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Australian Lawmaker ‘Egged’ After Mass Shooting Comments

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 08:41
Australian police said they were investigating after a teenager smashed an egg on a controversial right-wing lawmaker who had blamed New Zealand’s mass mosque shootings on the country’s immigration program. The footage, shared widely on social media, showed Senator Fraser Anning being approached from behind at a political event Saturday, before an egg was cracked on the back of his head. The footage showed Anning appearing to try to hit the person, before that person was dragged to the ground. Victoria Police released a statement saying the incident was being investigated “in its entirety” and that it involved a 17-year-old boy. Anning has received widespread condemnation following comments he made saying the cause of New Zealand’s worst peace time shooting was letting “Muslim fanatics” migrate to the country. “(Anning’s) conflation of this horrendous terrorist attack with issues of immigration, in his attack on Islamic faith specifically, these comments are appalling and they’re ugly and they have no place in Australia,” Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison told journalists Saturday. Calls to Anning’s electoral and parliamentary offices went unanswered Sunday. A GoFundMe campaign had raised more than A$19,000 ($13,500) for the teenager to cover the cost of legal fees and so he could “buy more eggs” by Sunday and the hashtag #EggBoy was trending on Twitter. Yiannopoulos banned Meanwhile, Australia’s immigration minister announced Saturday that controversial conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos would not be allowed to enter Australia following Yiannopoulos describing Islam as a “barbaric” and “alien” religion. “Mr Yiannopoulos’ comments on social media regarding the Christchurch terror attack are appalling and foment hatred and division,” immigration minister David Coleman said in a statement. Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder Saturday after 50 people were killed and dozens wounded in mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques

US Reacts to New Zealand Mosque Shootings

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 23:12
Following the deadly shootings at two New Zealand mosques, U.S. President Donald Trump offered condolences but denied that white nationalism is a rising threat. The attacks are renewing debate in the U.S. about whether anti-immigrant political rhetoric is contributing to the rise of hate crimes. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

When Gunman Advanced on New Zealand Mosque, 1 Man Ran at Him

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 23:04
When the gunman advanced toward the mosque, killing those in his path, Abdul Aziz didn't hide. Instead, he picked up the first thing he could find, a credit card machine, and ran outside screaming “Come here!” Aziz, 48, is being hailed as a hero for preventing more deaths during Friday prayers at the Linwood mosque in Christchurch after leading the gunman in a cat-and-mouse chase before scaring him into speeding away in his car. But Aziz, whose four sons and dozens of others remained in the mosque while he faced off with the gunman, said he thinks it's what anyone would have done. The gunman killed 49 people after attacking two mosques in the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand's modern history. The gunman is believed to have killed 41 people at the Al Noor mosque before driving about 5 kilometers (3 miles) across town and attacking the Linwood mosque, where he killed seven more people. One person died later in a hospital. White supremacist Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with one count of murder in the slayings and a judge said Saturday that it was reasonable to assume more charges would follow. Latef Alabi, the Linwood mosque's acting imam, said the death toll would have been far higher at the Linwood mosque if it wasn't for Aziz. Alabi said he heard a voice outside the mosque at about 1:55 p.m. and stopped the prayer he was leading and peeked out the window. He saw a guy in black military-style gear and a helmet holding a large gun, and assumed it was a police officer. Then he saw two bodies and heard the gunman yelling obscenities. “I realized this is something else. This is a killer,” he said. He yelled at the congregation of more than 80 to get down. They hesitated. A shot rang out, a window shattered and a body fell, and people began to realize it was for real. “Then this brother came over. He went after him, and he managed to overpower him, and that's how we were saved,” Alabi said, referring to Aziz. “Otherwise, if he managed to come into the mosque, then we would all probably be gone.” Aziz said as he ran outside screaming, he was hoping to distract the attacker. He said the gunman ran back to his car to get another gun, and Aziz hurled the credit card machine at him. He said he could hear his two youngest sons, aged 11 and 5, urging him to come back inside. The gunman returned, firing. Aziz said he ran, weaving through cars parked in the driveway, which prevented the gunman from getting a clean shot. Then Aziz spotted a gun the gunman had abandoned and picked it up, pointed it and squeezed the trigger. It was empty. He said the gunman ran back to the car for a second time, likely to grab yet another weapon. “He gets into his car and I just got the gun and threw it on his window like an arrow and blasted his window,” he said. The windshield shattered: “That's why he got scared.” He said the gunman was cursing at him, yelling that he was going to kill them all. But he drove away and Aziz said he chased the car down the street to a red light, before it made a U-turn and sped away. Online videos indicate police officers managed to force the car from the road and drag out the suspect soon after. Originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, Aziz said he left as a refugee when he was a boy and lived for more than 25 years in Australia before moving to New Zealand a couple of years ago. “I've been to a lot of countries and this is one of the beautiful ones,” he said. And, he always thought, a peaceful one as well. Aziz said he didn't feel fear or much of anything when facing the gunman. It was like he was on autopilot. And he believes that God, that Allah, didn't think it was his time to die.    

