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US Bond Yield Curve Briefly Inverts, Sign of Economic Weakness

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 21:46

The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note briefly slid below the yield on the two-year bond Wednesday, a closely-watched benchmark that is often seen as a harbinger of recession.

The so-called "inversion" took place near 1140 GMT when the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury slipped below the two-year at around 1.62 percent.

U.S. stocks have been under pressure in recent sessions as bond yields have gyrated, with analysts warning that sinking rates are a sign of a worsening medium-term and near-term economic outlook.

Analysts have warned that the grinding U.S.-China trade war is denting sentiment as businesses hold off on capital spending amid uncertainty over the tariff picture.

At the same time, US indicators have continued to show solid labor and consumer conditions, and some leading analysts do not see a U.S. recession as likely in the near-term.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was delaying new tariffs on some key consumer goods until December 15, a move that bolstered global equity markets.

On Wednesday, data showed Chinese factory output slowed to its lowest level in 17 years.

That came as Germany reported 0.1 percent negative growth in the second quarter. While overall activity was supported by rising household and government spending, falling exports weighed on manufacturers, statistics authority Destatis said.

The weakening data has fueled expectations that the leading central banks will undertake new stimulus measures. The Federal Reserve cut interest rates last month for the first time in more than a decade and is expected to make additional cuts in the months ahead.

 

Explainer: Hong Kong Airport

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 21:27

Here's a look at the numbers behind the air hub, one of the busiest on the world.

Russian Scientists Face Curbs on Meetings with Foreigners

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 21:22

Russian scientists are raising the alarm about new Soviet-style restrictions on interactions with foreign colleagues.

The science newspaper Troitsky Variant on Tuesday published a copy of a recent Russian Education Ministry decree that introduces a broad range of restrictions on meetings and communication between employees of state-owned think tanks and institutes and foreign nationals.
 
Russian scientists are now obliged to inform officials about any visit by a foreign scientist five days in advance and report on the meeting afterward, the published decree said. The newspaper called on the ministry to scrap the order, saying the Soviet-style restrictions would hurt the standing of Russian science in the world.
 
"Such ridiculous decrees that are impossible to comply with will do nothing to bolster our country's security but will only increase its isolation from developed nations and discredit authorities," scientist Alexander Fradkov said.
 
Similar restrictions were widely used in the Soviet Union but were largely scrapped by the end of the 1980s.
 
The Education Ministry on Wednesday insisted that the decree was not an order but merely a recommendation and denied suggestions that it aims to control the scientists.
 
It also added that Russian scientists are increasingly facing ``certain restrictions'' while visiting organizations abroad.
 
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier on Wednesday that he thought that the restrictions were "too much."
 
The reports of authorities trying to monitor scientists come amid an intensifying pressure on the scientific community.
 
Elderly rocket scientist Viktor Kudryavtsev has been in jail for over a year now, facing vague treason charges. His colleague was arrested last month on similar charges. Russian scientists have appealed to authorities to drop the charges against Kudryavtsev and his associate but to no avail.

  

 

FSB Raids Offices Of Moscow-Based Human Rights Group

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 21:15

Agents of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) have raided the offices of Russia Justice Initiative (RJI), a human rights group in Moscow.

The group’s press secretary, Ksenia Babich, wrote on her Facebook page that officers said the August 14 searches were being conducted on the basis of a search warrant for the whole building, which also houses RJI's partner organizations. However, she added, no search warrant was presented.

Babich said the officers did not explain the reason for the search and "illegally" confiscated telephones from group members, took pictures of their identification documents, and tried to break into the office of the group's director, Vanessa Kogan.

After the organization's employees demanded a warrant allowing police to break into the office without the director's presence, the officers returned the confiscated phones and searched other rooms, she said.

The RJI has existed since 2000. It is dedicated to the legal protection of victims of human rights violations connected to armed conflict and counterterrorism operations, torture, and gender-based violence in the post-Soviet region.

The group has represented clients at the European Court of Human Rights and is mainly involved in cases involving people — often women — from Russia's North Caucasus republics of Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria, as well as Crimean Tatar activists.

