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US OKs Possible $314M Missile Deal for S. Korea 

Sun, 05/19/2019 - 03:20
The U.S. State Department has cleared $314 million in possible sales of air defense missiles to South Korea, the Pentagon said, as tensions re-emerge on the Korean Peninsula.    South Korea, a key Asian ally of the United States, asked to buy up to 94 SM-2 missiles used by ships against air threats, along with 12 guidance systems and technical assistance, for a total cost of $313.9 million, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said on its website. The agency, a unit of the Department of Defense, delivered certification on Thursday notifying Congress of the possible sale.    The proposed sale, announced Friday by the Pentagon, comes after North Korea recently criticized South Korea's defense purchases from the United States, including the arrival of the first F-35 stealth aircraft.    With denuclearization talks stalled after a second summit between North Korea and United States broke down in Hanoi in February, North Korea went ahead with more weapons tests this month.    The reclusive North and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, rather than a peace treaty.    South Korea already uses SM-2 missiles developed by Raytheon Co., but is building more missile defense-capable destroyers equipped with the weapon.    North Korea has boasted about its indigenous surface-to-air missiles.    Separately, Japan, another key U.S. ally in the region, was also cleared to buy $317 million worth of medium-range air-to-air missiles from Washington, the DSCA said.

China's Top Diplomat Calls for US Restraint on Trade, Iran 

Sun, 05/19/2019 - 02:14
Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday that recent U.S. words and actions had harmed the interests of China and its enterprises, and that Washington should show restraint, China's Foreign Ministry said.    Speaking to Pompeo by telephone, Wang said the United States should not go "too far" in the current trade dispute between the two sides, adding that China was still willing to resolve differences through negotiations but that the nations should be on an equal footing.    On Iran, Wang said China hoped all parties would exercise restraint and act with caution to avoid escalating tensions. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that Pompeo spoke with Wang and discussed bilateral issues and U.S. concerns about Iran, but she gave no other details.    Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased in recent days, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict. Earlier this week the United States pulled some diplomatic staff from its Baghdad embassy following attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.  Harder line   China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States on Friday, suggesting a resumption of talks between the world's two largest economies would be meaningless unless Washington changed course.    The tough talk capped a week that saw Beijing unveil fresh retaliatory tariffs, U.S. officials accuse China of backtracking on promises made during months of talks, and the Trump administration level a potentially crippling blow against one of China's biggest and most successful companies. The United States announced on Thursday it was putting Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., the world's largest telecom equipment maker, on a blacklist that could make it extremely hard to do business with U.S. companies.     The U.S. Commerce Department then said on Friday that it might soon scale back restrictions on Huawei. It said it was considering issuing a temporary general license to "prevent the interruption of existing network operations and equipment."    Potential beneficiaries of this license could, for example, include telecom providers in thinly populated parts of U.S. states such as Wyoming and Oregon that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years.    On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about state media reports suggesting there would be no more trade negotiations, said China always encouraged resolving disputes with the United States through dialogue and consultations.

Proposed Amendment Would Compel Hong Kong to Hand Criminal Suspects to China

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 22:02
Each week for the last five or six years, a man named Alan crosses into mainland China to work on sales for a packaging factory. His job, and the location, worry him now that Hong Kong is considering a law change that would compel Hong Kong to turn over criminal suspects to mainland China. “Every single business that’s working in China has broken some sort of laws. Every single one of them,” said Alan. He asked that his surname be withheld out of concern for his and his family’s safety. “It’s impossible not to break a law in China when running a business because the laws are so onerous." “I know I’m not wanted, but who knows?” he said. “The whole thing about living in Hong Kong is, there is a certain amount of protection from China.” That protection could soon vanish. A proposed amendment, backed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, would free Beijing to demand that Hong Kong surrender criminal suspects to China to face trial there. Similar concerns were shared in Washington Wednesday. Four democracy activists from Hong Kong urged Congress to pressure the Hong Kong government to shelve proposed changes to the law that would allow Beijing to demand that criminal suspects be extradited to face trial there. In Washington, former Hong Kong lawmakers Martin Lee and Nathan Law reminded the bi-partisan panel, the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, that China’s opaque and political legal system operates without the transparency or standards used in the West. China could get someone on the mainland to swear an affidavit that a suspect had committed an offense and then demand that Hong Kong send the suspect to face prosecution, Lee said. "This goes to the heart of what Hong Kong people truly fear: that those of us who dare speak out to defend human rights and democracy… will risk trumped up arrest, torture and unfair trial in mainland China,” Law said, a lawmaker until 2017 when he was ejected by a court using a controversial legal opinion issued by China’s legislature. "Our generation is especially concerned about being sent to a place that does not respect human rights," he said.   The testimony came days after Hong Kong’s legislature erupted in a brawl when members of the body’s two opposing camps physically battled for control of the bill currently in a legislative committee.   The bill would allow Hong Kong to send criminal suspects to other jurisdictions where the territory does not currently have extradition pacts. That includes Taiwan and China. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, says the change is needed fast, before a Hong Kong man suspected of killing his girlfriend in Taiwan last year is freed. Lawmakers and scholars proposed alternative language, including a proposal for extradition to Taiwan only. The government said Hong Kong needs a broad policy to handle fugitives or the city will become a haven for them. The four guests in Washington made clear that the extradition bill doesn’t only threaten permanent residents who are protected by a Common Law legal system in Hong Kong. Also vulnerable are foreign workers and the 85,000 Americans who live in the former British colony that was surrendered to China in 1997. The commission’s witnesses said the American officials should press Hong Kong’s human rights concerns as the United States continues to negotiate with China about the ongoing battle over tariffs. Lee said if the bill is passed, Hong Kong’s guaranteed rights to free speech and assembly, and a Common Law court, will be finished. “There’s this under-appreciation of what happens in mainland China,” Lee said. “There’s no rule of law. They want to get you, they get you. Period. Your right of appeal is null.” The group made their case on Capitol Hill Wednesday as the bill continues to deeply divide Hong Kong people. Tens of thousands of residents demanded that the bill be shelved and that their chief executive resign as they marched through Hong Kong streets on April 28. It was the largest protest in the Chinese territory since tens of thousands staged a sit-in for free elections in 2014. The committee witnesses mentioned the increasing difficulties faced by Beijing government opponents in Hong Kong. Earlier that day, six pro-democracy activists were convicted of joining an unlawful protest in Hong Kong in 2016 to oppose an imminent constitutional interpretation from Beijing. That rare ruling was triggered by a legal challenge to the oath-taking by eight new lawmakers. Soon after, Beijing required oaths to be delivered “sincerely and solemnly,” as written, with no option to retake them. Hong Kong courts soon used the interpretation retroactively to bar two elected lawmakers from restating their pledges and expelled four legislators who had been sworn in. Lee urged U.S. officials to remind corporations that their freedoms and businesses are threatened with the law. Individuals could face prosecutions and businesses would lose guarantees of a transparent legal system. “They would rather we fight the fight for them,” Lee said. “They don't want to stick their necks out. I reckon the business people must be persuaded to come around. So they understand that human rights are preserved for everybody.”  