New Zealand Mosque Suspect Appears in Court

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 17:58
The main suspect in a mass shooting in at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand that left 49 people dead appeared in court Saturday.   Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year old Australian citizen and self-proclaimed white nationalist, was led by two armed guards into the court in Christchurch where a judge read one charge of murder to him. After the suspect left the court, the judge said that while "there is one charge of murder brought at the moment, it is reasonable to assume that there will be others." Two other suspected accomplices have also been arrested. Police are trying to determine to what extent, if any, they were involved in the attack. In a news conference Saturday morning, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tarrant's onslaught was cut short when he was apprehended.  "It was his intention to continue his attack," the prime minister said. She called the mass shooting "an extraordinary act of violence," and vowed "our gun laws will change." She said the shooter had five guns, two of them semi-automatic.  All the weapons were legally obtained. She said neither the gunmen nor the suspected accomplices were on any terrorist watchlist in New Zealand or Australia. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the suspect as an "extremist right-wing violent terrorist." The attack came during Friday prayers when the mosques were filled with hundreds of worshippers. Officials say forty-one people died at the Al Noor Mosque, and seven were killed at the Linwood Mosque, a 10-minute drive away. Children are among the 48 people being treated for gunshot wounds. The shooter live-streamed the assault on Facebook. He also published a 74-page white nationalist manifesto in which he denounced Muslims and called immigrants "invaders." The manifesto also said he chose to make his attack in New Zealand to show that nowhere in the world was safe. Tarrant had worked as a personal trainer, according to the Australian Broadcasting Company. The news organization reported the manager of a gym where Tarrant was employed said he began traveling overseas in 2011. Manager Tracy Gray said Tarrant traveled to Europe and Asia, including North Korea. A photo published online by ABC shows Tarrant in Pakistan in 2018. The victims of Friday's shooting included immigrants from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Mass shootings and violent crime are rare in New Zealand, a country of nearly 5 million people. Until Friday, the country's worst mass shooting was in 1990, when a lone gunman killed 13 people in the small town of Aramoana.  

Rural Cops Brought Down Christchurch Massacre Suspect

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 14:49
A pair of rural New Zealand police officers dramatically arrested the suspected Christchurch gunman 36 minutes after authorities were alerted, according to the prime minister who hailed their bravery Saturday. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the alleged attacker, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, would surely have killed even more people than the 49 worshippers he massacred in two mosques were it not for the policemen. “The offender was mobile, there were two other firearms in the vehicle that the offender was in, and it absolutely was his intention to continue with his attack,” Ardern told reporters in Christchurch. Put New Zealand first Grainy video apparently shot from a passing car shows the gunman’s light-colored vehicle at the side of a busy road, rammed against the curb by a police car and with one of its front wheels suspended in the air. Two police officers, one of whom appears to be armed only with a handgun, can be seen pointing their weapons at the open passenger-side door. “They were rural community cops I understand from Lincoln (a nearby town) who were present here. Anyone who has seen the footage ... they put New Zealand first,” Ardern said. “The individual charged was in custody 36 minutes from receiving the first call,” she said. The officers can be seen dragging a black-clad figure away from the vehicle, as motorists slowly drove by on the other side of the city road. Brought massacre to an end Police Commissioner Mike Bush also praised the officers who brought the massacre to a halt.  “I would also like to commend, and some of you would have seen, the brave actions on social media of police staff who responded to this incident,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of what they’ve done today.”  Ardern said 39 people remained in hospital, 11 of them in intensive care.

