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Diplomat Says Australia to Remove Child Refugees From Detention Centers

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 07:26
Australia will remove child refugees from its remote Pacific detention centers within weeks, a senior diplomat said, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison seeks to secure support for his government, which looks set to become a minority administration. Canberra's hard-line immigration policy sees asylum seekers intercepted at sea trying to reach Australia sent for processing to camps in Papua New Guinea and on the South Pacific island of Nauru. While aid agencies have called for the removal of the more than 1,000 refugees held for more than five years, Morrison is under immense pressure to resettle 40 children currently held on Nauru amid warnings they are suffering from declining mental health. Detailing the first public timetable for the removal of the children, George Brandis, Australia's High Commissioner to Britain, said Canberra will remove the children, though he did specify where they would be moved to. "There are hardly any children in Nauru and in New Guinea, and we expect that by the end of this year there'll be none," Brandis told British radio station LBC on Tuesday. By resettling the child refugees, Morrison will meet a key demand from several independent lawmakers for supporting for his government. Morrison's ruling Liberal Party is on course to lose its one-seat parliamentary majority as voters in a Sydney electorate look set to select an independent lawmaker to replace former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. Counting in the by-election continues, with independent Kerryn Phelps ahead of the Liberal Party candidate by nearly 1,800 votes, with just 2,000 ballots to be processed, the Australian Electoral Commission said. Turnbull quit politics shortly after he was removed from the office of prime minister in August following a party revolt that installed Morrison as leader. The loss of Turnbull's affluent Sydney constituency would leave Morrison's government dependent on the support of five independent lawmakers to pass legislation in the lower house of parliament. Several independent lawmakers have said they may back no confidence motions that would trigger an early election unless the children held on Nauru were removed.

Report: North Korea Readies Nuclear, Missile Sites for International Inspectors

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 04:12
South Korea's spy agency has observed preparations by North Korea for international inspections at several of its nuclear and missile test sites, the Yonhap news agency said on Wednesday, citing a South Korean lawmaker. Kim Min-ki of the ruling Democratic Party told reporters the South's National Intelligence Service observed North Koreans "conducting preparation and intelligence activities that seem to be in preparation for foreign inspectors’ visit" at Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the Sohae Satellite launching ground. The lawmaker added no major movements were seen at Yongbyon, the North's main nuclear complex. North Korea has stopped nuclear and missile tests in the past year, but it did not allow international inspections of its dismantling of Punggye-ri in May, drawing criticism that the action was merely for show and could be reversed. In September, its leader, Kim Jong Un, also pledged at a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to close Sohae and allow experts to observe the dismantling of the missile engine testing site and a launch pad. At the time, Moon said North Korea agreed to let international inspectors observe a "permanent dismantlement" of key missile facilities, and take further steps, such as closing Yongbyon, in return for reciprocal moves by the United States. The U.S. State Department and Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Washington has demanded steps such as a full disclosure of the North’s nuclear and missile facilities, before agreeing to Pyongyang’s key goals. American officials have been skeptical of Kim's commitment to giving up nuclear weapons, but the North’s pledge at the summit with the South drew an enthusiastic response from President Donald Trump. In Washington, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said the United States and South Korea would make a decision by December on major joint military exercises for 2019. Earlier this month, the two countries suspended Vigilant Ace, one of several exercises that have been halted to encourage dialogue. "We are not right now concerned with a loss of combat capability," U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters after the meeting with his South Korean counterpart. "Clearly as we go forward, we'll have to make adaptations to ensure we don't lose that capability. But right now, again this is not a total suspension of all collaboration and military exercises," Mattis added.    