Counting Starts in Australian Poll with Opposition Confident

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 17:40
Votes were being counted in Australia's general election on Saturday, with senior opposition lawmakers gaining confidence that they will form a center-left government with a focus on slashing greenhouse gas emissions. A Galaxy exit poll found that the opposition Labor Party could win as many as 82 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form government.   "I feel positive. I feel like we are ahead, but I am more cautiously optimistic than confident,'' Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said.   Voting in Australia's eastern states, where most of the 25 million population lives, ended at 6 p.m. (0800 GMT). Polls close on the west coast two hours later.   Opinion polls suggest the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition will lose its bid for a third three-year term and Scott Morrison will have had one of the shortest tenures as prime minister in the 118-year history of the Australian federation.   Morrison is the conservatives' third prime minister since they were first elected in 2013. He replaced Malcolm Turnbull in a leadership ballot of government colleagues in August.   Morrison began the day campaigning in the island state of Tasmania in seats he hopes his party will win from the center-left Labor Party opposition. He then flew 900 kilometers (560 miles) home to Sydney to vote and to campaign in Sydney seats.   Opposition leader Bill Shorten had said Saturday morning that he was confident Labor would win, but Morrison would not be drawn on a prediction.   "Tonight the votes will be counted up and we'll see what the outcome is. I make no assumptions about tonight,'' Morrison said after casting his vote.   Outside the polling booth, Morrison was approached by a demonstrator protesting the proposed Adani coal mine that the government recently approved. But security intercepted her before she could reach the prime minister.   Shorten contained his campaigning to polling centers in his home town of Melbourne, where he voted Saturday morning.   Shorten said he expected that Labor would start governing from Sunday. He said his top priorities would be to increase wages for low-paid workers, hike pay rates for working Sundays and reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.   "The world will know that if Labor gets elected, Australia's back in the fight against climate change,'' he said.   Shorten has been campaigning hard on more ambitious targets to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.   Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas. It is also one of the world's worst carbon gas polluters per capita because of a heavy reliance on coal-fired electricity.   As the driest continent after Antarctica, it is also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as wildfires and destructive storms.   The government has committed Australia to reduce its emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has promised a 45% reduction in the same time frame.   Shorten, a 52-year-old former labor union leader, has also promised a range of reforms, including the government paying all of a patients' costs for cancer treatment and a reduction of tax breaks for landlords.   Morrison, a 51-year-old former tourism marketer, said he had closed Labor's lead in opinion polls during the five-week campaign and predicted a close result.   Morrison promises lower taxes and better economic management than Labor.   An opinion poll published in The Australian newspaper on Saturday put Labor ahead of the conservatives 51.5% to 48.5. The Newspoll-brand poll was based on a nationwide survey of 3,038 voters from Monday to Friday. It has a 1.8 percentage point margin of error.   Political analyst William Bowe said it was unclear how the greater support for Labor evident in polls would translate into seats.   He said the conservatives had been "trying to plot a narrow path to victory'' by targeting their campaigning on vulnerable Labor seats in Sydney, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.   A factor that was not fully reflected in the latest poll was the death Thursday night of former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke. He is widely praised for the economic reforms that his government achieved from 1983 until 1991, and his support for Shorten was expected to boost Labor's vote.   Both major parties are promising that whoever wins the election will remain prime minister until he next faces the voters' judgment. The parties have changed their rules to make the process of lawmakers replacing a prime minister more difficult.   During Labor's last six years in office, the party replaced Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his deputy Julia Gillard, then dumped her for Rudd.    

North Korea Asks UN to Address Ship Seizure by ‘Gangster’ US

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 14:42
North Korea has asked United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deal with the “illegal” seizure of one of its cargo ships by the United States, state media said Saturday. “This act of dispossession has clearly indicated that the United States is indeed a gangster country that does not care at all about international laws,” the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations said in a letter sent to Guterres dated Friday, according to North Korea’s KCNA news agency. Pyongyang’s protest to the United Nations over the seizure comes amid mounting tensions since a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, aimed at bringing about the denuclearization of the North, broke down in Hanoi in February. The letter also called for “urgent measures” by Guterres and claimed that Washington infringed the North’s sovereignty and violated U.N. charters. With the denuclearization talks stalled, North Korea went ahead with more weapons tests this month. The tests were seen as a protest by Kim after Trump rejected his calls for sanctions relief at the Hanoi summit. North Korea has said the ship seizure violated the spirit of the summit and demanded the return of the vessel without delay. The U.S. Justice Department said the North Korean cargo ship, known as the “Wise Honest,” was seized and impounded to American Samoa. The vessel was accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of sanctions and was first detained by Indonesia in April 2018.