US, China Clash over `Belt and Road’ in Afghan Resolution

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 08:28
The United States and China clashed Friday over Beijing’s $1 trillion “belt and road” global infrastructure program after the Security Council unanimously approved a bare bones resolution extending the mandate of the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan for six months. Last year’s resolution extending the mission’s mandate for a year welcomed and urged further efforts to strengthen regional economic cooperation involving Afghanistan, including through the massive “belt and road” initiative to link China to Europe, Africa and other parts of Asia. The 2016 and 2017 council resolutions had similar language. Council diplomats said China wanted the “belt and road” language included in this year’s resolution — but the United States objected. U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen told the council after the vote that “China held the resolution hostage and insisted on making it about Chinese national political priorities rather than the people of Afghanistan.”  He said the Trump administration opposed China’s demand “that the resolution highlight its belt and road initiative, despite its tenuous ties to Afghanistan and known problems with corruption, debt distress, environmental damage, and lack of transparency.” China’s deputy ambassador Wu Haitao countered that Cohen’s remarks were “at variance with the facts and are fraught with prejudice.” He also said one council member — almost certainly referring to the U.S. — “poisoned the atmosphere” which led to the council’s failure to adopt a substantive resolution. Wu noted that since the “belt and road” initiative was launched six years ago, 123 countries and 29 international organizations have signed agreements of cooperation with China on joint development programs. “The `belt and road’ initiative is conducive to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and economic development,” Wu said. “Under this framework, China and Afghanistan will continue to strengthen cooperation in various fields, promote economic and social development in the country and the integration of Afghanistan into regional development.” He stressed that the program “has nothing to do with geopolitics.” Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who drafted the resolution with Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Dian Djani, expressed regret that “issues that have nothing to do” with the work of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan made it impossible to adopt a substantive resolution. “We very much regret that such topics as the upcoming elections (in Afghanistan), the participation of women in the Afghan peace process, the situation of children in armed conflict, the nexus between climate change and security, are no longer reflected in this resolution,” Heusgen said. The resolution does extend UNAMA’s mission until Sept. 17, 2019 and stresses “the central importance of a comprehensive and inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political process towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict and a comprehensive political settlement.” And it welcomes “progress in this regard.” But Heusgen said the text isn’t satisfactory to any of the 15 council members. He expressed hope that in the next six months the U.N.’s most powerful body would be able to overcome its differences and adopt a resolution that also reflects on the peace process and the upcoming elections.

Report: North Korea Dissidents Behind Embassy Raid in Spain

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 08:14
A dissident organization committed to overthrowing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was behind a raid on the North Korean embassy in Spain last month, The Washington Post reported Friday, quoting people familiar with the planning and execution of the mission. The newspaper, which did not further identify its sources, identified the group as Cheollima Civil Defense, which also goes by the name Free Joseon. It said the group came to prominence in 2017 after evacuating a nephew of Kim from Macau when potential threats to his life surfaced. The Post’s sources said the group did not act in coordination with any governments and U.S. intelligence agencies would have been especially reluctant to be involved given the sensitive timing of the mission ahead of a second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi from Feb. 27-28. According to Spanish media accounts, broadly confirmed by a Spanish Foreign Ministry source, a group of unidentified men entered North Korea’s embassy in Madrid on Feb. 22, bound and gagged staff, and drove off four hours later with computers. There has been no claim of responsibility. The dissident group identified by The Washington Post could not be reached for comment and its purported website has made no mention of any involvement in the raid. On Feb. 25 the website posted a statement saying the group had “received a request for help from comrades in a certain Western country” and that “it was a highly dangerous situation but (we) responded.” The group said an important announcement would be coming that week, but no details of any operation have been released. The Madrid embassy is where North Korea’s chief working-level negotiator in talks with the United States, Kim Hyok Chol, was ambassador until 2017. Intelligence experts said computers and phones reportedly seized in the raid would be eagerly sought by foreign intelligence agencies given the information they might contain on Kim Hyok Chol and others. Asked about The Washington Post report, the U.S. State Department referred queries to the Spanish authorities. The CIA declined to comment.

Chinese Envoy Calls Muslim Detention Centers 'Campuses'

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 04:28
A top Chinese diplomat claimed Friday that detention centers for Muslims in China's western province of Xinjiang are "campuses, not camps" and said they are eventually going to be closed as a "training program" for ethnic Uighurs is downsized. At the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Executive Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng reiterated China's insistence that the detention centers are designed to provide training and fight regional terrorism. He also claimed that officials from around the world, including from the U.N., had visited the region and that the detention centers in Xinjiang are "actually boarding schools or campuses, not camps" as reported by critics. The U.S. State Department said this week that China has "significantly intensified" a campaign of mass detentions of minority Uighurs over the last year, with between 800,000 and 2 million people from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region interned in camps. The centers have drawn condemnation from across the world. Le told reporters he had recently visited some Uighur centers in Xinjiang — and played ping pong and ate halal food there. He didn't specify when the detention centers would be closed, other than telling reporters later that would happen "at the appropriate time."  He also took aim at a U.S.-led event in Geneva on Xinjiang — calling that "unacceptable" interference in Chinese sovereignty. Human Rights Council The envoy's comments came as China was responding to more than 200 recommendations by other countries on ways that Beijing could improve human rights as part of a Human Rights Council process known as the Universal Periodic Review. All U.N. member states undergo such screening, generally every four to five years. Le said China had accepted 82 percent of the recommendations presented during the review last November. The council formally adopted the review of China without a vote Friday. The United States, historically one of the few countries to confront China over its human rights records, pulled out of the 47-country Geneva-based U.N. body last year, alleging it has an anti-Israeli bias and other shortcomings. Norway's ambassador in Geneva voiced the most criticism among diplomats at the council on Friday. Hans Brattskar said Norway regretted that China did not accept any recommendations related to the Uighur detention situation in Xinjiang.