Thai Junta's Rap Headache Beats On

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 02:24
The director of a viral rap video that has racked up tens of millions of views on YouTube with lyrics flaying Thailand's military junta says the artists behind it have no intention of hiding from police.  Since the junta, led by Prayut Chan-o-cha, seized power in a coup four years ago and banned political gatherings, it has harshly punished any form of dissent, jailing scores of critics and opponents.  That's why it was something of a surprise when director Teerawat Rujintham and the collective Rap Against Dictatorship launched a broadside against the military by releasing a profanity laced video called My Country Has It on Oct. 22.  Teerawat told VOA the public response to the video, which has been viewed more than 23 million times on YouTube, had vastly surpassed the group’s expectations.  Waiting for reaction "The project served its purpose, and for now each of the members of the group and I are just waiting for the reaction from those in power and the government to contact us," he said in an interview conducted partially through a translator.  He said he and the group were “not going to hide from the police. We're going to confront them, because I don't feel that [we] did anything wrong."  Teerawat said the video had tapped into brooding resentment that many Thais felt toward the junta "under the surface" but could not express.  "The country that points a gun at your throat.  Claims to have freedom but no right to choose.  You can't say [stuff] even though your mouth is full of it. Whatever you do the leader will see you," one artist raps in the video.  Police initially threatened to arrest group members after the song's release, but as online views of the video quickly shot up, they backed down.  Local media reported Deputy National Police Chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul had filed a defamation suit against the group and stressed that its members remained under investigation.  Police have not answered VOA requests for comment.  Prayut reportedly weighed in Tuesday, warning anyone who "shows appreciation for the song must accept responsibility for what happens to the country in future," according to the Bangkok Post.  "I do not care if they attack me. But if they do so against the country, I do not think it is appropriate," he reportedly said.  Undeterred, anti-junta punk rockers plan to hold a concert Saturday in Bangkok at the site of a notorious 1976 massacre of student protesters opposing military rule.  The massacre is regarded as a highly sensitive topic for the junta and is graphically depicted in Teerawat's video when the camera pans to a corpse hanging from a tree, representing the lynchings that took place. Teerawat said he chose to use the cover-up of the massacre as a metaphor for the present.  Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an associate professor of international political economy at Chulalongkorn University, said the artists are helping vent pent-up public frustration as long-delayed elections, expected now by mid-2019, draw closer.  More expected "It strikes a chord because they feel that they themselves are fed up and frustrated with no way out, no voices to be heard. So these guys are speaking up for them, and I think we will see more of it going forward," he said.  Political figures ranging from former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the young billionaire leader of the progressive new Future Forward party, have come out in support of the rappers' right to speak out.  Their support and the huge popularity of the artists means silencing them outright has become a precarious proposition, Thitinan said.  "The military government will be in a dilemma now because on the one hand they want to suppress it, there's no doubt. But if they do suppress it they have less chance of winning the election, because these groups are popular," he said.  "On the other hand, if they allow it to go on, to take place, then they would invite other groups, other movements to come to the fore against the military government," he said.  Meanwhile, street graffiti artist Headache Stencil has gained notice for skewering senior regime leaders, including Prayut, in his satirical works.  His depictions of former Prime Minister Najib Razak as a clown came in the lead-up to a widely unexpected electoral trouncing of the former leader, fueled by his alleged role in facilitating one of the biggest corporate frauds in history.  Paul Chambers, an expert on Thai politics and lecturer at Naresuan University, said Rap Against Dictatorship's video has gained strong popularity among urban voters, many of whom had originally supported the military coup.  "Thus the writing is on the wall: More and more former junta supporters want the military to return to the barracks," he wrote in an email.  "The surprise is that more and more urban Thais, who tended to remain supportive or apathetic to the junta, have now jumped on the bandwagon of demanding a return to democracy now."   Prayut repeatedly has delayed promised elections since staging the 2014 coup, Thailand's 12th since 1932. He also passed a new constitution that grants him extraordinary power and the military virtually total control of parliament.  Some steps have been taken to loosen the bans on political activities he implemented after seizing power, though many remain.  Rangsiya Ratanachai contributed to this report. 