Lawbreakers to Lawmakers? The 'Criminal Candidates' Standing in India's Election

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 11:49
India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has one unwanted lead in this month's general election race - according to data from an electoral watchdog it is fielding the most candidates among the major parties who are facing criminal charges. Its main rival, Congress, is just a step behind. Election laws allow such candidates to run so long as they have not been convicted, on grounds both of fairness and because India's criminal justice system moves so slowly that trials can take years, or even decades, to be resolved. Still, the number of such candidates accused of offenses ranging from murder to rioting has been rising with each election. Analysts say political parties turn to them because they often have the deepest pockets in steadily costlier elections, and that some local strongmen are seen as having the best chance of winning. Nearly one-in-five candidates running for parliament in the current election has an outstanding criminal case against them, inching up from 17% in the previous election and 15% in 2009, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-profit organization that analyzed candidates' declarations. The data shows that 40% candidates from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP face criminal charges, including crimes against women and murder, followed by the Congress party at 39%. Among the smaller parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has an even higher proportion, with 58 percent of its candidates embroiled in criminal cases. Polls have suggested that the BJP and its allies lead the race to win the mammoth, staggered election that began last month and ends on Sunday. Votes will be counted on Thursday. ​"Parties only think about winnability and they know that money power and muscle power of such candidates ensures that win," said Anil Verma, head of the ADR. With 240 cases against him, K Surendran of the BJP tops the list of candidates with the most outstanding criminal complaints that include rioting, criminal trespass and attempted murder. He said most of the cases stem from his involvement in theBJP campaign to oppose the entry of women and girls of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple in his home state of Kerala. "I understand that an outsider might feel that I am a grave offender but, in reality, I am completely innocent of these charges," he said. "It was all politically motivated." Dean Kuriakose from the Congress party has 204 criminal cases against him, the second highest, the data showed. Most of the cases were related to a political agitation against the ruling Communist Party in Kerala, which turned violent. He was not available for comment. But a party spokesman said Kuriakose was innocent. "He was falsely charged by the police under influence from Kerala government," the spokesman said.  Political analysts say that often people vote for candidates who face criminal charges because they are seen as best placed to deliver results. In some parts of India local strongmen mediate in disputes and dispense justice. "Powerful people, even if criminals, offer a kind of parallel system of redressal," said K.C. Suri, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad. A separate ADR survey of more than 250,000 voters last year found 98% felt candidates with criminal backgrounds should not be in parliament, though 35% said they were willing to vote for such a candidate on caste grounds or if the candidate had done "good work" in the past.

Chinese Entrepreneurs Assess Impact of Trade Tensions with US

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 11:49
Trade tensions between the United States and China are deepening. After months of talks, the two sides appear no closer to reaching a deal. VOA spoke with business owners in southern China about the toll from the prolonged standoff. VOA Mandarin Service reporter Ye Bing has more from Guangdong.

Australian Voters Tipped to Elect Labor Government

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 09:02
Australians began voting in a federal election on Saturday, with bookies predicting a return to power for the Labor party after six years in the political wilderness and a campaign in which it has put climate change and tax reform at the top of its agenda. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made economic management the centerpiece of the campaign for his conservative Liberal-National coalition, which has held power since 2013. Poll opened at 8 a.m. (2200 GMT on Friday) and will close at 6 p.m. (0800 GMT). Voting is compulsory in Australia and the result should be known on Saturday evening. The campaign ended on a sombre note, with the death on Thursday of the popular former prime minister and Labor stalwart Bob Hawke. Hawke, who was prime minister from 1983 to 1991, was 89. While it seems unlikely that Hawke's death will have any impact on how voters cast their ballots, Labor leader Bill Shorten said it had made him more determined than ever. "I already feel a responsibility to millions of people to win. But sure, I want to do it for Bob as well. I don't want to let his memory down," Shorten told Channel Nine. Shorten seems to have struck a chord with voters who feel financially left behind and are worried about the environment with his promise to cut both generous tax concessions enjoyed by the wealthy and greenhouse gases. Morrison has criticized Labor's policy as an attack on people's aspirations. A final opinion poll conducted by Newspoll for The Weekend Australian on Friday showed Labor's lead over the National-Liberal coalition at 51.5% to 48.5%. "I am nervous because it's a big day, it's a very big deal," Shorten said on Saturday. "But I'm confident that we have done the homework." Shorten will vote in Melbourne in his seat of Maribyrnong, while Morrison is spending the day visiting polling booths in Tasmania before heading home to Sydney to vote. Opinion polls indicate that Morrison has narrowed Labor's lead during the campaign, but many voters are still angry about the ousting of his socially moderate predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, in a backbench revolt last August. Turnbull was the second prime minister to be ousted while in office by the ruling Liberal Party amid deep divisions over climate and energy policy. While polls show most Australians support stronger action to tackle climate change, Morrison's coalition strongly supports the coal industry. Morrison has said Australia would meet its commitment under the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 26% and 28% on 2005 levels, but says more ambitious targets would damage the economy. Shorten said that, if elected, his government would aim to cut carbon emissions by 45% from 2005 levels by 2030, with net zero emissions by 2050. With about 17 million eligible voters, the Electoral Commission is operating more than 7,000 polling stations in venues such as surf clubs, schools and public halls. There will also be about 90 voting centers overseas. A time difference of two hours between the east and west coasts means voting centers in Western Australia will still be open as the initial counts start coming on the populous east coast.

US Jakarta Embassy Issues Security Warning for Indonesia

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 07:47
The American Embassy in Jakarta has issued a security warning for Americans in Indonesia, citing concerns over the official announcement of the results of the Indonesian presidential and legislative elections on May 22 by the General Election Commission (KPU). "Indonesian police officials have publicly cited a heightened risk of terrorism in connection with the finalization of election results, and media has reported recent arrests of Indonesians on terrorism charges," the embassy posted on its website on Friday.  Be aware of demonstrations The American Embassy also warned of ongoing demonstrations at several offices related to the elections and around several public places in downtown Jakarta, including offices of KPU and the General Elections Supervisory Board (BAWASLU). Demonstrations are also expected in several other cities, such as Surabaya in East Java and Medan in North Sumatra.  The warning coincided with an announcement by Inspector General Mohammad Iqbal of the National Police Public Relations Division, who said at a press conference that nine people had been arrested earlier in the week in connection with a plot to bomb several unspecified locations during the current election period. The suspects, aged between 24 and 45, are from a Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) terrorist cell in Central Java. Arrested Tuesday, six of the suspects had returned home after traveling to the Middle East to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, according to authorities quoted by the Straits Times.  68 suspects arrested since start of year Since January, Indonesia's Anti-Terror Detachment-88 has arrested 68 terrorism suspects, including the nine taken into custody this week, Iqbal said at the press conference. Seven were shot dead and one died after blowing himself up as he was about to be arrested in Sibolga, North Sumatra, Iqbal said, adding, "This group will take advantage of the democracy momentum because for them democracy is not in line with their understanding, and for them it is a target for their actions."  On April 17, Indonesians voted in the first simultaneous elections since the country began democratic elections, with 193 million voters going to more than 810,000 polls. The first democratic presidential election took place in 2004.  The results, according to early returns, showed that incumbent President Joko Widodo defeated his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, a retired military general associated with the traditional political elite, who had vowed to challenge the official results if they confirmed that Widodo would have a second term. Widodo is the first Indonesian president from outside the Jakarta elite.

