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Southern Thailand Voters Hoping for Democratic Outcome

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 11:20
In Southern Thailand, a high voter turnout is expected for Sunday’s election, where anti-military sentiment prevails in the region. But voters and opposition politicians are concerned that a government curb on voices of dissent will result in another term of military rule.

New Zealand: Guns Used in Mosque Attack Banned Immediately

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 09:50
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday an immediate ban on the sale of assault rifles and semi-automatics in response to the Christchurch terror attack that killed 50 people. “I am announcing that New Zealand will ban all military-style semi-automatic weapons. We will also ban all assault rifles,” Ardern said, while announcing interim measures that will stop a rush of purchases before legislation on the measures takes effect. She added that high capacity magazines and devices similar to bump stocks, which make rifles fire faster, will also be banned.  “In short, every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country,” she said.

EU Leaders to Discuss Ways to Limit Chinese Influence at Summit Dinner

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 08:57
The European Union will discuss a more defensive strategy on China on Thursday, potentially signalling an end to the unfettered access that Chinese business has enjoyed in Europe but which Beijing has failed to reciprocate. Caught between a new U.S.-Chinese rivalry for economic and military power, EU leaders will try to find a middle path during a summit dinner in Brussels, the first time they have discussed at the highest level how to deal with Beijing. "We are fully open," European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said of the EU's economy. "China is not, and it raises lots of questions," Katainen told Reuters, arguing that the world's second-largest economy could no longer claim special status as a developing country. Meeting as Chinese President Xi Jinping starts a tour of France and Italy, EU leaders - who have often been divided over China - want to present a united front ahead of an EU-China summit on April 9. According to a draft April summit statement seen by Reuters, the EU is seeking to set deadlines for China to make good on trade and investment pledges that have been repeatedly pushed back, although Beijing must still agree to the final text. That was a message delivered to State Councillor Wang Yi by EU foreign ministers on Monday. It marked a shift towards what EU diplomats say is a more "assertive and competitive mindset". "In the past, it has been extremely difficult for the EU to formulate a clear strategy on China, and past policy documents have not been strategically coherent," said Duncan Freeman at the EU-China Research Centre at the College of Europe. "There is now a clear effort to do that." In a document to prepare the EU summit, the European Commission called China a "systemic rival". U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign to warn against Huawei telecommunications equipment in next-generation wireless networks has accelerated EU discussions about its position. The deepest tensions lie around China's slowness to open up its economy, a surge of Chinese takeovers in critical sectors and an impression that Beijing has not stood up for free trade.  GERMANY IS KEY With over a billion euros a day in bilateral trade, the EU is China's top trading partner, while China is second only to the United States as a market for European goods and services. Chinese trade restrictions are more severe than EU barriers in almost every economic sector, according to research firm Rhodium Group and the Mercator Institute for China Studies. Unlike the United States, which has a naval fleet based in Japan to wield influence over the region, the EU lacks any military power to confront China, so its approach is technical. But any new EU policies could prove complicated to implement, as EU capitals continue to court Chinese investment. Italy plans to join China's multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure project, while free-traders Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands are wary of any restrictions on commerce. Germany's views will be important as Berlin has at times pressed for a tougher response to unfair competition from Chinese rivals but also championed a closer relationship with Beijing. "Their position needs to stabilize. At the moment it changes on almost every day of the week," the senior envoy said.

1,600 Hotel Guests Secretly Filmed, Livestreamed in S. Korea

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 08:57
Some 1,600 guests at hotels in 10 South Korean cities were secretly filmed and the footage livestreamed online for paying customers. South Korean police have arrested four men. Cameras were found hidden in digital TV boxes, wall sockets and hair dryers in 42 rooms in 30 hotels. The footage was sent to a site where more than 4,000 members paid $44.95 to watch. Police said it did not appear that the hotels were involved. “There was a similar case in the past where illegal cameras were [secretly installed] and were consistently and secretly watched, but this is the first time the police caught where videos were broadcast live on the internet,” police said in a statement. South Korea is no stranger to secret videotapings. In 2017, police received more than 6,400 complaints of illegal filming, up from 2,400 in 2012. Last year, tens of thousands of women protested across the country, under the slogan “My Life is Not Your Porn.”