 

Soccer Star Sala Exposed to Harmful Carbon Monoxide in Plane

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 21:14

British investigators say Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala and his pilot were exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide before their small plane crashed in the English Channel, killing them both.

A single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft carrying Sala and pilot David Ibbotson crashed in the Channel on Jan. 21.Sala was traveling from France to join his new team, Cardiff City in Wales.

His body was recovered from the wreckage two weeks later. Ibbotson's body has not been found.

The Air Accident Investigations Branch said Wednesday that toxicology tests found “a high saturation level of COHb (the combination product of carbon monoxide and hemoglobin)” in Sala's blood.
 
It said the level was 58%, above the 50% level "generally considered to be potentially fatal" in a healthy individual.

Syrian Troops Push Closer To Major Rebel-Held Northwest Town

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 20:57

Syrian government forces captured two villages in the country's northwest early Wednesday, inching closer to a major rebel-controlled town that was the scene of a deadly 2017 chemical weapons attack, a war monitor and state media reported.
 
The capture of the villages of Tel Aas and Kfar Eyn puts Syrian troops now about 5 kilometers (3 miles) west of Khan Sheikhoun, one of the largest and most populated towns on the southern edge of idlib province, the last remaining rebel stronghold in the country.
 
The town is a stronghold of al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the most powerful group in rebel-held areas. It was the scene of a chemical attack on April 4, 2017 that killed 89 people.
 
At the time, the United States, Britain and France pointed a finger at the Syrian government, saying their experts had found that nerve agents were used in the attack. Days later, the U.S. fired 59 U.S. Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat Air Base in central Syria, saying that the attack on Khan Sheikhoun was launched from the base.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive against main rebel strongholds in the north of Hama province and the southern districts of Idlib since April 30.
 
The three-month campaign of airstrikes and shelling has killed more than 2,000 people on both sides and displaced some 400,000. Over the past days, troops have intensified their offensive, capturing the town of Habeet on Sunday.

The aim of the latest government push appears to be to surround several towns and villages in the rebel-held region of Hama, including the towns of Kfar Zeita and Latamneh, as well as reach Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib.   
 
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked war monitoring group, said Syrian troops captured the two villages early on Wednesday. The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media also said pro-government fighters took the villages after fierce fighting with al-Qaida-linked militants.

“The operation aims to expand regime-controlled area in northern parts of Hama and cut supply lines to rebels,” Yazan Mohammed, a media activist based in Idlib province, told The Associated Press.
 
Sheikh Sami Rahmoun, a commander of the al-Qaida-linked group, released an audio recording late on Tuesday, acknowledging his fighters have lost territory.
 
“Don't worry if we lose an area or two,” he claimed. “We will be victorious.”

Women Expected to Sue Jeffrey Epstein's Estate over Sexual Abuse Claims

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 20:49

Women who say they were sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein are expected to sue the disgraced financier's estate as soon as Wednesday, when a New York law goes into effect that makes it easier for people to file civil lawsuits over sexual abuse.

Epstein, 66, was found unresponsive Saturday morning in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan, having apparently hanged himself, according to federal prison authorities.

Los Angeles attorney Lisa Bloom and New York lawyer Roberta Kaplan told Reuters this past weekend that they intend to file lawsuits in New York against the estate this week.

Kaplan said she hopes to take advantage of the Child Victims Act, a New York state law which opens a one-year window for people to file lawsuits over alleged sexual abuse regardless of how long ago it occurred.

Epstein, who once counted Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic former President Bill Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls between 2002 and 2005. Prosecutors said he recruited girls to give him massages, which became sexual in nature.

The financier had been on suicide watch, but a source familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was not on watch at the time of his death.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday ordered the transfer of the warden at the MCC after condemning "serious irregularities" at the facility.

Trump has called for an investigation into Epstein's death.

Barr also said the criminal investigation into Epstein's alleged sex trafficking and the role of possible co-conspirators would continue.

It is not known if Epstein had a will.