US Says It May Scale Back Some Huawei Trade Restrictions

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 07:08
The U.S. Commerce Department may soon scale back restrictions on Huawei Technologies after this week's blacklisting made it nearly impossible for the Chinese company to purchase goods made in the United States, a  department spokeswoman said Friday.  The Commerce Department may issue a temporary general license to allow time for companies and people who have Huawei equipment to maintain reliability of their communications networks and equipment, the spokeswoman said.  The possible general license would not apply to new transactions, according to the spokeswoman, and would last for 90 days.  A spokesman for Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  The Commerce Department on Thursday added Huawei to a list of entities that are banned from doing business with U.S. companies without licenses.  The entities list identifies companies believed to be involved in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.  Potential beneficiaries of the temporary license could include internet access and mobile phone service providers in thinly populated places such as Wyoming and eastern Oregon that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years. 

Stateless Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh Receive Identity Documents for First Time

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 03:45
Bangladeshi authorities and the U.N. refugee agency have registered more than a quarter million Rohingya refugees and presented them with identity documents that grant them a number of rights and safeguards.  Unlike citizens of a country, stateless people have few rights. They may be deprived of an education, a job or health care. Those who are not registered at birth have no identity. That is the situation for millions of Rohingya who were stripped of their citizenship in neighboring Myanmar in 1982. Many of them are sheltering in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, after fleeing killings and persecution in Myanmar. Change for better For most of the more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, things are about to change for the better. The U.N. refugee agency says the more than 270,000 Rohingya refugees who have completed the registration process have for the first time ever received an identity card.    UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says the ID card includes a photo and key information, such as name, date of birth and place of birth. It also indicates Myanmar as the country of origin. "The first and foremost purpose of this registration is humanitarian in order to safeguard their right to return, to regulate their stay and also to make sure that we do not know only how many people there are, that we have a detailed profile which allows us with the more accurate data to deliver far better assistance to this massive refugee population," Mahecic said.  Mahecic says the UNHCR and Bangladeshi authorities hope to complete the registration process for the entire refugee population by November. He cites a number of benefits associated with having an ID card. Target assistance Mahecic says the data will allow aid agencies to target assistance to people in acute need, including women and children heading families and people with disabilities. With the monsoon season approaching, he says the registration data will help reunite families who are separated during storms.   He notes the refugees are ripe for exploitation by smugglers and traffickers. Mahecic says the ID card will help authorities combat that nefarious trade.

Australian Leader Says 2 Rwandans No Longer Massacre Suspects

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 23:37
Australia's prime minister said on Friday that two Rwandan refugees who resettled in Australia after 15 years in U.S. detention are no longer suspects in the massacre of eight tourists in Uganda 20 years ago. U.S. news outlet Politico reported that former Hutu rebels Leonidas Bimenyimana and Gregoire Nyaminani spent more than a decade in a Virginia state jail before Australia accepted them last year. The transfer was part of a refugee swap deal in which the United States agreed to resettle up to 1,250 refugees who Australia banishes to immigration camps on the poor Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said both men had been cleared of suspicion in the ax and machete slayings of four Britons, two Americans and two New Zealanders who were in a Ugandan wild park in 1999 to see mountain gorillas. "These specific allegations were reviewed by our security agencies and by our immigration authorities and they were not found to be upheld," Morrison said. "As a result, they were allowed to come to Australia." The questions over the potential threat posed by the refugees are embarrassing for a conservative government that is running for reelection on Saturday on a platform of tougher policies on border protection than their center-left Labor Party opponents. The government argues that Labor would allow criminals who traveled to Australia by boat without documentation to stay as refugees. Morrison said both men had undergone security and character assessments as well as investigations into whether they were associated with war crimes. Morrison said: "I know what the claims are. But the claims and facts are different." Relatives of the massacre victims are angry with the deal. DeAnne Haubner Norton's older brother Rob Haubner, 48, and sister-in-law Susan Miller, 42, were both senior executives of Intel Corp. from Oregon who were killed during their honeymoon. Haubner Norton told Australian Broadcasting Corp. the refugee swap deal was "clearly bad and a dud." The two Rwandans "say, `I don't want to go to Rwanda; I don't want them to hurt me,"' Haubner Norton said. "Well, my brother was probably saying the same thing as [they] were taking a weapon to him." Scottish-born Australian David Roberts' 23-year-old son Steven Roberts was also killed. The son was a British citizen who lived in the Australian city of Melbourne. The father, who lives in the Australian city of Perth, called for whoever wins the election to review the decision to allow the Rwandans to settle in Australia. Roberts said he found it hard to believe that Australia would accept two men with such serious allegations against them in return for refugees held on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island who have no criminal pasts. "The people they had on Manus Island were innocent people, they weren't criminals or murderers," Roberts said. Senior Labor lawmaker Tony Burke said that if his party wins the election, his government would seek immediate briefings from security agencies "to find out what on earth has happened."    After the 1999 massacre, U.S. prosecutors charged the men under terrorism statutes, extradited them from Rwanda and demanded federal deaths penalties. But a Washington judge ruled in 2006 that the men's confessions were obtained through torture in Rwandan detention and the case was dropped.    The men had previously admitted to being members of the Congo-based Liberation Army of Rwanda, which has since changed its name to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda _ a rebel group consisting of former Hutu militiamen and soldiers responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and which continued to fight against the Tutsi-dominated government in Kigali. It is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S.  Both men fought against being returned to Rwanda, but did not have a right to remain in the United States.    Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced at former U.S. President Barack Obama's Leaders' Summit on Refugees in 2016 that Australia would participate in the U.S.-led program to resettle Central American refugees from a camp in Costa Rica. Australia also increased its refugee intake by 5,000 to 18,750 a year.    It later became apparent that Obama had agreed to accept Australia's refugees who by then had been languishing on the Pacific islands for three years.    President Donald Trump reluctantly agreed to honor the deal, which he described as "dumb," when he took office in 2017. But Trump promised the refugees would be subject to "extreme vetting" before they were accepted by the United States.    Fewer than 500 refugees have since found new homes in the United States under the deal.

