seaport and railways.
Xi’s trip, the first by a Chinese president in 30 years, is aimed at boosting China’s involvement in infrastructure projects at a time when India is pushing investments of its own in Bangladesh, a country New Delhi considers its area of influence.
Japan, helped by India, has also got involved in Bangladesh, offering finance at low interest rates to build a port and power complex, sharpening competition for influence in the country of 160 million people located on the Bay of Bengal.
China plans to finance around 25 projects, including a 1,320 megawatt (MW) power plant, and is also keen to build a deep sea port, Bangladesh junior finance minister M.A. Mannan said.
“Xi’s visit will set a new milestone. (A) record amount of loan agreements will be signed during the visit, roughly $24 billion,” he told Reuters.
Among the proposed projects are highways and information technology development, he said. “Our infrastructure needs are big, so we need huge loans.”
China’s Jiangsu Etern Co Ltd signed a deal worth $1.1 billion to strengthen the power grid network in Bangladesh, the company said on Thursday. Beijing is especially keen to revive a plan to build a deep sea port in Sonadia which has been on hold for years, officials said. Xi is visiting Bangladesh on his way to a BRICS summit of the world’s leading emerging economies in Goa, India.
His trip comes at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading efforts to boost ties with neighbouring countries, from Sri Lanka to Nepal, by offering them a share of India’s fast-growing economy. Last year PM Modi announced a $2 billion credit line during a visit to Dhaka, but China looks set to go well beyond that.
Zhao Gancheng, director of South Asia Studies at Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said both India and China supported development in Bangladesh, and that it did not have to be one or the other. “I really don’t think there is a zero sum game going on in Bangladesh between China and India. Bangladesh welcomes both Chinese and Indian investment…” said Zhao.
Bangladesh has backed Xi’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative to boost trade and transport links across Asia and into Europe, seeing it as an opportunity to lift growth. India has reservations about the plan, amid worries that it is an attempt to build a vast zone of Chinese influence.
Beijing had proposed an economic corridor linking Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and northern India, but New Delhi did not seem keen on the idea, Zhao said. “Bangladesh has an enormous need for investment, and I don’t think it’s going to become a site for strategic competition, a game between the great powers or a pawn,” he said.
Israel: PM Benjamin Netanyahu's top adviser Dore Gold resigns
JERUSALEM:MMNN:14 Oct. 2016
A top diplomat and longtime adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resigned from his post for personal reasons, the foreign ministry announced on Friday.
Dore Gold has served as director general of Israel's foreign ministry since June 2015 and has been a close adviser to Netanyahu for more than two decades. The ministry statement did not provide further details of why he was resigning.
"I would like to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his confidence in me," the statement quoted Gold as saying. "As in the past, I will make myself available to the prime minister's needs in any capacity he sees fit."
Netanyahu, who also holds the post of foreign minister, praised the "important contribution" made by Gold to reinforce relations between Israel and the international community, including in Africa. "Dore has been at my side for 25 years and I am sure he will remain available for any (future) mission," he said in a statement.
Netanyahu's office later announced that the prime minister had chosen career diplomat Youval Rotem to replace Gold. Rotem is a former ambassador to Australia and the ex-head of the cabinet of the foreign minister.
Gold's resignation comes at a crucial time for Israeli diplomacy. Israeli leaders are concerned US President Barack Obama will seek to lay out parameters for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before he leaves office in January.
There have also been suggestions the US president could support or at least refrain from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution on the conflict that Israel opposes.
Nobel Peace Prize 2016 winner: Meet Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos
Stockholm:MMNN:7 Oct. 2016
Efforts by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to end five decades of war in his country were recognised with the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.
The award came despite voters' shock rejection of the terms of a historic deal he reached last month with FARC chief Rodrigo Londono, alias Timoleon "Timochenko" Jimenez, after nearly four years of talks.
"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his resolute efforts to bring the country's more than 50-year-long civil war to an end," said committee chairwoman Kaci Kullmann Five.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Timoleon "Timochenko" Jimenez come from different worlds: one a rich businessman and politician; the other a country boy turned communist guerrilla.