Japan Times Apologizes for ‘Turmoil’ Surrounding WWII References

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 08:48
The Japan Times, an English-language newspaper that amended its description of “comfort women” and wartime forced laborers last year, apologized to its staff last month, but threatened legal action against anyone found leaking confidential information. In a five-sentence note published last November, the paper said it would refer to Korean laborers simply as “wartime laborers” and would describe comfort women as “women who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will.” The move polarized readers. Some saw it as an effort to whitewash Japan’s wartime history, while others celebrated the move as a way to correct foreign misinterpretations. President apologizes to staff In an email sent to the paper’s staff on Feb 28, Japan Times president Takeharu Tsutsumi apologized for causing “turmoil.” A Japan Times source shared the email with Reuters; it was verified by several other employees at the paper. The president explained that the purpose of the style change was to “enable us to report controversial issues in a fair and neutral manner,” and denied that the paper had shifted its political views. “Some European and American media have accused us with the narrative that ‘The Japan Times’ editorial direction moved to the right following the change in ownership.’ Based on groundless speculation, this is inaccurate,” he wrote, adding that on the other hand “Japan’s right-wingers seem to have welcomed this change, but by no means did we intend to reflect any right-wing views.” Reuters called and emailed Tsutsumi for comment about the internal email. In response, a public relations representative for the Japan Times wrote in an email that it would not respond to queries about internal documents. Reasons for revision In January, Reuters published a story based on interviews with nearly a dozen sources at the Japan Times, as well as hundreds of pages of internal emails and presentation materials, that showed the revision was partly made to ease criticism that the publication was “anti-Japanese” and increase advertising revenue from Japanese corporations and institutions. The issue of comfort women and Koreans forced to work in wartime factories and coal mines remains incendiary more than seven decades after the war. Despite the backlash, Tsutsumi told staff there was no significant impact on the number of subscribers. In his email to staff last month, Tsutsumi also called the Reuters story “regrettable” and said it “coupled speculations with information taken out of context to promote a certain narrative.” Leakers threatened “According to the Reuters article, the company’s confidential materials and remarks made at the All Company Meeting appear to have been leaked,” he wrote, saying it was regrettable if any information had been divulged by employees. “The act of leaking confidential information and the act of damaging the company’s reputation constitutes a violation of compliance,” he wrote. “If we learn the identity of the parties who leaked confidential information, we would have no other choice but to penalize them.”  Staff criticizes changes Some of the paper’s staff have criticized the recent changes. In an open letter published online last month ahead of the president’s email, Tozen, a labor union representing mostly foreign workers in several industries across Japan, and its Japan Times chapter demanded a full retraction of the style changes. The paper’s local union, which has 15 members, has been in collective bargaining meetings with management over the issue. Members of the Japan Times chapter declined to comment on the contents of the recent all company e-mail. “Both changes were pushed through with total disregard for the input of knowledgeable writers and editors, with zero advance notice, and the changes also show a disturbing disregard for the mainstream historical record,” the paper’s union members wrote in the letter.

China Cracks Counterfeiting Ring That Sold $15M of Goods

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 08:41
Chinese police have arrested 32 members of a group they said had made and sold up to 100 million yuan ($15 million) worth of counterfeit luxury goods from brands such as Louis Vuitton and Loewe, state news agency Xinhua said.  The case highlights the challenge faced by brands in China, where products, such as cosmetics and even automobiles, run the risk of being copied.  Police in the commercial capital of Shanghai also closed two assembly lines used to make the counterfeits and seized more than 4,000 bags, clothes and accessories, each of which they said cost the group 200 yuan to make.  Authorities launched the investigation last year, following a tip that knock-off luxury handbags were being sold on Chinese mobile messaging app WeChat, which is operated by Tencent Holdings.  They also made some arrests in January in the southern province of Guangdong and eastern Jiangsu, Xinhua said. 

2 S. Korean Firms Plead Guilty of Overcharging Pentagon for Fuel

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 04:43
Two South Korean energy companies have agreed to plead guilty and pay $75 million in fines for rigging bids for contracts to supply fuel to the Pentagon.    The U.S. Justice Department unsealed the indictment Wednesday.     Hyundai Oilbank, S-Oil Corp. and seven individuals were charged with conspiring to defraud the U.S. government by "impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful function of the procurement process for the fuel supply contracts."    One of the seven was also indicted for alleged witness tampering for threatening those trying to cooperate with the investigation.    "Illegal bid-rigging schemes violate fundamental tenets of government contracting and lead to inflated charges and costs to the government," Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said.    Because of the action of the companies and the seven suspects, the Pentagon paid "substantially more" for fuel supplies in South Korea than it would have if the bidding for contracts had not been rigged, the indictment says.    The two companies agreed to plead guilty, while the seven individuals charged have not yet entered pleas. All seven face up to 10 years in federal prison and as much as $1 million in fines if convicted.    Three other South Korean energy companies pleaded guilty and were fined $236 million in November for their part in bid rigging. 

Even With Trade Deal, US Tariffs on China Could Remain

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 01:34
U.S. tariffs on China are likely to remain in place for a while even if a trade deal is reached, President Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday. “The deal is coming along nicely,” the president said about the ongoing trade talks with Beijing, noting U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will be heading to China within days to continue discussions. “We’re taking in billions and billions of dollars right now in tariff money and for a period of time that will stay,” said Trump. The president’s remark indicate that even if a trade deal is reached with Beijing, tariffs imposed by Washington could stay in place unless U.S. officials are convinced the Chinese are adhering to the terms of any agreement. “They’ve had a lot of problems living by certain deals, the president noted on the White House South Lawn just before boarding the Marine One helicopter. Tit-for-tat tariffs imposed last year ignited fears of a trans-Pacific trade war. The United States and China, the world’s two largest economies annually trade more than a half-trillion dollars’ worth of goods. Chinese products sold in the United States far outweigh the value of those sent to China and that deficit alone represents about 80 percent of America’s overall in goods.   A pillar of the Trump presidency has been reducing that huge gap by negotiating bilateral trade deals and rebuilding the U.S. manufacturing base.      Trump is traveling Wednesday to an area in Ohio where General Motors is planning to shutter a car assembly plant, affecting about 1,500 jobs and undercutting the president’s manufacturing revival message. Trump on Twitter has called for GM to keep the plant open. Some trade analysts say Trump’s metals tariffs on Canada and Mexico, however, have hurt U.S. manufacturing, including making auto plants in this company (which also are owned by foreign manufacturers) less competitive. ​Ohio, which Trump won in the 2016 election by eight percentage points, will again be a key battleground state in next year’s presidential election. Polls in the Buckeye State, where the president relies on a strong base of working-class voters, show Trump’s approval rating slipping since he took office  At one of Wednesday’s stops in Ohio, Trump is visiting a plant that makes tanks for the U.S. Army. The General Dynamics facility nearly closed six years after Army officials told Congress they did not need additional M-1 Abrams tanks. Among those accompanying Trump on trip to Ohio are Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of the Army Mark Esper.  

