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Indonesia Airline Cancels 49-jet Boeing Deal

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 13:10
Indonesia’s national carrier Garuda has told Boeing it will cancel a multibillion-dollar order for 49 Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after two fatal crashes involving the plane, in what is thought to be the first formal cancellation for the model. “We have sent a letter to Boeing requesting that the order be canceled,” Garuda spokesman Ikhsan Rosan said. “The reason is that Garuda passengers in Indonesia have lost trust and no longer have the confidence” in the plane, he said. The spokesman told AFP that Boeing officials will visit Indonesia next week to discuss Garuda’s plans to call off the order. Garuda had received one of the planes, he said, part of a 50-aircraft order worth $4.9 billion at list prices when it was announced in 2014. Garuda is also talking to Boeing about whether to return the plane it has received, the spokesman told AFP. The carrier had so far paid Boeing about $26 million, while the company’s director told Indonesian media outlet Detik that it would consider switching to a new version of the single-aisle jet. “In principle, it’s not that we want to replace Boeing, but maybe we will replace (these planes) with another model,” Garuda Indonesia director I Gusti Ngurah Askhara Danadiputra told Detik. Will Lion Air follow? Shukor Yusof, head of Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau Analytics, said Garuda’s announcement appeared to mark the first formal plans by a carrier to cancel an order for the 737 MAX 8. It “will probably not be the last. There is a risk that Garuda’s rival Lion Air, which also has many 737 MAX 8 orders, might make the same decision,” he said. “That is a risk. This has been made public by the Lion Air CEO. He stated publicly that he is considering” a cancellation. He added that it was difficult to predict whether more major carriers would follow suit. “There are many unanswered questions and each airline has specific needs,” Yusof said. “Each airline needs to deliberate how they want to strategize their fleet management.” Delivery postponed This month, Lion Air said it was postponing delivery of four of the jets after an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 went down minutes into a flight to Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board. Budget carrier Lion, Southeast Asia’s biggest airline by fleet size and a major Boeing customer, said the planes had been on order for delivery this year, but the company was re-evaluating the situation. Lion Air operates 10 Max 8 jets, part of a then-record $22 billion order from Boeing made in 2011. The airlines are the only two that use the Max 8 in Indonesia.