China Picks Philippine Port to Extend Belt & Road Into South Seas

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 23:35
China is exploring ways to build new infrastructure in a second-tier Philippine port city as a link in its Belt-and-Road Initiative for expanding Chinese trade in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the Philippine port of Davao City Monday to talk for an hour with the host country’s President Rodrigo Duterte, according to the Philippine presidential office website. Wang said Sino-Philippine economic cooperation can “expand to new areas, including projects of the Belt and Road Initiative,” China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported. Filipinos have expected China to act on its October 2016 pledge of $24 billion in aid and investment. They worry especially because the Philippines had struggled to get along with Beijing due to a maritime sovereignty dispute. A rehab of Davao’s deep-water but otherwise small, ramshackle port would increase business for the 1.6 million-person city that anchors a resource-rich but largely impoverished southern island. Chinese shippers could use Davao as an import-export base and call there along the way to countries further south. “At the end of the day they’re saying that it’s beneficial for China to have improving trade with many of these countries and if you have better infrastructure, it will help trade both ways,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist with the research firm IHS Markit. Belt, road and sea China kicked off its Belt-and-Road initiative in 2013 to open trade foreign routes by investing in the infrastructure development of 100 other countries. The “scope” is expanding from initial recipient countries in continental Eurasia to regions including the South Pacific, Xinhua noted. Davao City, which is on a gulf near the Philippines’ Pacific coast, would make sense as a place for Chinese to use for shipping minerals, said Christian de Guzman, vice president and senior credit officer with Moody’s in Singapore. “Mindanao itself I think has been a recipient of I wouldn’t say significant but a number of Chinese investments over the years related to the extraction of mineral resources, mining basically,” de Guzman said. “China is increasingly active globally in trying to secure some of these mineral resources,” he said. Davao port development, he added, “could be tied to the fact that Mindanao has been a recipient of these investments in the past.” Adding to China's southbound focus, Indonesia received $23.3 billion in Belt-and-Road contracts in April this year. The Belt-and-Road is also opening a “vast market” for South Pacific nations, Xinhua said this month after Samoa signed an agreement to join China’s initiative. “If they have plans for extending the maritime silk road towards Indonesia and the South Pacific islands, then Davao would be a good place,” said Jay Batongbacal, University of the Philippines international maritime affairs professor. He suggested that imports as exports could be sent through Davao. “Although it’s a major port compared to Manila, it’s less busy,” he said. Tough but receptive political climate Duterte, also former mayor of Davao City, opened channels for Chinese investment pledges by setting aside the maritime dispute that hampered relations from 2012 until he took office in 2016. Davao “happens to be the home city of Duterte,” Batongbacal said. In China, he added, “they know they can do more in that city, faster, with him.” While Filipinos welcome investment in a $169 billion, five-year infrastructure renewal effort hatched under Duterte, their country and China still dispute sovereignty over tracts of the South China Sea. China leads in military infrastructure buildup in the sea’s contested Spratly Islands. “The southern port development plan in Davao is interesting because it’s part of the Philippine plans to encourage more Chinese investment, but it comes at a time when the Philippines is quite uncomfortable with the military activities and buildup in the Spratly Islands immediately off [the coast],” said Stuart Orr, business and law professor at Deakin University in Australia. Some skeptics of Sino-Philippine relations are impatient for China to actualize the pledges made to date. In August, Wang and the Philippine finance secretary agreed to fast-track two railway projects. But analysts caution the Philippines against owing China a hard-to-pay debt as Belt-and-Road recipients Pakistan and Sri Lanka do. Unpaid debt has prompted China and other partner countries to consider localizing more projects and making bids more transparent. Due to “debt trap” fears, Batongbacal said, “the [Philippine] government is much more keenly aware of what to avoid.”

UNHCR: Myanmar Not Safe for Return of Rohingya Refugees

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 23:02
The U.N. refugee agency opposes a recent agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh to begin repatriating thousands of Rohingya refugees in the coming weeks. The UNHCR says conditions are not conducive for the safe, dignified return of the refugees to a country they fled more than a year ago to escape persecution and violence. The decision to begin the repatriation operation in mid-November comes about a week after U.N. investigators warned of an ongoing genocide in Myanmar. Bangladesh reportedly handed over to Myanmar the names of more than 5,000 Rohingya refugees who had been processed for return. U.N. refugee spokesman Andrej Mahecic tells VOA that Myanmar reportedly agreed to the list, but the Bangladeshi authorities must consult the refugees on whether they would like to return to Myanmar. "UNHCR was not involved in preparation, transmission or receipt of this list nor in the verification and clearing that was reportedly carried out by the Government of Myanmar," Mahecic said. "Because we consider that conditions in Rakhine state are not yet conducive for voluntary return in the conditions of safety, dignity and sustainability, UNHCR will not, at this stage, facilitate any refugee returns to Rakhine state."  More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Cox's Bazar at the end of August 2017, in the wake of a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military, including killings, rapes and arson attacks. The United Nations reports Rohingya continue to flee Myanmar, with more than 14,000 refugees arriving in Bangladesh this year. The Rohingya have lived as a stateless people in Myanmar for more than six generations. Mahecic says it is up to the Myanmar authorities to create the conditions for refugee returns, which include granting the Rohingya citizenship, freedom of movement, access to education and other basic services and rights available to the rest of the population.

