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Canada increasingly convinced Trump will pull out of NAFTA

LONDON, Ontario – Canada is increasingly convinced that President Donald Trump will soon announce the United States intends to pull out of NAFTA, two government sources said on Wednesday, sending the Canadian and Mexican currencies lower and hurting stocks.

The comments cast further doubt on prospects for talks to modernize the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Trump has repeatedly threatened to abandon unless major changes are made.

Officials are due to hold a sixth and penultimate round of negotiations in Montreal from Jan. 23-28 as time runs out to bridge major differences.

It is not certain the United States would quit NAFTA even if Trump gave the required six months’ notice, since he is not obliged to act once the deadline runs out. Notice of withdrawal could also raise opposition in Congress.

One of the Canadian government sources also said later it was not certain that Trump would move against the treaty and that Ottawa was prepared for many scenarios.

But even the prospect of potential damage to the three nations’ integrated economies sparked market concerns.

Wall Street’s major stock indexes ended lower on Wednesday, partly due to those worries.

The Canadian dollar weakened to its lowest this year against the greenback on Wednesday as the NAFTA concerns tempered bets that the Bank of Canada will raise interest rates next week.

Mike Archibald, associate portfolio manager at AGF Investments in Toronto, cited “a tremendous amount of uncertainty on the horizon”.

Canadian government bond prices rose across the yield curve and railway, pipeline and other trade-sensitive stocks weighed on the country’s main index.

Mexico’s currency also weakened and stocks extended losses. The S&P/BM IPC stock index fell about 1.8 percent.

“There’s been chatter in the market going into this week that it was coming up,” Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

Royal Bank of Canada’s Chief Executive Dave McKay said on Tuesday he believed there was now a greater chance that NAFTA could be scrapped.

“The government is increasingly sure about this … it is now planning for Trump to announce a withdrawal,” one of the sources, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the situation, said.

Separately, a U.S. source close to the White House quoted Trump as saying “I want out” as the talks drag on with little sign of progress.

A White House spokesman said “there has been no change in the president’s position on NAFTA”.

ALARMED

Trump has long called the 1994 treaty a bad deal that hurts American workers. His negotiating team has set proposals that have alarmed their Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

Among the most divisive are plans to establish rules of origin for NAFTA goods that would set minimum levels of U.S. content for autos, a sunset clause that would terminate the trade deal if it is not renegotiated every five years, and ending the so-called Chapter 19 dispute mechanism.

The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that economic gains made through tax cuts and the lifting of business regulations would be undone if the U.S. canceled trade deals, including NAFTA.

General Motors Co shares fell 2.4 percent. The Detroit automaker has 14 manufacturing facilities in Mexico, including one that builds large pickup trucks, among the automaker’s most profitable vehicles. Trucks built there could be subject to a 25 percent tariff if the U.S. exits NAFTA.

“We have always said that this is a possibility,” a Mexican government source with knowledge of the talks told Reuters, referring to the prospect of a U.S. withdrawal.

Mexico’s Economy Ministry declined to comment on the report, a ministry spokesman said.

Scott Minerd, Global Chief Investment Officer at Guggenheim Partners, said “if Trump were to announce a NAFTA exit, the stock market would probably pull back by 5 percent or so before advancing to new highs. Most likely the Canadians are reacting to the President’s negotiating posture.”

The Canadian sources said that if Trump did announce the United States was pulling out, Canada would stay at the table, since the talks would continue at a lower level. Mexico has previously said it would walk away if Trump formally announced Washington intended to quit.

Canadian officials say if Trump does announce a U.S. withdrawal, it could be a negotiating tactic designed to win concessions. The talks are scheduled to wrap up by the end of March.

The news broke as the cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began gathering in the southwestern Ontario town of London ahead of a scheduled two-day meeting where NAFTA is one of the items on the agenda.

A spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland – in overall charge of U.S.-Canada relations and the NAFTA file – was not immediately available for comment.

Separately, Canada launched a wide-ranging trade complaint against the United States, the World Trade Organization said on Wednesday, in a dispute that Washington said would damage Canada’s own interests and play into China’s hands.

Source: Reuters

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Catalunha. Independentistas alcançam acordo para tentar nomeação de Puigdemont

O acordo prevê a análise de um processo jurídico que possibilite a investidura através da internet, visto que Puigdemont está ausente de Espanha, onde o espera uma ordem de detenção.

O ex-presidente do governo autónomo da Catalunha, Carles Puigddemont, e a secretária-geral da Esquerda Republicana alcançaram um acordo para a constituição da Mesa do Parlamento e estudo da forma de nomeação do presidente da Generalitat.

Segundo a agência EFE, Puidgemont, que se encontra na Bélgica, e a secretária-geral da Esquerda Republicana (ERC), Marta Rovira, concordaram constituir a Mesa do Parlamento catalão e conseguir a investidura do presidente da Generalitat.

O acordo prevê a análise de um processo jurídico que possibilite a investidura através da internet, visto que Puigdemont está ausente de Espanha, onde o espera uma ordem de detenção.

A formação política Juntos pela Catalunha (JxCAT), ligada ao ex-presidente da autonomia, pretende uma investidura através de Skype (forma telemática, de acordo a terminologia usada pela legislação espanhola), ou em alternativa delegar a um deputado presente a leitura do discurso de Puigdemont.

Fontes da ERC disseram à EFE que vão pedir aos serviços jurídicos do partido para estudar a viabilidade das propostas do JxCAT.

Permanece, no entanto, a incógnita sobre a situação dos deputados que permanecem em Bruxelas junto a Puigdemont: se continuam na Bélgica ou regressam a Espanha onde arriscam a detenção.

Segundo a EFE o acordo entre Puigdemont e Marta Rovira foi alcançado após um encontro na terça-feira à noite, em Bruxelas, e a uma semana antes da constituição do novo Parlamento da Catalunha.

Source: Expresso
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Trump garante que o seu “botão nuclear” é “maior” do que o de Kim

O Presidente dos EUA não resistiu à provocação do líder norte-coreano e resolveu subir a parada num tweet que alguns consideraram perigoso.

Não é inédito que Donald Trump e Kim Jong-un troquem epítetos menos agradáveis — o primeiro escreveu sobre o segundo que “o doido será testado como nunca antes”; Kim respondeu prometendo “amansar de certeza e definitivamente o senil e mentalmente perturbado” líder dos EUA.

Aparentemente, o Presidente norte-americano tem gostado da experiência e pretende continuar a dirigir-se ao líder da Coreia do Norte num tom jocoso, mesmo se o tema for o arsenal nuclear dos Estados Unidos ou de Pyongyang, que em Setembro realizou o seu sexto ensaio atómico, o mais poderoso de todos os que o antecederam.

No discurso de Ano Novo, enquanto lançava uma tentativa de aproximação a Seul, Kim decidiu provocar Trump, gabando-se de já ser líder de uma “potência nuclear completa” (algo que não é possível confirmar). “Toda a área continental dos Estados Unidos está ao alcance das nossas armas nucleares e o botão nuclear está sempre na secretária. Isto é a realidade, não é uma ameaça”, afirmou. Descrevendo o seu regime como “uma potência nacional responsável e que ama a paz”, esclareceu: “Estas armas só serão usadas se a nossa segurança for ameaçada.”

Depois de um inócuo “veremos, veremos”, o primeiro comentário de Trump, obtido pelos jornalistas à margem da festa de Ano Novo organizada na sua residência de Mar-a-Lago, na Florida, o chefe de Estado americano recorreu ao seu modo de comunicação preferido para dar uma resposta mais completa a Kim.

“O líder da Coreia do Norte acaba de afirmar que ‘o Botão Nuclear está na secretária dele em permanência’. Poderá alguém do seu esgotado e esfomeado regime informá-lo de que eu também tenho um Botão Nuclear, mas é muito maior & mais poderoso do que o dele, e o meu Botão funciona!”, escreveu Trump quando ainda era terça-feira nos EUA.

O mundo já se habitou a consultar a página de Twitter de Trump quando acorda, mas isso não significa já estar pronto para tudo. O post sobre o tamanho dos botões nucleares (na verdade, o processo para lançar um ataque nuclear não envolve carregar em botões, mas sim uma troca de códigos impressos num cartão) motivou muitas críticas, e alguns questionam-se como é possível manter uma diplomacia funcional com este tipo de comentários.

“Parece-me que o Presidente olha para isto como um sinal de força”, diz à CNN Jim Himes, democrata da Câmara dos Representantes que integra o Comité de Serviços Secretos. “Mas, como qualquer pessoa que já tenha estado num recreio do primeiro ano pode reconhecer, normalmente é a pessoa que grita mais alto que acaba por se demonstrar a mais fraca no recreio.” Um antigo conselheiro da ex-secretária de Estado de George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Eliot Cohen, descreveu este tweet como “infantil mas mortalmente sério” na sua gravidade.

Source: Público

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Unity vital to world’s future, UN chief says

Global leaders speak of progress, integration and jobs in speeches

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for nations to walk the path of unity in 2018 to overcome the challenges facing world peace, as he joined global leaders in delivering New Year’s messages.

“Unity is the path. Our future depends on it,” he said on Sunday, when he urged leaders to “narrow the gaps, bridge the divides, (and) rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals”.

Recalling that last year he called for 2017 to be a “year for peace”, the UN chief said unfortunately, in fundamental ways, the world had gone in reverse.

Perils have emerged, such as deepening conflicts and new dangers, while global concerns over nuclear weapons are at their highest since the Cold War, Guterres said.

“Nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise,” he warned, adding that 2017 also saw the effects of climate change worsen at an alarming rate, growth in inequality, and horrific violations of human rights.

In contrast, United States President Donald Trump predicted 2018 would be a “tremendous year” in a video message. “What a year it’s been, and we’re just getting started,” he said. “Together, we are making America great again”.

Vladimir Putin, who will seek a fourth term as Russia’s president in this year’s election, wished his compatriots “changes for the better” in his traditional televised New Year’s address.

He also thanked the people for “believing in themselves and in our country”, and wished “peace and prosperity to our great Russia, the dear and only one”.

In the European Union, French and German leaders called for intensified cooperation within the EU bloc in their speeches, while Italy’s president focused on domestic unemployment.

French President Emmanuel Macron urged citizens to end “irreconcilable divisions “in 2018. He reaffirmed that he was “committed to Europe” and deeply believes that “Europe is good for France”.

He called on his countrymen to participate in citizen consultations to make Europe “more sovereign, more united and more democratic”.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, also vowed to form a stable government and work with France in furthering the European integration process.

“It will be about whether we Europeans in the global and digital world express our values in solidarity and self-assurance, both internally and externally,” she said, “and whether we work for an economically successful and fair Europe and consequently for the protection of our external borders as well as for the security of European citizens.

Merkel added that Germany and France “want to work together to make this happen, and thus help make Europe fit for the future”.

President Sergio Mattarella of Italy urged political parties to make realistic proposals to tackle nationwide problems, especially the large number of people out of work, during his traditional year-end speech.

Italy is the eurozone’s third-largest economy, but unemployment remains above 11 percent, while youth unemployment is about 35 percent.

“Yet again, I must underscore that jobs remain the primary and most serious social issue, especially for the young,” Mattarella said.

Source: China Daily

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Israel changes law to make it harder to cede Jerusalem control

JERUSALEM – Israel’s parliament passed an amendment on Tuesday that would make it harder for it to cede control over parts of Jerusalem in any peace deal with the Palestinians, who condemned the move as undermining any chance to revive talks on statehood.

The legislation, sponsored by the far-right Jewish Home coalition party, raises to 80 from 61 the number of votes required in the 120-seat Knesset to approve any proposal to hand over part of the city to “a foreign party”.

Last month U.S. President Donald Trump angered the Palestinians, Middle East leaders and world powers by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

As home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, Jerusalem’s status is one of the most sensitive issues in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump’s Dec. 6 decision sparked regional protests and prompted the Palestinians to rule out Washington as a peace broker in any future talks.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, described Trump’s policy shift on Jerusalem and the passage of the amendment as “a declaration of war against the Palestinian people”.

“The vote clearly shows that the Israeli side has officially declared an end to the so-called political process,” Abu Rdainah said, referring to U.S.-sponsored talks on Palestinian statehood that collapsed in 2014.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. It says the entire city is its “eternal and indivisible” capital.

Palestinians seek to make East Jerusalem the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

The amendment, long in the legislative pipeline, was passed with 64 lawmakers voting in favor and 52 against.

Opposition head Isaac Herzog said Jewish Home was leading Israel “toward a terrible disaster”. Jewish Home’s leader, Naftali Bennett, said the vote showed that Israel would keep control of all of Jerusalem forever.

“There will be no more political skulduggery that will allow our capital to be torn apart,” Bennett said on Twitter.

A bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations led by the president’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has so far shown no progress.

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s Likud party unanimously urged legislators in a non-binding resolution to effectively annex Israeli settlements built in the West Bank.

Political commentators said Likud’s decision might bolster right-wing support for Netanyahu, who could seek a public mandate in an early election while he awaits possible criminal indictments against him on corruption suspicions. He denies wrongdoing.

Parliamentary elections are not due until November 2019 but the police investigations in two cases of alleged corruption against Netanyahu and tensions among coalition partners in his government could hasten a poll.

Some commentators, pointing to an existing law that already sets a similar high threshold for handing over territory in a land-for-peace deal, have said Jewish Home was essentially competing with Likud for support among the right-wing base.

Source: Reuters

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La UE fracasa en cerrar el acuerdo comercial con Mercosur este año

Bruselas confía en concluir tratados con México y con el gigante sudamericano en 2018.

A la UE se le resisten los acuerdos comerciales con Latinoamérica. En plena euforia librecambista como contrapeso al proteccionismo de Donald Trump, Europa quiso aprovechar el vacío estadounidense para acelerar todos los tratados de libre comercio que tenía en la recámara. Los responsables comunitarios fijaron el 31 de diciembre como fecha límite para sellar los de Japón, México y Mercosur. El primero se ha logrado. El segundo se cerrará probablemente en los próximos meses. El tercero tiene un futuro mucho más incierto.

Mercosur reúne todas las condiciones para comerciar sin trabas con Europa. Sus 260 millones de consumidores (Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay y Uruguay) convierten a este bloque en el quinto mercado más grande del mundo, según datos de la Comisión Europea. Los vínculos culturales son estrechos y la asociación sureña nunca ha suscrito un acuerdo comercial con otro socio. Inaugurar esos intercambios favorables otorgaría una enorme ventaja a las empresas de la UE. El diálogo, pese a todo, resulta tortuoso. Bruselas y el bloque del sur llevan casi 20 años —con sonoras interrupciones— discutiendo sobre cómo intercambiar bienes y servicios. El buen arranque de este último intento, iniciado en 2016, infundió esperanzas de lograrlo antes de concluir el año. Las partes pecaron de optimistas

“Hemos avanzado, pero aún tenemos que hacer inventario. Vemos el final de este proceso”, lanzó, a modo de esperanza, la comisaria europea de Comercio, Cecilia Malmström, a mediados de diciembre. Negociadores y políticos se reunieron esos días en Buenos Aires y la oportunidad de acuerdo parecía sobre la mesa. Como en tantas ocasiones desde 1999, no se consiguió. Pese a todo, Bruselas insiste en que nunca han visto tan de cerca la meta.

Las discrepancias son sensibles. Por el lado europeo, Francia e Irlanda presionan para limitar la cuota de exportaciones (el acuerdo no contempla libre comercio absoluto) en ternera, muy competitiva en los países de Mercosur. Bajo la bandera de la Europa que protege, el presidente francés, Emmanuel Macron, ha suscitado este debate en las reuniones de jefes de Estado y de Gobierno de la UE en dos ocasiones desde que ganó las elecciones. Aunque finalmente no llegó a pedir una revisión del mandato de negociación, estos recelos franceses han pausado el proceso. Macron trata de presentarlo como un intento de acotar los excesos de la globalización que tanto rentabilizó su rival Marine Le Pen.

Por el lado latinoamericano, las cuitas se centran más en los servicios. Bruselas está dispuesta a aumentar la cuota de vacuno de Mercosur por encima de las 70.000 toneladas al año que incluyó en su última oferta, pero solo a cambio de lo que más interesa a los países comunitarios: acceso a los servicios y a las contrataciones públicas en Latinoamérica. Hay más de 60.000 compañías que podrían beneficiarse de esa mayor apertura. Y ahí Mercosur tiene dificultades para ceder.

La gran incógnita es si las diferencias podrán salvarse en los próximos meses. La Comisión Europea sabe que el margen para concluir el tratado es estrecho. Brasil celebra elecciones el año próximo y en breve ya no podrá comprometerse a nada. En la mente de los negociadores figura el mes de marzo como línea roja imaginaria para este pacto. De momento no hay rondas negociadoras en el calendario.

La UE defiende con ardor las bondades del comercio como generador de riqueza. El mensaje queda sintetizado en un dato: cada 1.000 millones de exportaciones permiten mantener 14.000 puestos de trabajo. Más allá de las implicaciones económicas, fracasar con Mercosur supondría volver a teñir el debate comercial de lecturas políticas. Tras el abandono del ambicioso pacto con Estados Unidos —impracticable con Trump en el poder— y las enormes dificultades para sacar adelante el marco con Canadá en algunos parlamentos de la UE, Mercosur se configura como el próximo reto del libre cambio en el Viejo Continente.

Último esfuerzo para el tratado con México

El pacto entre Bruselas y México sí parece al alcance de la mano. Con todos los focos posados sobre la renegociación del Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte (TLC), la firma de un nuevo pacto comercial con la Unión Europea serviría a México para mandar un mensaje nítido a la Administración Trump: que uno de los tres grandes bloques económicos del mundo sí está dispuesto a profundizar en acuerdos modernos y en incrementar los lazos comerciales con países emergentes.

En estas circunstancias, México trata de hacer ver a su principal socio comercial, del que dependen casi el 80% de sus ventas al exterior, que se pueden firmar tratados de libre comercio modernos, adaptados a los nuevos tiempos de la economía y en los que ambas partes salgan beneficiadas, características que tendrá el nuevo pacto con la UE, cuya firma —si los espinosos capítulos agrarios lo permiten— está prevista para los primeros compases de 2018. “Estamos muy cerca de finalizarlo”, declaró recientemente en Bruselas el ministro de Economía de México, Ildefonso Guajardo.

Las exportaciones del país latinoamericano a la UE crecen a ritmo de crucero. En los 10 primeros meses de 2017 registraron un incremento de doble dígito en comparación con el mismo periodo del año pasado. El actual tratado comercial, vigente desde el año 2000, ha ayudado, sobre todo, en facilitación del comercio, al retirar o rebajar aranceles y simplificar los trámites aduaneros. Pero los mayores factores de crecimiento han sido el desarrollo del sector automotriz mexicano —el séptimo más importante del planeta— y su complementariedad con la todopoderosa industria automovilística alemana. También la apuesta del sector agrícola por productos como el aguacate o el tomate, de alta aceptación en los principales países europeos.

Source: El País

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US to make at least $285m cut to UN budget after vote on Jerusalem

The US government has announced significant cuts in its United Nations budget obligations for 2018-19 in what will be interpreted as a further ratcheting up of pressure from the Trump administration looking to bend decision-making at the international body to its will.

In a statement released over the holiday, the US mission to the United Nations said next year’s budget would be slashed by over $285m and unspecified reductions would also be made to the UN’s management and support functions.

The announcement did not make clear the entire amount of the budget or specify what effect the cut would have on the US contribution.

“We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of,” the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said, adding that the “inefficiency and overspending” of the organization was well-known.

Under the UN charter, the US is responsible for 22% of the the body’s annual operating budget, or around $1.2bn in 2017-18, and 28.5% of the cost of peacekeeping operations, estimated at $6.8bn over the same period.

In her statement, Haley said she was pleased with the results of budget negotiations, and the US mission would continue to “look at ways to increase the UN’s efficiency while protecting our interests”.

But the timing of the announcement sends a clear message. On Thursday, the general assembly voted 128-9 in favor of a resolution condemning the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Before the vote, the US president, Donald Trump said at a cabinet meeting: “Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars … We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”

On Sunday, Guatemala became the first country to follow the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Guatemala’s president Jimmy Morales made the announcement via Facebook.

Source: The Guardian

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Unicef says scale of attacks on children in conflicts is shocking

The UN children’s fund says the scale of attacks on children in the world’s conflict zones reached “shocking” levels in 2017.

In a new report, Unicef said there was widespread and blatant disregard for international laws designed to protect the most vulnerable.

Unicef director Manuel Fontaine said children were being targeted in their homes, schools and playgrounds.

He said such brutality “cannot be the new normal”.

The report highlights several conflict zones where it said children had suffered in the past year. It included:

  • In the Central African Republic, children were killed, raped, abducted and recruited by armed groups in a dramatic increase in violence
  • Islamist militants Boko Haram forced at least 135 children in north-east Nigeria and Cameroon to act as suicide bombers, almost five times the number in 2016
  • Muslim Rohingya children in Myanmar suffered “shocking and widespread violence” as they were driven from their homes in Rakhine state
  • In South Sudan, more than 19,000 children were recruited into armed forces and armed groups
  • Fighting in Yemen has left at least 5,000 children dead or injured according to official figures, with the real number expected to be much higher
  • In eastern Ukraine, 220,000 children are living under the constant threat from landmines and other unexploded devices left over from the war

“Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,” said Mr Fontaine, Unicef’s director of emergency programmes.

“As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.”

The report says that in some places, children abducted by extremist groups suffer further abuse when they are released to security forces.

Millions more children suffer from malnutrition, disease and trauma when access to food, water, sanitation and health is prevented by fighting, it says.

“Unicef calls on all parties to conflict to abide by their obligations under international law to immediately end violations against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals,” the reports adds.

“Unicef also calls on states with influence over parties to conflict to use that influence to protect children.”

Source: BBC News

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U.S. sanctions North Korean missile experts, Russia offers to mediate

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW – The United States announced sanctions on two of North Korea’s most prominent officials behind its ballistic missile program on Tuesday, while Russia reiterated an offer to mediate to ease tension between Washington and Pyongyang.

The new U.S. steps were the latest in a campaign aimed at forcing North Korea – which has defied years of multilateral and bilateral sanctions – to abandon a weapons program aimed at developing nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States.

“Treasury is targeting leaders of North Korea’s ballistic missile programs, as part of our maximum pressure campaign to isolate (North Korea) and achieve a fully denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The move followed new United Nations sanctions announced last Friday in response to North Korea’s Nov. 29 test of an ICBM that Pyongyang said put all of the U.S. mainland within range of its nuclear weapons. Those sanctions sought to further limit North Korea’s access to refined petroleum products and crude oil and its earnings from workers abroad.