A document filed by Epstein's lawyers last month listed his total assets at about $559 million, including two private islands and four homes. One residence, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is worth an estimated $77 million.

Kaplan represents a woman described in the criminal indictment against Epstein as a minor victim. The unidentified woman was recruited to engage in sex acts with Epstein around 2002, when she was 14, and paid hundreds of dollars for each encounter with the financier, according to the indictment.

Another lawsuit could come from Jennifer Araoz, a woman who said in an interview aired on NBC last month that she was recruited outside her New York City school to spend time with Epstein, and eventually give him massages, when she was 14.

"This week, we intend to pursue justice for our client, Jennifer Araoz, and hold accountable those who enabled Mr. Epstein's criminal activity," Araoz' lawyer, Dan Kaiser, said in a statement on Sunday. "Jennifer deserves her day in court."

Kaiser did not return a request for comment.

Bloom told Reuters she hoped the estate would not be sold off until alleged victims' claims were resolved, and that she would seek a court order to prevent that if necessary.
To obtain damages, alleged victims will need to prove their claims only by a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt as in a criminal case.

 

Autopsy Conducted on Body of British Teen Found in Malaysian Jungle

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 20:12

An autopsy was performed Wednesday on the body of a 15-year-old French-Irish girl who disappeared from a Malaysian jungle resort more than a week ago. The results have not yet been disclosed.

The unclothed body of Nora Anne Quoirin was located Tuesday near a stream about two kilometers from the Dusan resort in Negeri Sembilan state.  Her body was airlifted out of the rainforest transported to a hospital where she was identified by her parents.  

The teenage girl, who had learning and physical disabilities, was reported missing on August 4, a day after her family checked in at the resort located about 70 kilometers from the capital, Kuala Lumpur.  Police classified her as a missing person, but her family suspected she had been kidnapped.

Her family said Nora was "the heart of our family" in a statement issued through The Lucie Blackman Trust, a charity that helps out Britons who are in crisis while traveling overseas.  "The cruelty of her being taken away is unbearable. Our hearts are broken."  

More than 350 people had joined in the search for Nora, backed by helicopters, drones, and sniffer dogs.  Police from Britain, Ireland and France also came to Malaysia to assist in the search. Nora's mother is from Ireland and her father is a Frenchman, but the family has lived in Britain for several years.

Sankara Nair, a Malaysian lawyer hired by the family, told reporters Wednesday the family hopes police will investigate possible every possible angle into Nora's death, including foul play.

 

A$AP Rocky Convicted of Assault in Sweden

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 19:53

A court in Sweden has found American rapper A$AP Rocky guilty of assault but he will not serve any more jail time.

The court on Wednesday gave the rapper a suspended sentence.

A$AP Rocky, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, was arrested with three members of his team after a fight that took place in Stockholm June 30.  
 
Prosecutors alleged that Mayers and two members of his entourage repeatedly punched and kicked the victim during an attack that lasted several minutes. Prosecutors also accuse the rapper of hitting the victim with a glass bottle.

The rapper, who said he was acting in self defense, spent nearly five weeks in detention but was released earlier this month, pending the verdict in his trial.

President Donald Trump attempted to intervene in the case and had urged the release of A$AP Rocky.

 "We do so much for Sweden but it doesn't seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem! #FreeRocky," Trump said in a series of tweets about the matter.

Fresh Flood Alert in Southern India As Monsoon Death Toll Hits 244

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 19:51

India issued a fresh flood alert Wednesday for parts of the southern state of Kerala, as the nationwide death toll from the annual monsoon deluge rose to at least 244.

Authorities warned Kerala locals of heavy rainfall over the next 24-48 hours in some of the worst affected regions of the state popular with tourists.

Heavy rain in parts of four Indian states -- Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat - has forced more than 1.2 million people to leave their homes, mostly for government-run relief camps.

Kerala was hit by its worst floods in almost a century last year, when 450 people died, and the state is still recovering from the damage to public infrastructure including highways, railways and roads.

The state's death toll this monsoon season increased to 95 overnight, with at least 59 people missing, Kerala police told AFP on Wednesday.