Here are profiles of the conservative president and the Marxist guerrilla leader who brokered the end of half a century of conflict.
Santos: fighter for peace
Santos, 65, led a major offensive against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as defense minister from 2006 to 2009.
After becoming president in 2010, he shifted tack and negotiated for a settlement with the guerrillas.
"He made war as a means to achieve peace," said his brother-in-law and adviser, Mauricio Rodriguez.
"He weakened the FARC to make them sit at the negotiating table."
The peace drive "required courage, audacity, perseverance and a lot of strategy — those are Santos's strengths," Rodriguez added.
Despite fierce opposition to the talks from some former allies, Santos staked his presidency on the peace process.
"I am not looking for applause. I just want to do the right thing," he said.
He won reelection in 2014 in a vote widely seen as a referendum on the talks.
Santos is the scion of a wealthy, powerful family entrenched in Colombian politics and the media.
He has described himself as politically in the "extreme center."
He was educated at the London School of Economics and began his career as a journalist, covering the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua as a young man.
He then switched to politics, serving in various ministerial posts.
Timochenko: Convict negotiator
The bearded, bespectacled FARC leader's real name is Rodrigo Londono, but he is better known by his noms de guerre Timoleon Jimenez and Timochenko.
He was born to a Christian mother and a communist father in a coffee-growing region where he says he soon became aware of social injustice.
"At school, I wondered why there were some classmates who went without breakfast while others lived wastefully," he once said.
He has said the first book he read as a child was the Bible but he also read Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto" by the age of 12.
State intelligence services say he received military and medical training in the Soviet Union and Cuba, which he denies.
"Eighty-five percent of what they say about me is lies," he once told Venezuelan TV network Telesur.
The stocky Timochenko, 57, is renowned as a strategist and former intelligence chief in the FARC, which battled state forces for decades in the jungle.
He has been convicted in absentia for various attacks for which he has been sentenced to more than 150 years in jail.
He took over as FARC leader in 2011 after his predecessor, Alfonso Cano, was killed by the army.
The following year, he wrote to Santos proposing fresh peace negotiations after efforts by previous leaders had failed.
He agreed to Santos's demand that the FARC end its campaign of kidnappings.
As a guerrilla he often said: "I prefer to die on my feet than live on my knees."
But in recent peace talks he softened his tone. At Monday's signing he apologized on behalf of the FARC to all the victims of the conflict.
Asked recently what he has learned in his career as a guerrilla, he said: "There shouldn't be wars."
"He is one of the most well-liked guys in the FARC," Ariel Avila, an analyst at Colombia's Peace and Reconciliation Foundation told AFP.
"He is the man who will go down in history for bringing the FARC into the peace process."
Will Tony Blair return? Ex-PM hints at comeback to politics to save Brexit-hit UK
London:MMNN:7 Oct. 2016
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair could return to a frontline role in British politics to try to prevent Theresa May's Conservative Party from destroying the country with a so-called "hard Brexit", he said in an interview.
The only Labour prime minister to win three general elections, Blair was hugely popular during the start of his 10 years in power but his support for the US-led invasion of Iraq severely tarnished his reputation.
In an interview with Esquire Magazine, Blair said it was a "tragedy" that Britons were left with a choice between a Conservative Party intent on a hard Brexit and a Labour Party that he described as "ultra-left" and stuck in the 1960s.
"I don't know if there's a role for me," he said. "There's a limit to what I want to say about my own position at this moment.
"All I can say is that this is where politics is at. Do I feel strongly about it? Yes, I do. Am I very motivated by that? Yes. Where do I go from here? What exactly do I do? That's an open question."
Britain's shock vote to leave the European Union in June propelled May to power and the former interior minister has indicated that she sees the vote as a demand for wide-ranging change in the way Britain is run.
May's approach has spooked investors who believe Britain is heading for a "hard Brexit", meaning it will give up trying to remain in the EU's single market in order to impose controls on immigration from the other 27 member states.