North Korea declared the U.N. steps to be an act of war and tantamount to a complete economic blockade.

The standoff between the United States and North Korea has raised fears of a new conflict on the Korean peninsula, which has remained in a technical state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The United States has said that all options, including military ones, are on the table in dealing with North Korea. It says it prefers a diplomatic solution, but that North Korea has given no indication it is willing to discuss denuclearization.

LEADING EXPERTS

The U.S. Treasury named the targeted officials as Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol. It said Kim was reportedly a major figure in North Korea’s efforts to switch its missile program from liquid to solid fuel, while Ri was reported to be a key official in its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) development.

The largely symbolic steps block any property or interests the two might have within U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit any dealings by U.S. citizens with them.

With their ruling Workers Party, military and scientific credentials, the men are two of three top experts considered indispensable to North Korea’s rapidly developing weapons programs.

Photographs and television footage show that the men are clearly among North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s favorites. Their behavior with him is sharply at variance with the obsequiousness of other senior aides, most of whom bow and hold their hands over their mouths when speaking to the young leader.

Ri is one of the most prominent aides, and likely represents the Workers Party on the missile program, experts say.

Born in 1948, Ri was partly educated in Russia and promoted when Kim Jong Un started to rise through the ranks in the late 2000s.

Ri has visited China once and Russia twice. He met China’s defense minister in 2008 as the air force commander and accompanied Kim Jong Il on a visit to a Russian fighter jet factory in 2011, according to state media.

Kim Jong Sik is a prominent rocket scientist who rose after playing a role in North Korea’s first successful launch of a rocket in 2012.

He started his career as a civilian aeronautics technician, but now wears the uniform of a military general at the Munitions Industry Department, according to experts and the South Korean government.

Many other details, including his age, are not known.

KREMLIN OFFER

On Tuesday, the Kremlin, which has long called for the United States and North Korea to negotiate, said it was ready to act as a mediator if the two sides were willing for it to play such a role.

“Russia’s readiness to clear the way for de-escalation is obvious,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Asked to comment on the offer, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Justin Higgins, said the United States“has the ability to communicate with North Korea through a variety of diplomatic channels”, and added:

“We want the North Korean regime to understand that there is a different path that it can choose, however it is up to North Korea to change course and return to credible negotiations.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who made a similar offer on Monday, told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call on Tuesday that“Washington’s aggressive rhetoric” and beefing up of its military presence in the region had heightened tension and was unacceptable, his ministry said.

Lavrov underscored the need for“the fastest move to the negotiating process from the language of sanctions”, it said.

Another U.S. State Department spokesman, Michael Cavey, said Washington remained open to talks, but the onus was on North Korea“to take sincere and meaningful actions toward denuclearization and refrain from further provocations.”

South Korea’s Unification Ministry forecast on Tuesday that North Korea would look to open negotiations with the United States next year while continuing to seek recognition as a de facto nuclear power.

The United States has stressed the need for all countries, especially Russia, and China – North Korea’s main trading partner – to fully implement sanctions, including by cutting off oil supplies.

Source: Reuters

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Germany: Brexit deal could be model for EU-Turkey ties

A smart Brexit agreement could be a model for other countries, such as Ukraine and Turkey, German FM Gabriel says.

Germany’s foreign minister has said a successful Brexit deal could act as a framework for managing ties with other countries, including Turkey.

Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, becoming the first country to seek a divorce from the bloc, which includes Germany but not Turkey.

“If we are able to get a smart agreement with Britain that governs its relations with Europe after Brexit, it could be a model for other countries: Ukraine and Turkey,” Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview with German media group Funke, published on Tuesday.

“I can’t imagine Turkey or Ukraine becoming EU members in the next few years,” he said. “This is why we have to consider other ways of close cooperation.”

Earlier in December, Britain and the EU agreed on Brexit terms to establish a future relationship.

The deal includes details of a financial settlement, the Irish border and rights for citizens hit by Brexit.

Turkey has been in full membership talks with the EU since 2005, but these discussions have essentially been frozen over the past few years. Ukraine is not yet a candidate country for membership.

In response to Gabriel’s comments, Markar Esayan, an MP with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), told Al Jazeera that the nature and conditions of Ankara’s full membership talks were clear and irrelevant to the Brexit process.

“This statement shows that the conditions for Turkey in membership talks are different compared to the other candidate countries, as none of them are offered a separate path,” said Esayan, who has a role on the country’s committee on EU harmonisation.

“The EU cannot make Turkey responsible for not letting the country into the bloc. If it does not want Turkey as a member, it should officially take decisions in this direction at EU institutions, rather than politicians making such arbitrary statements.”

Tense relations

Relations between Ankara and Berlin have been tense since last year’s failed coup in Turkey, in part over the imprisonment of German journalists and activists by Turkish authorities on “terror” charges.

Germany and other EU member states have condemned the Turkish government’s detentions and purges of tens of thousands of people after the July 2016 incident.

Deniz Yucel, a prominent German journalist and critic of the Turkish government, is among the German citizens who remain imprisoned while Mesale Tolu, another German journalist, and Peter Steudtner, a German human rights activist, have been released pending trial.

Local and international rights groups accuse the government of using the coup attempt as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.

Ankara says that the purges and detentions are aimed at removing supporters of Fethullah Gulen from state institutions and other parts of society.

Gulen is a US-based, self-exiled religious leader who Ankara blames for the attempted coup. He denies the charge.

EU cuts Turkey’s funds

The EU recently shrunk so-called “pre-accession funds” for Turkey for the first time in the 2018 budget, due to what it called the country’s “deteriorating situation in relation to democracy, rule of law and human rights”.

In March, before a referendum to change Turkey’s parliamentary system to an executive presidency, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Denmark prevented Turkish politicians – including ministers – from taking part in rallies within their borders to back a “Yes” vote.

This led to an unprecedented diplomatic crisis.

Bulgaria, which will take over the EU presidency on January 1 for six months, said in its programme that the bloc’s enlargement policy would be “a key priority” for its term, with focus on the Western Balkans, with Turkey not included in this prospect.

“A specific priority of the Bulgarian Presidency is the European perspective and connectivity of the Western Balkans,” the Bulgarian government said in a programme adopted by its Council of Ministers earlier in December.

“EU Enlargement Policy … continues to be the most effective instrument for guaranteeing peace, stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans,” it added, while merely referring to “continuing dialogue and cooperation” with Turkey.

Source: AL Jazeera

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Coreia do Norte considera novas sanções “um acto de guerra”

Regime de Kim Jong-un ameaça países que alinharam com os EUA, o que inclui a Rússia e a China.

As mais recentes sanções aprovadas pela ONU contra a Coreia do Norte são um “acto de guerra” e significam um total bloqueio económico, disse este domingo o ministro norte-coreano dos Negócios Estrangeiros, ameaçando castigar os que apoiaram a medida.

Source: Públicoas
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Catalunha vai continuar dividida ao meio após as eleições de hoje

Apesar do crescimento das forças não independentistas augurado pelas sondagens, os partidos separatistas continuam a contar com apoios sólidos entre a população.

Hoje vive-se uma jornada excecional para a Catalunha e, de forma colateral, para toda Espanha. Realizam-se umas eleições regionais numa comunidade autónoma que foi protagonista da vida nacional durante os últimos meses devido ao desafio institucional dos seus governantes às normas legais espanholas, em busca da transformação num Estado independente.

Interrompido por força da lei esse caminho unilateral, mais de 5,5 milhões de catalães são chamados a dirimir nas urnas se esse processo de secessão ficará congelado durante uns lustros, pelo menos até a lei mudar a esse respeito, ou se permanece vivo em virtude de resultados eleitorais que indiquem apoio amplo e continuado aos grupos políticos que concorrem sob o amparo das bandeiras independentistas.

Peritos em estudos de opinião e politólogos auguram uma repetição da situação prévia ao ato eleitoral: uma sociedade dividida praticamente ao meio, em dois blocos antagónicos (independentistas e constitucionalistas), cada vez mais irreconciliáveis, e o risco certo de nenhuma dessas fações ter força parlamentar e apoios políticos suficientes para formar o próximo governo regional. O horizonte de repetição das eleições, lá para junho do próximo ano, não se pode descartar por completo. À hora a que este texto é enviado de Barcelona, a jornada eleitoral decorre com normalidade: prevê-se uma participação alta, acima dos 75 ou 80% do eleitorado. A maior parte dos votantes exercerá o seu direito a partir das seis da tarde (cinco em Portugal), por ser um dia de trabalho. Três horas depois (20h em Espanha, 19h em Portugal continental)) encerram as assembleias de voto.

É fácil explicar as circunstâncias que dotam de excecionalidade esta ida às urnas de dezembro, dia do começo oficial do inverno meteorológico e véspera do sorteio da Lotaria Nacional, uma das ocasiões mais emblemáticas do calendário espanhol. As eleições foram convocadas pelo primeiro-ministro de Espanha, Mariano Rajoy, e não pelo chefe do governo regional, como é costume, ao abrigo da lei que rege a atividade política e administrativa dos 17 territórios autónomos espanhóis.

Rajoy agiu empregando as competências que lhe foram outorgadas por aplicação do artigo 155 da Constituição espanhola – outro facto excecional –, em reação à Declaração Unilateral de Independência (DUI) pelo parlamento da Catalunha, considerada contrária ao direito. As regionais celebram-se em dia útil, coisa que não sucedia em Espanha há mais de 20 anos. Pelo menos 16 dos candidatos apresentados pelos partidos separatistas, e que têm possibilidades de ser eleitos deputados, estão envolvidos, com graus variáveis de responsabilidade, em processos judiciais.

O antigo vice-presidente do governo catalão, Oriol Junqueras, está na prisão com outros antigos membros desse executivo, que o artigo 155 destituiu, e com dirigentes de associações cívicas independentistas. O ex-presidente Carles Puigdemont fugiu para a Bélgica, acompanhado de vários companheiros de governo. Arrisca detenção e encarceramento imediatos se pisar solo espanhol.

O despertar de parte substancial da sociedade catalã, claramente oposta às tentações soberanistas e que pouco participava em eleições regionais, augura uma taxa de participação histórica, que poderá mesmo chegar aos 80%. Os resultados estão nas mãos de um milhão de eleitores, sobretudo jovens, indecisos ainda esta manhã sobre o sentido do seu sufrágio. Votarão pela primeira vez 143 mil cidadãos que acabam de atingir a maioridade.

É também a primeira vez que um partido não nacionalista, o Cidadãos (centro-direita liberal), tem possibilidades sérias de ser o mais votado. A sua candidata a presidente da Catalunha é Inés Arrimadas. Ela e Miquel Iceta, candidato do Partido dos Socialistas da Catalunha (ramo regional do PSOE) têm a chave da alternativa, podendo formar um Executivo não independentista na Catalunha. Do mesmo lado unionista, o Partido Popular (direita, no poder em Espanha) deve ser castigado pela associação dos seus dirigentes catalães a Rajoy.

A fação separatista é representada pela Esquerda Republicana da Catalunha (do preso Junqueras), pela lista Juntos pela Catalunha (de tendência liberal-conservadora, encabeçada pelo auto exilado Puigdemont) e pela Candidatura de Unidade Popular (extrema-esquerda antissistema). A meio dos dois blocos, e talvez crucial para resolver o impasse, fica a lista Em Comum Podemos (esquerda populista), que é contra a secessão mas a favor de um referendo pactuado.

Source: Expresso

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Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater

JAKARTA — Rasdiono remembers when the sea was a good distance from his doorstep, down a hill. Back then he opened the cramped, gaily painted bayside shack he named the Blessed Bodega, where he and his family sell catfish heads, spiced eggs and fried chicken.

It was strange, Rasdiono said. Year by year, the water crept closer. The hill gradually disappeared. Now the sea loomed high over the shop, just steps away, held back only by a leaky wall.

With climate change, the Java Sea is rising and weather here is becoming more extreme. Earlier this month another freakish storm briefly turned Jakarta’s streets into rivers and brought this vast area of nearly 30 million residents to a virtual halt.

One local climate researcher, Irvan Pulungan, an adviser to the city’s governor, fears that temperatures may rise several degrees Fahrenheit, and the sea level as much as three feet in the region, over the coming century.

That, alone, spells potential disaster for this teeming metropolis.

But global warming turned out not to be the only culprit behind the historic floods that overran Rasdiono’s bodega and much of the rest of Jakarta in 2007. The problem, it turned out, was that the city itself is sinking.

In fact, Jakarta is sinking faster than any other big city on the planet, faster, even, than climate change is causing the sea to rise — so surreally fast that rivers sometimes flow upstream, ordinary rains regularly swamp neighborhoods and buildings slowly disappear underground, swallowed by the earth. The main cause: Jakartans are digging illegal wells, drip by drip draining the underground aquifers on which the city rests — like deflating a giant cushion underneath it. About 40 percent of Jakarta now lies below sea level.

Coastal districts, like Muara Baru, near the Blessed Bodega, have sunk as much as 14 feet in recent years. Not long ago I drove around northern Jakarta and saw teenagers fishing in the abandoned shell of a half-submerged factory. The banks of a murky canal lapped at the trestle of a railway bridge, which, until recently, had arched high over it.

Climate change acts here as it does elsewhere, exacerbating scores of other ills. And in Jakarta’s case, a tsunami of human-made troubles — runaway development, a near-total lack of planning, next to no sewers and only a limited network of reliable, piped-in drinking water — poses an imminent threat to the city’s survival.

Sinking buildings, sprawl, polluted air and some of the worst traffic jams in the world are symptoms of other deeply rooted troubles. Distrust of government is a national condition. Conflicts between Islamic extremists and secular Indonesians, Muslims and ethnic Chinese have blocked progress, helped bring down reform-minded leaders and complicated everything that happens here, or doesn’t happen, to stop the city from sinking.

“Nobody here believes in the greater good, because there is so much corruption, so much posturing about serving the public when what gets done only serves private interests,” as Sidney Jones, the director of the local Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, put it. “There is no trust.”

Hydrologists say the city has only a decade to halt its sinking. If it can’t, northern Jakarta, with its millions of residents, will end up underwater, along with much of the nation’s economy. Eventually, barring wholesale change and an infrastructural revolution, Jakarta won’t be able to build walls high enough to hold back the rivers, canals and the rising Java Sea.

And even then, of course, if it does manage to heal its self-inflicted wounds, it still has to cope with all the mounting threats from climate change.

How It Got So Bad

Changing Climate, Changing Cities

How climate change is challenging the world’s urban centers.

 

As far the eye can see, 21st-century Jakarta is a smoggy tangle of freeways and skyscrapers. Spread along the northwestern coast of Java, this capital of the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population used to be a soggy, bug-infested trading port for the Hindu kingdom of Sunda before local sultans took it over in 1527.

They named it Jayakarta, Javanese for victorious city.

Dutch colonists arrived a century later, establishing a base for the East India territories. Imagining a tropical Amsterdam, they laid out streets and canals to try to cope with water pouring in from the south, out of the forests and mountains, where rain falls nearly 300 days out of the year. Thirteen rivers feed into the city.

After independence in 1945, the city began to sprawl. Today, it is virtually impossible to walk around. Parks are rarer than Javan rhinos. A trip to the nearest botanical garden requires the better part of a day in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

“Living here, we don’t have other places to go,” said Yudi and Titi, a young professional couple who one recent Sunday had made the roughly hour’s round trip from western Jakarta to the center of the city just to spend a few minutes walking up and down a chaotic, multilane freeway briefly closed to traffic. “Without cars, at least you can breathe for a few minutes,” Titi said.

The most urgent problems are in North Jakarta, a coastal mash-up of ports, nautically themed high-rises, aged fish markets, abject slums, power plants, giant air-conditioned malls and the congested remnants of the colonial Dutch settlement, with its decrepit squares and streets of crumbling warehouses and dusty museums.

Some of the world’s most polluted canals and rivers weave a spider’s web through the area.

It is where the city is sinking fastest.

That’s because, after decades of reckless growth and negligent leadership, crises have lined up here like dominoes.

Jakartan developers and others illegally dig untold numbers of wells because water is piped to less than half the population at what published reports say are extortionate costs by private companies awarded government concessions.

The aquifers aren’t being replenished, despite heavy rains and the abundance of rivers, because more than 97 percent of Jakarta is now smothered by concrete and asphalt. Open fields that once absorbed rain have been paved over. Shores of mangroves that used to help relieve swollen rivers and canals during monsoons have been overtaken by shantytowns and apartment towers.

There is always tension between immediate needs and long-term plans. It’s a similar story in other sinking giants like Mexico City. Here, all of the construction, combined with the draining of the aquifers, is causing the rock and sediment on which Jakarta rests to pancake.

Construction has skyrocketed as businesses and foreigners have arrived, and also because rural Indonesians have been fleeing the lowlands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. They have been driven out by coal mines and tobacco farms. The effect on the countryside has been disastrous, with the burning of rain forests to make way for palm oil producers and textile factories causing fires so smoky they have caused air pollution to spike as far away as Malaysia, contributing to climate change.

These factories also dump tons of waste and chemicals into waterways, contaminating the city’s drinking water supply.

And many of the rural poor have settled in Jakarta in informal developments, or kampungs, that cluster along canals, their houses teetering above the water on stilts, the waterways underneath becoming default sewers.

All of these homes, all of this sewage and garbage now jam pumping stations that the city has had to build because gravity no longer drains the rivers and canals naturally.

To halt the sinking, the city needs to stop the digging of wells, which means Jakarta must provide residents with reliable, clean, piped-in water and, to clear the waterways, somehow — at a cost of untold billions — retrofit one of the world’s biggest cities with a sewer system, or something approaching it.

Cleaning the canals and rivers will also require policing the factories that dump chemicals, which means grappling with corruption — and resettling many of the informal communities. But resettlement depends on finding land and then building thousands of new homes for displaced residents, most of whom don’t want to move in the first place.

These factories also dump tons of waste and chemicals into waterways, contaminating the city’s drinking water supply.

And many of the rural poor have settled in Jakarta in informal developments, or kampungs, that cluster along canals, their houses teetering above the water on stilts, the waterways underneath becoming default sewers.

All of these homes, all of this sewage and garbage now jam pumping stations that the city has had to build because gravity no longer drains the rivers and canals naturally.

To halt the sinking, the city needs to stop the digging of wells, which means Jakarta must provide residents with reliable, clean, piped-in water and, to clear the waterways, somehow — at a cost of untold billions — retrofit one of the world’s biggest cities with a sewer system, or something approaching it.

Cleaning the canals and rivers will also require policing the factories that dump chemicals, which means grappling with corruption — and resettling many of the informal communities. But resettlement depends on finding land and then building thousands of new homes for displaced residents, most of whom don’t want to move in the first place.

And he cleared out some of the kampungs that obstructed waterways. The efforts began to make a difference. Rains that once caused days of floods drained within hours.

But many people forced out, like Topaz, resisted the moves, convinced that the evictions were really intended to enrich developers, not improve drainage. Akuarium became a hotbed of protest against the governor.

Capitalizing on residents’ resistance and the piety of the urban poor, the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front teamed with some of the governor’s political rivals and religious conservatives to tap into a vein of anti-Chinese populism. Ahok’s enemies escalated what had been a conflict over the displacement of a fishing community into an argument about whether a non-Muslim should lead a Muslim-majority city.

The governor found himself regularly attacked at Friday prayers. He lost his re-election bid, and the Islamists, who exploited anger against him, had him brought up on charges of blasphemy. He is serving two years in prison.

The new governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan, who ran a campaign that drew support from Akuarium’s angry residents, announced in November as one of his first acts that he planned to rebuild some of the shelters at the kampung.

At another evicted settlement called Bukit Duri, I met Agus Fadilah, 34, a motorbike-taxi driver, gazing at the rubble of what used to be his house on the banks of the Ciliwung, one of the city’s main rivers. Bulldozers were still moving piles of debris, and a few women were scavenging for family belongings.

Upstream, several other kampungs had already been cleared, the river widened, its banks lined with concrete and surrounded by high concrete walls, now tagged with graffiti. The river there looks imprisoned, but water flows more easily.

“I was raised here, my job was here,” Mr. Agus said, noting that he, his wife and two young children had been relocated to a new apartment building hours away. They make long daily commutes because they want to keep the children in their old schools.

“I know why they did this,” he told me. “It had to do with the river. I know this was not legally our land. But it was my home.”

Residents of Bukit Duri filed a class-action lawsuit against the government to protest the evictions. Recently, a district court judge ruled in their favor.

“It’s not that nobody should move,” argues Elisa Sutanudjaja, a kampung advocate and the executive director at the Rujak Center for Urban Studies. “These poor communities don’t all want to stay in place, but they do want to stay together and near their jobs, and they want legal status.

“Mostly, they want to be consulted,” she said.

They also want to show, where possible, that moving isn’t the only solution. In a leafy kampung called Tongkol, residents during the last couple of years have installed their own septic tanks and kept their stretch of the Ciliwung clean. A young architect named Kamil Muhammad, from Architecture Sans Frontieres-Indonesia, designed a low-cost home made of concrete, bamboo and reused brick. It stacks seven tiny apartments under a covered communal roof deck.

The project is a template for cheap, do-it-yourself housing that can free up space along Jakarta’s waterways critical for flood control.

“We want to demonstrate to the government that kampungs can actually be beneficial to the river,” Kamil told me as we looked over the river from the roof deck. Below, banana and star fruit trees shaded a riverside promenade of colorful facades and vegetable gardens.

JanJaap Brinkman, a hydrologist who for decades has been studying Jakarta for the Dutch water research institute Deltares, sympathizes with residents of communities like Akuarium and Tongkol. Eviction isn’t a cure-all, or even possible, he said, considering how many countless thousands of Jakartans now live atop the canals and rivers in informal developments. At the same time, Mr. Brinkman stressed, moving people is necessary, and bungled evictions squander a meager reservoir of good will and precious time.

“We need big steps now,” he said. “If all the discussions get tied up with fishermen and development, there will eventually be a massive calamity and deaths and no choice but to give up on whole parts of Jakarta.”

Halting Progress

There is occasional talk here about the Indonesian government moving its capital elsewhere, to shrink the city. Politicians issue decrees prohibiting developers from digging wells and imploring residents to store rainwater. Enforcement is negligible.