Muslims React to New Zealand Mosque Attacks

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 03:56
VOA's Turkish, Urdu and Kurdish services contributed to this report. The anti-Muslim attacks in the tiny island nation of New Zealand caught the local population by surprise. “This is something that is completely out of the blue,” said Chelsea Daniels of Newstalk BZ, a radio station based in Auckland. “We hear of these kinds of extremists over the ditch in Australia, popping up now and again. But we’ve experienced really nothing like this here in New Zealand, which is why people are so shocked,” she told VOA in a phone interview. She said overseas events may have sparked the desire of the suspect — identified in news reports as Brenton Tarrant from Grafton, New South Wales, Australia — to mount this attack, “but he has acted alone in planning this.” Christchurch, where the attacks occurred, has a small Muslim community of about 1,000 people. Overall, Muslims make up roughly 1 percent of New Zealand’s population of 5 million. “I was at work when I learned about the shootings,” said Mohammed Basharati, a Kurdish Muslim from Iran who lives in Christchurch. “I immediately thought it was an act of Islamic extremists, because you would never expect these types of hate crimes to happen in New Zealand.” Barashati added that since moving to New Zealand nearly two decades ago, he has not “experienced any kind of discrimination" because of his religion. “We condemn violence and hatred of any sort and join the rest of New Zealand in deep sorrow for those affected by these awful events,” New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission said in a statement following the attacks. “We stand beside Christchurch and Muslim New Zealanders in peace, solidarity and humanity,” the statement added. “There is no place for hate in New Zealand. We urge Kiwis to stand together in unity,” the commission said, adding that “New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world and we welcome those of all religions and backgrounds.” Ramazan Boztash, whose 20-year-old son Mustafa was at Al Noor Mosque, spoke to VOA by phone while his son was awaiting surgery for a bullet that penetrated his right hamstring and spleen. Mustafa's condition was not critical, so doctors were caring for more seriously wounded people first. “New Zealand is a secure country," Boztash said. "We have never seen such an incident taking place here before." Boztash, who is Turkish, said an attacker like the shooter on Friday is rare in his adopted country. "Occasionally you see bad souls with racist intent here and there,” he conceded. But he said he believes the number is small. “I have been here for 19 years," he said. "A few people are trying to stain this country.” Helping the families Kalimullah, who uses only one name, is president of the Pakistan Association of Canterbury, New Zealand. He said members of the local Pakistani community are mobilizing to track down friends and family following the attacks. "There are no official details issued from authorities. There are a few people missing so people are coming to hospitals to seek information regarding their friends and family," he said. But Kalimullah added that members of the community will not be rattled by the mosque attacks. "They say they are determined," he said, "and incidents like this cannot halt our daily life."

Social Media Scramble to Remove New Zealand Suspect's Video

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 02:20
They built their services for sharing, allowing users to reach others around the world. Now they want people to hold back.     Facebook and other social media companies battled their own services on Friday as they tried to delete copies of a video apparently recorded by the gunman as he killed 49 people and wounded scores of others in the attack on two New Zealand mosques Friday.     The video was livestreamed on the suspect's Facebook account and later reposted on other services.     According to news reports, Facebook took down the livestream of the attack 20 minutes after it was posted and removed the suspect's accounts. But people were able to capture the video and repost it on other sites, including YouTube, Twitter and Reddit.     YouTube has tweeted that it is "working to remove any violent footage." A post from one user on Reddit asks others not to "post the videos. If you see the videos, bring it to the moderators' attention."    Criticism of pace   Despite the companies' quick actions, they still came under fire for not being fast enough. Critics said the platforms should have better systems in place to locate and remove content, instead of a system that helps others facilitate its spread once something is posted.    One critic, Tom Watson, a member of the British Parliament and deputy leader of the Labor Party, called for YouTube to stop all new videos from being posted on the site if it could not stop the spread of the New Zealand video.   Resistance to censorship The companies' race to stamp out the New Zealand video highlighted the dilemma that social media companies have faced, particularly as they have allowed livestreaming.     Built on users' content, Facebook, YouTube and others have long resisted the arduous task of censoring objectionable content.      At hearings in Washington or in media interviews, executives of these firms have said that untrue information is in itself not against their terms of service. Instead of removing information deemed fake or objectionable, social media companies have tried to frame the information with fact checking or have demoted the information on their sites, making it harder for people to find. That is what Facebook appears to be doing with the anti-vaccination content on its site. Earlier this month, Facebook said it would curtail anti-vaccination information on its platforms, including blocking advertising that contains false information about vaccines. It did not say it would remove users expressing anti-vaccination content. But sometimes the firms do remove accounts. Last year, Facebook, Twitter and others removed from their platforms Alex Jones, an American commentator, used for spreading conspiracy theories and stirring hatred.     More monitors   In the past year, some social media companies have hired more people to monitor content so that issues are flagged faster, rather than having to wait for other users or the firm's algorithms to flag objectionable content. With the New Zealand shooting video, Facebook and other firms appeared to be in lockstep, saying they would remove the content as quickly as they found it.     But there have been more calls for human and technical solutions that can quickly stop the spread of content across the internet. 