China Manufacturing Weakens to Two-Year Low

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 22:28
An official measure of China's manufacturing activity fell to a two-year low in October, adding to pressure on Beijing to shore up economic growth amid a tariff war with Washington. The monthly purchasing managers' index issued Tuesday by the National Bureau of Statistics and an industry group, the China of Logistics and Purchasing, fell to 50.2 from September's 50.8 on a 100-point scale. Export orders weakened but the biggest impact was from cooling domestic demand after Beijing tightened lending controls to rein in a debt boom. Forecasters said the slowdown suggests Beijing will need to ease lending controls further and take other steps to shore up economic growth.

S. Korean Voting Machines at Center of DRC Election Dispute

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 18:14
As elections approach in the central African nation the Democratic Republic of Congo, concerns have been raised over the integrity of electronic voting machines being used in the national poll that were made by South Korea’s Miryu Systems. VOA’s Steve Miller reports from Seoul on the risks.

Underwater Wreckage of Downed Indonesian Jetliner May Have Been Located

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 15:43
Search and rescue crews may have located the wreckage of an Indonesian jetliner that crashed into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta early Monday morning. Military chief Hadi Tjahjanto said Wednesday that authorities "strongly believe" they have pinpointed the resting place of Lion Air Flight JT610, which disappeared from radar screens after taking off on a flight to nearby Bangka-Belitung island. Navy officer Haris Djoko Nugroho told an Indonesian television station that a 22-meter long object was discovered late Tuesday night. Nugroho said divers will be sent to inspect the object after they conduct a side-scan sonar to get more detailed images.  Locating the wreckage will put search crews one step closer to recovering the plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorders, known as the "black boxes," which will provide crucial information on why the pilots asked to return to the airport shortly after takeoff. All 189 passengers and crew were killed in the crash. Divers taking part in the search and recovery efforts have recovered enough human remains from the crash site to fill as many as 48 body bags.  The crash is the first one involving the Boeing 737 MAX 8, a new fuel-efficient version of the legendary passenger jet. Representatives with the U.S.-based aviation company are flying to Indonesia to meet with officials with budget airline Lion Air, which has ordered 50 of the new 737 MAX 8 planes at a cost of $6.2 billion. Lion Air chief Edward Sirait told reporters Monday that the aircraft -- which had only been in service for two months -- suffered a technical problem during a flight from the resort island of Bali to Jakarta the night before, but was resolved according to procedure.  Indonesia's transport ministry has ordered an inspection of all the new 737 MAX 8 jets. Monday's crash is another black mark on Indonesia's fast-growing aviation sector, which has acquired a reputation for poor safety oversight. The country's airlines have previously been banned from operating in the United States and European Union.