After Huawei Blow, China Says US Must Show Sincerity for Talks

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 20:30
The United States must show sincerity if it is to hold meaningful trade talks, China said on Friday, after U.S. President Donald Trump dramatically raised the stakes with a potentially devastating blow to Chinese tech giant Huawei. China has yet to say whether or how it will retaliate against the latest escalation in trade tension, although state media has taken an increasingly strident tone, with the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily publishing a front-page commentary that evoked the patriotic spirit of past wars. China's currency slid to its weakest in almost five months, although losses were capped after sources told Reuters that the central bank would ensure the yuan did not weaken past the key 7-per-dollar level in the immediate term. The world's two largest economies are locked in an increasingly acrimonious trade dispute that has seen them level escalating tariffs on each other's imports in the midst of negotiations, adding to fears about risks to global growth and knocking financial markets. Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about state media reports suggesting there would be no more U.S.-China trade talks, said China always encouraged resolving disputes between the two countries with dialog and consultations. "But because of certain things the U.S. side has done during the previous China-U.S. trade consultations, we believe if there is meaning for these talks, there must be a show of sincerity," he told a daily news briefing. The United States should observe the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, and they must also keep their word, Lu said, without elaborating. On Thursday, Washington put telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, one of China's biggest and most successful companies, on a blacklist that could make it extremely difficult for the telecom giant to do business with U.S. companies. That followed Trump's decision on May 5 to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, a major escalation after the two sides appeared to have been close to reaching a deal in negotiations to end their trade battle. 'Wheel of destiny' China can be expected to make preparations for a longer-term trade war with the United States, said a Chinese government official with knowledge of the situation. "Indeed, this is an important moment, but not an existential, live-or-die moment," the official said. "In the short term, the trade situation between China and the United States will be severe, and there will be challenges. Neither will it be smooth in the long run. This will spur China to make adequate preparations in the long term." The impact of trade friction on China's economy is "controllable," the state planner said on Friday, pledging to take countermeasures as needed, Meng Wei, a spokeswoman for the National Development and Reform Committee (NDRC), told a media briefing. The South China Morning Post, citing an unidentified source, reported that a senior member of China's ruling Communist Party said the trade war with the United States could reduce China's 2019 growth by 1 percentage point in the worst-case scenario. Wang Yang, the fourth-most senior member of the Communist Party's seven-member Standing Committee, the top decision-making body, told a delegation of Taiwan businessmen on Thursday that the trade war would have an impact but would not lead to any structural changes, the paper said, citing an unidentified source who was at the meeting. One company that says it has been making preparations is Huawei's Hisilicon unit, which purchases U.S. semiconductors for its parent. Its president told staff in a letter on Friday that the company had been secretly developing back-up products for years in case Huawei was one day unable to obtain the advanced chips and technology it buys from the United States. "Today, the wheel of destiny has turned and we have arrived at this extreme and dark moment, as a super-nation ruthlessly disrupts the world's technology and industry system," the company president said in the letter. The letter was widely shared on Chinese social media, gaining 180 million impressions in the few hours after it was published on the Weibo microblogging site. "Go Huawei! Our country's people will always support you," wrote one Weibo user after reading the letter.