Turkey's Erdogan: 'No Difference' Between New Zealand Killer, IS Terrorists

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 23:50
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says last Friday's massacre at two New Zealand mosques should in no way be linked to Christianity and that the gunman is no different from Islamic State terrorists. "I categorically reject any attempt to associate last week's terrorist attacks with the teachings, morals or maxims of Christianity," the Muslim politician wrote in an opinion piece published Wednesday by The Washington Post. "If anything, what happened in New Zealand was the toxic product of ignorance and hate." Authorities say Brenton Tarrant, an Australian white supremacist suspected of killing 50 people in the mosques in the city of Christchurch, seemed keenly interested in Islam and its historical wars with Christianity. They say that months before the attack, he traveled to multiple European sites of battles with the Ottoman Empire, which preceded modern day Turkey. The names of several Christian-Muslim battles in eastern Europe between the 14th and 20th centuries were displayed on his rifle magazines, according to authorities. And in his online manifesto, Tarrant vilified immigrants to Western countries and clamored for revenge against Muslims. Erdogan accused the 28-year-old Tarrant, who visited Turkey twice in 2016, of trying to "legitimize his twisted views by distorting world history and the Christian faith." Erdogan added, "He sought to plant seeds of hate among fellow humans." The Turkish president said Tarrant and IS shared a common objective: the conquest of the Turkish city of Istanbul. IS, he wrote, called for the "reconquest" of Istanbul — much like the Christchurch attacker, who pledged in his manifesto to make the city "rightfully christian owned once more." "In this regard, we must establish that there is absolutely no difference between the murderer who killed innocent people in New Zealand and those who have carried out terrorist acts in Turkey, France, Indonesia and elsewhere," Erdogan said. Erdogan said he and other Muslim leaders vowed to counter "any attempt by terrorists to hijack our religion" following IS attacks but "Islamophobia and xenophobia, among other practices incompatible with liberal values, were met with silence in Europe and other parts of the Western world. We cannot afford to allow this again." Erdogan said Western countries now have "certain responsibilities" after the Christchurch massacre, calling on them to "reject the normalization of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, which has been on the rise in recent years." He applauded New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for urging Western leaders to "embrace Muslims living in their respective countries."

Thais Braced for Vote, Marking 'Return to Democracy'

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 21:43
Thailand’s military chief, Prayut Chan-o-cha, is applying all resources to ensure his prime minister position remains unchallenged Sunday, when the first poll since 2011 is held here. Prayut says if he wins, voters would be returning his junta-led country to a "democracy." Prayut’s biggest threat remains the exiled Shinawatra family and whether he can develop enough cross-party support to give his leadership the impression of legitimacy. Few doubt General Prayut will return as prime minister. A friendly constitution that grants the military unprecedented say in forming a civilian government will bolster that prospect alongside opposition parties that have been stymied by five years of harsh military rule. As the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations recently noted, “The kingdom looks unlikely to resolve its political tensions, no matter the result of the vote. “Instead, Thailand seems destined for continued political instability, although that instability could come in different forms, depending on the results of the election.” About 52 million Thais will cast ballots for the 500-seat House of Representatives. Three-hundred-and-50 members will be elected directly and 150 seats will be awarded based on a party's popularity. Members in the 250-seat Senate will be appointed entirely by the armed forces. That gives Prayut and his Phalang Pracharat party the advantage. The next prime minister will be elected in a joint sitting of both houses, thus he needs as few as 126 seats to secure power, while other political parties need at least 376 seats. Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the Faculty of Political Science at Ubon Ratchathani University, said it was unlikely any of the opposition parties could earn enough votes to elect their own prime minister. “It will be very difficult because the constitution has already helped Prayut to remain in power by giving power to the senators to vote for prime minister after the election. So who decides? “Not just the house of parliament but the senators will also have some say in this election of prime minister,” he said. Almost 80 parties will field more than 2,700 candidates. The Phalang Pracharat Party also has the option of forging a coalition with the Ruam Palang Prachachat Thai Party and the People's Reform Party. Prayut’s biggest challenge will stem from the Shinawatra-backed Pheu Thai Party, popular in the rural heartland, and Future Forward Party, led by young entrepreneur Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who is hoping to win the youth vote. Titipol, however, said that is not guaranteed. “When we talk about the seven-, eight million new voters, they would actually mean a lot to the future of democracy if they vote. But that doesn’t mean all their votes would actually go to the Future Forward Party; some of them grew up with families when Pheu Thai was in power,” he said. Promised elections have been persistently delayed since Prayut ousted Yingluck Shinawatra in a 2014 coup, after months of political turmoil and a constitutional court ruling that removed her for abuse of power. Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin, was pushed from leadership by the military eight years earlier. Both live in exile amid allegations of corruption. Despite that, parties aligned with the family have won every Thai election since 2001. Analysts said Pheu Thai and its allies can only be expected to win up to 160 seats, gaining a further 70 through alliances. That’s not enough to form a government. The Democrat Party, however, remains in the mix and its leader and former prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, says he will not support Prayut’s return. For the anti-military parties – including Pheu Thai, the Democrats and Future Forward – to defeat Prayut, they must win a combined majority. Observers say that is unlikely and that it would be almost impossible to find common ground to form a grand coalition, noting Thaksin and the Democrats are natural enemies and Future Forward is offering an alternative from the color-coded – red shirt, yellow shirt – politics of the past. They say Abhisit could emerge with a face-saving minor victory if Prayut falters and needs his votes. Reform-minded Democrats might then decide compromise and a deal are the better options. Historian Chris Baker, co-author of A History of Thailand, said opinion polls showed that more than half the people polled had not decided on whom they would vote for and drew comparisons to recent elections in the United States, France and the Brexit process in Britain. “The key to understanding this election is that the voting is going to be more emotional than rational. Why should that not be, after all we’ve seen (U.S. President Donald) Trump and Brexit and (French President Emmanual) Macron. They’re essentially very emotional results of elections, so why should that not happen here?” he questioned. The lead-up to this poll was controversial. The National Election Commission cleared Prayut of being a “state official,” which would have barred him from competing. It also cleared Future Forward’s Thanathorn of allegations he posted misleading information online. The Shinawatra-friendly Thai Raksa Chart Party was not so lucky. It was dissolved and its executive board members banned from political activity for 10 years after they attempted to nominate Princess Ubolratana Mahidol as a prime ministerial candidate. Since 1932, Thailand has been riddled by at least 13 military interventions.  