US Imposes First N. Korea-Linked Sanctions Since Failed Summit  

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 09:33
With negotiations at an impasse, Washington has imposed additional sanctions on those assisting Pyongyang — the first such action since February's failed summit in Hanoi between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "This is not really about intensification of pressure," a senior U.S. administration official said. "This is about maintaining pressure as defined by the international community." Thursday's sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department on two China-based shipping companies were the latest evidence of some "leakage" in the enforcement of sanctions by Beijing, but U.S. officials said that overall, China was abiding by the U.N. resolutions slapped on North Korea for its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs. Washington wants Pyongyang to surrender its entire nuclear arsenal and other mass-destruction weapons before being granted any relief from sanctions. The North Koreans insist on sanctions relief before halting production of fissile materials. "Insisting on unilateral North Korean disarmament upfront is pushing on the wrong door. We should be pushing to first slow the program, then cap it, and ultimately keep rollback and disarmament the long-term goal," said Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "But every month that passes without a grand deal is one in which North Korea's nuclear program continues to grow larger — increasing the risk of its own use and proliferation to other countries — and the chances of a deal grow smaller." Analysts also worry Kim could grow impatient, turn away from diplomacy with Trump and look to China to provide sanctions relief that North Korea desperately needs. "I'm not sure we can be confident that Beijing will uphold enforcement after Trump so abruptly walked away from negotiations with North Korea," said Jean Lee, who directs the center for Korean history and public policy at the Wilson Center,  a global policy research group in Washington. "I do hope North Korea sticks to negotiation and does not resort to provocation. If Pyongyang doesn't get the response it craves and needs from Washington, North Korea may turn back to a tried and tested strategy: to get Trump, and the world's attention, with another illicit missile launch or test." U.S. officials on Thursday, speaking to reporters on condition of not being named, expressed patience and confidence with their stance toward North Korea.   Patience "What they're facing now is unprecedented," said one U.S. official of the sanctions on North Korea. "We'll give it some time." Lee, currently in Seoul, told VOA she found it "interesting that we're back to a form of strategic patience. There was high hope, especially here in Seoul, that Trump's impatience and unpredictability would lead to fast movement on North Korea. But the Trump administration is finding that it's much tougher than the president may have thought of simply bullying Kim into acquiescence." A prolonged lull in talks "could become risky, and maintaining maximalist positions will not be sustainable," said Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a national security research group in Washington. "They need to negotiate a denuclearization-peace road map soon and preferably an interim agreement on fissile materials. Rapid and complete denuclearization is not realistic. Denuclearization will have to occur in stages but in accordance with an agreed road map on how this all ends," Kim told VOA. The current primary point of pressure on Pyongyang by the international community is on entities, including their ships, involved with illicitly exporting North Korean goods, such as coal, and taking products — especially petroleum — into the impoverished country in violation of U.N. sanctions. Unless North Korea denuclearizes, "we're going to maintain that pressure," a senior U.S official said.  Daily monitoring A coalition of countries — using their vessels, aircraft and classified intelligence means — are daily watching the movement of ships involved in the illegal trade. North Korea and those helping it are trying to obscure identities of ships and cargo by disabling or manipulating systems that identify the vessels for safety and navigation, physically altering vessel identifications and making ship-to-ship transfers to avoid ports, according to a sanctions advisory jointly issued Thursday by the U.S. Treasury and State departments and the Coast Guard. Neither the United States nor any other country has moved to interdict the offending ships. "I don't want to talk about potential steps we may or may not take," replied a senior administration official when asked by VOA whether there was discussion here about using the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard in international waters to take such action. Trump and Kim have held two summits — the first in Singapore last June and the second in Hanoi this February. Trump has not ruled out a third such meeting. "The door is wide open to continuing the dialogue with North Korea. The president wants to see progress at the working level, and he's engaged as well," a senior administration official said.

At Least a Dozen Dead in China Chemical Plant Blast

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 08:30
The death toll from a huge explosion at a chemical plant in eastern China rose to 12 Friday after rescuers pulled dozens of people from the area, state media said. The blaze “has been controlled” by firefighters hours after Thursday’s blast left an industrial park burning into the night in Yancheng in Jiangsu province, according to broadcaster CCTV. As of the early hours of Friday, a total of 88 people were “rescued” from the area, including 12 who died in the disaster, CCTV said. City officials had previously said that at least six people were killed in the explosion, which left dozens injured in the latest incident to put a spotlight on China’s checkered industrial safety record. The explosion, so powerful that it apparently triggered a small 2.2-magnitude earthquake, knocked down factory buildings and shattered the windows of surrounding homes and a school, according to images seen on local media. 