Plane Crash Refocuses Discussion on Indonesian Air Security

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 15:34
The crash of a Lion Air jet carrying 189 people in Indonesia is again raising discussions about the country’s air safety, which once had a poor reputation but has improved markedly in recent years.  Just 13 minutes after taking off from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta to the city Pangkal Pinang in the Bangka-Belitung province, the Boeing 737 Max 8 — operating since August with an 800-hour airtime — went missing from the radar after the pilot requested to return to base. The plane crashed into the Java Sea Monday near Karawang, West Java.  Search and rescue team has been deployed in the waters, having found debris, belongings and 48 body bags containing body parts. The search for the black box, deemed to be the key element in looking for the reason why the plane crashed, is still underway, with ships and sonar system already deployed.  Data shown by the flight tracking service FlightRadar24 showed that the airplane had shown irregularities, noting “an increase of speed,” a “decrease in altitude and a “high rate of descent.”  The government wouldn’t directly comment for this story, but at a press conference Tuesday the Transport ministry said it has conducted an inspection on Lion Air’s eight other Boeing 737 Max 8 planes. “This is a form of a sanction, we’re inspecting the planes for clarification purposes to determine whether they’re good or faulty,” said Budi Karya, Indonesia’s transportation minister, in a press conference Tuesday. According to Daniel Putut, Lion’s Air Managing Director, the investigation will perhaps take a week to complete and Lion Air is ready to “receive any sanction that’s given,” he said Tuesday in a press conference. The crash is the worst since 1997 when a Garuda Indonesia airplane crashed into the mountains and killed 234 in total, leaving no survivors behind. An AirAsia flight went down in 2014, killing 162. The latest tragedy has again brought to the fore questions on Indonesia’s aviation security. Most of the problems, according to Geoffrey Thomas, the administrator of the website Airline Ratings, boil down to infrastructures. In 2004, a Lion Air airplane skidded off and overran the runway, killing 25, according to the Aviation Safety Network. “The safety of the infrastructure itself needs to be improved,” he said.  But aviation observer Alvin Lie says Indonesia has already had several improvements that qualify its air space for international standardization. It wasn’t always like this. In 2007, the European Union barred most Indonesia’s airlines from entering their soil, a ban that was partially lifted in 2009 and only fully lifted last June.  In 2016, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted its 2007 ban and bumped Indonesia into category 1, allowing its airlines to enter the U.S.. Lie said Indonesia has reached international standards, including the quality of human resources, navigation infrastructures, quality of airports and search and rescue management.  “In the last four years, we have improved our air security,” he said. The recent accident could be treated as “a mar on an otherwise better track record,” said observer Dudi Sudibyo. Sudibyo also referred to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s 2017 recognition of Indonesia’s achievements in “resolving safety oversight deficiencies and improving the effective implementation of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs).” But more improvements are still necessary according to Lie.  Indonesia’s domestic traffic has ballooned from 30 million in 2005 to almost 97 million last year according to the consultancy group CAPA-Center for Aviation. Though noting that Indonesia is the world’s fifth largest domestic aviation market, it is still plagued by an “unfavorabl[e] regulatory environment and overcapacity.”  “Right now, airspace in Indonesia is overloaded, especially in Java,” Lie said. “We have to improve the capacity of our air navigation service. One more problem we have is on our technology.” In spite of all this, Lie also noted that “compliance [from airlines] is another matter.” Lie said what is needed is a “Commitment from the government—many of the regulations have to be up to international par.” Indonesia’s The National Transportation Safety Commission (KNKT) noted that the average of number of plane accidents every year in Indonesia is 28. According to its findings from 2007-2017, 572 fatalities were recorded. In 2016, the commission said that more than two-thirds of the accidents were caused by human error. The other causes included runway excursion, ground collision and more.

Millions of Disaster Victims Miss Out on Humanitarian Aid

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 10:00
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has issued an annual report that focuses on the millions of elderly, disabled, and vulnerable victims of natural and man-made disasters who fall through the humanitarian cracks and don't receive desperately needed aid. The United Nations reports more than 134 million people are in need of humanitarian aid and protection. In addition, many of the more than 68 million migrants on the move get caught in emergency situations and also need assistance. The International Red Cross Federation says the world is in the middle of an unprecedented period of humanitarian needs because of the severity and frequency of shocks and hazards.  Millions of people who find themselves in dire straits receive the food, shelter, medical and other care they require to help them survive and rebuild their lives.  Unfortunately, IFRC Secretary General Elhadi As Sy said millions of others get lost in the humanitarian system and are left behind. He said those people often have the misfortune of being at the wrong place, at the wrong time and are not counted. “These are the stories of the old lady or the old man in the middle of a disaster that cannot run to a shelter. This is the disabled person that cannot line up in 40 degrees under the shade to carry a 50-kilo bag of rice. This is a child that is witnessing so many things that a child should never witness.”  Sy said many people are out of sight. They are hidden in the shadows of a disaster or inaccessible to those who could help and so they are left behind. He says millions of people are outside the traditional areas of conflict, disaster, displacement or disease. And so, they too, he says, get left behind. The Red Cross has several recommendations to remedy the serious gaps in humanitarian assistance operations. They include a call for better data on those most in need of aid and greater efforts by governments to prioritize support for people hardest to reach. Secretary-General Sy said there should be a major shift in how funds are allocated. He said more money should be entrusted to local and national humanitarian organizations. He said those groups speak the local languages and understand the local customs. He said they are best placed to know which members of their communities are the most isolated, the most vulnerable and the most in need.