Trade Tensions Seen Tightening Job Market for Chinese Graduates

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 19:30
A record number of 8.34 million university graduates are set to enter the Chinese job market this summer amid escalating trade tensions between Washington and Beijing. Observers say that as China’s export-dependent economy braces for more hits from tariff hikes, which U.S. President Donald Trump recently imposed, the country’s job markets will be tighter for everyone including fresh graduates. And the impact of a job mismatch among college graduates has long weighed on their actual employment rate at only 52% this year, according to a recent survey. That means more than 4 million graduates will soon join the ranks of those unemployed, although many of them may opt to pursue higher education, the survey found. Tightening job market “Graduate employment has always been problematic in China. Given the current situation with the trade war, I think we should expect it to be even more so this year,” said Geoffrey Crothall, spokesperson at China Labor Bulletin. “And there’s always been a mismatch between the expectations of graduates, the reality of the job markets and particularly the expectations of employers,” he added. Graduates will either take longer to find a job or settle with one that has lower pay or poor career prospects, Crothall said. Making matters worse, the number of job opportunities in China is on the wane as China tries to move away from labor-intensive industries, said Wang Zhangcheng, head of the Labor Economics Institute at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law. “The transformation of industrial structure and the U.S.-China trade war [is making the situation worse]. Also, China’s economy no longer grows at a fast pace. Instead, it has matured with mid- to low-paced growths. Under such circumstances, the demand for labor has declined,” Wang said. “Plus, many jobs have been replaced by robots as a result of the development of artificial intelligence in the past two years. That surely adds pressure on job seekers,” he added. Fewer jobs, more seekers A recent report by Renmin University of China (RUC) and career platform Zhaopin.com found that the number of job seekers in China grew 31% year-on-year in the first quarter – the highest growth in workers since 2011 -- while the number of job vacancies shrank by 11% at the same time. China’s job market prosperity index has dropped to a record low since 2014, it concluded. However, the latest available state statistics paint a slightly different picture. Official data showed that China’s surveyed unemployment rate in urban areas stood at 5.2% in March, down 0.1 percentage points from February. Analysts described the country’s job markets as “stable overall” although the surveyed unemployment rate in 31 major cities went up 0.1 percentage points month-on-month, to 5.1% in March – the highest since late 2016. Still, China’s State Council has made “saving jobs” one of its top policy priorities since late last year, offering incentives for firms with no or few layoffs and subsidies for internships or on-the-job training. And college graduates remain a focal point of the council’s employment stabilization plan, along with migrants and laid-off workers. Distorted graduate employment China used to boast a graduate employment rate of more than 90% as universities rushed graduates to sign so-called “tripartite employment agreements” with potential employers. Any refusal may risk their chances of thesis defense or diplomas. Such agreements are nonbinding on the employers to offer jobs, but distort the overall graduate employment rate, which has allowed universities to attract new students – a fraud that the Ministry of Education now forbids. In a recent notice, the ministry has disallowed universities from withholding graduates’ degree certificates if they refuse to sign such agreements. In spite of the ban, graduates still complain about “being forcefully employed.” On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, one user wrote, “Our school still forces you to sign the agreements. The career adviser calls every day, pulling a long face.” Another student from Rizhao Polytechnic in Shandong province noted, “Those who have signed the agreements have completed their thesis defense while many of us who haven’t signed the agreements can do nothing but wait.” One user urged that unless the government writes the ban into law and imposes penalties, no universities would comply. Job mismatch Another cause of concern for graduate employment is the long-standing mismatch between the knowledge and skills students have acquired from years of studies in universities, and the private sector’s actual job requirements, professor Wang said. Given the shifts of production paradigms and “widening structural gaps in labor forces allocations, many of our universities have set up professional courses which may not keep up with the changing [requirements] of the labor markets. That leads to the scenario that many graduates may not find the right career fit for their skills,” the professor said. As a solution, the education ministry has encouraged universities to focus on fundamentals by providing multifaceted cultivation of talents, so graduates leaving school will meet what different jobs require.

South Korea Waits Out US-China Trade War

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 17:55
Juhyun Lee contributed to this report. SEOUL -- As U.S. President Donald Trump intensifies his trade battle with China, one of the hardest-hit countries could be South Korea. Asia’s fourth-largest economy, South Korea is especially vulnerable to the tariff war because of its reliance on foreign trade -- in particular, exports to its two biggest trading partners: China and the United States. After U.S.-China trade talks broke down, Trump last week raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, and threatened to do so with $300 billion more. China retaliated with tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods. The trade war escalation, which rattled markets and threatened to hold back global growth, comes at an especially bad time for South Korea, whose economy unexpectedly contracted in the first quarter. “South Korea is particularly vulnerable,” says Xu Xiao Chun, an economist who monitors South Korea for Moody’s Analytics. “It’s not inconceivable that you could see a second consecutive quarter of contraction of GDP, which would make it a technical recession.” Trade war exacerbates tech woes As the world's leading producer of memory chips that go into consumer electronics, such as cellphones and computers, South Korea benefited from years of rapid and consistent growth in the global smartphone market. But global demand for smartphones has plateaued. That, combined with a slowdown in China and sluggish global growth, has hurt South Korea’s export-driven economy. In April, South Korea’s exports declined for the fifth consecutive month, falling 2% compared to the same period a year earlier. “South Korea’s economy was already going down the wrong path... but the latest escalation in the trade war really puts a spanner (obstacle) in the works,” Xu said. South Korea was always likely to be hurt by the U.S.-China trade war just by virtue of its proximity to China, its biggest trading partner and top export destination. South Korea’s exports to China could be cut by about $1.3 billion a year, said An Sung-bae with the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. But the U.S.-China tariffs also pose a more specific threat to South Korea’s crucial semiconductor industry. Here’s how it works: South Korea sends semiconductors to China, where they are placed into smartphones and other electronics. China then ships many of those assembled products to the United States. Trump’s tariffs could drastically raise the price of those electronics. For example, the cost of an iPhone XS could go up by around $160 if Trump follows through on all his tariff threats, one analyst at Morgan Stanley estimated. Those higher prices would result in fewer shipments of electronics from China to the United States. Which means South Korea would be selling a lot fewer semiconductors to China. That could put a major dent in South Korea’s economy, since semiconductors make up nearly half of its total shipments to China. “Companies that mainly target the Chinese market will suffer... and the South Korean export business relies heavily on the Chinese market,” said Mun Byung-Ki, a senior researcher at the Korea International Trade Association. A bright spot? But some analysts say the situation may not be that dire. One reason: even if South Korean exports to China decline, it may make up the gap by shipping more products to the United States -- a situation that could potentially provide a major boom for South Korea’s tech industry. Alex Holmes, a Singapore-based analyst at Capital Economics, says that already may be happening. Though South Korea's overall export numbers are suffering, its shipments to the United States are growing, he says. That’s particularly the case for Korean electronics that fall under U.S. tariffs. Those tariffed goods have well out-performed non-tariffed items, Holmes says, “which suggests that U.S. companies have already switched suppliers as a result of tariffs.” The increased shipments to the United States almost cover the equivalent hit South Korea has taken as a result in the falling Chinese demand, Holmes adds. Manufacturing shift? The tariffs could also have a long-term impact on manufacturing in Asia, as companies shift their production bases away from China as a way to shield themselves from the trade war. A growing number of Asian companies, including some South Korean memory chipmakers, have already begun shifting their manufacturing centers to fast-growing and cheaper countries in Southeast Asia. “If South Korea wants to find cheaper factories in say Vietnam or one of the ASEAN countries, it could make its money back or potentially even grow more than it would have if it relied on Chinese manufacturing,” Xu said. "But those sort of actions take a lot of time, a lot of capital, and there is a lot of risk involved.” With no end in sight to the U.S.-China trade tensions, it’s a pattern that could be repeated, threatening China's reputation as a low-cost production base. “The knock-on effect of this trade war will be to locate a lot more production capabilities in other countries in Asia,” Xu said.