At least 58 people have also lost their lives in neighbouring Karnataka state, where authorities have rescued around 677,000 people from flooded regions.

The situation is now improving in Karnataka, however, as waters start to recede, a government official told AFP.

In the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra the death toll reached 91, with hundreds of thousands rescued from inundated regions.

"Our teams have recovered 49 bodies so far from different regions including Sangli, Kolhapur, Satara and Pune, and most deaths were caused due to drowning and wall collapses," Deepak Mhaisekar, divisional commissioner of Pune told AFP.

"The situation is under control now," he added, though the casualty count may increase slightly.

India has deployed the army, navy and air force to work with the local emergency personnel for search, rescue and relief operations.

The monsoon rains are crucial to replenishing water supplies in drought-stricken India, but they kill hundreds of people across the country every year.

UN Urges Reluctant EU Nations to Help Stranded Migrants

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 19:44

The United Nations refugee agency urgently appealed to European governments Tuesday to let two migrant rescue ships disembark more than 500 passengers who remain stranded at sea as countries bicker over who should take responsibility for them.

The people rescued while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa are on ships chartered by humanitarian aid groups that the Italian government has banned from its territory. The archipelago nation of Malta also has refused to let the ships into that country’s ports.

It’s unclear where they might find safe harbor, even though the Italian island of Lampedusa appears closest. About 150 of the rescued passengers have been on the Spanish-flagged charity ship the Open Arms since they were plucked from the Mediterranean 13 days ago.

“This is a race against time,” Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the central Mediterranean, said in a statement. “Storms are coming, and conditions are only going to get worse.”

While the number of migrants reaching Europe by sea has dropped substantially so far this year, the UNHCR says nearly 600 people have died or gone missing in waters between Libya, Italy and Malta in 2019.

The agency said many of the people on the ships “are reportedly survivors of appalling abuses in Libya.” Cochetel said the ships “must be immediately allowed to dock” and their passengers “allowed to receive much-needed humanitarian aid.”

“To leave people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather would be to inflict suffering upon suffering,” the envoy said.

The captain of the Open Arms, Marc Reig, sent a letter Monday to the Spanish Embassy in Malta asking Madrid to grant asylum to 31 minors on his ship. A senior Spanish official said Tuesday that Reig’s request carries no legal weight because the captain doesn’t have authority to seek protection for the minors.

Two charity groups that are operating the Ocean Viking rescue ship — Doctors Without Borders and sea rescue group SOS Mediterranee — also formally asked Italy and Malta to allow the 356 migrants aboard that vessel to be allowed to disembark.

The limbo of the Open Arms and Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking is the latest in a string of standoffs that kept Europe-bound migrants at sea in miserable conditions.

Southern nations that have been the main arrival points since 2015 — notably Italy, but also Malta and Greece — have complained of feeling abandoned by their European Union partners to cope with the influx.

Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, reiterated Tuesday his intent to ensure that the ships don’t enter Italian ports.

Differences among EU member nations over how to manage mass migration have sparked a political crisis in Europe, while attempts to reform the bloc’s asylum system have failed. The issue has been a vote-winner for far-right and populist parties.

The EU’s executive commission said it has urged member countries to take action to resolve the status of the recently rescued passengers and stands ready to offer national governments support but cannot act alone.

“There’s nothing more we can do,” a European Commission spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Chinese Action Against Taiwan Strengthens Clout of Island's Anti-China Leaders

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 19:43

China’s recent squeeze on the Taiwan economy and its international profile is expected to backfire by making Taiwanese ever angrier and endearing them to leaders who oppose Beijing.

Taiwanese will like China less for cutting off self-guided tourism and blocking its citizens from entering a Taipei-based regional film award, analysts and a government official said this week. People upset with China generally vote for anti-China leaders at home, frustrating Beijing’s goal of unifying someday with their self-ruled island.

“In the past, the impact of this sort of attitude [in China] has been very poor,” said You Ying-lung, chairman of the survey research body Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation. “The targets of its criticism would be elected president.”