Tibetan Set to Become World's Longest-serving Political Prisoner 

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 06:30
Members of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile are calling international attention to the case of long-imprisoned dissident Lodoe Gyamtso, who with a new sentence announced this week stands to become the longest-serving political prisoner since the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1951.    Gyamtso, 57, also known as Sogkhar Lodoe Gyamtso, had already served a total of 23 years in prison for two previous convictions before receiving the latest 18-year sentence following his arrest while protesting in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa last year. His wife, Gakyi, was sentenced to two years, according to Tibetan exile groups.       If Gyamtso's latest sentence is officially confirmed and he serves the full length, he will have served a total of 41 years in prison, making him not only the longest serving known Tibetan political prisoner, but the longest-serving political prisoner anywhere, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.      News of the sentence was published Wednesday on the website of the Tibetan government-in-exile, known as the Central Tibetan Administration. Some members of the Tibetan parliament called during a session in Dharamsala on Tuesday for exile Tibetan communities to prioritize Gyamtso's case and bring it to the international stage.    Revered figure   "He is someone local people praise as a hero and all Tibetans have a great reverence for him," said MP Atrug Tseten, speaking in Tibetan at the parliament session. "He is someone who has staged many protests, and the Chinese have arrested him twice before. He went all the way to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and declared that he was going to carry out his world peace campaign for the rest of his life."     Gyamtso completed his first 21-year sentence in 2013 and was released from Drapchi Prison in Lhasa. Two years later, he was arrested again after protesting a Chinese government order requiring Tibetans to wear tiger and leopard skins during an official military ceremony in Nagchu prefecture. The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, had urged a halt to the wearing of wild animal skins years earlier.    The dissident, a native of Sog County, Nagchu prefecture, served two years in prison on that conviction, according to Ngawang Tharpa, a fellow Sog County native and member of the Tibetan exile parliament.    Shortly before his Potala Palace protest last year, Gyamtso posted a video message on social media in which he declared he was launching a "World Peace Movement."     "Hundreds of our heroes, including martyr Thubten Ngundrup, have self-immolated for the world peace," he said, wearing a white robe, or chupa, intended to symbolize innocence. "I, too, for over 20 years made effort for the world peace. … Today on Jan. 28, 2018, I am going to start [again] my world peace movement."   'Secretly' sentenced   Later that day, Gyamtso publicly protested Chinese rule of Tibet in front of the Potola Palace, the former seat of the Tibetan government and the Winter Palace of the Dalai Lamas. Human rights groups reported him missing from that day, but later said that he had been taken to Sog County Prison.      The Center for Tibetan Democracy and Human Rights, a Dharamsala-based human rights group, reported March 15 that  Gyamtso and his wife had been "secretly" sentenced. Three members of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile said that extreme security restrictions in Sog County and the surrounding regions made it very difficult to get detailed information.      These regions "are the most restricted areas [in Tibet]," said Lobsang Dragpa, a Tibetan exile MP. "The entire regions of Tibet's three cholkhas [provinces] are under restriction, and particularly these [two] regions are especially under heavy restriction."        Gyamtso was initially detained on a homicide charge after he killed a man named Gayu in what he claimed was self-defense. While in prison in 1995, Gyamtso led a prison protest against Chinese rule over Tibet in notorious Drapchi Prison. According to Free Tibet, a London-based Tibetan advocate group, he distributed 300 handwritten letters and shouted pro-Tibet slogans.     As a result, he faced torture and was sentenced for execution, according to exile groups. After U.N. intervention on his behalf, the death sentence was commuted to 18 years.      VOA has reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington for a comment but did not get a response. 

Chinese President Lands in Italy, Set to Sign Belt and Road Deal

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 02:57
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Rome on Thursday at the start of a three-day visit during which he will sign an accord drawing Italy into his giant "Belt and Road" infrastructure plan, despite U.S. opposition. Italy, seeking new export deals to boost its stalled economy, will become the first Group of Seven major industrialized nation to join the multi-billion-dollar project, which is designed to improve Beijing's global trade reach. Xi is due to meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Friday and is set to sign the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Saturday before traveling to the Sicilian capital Palermo. More than 30 deals, worth up to 7 billion euros, are also expected to be agreed during the trip in an array of sectors, including accords opening up the northern ports of Trieste and Genoa to Chinese containers. "We are at the heart of the Mediterranean, yet the Chinese are everywhere in the region except here," junior industry minister Michele Geraci said in a video on his Facebook page. However, the prospect of the accord has caused ructions both within the coalition government and among Italy's allies — notably in Washington, where the White House National Security Council urged Rome not to give "legitimacy to China's infrastructure vanity project." And on the very day that Xi flew into Rome, European Union leaders in Brussels considered adopting a more defensive strategy towards China, having last week branded the world's second largest economic power a "systemic rival." The European Union has grown increasingly frustrated by what it sees as China's slowness to open its economy and by a surge of Chinese takeovers in critical EU sectors, accusing it of distorting local markets. Rome says such concerns should not stop it improving its ties and points to the fact that 13 EU countries have already signed MOUs with China, including Hungary, Poland and Greece. "We have weighed up all the risks and I think this is a great result for Italy," said Geraci, who lived in China for a decade before joining the government last year. Geraci later added that a Chinese company might even come to the rescue of Italy's perennially sickly national airline, Alitalia, which is struggling to find the foreign suitors it needs to stay solvent. However, in a concession to Washington, the government moved hastily this week to protect its telecoms sector from foreign predators amid concerns that Italy might expose itself to hi-tech espionage as a result of closer links with Beijing. China has shrugged off the controversy, with its vice foreign minister saying it was "hard to avoid misunderstandings" over the burgeoning Belt and Road project. The initiative is aimed at creating a modern-day Silk Road, reviving the ancient trade routes that connected east and west. More than 150 countries, regions and international groups have already signed pacts with Beijing. After his stay in Italy, Xi will fly on to Monaco and France at the head of a 500-strong delegation.