Mr. Brinkman drove me one morning to the city’s new 16-mile Eastern Flood Channel, its banks lined with parkland. The channel has helped relieve flooding. From there we toured a century-old water gate, also recently repaired. “A few years ago this was solid waste,” Mr. Brinkman said, gesturing across the wide, murky water. On the opposite bank, sanitation crews in bright orange outfits gathered around garbage trucks. They belonged to Ahok’s Orange Army.

“This gate is nothing like it used to be,” Mr. Brinkman said. “You used to be able to walk across the water, it was so clogged with garbage and sediment.”

As he spoke, one of the orange-clad sanitation workers leaned his head back, polished off a bottle of water and tossed the empty plastic container over one shoulder into the river.

Real progress is often thwarted here. The most ambitious move by the city is the construction of what’s called the Coastal Wall, now rising like a black cliff from Jakarta Bay. It’s a quasi-temporary barrier to hold back the rising sea and compensate for subsidence — built extra high because, like the rest of North Jakarta, it is expected to sink, too. With subsidence at the current rate, the Coastal Wall itself may be underwater by 2030.

Even more alarming, Mr. Brinkman showed me one spot along the waterfront where the wall ends and all that holds back the sea is a low, crumbling concrete rampart. The water was only a couple of feet below the top when we peered over the embankment.

“If this wall breaks, there’s simply no holding back the Java Sea,” said Mr. Brinkman, gesturing from the rampart toward the city. “Jakarta will flood all the way to the center of town, six kilometers from here. I could take you to 20 other places just like this.”

The Coastal Wall belongs to a larger project that Indonesian officials undertook three years ago in collaboration with the Dutch government. Called the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development program, it imagines supplementing the Coastal Wall with a second barrier, a Giant Sea Wall, or massive dike, miles out to sea, in effect closing off Jakarta Bay entirely.

The dike would not just block rising waters. According to the original plan, it would also become the spine for an immense new megadistrict and ring road, a $40 billion development — and a windfall for real estate moguls and Dutch consultants — designed in the shape of a garuda, the national bird.

The Great Garuda, as it came to be called, was Jakarta’s Big Idea.

Or it was until just lately.

The government has now backtracked on the megadistrict idea, while still envisioning the dike itself — the very notion of which has provoked understandable skepticism. As environmentalists have pointed out, if the city doesn’t first clean up its rivers and canals, a dike will turn an enclosed Jakarta Bay into the world’s largest cesspool.

The development scheme was also linked to discredited plans for reclaimed islands inside the bay. Delayed for years by recession and legal wrangling, the islands started to get built in 2013, marketed as posh oases of condominiums, yacht marinas and golf courses primarily to customers in places like Malaysia and Singapore.

Enraged fishermen sued, claiming that the islands destroyed their traditional fishing grounds. When one developer was exposed for bribing local officials, a scandal erupted and construction was halted.

At the same time, the islands had become tied up with the Great Garuda. Officials, including Ahok, realized that a tax on the islands’ developers could help Indonesia pay for the giant dike, along with other costly initiatives to clear waterways and stop the sinking.

In essence, a plan that environmentalists and many poor fishermen agreed would wreak environmental havoc on the bay and North Jakarta was being touted by Jakartan leadership as a means to save the city itself — and from climate change.

Ardhasena Sopalheluwakan is among the climate scientists here who think the best approach was never to construct a giant dike but “to give back part of North Jakarta to nature,” as he put it to me one recent morning. The idea would be to “reintroduce mangroves and rejuvenate some of the dozens of reservoirs that were actually part of old Jakarta.”

From Mr. Brinkman’s perspective, just “counteracting subsidence will account for 90 percent of what this city needs to do to deal with climate change.”

Tokyo was in a similar predicament after World War II, he likes to point out. It had sunk about 12 feet since 1900. But the city poured resources into new infrastructure and established stricter rules about development, and within a decade or two made itself a global model of urban innovation, better able to cope with the effects of climate change.

“Jakarta could become a 21st-century version of Tokyo in the 20th century, an example for urban redevelopment,” Irvan Pulungan, the climate change adviser to the city’s new governor, imagined.

But “a city that can’t deliver basic services is a failed city,” he added. ”On top of conventional issues like flooding and urbanization we now have climate change, tipping the scale. And at this rate, people will be fighting in the streets for increasingly limited resources like clean water and safe living spaces.”

Like Tokyo half a century ago, Jakarta is at a turning point, he said: “Nature will no longer wait.”

Source: The New York Times

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ANC resolves to downgrade embassy in Israel

Ruling party says move sends clear message to Israel ‘that there is a price to pay for human rights abuses’.

The African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s ruling party, has resolved to “immediately and unconditionally” downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel to a liaison office.

The ANC’s decision on Wednesday evening, announced during its 54th National Conference, came on the eve of a UN General Assembly emergency session where member states resoundingly approved a draft resolution rejecting US President Donald Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“[It] sends a clear message to Israel that there is a price to pay for its human rights abuses and violations of international law,” the ANC said in a statement.

“In order to give our practical expression of support to the oppressed people of Palestine, the ANC has unanimously resolved to direct the SA government to immediately and unconditionally downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel to a liaison office.”

‘A practical step towards peace’

Hashem Dajani, Palestine’s ambassador in Pretoria, described the move as “an important decision”.

The Palestinian movement, Hamas, released a statement on Thursday acknowledging ANC members and activists in South Africa’s Palestine solidarity movement “who convinced South Africans that it was the correct moral and ethical decision for their country”.

The activist group, South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP), said: “the downgrade was a practical step towards a just peace”.

In a statement, the organisation said: “This move by the ANC actively applies pressure on Israel’s government to end its violations of international law.”

But Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg, said the ANC’s move was not legally binding.

Its implementation at government level was also uncertain, he said.

“There are people who are celebrating as if this is a done deal, when it is nowhere near that,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Until and unless the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) takes this resolution on board, it means nothing.”

DIRCO is South Africa’s foreign ministry.

Friedman said that it was not unusual for the ANC to show support for the Palestinians.

“It doesn’t mean that it will translate into [government] policy,” he said.

DIRCO officials, he added, are known to hold sympathetic views towards Israel.

Zionist organisation decries decision

Separately, the move angered the South African Board of Jewish Deputies and South African Zionist Federation.

“We question the motives behind this discriminatory decision that would effectively prevent South Africa from playing any mediatory role in bringing about peace or dialogue between Israel and Palestine‚” the group said in a statement.

“This downgrade will do nothing for the Palestinian people‚ and have a detrimental effect on South Africans. We further question the motives of organisations and individuals who have managed to ‘capture’ the ANC’s international relations agenda‚ including the BDS.”

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or BDS, seeks to end the Israeli occupation and dismantle Israel’s illegal wall and settlements, demands full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and calls for the rights of Palestinian refugees to be upheld.

The decision to downgrade the Israeli embassy came at the end of a five-day conference in which the ANC voted for a new leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, who takes over from President Jacob Zuma.

Source: AL JAZEERA NEWS

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UN votes resoundingly to reject Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital

The United Nations body’s debate and vote highlighted for a second time in a week the international isolation of the United States over the Jerusalem issue.

The United Nations general assembly has delivered a stinging rebuke to Donald Trump, voting by a huge majority to reject his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The vote came after a redoubling of threats by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, who said that Washington would remember which countries “disrespected” America by voting against it.

Despite the warning, 128 members voted on Thursday in favour of the resolution supporting the longstanding international consensus that the status of Jerusalem – which is claimed as a capital by both Israel and the Palestinians – can only be settled as an agreed final issue in a peace deal. Countries which voted for the resolution included major recipients of US aid such as Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Although largely symbolic, the vote in emergency session of the world body had been the focus of days of furious diplomacy by both the Trump administration and Israel, including Trump’s threat to cut US funding to countries that did not back the US recognition.

But only nine states – including the United States and Israel –voted against the resolution. The other countries which supported Washington were Togo, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Guatemala and Honduras.

Twenty-two of the 28 EU countries voted for the resolution, including the UK and France. Germany – which in the past has abstained on measures relating to Israel – also voted in favour.

Thirty-five countries abstained, including five EU states, and other US allies including Australia, Canada, Colombia and Mexico. Ambassadors from several abstaining countries, including Mexico, used their time on the podium to criticise Trump’s unilateral move.

Another 21 delegations were absent from the vote, suggesting the Trump’s warning over funding cuts and Israel’s lobbying may have had some effect.

While support for the resolution was somewhat less than Palestinian officials had hoped, the meagre tally of just nine votes in support of the US and Israeli position was a serious diplomatic blow for Trump.

Immediately after the vote the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, described the result as a “victory for Palestine”. The Palestinians’ UN envoy, Riyad Mansour, described the result as a “massive setback” for the US.

“They made it about them,” Mansour told AFP. “They did not make it about Jerusalem, so when you make it about them and to only be able to get nine votes to say ‘no’ to it, I think it was a complete failure for their campaign.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the UN vote out of hand.

“Israel thanks President Trump for his unequivocal position in favour of Jerusalem and thanks the countries that voted together with Israel, together with the truth,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

Speaking to the assembly before the vote, Haley – who earlier in the week told members that the US “would be taking names” – returned to the offensive.

“I must also say today: when we make generous contributions to the UN, we also have expectation that we will be respected,” she said. “What’s more, we are being asked to pay for the dubious privileges of being disrespected.”

Haley added: “If our investment fails, we have an obligation to spend our investment in other ways … The United States will remember this day.”

In his own speech Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said UN members who backed the resolution were being manipulated. “You are like puppets pulled by your Palestinian masters,” he told the session.

While Thursday’s resolution was in support of existing UN resolutions on Jerusalem and the peace process, the clumsy intervention by Trump and Haley also made the vote a referendum on Trump’s often unilateral and abrasive foreign policy.

The debate and vote highlighted for a second time in a week the international isolation of the United States over the Jerusalem issue, following a similar vote in the security council on Tuesday in which it was outnumbered 14-1.

The threatening US posture, which had been denounced as both counter-productive and “bullying”, only seemed to have hardened the resolve of countries in opposing Trump’s 6 December move.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Turkey and Yemen, called Trump’s recognition “null and void” and reaffirmed 10 security council resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city’s final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

It also “demands that all states comply with security council resolutions regarding the holy city of Jerusalem, and not to recognise any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions”.

Earlier on Thursday, as it had become clear that the US and Israel would be heavily defeated, Netanyahu preemptively denounced the vote calling the UN a “house of lies”.

“The state of Israel rejects this vote outright,” Netanyahu said. “Jerusalem is our capital, we will continue to build there and additional embassies will move to Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, whether or not the UN recognises this. It took 70 years for the United States to formally recognise this, and it will take years for the UN to do the same.”

Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, called for Israel to cut its ties with the UN and expel the organisation from its Jerusalem offices.

“We must evict the UN from the scenic Governor’s House, where its bloated staff does nothing, and give this historic site to a school, a hospital or – best yet – a new US embassy.”

Source: The Guardian

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Honduras: Opposition Alliance Summons More Street Protests

Mobilizations across the country have been organized for three days starting from dawn Wednesday, to demonstrate the opposition’s rejection of the disputed election results.

Honduras’ Opposition Alliance party has called for more public protests against the controversial re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Mobilizations across the country have been organized for three days starting from dawn on Wednesday, to demonstrate the opposition’s rejection of the results and condemnation of violence by state security forces, who have so far killed at least 26 protesters.

The Opposition Alliance announced the call “in the face of the vile murders, the physical aggression, persecution and attacks carried out by the military, paramilitaries and police against the people who exercise their universal right to peaceful protest in defense of their vote.”

At the same time, Hernandez posted a message on Twitter thanking his supporters for their loyalty: “Thank you for your calls and messages of congratulations on our electoral triumph, we will continue to work ceaselessly towards the construction of the new Honduras.”

Former president Manuel Zelaya, who was removed in a U.S.-backed coup in 2009 and has been a key actor in both supporting Opposition Alliance candidate Salvador Nasralla, Tweeted: “We call for you tomorrow, 3pm at the Obelisk facing the headquarters of the armed forces, to strongly protest the murders, assaults and violations of human rights.”

On Thursday, the Opposition Alliance is due to lead a protest march to the United States embassy, whose government has officially recognized the victory of Hernandez. On Friday at 6pm (local time), the alliance had asked the Honduran people to mobilize on all of the country’s public roads.

Nasralla, who lost by less than two percentage points after a prolonged delay in announcing the results, traveled to Washington, D.C. on Monday to meet with Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro, who has called for a fresh election.

Almagro said Sunday that the election was plagued with irregularities and should be redone to meet the international standards befitting of a democracy.

Aside from the fact that it took almost a month for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to announce the results of last month’s election, the opposition’s main concern about the results came after Hernandez began to pull ahead after an hours-long technical problem caused the TSE system to “go down.”

When the system came back the sitting president steadily began to overcome Nasralla’s original five percent lead with over half of ballots counted, which experts had said would be irreversible.

According to Honduran election law, the opposition alliance has a period of 10 days to file appeals against the results.

Mexico, meanwhile, has officially recognised the re-election of Hernandez: an announcement that was brokered in coordination with the United States, according to Reuters.

The presidents of Guatemala, Colombia and Israel have also confirmed their support for the incumbent, much to the dismay of other members of the international community.

Source: TeleSur

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Austria protest as far right Freedom Party tastes power

Thousands of protesters rallied in central Vienna against Austria’s new coalition government of conservatives and far right, during its swearing-in.

Among the banners were ones saying “Don’t let the Nazis govern”.

The Freedom Party (FPÖ) – the junior partner – is among just a few far-right parties to have won power in the EU.

The FPÖ and People’s Party (ÖVP) plan to implement stricter rules for asylum seekers, after immigration proved a major concern for Austrian voters.

The coalition says Austria will stay in the EU. The new chancellor is Sebastian Kurz, 31 – Europe’s youngest leader.

There was a heavy police presence outside the Hofburg Palace during the swearing-in.

About 6,000 people demonstrated against the new coalition, the BBC’s Bethany Bell reports.

The FPÖ was founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, but today it denies any connection with Nazi ideology.

The FPÖ has received some key posts in the coalition, taking charge of interior and defence, and being allowed to choose the new foreign minister.

The FPÖ has a co-operation agreement with the ruling United Russia party of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the FPÖ says it wants to get the EU sanctions on Russia eased.

The new foreign minister, Karin Kneissl, is a Middle East expert who speaks Arabic and Hebrew.

She has accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of “negligence” by allowing in record numbers of migrants.

Controversially she also said the turmoil in the Arab world was partly caused by young unemployed men “who cannot find a woman today” because of their low status.

Tough on asylum

The coalition plans to make asylum seekers hand over any cash they have when they submit an asylum claim, so that it funds their welfare.

They will also have to hand over their mobile phones so that the authorities can see from their data how they reached Austria and whom they contacted. Phones will not be confiscated but there will be systematic checks.

The FPÖ was in a coalition government before, in 2000. Back then there was a huge outcry and the government was left diplomatically isolated in the EU. But this time the reaction has been far more muted.

Migrant pressure

In 2015 Austria was at the heart of the EU’s migrant crisis, when more than a million asylum seekers arrived, hoping to reach Germany. Most did move on to Germany, but Austrian resources were severely stretched and the crisis fuelled anti-immigration sentiment.

Many were refugees from the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the third quarter of this year, asylum applications in Austria were about 25% lower than in the same period of 2016, Eurostat reports. In Germany the numbers were more than 75% lower.

According to the new Austrian government’s plans:

  • Basic care will be provided for migrants in kind – no longer in cash benefits
  • Doctors providing basic medical care for migrants may have to provide more information than in the past, as “their duty of confidentiality will be limited”, the coalition programme says (in German)
  • Spouses will be barred from Austria in cases of polygamy, forced marriage or child marriage
  • Asylum seekers’ children will have to attend special “bridging” classes in migrant hostels, separate from mainstream education. The coalition does not explain how that system will work. Many hostels are in small towns and lack resources for such classes, Austria’s Der Standard newspaper reports.

In a Facebook post, FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache said (in German): “No longer will it possible for migrants who haven’t worked here a single day and have paid nothing into the system to get thousands of euros in social security!” He added: “On this point we in the Freedom Party have stuck to a central electoral promise!”

The Danish government was widely criticised in Europe when it introduced similar measures.

Who’s who in the new government?

Chancellor: Sebastian Kurz, ÖVP. The 31-year-old was foreign minister in the outgoing Austrian government.

Interior minister: Herbert Kickl, FPÖ. The party’s general secretary and campaign director, 49, was a speechwriter for the late party leader Jörg Haider and is a close confidant of Mr Strache.

Foreign minister: Karin Kneissl, nominated by the FPÖ but not a member. The former diplomat, 52, speaks eight languages and is not afraid of controversy.

Source: BBC News

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Trump drops climate change from US national security strategy

The Trump administration has dropped climate change from a list of global threats in a new national security strategy the president unveiled on Monday.

Instead, Trump’s NSS paper emphasised the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world.

That stance represents a sharp change from the Obama administration’s NSS, which placed climate change as one of the main dangers facing the nation and made building international consensus on containing global warming a national security priority.

White House officials said on Sunday that the Trump NSS was the culmination of 11 months of collaboration between all the leading security, foreign policy and economic agencies of government. The exclusion of climate change as a national security threat appears, however, to conflict with views previously expressed by the defense secretary, James Mattis.

“Climate change is not identified as a national security threat but climate and the importance of the environment and environmental stewardship are discussed,” a senior administration official said.

Another official said Trump’s remarks when he announced he was taking the US out of the Paris climate accord “would be the guidepost for the language in the NSS on climate”.

In that speech in June, Trump declared “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris” and alleged the agreement “hamstrings the United States while empowering some of the world’s top polluting countries”.

The Federalist website, which first reported that Trump would drop climate change from the NSS, quoted the draft document as suggesting the Trump administration would actively oppose efforts to reduce the burning of oil, gas and coal for energy.

“US leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to US economic and energy security interests,” the website quoted the document as saying.

“Given future global energy demand, much of the developing world will require fossil fuels, as well as other forms of energy, to power their economies and lift their people out of poverty.”

A senior official said on Sunday the main difference between the Trump NSS and its predecessors was a new emphasis on border security and economic issues.

“The economic piece … gets much more attention,” the official said. “The insistence that economic security is national security.”

In unpublished testimony provided to Congress after his confirmation hearings in January, Mattis said the US military had to consider how the thawing Arctic and drought in global flashpoints would pose present and future challenges.

Mattis and the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, are reported to have argued against leaving the Paris climate agreement.

Officials said the new NSS was based on Trump’s previous speeches on national security and foreign policy. The president was said to have decided to break with normal practice and launch it with a speech.

“As far as we have been able to determine, no president has ever rolled this out with a speech before,” a senior administration official said.

“The president was briefed on the document all the way along but when it was near completion and when it was shown to him what it looked like, he was very excited and he personally said he wanted to introduce it to the American people and to the world.”

Source: The Guardian

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U.S. helped thwart major attack in St. Petersburg: U.S., Russia say

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON – The United States provided intelligence to Russia that helped thwart a potentially deadly bomb attack in St. Petersburg, U.S. and Russian officials said on Sunday, in a rare public show of cooperation despite deep strains between the two countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday to thank him for the tip-off, which the Kremlin said helped prevent a militant bomb attack on a cathedral in the Russian city, as well as other sites.

The White House did not disclose details about the plot itself, but said the attack “could have killed large numbers of people.” Neither the Kremlin nor the White House identified the would-be attackers.

The U.S. warning allowed Russian law enforcement agencies to arrest the suspects before they could carry out their plans, the White House and Kremlin said.

Relations between Washington and Moscow have been damaged by disagreements over the wars in Ukraine and Syria, although Trump pledged during his election campaign to pursue better ties with Moscow.

That has been complicated by U.S. allegations – denied by Russia – that the Kremlin meddled in last year’s U.S. presidential election to help Trump win.

Russian officials say Putin believes Trump is not to blame for the tensions.

The phone call on Sunday between Trump and Putin was at least the second such call in the past week. On Thursday, Putin and Trump discussed the crisis in North Korea.

CATHEDRAL THREAT

The foiled attack was to have been carried out on Kazansky Cathedral, in Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg, and on other locations in the city where large numbers of people gather, the Kremlin statement said. The cathedral is a popular tourist site.

The White House seized on the foiled plot in St. Petersburg as a sign of what Moscow and Washington could do if they cooperate.

“Both leaders agreed that this serves as an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together,” the White House said, adding Trump appreciated the call from Putin.

Russian media reported last week that the Federal Security Service had detained followers of the Islamic State group who had been planning a suicide bomb attack on Kazansky Cathedral on Saturday.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately respond to requests for additional details on the foiled plot.

Putin said Russia would alert U.S. authorities if it received information about any attack being planned on the United States, the Kremlin said.

Russia has repeatedly been the target of attacks by Islamist militant groups, including an attack in April that killed 14 people when an explosion tore through a train carriage in a metro tunnel in St. Petersburg.

Russian police detained several suspects in that attack from mainly Muslim states in ex-Soviet central Asia.

Source: Reuters

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Turquia quer abrir embaixada na parte oriental de Jerusalém como capital palestiniana

O presidente da Turquia disse este domingo que o seu país planeia abrir uma embaixada em Jerusalém Oriental como capital de um futuro Estado palestiniano, depois dos Estados Unidos terem reconhecido Jerusalém como capital do Estado de Israel.

“Já declarámos Jerusalém Oriental como a capital do Estado palestiniano, mas não conseguimos abrir a nossa embaixada, porque Jerusalém está atualmente ocupada. Mas, se Deus quiser, vamos abrir a nossa embaixada lá”, assegurou Recep Tayyip Erdogan, numa iniciativa do seu Partido da Justiça e Desenvolvimento (AKP, conservador islâmico).

No passado dia 13, os países da Organização para a Cooperação Islâmica acordaram, numa cimeira em Istambul, reconhecer Jerusalém Oriental como a capital de um futuro Estado palestiniano e convidaram o resto do mundo a fazer o mesmo.

O governo turco e o presidente Erdogan estão entre as vozes mais críticas face ao anúncio, no dia 06, do presidente norte-americano, Donald Trump, de reconhecer Jerusalém como capital de Israel e de transferir para a cidade a embaixada dos Estados Unidos, que se encontra em Telavive.

Erdogan acusou os Estados Unidos de violarem acordos internacionais e de incendiarem toda a região do Médio Oriente com aquela decisão.

Israel ocupa Jerusalém Oriental desde 1967 e, em 1980, anexou e proclamou a cidade como sua capital indivisa.

A comunidade internacional nunca reconheceu Jerusalém como capital de Israel, nem a anexação da parte oriental da cidade.