FILE - Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen attends a ceremony to sign up for Democratic Progressive Party's 2020 presidential candidate nomination in Taipei, Taiwan, March 21, 2019.


Taiwan’s incumbent president, an irritant to China, is running for a second four-year term against a candidate seen as friendlier to the Communist leadership.

Accumulation of pressure

In the latest cases, China’s culture ministry starting August 1 will cut off permits for mainland Chinese people to visit Taiwan as independent travelers. About 82,000 of those travelers normally visit Taiwan every month. Their absence will erode business for inns, eateries and local taxi services.

Last week the Chinese government-controlled China Film News blog said domestic actors and films could no longer compete in the Taiwan-based Golden Horse Awards, an annual Oscars-like event for films from Chinese-speaking Asia. The awards in their 56th year have helped boost the fame of stars such as Jackie Chan.

“The authorities in mainland China must take full responsibility for causing this step backward in people-to-people exchanges,” said Chiu Chui-cheng, spokesman for the Taiwan government’s Mainland Affairs Council. “This incident will make Taiwanese citizens recognize again all the more that China is exerting political pressure on the essence of normal exchanges.”

China-Taiwan ties have weakened since 2016, when President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taipei. Her government won't negotiate on Beijing’s condition that both sides belong to a single China. China regards self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory, to be unified by force someday if needed. Most Taiwanese prefer autonomy, a Taiwan government survey found in January.

Also during Tsai’s term, officials in Taipei say, China has sent military aircraft near Taiwan and persuaded five Taiwanese diplomatic allies to switch allegiance to Beijing.

Common Taiwanese are talking about the film awards and tourism suspension flaps, ruling party lawmaker Lee Chun-yi said. People are getting more upset with China, he added. “The more they push the Taiwanese, the further away they’ll get,” he said.

Cycle of anger

Actions in Beijing that are aimed at warning Taiwan by squeezing its economy or international reputation sometimes have an opposite effect, You said.
Beijing tested missiles in the Taiwan Strait from late 1995 until just before the 1996 Taiwan election, for example. Lee Teng-hui, who advocated keeping a political distance from China, won the election.

The Chinese government said ahead of Taiwan’s 2000 presidential that it would use force if the island’s leaders declined to discuss unification. Chen Shui-bian, another anti-China firebrand, won that race.

By taking action aimed at Taiwan now rather than later, China may avoid influencing the island’s January presidential and parliamentary elections, said Joanna Lei, CEO of the Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank in Taiwan. The campaign is likely to crest in November and December.

“This has got to be carefully weighted,” Lei said. “So even if people are unhappy, by the time November comes, there will be other things and they’re just trying to minimize the potential negative impacts to the extent possible.”

Tsai should get 45% of the presidential election vote, leading her closest rival by nearly five percentage points, the survey research foundation discovered in a July 22 survey.

 

Ex-Treasury Chief: Boris Johnson Wrecking Brexit Deal Chance

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 19:10

The man who was Britain's top finance official until three weeks ago accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government on Wednesday of steering the country toward a damaging no-deal Brexit that isn't backed by Parliament or the voters.
 
Philip Hammond, a Conservative legislator who stepped down as Treasury chief just before Johnson became prime minister last month, said ``leaving the EU without a deal would be just as much a betrayal of the referendum result as not leaving at all.''

 Hammond told the BBC that Johnson had moved from a tough negotiating stance to a “wrecking” one by insisting on changes to the withdrawal agreement between Britain and the EU that the bloc would not accept.

He said that while he believed Johnson wanted a deal, “there are other people around him whose agenda is different” _ an apparent reference to advisers such as Dominic Cummings, one of the architects of the country's 2016 decision to leave the EU.

Johnson has vowed that Britain will leave the EU on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal. He is demanding the EU agree to major changes to the agreement the bloc made with his predecessor, Theresa May. The EU refuses to renegotiate, so a no-deal Brexit appears increasingly likely.

Many economists say that will trigger a recession and cause economic mayhem, with shortages of fresh food and other goods likely as customs checks snarl Britain's ports.