Malaysian Leader in Pakistan to Sign $900M in Investment Deals 

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 02:55
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad arrived Thursday in Pakistan on an official three-day visit, where his high-powered delegation is expected to finalize investment deals worth nearly $900 million, officials said.    The Malaysian leader will also be the chief guest at the Pakistan Day military parade Saturday, the Foreign Ministry announced.    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's adviser on commerce told reporters that business leaders accompanying Mahathir would sign three memorandums of understanding on Friday covering up to $900 million worth of investments in information technology and telecom sectors.   The adviser, Razak Dawood, said the deals with Malaysia would also provide Pakistan a new opening toward membership in the Association of South East Asian Nations. He said Malaysian businessmen had also indicated they would like to invest in other sectors, including energy and textiles, to help Pakistan improve its exports.    Officials said that Malaysia's Proton carmaker signed an agreement late last year with a Pakistani partner to set up an assembly plant in the southern city of Karachi that would be its first facility in South Asia. Khan and his Malaysian counterpart are expected to officiate at a symbolic groundbreaking of the Proton plant Friday. Looking for investors Since taking office last August, Khan has approached nations that have warm relations with Pakistan, including China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Malaysia, to bring investment and financial deposits to help reduce a widening current account deficit and shore up foreign reserves.   Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have deposited or are in the process of depositing $6 billion in loans in recent months. The two countries have also agreed to allow Islamabad to import oil on deferred payments. China is expected to deposit more than $2 billion in the next few days.    Beijing has invested more than $19 billion over the past six years in energy and infrastructure projects under what is known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, as part of its global Belt and Road Initiative.    Last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visited Islamabad and signed investment agreements worth $20 billion, including a $10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex in the southwestern port city of Gwadar.    Pakistani officials say they are also close to securing a deal with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package reportedly of up to $12 billion.

Vietnamese Blogger who Vanished in Thailand Jailed in Hanoi

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 23:09
A Vietnamese blogger who vanished in Thailand earlier this year is being held in a Hanoi prison, his friend and wife confirmed Thursday. Truong Duy Nhat wrote weekly posts about politics and current affairs for Radio Free Asia (RFA) and last posted about the prospects for change in Vietnam in light of major anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela. All independent media is banned in Vietnam and bloggers, activists and rights lawyers are routinely jailed. The one-party state has seen an uptick of arrests under a hardline leadership in charge since 2016, with nearly 60 put behind bars last year according to an AFP tally. Nhat, 55, fled to Thailand in January and applied for refugee status with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, according to RFA. His employer and family lost contact with him soon after and he has not been heard from since. The UN said it does not comment on individual cases. Nhat's friend Pham Xuan Nguyen said he visited Hanoi's T-16 jail on Wednesday and received confirmation Nhat was being held there. "I took Nhat's wife to the jail yesterday. I saw the book the jail gave to her to register future visits," he told AFP Thursday. "Inside the book, the date of his arrest was written January 28, 2019... it said that he was transferred to the jail the same day," the friend said, adding that they did not see Nhat. The blogger's wife Cao Thi Xuan Phuong confirmed the account to AFP, declining to comment further. His daughter Truong Thuc Doan, who lives in Canada, said she believes he was taken from Thailand against his will. "It's clear that my father did not voluntarily go back to Vietnam," she told RFA. The circumstances of Nhat's return have not been confirmed by Hanoi and he has not yet been formally charged. RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan said Thursday the organisation remains "very concerned about our contributor and his treatment in detention". This is Nhat's second prison stint. He was jailed for two years in 2014 for "abusing democratic freedoms" after writing blogs critical of Vietnam's communist leadership. Hanoi has in the past forcibly returned corruption suspects, including a former state oil executive kidnapped by Vietnamese security agents from a Berlin park in 2017. Last year, a fugitive spy was sent back from Singapore to face trial for divulging state secrets.  