New Zealand Attack: What We Know

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 22:56
The victims At least 49 people were killed during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Young children are among the 48 people wounded in the attack and are being treated for gunshot wounds. Forty-one people were killed at one mosque, and seven people were killed at the second mosque. The victims of Friday's shooting included immigrants from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia. The suspects Three men and one woman are in custody. New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said none of them were on security watch lists. A 28-year old man has been charged with murder. The attacker has not been named, but Australia's prime minister said he was an Australian citizen and described him as an "extremist right-wing violent terrorist." The gunman live-streamed the assault on Facebook from a head-mounted camera, and the footage showed how victims were killed inside one of the mosques. The shooter broadcast the live footage after publishing a manifesto in which he called immigrants "invaders." Shut down for now  Prime Minister Ardern called the shooting a "terrorist attack," and authorities advised all mosques in Christchurch to shut down until further notice. US reaction U.S. President Donald Trump extended condolences on Twitter to New Zealanders and said, "The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do." World reaction The attack has been condemned across the globe, with leaders from Pakistan, Turkey, Britain, Germany, Israel, Jordan, Japan and the European Union sending their condolences and offering support to New Zealand. Violent crimes rare Mass shootings, and violent crime in general, are rare in New Zealand, a country of nearly 5 million people. The country's worst mass shooting was in 1990 when a lone gunman killed 13 people in the small town of Aramoana.

Australian Children Skip School, Join Global Day of Climate Defiance

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 21:30
Tens of thousands of Australian and New Zealand school children have skipped classes for a global day of action on climate change.  In New South Wales, opposition politicians have encouraged students to take part, insisting the world is at a "real crossroads.” Australia’s School Strike 4 Climate movement wants the nation to commit to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and to ban a giant India-owned coal mine in Queensland. Rallies in Australia and New Zealand were part of a global day of action across almost 100 countries.  The movement was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a teenager from Sweden, who last year skipped school to protest with a hand-painted banner outside the Swedish parliament. Strikes were planned at 60 towns and cities across Australia and New Zealand. Protesters say they are frustrated with the apparent inability of adults to take action to prevent catastrophic climate change, and that they fear for their futures. Australia has just recorded its hottest summer since records began. In the nation’s most populous state, New South Wales, opposition leader Michael Daley has urged students to skip classes to join climate change rallies. “They are inheriting from us  a world that is at best precarious.  They do not have a microphone but they do have a democratic right to assembly.  They do have a right to protest.  I support these young people and their action.  [I] think there is a real opportunity for young people to realize their own personal power,” Daley said. New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Daley’s support for striking students was “grossly irresponsible.” Other conservative critics said the children were victims of "politically correct teaching" and the campaign was a ploy to “weaponize children for political purposes.” Education officials said all students at government schools were expected to be in class and could face disciplinary action if they attended Friday’s rallies. In New Zealand, a rally by school children in Christchurch was called off following mass shootings at two city mosques that killed dozens of people.    