China Welcomes New Kazakh Leader, An 'Old Friend'

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 21:26
China on Wednesday welcomed the new president of Kazakhstan as an "old friend" after the sudden resignation of veteran strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayev, the only leader an independent Kazakhstan has ever known, shocked the nation Tuesday with his resignation after nearly three decades in power. "China understands and supports President Nazarbayev's decision," said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. "Since we established diplomatic ties 27 years ago, President Nazarbayev has been committed to friendly relations," Geng told reporters, noting the oil-rich nation will achieve new progress under the acting president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Observers widely expect Nazarbayev, 78, to retain control from behind the scenes. He came to power when Kazakhstan was still a Soviet republic. He passed the presidency to the chairman of the senate, loyalist Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 65, a former prime minister and career diplomat who was sworn in Wednesday. "The acting President Tokayev is an old friend and good friend of the Chinese people," Geng said. Kazakhstan, which shares a border with China's restive Xinjiang region, has been on diplomatic tiptoes since its major trading partner began to send ethnic Kazakhs to internment camps under its anti-extremism policy. Earlier this month, authorities in Kazakhstan arrested a Xinjiang rights activist, who had campaigned for victims of China's security crackdown in the region, and charged him with inciting inter-ethnic hatred.

Geothermal Plant 'Triggered Earthquake' in S. Korea

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 20:10
A rare earthquake in South Korea was triggered by the country's first experimental geothermal power plant, a team of government-commissioned experts said Wednesday. The southeastern port city of Pohang was rattled by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake in November 2017— the second-most powerful tremor ever in the normally seismically stable South. Dozens of people were injured and more than 1,500 left homeless — while a nationwide college entrance exam was postponed in an unprecedented move as authorities scrambled with recovery efforts. A year-long government-commissioned study pointed to the geothermal power plant as the cause. The plant works by injecting high-pressure water deep underground to tap heat from the Earth's crust, but the process had produced micro-sized seismic activity as a result, said Lee Kang-kun, who led the research. "And as time passed, this triggered the earthquake in Pohang," he added. "We concluded that the Pohang earthquake was a 'triggered quake'. It wasn't a natural earthquake." Pohang residents filed a lawsuit against the government after the quake, and following the assessment Seoul expressed its "deep regret". The geothermal plant — which was temporarily suspended during the study — will be "permanently shuttered", the trade, industry and energy ministry said in a statement. It cost around 80 billion won ($71 million) to build and test operations began in 2016. Unlike neighboring Japan, the Korean peninsula rarely experiences significant quakes but seismic activity is closely monitored as a spike can be the first indication that North Korea has staged a nuclear test. The country's most powerful quake to date was a 5.8-magnitude tremor that struck Gyeongju, also in the southeast, in September 2016.    

Tokyo Unveils 'Cherry Blossom' Olympic Torch

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 19:50
Organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Wednesday unveiled a cherry-blossom shaped torch for the Games as the city prepares for the famed flower season to begin in coming days. The top part of the torch is shaped in the traditional emblem of the sakura, or cherry blossom using the same cutting-edge technology as in production of Japan's bullet trains, the organizers said. The shiny rose-gold torch, which is 71 centimeters (28 inches) long and weighs 1.2 kilograms (2 pounds 10 ounces), uses aluminum construction waste from temporary housing built for victims of the 2011 quake and tsunami. "Cherry blossoms drawn by kids in the disaster-hit area (in Fukushima)... inspired me," designer Tokujin Yoshioka, whose works are known internationally, told reporters. Fukushima was chosen as the starting point for the Olympic torch relay. The passing of the flame is scheduled to start on March 26, 2020, and the torch will head south to the sub-tropical island of Okinawa – the starting point for the 1964 Tokyo Games relay – before returning north and arriving in the Japanese capital on July 10. The designer added the torch is designed to ensure the flame will not go out even during the typhoon season. The March 2011 tsunami, triggered by a massive undersea quake, killed around 18,000 people and swamped the Fukushima nuclear plant, sending its reactors into meltdown and leading to the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. More than 50,000 people have not returned to their home towns. Japan has dubbed the 2020 Games the "Reconstruction Olympics" and wants to showcase recovery in regions devastated by the disaster.  