South Korean, 3 Filipinos Freed After Months in Libya

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 16:25
A South Korean and three Filipinos have been freed following months of captivity in Libya, Seoul and Abu Dhabi said Friday. The release of the hostages was mediated by the United Arab Emirates, which worked with the self-styled Libyan National Army led by commander Khalifa Hifter. Since last month, Hifter’s forces have been battling in western Libya, trying to take the capital of Tripoli and have been locked in heavy fighting in and around the city with militias loosely allied with a U.N.-supported government. Several Arab countries, including the UAE and Egypt are backing Hifter. The UAE’s foreign ministry said the four hostages, who were held captive by unnamed armed groups in Libya, have been released thanks to “intensive efforts” made by the UAE in coordination with Hifter’s forces. Civil engineers The four are civilian engineers who were working at a desalination plant in Libya, the ministry said in a statement. “Upon receiving requests from the Philippines and South Korea, the UAE communicated with the Libyan National Army to work on releasing them and to ensure their safety,” the statement said. South Korea’s presidential office issued a similar announcement. Presidential national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said in a televised briefing that South Korea thanks the UAE government for the rescue efforts. The UAE ministry said the four were airlifted to Abu Dhabi before being taken to their home countries. Chung said the 62-year-old South Korean national surnamed Joo was freed after 315 days of captivity. An initial medical checkup showed Joo has no major health problems; he was to return home on Saturday. Both UAE and South Korean announcements didn’t provide details about how the hostages were set free or which armed groups held them. The pro-Hifter Al Marsad news website reported Friday that the hostages were moved from one “criminal gang” to another before Hifter’s forces located and freed them. No other details were reported.

In Trade War, How Much Can Beijing Fight Back?

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 16:12
China’s retaliatory measures against the United States in their ongoing trade war have raised questions about the limitations of Beijing’s ability to fight back. Beijing’s retaliation did not match the size of Washington’s action of raising tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. China has imposed additional taxes on a wide range of American goods worth $60 billion. But Beijing has left out some crucial goods from enhanced taxation. They include technology-related products and farm commodities like soy beans. Most of the American products covered by additional taxation will see tariffs rising to 15-20% while only a few will be taxed at 25%. “Beijing wants to minimize the domestic economic impact caused by tariff retaliation. Thus, commodities that might cause greater domestic repercussions have been excluded,” said Zhengyuan Bo, the Beijing-based analyst for consulting firm GRisk. US pork takes a hit But China is showing its muscle in other ways. Chinese buyers are cutting back on imports of American pork to the extent of $6.5 billion. This will seriously hurt U.S. pork farmers because China is the second biggest importer of American pork. Few expected China to take this measure at a time when its domestic pig farms have been hit by African swine fever. Some reports said Chinese pig breeders are at risk of losing one-third of their livestock. “As a result of the African swine flu outbreak in China, the supply of pork has been affected. In April, pork prices surged by 14.4 percent. In order to push down prices, China will need to import more pork,” said Max Zenglein, head of economic research at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, or Merics, in Berlin. But imports may prove to be difficult because Beijing has cut down on imports from the U.S. and neighboring Vietnam has also been hit by the pig disease. China’s Communist leaders are gauging the extent of sacrifices that Chinese consumers are willing to make at a time when the country in engaged in a bitter trade war, analysts said. Technology mostly off-limits China is in no mood to take chances with the supply of crucial American technology, which is essential for the survival and growth of hundreds of Chinese companies and joint ventures involving local and U.S. firms. This is why Beijing has spared many technology-related products in its decision to impose additional taxes. “Technology is one of the core issues that Beijing is targeting to support high-value jobs and eventually push up the income curve, much like Japan and Korea,” said Mark Tanner, managing director of research firm China Skinny. On top of these measures, China has offered the advantage of tax exclusion for domestic companies that have been hardest hit by the U.S. trade action. The government will subsidize some of the additional import costs, particularly in the import of technology related products. Non-tariff aggression Analysts said China may have limited capability for tit-for-tat taxing of U.S. goods, but it has other equally strong ways of pressuring Washington. One of them is its ability to get the Chinese public to adhere to what the authorities want, even if they have to reduce purchases of highly taxed American goods. “China doesn’t have to reduce demand for foreign products through tariffs. It can simply direct that purchases be stopped,” said Doug Barry, an executive with U.S.-China Business Council. Zenglein of Merics said, “Although China imports less from the U.S., American companies are heavily invested in the market and generate significant profits there. This gives China considerable leverage.” Chinese authorities also could consider putting pressure on American businesses operating in China by cutting back on its own buying of U.S. products. Beijing recently moved away from buying U.S.-made Boeing aircraft after two accidents and enhanced its purchase of Airbus jets made in France. “China also has non-tariff options for making life distressing for U.S. business people, such as more frequent inspections, costly audits, national security reviews and other forms of harassment,” Barry said. Barry said the U.S. industry is heavily dependent on Chinese manufacturers for a wide range of goods and parts, which cannot be easily substituted by supplies from other countries. Chinese companies are accustomed to the requirements of American users after decades of mutual dealings — something other markets cannot learn in a hurry, he said. The question remains, however, whether Beijing would use this as leverage, because cutting off supplies from China would hurt its companies and cause large-scale disruptions and unemployment.