Free Flow of Ideas Absent in China's 'Two Sessions,' Observers Say

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 21:17
China’s “two sessions” – the annual meetings of the national legislature and the top political advisory body – wrapped up their two week long discussion Friday, leaving little reason for observers to believe major policy issues had been thoroughly debated. Instead, they said, most of the nearly 3,000 delegates of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) had been disempowered to challenge authorities. “Clearly [Chinese President] Xi Jinping is under pressure and precisely because he’s under pressure, feeling slightly vulnerable, not terribly but slightly vulnerable. He’s just not going to allow anybody to say anything and who’s going to take the risk?” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London. ‘Dull and boring’ This year’s two sessions had turned out to be as “dull and boring” as he had anticipated two weeks ago, Tsang added. State media reported that the NPC’s secretariat had received 491 proposals – 487 proposed legislations and 4 regulatory recommendations – to be handled by the top body. In his work report delivered last March 8, Li Zhanshu, chairman of the NPC’s standing committee, pledged to move forward with revising urgently needed laws for deepening market-based reforms. The top legislature would expedite legislation in the domains of public well-being, national security, intellectual property rights (IPRs) protection, social governance, and ecological advancement, enforce the principle of law-based taxation, and improve relevant laws on state institutions, he added. Also, deliberation on the Civil Code, formulation of Amendment XI to Criminal Law and the laws on promotion of basic medical and health care, real-estate tax, export control and integrated military-civilian development are also on this year’s legislative plan, according to Li. Constructive discussions? In spite of the lengthy agenda, where had all those constructive discussions been? If they’re in public good, why aren’t they made public? Tsang asked. The annual meetings are often seen as a carefully choreographed political show. Things got even more tightly controlled this year. Few of the supposedly highest parliamentary elite dared to speak up freely after Xi’s two-term limit was removed last year for him to consolidate his grip of power, said Xia Ming, professor of political science and global affairs at The City University of New York. “[At times when Xi’s] personal cult and dictatorship consolidates in Chinese politics, not a single delegate dares to touch upon major [politically sensitive] matters. For these delegates, the political red zone has been largely widened to have put a squeeze on their freedom [of expression],” Xia said. Sensitive ideas censored Politically sensitive ideas or proposals, in particular, are censored. For example, several of CPPCC delegate Zhu Zhengfu’s proposals, which urged authorities to be prudent on the practice of televised confessions, the adoption of unlawful evidence and the presence of lawyers during suspect interrogations, was removed from the Internet one day after they were circulated online. The meetings had provided nothing but opportunities for Xi’s cronies to allow their flattery toward the top leader to go a long way, the New York-based professor added. “These days, NPC and CPPCC [sessions] had clearly offered some political careerists a stage to put on a show – carefully choreographed and highly dramatic – so that they earn chances of promotion or grab more power. Their efforts are on public display,” Xia said. Xia said that a meaningful exchange of democratic views are normally possible in small groups and plenty of delegates with integrity spoke freely in the face of past top leaders. But since Xi has taken over, dissent has become rare. Both Professor Tsang and Xia, however, agreed that China has put forward several significant pieces of legislation involving foreign investment and related issues such as intellectual property rights protection to help address its trade negotiations with the United States. But it remains to be seen if the U.S. will be satisfied. “That may well be what they [the Chinese] intend to do. But the Americans are not interested in them passing a law, the Americans are interested in the implementation of it,” Tsang said. The more transparency, the better Sharing a different view, Ren Jianming, director of the anti-corruption and governance research center at Tsinghua University in Beijing, argued that the function of the two sessions has gradually improved to no longer serve as a rubber stamp. He, however, agreed that the top body should beef up its level of transparency by disclosing all proposals – good or bad, politically sensitive or not – for the public’s eyes since they’re in the interest of the general public. “Once [all ideas] and their related discussions are made public, a better solution can be brainstormed and found. There’s no need to blacklist [dissenting views] and then leave them unsettled. That way, it may be even harder to find a solution to the problem,” Ren said.  