Child Loses Arm in Cambodia Brick Factory

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 17:06
A few seconds were all that it took to change ten-year-old Srey Pheak’s life forever. When she reached into the brick machine to clean off some clay, she got trapped. The machine quickly pulled her arm in, like it would with clay, and crushed it. “When the incident just happened, inside the ambulance, she asked me: ‘Mum, my hand is chopped. When I recover, will it regrow?’ I told her yes,” her mother Khim Channa recounts in the hospital while holding her daughter in her arms. But Srey Pheak’s arm won’t regrow, and her mother was unable to hold back her tears in the ambulance, she tells Voice of America. “I was crying, and she told me ‘mummy, don’t cry. I survive. It’s just the hand that’s chopped, I still have life in my body.’ She comforted me. It’s not me who comforted her,” the 34-year-old mother recounts, tears welling up in her eyes. While Channa tells how Srey Pheak lost her arm, her daughter is unable to speak. She is in visible pain, and where her arm was is now a patch of bandages. Drugged with pain killers and medicine, she can only stare into space, sometimes whimpering. It has been five days since the accident. Channa and her whole family lived and worked at a brick kiln factory in Kandal Province. Two of her three children — 12 and 10 years old — would help out for an hour or two a day, Channa says, to support the family’s income. Mother Channa and father Chheng Bunham together earned about $5 to $6 a day, barely enough to feed their family. “She came to help me because she saw that I’m very tired and very hardworking,” she says while caressing her daughter’s back. “I feel regret, but it’s too late now.” They moved to the factory about six years ago to take up a loan from the brick kiln owner to buy some land in their home province Kampong Cham. But instead of being able to pay off the $3,500-heavy loan, they worked hard every day just to sustain themselves. Laurie Parsons, a researcher at Royal Holloway University of Livelihoods and co-author of study Blood Bricks: Untold Stories of Modern Slavery and Climate Change from Cambodia, said brick kiln owners attracted workers by offering to pay off loans they had taken up elsewhere. The workers were told they could pay back by working for the factory owners. On average, he said, workers owed just under $800 to the brick kiln owners, but also loans of up to $5,000 were not uncommon. In that sense, Channa’s case was unusual, he said, as she hadn’t been indebted before working at the factory. But she shared the common fate of many brick kiln workers: not being able to pay off the debt over years. Parsons explained that the workers were paid by the number of bricks they produced. As brick production was much more difficult during rainy season with clay not being able to dry quickly, brick workers had to take up additional loans during that period and found themselves trapped in debt bondage. But while Channa regrets having let Srey Pheak work, she did not blame the owner for her daughter’s accident in March. She said he had reminded them not to let their children work, and had now said he would cover the medical expenses, as well as school tuition fees, and waive her debt. Parsons said most brick kiln workers felt positively toward factory owners as they were repeatedly told that the owners were doing them a favor by letting them work to pay off their loans. “The brick kiln owners [say] that they don’t have to do it, but they do it out of the goodness of their heart,” he said. Channa said at least five other children were also working at the same factory. The factory owner could not be reached for comment. While authorities initially denied the existence of child labor, the Labour Ministry has now fined the factory and started a lawsuit against the owner. But Parsons said more far-reaching reforms that addressed the causes of child labor — debt bondage being a main factor — had to be implemented. One way would be for the government to extend the minimum wage beyond the garment industry to include brick factories. Ministry of Labour spokesperson Heng Sour said in a message to VOA that “we work on this with stakeholders,” without elaborating further. For Srey Pheak, this will come too late. “My daughter suddenly got very angry,” Channa says, explaining that her daughter could neither drink nor eat because of the medicine. “She said: ‘okay mum, I’m very sick, but I can’t eat, so just let me die then.’” While her mother does not know when they will be ready to leave the hospital, she says she knows one thing: she now wants to send her daughter to school. “I will tell her to study because now that she is handicapped, going to school will help her with the future,” she says. Kong Meta contributed to this report.  

Christchurch Begins Burials as Memorials Continue to Grow

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 16:59
As New Zealand police continue to work with families to positively identify those slain in last Friday’s attack at two Christchurch mosques, members of the community buried their dead Wednesday and pressed forward with their lives. VOA's Steve Miller reports from Christchurch.

Christchurch Begins Burials as Memorials Continue to Grow

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 14:41
As New Zealand police continue to work with families to positively identify those slain in last Friday’s attack at two Christchurch mosques, members of the community buried their dead Wednesday and pressed forward with their lives. "The process to reunite the victims with their loved ones, this is for us an absolute priority - for family reasons, for compassionate reasons and for cultural reasons. That's progressing very well, it was our intention to do what we could to complete that by today, we are making very good progress,” said New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush. He added, "As of last night at 11:30pm, twenty-one of those victims had been formally identified and were being made available to release to their loved ones." Two of the 50 victims were laid to rest in Memorial Park Cemetery Wednesday. Hundreds gathered for the memorial service, including some who traveled from elsewhere in the country. “Seeing the body lowered down, it was a very emotional time for me,” Gulshad Ali told Reuters News Agency. He flew from Auckland to attend the funeral. While members of the Muslim community were mourning, New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern visited Christchurch’s Cashmere High School. There, she told students it was “okay to grieve.” "It is ok to ask for help,” she said, “even if you weren't directly effected. These things, these images that people are seeing they are really difficult to process." That’s something Jennifer Hammon, a life long resident of Christchurch, is also struggling with - how to make sense of something that many in the city thought was unimaginable, as well as, how to explain what happened to her young daughter. “You can't explain it,” Hammond told VOA as her voice began trembling, “We lost people who were part of our lives. The thought of children being targeted angers me… you can't even put it into words. It's hurt, there's some anger there, and grief.” It will take time With nearly half of the bodies identified and some returned to families, the burial process has begun in Christchurch for those slain. Dr. Reza Abdul-Jabbar, an Imam from Invercargill, came to the city to assist in the process. “We’ve got to dig in… dig deep within ourselves,” to move past the events of last week Abdul-Jabbar stated. He says politicians, academics, and religious leaders are now in a position to change how communities deal with extremists. Abdul-Jabbar urges the dialog on what comes next not be “sugarcoated,” so that real conversations can take place. “I think we will move forward as a nation,” he said, “because 99.99999 percent of us are behind everybody.” That sentiment, that those killed Friday are part of the larger New Zealand community and vice versa is also something Hammond believes. “We rally together. That’s who we are, and we will always be like that,” she said. But in a city still reeling from an earthquake that killed 185 people in 2011, Hammond notes it will take time and more than just words to help the community heal. Tributes continue While the large numbers of visitors to Hagley Park, across the street from the Al Noor mosque, have started to diminish five days after Friday’s attack, the number of memorials and tributes has not. Adorning the park’s chainlink fence, several “links of love” have been draped over the steel structure and accompanying police tape. The paper links, woven together, contain messages for those lost and the Muslim community. “We are here,” “Stay strong,” and “Love” appear on just some of the thousands of links now gracing the park. Similar thoughts could be found among the notes left at one of the trees surrounded by memorial candles and flower bouquets. A visitor from the United Kingdom shared their thoughts on the tragedy by leaving a note adorned with an inked flower pattern. “To the families suffering, please don’t forget there is more good than evil, stay strong. I’m sorry this happened to your loved ones. Everyone is thinking of you and sending you our sympathies and love. Have hope harness your strength. Only love can fight hate,” the note read, signed only as “Peace and Love from the U.K.” Memorials for individuals have also appeared, as the community shares the names of those were lost. Ansi Alibava, 23, was killed in Friday’s attack. Her picture, work smock, flowers, and cards have been placed next to a tree in Hagley Park. Those remembering her also arranged memorial candles to spell out her name and form a heart. One poem conveyed to the Muslim community the sense of inclusiveness several residents expressed. “Walking down the street towards those I am going to greet. They may be of different religion or colours. Nonetheless, they are our sisters and brothers. Together a wall we can create to block all this negative hate. We stand united to ignore the fuss, because in the end THEY ARE US!”