Pacific Trade Pact to Start at End of 2018 After Six Members Ratify

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 08:38
A landmark 11-member trade deal aimed at slashing barriers in some of Asia Pacific's fastest growing economies will come into force at the end of December, the New Zealand government said on Wednesday. The deal would move forward after Australia informed New Zealand that it had become the sixth nation to formally ratify the deal, alongside Canada, Japan, Mexico and Singapore. "This triggers the 60 day countdown to entry into force of the Agreement and the first round of tariff cuts," said New Zealand Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker. His country is responsible for official tasks such as receiving and circulating notifications made by members of the pact. The original 12-member deal was thrown into limbo early last year when President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement to prioritize protecting U.S. jobs. The 11 remaining nations, led by Japan, finalized a revised trade pact in January, called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The success of the deal has been touted by officials in Japan and other member countries as an antidote to counter growing U.S. protectionism, and with the hope that Washington would eventually sign back up. Australia said the agreement will boost agricultural exports, set to be worth more than A$52 billion ($36.91 billion) this year despite a crippling drought across much of the country's east coast. "It will give Australian grain farmers a good reason to smile, at a time when drought conditions have played havoc for many, by ensuring improved market access and better grain prices once more favorable seasonal conditions return," said Luke Mathews, trading and economics manager at industry body, GrainGrowers Australia. The deal will reduce tariffs in economies that together amount to more than 13 percent of global GDP — a total of $10 trillion. With the United States, it would have represented 40 percent. The five member countries still to ratify the deal are Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam.

UN Sets Out Massive Benefits from Air Pollution Action in Asia

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 05:22
Asia could reap massive benefits in health, environment, agriculture and economic growth if governments implement 25 policies such as banning the burning of household waste and cutting industrial emissions, according to a U.N. report. Air pollution is a health risk for 4 billion people in Asia, killing about 4 million of them annually, and efforts to tackle the problem are already on track to ensure air pollution is no worse in 2030, but huge advances could be made, the report said. The report's 25 recommendations would cost an estimated $300 billion to $600 billion annually, a big investment but loose change compared with a projected $12 trillion economic growth increase. The publication of the report, "Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science based solutions," on Tuesday coincides with the World Health Organization holding its first global air pollution conference in Geneva this week The recommendations also included post-combustion controls to cut emissions from power stations, higher standards for shipping fuels, ending routine flaring of gas from oil wells, and energy efficiency standards for industry and households. The biggest gains would come from clean cooking, reducing emissions from industry, using renewable fuels for power generation and more efficient use of fertilizers. Huge improvements in post-combustion controls and emission standards for road vehicles were already anticipated because of recent legislation, although both could be improved further. Indeed, India may halt the use of private vehicles in the capital New Delhi if air pollution, which has reached severe levels in recent days, gets worse, a senior environmental official said Tuesday. Authorities in the capital have already advised residents to keep outdoor activity to a minimum from the beginning of next month until at least the end of the Hindu festival of Diwali on Nov. 7, when firecrackers typically further taint air choked by the burning of crop stubble in neighboring states. Helena Molin Valdes, head of Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat at U.N. Environment, said there was increasing political openness to taking action on air pollution and the report reflected three years of discussions with governments. "What the governments were saying in the region was: 'Don't tell us we have a problem, we know there is a problem, how can we deal with it and what will it take to do it?'" she said. The report estimates its recommendations would cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent compared to a baseline scenario, potentially decreasing global warming by one-third of a degree Celsius by 2050, which would also be a contribution in the fight against climate change. One billion people would enjoy high air quality, while the number exposed to the worst pollution would be cut by 80 percent to 430 million. Premature deaths would fall by a third. Crop yields would benefit because of a reduction in ozone, which is estimated to have cut 2015 harvests by 10 percent for maize, 4 percent for rice, 22 percent for soy and 9 percent across Asia, a total of 51 million tons.

US Navy Chief Says US, China to 'Meet More And More on High Seas'

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 04:14
Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said Tuesday the United States and China "will meet each other more and more on the high seas" after a Chinese warship came close to a U.S. ship in the disputed South China Sea. The Chinese vessel came within 45 yards (meters) of the USS Decatur during a "freedom of navigation" sail in late September, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said this month. The U.S. mission was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, where Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian navies operate. China's relationship with the Russian navy should be watched "with interest" as it grows, said Richardson, speaking at an event co-organized by the U.S. embassy in Jakarta. China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about $3 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