Johnson and other Brexit supporters argue that any short-term turbulence will be outweighed by new economic opportunities once Britain leaves the 28-nation bloc and can strike trade deals around the world _ notably with the United States. Critics note that the EU accounts for almost half of Britain's trade and argue that any new trade deals are likely years away.

Hammond criticized the government for perpetuating “myths” that the British people voted for a no-deal Brexit and that leaving the EU without a negotiated settlement would be painless.
 
“There is no mandate for leaving with no deal,” Hammond said. “It is absurd to suggest that the 52% of people that voted to leave the European Union, all voted to leave with no deal when, in fact ... during the referendum campaign there was virtually no mention made by the leaders of that campaign at all of the possibility of leaving with no deal.”

“A no-deal exit will cause significant harm to the U.K. economy and, potentially, irreparable damage to the union of the United Kingdom,” he added.

A parliamentary showdown over Brexit is looming when lawmakers return from their summer break in early September. Opposition legislators hope to take action to block a no-deal departure _ either by passing legislation or by bringing down the government and triggering an early election. To succeed they will need to persuade Conservatives like Hammond to vote against the government.

Johnson has refused to rule out suspending Parliament if legislators try to delay or prevent Brexit. Hammond said that would “provoke a constitutional crisis.''
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, who controls the day-to-day business of Parliament, said he would seek to prevent the prime minister from overriding Parliament.

“If there is an attempt to circumvent, to bypass or God forbid to close down Parliament, that is anathema to me,” Bercow told an audience at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in comments reported by the Herald newspaper. “I will fight with every breath in my body to stop that happening.”
 

Car Bombs Hit Government Military Base in Southern Somalia

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 19:01

A government military base in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia was struck by car bombs and gunfire on Wednesday, residents said, and the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The incident occurred in Awdhigle, an agricultural district along the Shabelle River, 70 km southwest of the capital Mogadishu.

"We heard two huge blasts and gunfire from the direction of the Somali military base. I saw several soldiers running away from the base to escape but we cannot know how many were killed," Awdhigle elder Aden Abdullahi told Reuters.

 

Pakistan Celebrates Independence Day Amid Tensions With India

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 18:42

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan warned Wednesday India’s recent controversial actions in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territory have endangered the regional peace.

Khan made the statement in connection with his country’s Independence Day celebrations, more than a week after India unilaterally revoked the semi-autonomous status of its portion of the divided Himalayan region.

The Indian government also has deployed tens of thousands of additional troops and placed millions of Kashmiris under an unprecedented security lockdown to quell widespread violent reaction. Restrictions, however, have since reportedly been eased in parts of the region.

“Independence Day is an opportunity for great happiness, but today we are saddened by the plight of our Kashmiri brothers in occupied Jammu and Kashmir who are victims of Indian oppression,” Khan said. “I assure my Kashmiri brothers that we stand with them,” he vowed.

Khan traveled Wednesday to the Pakistani part of of the disputed region, known as Azad Kashmir, to express solidarity with Kashmiris living in the Indian-administered.area.

Islamabad, which controls a part of Kashmir and also claims the region in its entirety, has already expelled the Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, suspended all bilateral trade and public transport links in response to new Delhi’s August 5 decision.

The ensuing developments have significantly escalated tensions between India and Pakistan, both armed with nuclear weapons and have twice gone to full scale wars over Kashmir.

On Tuesday, Pakistan asked the United Nations Security Council to meet over India’s Kashmir-related steps, "in view of the dangerous implications."  Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi claimed Indians have raised border tensions in their bid to divert global attention from the Kashmir crackdown.

“Pakistan will not provoke a conflict. But India should not mistake our restraint for weakness," Qureshi wrote in a letter to the Security Council while calling for the urgent meeting. He insisted the move by India’s Hindu nationalist-led government threatens global peace and could lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide in Kashmir.

”If India chooses to resort again to the use of force, Pakistan will be obliged to respond, in self defense, with all its capabilities," the foreign minister said.

FILE - Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, left, speaks to reporters with Masood Khan, president of Pakistani Kashmir, in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, Aug. 12, 2019.