Os países com representação diplomática em Israel têm as embaixadas em Telavive, em conformidade com as resoluções das Nações Unidas, de que o estatuto de Jerusalém terá de ser definido no âmbito de negociações israelo-palestinianas.

Os palestinianos aspiram a fazer de Jerusalém Oriental a capital do seu futuro Estado.

Source: Expresso

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Rwanda Accuses France of Complicity in 1994 Genocide

KIGALI, Rwanda — The Rwandan government released an independent report on Wednesday accusing French officials of complicity in the 1994 genocide, risking further strains to already icy relations between the two countries.

The report, commissioned by the Rwandan government and conducted by a Washington law firm, alleges that French military forces trained their Rwandan counterparts, supplied them with weapons even after an arms embargo, and gave cover, under the auspices of a United Nations-sanctioned humanitarian mission, in the last moments of a genocidal campaign.

Researchers and the Rwandan government say they cannot get France to make good on earlier commitments to fully open its archives or otherwise investigate the country’s role.

“What happened in the early ’90s and even before, in the lead-up to the genocide, is something France will have to come to terms with,” said Louise Mushikiwabo, the foreign minister of Rwanda. “Rwanda is not going away. We’re not going anywhere.”

Archival documents show that the French government was a close ally of the Rwandan regime that planned and perpetrated the mass slaughter of an estimated 800,000 people, most of them members of the Tutsi ethnic minority. Historians say a son of François Mitterrand, the French president at the time, was also a close friend of the Rwandan leader whose government organized the genocide.

Some examples of French complicity remain raw 23 years later.

“There were cases where they found Tutsi refugees, saw them, and then left them, and more of them were killed,” said Timothy P. Longman, the director of the African Studies Center at Boston University. “It’s one thing after another. The French absolutely deserve to be condemned.”

The two governments have repeatedly tussled over access to information, in procedural disputes that are part of a larger political drama.

In 2006, a French judge opened an investigation into the 1994 plane crash that killed President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda, a member of the majority Hutu ethnic group. The crash is widely seen as the spark that ignited the genocide, making responsibility for the crash one of the most politically volatile questions in Rwanda.

Some examples of French complicity remain raw 23 years later.

“There were cases where they found Tutsi refugees, saw them, and then left them, and more of them were killed,” said Timothy P. Longman, the director of the African Studies Center at Boston University. “It’s one thing after another. The French absolutely deserve to be condemned.”

The two governments have repeatedly tussled over access to information, in procedural disputes that are part of a larger political drama.

In 2006, a French judge opened an investigation into the 1994 plane crash that killed President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda, a member of the majority Hutu ethnic group. The crash is widely seen as the spark that ignited the genocide, making responsibility for the crash one of the most politically volatile questions in Rwanda.

Rwandans living in France who are suspected of perpetrating the genocide — including the then-president’s wife, thought to have been a mastermind of the massacres — have also largely escaped prosecution. In 2013, the French government started a special unit for investigating war crimes, but only a few Rwandans have been prosecuted.

Ms. Mushikiwabo said the report was the first step in increasing pressure the Rwandans will bring to bear on the French. The Washington law firm Cunningham Levy Muse, which produced the report, will continue its investigations, Ms. Mushikiwabo said, adding that the Rwandan government was amassing its own archive of contemporary documents, including some left behind by the French.

The report also comes at a time of renewed interest in France’s accountability for suspected crimes abroad. Two weeks ago, during a visit to Burkina Faso, President Emmanuel Macron promised to declassify documents related to the 1987 assassination of that country’s president, Thomas Sankara. Many in Burkina Faso suspect the French of being involved in his death.

But on a visit last week to the former French colony of Algeria, Mr. Macron resisted questions about French atrocities there, insisting that it was time to “look forward.”

Mr. Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande, declassified some documents relating to Rwanda, but French researchers say too much of the primary historical record is still off-limits.

Last month, a French court denied François Graner, a French researcher on Rwanda, access to documents in the archive of Mr. Mitterrand, the French president during the genocide. Mr. Graner plans to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. Graner said that basic historical questions about France’s role in Rwanda remained unanswered, and that those questions very likely have far-reaching consequences.

“The Rwanda intervention is the most symbolic of the more than 50 French military interventions in Africa,” Mr. Graner said. French forces are still involved in Africa, he added, and they are deployed “with nearly the same decision-making mechanisms that were at play in Rwanda.”

Toby Cadman, an international criminal lawyer based in London with extensive experience in mass-atrocity trials, said the questions at play also had an impact on global affairs.

“Genocide like this happens when other states provide material support,” he said. “You look at the situation in Myanmar, where they’re clearly getting cover from China and the United States, and we criticize Russia for their role in Syria. It doesn’t seem like we’ve learned very much.”

Some critics say that Rwanda is an imperfect messenger on facing history, given the government’s refusal to acknowledge crimes said to have been committed by the rebel army that ended the genocide.

But Rwandan officials insist that such allegations do not absolve an unrepentant France.

“There was a civil war and a genocide in this country,” said Ms. Mushikiwabo, the foreign minister. “Clearly, it is not possible to conduct war without people dying.”

“If we were to say that yes, there were massacres, there were killings that were a result of the war that the Rwandan Patriotic Army conducted against the then-genocidaire army — that is clear,” she continued, using the official name of the rebels’ military arm at the end of the genocide. “That does not take away the fact that France was part of the planning, part of the conception, and part of the execution of the genocide.”

Source: The New York Times

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Surviving Congo’s massacres: ‘I climbed over bodies to flee’

The BBC’s Africa editor Fergal Keane travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s central Kasai region, a land littered with tears and mass graves.

Day by day the truth recedes from view. It is concealed by thick grasses. Only a few fragments of bone and shreds of cloth reach from the earth and demand attention.

“The blood is speaking,” said “Papa” Isaac, a local translator with the UN in Tshimbulu town in the central Kasai region. He had brought us to the centre of a field where, he says, “the blood of my brothers is speaking”.

Nobody knows how many bodies the army dumped here.

A woman working in a field nearby approached, curious at at the presence of UN soldiers. Her 12-year-old son was among those buried in the grave.

“The military were burying the bodies. We saw where they stopped and how they dug to bury the corpses… some were as young as 12,” she sad.

“They did not only kill the militia. They killed innocent people.”

The violence began last spring when long-simmering resentment exploded into rebellion against a central government seen as remote and corrupt, whose police and army were feared for their brutality.

The spark was the refusal of the government to recognise a traditional chief, Kamina Nsapu, and the imposition of its own man.

In August the chief was killed by security forces, but his followers struck back, killing all whom they regarded as collaborators of the state.

In the fighting that followed, nearly 1.4 million people were displaced, among them around 850,000 children.

Kasai is now in the grip of a hunger crisis caused by the displacement of subsistence farmers who cannot plant crops to feed their families.

In the two weeks we spent in Kasai, the consequences of violence were shockingly evident.

We saw it in the skeletal frames of malnourished children, the teeming crowds of women and children sheltering still in church buildings, and we heard the testimonies of those who had survived atrocities of immense cruelty.

There have been mass beheadings by militias. Villagers gunned down by soldiers.

A woman stripped, beaten, publicly raped and then beheaded because she was accused of treachery by the Kamina Nsapu militia. It forced her stepson to carry out the sexual assault.

A voter registration activist for elections due next year, Prosper Ntambue, became a target because he was regarded as a representative of the state.

His office was burned but he survived.

However, tragedy continued to stalk the family: his daughter and son-in-law were captured at a roadblock, taken away and beheaded.

Their crime? The son-in-law was an engineer who maintained roads for the government.

Mr Ntambue showed me a photograph of the couple’s five children, taken when the family was still a family.

“Their children are orphaned and they have remained here. I take care of them now,” he told me.

The state’s response to the uprising was pitiless. The army and police turned their guns on militia members, often villagers armed with homemade weapons and wearing charms they believed would protect them from bullets. But civilians who had no link to the Kamina Nsapu were also killed.

In some areas the instability exposed ethnic rivalries, but it would be a grave mistake to characterise what took place as “ethnic” violence.

It was the violence of the poor and the alienated in a place where the state was anything but an impartial actor.

We spoke to numerous witnesses who described atrocities by the security forces and the Bana Mura militia, which supports the government. The witnesses asked us to protect their identities for fear of reprisal by the army.

By the side of the Kasai River in the town of Tshikapa a man pointed at the fast-flowing current. He was remembering the bodies toppling into the river to be swept away downstream.

“The military were taking people and throwing them into the river. People started to run away and hide. They followed them, killed them and threw them into the river,” he said.

Sheltering in a church building, a mother told us how three of her four children were beheaded by the Bana Mura militia. She pleaded with the army to intervene but they did not stop the killers. Her mind is flooded with the imagery of a night of killing.

“I saw people with machetes, guns and clubs. They were beheading people, cutting arms and legs, slashing bellies. I had to climb over dead bodies to flee,” she said.

Another mother told how she and her 15-year-old daughter were taken by the militia to separate farms.

The child who sat opposite us did not look more than 12. In a low monotone her mother recounted how she had been violated so many times she could not count.

“I only found that my daughter had been raped afterwards,” she said. “There is great bitterness in my heart that my child has been defiled. She is just a kid.”

In Kasai, only the UN stands between the people and exactions of the state and different militias. Unlike eastern DR Congo, the UN does not work alongside the army in Kasai. It is a stance that speaks loudly about the army’s record.

But the UN is under pressure. It has fewer than 20,000 troops in a country two-thirds the size of western Europe.

Even this relatively small force is being cut back by 3,000 as the United States moves to reduce the costs of peacekeeping.

Not all of DR Congo is under threat of violence but besides Kasai there have been renewed outbreaks in the east, where 15 peacekeepers were killed last week, and in Tanganyika where hundreds of thousands are displaced.

I asked the UN’s chief in Kasai, Charles Frisby, what could be achieved with so few troops? “Quite simply imagine what would happen if they were not here,” he replied.

It is not a vista anybody who has recently visited Kasai would wish to contemplate. The region bristles with subdued violence. There is no real peace to keep in Kasai, only a daily effort to hold back the forces of chaos.

Source: BBC News

 

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Myanmar forces may be guilty of genocide against Rohingya, U.N. says

GENEVA – Myanmar’s security forces may be guilty of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority and more of them are fleeing despite a deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh to send them home, the top U.N. human rights official said on Tuesday.

The United Nations defines genocide as acts meant to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. Such a designation is rare under international law, but has been used in contexts including Bosnia, Sudan and an Islamic State campaign against the Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.

Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that none of the 626,000 Rohingya who have fled violence to Bangladesh since August should be repatriated to Myanmar unless there was robust monitoring on the ground.

Myanmar’s ambassador, Htin Lynn, said his government was working with Bangladesh to ensure returns of the displaced in about two months and “there will be no camps”.

Zeid, who has described the campaign in the past as a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”, was addressing a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council called by Bangladesh.

He described reports of “acts of appalling barbarity committed against the Rohingya, including deliberately burning people to death inside their homes, murders of children and adults; indiscriminate shooting of fleeing civilians; widespread rapes of women and girls, and the burning and destruction of houses, schools, markets and mosques”.

“Can anyone – can anyone – rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” he told the 47-member state forum.

Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s junior foreign affairs minister, told the session in Geneva that his country was hosting nearly one million “Myanmar nationals” following summary executions and rapes “as a weapon of persecution”.

Mainly Buddhist Myanmar denies the Muslim Rohingya are its citizens and considers them foreigners.

These crimes had been “perpetrated by Myanmar security forces and extremist Buddhist vigilantes”, Alam said, calling for an end to what he called “xenophobic rhetoric..including from higher echelons of the government and the military”.

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS

Zeid urged the Council to recommend that the U.N. General Assembly establish a new mechanism “to assist individual criminal investigations of those responsible”.

Prosecutions for the violence and rapes against Rohingya by security forces and civilians “appear extremely rare”, he said.

Marzuki Darusman, head of an independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar, said by video from Malaysia: “We will go where the evidence leads us.”

His team has interviewed Rohingya refugees, including children in the Bangladeshi port city of Cox’s Bazar, who recounted “acts of extreme brutality” and “displayed signs of severe trauma”.

Myanmar has not granted the investigators access to Rakhine, the northern state from which the Rohingya have fled, Darusman said. “We maintain hope that it will be granted early in 2018.”

Pramila Patten, special envoy of the U.N. Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, who interviewed survivors in Bangladesh in November, said: “I heard the most heart-breaking and horrific accounts of sexual atrocities reportedly committed in cold blood out of a lethal hatred of these people solely on the basis of their ethnicity and religion”.

Crimes included “rape, gang rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity”, Patten said.

Myanmar denies committing atrocities against the Rohingya. Its envoy Htin, referring to the accounts, said: “People will say what they wanted to believe and sometimes they will say what they were told to say.”

Kelley Currie, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, said the Rohingya’s lack of Myanmar citizenship was “the fundamental root cause of this crisis”, adding: “Stop denying the seriousness of the current situation.”

Source: Reuters

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China’s policy towards Zimbabwe will not change: FM

BEIJING — China’s policy towards Zimbabwe will not change and China expects to enhance cooperation with Zimbabwe under the principles of equality and mutual benefit, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said Wednesday.

Lu made the remarks at a daily press briefing in response to a request for comment on the resignation of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Lu said that as a good friend of Zimbabwe’s, China appreciates the peaceful and appropriate settlement of relevant issue through talks and negotiations within the framework of law.

Robert Mugabe, aged 93, resigned as Zimbabwe’s president Tuesday, a week after the army and his former political allies moved to end his four-decade rule.

According to reports, Zimbabwe’s former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa is expected to be sworn in within days and serve the remainder of Mugabe’s term until the general election, which is scheduled for next year.

“A stable and developing Zimbabwe is in line with fundamental interests of its own people,” said Lu. “China attaches great importance to relations with Zimbabwe and is willing to make joint efforts with Zimbabwean side to facilitate cooperation in all fields.”

“China respects Mr. Mugabe’s decision to resign. He remains a good friend to the Chinese people,” Lu said. “Mugabe had made historic contributions to Zimbabwe’s independence and liberation, and he is an active advocator of the Pan-Africanism movement. He also made important contributions to China-Zimbabwe and China-Africa relations.

China is confident that Zimbabweans are capable of maintaining their country’s political stability and development, said Lu.

“China has always adhered to the principle of not interfering in internal affairs of other countries. China respects Zimbabwean people’s choice,” Lu said, adding that China also hopes that other countries will not meddle in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs either.

Source: China Daily

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Iran declares end of IS group

TEHERAN – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared the end of the Islamic State group on Tuesday while a senior military commander thanked the “thousands of martyrs” killed in operations organized by Iran to defeat the militants in Syria and Iraq.

“Today with God’s guidance and the resistance of people in the region we can say that this evil has either been lifted from the head of the people or has been reduced,” Rouhani said in an address broadcast live on state TV.

“Of course the remnants will continue but the foundation and roots have been destroyed.”

Major General Qassem Soleimani, a senior commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, also said IS had been defeated, in a message sent on Tuesday to Iran’s supreme leader which was published on the Guards’ news site, Sepah News.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei congratulated Soleimani on the defeat of IS and said it was a blow against the United States in the region.

In June, the IS group carried out its first attack in Iran, killing 18 people in Teheran, testing the government’s belief that by backing offensives against the group elsewhere in the region it could keep the militant group away from Iran.

Iranian media have often carried video and pictures of Soleimani, who commands the Quds Force, the branch of the Guards responsible for operations outside Iran, at frontline positions in battles against extremists in Iraq and Syria.

The Revolutionary Guards has been fighting in support of Syrian and Iraqi governments for several years.

More than 1,000 members of the Guards, including senior commanders, have been killed in Syria and Iraq.

Iraqi forces captured the border town of Rawa, the last remaining town there under IS control, on Friday, signaling the collapse of the so-called caliphate it proclaimed in 2014 across vast swathes of Iraqi and Syrian territory.

Victory in Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday said that he will declare the final defeat of the IS group after the Iraqi security forces eliminate the extremists from the desert.

“Daesh (IS group) has been completely eradicated from the military perspective, but during the next short stage, the final clearing of Daesh will take place in the desert of western Anbar province,” Abadi said in a televised news conference after his weekly cabinet meeting.

“After the completion of the clearing, a final defeat will be declared in Iraq,” Abadi said.

After the liberation of Rawa, Abadi congratulated the people of Iraq and the security forces on the liberation of the remaining city under IS control, attributing the IS defeat to “the great strength and power of heroic armed forces and the successful planning for battles”.

Source: China Daily

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Zimbabwe’s army holds talks with Mugabe on plan that may leave him in office

 Zimbabwe’s defense forces appeared to open the door Monday to the possibility that 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe could stay in power, after both sides offered “several guarantees” nearly a week after the military detained him, according to a top army commander.

Although Mugabe’s fate remained murky, the prospect that he might have survived a military takeover, historic opposition protests and removal from his own political party suggested once again his uncanny ability to hang on to power.

In a statement Monday night, Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, chief of Zimbabwe’s armed forces, said the military had held “further consultations with the president to agree on a road map” for the country. The plan includes the “expected” return of former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom Mugabe had fired earlier this month. The statement referred to Mugabe as the commander in chief and said the military was “encouraged by new developments.”

Mnangagwa’s dismissal triggered the military intervention last Tuesday, prompting thousands to take to the streets to celebrate what appeared to be the end of Mugabe’s rule. But on Sunday night, in what many expected to be a publicly televised resignation, the world’s oldest head of state instead delivered a meandering speech, making it clear that he had no intention of leaving the presidency.

Analysts said military commanders may have worked out a deal that would lead to Mugabe’s resignation after an interim period and his replacement by Mnangagwa, possibly during next month’s congress of the ruling ZANU-PF party. For now, the military’s vague statement about a “road map” left plenty of room for conjecture.

 What was clear was that as long as Mugabe remains in power, millions here will be devastated. For years, as Mugabe’s rule grew more erratic and repressive — and as the economy continued to collapse — Zimbabweans spoke openly about when and how the “old man” would go. The past week brought that outcome closer than ever.

Mnangagwa’s return would appease a small but powerful segment of the ruling party. He has been a core member of ZANU-PF for decades, with strong connections to the security forces. But many Zimbabweans see him as corrupt and oppressive for having helped insulate Mugabe’s regime for years before their abrupt falling-out.

Chiwenga said Mnangagwa was “expected in the country shortly.” He fled to South Africa after being fired, apparently avoid the possibility of arrest.

Mugabe could still be forced out through constitutional channels. On Tuesday, lawmakers were expected to begin proceedings to impeach him, although it remained unclear how the military’s statement would affect those plans. Some members of parliament who support Mnangagwa could now back away from impeachment.

Both Mugabe’s military and civilian opponents appear eager to imbue any successor with an air of legitimacy that would be accepted by the international community. In its bylaws, a regional bloc of southern African nations includes strong language against coups.

“For years we’ve been victims of the lawlessness of the ruling party,” said Lovemore Madhuku, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Zimbabwe. “If we abandon the law to get Mugabe out, we are not safeguarding ourselves from more lawlessness in the future.”

Mugabe has taken the law into his own hands for much of his rule, encouraging his government to seize land belonging to white farmers by force and ordering the detention of his political opponents. Earlier this month, a 25-year-old American woman, Martha O’Donovan, was arrested for subversion after she allegedly insulted Mugabe on Twitter. Two weeks ago, four people were detained for booing his wife at a rally.

But when Mugabe’s own government finally turned against him, it declined to use the same brute force or extrajudicial power he has employed for years. Aside from wanting to avoid allegations of coup-plotting, Zimbabwe’s military may have been showing deference to the only president Zimbabwe has ever had and a hero of the country’s liberation struggle. In recent years, many critics of Mugabe’s leadership have blamed his wife, Grace Mugabe, who is often portrayed as a puppet master manipulating a senile man. Grace Mugabe was seen as angling to be her husband’s successor in the wake of Mnangagwa’s dismissal.

Amid the uncertainty, a debate is raging among legal experts and lawmakers about how long an impeachment process would take. Paul Mangwana, deputy secretary of ZANU-PF said it would take only two days. Madhuku said it would likely take months if the law were followed.

Mangwana said parliament would set up a committee responsible for impeachment on Tuesday and that it would issue its decision on Wednesday.

“The main charge is allowing his wife to usurp government powers,” he said.

But after the military’s announcement, it was unclear whether impeachment proceedings would move forward. If Mnangagwa is permitted to return to the country as a part of a military-led compromise, some anti-Mugabe members of ZANU-PF might accept a compromise that would keep Mugabe in power.

On Sunday, the party voted to remove Mugabe as its leader and expelled his wife for life, so accepting his role as head of state now would be a stunning about-face.

Source: The Washington Post

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Zimbabwe: Mugabe and military talks continue amid political limbo

Senior church leaders and South African envoys also involved in mediation efforts, with Mugabe under house arrest after military takeover.

Zimbabwe remained in political limbo on Thursday morning, a day-and-a-half after the military takeover that appears to have put an end to Robert Mugabe’s 37-year grip on power.

As talks between Mugabe – who has been confined to his residence in Harare by the army, and senior military officers – entered a second day, there were reports that he is resisting pressure to resign as president. A Catholic priest close to the veteran leader is involved in mediation efforts.

The Zimbabwean capital was tense but calm amid the political uncertainty. Troops have secured the airport, government offices, parliament and other key sites. The rest of the country has remained peaceful. The takeover has been cautiously welcomed by many Zimbabweans.

The military declared on national television in the early hours of Wednesday morning that it had temporarily taken control of the country to “target criminals”around the 93-year-old president. It now seems likely that the ruthless rule of the world’s oldest leader will be definitively over within days.

The takeover by the armed forces appears to have resolved a bitter battle to succeed Mugabe that had pitted his wife, Grace, against the former vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa was reported to have returned to Zimbabwe on Tuesday evening from South Africa, where he fled last week after being stripped of his office by Mugabe in an apparent attempt to clear Grace Mugabe’s path to power.

Reports that Grace Mugabe had fled to Namibia on Wednesday appeared false, with several sources saying she was detained with her husband in their residence in Harare.

The future of the first lady is a key element in the ongoing discussions between Mugabe and the military. Singapore and Malaysia, where the Mugabes own property, are potential destinations if she is allowed to travel into exile.

Forty-eight hours of drama and confusion had begun on Monday when the army chief – flanked by other senior officers – warned he was prepared to “step in” to end turmoil in the ruling Zanu-PF party.