New Zealand Arrests Suspects Linked to Mosque Attacks

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 20:25
At least forty-nine people were killed and more than 20 seriously wounded Friday in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Three men and one woman are in custody. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said none of them were on security watch lists. A 28-year old man has been charged with murder. He is expected to appear in court Saturday, according to Police Commissioner Mike Bush. While Bush refused to name the person who has been charged, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) has identified the gunman as 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant from Grafton, New South Wales, Australia. Australian officials have confirmed the gunman is an Australian citizen. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the man arrested was an Australian citizen. Morrison described the suspected attacker as an "extremist right-wing violent terrorist.” Commissioner Bush said part of the investigation will be "to look back at every possibility to ensure that we, in law enforcement and security, didn't miss any opportunities to prevent this horrendous event." The two mosques were attacked during Friday prayers attended by hundreds of worshippers. Assault live streamed The gunman live-streamed the assault on Facebook from a head-mounted camera, and the footage showed how victims were killed inside one of the mosques. The shooter broadcast the live footage after publishing a manifesto in which he called immigrants “invaders.” Social media sites were asked to remove the horrific footage. Forty-one of those killed were at one mosque and children are among the 48 people being treated for gunshot wounds, officials said. Bush said a "record number of firearms" was recovered at both mosques. Eyewitness account Worshipper Ahmed Al-Mahmoud told New Zealand television a gunman entered a mosque and began “shooting like everyone in the mosque, like everywhere,” prompting worshippers to smash door and window glass in an attempt to flee. Prime Minister Ardern said it was one of New Zealand's "darkest days”. She went on to say it was clear “this can now only be described as a terrorist attack.” WATCH: Law enforcement on arrests The New Zealand military also defused explosive devices attached to a car. Mosques shut down Authorities advised all mosques in Christchurch to shut down until further notice. A lockdown on all schools in Christchurch has been lifted, but the city remains on high alert. Thursday’s attacks are unprecedented in New Zealand, a country of 4.5 million people that prides itself on its social diversity. Adern said "Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not." Trump extends condolences U.S. President Donald Trump extended condolences on Twitter to New Zealanders and added, "The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do." The Bangladesh cricket team was at one of the mosques when the shooting started, but the players were able to escape. Their third test match with New Zealand, scheduled for Sunday, has been canceled.

Ethiopian Crash Investigators Find Parallels to Doomed Indonesian Jet

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 20:24
Aviation investigators have found a piece of a stabilizer in an unusual position in the wreckage of the Ethiopian airliner that crashed Sunday, killing all 157 people on board. Sources familiar with the incident are saying that the position of the stabilizer was similar to that of Indonesian Lion Air jet that crashed last October. The plane's flight data and voice recorders have arrived in France for analysis. Satellite-registered data have shown that Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610 planes flew with erratic altitude changes - moving up and down by hundreds of feet - indicating that the pilots struggled to control the aircraft. Both crews asked permission to return to the airports from where they had departed. Both accidents involved new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircrafts. The U.S. and more than 30 other countries have grounded Boeing 737 Max fleet after the Ethiopian air disaster, which killed all 157 passengers and crew on board. Similarly, the Lion Air killed all 189 passengers and crew on October 29. About 5,000 Boeing 737 MAX 8s are on order, signaling the industry likely faces a financial struggle ahead.  

New Zealand Mosque Attacks

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 19:27
Mass shootings at two mosques full of worshipers attending Friday prayers killed 49 people on what the prime minister called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” as authorities detained four people and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack.

US Condemns New Zealand Mosque Attack

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 19:07
U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the "horrible massacre" at two mosques in New Zealand on Friday, a deadly attack that killed 49 people in what the White House called a "vicious act of hate." The massacre during Friday prayers wounded more than 40 others in the country's worst-ever mass shooting, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned as terrorism. "My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do," Trump wrote in a post on Twitter. Earlier, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that the United States strongly condemned the attack. "The United States strongly condemns the attack in Christchurch. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and their government against this vicious act of hate, Sanders said.

World Reacts with Disgust to New Zealand Attacks

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 18:22
Political and religious leaders around the world expressed disgust and sorrow at the deadly shooting at two mosques in New Zealand on Friday, with some blaming politicians and the media for having stoked hatred of Muslims that led to the attack. As governments in Asia and the Middle East scrambled to find out how many of their citizens had been caught up in the Christchurch bloodshed, there was anger that the attackers targeted worshipers at Friday prayers. Pakistan, Turkey, Bangladesh "I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11 (where) 1.3 billion Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror," Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan posted on social media. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the attack was a result of the demonizing of Muslims. "Not only the perpetrators, but also politicians & media that fuel the already escalated Islamophobia and hate in the West are equally responsible for this heinous attack," he wrote on Twitter. Bangladeshi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said it was "extremely lucky" the country's cricket team, in Christchurch for a match against New Zealand, did not suffer casualties. The players arrived for Friday prayers as the shooting started. "I can't even imagine what would have happened if they were there five minutes earlier," he said on social media. Hundreds of angry protesters in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, chanted "allahu akbar" (God is Greatest) after Friday prayers. "We will not let the blood of Muslims go in vain," said one protester. Search for victims New Zealand police said 49 people were killed. Three men and one woman were in custody and one man had been charged with murder. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said some of the victims may have been new immigrants and refugees. "They are us," she said. "The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand." WATCH: Law enforcement on arrest of suspects Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said an Australian national arrested after the attack was an "extremist, right-wing violent terrorist". A city of about 400,000 people, Christchurch has a small Islamic community, including overseas students. Britain, Germany, EU, Norway Britain's Queen Elizabeth, the head of state of New Zealand, said in a statement: "I have been deeply saddened by the appalling events in Christchurch today. Prince Philip and I send our condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives." In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was deeply saddened: "I mourn with the New Zealanders for their fellow citizens who were attacked and murdered out of racist hatred while peacefully praying in their mosques. We stand together against such acts of terrorism." The European Commission said: "This senseless act of brutality on innocent people in their place of worship could not be more opposite to the values and the culture of peace and unity that the European Union shares with New Zealand." Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim mayor of London, said Londoners stood shoulder to shoulder with the people of Christchurch. "When the flames of hatred are fanned, when people are demonized because of their faith, when people's fears are played on rather than addressed, the consequences are deadly as we have seen so sadly today," he said. Norwegian Prime Mininster Erna Solberg said the attack brought back memories of 2011 in her country when anti-Muslim extremist Anders Breivik killed 77 people: "It shows that extremism is nurtured and that it lives in many places." Egypt, Indonesia Al-Azhar University, Egypt's 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islamic learning, called the attack "a dangerous indicator of the dire consequences of escalating hate speech, xenophobia, and he spread of Islamophobia." Ordinary people expressed horror over a live, point-of-view video posted online showing a gunman involved in the attack killing any person he came across in a mosque with his semi-automatic assault rifle. "Feeling very sick, that person is brainless and a savage," said one Indonesian Twitter user who identified himself as Farhan Adhitama.  