Qureshi said a day before delivering the letter to members of the Security Council.   China, which also holds a thinly populated high-altitude area of Kashmir, has promised to support the move and will “watch over our interest.” A member of the world body is required to make a formal request for summoning the special session.

Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz of Poland, which is president of the Security Council for August, confirmed to reporters at the U.N. on Tuesday that the council has received a letter from Pakistan and "will discuss that issue and take a proper decision."

Kashmiri Muslims shout slogans during a protest after Eid prayers during a security lockdown in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Aug. 12, 2019.

New Delhi’s revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy blocks the region’s right to frame its own laws and allows non-residents from elsewhere in India to buy property there.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended his actions, saying it would bring prosperity to the region and discourage violence. As part of its Kashmir lockdown, Indian authorities have also detained hundreds of Kashmiri  political leaders.

The security restrictions in India are expected to remain in place at least through Thursday when India celebrates its Independence Day.

The Pakistan government has vowed to observe India’s Independence Day as a “Black Day”, with flags on government buildings flown at half mast to protest against Indian actions in Kashmir.

 

Five Decades Post-Woodstock, Extracting Legacy from Myth

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 18:21

A generation-defining political statement, an epiphany of peace, three chaotic days that altered music history -- the tropes of Woodstock are many, sometimes muddying meaning with myth.

The festival carries significant cultural weight, but decades of rehashing its legend through the lens of nostalgia can leave the legacy of half a million youths partying in the rain feel less like a revolutionary subculture and more like a pop culture cliche.

In 1969, American society was reeling from the draft, anti-Vietnam War protests, race riots and assassinations of figures like Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy -- implicitly setting up Woodstock's peace and love vibes as an antidote to the anger.

"The mood in the country was a little bit like today. There was a sense of violence, of real hatred and division,” said Martha Bayles, a culture and music scholar at Boston College.

Despite the sentimentality of baby boomers, however, Woodstock may strike younger generations as a simple iteration of the "narcissism of the sixties," said Bayles, 71.

In spite of the social and political turmoil of the decade, 1969 was also the last time the U.S. statistically ran a budget surplus until 1998 -- partially thanks to war manufacturing. Education was cheap, and jobs plentiful.

"That was one essence of Woodstock in 1969. Illusory or not, a certain abundance was taken for granted," wrote Jon Pareles, a New York Times pop music critic who attended Woodstock.

"We absolutely thought we were the center of the universe," he wrote. "And afterward, someone else had to clean up the giant mess we left behind."

"Insert the global-warming analogy."

Political influence?

While Woodstock included some obviously political protest songs, Bayles called the popular notion that Woodstock was political a "misunderstanding."

"To the anti-war movement, to the black power movement -- nobody on that side of things saw Woodstock as anything but a joke," Bayles told AFP.

For activists, Woodstock "was a bunch of druggie hippies who were not serious; who didn't understand how grave the situation was," she said. "It was seen as silly and self-indulgent by the hardcore political crowd."

The most politically active artist on the line-up was folk artist Joan Baez, who recalls Woodstock as "a joy festival."

"This three-day hoo-ha is an important thing. But it was not a revolution," she told the New York Times. "A revolution or even social change doesn't happen without the willingness to take risks."

"And the only risk at Woodstock was not being invited."

Musical milestone

But stylistically Bayles said the music that Woodstock brought to the fore lent the festival cultural clout.

It showcased a rock genre rooted in American folk, blues and gospel traditions that gave a generation a common thread despite stark societal fissures.

"The music did unite all the different sectors of that generation," she said. "Working people, elite students, soldiers."

Commercialization and packaging underpin today's festival circuit, but inklings of Woodstock's spirit remain, according to Bayles, who said it was also a precursor to rave culture.

"The power of it really had to do with the music and the crowd," she said. "This illusion that people had that they were all being swept up into some kind of transcendent collective experience."

Industry-wise, Danny Goldberg, who covered the festival for Billboard at age 19, said post-Woodstock, resources were reallocated to promote rock music in a way that hadn't been done before.