By Wednesday, it was “game over” for Mugabe, as Piers Pigou, a South Africa-based analyst for the International Crisis Group put it. “It’s just a question of how soft the landing is …. But the [army] still need him to provide a veneer of legitimacy and constitutionalism. If he doesn’t want to play ball that is a bit of a problem.”

The 93-year-old has ruled over Zimbabwe like a medieval monarch, favouring loyal followers with gifts of land, office and money, but pursuing those seen as traitors with a cruelty only marginally moderated by a residual respect for legal process.

A former guerrilla leader, Mugabe was ready to sacrifice his country’s economy to maintain his grip on power, turning to increasingly tired revolutionary rhetoric, corruption and coercion to stave off any threats. Few other than the close associates who benefited directly from Mugabe’s rule will mourn his passing from power.

One high-profile opposition leader said there was “a lot of talking going on”, with the army “reaching out to different factions to discuss the formation of a transitional government.

Negotiations had been ongoing for several months with “certain people within the army”, a second senior opposition official said.

The official said Mugabe would resign this week and be replaced by Mnangagwa, with opposition leaders taking posts as vice-president and prime minister. There was no independent confirmation of his claim.

The fragmented opposition has not publicly condemned the military move. Nelson Chamisa, the deputy head of the opposition MDC party, called for “peace, constitutionalism, democratisation, the rule of law and the sanctity of human life”.

The MDC’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, arrived in Harare from Johannesburg on Wednesday night. He has been tipped as a potential prime minister in a new political set-up.

Tendai Biti, an opposition leader and former finance minister, called for a transitional authority to take over. His party said in a statement on Thursday it should be “made up of competent Zimbabweans whose mandate will be to put in place measures to turn around the economy.”

South Africa appeared to be backing the takeover and sent ministers to Harare to help with negotiations to form a new government and decide the terms of Mugabe’s resignation. Regional officials are also meeting in Botswana.

Boris Johnson, the UK’s foreign secretary, told parliament that the UK wanted to see “proper, free and fair elections” in the former British colony. Presidential polls are due to be held next year but may well now be brought forward.

“Nobody wants simply to see the transition from one unelected tyrant to a next. No one wants to see that,” Johnson said.

There has been no sign of any resistance to the takeover or to the arrest of a series of senior officials associated with Grace Mugabe and her G40 faction. The youth wing of the ruling Zanu-PF, which had made defiant statements directed at the military earlier in the week, appeared to condone the military action.

Late on Wednesday, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation interrupted its programming to broadcast a statement by the party’s youth leader, Kudzai Chipanga, who apologised for “denigrating” military chiefs.

Grace Mugabe is deeply unpopular and has few allies internally or, crucially, regionally. In contrast, Mnangagwa, a former spy chief, has strong support among many in Zimbabwe’s armed forces, and it is unclear who might oppose him in coming days.

Evan Mawarire, a pastor and one of Zimbabwe’s best-known activists, called on Zimbabweans to “remain calm and hopeful, alert but prayerful”. Mawarire, who has been jailed and prosecuted since launching the #thisflag movement last year, which led to huge protests, said developments were “the culmination of the work that citizens have been doing”.

Mugabe’s sacking of Mnangagwa came as a shock to many observers. Nicknamed “the Crocodile” from his time fighting in the country’s liberation wars, he had been considered the most likely candidate to succeed Mugabe if the president decided to step down or died in office.

But the increasingly infirm president’s gamble exposed deep factional divides within the ranks of Zanu-PF as well as the political weakness of his wife and her faction. “It was a spectacular miscalculation,” said Pigou.

The crisis comes at a time when Zimbabwe faces severe economic problems. The country is struggling to pay for imports due to a shortage of dollars, which has also caused acute cash shortages.

State employees, including some soldiers and policemen, have gone for months without payment of their salaries, deepening discontent with the government.

Source: The Guardian

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At U.N., North Korea says U.S. to blame for ‘worst ever situation’

UNITED NATIONS – North Korea complained to the United Nations on Monday about joint military exercises by the United State and South Korea, describing it as “the worst ever situation” because U.S. nuclear war equipment had been deployed ready to strike.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, seen by Reuters, North Korean U.N. Ambassador Ja Song Nam said the United States was “running amok for war exercises by introducing nuclear war equipment in and around the Korean Peninsula.”

Three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups have been involved in the joint exercise in the Western Pacific in a rare show of force as President Donald Trump visits Asia. The last time three U.S. carrier strike groups exercised together in the Western Pacific was in 2007.

South Korea has said the joint drill, due to finish on Tuesday, was in response to North Korean nuclear and missile provocations and to show any such developments by Pyongyang can be repelled with “overwhelming force.”

However, Ja said Washington was to blame for escalating tensions and accused the U.N. Security Council of ignoring “the nuclear war exercises of the United States who is hell bent on bringing catastrophic disaster to humanity.”

Ja asked Guterres to bring to the attention of the 15-member council – under the rarely used Article 99 of the U.N. Charter – “the danger being posed by the U.S. nuclear war exercises, which are clearly threats to international peace and security.”

Tensions have soared between the United States and North Korea following a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang and a string of increasingly bellicose exchanges between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump said in a tweet on Sunday that Kim had insulted him by calling him “old” and said he would never call the North Korean leader “short and fat.”

The United States has said that all options, including military, are on the table to deal with North Korea, although its preference is for a diplomatic solution.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs since 2006.

Source: Reuters

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EU readies sanctions on Venezuela, approves arms embargo

BRUSSELS – European Union foreign ministers approved economic sanctions including an arms embargo on Venezuela on Monday, saying regional elections last month marred by reported irregularities had deepened the country’s crisis.

Anxious not to push Caracas any closer to economic and political collapse as debt restructuring talks begin, EU governments held back from targeting any individuals.

The bloc instead left names for a later stage to try to persuade President Nicholas Maduro to calm the situation.

“Everything we do is aimed at seeking dialogue between the government and the opposition to find a democratic and peaceful solution,” Spain’s Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis told reporters at a meeting with his counterparts where the sanctions decision was taken.

Venezuelan opposition leaders said last week they would resume efforts to hold dialogue with Maduro, even though they say he previously used such talks to stall for time instead of implementing serious reform.

There was no immediate response on Monday from the Venezuelan government to the EU move, but over the weekend Maduro termed imminent sanctions by the bloc as “stupid”.

“Turning its back on the people, the European Union (and) its elite leaders should not become an instrument of oppression, submissively and automatically supporting the policies of Donald Trump,” said Maduro in a Sunday TV program.

Spain has long pushed for sanctions on those close to Maduro, whom Washington accuses of installing a dictatorship and slapped sanctions on in July, but the EU has been divided over whom to target.

The arms embargo adds Venezuela to an EU list that includes North Korea and Syria, where European defense companies can no longer do business and to which the sale of any goods deemed as being used for repression are also banned.

Britain sold 1.4 million pounds ($1.83 million) of arms to Venezuela between May 2010 and March 2017, according to The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which lobbies to end arms sales to repressive governments.

‘GRADUAL AND FLEXIBLE’ SANCTIONS

In a joint statement, all 28 EU ministers said the legal basis for individual travel bans to the EU and the freezing of any Venezuelan assets in the bloc “will be used in a gradual and flexible manner and can be expanded”.

Representatives of Maduro’s government are due to meet investors in Caracas on Monday to discuss renegotiating $60 billion in foreign debt.

Some EU governments want to give former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the EU’s main envoy for Venezuela, another chance to try negotiations despite unsuccessful efforts in 2016.

But in the statement, ministers said regional elections held in Venezuela on Oct. 15 were a turning point that had hardened the bloc’s position, having taken place amid “reported numerous irregularities”.

The results appeared to favor Maduro’s ruling Socialists, while polls had suggested the opposition would easily win a majority. In the end it won only a handful of governorships, according to the pro-government electoral board.

EU ministers will decide whom to target with sanctions at a later stage, but said they would focus on security forces and government ministers and institutions accused of human rights violations and the non-respect of democratic principles or the rule of law.

Experts say individual U.S. sanctions spearheaded by U.S. President Donald Trump, while providing strong symbolism, have had little or no impact on Maduro’s policies and that oil-sector and financial sanctions may be the only way to force the Venezuelan government to change.

Source: Reuters

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Trump says Japan would shoot North Korean missiles ‘out of sky’ if it bought U.S. weaponry

TOKYO – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that Japan would shoot North Korean missiles “out of the sky” if it bought the U.S. weaponry needed for doing so, suggesting Tokyo take a stance it has avoided until now.

North Korea is pursuing nuclear weapons and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions and has made no secret of its plans to develop a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. It has fired two missiles over Japan.

Trump, speaking after a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, repeated his mantra the “era of strategic patience” with North Korea was over, and said the two countries were working to counter the “dangerous aggressions”.

Trump also pressed Japan to lower its trade deficit with the United States and buy more U.S. military hardware.

“He (Abe) will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States,“ Trump said, referring to the North Korean missiles. ”The prime minister is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should. And we make the best military equipment by far.”

Abe, for his part, said Tokyo would shoot down missiles “if necessary”.

Trump was replying to a question that was posed to Abe – namely how he would respond to a quote from Trump from a recent interview in which he said Japan was a “samurai” nation and should have shot down the North Korean missiles.

Japan’s policy is that it would only shoot down a missile if it were falling on Japanese territory or if it were judged to pose an “existential threat” to Japan because it was aimed at a U.S. target.

The U.S. president is on the second day of a 12-day Asian trip that is focusing on North Korea’s nuclear missile programs and trade.

“Most importantly, we’re working to counter the dangerous aggressions of the regime in North Korea,” Trump said, calling Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and recent launches of ballistic missiles over Japan “a threat to the civilized world and to international peace and stability”.

“Some people said that my rhetoric is very strong. But look what’s happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years. Look where we are right now,” he added.

North Korea’s recent actions have raised the stakes in the most critical international challenge of Trump’s presidency.

The U.S. leader, who will visit South Korea on the trip, has rattled some allies with his vow to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatens the United States and with his dismissal of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “rocket man” on a suicide mission.

Abe, with whom Trump has bonded through multiple summits and phone calls, repeated at the same news conference that Japan backed Trump’s stance that “all options” are on the table, saying it was time to exert maximum pressure on North Korea and the two countries were “100 percent” together on the issue.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, in response to Abe’s comments, said that the North Korean “situation” was “already extremely complex, sensitive and weak”.

“We hope that under the present circumstances, all sides’ words and actions can help reduce tensions and reestablish mutual trust and getting the North Korean nuclear issue back on the correct track of dialogue and negotiations,” she said.

TRADE DEFICITS

Trump said he was committed to achieving “free, fair, and reciprocal” trade and wants to work with Japan on this issue.

“America is also committed to improving our economic relationship with Japan,” Trump said. “As president, I‘m committed to achieving fair, free, and reciprocal trading relationship. We seek equal and reliable access for American exports to Japan’s markets in order to eliminate our chronic trade imbalances and deficits with Japan.”

Earlier, speaking to Japanese and U.S. business executives, Trump praised Japan for buying U.S. military hardware.

But he added that “many millions of cars are sold by Japan into the United States, whereas virtually no cars go from the United States into Japan”.

Japan had a $69 billion trade surplus with the United States last year, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. The United States was Japan’s second biggest trade partner after China, while Japan was the United States’ fourth largest goods export market in 2016.

EMPEROR, ABDUCTEES

Japanese officials have countered U.S. trade complaints by noting Tokyo accounts for a much smaller slice of the U.S. deficit than in the past, while China’s imbalance is bigger.

In a second round of economic talks in Washington last month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as deputy premier, failed to bridge differences on trade issues.

The two sides are at odds over how to frame future trade talks, with Tokyo pushing back against U.S. calls to discuss a bilateral free trade agreement.

Trump also said earlier that an Indo-Pacific trade framework would produce more in trade that the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact pushed by his predecessor but which he announced Washington would abandon soon after he took office.

The 11 remaining nations in the TPP, to which Japan’s Abe is firmly committed, are edging closer to sealing a comprehensive free trade pact without the United States.

Trump met Emperor Akihito, exchanging a handshake and nodding, before his lunch and talks with Abe.

He also met relatives of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents decades ago to help train spies, calling the kidnappings a “tremendous disgrace” and pledging to work with Abe to bring the victims “back to Japan where they want to be”.

“I think it would be a tremendous signal if Kim Jong Un would send them back,” Trump said. “If he would send them back, that would be the start of something, something very special.”

Abe has made resolving the emotive abductions issue a keystone of his career. The families hope their talks with Trump – the third U.S. president they have met – will somehow contribute to a breakthrough, although experts say progress is unlikely.

Abe also expressed his condolences for the victims of a gunman who massacred at least 26 worshippers at a church in Texas.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump had no plans to change the schedule for his 12-day Asian trip, which will also take him to Seoul, Beijing and Danang, Vietnam.

Source: Reuters

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Réchauffement climatique : la bataille des 2 °C est presque perdue

Les Nations unies sonnent l’alerte sur les efforts très insuffisants des Etats pour contenir le réchauffement. Après 2030, il sera trop tard.

La bataille du climat n’est pas encore perdue, mais elle est très mal engagée. A ce stade, il existe un « écart catastrophique » entre les engagements pris par les Etats pour réduire leurs émissions de gaz à effet de serre et les efforts nécessaires pour respecter l’accord de Paris adopté lors de la COP21, en décembre 2015 – à savoir contenir la hausse de la température planétaire « nettement en dessous de 2 °C par rapport aux niveaux préindustriels », en essayant de la limiter à 1,5 °C. C’est la mise en garde qu’adresse l’ONU Environnement (ex-Programme des Nations unies pour l’environnement), dans un rapport publié mardi 31 octobre.

Ce n’est pas la première alerte lancée par l’organisation, qui s’appuie sur un large réseau international de scientifiques. Mais elle prend un ton particulièrement pressant, à quelques jours de l’ouverture de la COP23 (du 6 au 17 novembre à Bonn, en Allemagne) et après un été cataclysmique, durant lequel une succession d’ouragans, d’inondations et d’incendies a montré la vulnérabilité des pays riches comme pauvres aux dérèglements climatiques.

Un tiers du chemin

Certes, une bonne nouvelle semble se confirmer : les émissions mondiales annuelles de CO2 issues de la combustion de ressources fossiles (charbon, pétrole et gaz) et de l’industrie cimentière, qui représentent 70 % du total des rejets de gaz à effet de serre, se sont stabilisées depuis 2014, à un peu moins de 36 milliards de tonnes (gigatonnes ou Gt). Cela s’explique par une moindre croissance du recours au charbon en Chine mais aussi aux Etats-Unis – les deux plus gros pollueurs de la planète – et par l’essor concomitant des filières renouvelables, à commencer par le solaire, particulièrement en Chine et en Inde.

Toutefois, note le rapport, cette stabilisation n’a été observée que sur une courte période et la tendance « pourrait s’inverser si la croissance de l’économie mondiale s’accélère ». En outre, le bilan est plus mitigé si l’on considère non seulement le CO2 mais aussi le méthane et l’ensemble des gaz à effet de serre, également produits par l’agriculture, les changements d’utilisation des terres et la déforestation. Le total des émissions, d’environ 52 Gt équivalent CO2en 2016, marque ainsi une légère progression par rapport aux années antérieures.

On est donc très loin de la baisse drastique des émissions indispensable pour atteindre les objectifs de l’accord de Paris. Afin de contenir le réchauffement sous 2 °C, il faudrait plafonner les rejets mondiaux à 42 Gt en 2030, calculent les experts. Et viser un maximum de 36 Gt pour conserver un espoir de rester sous la barre de 1,5 °C. Des études scientifiques récentes – dont l’ONU Environnement indique qu’elle tiendra compte dans ses prochains rapports – concluent même qu’il faudrait en réalité parvenir à un niveau beaucoup plus bas, d’environ 24 Gt seulement en 2030, pour éviter l’emballement climatique.

Or, les engagements pris en 2015 par les 195 pays parties prenantes de l’accord de Paris, dont 169 l’ont à ce jour ratifié, ne permettront que d’accomplir « approximativement un tiers » du chemin, préviennent les rapporteurs. A supposer que tous les Etats respectent l’intégralité de leurs promesses, parfois conditionnées à l’obtention de financements internationaux et de surcroît non contraignantes, la Terre s’achemine aujourd’hui vers une hausse du thermomètre de 3 à 3,2 °C à la fin du siècle. Sans effort supplémentaire, en 2030, l’humanité aura consommé 80 % de son « budget carbone », c’est-à-dire la quantité de CO2 qu’elle peut encore relâcher dans l’atmosphère sans dépasser 2 °C de réchauffement. Et elle aura épuisé la totalité du budget lui permettant de ne pas aller au-delà de 1,5 °C.

Autrement dit, « il est urgent d’accélérer l’action à court terme et de renforcer les ambitions nationales à long terme ». Le temps est compté : « Il est clair que si l’écart [entre les réductions d’émissions nécessaires et les engagements des pays] n’est pas comblé d’ici à 2030, il est extrêmement improbable que l’objectif de maintenir le réchauffement global bien en dessous de 2 °C puisse encore être atteint », insiste le rapport.

« La situation est très préoccupante, commente le climatologue Jean Jouzel, ex-vice-président du groupe de travail scientifique du Groupe d’experts intergouvernemental sur l’évolution du climat (GIEC). Les premiers bilans des politiques nationales montrent que globalement, on est plutôt en dessous des engagements pris à Paris. Et, sans les Etats-Unis, il sera très difficile de demander aux autres pays de rehausser leur ambition. » En tout état de cause, ajoute-t-il, « on reste très loin du compte : pour garder une chance de rester sous les 2 °C, il faudrait que le pic des émissions soit atteint en 2020 au plus tard. »

Lire aussi :   Tous les indicateurs du réchauffement climatique sont au rouge

D’où l’appel des Nations unies à mettre à profit le « dialogue facilitateur » prévu par l’accord de Paris entre les parties signataires, en 2018, pour revoir à la hausse les contributions nationales, qui doivent être révisées tous les cinq ans. « La plupart des pays du G20, souligne le rapport, ont besoin de nouvelles politiques et actions pour remplir leurs engagements. » C’est aussi à l’automne 2018 que le GIEC doit publier un rapport spécial sur la possibilité ou non de ne pas franchir le niveau de 1,5 °C, ainsi que sur les conséquences d’un réchauffement de plus grande amplitude.

« Opportunités »

L’ONU Environnement veut pourtant rester optimiste. A ses yeux, il est encore « possible » d’éviter la surchauffe généralisée. « Une rupture dans les technologies et les investissements peut réduire les émissions, tout en créant d’immenses opportunités sociales, économiques et environnementales », assure son directeur, le Norvégien Erik Solheim.

La solution la plus radicale est connue : elle consiste à laisser sous terre entre 80 et 90 % des réserves de charbon, la moitié de celles de gaz et environ un tiers de celles de pétrole. Ce qui suppose, en première priorité, de ne plus construire de nouvelles centrales à charbon et de programmer l’arrêt de près de 6 700 unités actuellement en service.

Mais, poursuivent les rapporteurs, d’autres leviers doivent aussi être actionnés. En agissant avec volontarisme dans tous les secteurs économiques, ce sont de 30 à 40 Gt par an qui pourraient être soustraites à l’atmosphère. A eux seuls, la promotion des filières solaire et éolienne, l’amélioration de l’efficacité énergétique, le développement de modes de transports alternatifs, l’arrêt de la déforestation et le reboisement pourraient faire chuter les émissions annuelles de 22 Gt. L’humanité n’a pas encore brûlé toutes ses cartouches. Mais elle est entrée dans la zone de tous les dangers.

Source: Le Monde

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Asia & Pacific Xi laid down his cards, now it’s Trump’s turn to play his hand in Asia

 In China, the foreign policy mantra had long been to hide your strength, and bide your time. Cards, in other words, would be played close to the vest, and bets would be modest.

No longer. At the 19th Communist Party Congress, President Xi Jinping declared that a “new era” had begun. It was time for China to show its hand, to put its cards on the table.

“It will be an era that sees China moving closer to center stage,” he said, describing a confident nation “blazing a trail” for other developing countries to follow, a nation that “now stands tall and firm in the East.”

Xi set out a vision of a political system directly opposed to Western values of democracy and free speech, values that Chinese communist party media mockingly declared had only brought chaos, confusion and decline to the West.

But is it a winning hand? Is China about to replace the United States as the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific?

For an answer, Asia is looking to President Trump, who will arrive on the continent Friday for his first visit, a 10-day trip that will take him from South Korea and Japan to China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

“This must be a wake-up for the Trump administration and officials in Washington,” said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing and a former China director in the National Security Council for presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. “On his visit to Asia, Trump should push back forcefully against the narrative that U.S. leadership on the global stage and in Asia is receding.”

It is a narrative fueled by one of Trump’s first acts on taking office, his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious 12-nation trade deal that excluded China and was the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s economic strategy toward the region. Western diplomats in Beijing shake their heads ruefully when that decision comes up in conversation.

Trump may have backed away from campaign suggestions that the United States’ Asian allies should pay more for their own defense, or even that they should develop their own nuclear deterrents. But he continues to threaten South Korea, a key strategic ally, with the renegotiation of its free-trade deal with the United States.

Last week, as Chinese media covering the party congress celebrated the triumph of the socialist system over Western democracy, Trump didn’t even appear to realize there was a contest.

He congratulated Xi for his “extraordinary elevation,” and told Fox Business Network that the Chinese president — who presides over one of the most repressive regimes on the planet — is “a very good person.”

“People say we have the best relationship of any president-president, because he’s called president also. Some people might call him the king of China, but he’s called president,” Trump said.

Fudan University’s Wu Xinbo, a foreign policy expert, says he welcomes a president refreshingly free of “ ideological bias,” with a more transactional style.

The White House says Trump will be coming to Beijing to seek more help in exerting pressure on North Korea, and to “rebalance” the U.S.-China economic relationship.

But European diplomats said there is little or no policy coordination between Washington and Western Europe in setting trade and market access policy toward China, and little confidence that Washington has a coherent strategy.

Trump’s April meeting with Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida is not seen as having made significant progress, and the risk is that the Chinese will flatter Trump’s ego with the pomp and ceremony of a high-profile state visit — and so deflect his demands, diplomats here say.

The more fundamental question, though, is whether Trump can repair some of the damage he has wrought to American reputation in the region, diplomats and experts say, and counter talk of U.S. decline, set against China’s rise.

Western diplomats in Beijing say their counterparts from Africa, Latin America and even poorer parts of Europe are increasingly fascinated with China’s political and economic system.