Mass Weddings Planned as Taiwan OKs Asia’s First Same-Sex Marriage Law

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 15:08
Hsu Pei-chieh and her partner Yang Hsun are tired of trying to explain their relationship to everyone else. They’re going steady and share everything down to a parking pass. Hsu, 30, and Yang, 29, want to tell the outside world they’re spouses because they already call each other “wife.” People will get it if the couple can give their relationship a “name,” said Hsu, a Taipei office worker. The pair has also worked with Taiwan’s 20-year-old LGBT movement, which is unusually vibrant for Asia because of free speech protections and lack of a strong organized religion. Thanks to that movement, parliament approved Asia’s first bill Friday to legalize same-sex marriage along with a suite of legal protections, such as insurance and inheritance benefits. “Today, with the passage of the law, I believe it’s got major significance for gender equality and even for the values of broader diversity,” said Hung Ya-li, deputy head of the Taiwan-based Garden of Hope Foundation’s civic dialogue office. “It wasn’t easy to get here.” Hsu and Yang expect marriage to qualify them for joint travel insurance, faster tax filing and the rights to raise children together. They’re talking about one child, maybe two. “The two of us haven’t actually run into any huge issues, but when little things come up, they can be troubling,” Hsu said. “It takes a lot of effort and energy to handle the accumulation of things that come up living together.” First in Asia Religion, conservative family values and political systems that discourage LGBT activism have stopped momentum in Asian countries from China through much of Southeast Asia into the Middle East. In China particularly, restrictions on assembly and media coverage have stopped the 100 LBGT groups from getting the word out. Taiwan’s movement meanwhile has spawned annual Gay Pride parades of up to 80,000 people. Thousands stood in the rain outside Taiwan’s parliament Friday to prod legislators into passing the bill. Legislators were already facing a deadline from a 2017 Constitutional Court order that required parliament to change laws to legalize same-sex marriage before May 24. ​Taiwan joins 27 others Taiwan will stand out now for its tolerance of LGBT couples, scholars on the island believe.  “If these kinds of people can be more visible, happening in our everyday life, I think that will be quite good,” said Shiau Hong-chi, professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan. “I think the law change is the basic infrastructure that we have already pushed forward, which I believe is quite positive for democracy in Taiwan,” he said. Worldwide, Taiwan joins 27 countries in legalizing same-sex marriage. At least 20 same-sex couples are planning a mass marriage registration in Taipei on May 24, a spokesman for the advocacy group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan said earlier in the month. About 1,200 newlyweds and their invitees will hold a mass party a day later on a blocked-off boulevard outside the presidential office, the event organizer said. Jay Lin, 45, is one who plans to marry — once his child care obligations allow him the time. He and his partner in Taipei are raising two boys who will turn 3 in June.  “It’s definitely something we’re planning to do,” said Lin, a Taipei-based online streaming service founder. “A lot of gay parents are excited about that already.” ​Opposition votes The court order of 2017 also brought out Taiwan’s more conservative side, including Christian groups and backers of the traditional Chinese family headed by one man and one woman. They had protested in the streets and lobbied lawmakers, who face re-election next year, to block same-sex marriage. “Catholicism’s definition of marriage is one man, one woman,” said Chen Ke, a Catholic pastor in Taiwan and an opponent of same-sex marriage. “Nothing else is marriage. We will respect the law, but it’s not our religion.” Opinion surveys in 2012 and 2015 found that slight majorities of Taiwanese support same-sex marriage, but local media outlet The News Lens and PollcracyLab found in a March 2018 survey that people held “malleable” views based on how the term “legalization” was framed. In November last year, voters passed a referendum in support of male-female marriages only. Legislators since then have fretted about which side to back. “I don’t think (parliament) wants to touch this,” said Joanna Lei, CEO of the Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank. “They would just wash their hands of it. Wherever you are, you may be pleasing 50 percent of the people.” But most legislators who spoke Friday advocated some measure of protection for same-sex couples.

Taiwan Lawmakers Allow Same-Sex Marriage

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 13:40
Taiwan’s legislature has passed a law allowing same-sex marriage in a first for Asia.  The vote Friday allows same-sex couples full legal marriage rights, including in areas such as taxes, insurance and child custody.  Taiwan’s Constitutional Court in May 2017 said the constitution allows same-sex marriages and gave parliament two years to adjust laws accordingly.  Taiwan’s acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships began in the 1990s when leaders in today’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party championed the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society. Although claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan is a self-governing democracy with a vibrant civil society.  

Australian Political Hero Dies, Overshadowing Saturday’s Vote

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 12:12
Australia’s opposition leader said he wants to win elections Saturday for his Australian political hero whose death overshadows the final days of campaigning. The death of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke at his Sydney home Thursday has turned the national focus to the legacy of his center-left Labor Party government, which modernized the Australian economy from 1983 until 1991. The immensely popular 89-year-old had given his imprimatur to opposition leader Bill Shorten, who opinion polls suggest is the favorite to win the election. ​Win for Bob Shorten said Friday that Hawke had given him his blessing when they last met at Hawke’s home last week. “Bob was generous in his last remarks to me, and he said we were doing really well and he was very proud of me,” Shorten told Nine Network television. “I already feel a responsibility to millions of people to win. But sure, I want to do it for Bob as well. I don’t want to let his memory down,” Shorten added. Many commentators believe Hawke’s death at such a crucial time in the five-week campaign is a blow to the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition’s chances of winning a third three-year term. Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday described Hawke as Labor’s best prime minister. “He was beyond politics. All Australians could connect with Bob Hawke,” Morrison told Nine. “That I think was his great charm and his great strength and that enabled him to take the country with him on quite a number of important things.” Long-serving prime minister Hawke was Australia’s third longest-serving prime minister and the longest-serving Labor prime minister. He was ousted by his own party during a recession in 1991. But the economic reforms he made are often cited as a major reason that Australia has not had a recession since. Morrison said Friday the election result “is going to be incredibly close.” An opinion poll published in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Friday showed Labor ahead of the conservatives 51% to 49%. But the difference is within market researcher Ipsos Australia’s 2.3 percentage-point margin of error. The poll was based on a nationwide telephone survey of 1,842 voters this week from Sunday to Wednesday. Final campaign pitches Shorten invoked the memory of another Labor hero Thursday when he made his final campaign pitch in the same western Sydney venue where party leader Gough Whitlam gave what has been remembered as his “It’s Time” speech in 1972. “It’s Time” was also the campaign slogan. Weeks after his speech, Labor won its first federal election victory since 1946 and Whitlam became a reforming prime minister. Morrison accused Labor of indulging in self-congratulation with the reminder of the Whitlam victory. Whitlam, who died in 2014, is remembered for sweeping reforms including government-funded universal health care and free university education. But he is also remembered for financial mismanagement that led to his government being fired in 1975 by the Australian governor-general, who represents Australia’s head of state, British Queen Elizabeth II.