Erdogan Airs Mosque Gunman Video Ahead Visit by NZ Minister

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 22:30
Turkey’s president has again screened clips of a video taken by the Christchurch mosque gunman, a day before the foreign minister of New Zealand, which is trying to stop its use, is due to visit Turkey. Erdogan broadcast the video at an election rally Thursday in Eskisehir, central Turkey, to criticize the Turkish opposition, which he claimed “did not see the big picture” and threats against Turkey. Erdogan has sparked outrage abroad by showing the videos at election rallies. He also triggered tensions with Australia for comments suggesting that Australians and New Zealanders with anti-Muslim views could return home in coffins. Australia said Thursday that progress had been made on mending ties after a spokesman for Erdogan said the president’s words earlier this week were “taken out of context.”

US Negotiators to Visit China Next Week for New Round of Trade Talks

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 18:50
China says a high-ranking U.S. delegation will travel to Beijing next week to resume negotiations aimed at resolving the ongoing trade war between the world's two leading economies. Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng announced Thursday that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will visit the Chinese capital next Thursday and Friday, March 28 & 29, followed by a trip to Washington in early April by Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. The trade war between the United States and China began last year when President Donald Trump imposed punitive tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports to compel Beijing to change its trading practices. China has retaliated with its own tariff increases on $110 billion of U.S. exports. The Trump administration is also pushing China to end its practice of forcing U.S. companies to transfer their technology advances to Chinese firms. Trump had initially imposed a deadline of March 2 for both sides to reach a deal before imposing a hike in tariffs from 10 to 25 percent, but delayed the increase late last month citing "substantial progress" in the negotiations. But Chinese President Xi Jinping has reportedly cancelled tentative plans to visit Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida next month to sign a final deal, a sign that the talks have stalled. Trump issued a warning Wednesday that U.S. tariffs could remain in place for a "substantial period" to ensure that Beijing lives up to any agreement.  

Ethiopian Survivor Recounts New Zealand Mosque Attacks

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 15:40
Abdulkadir Ababora was sitting in the front row of a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week when a 28-year-old Australian gunman opened fire during Friday prayers. Fifty worshipers were killed in the March 15 attacks in two mosques, and the gunman appeared intent of taking as many lives as possible. “Those who were hit with the automatic weapons fell, and he went and checked those who were breathing and started shooting at those who were already on the ground,” Abdulkadir told VOA’s Afaan Oromoo service. Abdulkadir, meanwhile, lay under a bookshelf, pretending to be dead. “I pulled the Quranic bookshelf on top of me to hide my head under and held my breath so that he didn’t detect I was alive,” Abdulkadir said. The kinds of weapons used in the attack are now banned in the country. New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced Thursday that the government would outlaw “military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles,” effective immediately. Abdulkadir said he “saw blood flowing like a river” as bullets pierced victims in his mosque.  “I didn’t think it was real, and I thought it was something out of a cinema or a movie,” he added. Originally from Ethiopia, Abdulkadir now works as a taxi driver in New Zealand. He left his wife, who gave birth two weeks ago, at home and his other children at school before heading to the mosque that ill-fated day.  “I am not sure if he passed me thinking I was dead, but he shot those who were on my left and right,” Abdulkadir said. “All I was thinking about was my wife and my three children. … I was thinking that it was going to be my turn, and I lost hope at the moment.” Victims’ families have begun receiving their loved ones’ bodies. On Tuesday, six victims’ bodies were returned to families, according to police, and the rest will soon get a place to rest. The victims included refugees from Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan, along with other people seeking refuge. Mike Bush, New Zealand’s commissioner of police, said Thursday that all of the victims have been identified and their families notified, earlier saying, “this is for us an absolute priority for family reasons, for compassionate reasons and for cultural reasons.” Among those killed was 3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim, the youngest victim of the attacks. Despite the attacks and ongoing islamophobic sentiments, Abdulkadir remains hopeful.  “New Zealand is a peaceful place, and we have never seen anything like this before,” he said. “Migrants are now getting help — more than anytime before — and showing us support and strength.” This story originated in VOA's Horn of Africa’s Afaan Oromoo service.