“That’s especially true in countries with authoritarian tendencies, who can say it’s helpful, the economy will flourish,” one diplomat said. “The further away they are geographically from China, the more fascinated they are.”

Closer to home, in the Asia-Pacific region, however, many countries still look to the United States to keep the peace, and keep China in check.

Beijing’s growing influence has generated significant pushback in Australia, while its territorial ambitions have generated even more intense ill will in Vietnam and India.

Attempts to wield Chinese influence globally still generate more pushback than American attempts, said Andrew Nathan, a political science professor and China expert at Columbia University in New York.

“I’m not entirely sure why that is — I mean, the U.S. has done a lot of bad things, but the U.S. seems more trusted and accepted,” he said. “Chinese money may be accepted, and Chinese influence yielded to when necessary, but I don’t find Chinese ‘leadership’ being much welcomed either by its near neighbors or in Africa and Europe.”

Trump’s long Asia trip is likely to help reassure nervous allies, experts say, although his decision to skip the East Asia Summit in the Philippines has raised concerns.

A speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Vietnam will be a key point of engagement, said Rana Mitter, a professor of the history and politics of modern China at Oxford University.

That speech, he said, will be closely scrutinized to see if Trump presents a clear and coherent statement of the United States’ commitment to the region, or a more confused and uncertain assessment.

In the end, Mitter said, it is up to Washington to decide how much influence it still wants to wield, or whether it lets that power slip away toward Beijing.

“If you look objectively, the level of American power, influence and alliances in East Asia still massively outplays China,” he said. “The Americans still have a lot of the cards in their hands. It’s up to them if they play these cards or keep them off the table.”

Source: The Washington Post

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Rohingya crisis may be driving Aung San Suu Kyi closer to generals

Criticism of the Nobel laureate in the west is angering – and mobilising – her supporters at home.

On the top floor of the Myanmar Traditional Artists and Artisans Association in Yangon, the organisation’s vice-president stands behind his latest creation.

It is a towering portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, robed in pink and white, a concerned expression on her face. “If Oxford University takes down one portrait of her, we want to create 2,000 more,” says the painter, who goes by the name K Kyaw.

Days earlier he had joined dozens of others at the gallery to protest against the decision of St Hugh’s college to take down a painting of Myanmar’s leader by making their own.

The college, where Aung San Suu Kyi studied politics, philosophy and economics in the 1960s, is among several British institutions to have stripped the Nobel laureate of honours as the world reacts in shock to the brutal violence meted out against stateless Rohingya Muslims in the country she leads.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled the northern Rakhine state since August, trekking for days to overburdened refugee camps in Bangladesh, bringing with them stories of gang rape, indiscriminate killing and mass arson at the hands of soldiers and local Buddhists. The United Nations has said the campaign of violence is ethnic cleansing. Others call it genocide. Pressure is mounting on global leaders to act.

In Myanmar, the condemnations are being met with both indignation and pleas for patience. It has been less than two years since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept to power in a landslide election, ending half a century of junta rule.

As longtime democracy activists fear a return to international isolation and military dominance, diplomats are torn between the need to stand on the right side of history and fear that stronger rebukes, such as sanctions, will further imperil the country’s fragile democratic transition.

“The Rohingya crisis has put Myanmar’s reform process on a knife edge,” says a former senior diplomat based in the country, who like others interviewed asked to remain anonymous.

“The country and its business people are pulled in two directions: openness, and a desire for international standards, clean government and human rights – but with the attendant accountability and scrutiny – or nationalism… and a reliance on support from China. The lack of government capacity and the poorly educated population heightens the risk that the military, still the only truly functioning institution, will return, and even be welcomed in some quarters.”

For decades, Aung San Suu Kyi has been the living embodiment of Myanmar’s democratic aspirations, both inside the country and overseas. The 72-year-old, who sacrificed her freedom and family in the struggle to bring democracy to Myanmar, enjoys unparalleled adoration and has not anointed a successor. Personal attacks by Oxford and others have led to rallies being held around the country, with crowds chanting her name.

At an interfaith gathering attended by thousands in Yangon, many clutched photographs of the painting removed by St Hugh’s. Myanmar’s Catholic cardinal, Charles Maung Bo, one of the few public figures who has been willing to speak out for the Rohingya but who has been less vocal in recent months, took to the stage to appeal on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi. “In her fragile hands she holds the dreams of millions,” he said.

The hope instilled in Aung San Suu Kyi – and fear of the alternative – has driven western policy towards Myanmar for years. It is why allies refused to condemn her when she did not speak out in 2012, when tens of thousands of Rohingya were driven from their homes and herded into displacement camps where they remain, five years on.

They indulged her when she failed to field a single Muslim candidate in the 2015 election, which the NLD won by a landslide. “It’s easy for people overseas to ask why she’s not doing more,” one diplomat said earlier this year. “Then the military take over and they’re like, ‘Oh, we lost Burma again!’ The consequences for her could be more severe.”

But now, with Rohingya continuing to flee daily, relations between the leader and her erstwhile allies have been at their lowest ebb. Views of the situation inside Myanmar – where the Rohingya are widely reviled as illegal immigrants and terrorists, as attacks by Rohingya militants preceded the crackdown – and outside the country are diametrically opposed.

The state counsellor has been criticised for mulling over long-term solutions while neglecting to address the immediate crisis. Both publicly and privately, she is said to have echoed army rhetoric. According to observers, she does not like to admit the military is not under her control.

The frustrations run both ways. Aung San Suu Kyi, widely characterised as intolerant of criticism, has been pushing her former allies away. UN human rights investigators have not been allowed access to Rakhine to produce a report on alleged atrocities. “There is a growing distancing,” said one diplomat in Yangon. “The UN is persona non grata.”

For months, the UN and other humanitarian agencies have been barred from the conflict area. On Friday, in what could be a sign that pressure is working, the World Food Programme said the authorities would allow them to resume food distribution in parts of northern Rakhine where thousands of Rohingya have been stranded without aid. It will be too late for many. Severe malnourishment is rife among those who have fled. “Some children are close to death by the time they make it across the border,” Unicef said.

As accounts of atrocities committed by Myanmar soldiers and local Buddhists continue to emerge from the mushrooming refugee camps in Bangladesh, there are calls for western governments to punish those responsible. Concrete action has so far been muted. The EU has suspended invitations to Europe and is reviewing “all practical defence cooperation”. The US has promised to stop inviting senior army officials to events, but is considering imposing targeted sanctions. The UN security council is working on a draft resolution on the violence that is reportedly facing strong opposition from China.

Those documenting the stories of survivors say there is a moral imperative to censure Myanmar. Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday Dr Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said democracy “cannot be built on the bones of the Rohingya”.

Inside the country, rumours have swirled about tussles between the civilian government and the military over the handling of the crisis. The relationship between Aung San Suu Kyi and the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, was already poor, diplomats say.

Days before the European Union was due to make decisions on Myanmar, an unnamed adviser claiming to speak with Aung San Suu Kyi’s authority briefed foreign reporters on the creation of a civilian-led body to distribute international aid to the Rohingya, saying that the state counsellor felt under threat of being overthrown by the army.

Senior members of the NLD have long insisted that there are military hardliners trying to undermine the transition, and the army has made intermittent pronouncements reminding the public of the constitutional clause that allows it to take back power.

The assassination in January of Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer who was advising Aung San Suu Kyi on amending that constitution, remains unsolved. Local media have reported on shadowy threats to her security. “Myanmar’s transition is much more fragile than people assume, and the government’s freedom to move much narrower than supposed as a consequence,” says Sean Turnell, an economic adviser to the state counsellor. And Myanmar has had democracy pulled out of its grasp before. In 1990 the generals annulled a massive election win by the NLD and kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

Myat San, a former student democracy activist who spent 20 years behind bars, says the defeat persuaded her to avoid antagonising the military. “She believes only dialogue and practising peaceful efforts can solve the political crisis,” says Myat San, a confidant of the state counsellor whom he calls “the Lady”, like many in Myanmar.

“In the current situation, what the international community are doing is not supporting this government, what they are doing is putting the country back into the hands of authoritarian rule,” he says. “They are pushing the Lady and the military closer and closer.”

Source: The Guardian

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Spain: thousands join Barcelona rally against Catalan independence

Pro-unity demonstration held in city centre two days after Catalan parliament voted for independence and Madrid took hold of region.

Hundreds of thousands have gathered in central Barcelona to call for Spanish unity two days after the Catalan parliament voted for independence and the Spanish government took control of the region.

Sunday’s demonstration, which began at 12 noon local time, was convened by the anti-independence group Societat Civil Catalana, which organised a similar event earlier this month that was attended by similar numbers.

People with Spanish flags tied around their necks headed towards the Passeig de Gràcia, one of Barcelona’s main thoroughfares. Other carried white banners with the flags of Catalonia, Spain and the EU surrounded by a heart.

The event’s slogan was: “We are all Catalonia. Common sense for co-existence!” and drew people from Catalonia and beyond as well as members of the Spanish government and pro-unity Catalan MPs.

Speaking shortly before the march, Inés Arrimadas of the Ciutadans (Citizens) party, said: “The silent majority of Catalans are once again taking to the street to show that the majority of Catalans feel Catalan, Spanish and European.”

Arrimadas said the time had come to “restore Catalonia’s institutions” and prepared for the regional elections called by the Spanish government for 21 December.

Juan Montalvo, a retired 65-year-old from Mataró, a town 30km from Barcelona, had travelled to the protest with his 29-year-old son, Roger.

“We’ve come to give our opinion and show that part of Catalonia feels Spanish as well,” he said. “Catalan society is divided. We need to achieve more unity, but also to show [pro-independence Catalans] that we are 50% and they need to respect us like we need to respect them.”

Montalvo, who was born in Extremadura, said he felt increasingly like a Spanish immigrant even though he speaks Catalan and is married to a woman from the region.

His son added: “I feel Catalan, but for me that means being Catalan inside a Spanish state.”

Some protesters shouted “Viva España!” while others vented their anger at Carles Puigdemont, who was fired as Catalan president by the Spanish government on Friday night, chanting: “Puigdemont to prison!”

Madrid claimed direct control of Catalonia for the first time in nearly four decades on Saturday, sacking the regional government and police chief after a unilateral declaration of independence. But the deposed Catalan leader immediately vowed there would be peaceful resistance to the takeover.

Hours after the Spanish government formally announced his dismissal, and the replacement of his entire cabinet by counterparts hundreds of miles away, Puigdemont put on an ostentatious display of normality with lunch at a restaurant in the centre of his home city.

As he toasted friends with red wine, posed for pictures with supporters in Girona and enjoyed the applause of fellow diners, all broadcast live on national TV, a pre-recorded video message went out promising to continue to work “to build a free nation”.

“We must do so resisting repression and threats, without ever abandoning, at any time, civic and peaceful conduct,” he said in the brief statement, adding that his government did not have or want “the argument of force”.

The Catalan republic that was declared on Friday is not legal under current Spanish law. As well as removing Puigdemont’s existing powers, Madrid has dissolved the Catalan parliament that declared independence, and called new elections for 21 December, the earliest possible date.

Spain’s deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría – who has managed the government’s response to the Catalan crisis – has been appointed to run Catalonia on a day-to-day basis until then. But the string of government orders published on Saturday morning provide only the outline for Madrid’s takeover. Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy now faces the challenge of implementing it.

The region has been officially self-governing since its statute of autonomy was signed in 1979, as Spain returned to democracy following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975. Many of the thousands of supporters of independence who were weeping and celebrating on the streets of Barcelona and other towns on Friday had pledged peaceful resistance to Madrid’s orders even before Puigdemont’s carefully worded call for resistance.

Activists have offered to form human chains around buildings to protect officials, some of whom are expected to face arrest and possible jail sentences for their role in both the October referendum and the declaration of independence that followed.

Some of the region’s 200,000 civil servants have said they will not accept orders from Madrid, and one Catalan union has also called a 10-day strike starting tomorrow in support of the new republic, although larger groups have not joined them.

Josep Lluís Trapero, head of the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police, who won praise for his response to the August terrorist attacks, has been the only senior official to say he will comply with Madrid, accepting a demotion to commissar.

Source: The Guardian

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Catalonia’s leader rules out snap election, crisis deepens

MADRID/BARCELONA – Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont on Thursday said he would not hold a new regional election to break the deadlock between Madrid and separatists wanting to split from Spain, sharpening a political crisis that could turn into direct confrontation.

Puigdemont had been expected to announce an election to head off moves by Madrid to take direct control of the autonomous region in the next few days.

But, speaking in the courtyard of the regional government headquarters in Barcelona, Puigdemont said the central government had not provided sufficient guarantees that holding an election would prevent the imposition of direct rule.

“I was ready to call an election if guarantees were given. There is no guarantee that justifies calling an election today,” Puigdemont said.

He said it was now up to the Catalan parliament to move forward with a mandate to break from Spain following an independence referendum that took place on Oct. 1 – a vote which Madrid had declared illegal and tried to stop.

Some independence supporters are pushing him to unilaterally declare independence. Late on Thursday, the regional government’s business head resigned over his opposition to a unilateral declaration, a sign of growing division in the separatist movement.

Puigdemont’s stand sets the stage for the Spanish Senate on Friday to approve the take-over of Catalonia’s institutions and police, and give the government in Madrid the power to remove the Catalan president.

But this could spark confrontation on the streets as some independence supporters have promised to mount a campaign of civil disobedience.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, speaking in a Senate committee, said: “The independence leaders have shown their true face – they have promised a dream but are performing tricks.”

The aim of Article 155 — the constitutional trigger for direct rule — was to permit any election to take place in a normal and neutral situation, she said. The Spanish government has said it would call such a vote within six months of taking over Catalonia.

The political crisis, the gravest since Spain’s return to democracy four decades ago, has divided Catalonia itself and caused deep resentment in other parts of the country.

It has also prompted a flight of business from the wealthy region and worried other European leaders who see it as fanning separatist sentiment elsewhere on the continent.

It was not clear whether Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would immediately enforce direct rule or simply seek the Senate’s authorization to do so without making it effective on the ground.

Exactly how the central government would enforce it in practical terms, and how Catalan civil service and regional police would react, is also uncertain.

National police used heavy-handed tactics to try to prevent the Oct. 1 referendum from taking place, drawing accusations that they were resorting to the repressive behavior of the 1939-1975 Franco dictatorship.

However, in a fast-moving battle of wills that has seen both sides stake out hard positions and try to keep each other guessing, it was not impossible that a sudden breakthrough could be made in the next 24 hours.

Spain’s IBEX .IBEX closed up 1.9 percent as hopes of such a breakthrough fueled optimism among investors. Catalonia contributes a fifth of Spain’s economy, the fourth-largest in the euro zone.

Most Spanish blue-chips posted substantial gains, notably Banco Sabadell (SABE.MC) and Banco Santander (SAN.MC), both up 3.2 percent.

CRACKS IN PRO-INDEPENDENCE CAMP

According to Spanish media, Puigdemont is ready to call an election if the government drops Article 155, releases two senior secessionist leaders who are in jail and removes national police from Catalonia.

Even if the Senate voted for direct rule on Friday, Puigdemont would not be stripped of his powers until Saturday when the law is published in Spain’s official state gazette.

Ander Gil Garcia, a spokesman for the Socialist group in the Senate, said: “We are in the last hours of the penultimate day in which we can avoid what nobody wants.”

He appealed to Puigdemont to call a regional election “and avoid a disaster from which Catalonia and Spain would take a long time to recover.”

A regional election could either strengthen Puigdemont’s mandate if pro-independence parties won or allow him a graceful exit if they did not.

Cracks though are beginning to appear in an increasingly-frustrated Catalan independence movement.

The Catalan government’s business head, Santi Vila, who has opposed a unilateral declaration of independence, said on Thursday he had resigned and said his “attempts at dialogue had failed.”

Earlier on Thursday, when it was thought Puigdemont would announce an election, he was denounced by some angry independence supporters as a traitor.

Several hundred gathered outside the regional government headquarters in protest. Some pro-secession lawmakers and mayors announced they would step down.

Catalonia’s pro-independence party ERC would leave the regional government if Puigdemont called a snap election, a party source said. And far-left party CUP, which supports Puigdemont’s minority government, said it would oppose a vote.

Albert Ribas, a 37-year-old hotel director listening to a radio in Barcelona’s Sant Jaume Square, said it had been a hard day.

“We have lost our dignity. But I suppose we had to show the outside world that we’re still making the effort to talk to the Spanish government. But again we see we have hit a wall.”

Source: Reuters

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Xi Jinping becomes most powerful leader since Mao with China’s change to constitution

Rare accolade puts Xi’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics into Communist charter and sets him on course for indefinite spell in power

Xi Jinping has been consecrated as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong after a new body of political thought carrying his name was added to the Communist party’s constitution.

The symbolic move came on the final day of a week-long political summit in Beijing – the 19th party congress – at which Xi has pledged to lead the world’s second largest economy into a “new era” of international power and influence.

At a closing ceremony in the Mao-era Great Hall of the People on Tuesday it was announced that Xi’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era had been written into the party charter.

“The congress unanimously agrees that Xi Jinping Thought … shall constitute [one of] the guides to action of the party in the party constitution,” a party resolution stated.

In a brief address to more than 2,200 delegates, Xi said: “Today we, more than 1.3bn Chinese people, live in jubilation and dignity. Our land … radiates with enormous dynamism. Our Chinese civilisation shines with lasting splendour and glamour.”

“Our party shows strong, firm and vibrant leadership. Our socialist system demonstrates great strength and vitality. The Chinese people and the Chinese nation embrace brilliant prospects,” Xi added.

Some see the historic decision to enshrine Xi’s concept as a clear hint that he will seek to remain in power beyond the end of his second – and supposedly last – five-year term, in 2022.

An even clearer indication of whether he is set on staying in power should come on Wednesday morning when Xi introduces China’s new top ruling council, the politburo standing committee, during a fiercely choreographed piece of political theatre that signals the start of his second term.

If the committee’s line-up – which is almost certain to be made up of seven men – includes no obvious successor, that would represent further proof that Xi plans to rule at least until 2027 and possibly beyond.

Since the Communist party of China was founded in 1921, only one leader, Mao himself, has been honoured in such a way while still alive, in his case with a political philosophy called Mao Zedong Thought.

Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s economic opening, also boasts a school of eponymous ideology in the party charter, Deng Xiaoping Theory, but that was included only after his death in 1997.

Bill Bishop, the publisher of the Sinocism newsletter on Chinese politics, said the birth of Xi Jinping Thought confirmed the rare levels of power and prestige enjoyed by its creator. “It means Xi is effectively unassailable … If you challenge Xi, you are challenging the party – and you never want to be against the party.”

Jude Blanchette, an expert in Chinese politics from New York’s Conference Board research group, said: “This is about amassing power and credibility and legitimacy and authority within the system to drive through more effectively what he sees as the right path for China.

“If you tower above the party, then it is very difficult for anyone below you to decide they don’t want to implement your commands.”

Writing in the Financial Times, Australia’s former prime minister Kevin Rudd said the fanfare around China’s leader suggested Xi, who took power in 2012 and had been expected to step down in 2022, would in fact rule well into the next decade. “Five years ago I said he would be China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping. I was wrong. He is now China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong,” Rudd wrote.

However, Susan Shirk, the head of the 21st Century China Centre at the University of California, San Diego, disputed the portrayal of Xi as an almighty Mao-like figure.

“He’s ruling differently, for sure, and people are intimidated by him because of the anti-corruption campaign.” But Shirk said she was reserving judgment on whether Xi was attempting “a real dictatorial play” until the new line-up of China’s top ruling council, the politburo standing committee, was announced on Wednesday.

If that committee included at least one of three possible successors – Hu Chunhua, Chen Min’er or Zhang Qingwei – that would signal Xi’s intention to step down in 2022, she said. If no clear successor emerged, however, it would fuel fears that Xi was “going for broke, all-out to be a dictator” and planned to remain in power indefinitely.

“I’m prepared to call him a dictator after that. But I am waiting to see,” said Shirk, US deputy assistant secretary of state under Bill Clinton.

Were Xi to stay in office beyond the anticipated decade, he would be the first leader to do so since Deng Xiaoping. According to unwritten leadership rules introduced in the 1990s to ensure orderly power transitions, the party’s general secretary should serve for no more than 10 years.

“The idea that Xi Jinping retires in five years is incredibly unlikely,” said Blanchette.

Xi has been the focus of a chorus of songs of praise since the congress began last week.

Chen Quanguo, the party chief of Xinjiang, hailed his leader’s teachings as “intellectually incisive, visionary and magnificent”. Jilin province’s party boss, Bayanqolu, went even further. “General Secretary Xi Jinping is … the party’s helmsman,” he gushed, deploying a term famously used to hail Mao.

Blanchette said such displays of loyalty were “a striking indication of just how singular the party is under Xi”.

He added: “We are not at the point, like in the Cultural Revolution, where mangoes that Mao Zedong touched are worshipped. But we are certainly seeing a movement towards a new type of politics … one that is borrowing heavily from [the Mao era].”

Bishop said two factors explained Xi’s emergence as one of the most dominant figures in modern Chinese history. One was the 64-year-old’s own ambition. “Xi is sort of a Chinese Machiavelli”, who grew up in a revolutionary family hearing tales of Mao’s legendary political manoeuvrings. “A lot of that stuff must have sunk in,” Bishop said.

But Xi’s rise also reflected a broader consensus within the party that a strongman was needed to help China avoid a Soviet-style collapse. In 2012, on the eve of Xi taking power, Bishop said there had been a sense among China’s political elites that “if Xi didn’t clear things up, then the place was going to implode and the Communist party was done”.

Back then, a common refrain was: “Xi is our last hope.”

On Tuesday, Xi pitched himself as the leader of a “sacred” mission to restore China to its rightful place in the world.

“Living in such a great era, we are all the more confident and proud, and also feel the heavy weight of responsibility upon us,” he said. “We must have the courage and resolve to build on the historic achievements made by the Chinese people under the leadership of the Chinese Communists generation after generation, create new accomplishments befitting this great epoch and stride forward to an ever promising future.”

In a triumphalist editorial published shortly after Xi’s closing address, the party’s official news agency, Xinhua, said the advent of Xi Thought underlined how China was now rising “like never before”.

“China is set to regain its might and re-ascend to the top of the world,” it boasted. “Those expecting China to fall will be disappointed. Finger pointing and questioning the legitimacy of the Chinese way are of no avail. It is time to understand China’s path, because it appears it will continue to triumph.”