"It certainly demonstrated to the big concert promoters, the big record companies, and the big broadcasters, that the audience for what then was called 'underground music' -- kind of album-oriented rock music -- was significantly bigger than had previously been perceived," he said.

"It was certainly an inflection point in the music business."

Beginning of the end

The 1970 release of the more than three-hour Oscar-winning documentary "Woodstock" burnished the festival's image from chaotic mud fest to utopian village of peace.

For Goldberg, 69, the film played a large role in mythologizing Woodstock.

By the time Jimi Hendrix played his now legendary feedback-heavy abstraction of the U.S. national anthem on Monday morning, most people had already left -- but its central place in the movie gave the performance symbolic heft and political undertones, Goldberg said.

"Suddenly and intangibly we kind of expanded the notion of what patriotism was," he said.

Though the hippie movement did leave residues of influence on mainstream culture, like environmental activism or the prevalence of yoga, Goldberg said "it got too big to be a subculture anymore."

"It became an object of satire instead of an object of idealism," he said. "That counterculture aspect of Woodstock's legacy -- it was the end of something, more than the beginning of it."

 

 

Former NBA All Star Pays It Forward to South Sudan's Youth

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 15:56

When he was a child, Luol Deng and his family fled civil war in what would become South Sudan. Deng later became a star in the U.S. National Basketball Association and now uses what he learned on the court to support South Sudanese youth and bring them hope.

Deng is a two-time NBA All-Star who joined the Chicago Bulls in 2004. He played his last game, for the Minnesota Timberwolves, in 2018.

This month, the former NBA player visited the land of his birth, present-day South Sudan. At the Manute Bol Court that his foundation built, he encouraged young players and talked to reporters about the game.

“It’s a tool to take kids off the street but also to occupy them and teach them how to work together, how to communicate, so it’s really more than a sport,” Deng said. 

As a youngster, Deng and his family fled Sudan's civil war and went to Egypt. There, Deng met former NBA center and South Sudanese humanitarian activist Manute Bol, who taught him to play basketball.

In 2015, the Luol Deng Foundation opened the Manute Bol Court in Juba in memory of Bol, who died in 2010.

“I also wanted to dedicate a court after Manute Bol for everything that he’s done for the country. I think that his legacy should always be remembered,” Deng said.

The foundation works with the United Nations refugee agency and NBA Africa to build outdoor basketball courts that bring communities together.

The courts, and Deng’s example, inspire young South Sudanese players like Sandi Abrahm.

“There are some players that are getting scholarships to Europe and America, all because of how they are playing,” Abrahm said.

But Deng told reporters that his foundation is about more than just basketball.  

“We do a lot of other things. For example, we have 10 doctors that we send every year, we’ve been doing it for five years now. They perform surgeries all over South Sudan,” Deng said.

Juma Stephen Lugga is the minister of youth and sport for Jubek State. He says Deng's charity work is invaluable.  

“What Luol is doing is very great and appreciated because it’s bringing hope for our youth and teenagers,” Lugga said.

He says plans for South Sudan include building a basketball academy and including more girls in the program.

Trump Criticizes China's Stance on Trade, But Not on Hong Kong

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 15:44

U.S. President Donald Trump attacked China's trade and financial policies, but refused to criticize Beijing's pressure on Hong Kong. In a speech Tuesday in Pittsburgh, Trump said China has manipulated the World Trade Organization and the Chinese currency to its advantage. But he said tensions between Beijing and Hong Kong are to be resolved between them. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.

Trump Resorts in Indonesia Stirs Allegations of Conflicts of Interest

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 15:42

Donald Trump Jr. promoted two Trump-branded resorts in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on Tuesday, and defended against allegations that the Trump Organization’s global business empire continues to create conflicts of interest for his father’s administration. White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this story.

A Wheelchair that Moves with a Kiss, a Smile or Raised Eyebrows

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 15:37

Getting around in a wheelchair takes some maneuvering, but Wheelie makes it as easy as raising your eyebrows. Tina Trinh reports.

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