Arrest Made in Attack on 2 New Zealand Mosques

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 17:19
New Zealand police say a man is being charged with murder after he allegedly opened fire on two mosque in New Zealand Friday, killing at least 49 people and wounding dozens more

China Upbeat on Trade Talks, Denies Huawei Spying Allegations

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 17:00
China used the closing of its annual top-level political meetings, or “Two Sessions,” to send positive signals about its commitment to resolve trade tensions with Washington and push forward economic reforms. Premier Li Keqiang also flatly denied U.S. warnings about the security risk Chinese tech giant Huawei poses, stating that Beijing will “never” ask companies to spy on other countries. The Huawei dispute, tech rivalry and tit-for-tat tariffs in the trade war are all part of a perfect storm of tensions brewing between Beijing and Washington, tensions the two countries are trying to manage and address. Huawei concerns Speaking with journalists at his annual press conference Friday, following the close of the National People’s Congress, Premier Li addressed the nagging question of concerns that China’s authoritarian government would use Huawei to spy on other countries. The United States has led a global charge in warning about the risks the company has posed. Washington has blocked Huawei from participating in the roll out of next generation (5G) mobile networks in America and urged other countries to follow suit. As countries from Asia to Europe evaluate their position on the company, Li said China’s government has never asked and will not ask Chinese companies to spy in the future. “This is not consistent with Chinese law and is not how China behaves,” he said. ​Trade talks Li said that while frictions exist and will continue between Washington and Beijing, shared interests between the two countries far outweigh their differences. “China and the United States as two large economies have become closely entwined through years of growing their relationship and years of cooperation,” Li said. “It is neither realistic nor possible to decouple these two economies.” Li said China would follow through on its reform pledges, including the implementation of regulations for a new foreign investment law. He added that China is also considering revising its intellectual property law. The Foreign Investment Law was passed Friday during the NPC’s closing session. Analysts have said the law helps to address some key concerns trade negotiators are grappling with, such as equal market access and forced technology transfers. But how it will be implemented is key. Li said that China will honor its commitments to continue pushing ahead with opening up and reform. He also said he was confident U.S.-China relations would keep moving forward and voiced hope that negotiators could achieve results in their trade talks. Shortly before Li’s press conference, the official state-run Xinhua news agency released a brief on the talks and a telephone conversation between China’s top trade negotiator, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “The two sides have made further concrete progress on the text of the trade agreement,” Xinhua said. It did not elaborate. Still, as U.S. China trade talks push on, there continues to be mixed signals about the likelihood of a possible positive outcome. The Xinhua report and Li’s remarks are a positive uptick. Earlier this month, a hike in tariffs was put on hold because of promising progress, but U.S. officials have recently noted that “major issues” remain. It is also unclear if the two countries’ leaders may soon meet. President Donald Trump and China’s leader Xi Jinping were originally expected to meet at the end of March to sign an anticipated deal, but now that has reportedly been pushed back to sometime in April. Getting to a final agreement will not be easy and the question of enforcement and follow up will be key. The talks and tensions stretch far beyond trade and tariffs. “Now both China and the United States need to come up with a strategy, consider how to coexist harmoniously with each other for a long time, and form a new world order and that is not easy,” noted Han Jialiang, an independent scholar in Australia.

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