Outside the Great Hall of the People, delegates and members of the public gave Xi’s elevation the thumbs up.

“It’s very exciting. We really need a new guide for a new era,” said Li Wanjun, a delegate from the north-eastern province of Jilin.

Lin Xingyuan, a 35-year-old IT worker who was queuing to enter Tiananmen Square, agreed.

“It’s very inspiring,” he said, before being cut off by a green-clad member of the Communist party’s People’s Armed Police force who said interviews were forbidden in the area.

Source: The Guardian

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Syria: shocking images of starving baby reveal impact of food crisis

After death of one-month-old Sahar Dofdaa, aid officials warn of catastrophe and say many more children are at risk

The continuing suffering of civilians living under siege in Syria has been brought into sharp focus by new images of a malnourished baby who later died of starvation in a suburb of Damascus controlled by the opposition.

The images, released on Monday by the news agency AFP, show Sahar Dofdaa, a one-month-old baby weighing less than 2kg, with sunken eyes and her ribs protruding through translucent skin. The child was being treated for malnutrition by a doctor in the town of Hamouria, in the eastern Ghouta region. She died on Sunday.

“The supplies are very low, and if it continues more kids will die,” said one aid official, who requested anonymity.

Tens of thousands of civilians in Ghouta are living under a blockade imposed by forces loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. About 3.5 million people in Syria live in besieged or hard-to-reach areas, and the majority of those are in places militarily encircled by the Assad regime.

Infighting by local rebel forces and the hoarding of food supplies by merchants have worsened an already dire crisis.

Doctors and activists say food shortages are so severe that dozens of cases of malnutrition are being seen in local clinics and field hospitals. New mothers are unable to breastfeed their children because they themselves are undernourished, and products such as baby milk are almost non-existent.

Mohamad Katoub, a doctor and official at the Syrian American Medical Society, which helps to run several hospitals in Ghouta, said there were currently 68 cases of severe malnutrition in hospitals in the region. The actual number was probably higher owing to difficulties in gathering data from all medical facilities in the war-torn area. He said deaths among these patients were usually a result of malnutrition weakening their immune systems, which then failed to ward off infections.

Yahya Abu Yahya, a doctor in the region, told AFP that out of 9,700 children examined in recent months, 80 were suffering from the most severe form of malnutrition, 200 had moderate acute malnutrition and 4,000 had nutritional deficiencies.

Sahar, the baby in the photographs, was unable to breastfeed because her mother did not have enough food to produce milk, AFP said.

“Today eastern Ghouta is suffering from the worst kind of criminality,” said the activist Raed Srewel. “Thousands of children are in danger, and if there is no international movement or a UN initiative to resolve this, the consequences will be extremely dangerous and Ghouta will become a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Eastern Ghouta is one of several “de-escalation” zones created under a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey to reduce the violence in Syria. But the government has continued to impose a siege on the area, giving rise to mounting concerns over the suffering of civilians.

Aid officials say families have been forced to sell food supplements to buy more essential staples like sugar or bread, leading to cases of acute malnutrition. A kilogram of sugar now costs the equivalent of $15 (£11), one official said – a price far beyond the reach of civilians who have been living for years under brutal conditions.

The government has limited the aid provided to those areas by international organisations and the UN, and recent bouts of infighting between rebels have made it more difficult to send aid. The shortage has given rise to a local black market controlled by unscrupulous merchants, which has worsened civilian suffering and made basic staples prohibitively expensive. Most families subsist on bread made of barley, olives and boiled plants.

The siege of eastern Ghouta had long been porous, with smugglers evading or bribing the local fighters manning checkpoints. But an offensive this year that broke the rebels in many towns in rural Damascus allowed the government to tighten the blockade significantly.

Violence continues in other parts of Syria, with Islamic State militants reportedly killing more than 80 people in the past two days over accusations that they collaborated with the Syrian government to undermine the terror group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring organisation, said 83 people were killed by Isis in the town of Qaryatain in Homs province. The town fell to Isis in 2015 when militants conquered the nearby historic city of Palmyra; Isis reportedly destroyed a monastery and imprisoned many of Qaryatain’s Christian inhabitants. The town was later reclaimed by the government with the backing of Russian forces, but Isis recently launched a counter-offensive.

The group is in retreat across Syria after losing its de facto capital, Raqqa, last week in a campaign by Kurdish forces backed by a US-led international coalition.

Source: The Guardian

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Spain prepares to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy amid independence disagreement

Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont has missed the deadline to offer a final answer on whether the region is declaring independence. Now, Spain is deciding whether it will enact a rule that would allow it to directly control the currently autonomous Catalonia.

Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister of Spain, gave Puigdemont until 10 a.m. local time Thursday to clarify whether Catalonia is moving forward with separating from Spain, after the region voted for independence in a referendum this month.

Puigdemont responded to the request with a letter to Mariano Rajoy, warning Madrid he would ask the Parliament to vote on the independence question if Spain chooses to act on article 155 of the 1978 constitution, which allows Spain to take administrative control of any of its 17 autonomous regions. The article has never been invoked in the history of post-dictatorship Spain.

“If the government keeps preventing dialogue and maintaining repression, the Parliament of Catalonia could go further, in due course, and formally vote the declaration of independencethat was not voted on October 10th,” Puigdemont wrote in the letter.

The Catalan leader is attempting to show the world he is prepared to talk with Spain before moving forward with separation, according to an expert in Catalan history at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs.

“Carles Puigdemont wants to show internationally how pacifist and open to dialogue Catalonia is,” Marc Gafarot told ABC News. “Spain refused to meet him in person despite the ongoing conflict.”

After Spain arrested independence activists Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart this week, many in Catalonia fear that Spain enacting article 155 will result in new repression and violence in the region.

Around 200,000 protesters took to the streets of Barcelona after the arrests, demanding that Madrid release its “political prisoners,” as Puigdemont called them in a tweet last Tuesday.

A special extraordinary cabinet meeting hosted by Rajoy is scheduled for Saturday in Madrid to discuss what measures Spain will take.

Source: ABC News

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World Bank chief says China’s poverty reduction effort is historic

WASHINGTON – World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said on Thursday that China’s effort to help 800 million people out of poverty is historic.

“This is one of the great stories in human history, frankly,” said Kim in a press conference marking the start of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings, when he was asked to comment on China’s poverty reduction efforts.

“With evolution of the Chinese economic system and its embrace of the global market, China has lifted over 800 million out of poverty,” said the World Bank chief.

With China as the major contributor to the world’s poverty reduction progress, the ratio of people living in extreme poverty in the world has dropped to less than 10 percent from 40 percent, said Kim.

“The lessons we learn in China… the fact that 800 million people were lifted out of poverty, the lessons we learned by working in China are very helpful to other middle income countries,” said Kim.

According to Kim, the World Bank will continue to work with China in areas, such as healthcare system overhaul and ensuring social services access in distant regions in China.

When asked about China’s economic outlook, Kim said that China has been making progress in reducing reliance on investment and exports and focusing on domestic consumption and services sector.

“We’re encouraged that China has stayed on a course of this change from what they call rapid growth to more quality economic growth,” said Kim.

At the same press conference, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said that the IMF upgraded China’s economic outlook in 2017 and 2018 in view of its fiscal stimulus.

“We certainly welcome the decisions that have been made, particularly by the PBOC (China’s central bank) to actually tame, reduce credit,” said Lagarde.

Lagarde suggested China should continue the policies to rein in credit growth in order to prevent financial risks.

Source: China Daily

 

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Danger of war, Germany warns after Trump’s move on Iran nuclear deal

BERLIN- If the United States terminates the Iran nuclear deal or reimposes sanctions on Tehran it could result in Iran developing nuclear weapons and raise the danger of war close to Europe, Germany’s foreign minister said on Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump refused on Friday to formally certify that Tehran was complying with the 2015 accord even though international inspectors say it is. He warned he might ultimately terminate the agreement.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Deutschlandfunk radio that Trump had sent a “difficult and dangerous signal” when the U.S. administration was also dealing with the North Korea nuclear crisis.

“My big concern is that what is happening in Iran or with Iran from the U.S. perspective will not remain an Iranian issue but many others in the world will consider whether they themselves should acquire nuclear weapons too given that such agreements are being destroyed,” Gabriel said.

“And then our children and grandchildren will grow up in a very dangerous world,” he said.

He said if the United States terminated the deal or if sanctions were reimposed on Tehran, it would give Iranian hardliners, who are against negotiations with the West, the upper hand.

“Then they might revert to developing nuclear weapons,” Gabriel said, adding Israel would not tolerate that and “then we will be back where we were 10, 12 years ago with the danger of war relatively close to Europe”.

He urged the United States not to endanger the security of its allies and its own people for domestic policy reasons.

Hailed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama as key to stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb, the deal was also signed by China, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and the European Union.

European allies have warned of a split with Washington over the nuclear agreement and say that putting it in limbo undermines U.S. credibility abroad.

Trump has given the U.S. Congress 60 days to decide whether to reinstate economic sanctions on Iran that were lifted in 2016.

Source: Reuters

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Syria war: ‘Final assault’ launched to recapture Raqqa

US-backed forces have launched their final assault on the remaining Islamic State (IS) militants in Raqqa.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) says it began the offensive on Sunday, after a convoy of IS fighters and their families left the city, along with hundreds of civilians.

No foreign fighters were allowed to join them, and now make up most of the remaining 200 to 300 militants, SDF spokesman Talal Selo said.

Raqqa was IS’s de facto capital.

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It was one of the first large cities the group took over in 2014, and had held control there for three years.

But the SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, has been besieging the city for nearly four months.

In a statement released as the battle began, the group said they would not stop “until the whole city is clean of the terrorists who refused to surrender, including the foreign fighters”.

The battle is still anticipated to take some time, with Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition, saying they “still expect there to be difficult fighting”.

The SDF’s decision to allow some of the militants to leave the city, leaving only a hardcore group of fighters behind, was designed to shorten the fight.

The coalition said “275 local mercenaries and their families” had left Raqqa. Omar Alloush, an official in the Raqqa Civil Council, said about 400 civilians also joined them.

Mostafa Bali, an SDF spokesman, told Reuters they were human shields who the militants refused to release until their own safety was guaranteed.

Mr Selo said the convoy was still in SDF territory on Sunday afternoon.

But the evacuation did not have the full support of their western backers.

Col Dillon said: “We may not always fully agree with our partners at times. But we have to respect their solutions.”

The loss of Raqqa will be seen as another blow for IS, which has been steadily losing ground in both Syria and Iraq over the last two years.

IS, which attracted fighters from across the globe with its extreme interpretation of Islamic law, used beheadings, crucifixions and torture to terrorise residents who opposed its rule.

Source: BBC News

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Xi propaganda kicks into overdrive ahead of China Communist Party congress

BEIJING- Inside the packed exhibition hall in central Beijing is a showcase of China’s recent achievements: the country’s first operational aircraft carrier; a gleaming fleet of high-speed trains; happy villagers lifted from poverty.

While the display officially celebrates the accomplishments of the Chinese people over the past five years, it is made clear that President Xi Jinping is the man to thank.

To enter the exhibition, staged by the Communist Party’s propaganda department, visitors pass through a circular antechamber with red walls emblazoned with slogans inspired by Xi’s concepts on governance.

Hundreds of images of Xi adorn the walls in each of the exhibition’s ten halls: in combat fatigues surveying the troops, holding court with foreign dignitaries, even showing his softer side by petting a baby elephant.

By contrast, photographs of other party leaders are much smaller and displayed in less prominent spots.

Even a dinner receipt for 160 yuan ($24.25) bearing Xi’s name is on display, reflecting his frugality.

Alongside radio shows and documentaries lauding Xi’s achievements on state television, the exhibition is part of a propaganda push to bolster the stature of China’s leader ahead of a key Communist Party Congress on Oct 18.

At the conclave, which takes place every five years, Xi is expected to further cement his status as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

Although it is typical for the party to sell its key achievements ahead of major events, the propaganda effort is the most effusive for a Chinese leader in years.

Xi is being lionized as the one responsible for China’s recent successes, including an unswerving anti-corruption campaign, a buoyant economy and growing stature on the world stage.

The effort appears designed to justify Xi’s expanded powers, said Willy Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In recent years, Xi has stamped his personal leadership on reforms to the military, economy and cyberspace.

The Communist Party is trying to show that “only a strongman can marshal the forces and pull off these near-miraculous achievements which he is supposed to have achieved in the past five years,” Lam said.

The State Council Information Office, which also acts as the party spokesman’s office, did not respond to request for comment.

CULT OF PERSONALITY?

Chinese leaders do not make explicit appeals to the public for support, as, in theory, the Party confers the power of the people onto the leadership.

In reality, the images of top leaders are carefully cultivated by the Party’s propaganda arm.

An avuncular image of Xi during his early years in office, which led to a folksy nickname – “Xi Dada”, or “Uncle Xi” – and syrupy songs about his looks, was stamped out in early 2016 to avoid creating a cult of personality.

Kitschy souvenirs, like mugs and plates with images of Xi and his wife, the famous singer Peng Liyuan, have become harder to find.

Censorship of images that mock Xi, including an internet meme that plays on his supposed likeness to Winnie the Pooh, the cartoon character, has also tightened in recent months.

Still, personal touches have not completely disappeared from Xi’s carefully crafted public image.

On Sept 1, the 30-year anniversary of Xi and Peng’s marriage, a WeChat account posted an article of old photos and personal details about the couple.

A source with direct knowledge of the matter said the account was run by an official reporter who travels with Peng whenever she accompanies Xi overseas and is designed to share select details of the first couple’s life together.

DIGGING WELLS, TRANSCENDING THE WEST

For the most part, the latest wave of propaganda casts Xi as all business, focusing on his dedication, his aptitude and his personal role in guiding China into a new stage of development.

One documentary on state television applauded Xi’s prowess on the global stage. Foreign Minister Wang Yi published an essay in an official newspaper saying his contributions to diplomacy had transcended 300 years of western theory on foreign affairs.

A popular section of the Beijing exhibition is devoted to Xi’s pledge to transform China’s military into a world-class fighting force, including a display of model missile launchers, battleships and the Liaoning aircraft carrier, all under a giant red flag.

“It’s inspiring,” said one visitor, a retired automation engineer who only wanted to be identified by his surname, Ma. “The speed of China’s development has been very quick, and the ordinary people have benefited.”

A book on Xi, a 452-page collection of interviews of his years in rural Shaanxi province during the Cultural Revolution, has also been heavily promoted in recent months.

Some of the anecdotes are reminiscent of Party mythology about heroes who selflessly work for others – such as Lei Feng, an idealized soldier of the Mao Zedong era who was upheld as a model citizen after his death.

In the book, villagers who knew him say Xi showed signs of greatness even then, describing in one anecdote how he led villagers to dig a well so they had access to drinking water.

“It was icy cold to the bone but Jinping was down the well, his legs deep in the mud,” one villager, Liang Yuming, said. “He’d work for a long time, until he really couldn’t take it any more.”

Source: Reuters

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Vai começar a reunião política mais importante do planeta

Há dias, a revista “The Economist” chamou ao Presidente chinês o homem mais poderoso do mundo e alertou para os riscos. Em vésperas do congresso do Partido Comunista, a posição de Xi Jinping, como a do seu país, parece ter mais força do que nunca.

Começa esta quarta-feira o Congresso do Partido Comunista da China (PCC), o 19.º desde a criação desta força política, em 1921. Realizado de cinco em cinco anos, o congresso é o evento mais importante do calendário político no país. Por um lado, define ou confirma as grandes linhas programáticas a seguir pelo Governo, e não só. Por outro, nomeia pessoas para os principais cargos do partido: o Comité Central, com 376 membros; o Politburo, com 25; e o Comité Permanente do Politburo, onde o poder se encontra de facto centralizado, e que tem sete membros.

Não são todos substituídos ao mesmo tempo, obviamente. Uma regra informal de que os membros desses órgãos se retiram aos 68 anos costuma aplicar-se, embora não seja absoluta. Há outros critérios de promoção e despromoção, e a regra tem exceções, conforme a conveniência de quem for o verdadeiro poder na altura.

Atualmente, quem manda é indiscutivelmente o Presidente da China, Xi Jinping, secretário-geral do PCC e presidente da Comissão Militar Central, ou seja, comandante das Forças Armadas. Xi é o líder nacional com mais poder desde há décadas.

Eleito em 2012, vem da chamada casta dos príncipes – descendentes dos fundadores da China comunista –, tendo sucedido a dois Presidentes que não deixaram marca forte no país. Ninguém pode afirmar isso a respeito dele. Em cinco anos, tem vindo a desenvolver uma política extremamente assertiva, a nível interno como externo. A sua dominação é tal que o ano passado lhe foi atribuído o título de “líder nuclear”, ou “central”, reconhecendo formalmente a subjugação do partido à sua vontade.

Antes dele, só Mao Tsé Tung, Deng Xiao Ping e Jiang Zemin tiveram a mesma honra. No caso de Mao, a designação ocorreu retrospetivamente, e no de Jiang o objetivo foi reforçar a sua posição após os eventos de Tiananmen.

Xi, que consta ter a intenção de ficar no seu cargo após o limite tradicional dos Presidentes chineses – dez anos, ou dois mandatos –, afirmou com vigor a sua autoridade pessoal desde o início. Pouco tempo após tomar posse, lançou uma campanha anticorrupção que, nas suas palavras, se dirigia tanto as “moscas” como aos “tigres”; isto é, tanto aos funcionários inferiores do partido como aos superiores.

Conforme explicou, a corrupção era o grande flagelo que ameaçava a identidade e mesmo a própria sobrevivência do Partido Comunista. Tendo existido sempre, o fenómeno estendeu-se imenso desde que Deng abriu o país ă economia de mercado, e em anos recentes multiplicam-se as histórias escandalosas. Quer de atos de corrupção propriamente ditos, quer de estilos de vida ostensivos que chocavam o puritanismo comunista (do qual Xi se pretende modelo, projetando uma imagem pessoal de austeridade e disciplina).

SHUANGGUI, PRÁTICA BRUTAL E EFICAZ

Combater a corrupção era necessário, e os resultados não tardaram a ver-se. Um milhão e meio de chineses terão sido já investigados, com mais de cem mil formalmente acusados. Entre eles, várias figuras de topo, incluindo um membro do Comité Permanente do Politburo. Diz-se com frequência que Xi usa a campanha como forma de intimidar ou eliminar rivais políticos.

Mas ela parece ser popular, e ainda este ano foi tema de uma série de televisão cujo protagonista é um procurador que luta contra a corrupção numa cidade. Ainda mais significativo terá sido um documentário lançado o ano passado, “Sempre na Estrada”, onde alegados corruptos confessavam os seus crimes e pediam perdão em público.

A campanha terá produzido já um número substancial de suicídios, o que mostra a sua capacidade para inspirar terror nos seus alvos. Dirigida pela Comissão Central para Inspeções de Disciplina (CCID), um organismo à frente do qual se encontra um aliado do Presidente Xi, a campanha utiliza métodos parajudiciais, sequestrando os suspeitos e submetendo-os a interrogatórios prolongados, muitas vezes brutais. A prática, especialmente destinada a funcionários do partido, leva o nome de Shuanggui. Uma vez obtida a confissão – raramente falha, mesmo que a suspeita seja infundada –, o alegado criminoso é entregue aos tribunais criminais, onde a sua condenação é virtualmente garantida.

O diretor de uma faculdade de Direito em Pequim explicou ao diário “The New York Times” a sua posição ambígua, mas essencialmente positiva, em relação ao Shuanggui. Notando que ele funciona fora de um sistema de tribunais criminais locais que são facilmente permeáveis a influências políticas, elogia-o por motivos pragmáticos: “Embora critiquemos o Shuanggui por estar fora do quadro legal, é bastante eficaz. Como se costuma dizer, tudo o que precisam é uma folha de papel, uma caneta e a boca deles”.

A NOVA ROTA DA SEDA

Independentemente das suas tarefas básicas, não há dúvida de que a campanha anticorrupção também tem funções de controlo político, como aliás se vê pelo facto de a CCDI também ter passado oficialmente a vigiar desvios às linhas de ação definidas pelo partido. Isso é justificado como uma forma de combater as reações à campanha – há muitos funcionários descontentes, como se percebe – mas serve os fins gerais de concentração de poder que têm caracterizado o mandato de Xi.

Ele intensificou a repressão política, e uma prova chocante de intransigência na matéria foi dada pela sua atitude quando se soube que Liu Xiaobo, prisioneiro político e prémio Nobel da Paz, sofria de um cancro terminal. Não apenas o governo recusou libertá-lo (embora o tenha enviado para um hospital) como tem impedido a sua mulher, agora viúva, de manter contactos com o mundo exterior.

Os apelos vindos do mundo inteiro de nada serviram, como era previsível. A China recusa interferências naquilo que considera os seus assuntos internos, ao mesmo tempo que faz sentir cada vez mais a sua presença no mundo. A velha reticência de Deng em projetar abertamente poder no exterior acabou. Nos mares do Sul da China, Pequim tem vindo a ocupar ilhas situadas ao largo de outros países, bastante remotas do território chinês. Nenhuma lei internacional lhe atribui tal direito, e contudo o regime persiste, construindo instalações militares nesses locais e reclamando direitos sobre as águas em redor. Uma recente decisão contra o país num tribunal internacional foi simplesmente ignorada.

A outro nível, uma ambiciosa iniciativa chamada variavelmente Cintura e Rota, Uma Cintura, Uma Estrada e Nova Rota da Seda, que visa reconstituir a antiga Rota da Seda (com uma rota marítima paralela), através da construção de vias ferroviárias e outras ao longo do território eurosiático, com extensões a África, mostra como as vastas disponibilidades financeiras do país se transformam em influência internacional.

Em seis eixos distintos que chegam a zonas tão distintas como o norte da Rússia e o sudoeste asiático, a China propõe-se construir infraestruturas para facilitar o comércio, num investimento que poderá atingir oito biliões de dólares (6,79 biliões de euros). Com esse tipo de dinheiro à disposição, não surpreende que mesmo fora do país muitas vozes se calem.

Source: Expresso

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Indian court rules sex with minor wife is rape

The Indian Supreme Court has ruled that sexual intercourse with a wife between the age of 15 and 18 years is a crime.

In a landmark ruling on Wednesday, India’s top court amended the country’s rape law and declared that sex with an underage wife illegal under India’s Penal Code (IPC).

The wife must file a complaint against her husband within a year of the committed offence.