China Steps Up VPN Blocks Ahead of Major Trade, Internet Shows

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 02:05
Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts to block virtual private networks (VPN), service providers said Tuesday in describing a "cat-and-mouse" game with censors ahead of a major trade expo and internet conference. VPNs allow internet users in China, including foreign companies, to access overseas sites that authorities bar through the so-called Great Firewall, such as Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google. Since Xi Jinping became president in 2013, authorities have sought to curb VPN use, with providers suffering periodic lags in connectivity because of government blocks. "This time, the Chinese government seemed to have staff on the ground monitoring our response in real time and deploying additional blocks," said Sunday Yokubaitis, the chief executive of Golden Frog, the maker of the VyprVPN service. Authorities started blocking some of its services on Sunday, he told Reuters, although VyprVPN's service has since been restored in China. "Our counter measures usually work for a couple of days before the attack profile changes and they block us again," Yokubaitis said. The latest attacks were more aggressive than the "steadily increasing blocks" the firm had experienced in the second half of the year, he added. The Cyberspace Administration of China did not respond immediately to a faxed request from Reuters to seek comment. Another provider, ExpressVPN, also acknowledged connectivity issues on its services in China on Monday that sparked user complaints. "There has long been a cat-and-mouse game with VPNs in China and censors regularly change their blocking techniques," its spokesman told Reuters. Last year, Apple Inc dropped a number of unapproved VPN apps from its app store in China, after Beijing adopted tighter rules. Although fears of a blanket block on services have not materialized, industry experts say VPN connections often face outages around the time of major events in China. Xi will attend a huge trade fair in Shanghai next week designed to promote China as a global importer and calm foreign concern about its trade practices, while the eastern town of Wuzhen hosts the annual World Internet Conference to showcase China's vision for internet governance. Censors may be testing new technology that blocks VPNs more effectively, said Lokman Tsui, who studies freedom of expression and digital rights at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "It could be just a wave of experiments," he said of the latest service disruptions.

Four Dead Following Philippines Typhoon, Others Feared Trapped

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 01:00
Residents of the Philippines are reeling from yet another typhoon that left at least four people dead as it barreled through the northern part of the country Tuesday with wind gusts of up to 230 kilometers per hour and heavy rains. Before heading west over the South China Sea, Yutu triggered landslides that blocked highways on the main island of Luzon. Reports say roads blocked by collapsed earth engulfed a local government building under construction in the Mountain province, trapping more than 20 people. Among those trapped were public highway contractors, security guards and others who sought shelter, according to the civil defense leader in the Cordilleras, a landlocked area on Luzon. Yutu is the 18th typhoon to strike the Philippines this year. Thousands of people were evacuated before the arrival of the storm. On the night of October 24, Yutu was classified as a super typhoon as it made a direct hit on Saipan and Tinian, two islands of the Northern Marianas, a U.S. territory about 9,000 kilometers west of the U.S. mainland. The storm knocked out power, destroyed homes and delayed elections. The super typhoon was the strongest storm to strike the islands in 50 years. Yutu weakened substantially as it made its way over the Philippines, but weather forecasters said they expected it to regain strength over the South China Sea. In September, a super typhoon, Mangkhut, dumped massive rains on Luzon, triggering landslides that killed more than 70 people.

Bangladesh, Myanmar Agree to Repatriate Rohingya

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 23:15
Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to the country they fled, in the midst of a U.N warning that genocide was still being committed against them. Myanmar Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye told VOA Burmese that the date to begin the repatriation is tentatively set for November 15. He also added that more than 5,000 refugees have been verified for return. Over 720,000 of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority fled Rakhine State in August of last year after Rohingya militant attacks inspired a military crackdown from the government. Refugees and journalists have reported widespread killings, rape and the burning of villages. This is not the first attempt the governments have made to repatriate the Rohingyas, whose presence in Bangladesh has gone from welcomed to controversial as they strain the impoverished country’s resources. A similar attempt almost a year ago failed after hitting insurmountable logistical roadblocks. Last week, the chair of the U.N. fact finding mission in Myanmar warned that thousands of Rohingyas were still fleeing to Bangladesh, and that those who remained “continue to suffer the most severe” limitations and repression. Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding last month agreeing to meet certain conditions before beginning repatriation, including guaranteed security and a pathway to citizenship. The Rohingya have been technically stateless since a 1982 law stripped them of their citizenship. It is not clear where the Rohingyas would be relocated to, as most of their villages have been burned. The government has built new housing in Rakhine State since, but human rights groups have expressed concern that these could become guarded prisons. VOA's Burmese Service contributed to this report.