The vote, which has triggered the deepest political and financial turmoil in Britain since World War Two, has also rocked Blair's Labour Party, with leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn accused of failing to campaign hard enough to keep Britain in the bloc.
First elected last year on a wave of enthusiasm for a new type of politics, Corbyn was forced to compete again for his job. Although he was returned as leader with a higher mandate than before, he still lacks the backing of the centrist members of his party.
Blair said Corbyn offered a "mixture of fantasy and error". As a result, he said Britain was a "one-party state".
"The reason why the position of these guys is not one that will appeal to an electorate is not because they're too left, or because they're too principled. It's because they're too wrong," he said.
"Frankly, it's a tragedy for British politics if the choice before the country is a Conservative government going for a hard Brexit and an ultra-left Labour Party that believes in a set of policies that takes us back to the Sixties."
Blair's chances of forging a new major role might be limited after a seven-year inquiry delivered a scathing verdict in July on his handling and justification for the Iraq War, with many Britons believing he should face criminal action.
Post-coup purge: Turkey suspends more than 12,000 police officers over alleged links to Gulen
Ankara:MMNN:4 Oct. 2016
Turkish authorities suspended more than 12,000 police officers over alleged links to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused of masterminding the July failed coup, the police headquarters said on Tuesday.
Of the 12,801 suspended from duty as part of the investigation into the coup attempt, 2,523 were police chiefs, the police authorities said in a statement. In total, Turkey has around 270,000 police officers.
They were suspended over suspected links to the Gulen movement which Turkey blames for the attempted putsch which tried to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power.
Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, strongly denies Ankara's accusations.
Tens of thousands of people in the judiciary, civil service, military and education sector have been suspended while 32,000 suspects have been placed under arrest on charges of links to to the movement.
The government's crackdown has alarmed Turkey's Western allies who have warned Ankara that it must act within the rule of law.
Turkey yesterday extended the state of emergency introduced after the failed putsch for another 90 days starting on 19 October. Erdogan previously suggested that it might be necessary for the state of emergency to be kept for at least 12 months.
10 countries host half world’s refugees: Amnesty
London:MMNN:4 Oct. 2016
Ten countries accounting for 2.5 per cent of world GDP are hosting more than half the world’s refugees, Amnesty International said today as it slammed what it called the selfishness of wealthy nations.
In a report on the plight faced by the world’s 21 million refugees, the London-based human rights body lamented that countries immediately neighbouring crisis zones bear the brunt of the global refugee problem.
Fifty-six per cent of refugees are being sheltered in 10 countries, according to the report, in which Amnesty proposed a solution whereby the world’s countries find a home for 10 per cent of the planet’s refugees every year.
“A small number of countries have been left to do far too much just because they are neighbours to a crisis,” said Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty, presenting the report entitled “Tackling the global refugee crisis: from shirking to sharing responsibility”.
“That situation is inherently unsustainable, exposing the millions fleeing war and persecution in countries like Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq to intolerable misery and suffering.
“It is time for leaders to enter into a serious, constructive debate about how our societies are going to help people forced to leave their homes by war and persecution.”
Amnesty said the top refugee hosting country was Jordan, which has taken in more than 27 lakh people, followed by Turkey (more than 25 lakh); Pakistan (16 lakh) and Lebanon (more than 15 lakh).
The remaining six nations listed in the top 10 each hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees: Iran (9,79,400); Ethiopia (7,36,100); Kenya (5,53,900); Uganda (4,77,200); Democratic Republic of Congo (3,83,100), and Chad (3,69,500).
The statistics are based on figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Amnesty said many of the world’s wealthiest nations “host the fewest and do the least”.
“It is not simply a matter of sending aid money. Rich countries cannot pay to keep people ‘over there’,” it said.
The “self-interest” of such countries meant the international refugee crisis was set to get worse, not better, Amnesty claimed.
“If every one of the wealthiest countries in the world were to take in refugees in proportion to their size, wealth and unemployment rate, finding a home for more of the world’s refugees would be an eminently solvable challenge,” said Shetty.