“The exception in rape law under the IPC is contrary to other statutes, violates bodily integrity of girl child,” the court in the capital, New Dehli, said.

The verdict will come into effect for future instances and have no bearing on marriages already solemnised, the court said.

The legal age for marriage in India is 18, but child marriages, are not uncommon, especially in the rural parts of the country.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) considers sex with a person under the age of 18 as rape.

However, the law had an exception clause that said a man was not guilty of rape if he had consensual sex with a wife who was above the age of 15.

After hearing a petition by NGO Independent Thought, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the age of consent was 18.

Women’s rights activists in the country hailed the ruling as a “positive step in the right direction” and a possible “deterrent for child marriages”.

“We strongly feel that this decision of the Supreme Court will work in impacting child marriages, also,” J agmati Sangwan, women’s activist and member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), told Al Jazeera.

Flavia Agnes, women’s rights lawyer and founder of the NGO Majlis, called the verdict a “big milestone”, but questioned its practicality.

“It has to be implemented only if the wife files a complaint,” she said. “The state on its own cannot implement it without a victim being there.”

Curbing child marriage?

The Supreme Court on Wednesday urged the government to take proactive measures to curb child marriage across the country.

India has the highest number of child brides in the world at more than 26 million, according to the UN’s children agency, UNICEF.

Between 2008 and 2014, an estimated 47 percent of girls in India were married before their 18th birthday and 18 percent by the age of 15.

Sangwan believes the order will encourage child brides to “speak up, resist and rebel”.

Agnes, however, said the ruling empowers women “in a limited manner” and more measures need to be taken to put an end to child marriage in the country.

“The steps are not only from the legal side,” she explained on the phone. “It has to be socioeconomic, literacy rate has to go up, empowerment must happen, economic standards must rise and education should be available for girls beyond the primary level. Only then can child marriage be prevented.”

Marital rape

The order also comes at a time when there is increasing pressure from petitioners to criminalise marital rape.

Before Wednesday, there was no crime in the country’s law about rape taking place under wedlock.

Activists say that Wednesday’s judgement sets a positive precedent for future rulings regarding marital rape.

“That’s a different campaign (marital rape), which has already been launched and this judgement will surely help,” said Agnes.

Sangwan said the verdict will encourage the issue of marital rape to be seen in a “more humanitarian and democratic perspective”.

“This ruling will create a positive environment for the debate and discussion around marital rape,” she said.

In another partial victory for Indian women in August, the country’s Supreme Court suspended the “triple talaq” or instant divorce, practised by some in the Muslim community.

Source: AL JAZEERA NEWS

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Crise catalane : Madrid lance un ultimatum à Barcelone

Le gouvernement espagnol donne jusqu’à lundi aux autorités catalanes pour dire si elles déclarent l’indépendance. Si la réponse positive, elles auront jusqu’à jeudi pour y renoncer.

Les temps s’accélèrent dans la crise catalane. Mercredi 11 octobre, Madrid a posé un ultimatum au président de la Généralité, Carles Puigdemont, pour qu’il clarifie sa position sur sa déclaration d’indépendance et renonce à ses intentions sécessionnistes.

Le gouvernement de Mariano Rajoy prépare ainsi le terrain à une utilisation de l’article 155 de la Constitution de l’Espagne, qui lui permettrait de déclencher la procédure de suspension de l’autonomie de la région.

Les autorités catalanes ont jusqu’au 16 octobre 10 heures, pour préciser si oui ou non elles ont proclamé une république indépendante en marge de la loi espagnole. Mardi, lors de son intervention au Parlement de Barcelone, M. Puigdemont avait volontairement semé la confusion en déclarant de manière symbolique l’indépendance de la région tout en suspendant sa mise en œuvre moins d’une minute après, afin de permettre un très hypothétique dialogue avec Madrid.

Si le gouvernement indépendantiste répond positivement ou ne répond pas, il disposera de trois jours supplémentaires, jusqu’au jeudi 19 octobre, pour faire marche arrière. Si le deuxième délai n’est pas respecté, Madrid pourra alors déclencher la mise sous tutelle de la région par le biais de l’article 155.

« Un référendum hors la loi ne peut entraîner dans sa chute une communauté de 7,5 millions de personnes ni celle du quatrième pays de l’Union européenne [UE] », a déclaré Mariano Rajoy lors d’une séance spéciale du Parlement espagnol. Dans son discours, il a démonté, point par point, l’argumentaire des indépendantistes. « Le référendum illégal n’est pas légitime », a répété le premier ministre. « Aucun résultat supposé ne peut être utilisé » pour justifier l’imposition d’une « indépendance dont personne ne veut », une décision qui n’est « ni spontanée ni démocratique ». Il a qualifié le scrutin de « farce électorale ».

Le responsable…

Source: Le Monde

 

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Venezolanos participan con calma en elecciones regionales este domingo

Casi 20 millones de venezolanos están convocados a votar por vez número 22 en un nuevo duelo electoral entre el Gobierno y la oposición venezolana.

Más del 95 por ciento de los centros de votación ya están abiertas en toda Venezuela para los comicios regionales que se celebran este domingo, informó la presidenta del Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), Tibisay Lucena.

“Tenemos un buen nivel de apertura. El nivel más alto de constitución de mesas lo tenemos en el estado Nueva Esparta con el 83,66 por ciento (…) el más bajo lo tenemos en el estado Bolívar, con 28 por ciento”, indicó Lucena en su primera declaración del día.

“En general todos los estados están en un buen promedio de constitución de las mesas”, manifestó Lucena. Desde las 06H00 hora local (10H00 GMT) los centros de votación están abiertos para otra jornada electoral.

Unos 18 millones de electores están llamados a las urnas en 13.559 centros de votación, que serán custodiados por más de 260.000 efectivos de la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana (FANB) como parte del Plan República.

Los ciudadanos se encargarán de elegir a los 23 gobernadores del país entre 260 aspirantes de las fuerzas revolucionarias y de la oposición, en unos comicios regionales que representan un éxito para la democracia del país suramericano, dijo en la víspera el presidente venezolano Nicolás Maduro.

Dichos sufragios los adelantó la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente (ANC) para procurar la preservación de la paz alcanzada tras los comicios del foro del poder originario el 30 de julio, tras meses de violencia azuzada por sectores de la ultraderecha venezolana.

Uno de los promotores de las protestas antigubernamentales, el coordinador nacional de Voluntad Popular (VP), Freddy Guevara, llamó a los opositores a votar en contra de la “dictadura”.

“No se trata de unos gobernadores ni de partidos, sino de vencer a Maduro. Es una jornada histórica, reinicio de una etapa de presión que continuará contra la dictadura”, sostuvo Guevara.

De acuerdo con el Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), el proceso electoral es reflejo de las transformaciones que ha vivido su sistema, el cual establece auditorías antes, durante y después de la jornada, el acompañamiento de expertos internacionales y refleja la participación de actores políticos de diversa corriente de pensamiento.

La votación, además, es producto de la coordinación entre los Poderes del Estado para garantizar que sea una jornada signada por el civismo y la paz.

Horas antes de las votaciones, el CNE confirmó el cierre de 203 centros electorales en estados que fueron escenario de protestas entre abril y julio.

Las urnas cerrarán a las 18H00 (22H00 GMT), siempre y cuando no hayan venezolanos en cola. Una vez todos los centros de votación estén cerrados, el CNE ofrecerá su primer balance horas después.

Source: Colarebo

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EPA chief to sign rule on Clean Power Plan exit on Tuesday

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK – The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday he would sign a proposed rule on Tuesday to begin withdrawing from the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama’s centerpiece regulation to fight climate change.

“Here’s the president’s message: The war on coal is over,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told a gathering in the Kentucky coal-country town of Hazard.

Green groups criticized Monday’s announcement and praised the plan, a collection of emissions standards for U.S. states that the Obama administration imposed to reduce pollution from power plants — the largest emitters of greenhouse gases — by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“No matter who is in the White House, the EPA is legally required to limit dangerous carbon pollution, and the Clean Power Plan is an achievable, affordable way to do that,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

But trade organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers, which participated in a legal challenge to the plan, praised it.

“This regulation was broader than what the law allows,” said NAM Vice President Ross Eisenberg. “At the same time, we recognize the need for a policy to address greenhouse gas emissions.”

The effort to undo the plan is part of a broader target of the administration of President Donald Trump to revive the coal industry and boost domestic fossil fuels production. The EPA now says the Clean Power Plan introduced by Obama in 2015 was illegal.

Pruitt said the Obama-era plan gave the government too much influence in the competition to generate power in the United States.

Jim Matheson, chief executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, an electric utility group, agreed. He said ending the plan would take pressure off some cash-strapped utilities that still relied on coal-fired power plants. But he said market forces were already moving utilities away from coal.

Total power generation by coal among the NRECA’s members fell from 71 percent in 2014 to 62 percent in 2016, Matheson said.

The EPA has not decided whether it will replace the Clean Power Plan, according to a draft of the proposal seen by Reuters on Friday, or whether or when it will propose a new rule to regulate emissions from existing power plants. But the agency said it would soon solicit information on a potential replacement.

Source: Reuters

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Portugal ainda é um elo fraco na coesão europeia

O Sétimo relatório sobre a coesão económica, social e territorial da Europa foi apresentado nesta segunda-feira.

As regiões portuguesas, a par das de leste e de algumas do sul da Europa, ainda aparecem com cores destoantes, nos gráficos do 7.º Relatório sobre a coesão económica, social e territorial da Europa, que foi apresentado nesta segunda-feira em Bruxelas. O documento, elaborado de três em três anos, mostra muitas vezes um país cujas regiões se encontram numa situação mais difícil, e não só em termos económicos.

A boa notícia é que a União Europeia (UE) voltou à senda do crescimento económico. A má é que a redução das assimetrias regionais, até no interior dos Estados-membros, diminuíram pouco. As crises de 2008 e 2011 tinham travado a convergência regional que volta agora a verificar-se. Mas a um ritmo lento, havendo ainda muitas regiões cujos Produto Interno Bruto per capita e taxa de emprego estão ainda abaixo daquilo que estavam antes da crise.

Na apresentação do relatório, a comissária europeia para a Política Regional, Corina Cretu, deixou um aviso. Há regiões que estão há vários anos com um crescimento já próximo da média europeia –  como as portuguesas -, mas que parecem “presas na armadilha do rendimento médio”. A sua indústria ainda tem custos muito elevados e a incorporação de inovação é incipiente. A sua economia precisa de se reorientar para novos sectores, apostar na exportação e na qualificação profissional. Caso contrário, a globalização, em vez de oportunidade, será um risco a que permanecerão particularmente vulneráveis, em termos de deslocalização de empresas e desaparecimento de postos de trabalho. No mapa sobre o nível de risco face à globalização e à mudança tecnológica a que estão expostas, as regiões portuguesas estão quase todas no nível 3, numa escala de 0 a 4. Só Algarve e Lisboa e Vale do Tejo estão no nível 2.

O relatório também dá destaque a aspectos demográficos, sublinhando que em 2015, pela primeira vez, houve mais óbitos do que nascimentos na Europa. E as diferenças de rendimentos e falta de emprego geraram muitas migrações, até dentro das mesmas regiões, com o despovoamento de zonas rurais e pressão sobre as cidades a aumentar. O mapa sobre a pressão demográfica nas NUT3 da UE mostra um Portugal que, entre 2005 e 2015, só ganhou população no distrito de Braga, à volta de Lisboa e no Algarve. As zonas de Vila Real, Bragança, Beira Alta e Alto Alentejo estão entre as que perdem mais população na UE.

Em termos de inovação, Portugal, Espanha, toda a Itália, a Grécia e o Leste surgem sobretudo no nível “moderado”, muito longe do “forte” ou “liderante” das regiões do centro da Europa. Ainda assim, Lisboa, a Região Centro e a Região Norte aparecem com um “moderado +”.

Há um gráfico em que Portugal se destaca, com um valor acima de todos os outros, mas que, mais do que força, revela dependência. É o gráfico do peso relativo dos fundos de coesão no investimento público. Entre 2015 e 2017, mais de 80% do investimento público decorreu de fundos da política de coesão europeia.

O desemprego na Europa, apesar de se estar agora nos 7,7% (média europeia), ainda acima dos 7% de 2008, afecta particularmente os mais jovens, que procuram o primeiro emprego. No mapa relativo aos jovens (15-24 anos) que em 2016 não estavam a estudar, nem em formação nem a trabalhar mostra Portugal alinhado com a Europa, com taxas de 7,5 a 10% para todo o território, à excepção da Região Centro, onde a situação era melhor, com apenas 5 a 7,5%.

A apresentação do 7.º relatório sobre a coesão acontece numa altura em que está em discussão a redefinição da Política de Coesão, e do orçamento da UE, havendo quem, no contexto do “Brexit”, defenda que os fundos de coesão deviam destinar-se apenas às mais pobres das regiões. Nesta segunda-feira, a comissária Cretu, que também participou na abertura da Semana Europeia das Regiões e Cidades de 2017, insistiu que a Política de Coesão não deverá deixar de ser um pilar essencial do projecto europeu. E que o Reino Unido deve pagar aquilo a que já se tinha comprometido neste domínio, antes de decidir abandonar a UE: “Não é uma pensão de divórcio nem um castigo, é o que estava acordado”, disse a comissária.

Na apresentação do relatório sobre a coesão, o presidente do Comité das Regiões, Karl Heinz Lambertz, também foi questionado sobre o tratamento a dispensar às regiões da Escócia e da Irlanda do Norte que votaram pela permanência do Reino Unido da UE. Não chegou a dizer. Nem como via a crise política na Catalunha, a região da Europa onde, por estes dias, as conversas vão todas dar.

* Viajou para Bruxelas a convite da Comissão Europeia

Source: Público

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Rise of far-right AfD party worries refugees

Berlin and Hamburg, Germany – “Why are you here? Go back to your own country,” a man on the street once yelled at Hussam Al Zaher and his sister Samer, who was donning a hijab.

The two Syrian siblings had been exploring Hussam’s new hometown, Hamburg.

Since moving to Germany in October 2015, rebuilding his life from zero has been an uphill battle.

“I think it’s fear of the unknown,” says 29-year-old Al Zaher, referring to the racism he suffers. “Most people who resent refugees don’t really know us.”

While Germany has been the most welcoming European country in accepting large numbers of refugees, recent developments have caused some concern for asylum seekers and rights groups.

In the September federal election, Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term, but her victory was overshadowed as the anti-refugee and anti-Muslim party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), gained 12.6 percent of the vote. The AfD is the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag in post-war Germany.

“I hear a lot about the rise of right-wing extremism in Germany, and it’s making me feel uncertain about my future here,” says Al Zaher.

The journalist fled from Damascus in October 2014.

After a year of toiling for 15 hours a day at a clothing factory in Istanbul, he embarked on the perilous journey that tens of thousands of Syrians made before him.

After crossing the Aegean Sea in an overcrowded boat to Greece, he travelled on the Balkan Route.

Along the way, Al Zaher met fellow weary travellers from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, bound by one ambition: the hope for a better life than the one they left behind.

He is now one of 1.3 million asylum seekers who have arrived in Germany since 2015.

“The beginning was really tough,” he recalls. “I felt lonely; I didn’t speak German and very little English.”

While he has made German friends and met welcoming and understanding locals, Al Zaher, who is Muslim, has also faced a backlash.

One day, he received hate mail from a stranger saying: “Go back to Syria. This is our country. You are ruining our country with your culture.”

But the young Syrian steadfastly believes that communication can break down barriers, so he launched the digital magazine “Fluchtling”, German for refugee.

“I want them to see that we are human beings, just like them,” he said. “Being open-minded towards other people and cultures can be difficult, but we can achieve acceptance through respect and discussion.”

Germans polarised

The German population is polarised over the newcomers, and support for Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, called “welcome culture”, has dropped.

The far-right AfD party’s rise reflected disgruntlement and showed that even Europe’s largest economy, where the unemployment rate is at a record low of 5.6 percent, is not immune to populism.

“I believe that most AfD voters aren’t right-wing extremists, they are just afraid,” Al Zaher said. “They’re afraid of Muslims, a different culture, a different way of thinking.”

From January to August this year, 123,878 asylum seekers arrived in Germany, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Of those, almost a quarter came from Syria, followed by Iraqis and Afghans. In 2016, 280,000 asylum seekers arrived in Germany, while in 2015, at the height of the refugee crisis, 890,000 people crossed the border.

“Most AfD voters aren’t right-wing extremists; they are just afraid. They’re afraid of Muslims, a different culture, a different way of thinking.” Hussam Al Zaher, Syrian refugee

Integrating those hundreds of thousands of new residents is a daunting task.

“It won’t happen overnight,” Afghan refugee Sahar Reza told Al Jazeera. “It takes time – often years – to understand the German job market, the culture and to learn the language.”

The 29-year-old was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and grew up in Pakistan.

She arrived in Germany in November 2014.

She completed an integration course, where she learned German, and has registered with the job centre to find employment.

“I hope I’ll find a job to build an independent life here,” she said.

Soon, Reza will start an internship at the Green Party in Hamburg, before she moves on to a placement at the local government.

She followed the election closely and was surprised by the outcome.

She said: “I understand that some Germans are frustrated and feel alienated. They work and pay taxes … Paying for others for such a long time can be irritating.”

‘A long way to go’

Providing asylum seekers with food, housing, and German language courses is costly.

Last year, the federal government spent 21.7bn euros ($25.5bn) on dealing with the refugee crisis, according to the finance ministry. For this year, the government has earmarked 21.3bn euros.

Several projects have now joined the effort to help refugees settle in and feel at home.

“Multaka” trains Syrian and Iraqi asylum seekers to become museum guides in Berlin; at “Uber den Tellerrand”, refugees teach cooking classes; “Sharehaus Refugio” is a communal housing initiative; Refugees Welcome helps them find a spare room in flat shares and Start with a Friend connects volunteers with refugees to help them navigate aspects of life in Germany and build friendships.

The Berlin-based initiative Cucula also wants to empower refugees.

“We want to help them gain a skill set and ready them for the job market,” said Corinna Sy, a cofounder.

At the Cucula workshop in the hip Kreuzberg district, refugees learn how to build furniture and trainees take part in educational programmes.

“In 2015, authorities and communities were completely overwhelmed by the influx,” Sy said. “Since then, we’ve made progress. But there are a lot of hurdles for refugees to find work and integrate. Many of them remain isolated and aren’t part of our society yet. There’s still a long way to go.”

Source: AL JAZEERA NEWS

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Brexit MPs angry as Theresa May accepts continuing rule of EU court

PM says European court of justice may continue to have jurisdiction over UK during ‘implementation period’

Theresa May has angered pro-Brexit MPs by conceding that the European court of justice would continue to have jurisdiction over the UK during the “implementation period” when Britain leaves the European Union.

The prime minister also underlined the fact that the government was preparing for a “no deal” outcome to the negotiations. “It is also our responsibility as a government to prepare for every eventuality, so that is exactly what we are doing,” she said. She reiterated her hope of striking a “unique and ambitious economic partnership” with the EU27. She repeated her expectation, spelled out in the Florence speech, of an implementation periodlasting “around two years”.

In response to a question from Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was the darling of Eurosceptic Tories at the party’s conference last week, the prime minister said a transition deal “may mean we will start off with European court of justice still governing rules we’re part of for that period”.

She went on to stress that long lead-in times meant it was unlikely any new rules would be implemented in that period, which the government expects to be about two years.

But speaking afterwards, Rees-Mogg said: “If the ECJ still has jurisdiction, we will not have left the EU. It is perhaps the most important red line in ensuring the leave vote is honoured.” Asked if that was the implication of May’s statement, he said: “I fear so.”

Jurisdiction of the ECJ during a transition was one of the “red lines” set out by Boris Johnson in an interview with the Sun in the run-up to the Conservative party conference.

May’s wording on EU laws also appeared to raise concerns from other Brexit-supporting politicians.

Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the steering group of a backbench group of Conservative MPs pushing for a decisive Brexit, said: “Most MPs represent leave constituencies, and they may find it hard to explain why we are not taking back control of our laws on day one.” However, he added: “I would want to understand more about this before making any further comment.”

Others were pushing May to make clear that she was ready to walk away from European negotiations.

Charlie Elphicke, the Dover MP who is also a member of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Tory MPs, said: “It’s clear from the behaviour of Brussels and the Euro parliament we must be ready on day one, deal or no deal. What’s more, we’ll secure a better deal if the EU knows we can walk away from the table.”

May was updating the House of Commons on Monday on the content of her Florence speech last month and the status of the negotiations, which have resumed in Brussels.

Johnson himself signalled his support for May’s position, saying: “Yes, we will mostly have to operate under existing rules during the transition, but we will be able to negotiate proper free trade deals and business will be able to prepare properly for Brexit … What matters is the end state and our freedom to do things differently and better.”

His fellow Brexit campaigner Michael Gove, now the environment secretary, used a strikingly similar argument, tweeting that being “pragmatic” about a transition deal now would buy Britain “maximum freedom to diverge from EU in end state”.

Jeremy Corbyn responded to May’s statement by accusing cabinet ministers of jeopardising Britain’s future by “squabbling” among themselves. “Just at the moment when Britain needs a strong negotiating team,” the Labour leader said, “we have a cabinet at each other’s throats. Half of the Conservative party want the foreign secretary sacked; the other half want the chancellor sacked.”

May was attempting to reassert her authority over the Brexit negotiations, and her fractious party, after a calamitous conference and a weekend of media speculation about the future of the foreign secretary and the chancellor.

Corbyn said that far from injecting new dynamism into the talks as she claimed, the prime minister’s Florence speech had “demonstrated the scale of the mess the government is making of these negotiations”. May insisted the talks were on track and said her government was “getting on with the job of delivering the democratic will of the British people”.

She paid tribute to the work of the Brexit secretary, David Davis, and said progress had been made on all of the withdrawal issues the EU has insisted must be resolved before talks can switch to the future trade relationship between Britain and the EU27.

As May delivered her statement, the government published two white papers on the legislation it believes will be necessary to strike new trade deals and implement a new customs system in preparation for Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, urged the prime minister to bring an end to the “backstabbing briefing and counter-briefing from her ministers and their surrogates” and called on her to sack the foreign secretary, whose “back-seat driving” he described as damaging.

Earlier on Monday, the European commission dismissed a statement released by Downing Street overnight suggesting May would tell the EU27 the the ball was in their court. At his daily press briefing in Brussels, the commission’s chief spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, insisted that the next move had to come from the UK. “The ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen,” he said.

Source: The Guardian