Why China’s Financial Incentives for Taiwanese Flatlined

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 14:10
Just over a year ago the Chinese government announced 31 incentives for Taiwanese to work, study and invest in China, a market where salaries can run higher than in Taiwan and the number of consumers has no equal. The Taiwan government fretted then that China was trying to attract Taiwanese people as a way of pressing its case for political unification – a goal that Taipei opposes.   But those measures have made little impact over the past year because of anxiety among the Taiwanese being targeted, experts and officials say.   Economists point to rising costs in China. There’s spillover from the Sino-U.S. trade friction. Some Taiwanese worry about holes in China’s legal system, particularly when it comes to protecting copyrights and trademarks. Other Taiwanese wonder whether, by working or investing, they would unwittingly help China’s goal of unification, the government in Taipei believes.   “The main goal is to inject some energy into China’s economy,” said Chiu Chui-cheng, spokesman for the Taiwan government’s Mainland Affairs Council. “As for us, our initial review over the past year is that at the moment, to be honest, there’s no obvious impact on our society, industry or economy.”    Political backdrop   China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s and threatened to take it by force if needed. More than seven in 10 Taiwanese oppose unification, the Mainland Affairs Council said in January. Officials in Taipei see the incentives as a soft approach to bring the two sides together.   “Taiwanese have learned to be a little bit smarter than taking the bait from China,” said Shane Lee, political scientist with Chang Jung Christian University in Taiwan. “Political reasons have overtaken the economic reasons.”   Other workers and investors may fear that China’s communist political system lacks the legal guarantees, such as copyright protections and fair court hearings, that they’re used to in their democratic homeland, some analysts say. “Gaps” are also clear in the development of China’s market economy compared to Taiwan’s, Chiu said.   China needs to gain Taiwan’s trust in its laws and “structure” that includes economics and politics, said Wu Hui-lin, research fellow with Taipei-based policy research organization Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research.   Shifting economic landscape   Sino-U.S. trade friction over the past year also raises tariffs on Taiwanese companies that produce in China for export to the United States. China rolled out its incentives for Taiwan a month before U.S. President Donald Trump issued a memorandum ordering the round of tariffs that kicked off the past year of trade tensions.   “These 31 measures, held up to the Sino-U.S. trade conflict, they didn’t offer much of a big incentive at that time,” said Darson Chiu, deputy macroeconomic forecasting director with the think tank Taiwan Institute of Economic Research in Taipei.   Labor costs are also rising, and Chinese environmental rules growing more stringent, causing trouble for some Taiwanese investors, Chiu said.   Taiwanese investors have capitalized factories in China since the 1980s, taking advantage then of cheap labor and a fast-growing domestic consumer base. Investments there totaled $8.74 billion in 2017 after falling for three straight years. As costs of business rise in China, some Taiwanese investors have expanded into Southeast Asia or back to Taiwan.   Taiwanese investors from offshore, often in China, have applied since January to start projects at home worth a total $1.29 billion since January, the economic affairs ministry in Taipei said on March 15. It cites its own incentives as a reason.   “It’s impossible to survive in China,” Wu said, referring especially to Taiwanese tech firms. “So, we can see these Taiwanese investors who have recently returned, almost all are going to the science parks to look for land.”   More incentives coming   Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said March 15 his government would offer additional incentives for Taiwanese people. He did not give details when making the announcement in Beijing.   The premier probably means “good jobs” and “good conditions for investment” that might appeal especially to this year’s batch of Taiwanese university graduates, Lee said. Those incentives would be consistent with last year’s list. The existing 31 measures include tax breaks and special land use rights.   Young people in Taiwan might still try out China’s incentives, the Mainland Affairs Council spokesman said. China is encouraging younger Taiwanese to start their own companies in its hubs for startups.   The success rate of Taiwanese people’s “business launches” in China is about 1 percent, the spokesman cautioned. “They’ve run into some difficulties,” he said. “We’ve reminded our youth to beware of the risks.”