Australia's Ex-PM Warns Jerusalem Move Would Worry Indonesia

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 22:28
A former Australian prime minister has warned the government to expect a negative reaction from Indonesia if Australia follows the United States by shifting its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke to reporters after meeting Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on the tourist island of Bali on Monday to discuss a bilateral free trade deal.   "The president expressed to me... the very serious concern held in Indonesia about the prospect of the Australian Embassy in Israel being moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," Turnbull told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview aired on Tuesday. "There's no question that were that move to occur, it would be met with a very negative reaction in Indonesia."   "This is after all the largest... majority-Muslim country in the world, so we have to be very clear-eyed about that and we have to take into account Australia's national interest and our interests in the region when we... consider decisions like this,'' he added.   Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday no decision had been made yet on the embassy's location.   Morrison sent his predecessor to represent Australia at a climate change conference in Bali because of Turnbull's close personal rapport with the Indonesian leader, who had been disappointed that Turnbull's government colleagues replaced him in August in response to poor opinion polling.   Turnbull said he was confident that the free trade deal between Australia, a nation of 25 million people, and Indonesia, a near-neighbor with a population of more than 260 million people, would be signed within weeks.   Turnbull also said Australia should stick with a policy of more than 40 years that its embassy should be in Tel Aviv. Morrison, a long-time ally of Turnbull who had argued against replacing him in a leadership ballot of government lawmakers, floated the idea of shifting the embassy days before a by-election in a Sydney electorate with a large Jewish population.   The government lost the by-election, forced by Turnbull's resignation from Parliament, and its single-seat majority in the House of Representatives.   "Australia will always make our decisions on our foreign policy based on our interests and we'll do that as a sovereign nation," Morrison told reporters.   We'll consult, we'll listen to others, but at the end of the day... I will always put our interests first," he added.   The Trump administration turned its back on decades of U.S. policy last December by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and in May, it moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv. The decision angered the Muslim world and was a setback for Palestinian aspirations for statehood. Palestinians see east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future independent state.   Morrison said Australia remained committed to finding a two-state solution.   When Morrison became prime minister, he made his first overseas trip to Indonesia, an ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause, in a sign of the importance Australia places on the bilateral relationship.    

'Just a Little Wobble': Thousands Feel 6.1-Magnitude Quake in New Zealand

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 15:36
An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 struck New Zealand's north island on Tuesday, the United States Geological Survey said, a tremor felt by thousands of people although there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. Parliament was briefly suspended in Wellington and some flights aborted landings there, the New Zealand Herald newspaper said, following the quake, which hit 63 km (39 miles) east of the city of New Plymouth, at a depth of 228 km (142 miles). "It was just a little wobble, it's not much," said Ken Wheeler, manager of a hardware store at Taumarunui, 31 km (19 miles) northeast of the epicenter. "We've got quite a gift section here, with crystal glasses, and it did nothing." The quake had initially been assessed at a magnitude of 6.2. New Zealand's GeoNet quake monitor said about 15,600 people felt the shaking, which most described as moderate or light. No damage had been reported, a civil defense spokeswoman said. In Auckland, where Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are visiting, a Reuters witness said there was no shaking.

Indonesia Plane Crash Search Finds Remains, Debris At Sea

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 11:45
Search and rescue personnel worked through the night to find victims of the Lion Air plane crash in Indonesia, sending 24 body bags to identification experts as the airline flew dozens of grieving relatives to the country's capital. The 2-month-old Boeing jet crashed into the Java Sea early Monday, just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.  The National Search and Rescue Agency said Tuesday that 10 intact bodies as well as body parts had been recovered. President Joko Widodo had ordered the search and rescue effort to continue through the night. The disaster has reignited concerns about safety in Indonesia's fast-growing aviation industry, which was recently removed from European Union and U.S. blacklists. Data pinged from the Boeing 737 Max 8 showed erratic speed, altitude and direction in the minutes after takeoff. Safety experts cautioned, however, that the data must be checked for accuracy against the plane's so-called black boxes, if they are recovered.  Specialist ships and a remotely operated underwater vehicle have been deployed to search for the plane's hull and flight recorder. Distraught family members struggled to comprehend the sudden loss of loved ones in the crash of a plane with experienced pilots in fine weather. "This is a very difficult time for our family,'' said Leo Sihombing, outside a crisis center set up for family members at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport. "We know that it is very unlikely that my cousin is still alive, but no one can provide any certainty or explanation,'' he said as other family members wept and hugged each other.  "What we hope now is rescuers can find his body, so we can bury him properly, and authorities can reveal what caused the plane crash,'' Sihombing said. More than 300 people including soldiers, police and fishermen are involved in the grim search, retrieving aircraft debris and personal items such as a crumpled cellphone, ID cards and carry-on bags from the seas northeast of Jakarta. Search and Rescue Agency chief Muhammad Syaugi has said he's certain it won't take long to locate the hull of the aircraft and its flight recorders due to the relatively shallow 30 meter (115 foot) depth of the waters where it crashed.