Taiwan Leader Visits Pacific Allies, to Stop in Hawaii 

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 15:15
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen left Thursday on a tour of diplomatic allies in the Pacific that will end with a stopover in Hawaii. Taiwan has struggled to shore up its dwindling roster of allies as countries are choosing instead to establish relations with Beijing, which considers the self-governing island part of Chinese territory. Tsai will visit Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported. The agency said she will transit through Hawaii on March 27 on her way back from the Marshall Islands, but did not give further details. Only 17 mainly small, developing countries still recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation. The island split from mainland China amid a civil war in 1949. Beijing has recently ratcheted up its rhetoric around “re-unifying” democratically governed Taiwan with Communist Party-ruled mainland China. China is particularly sensitive to cooperation between Taiwan and the U.S. When the latter approved the sale of $330 million of military equipment to Taiwan last September, China warned of “severe damage” to bilateral relations. Ahead of a similar stopover in Hawaii in 2017, China demanded that the U.S. bar Tsai from transiting through in order to “avoid sending any erroneous messages to the Taiwan independence force.”

Australia Evacuates 2,000 People From Storm’s Path

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 14:46
Authorities Thursday were moving about 2,000 people inland from part of Australia’s northern coast ahead of a powerful cyclone expected to hit Saturday. Evacuees were being moved by air and road from remote, mostly indigenous communities on the east coast of the Northern Territory to its capital, Darwin. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said Cyclone Trevor with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour (200 kph) and gusts up to 160 mph was expected to bring heavy rainfall and a dangerous storm surge. An emergency was declared in communities along the western Gulf of Carpentaria where Trevor is expected to make landfall, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said. At landfall, Trevor is forecast to be a Category 4 severe tropical cyclone, roughly similar to a Category 2 or 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale used in the U.S. It’s the largest cyclone-related evacuation in the Northern Territory since Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin in 1974, leaving 71 people dead and forcing the evacuation of 30,000 people. Gunner said the communities are being evacuated because of their remoteness. Almost 1,000 residents had been evacuated by late Thursday from the towns of Groote Eylandt and nearby Numbulwar, Gunner said. Most of Borroloola’s 900 residents were expected to be evacuated, along with several smaller communities. Most would be housed in temporary accommodations in Darwin, Gunner said. Trevor earlier crossed the Cape York peninsula in northern Queensland state, causing flooding, closing roads and knocking out power. No fatalities have been recorded.

New Zealand Suspect Charged With Murder of Person Who is Alive

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 14:08
New Zealand police say they inadvertently charged the mosque terror suspect with the murder of a person who is still alive. Police charged 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant with a single, representative count of murder after 50 people were killed in Friday’s attack on two mosques in Christchurch.  But police said in a statement Thursday that they made an error on the charging sheet prepared for Tarrant’s first court appearance Saturday. Police said they have spoken with the person incorrectly named on the document and have apologized, and said they would change the charge sheet. Police did not offer further details of what went wrong or make anybody available for an interview. The name of the person on the charging sheet has been suppressed by court order. Officials have said more charges against Tarrant would likely follow.  

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.