Trump Linking Huawei, China Trade Roils Justice Department

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 13:58
President Donald Trump shocked some last month when he suggested that the criminal charges against Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, might be used as leverage in his administration’s ongoing trade talks with China.   “We’re going to be discussing all of that during the course of the next couple of weeks,” Trump told reporters at the White House Feb. 22 in response to a question about Meng’s case.  “We’ll be talking to the U.S. attorneys. We’ll be talking to the attorney general. We’ll be making that decision. Right now, it’s not something we’ve discussed."   The president’s apparent willingness to possibly barter away the prosecution of Huawei and one of its executives in exchange for a favorable trade deal with China alarmed legal experts who say it could lead to pushback at the Justice Department.  “If the White House told the Department of Justice that it wanted Justice to dismiss altogether the case against Huawei and Ms. Meng, I’d expect there to be mighty objections and resistance to that,” said David Laufman, who served as a senior national security official at the Justice Department until last year and is now in private practice.  Ron Cheng, a former federal prosecutor who was the Justice Department’s sole resident envoy in Beijing, said it would be highly unusual for the criminal case against Meng to be affected by the trade talks. “There are a number of concerns about the precedent something like that would establish,” said Cheng, now a partner at the O'Melveny & Myers law firm. The Justice Department unsealed criminal charges against Meng, Huawei and several subsidiaries on Jan. 29 for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and stealing U.S. intellectual property, nearly two months after Meng was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities.  The indictments exacerbated tensions with China, which called the case against Meng “political persecution.” That prompted Trump's overture. Trump, who prides himself on his negotiating skills, could well have been bluffing in hopes of enticing the Chinese into a trade agreement.But a quid pro quo deal as part of the trade talks is not without precedent. Last year, Trump ordered the Commerce Department to lift a ban imposed on ZTE Corporation, Huawei’s smaller rival.  ZTE had violated the terms of an agreement with the department to settle charges that it had exported U.S. goods to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.    In Huawei’s case, the extent of Trump’s personal involvement and the nature of any talks between the White House and the Justice Department about the company’s fate remain unclear.  After Meng’s arrest in December, a spokesman for National Security Adviser John Bolton said that neither Bolton nor Trump had been told about her detention in advance. Trump later said the White House had talked to the Justice Department about the Huawei case     Senior Justice Department officials have sought to tamp down talk of any linkage between the Huawei case and the ongoing trade talks with China. Asked about the issue after the Justice Department unsealed the indictments in January, then acting attorney general Matt Whitaker said, “We do our cases independent from the federal government writ large because that’s the way the criminal system has to be.”   A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to say whether the White House had engaged the department in any discussions about Huawei since Trump’s latest comments.   The company has pleaded not guilty to the charges brought in New York and Seattle. Spokespeople for the U.S. Attorneys for those cities said the cases are proceeding.   The charges against Huawei come as the Trump administration has stepped up a global campaign against the telecom behemoth, warning that the company founded by a former People’s Liberation Army official poses a national security threat and urging allies to keep it out of their 5-G networks. While Australia and New Zealand have imposed a ban, other U.S. allies have demurred.   With business operations in more than 170 countries and annual revenues of $108 billion, Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecom equipment. Last year, the multinational company beat Apple to become the No. 2 manufacturer of smartphones and tablets in the world. In national security related criminal cases, it is not uncommon for the Justice Department to notify the White House about impending law enforcement actions.This allows officials to deescalate conflict if necessary or weigh in on the timing of an announcement.  “It’s not to give the White House prior approval authority or veto authority,” Laufman said.  Some experts see the real possibility that the White House crosses the line and intervenes in the criminal case.  Short of calling for a dismissal of the case, the White House could press the Justice Department to devise a resolution that would afford the agency a measure of vindication without appearing to let the company or Meng off the hook. Such a resolution could involve Huawei admitting responsibility, paying a hefty fine, and agreeing to a stringent compliance regime and other conditions, according to Laufman.  “But I think even there, that will likely engender concern throughout the Justice Department,” Laufman said.   That is how ZTE settled charges of violating U.S. sanctions. In 2017, ZTE pleaded guilty and paid $430 million for exporting U.S. goods and technology to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.  The company later admitted to violating the terms of its settlement with the Commerce Department and faced near collapse after the department responded by forbidding U.S. companies from selling it crucial components.  After Trump intervened, the Commerce Department lifted its ban, but not without imposing what it called the most “stringent compliance measures.”    The Huawei case could well be settled under similar terms. But there is a hitch.  Because she faces criminal charges, Meng would have to appear in a U.S. court to enter a plea.   “The only way to resolve a case like this with some sort of a formal disposition is to come to the United States,” Cheng said. 

Indonesian President's Lead Over Election Rival Cut in New Survey

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 11:19
A new Indonesian election survey shows President Joko Widodo's big lead over his challenger, retired general Prabowo Subianto, is narrowing, just weeks ahead of next month's vote in the world's third-largest democracy. The April 17 election will be a rerun of the 2014 race, in which Widodo beat out Prabowo by almost six percentage points. A survey by pollster Litbang Kompas, which is part of Indonesia's biggest newspaper Kompas, shows Widodo likely to win 49.2 percent of the vote, surpassing 37.4 percent for Prabowo. Although still a double-digit lead, the electability gap in the survey between February 22 and March 5 was narrower than the Kompas survey in October that gave Widodo a 19.9-percentage point lead over his rival. Opinion polls in January by other pollsters, including Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting and Australian-based Roy Morgan, put Widodo at an advantage of about 20 percentage points over Prabowo. The president's campaign team is confident he will still win by a big margin, spokeswoman Meutya Hafid said in a statement. "There's a number of indications why votes for Jokowi will be higher than in 2014," she said, referring to the president by a popular nickname. "Jokowi will be able to grab votes from places that are normally the stronghold of candidate number two (Prabowo), such as West Java," Hafid said, referring to Indonesia's most populous province. The latest Kompas survey showed Widodo's support may be shrinking among mature millennials aged between 31 and 40, as well as baby boomers. After a slow beginning, the six-month campaign has picked up pace, with televised debates between the candidates and rallies held across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands. Some analysts say the debates were a missed opportunity for Prabowo, who has struggled to land any big blows against Widodo, while the president has appeared workman-like in projecting his achievements in areas such as infrastructure while in office. But the challenger's running mate, private equity tycoon Sandiaga Uno, has appeared to generate a buzz on the campaign trail while proving popular online, especially with women and young voters. Uno attacked Widodo's track record on education and healthcare last weekend, saying his government would be able to solve Indonesia's problems in education and large deficits in health insurance. Last week, the anti-graft agency named a prominent politician backing Widodo's re-election campaign a suspect in a bribery case, which could further dent his campaign.

Turkish President Stokes Anti-Western Rhetoric Over New Zealand Killings

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 05:30
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded Tuesday that New Zealand reinstate the death penalty and apply it in the case of the gunman who killed 50 people in two Christchurch mosques. The demand is the latest escalation in rhetoric by Erdogan in the face of Wellington's call for moderation. "You heinously killed 50 of our siblings. You will pay for this. If New Zealand doesn't make you," Erdogan told supporters during a campaign rally ahead of local elections. Erdogan also said, "The necessary action needs to be taken" by the New Zealand parliament. Erdogan has made the mosque killings a central part of his local election campaign. A grainy video of the gunman attacking the mosques has been repeatedly played at his campaign meetings. Lisel Hintz, an assistant professor of international relations at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, says the broadcast of the video plays into Erdogan's hands. "Showing footage of the Christchurch massacre, recorded by the shooter himself, is intended to incite fears of Islamophobia and bolster Erdogan's image as protector of Muslims in a world hostile to them," she said. Other analysts say many Erdogan supporters are drawn from nationalist and Islamist backgrounds. The New Zealand government has called on Ankara to stop airing the video and to turn down the rhetoric, which Wellington warns could provoke attacks on New Zealand citizens. Wellington also points out that the suspect is an Australian citizen. New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Tuesday he is traveling to Turkey "to set the record straight." Erdogan again used the video of the mosque attacks, however, at two televised campaign rallies attended by thousands of people. 'Anti-Western sentiments' The Turkish president is seeking to build support for his religious conservative AKP ahead of local elections March 31. Analysts suggest that with the economy in recession, soaring unemployment, and double-digit inflation, Erdogan wants to change the political narrative. "This anti-Western rhetoric pays off every time — it's a fundamental part of Turkish politics," said political scientist Cengiz Aktar. "He is using it this time in the forthcoming elections to galvanize his supporters who are fundamentally anti-Western." Hintz offered a similar assessment. "Erdogan's close ties with media groups and influence over an estimated 90 percent of news production allowed him to shield many Turks from the country's debt and lira crises, but long lines and rotting vegetables make Turkey's economic turmoil starkly apparent," Hintz said. "Absent a narrative of growth, Erdogan resorts to stoking anti-Western sentiments in the hopes that nationalist emotions rather than pocketbook concerns will prevail at the polls." During a televised meeting Monday, Erdogan accused the Western media and European leaders of an "insidious" silence over the mosque attacks, accusing the European Union of being an "enemy of Islam." "Erdogan still plays the foreign conspiracy angle at his election rallies," said analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners. Ankara has for decades been seeking to join the EU, blaming the delay on prejudice on the grounds that Turkey is a Muslim country. Brussels maintains the delay is due to Ankara's failure to comply with membership requirements, in particular over human rights. 'Reviving the battlefield memories' Erdogan's escalating rhetoric threatens to cast a shadow over commemorations marking the Gallipoli Campaign during World War I. The ill-fated British-led invasion of the then-Ottoman empire sought to create a bridgehead opening the way to capture Istanbul. The campaign ended in defeat with large numbers of Australians and New Zealanders, along with Turks, killed. The March remembrance ceremonies at the battle sites traditionally draw large numbers of Australians and New Zealanders. At a Gallipoli memorial Monday, Erdogan highlighted a manifesto posted online by the gunman, in which the suspect called for Turks to be driven out of Istanbul. "You will not turn Istanbul into Constantinople," Erdogan said, referring to the city's name under its Christian Byzantine rulers before Muslim Ottomans conquered it in 1453. "Your grandparents came here ... and they returned in caskets," he said. "Have no doubt we will send you back like your grandfathers," he added. The Gallipoli commemorations are traditionally a symbol of goodwill among Turkey, New Zealand and Australia, with the World War I campaign widely seen as a defining moment in the formation of all three countries. "Erdogan has managed to overturn this peaceful rhetoric of never again [a conflict]," Aktar said. "He is reviving the battlefield memories, for more antagonism against the Western world." Social media pushback On social media, there is a strong pushback against the Turkish president's rhetoric. Many Turks posted a well-known quote of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, speaking after the Gallipoli Campaign. "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies [a reference to enemy soldiers] and the Mehmets [Turkish soldiers] to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours." Ataturk was at the forefront of leading the defense of Gallipoli, a success that propelled him to found the secular republic. Analysts say Erdogan likely is calculating that the current controversy can only serve as a useful distraction from the country's economic woes. "Whatever the potential electoral benefit, we are seeing across the globe that the societal cost of drawing on fear and hatred continues to take its polarizing toll long after polls close," Hintz said. The reopening of the traditional deep political divide between Erdogan supporters and critics usually consolidates the president's voting base, which opinion polls indicate is starting to weaken over dissatisfaction from rising prices and unemployment. VOA's Ezel Sahinkaya contributed to this report.