From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE EAST 2019 MAY-JUNE"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
    This link will take you back to King Of The East 2019 March-April or continue to King Of The East 2019 July-August

KING OF THE EAST 2019 MAY-JUNE




2019 MAY-JUNE

5/4/2019 China putting minority Muslims in ‘concentration camps,’ U.S. says by Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education
centre in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States accused China on Friday of putting well more than a million minority Muslims in “concentration camps,” in some of the strongest U.S. condemnation to date of what it calls Beijing’s mass detention of mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups.
    The comments by Randall Schriver, who leads Asia policy at the U.S. Defense Department, are likely to increase tension with Beijing, which is sensitive to international criticism and describes the sites as vocational education training centers aimed at stemming the threat of Islamic extremism.
    Former detainees have described to Reuters being tortured during interrogation at the camps, living in crowded cells and being subjected to a brutal daily regimen of party indoctrination that drove some people to suicide.
    Some of the sprawling facilities are ringed with razor wire and watch towers.
    “The (Chinese) Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps,” Schriver told a Pentagon briefing during a broader discussion about China’s military, estimating that the number of detained Muslims could be “closer to 3 million citizens.”
    Schriver, an assistant secretary of defense, defended his use of a term normally associated with Nazi Germany as appropriate, under the circumstances.
    When asked by a reporter why he used the term, Schriver said that it was justified “given what we understand to be the magnitude of the detention, at least a million but likely closer to 3 million citizens out of a population of about 10 million.”    "So a very significant portion of the population, (given) what’s happening there, what the goals are of the Chinese government and their own public comments make that a very, I think, appropriate description,” he said.
    The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday used the term re-education camps to describe the sites and said Chinese activity was “reminiscent of the 1930s.”
    The U.S. government has weighed sanctions against senior Chinese officials in Xinjiang, a vast region bordering central Asia that is home to millions of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities. China has warned that it would retaliate “in proportion” against any U.S. sanctions.
    The governor of Xinjiang in March directly dismissed comparisons to concentration camps, saying they were “the same as boarding schools.”
    U.S. officials have said China has made criminal many aspects of religious practice and culture in Xinjiang, including punishment for teaching Muslim texts to children and bans on parents giving their children Uighur names.
    Academics and journalists have documented grid-style police checkpoints across Xinjiang and mass DNA collection, and human rights advocates have decried martial law-type conditions there.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler)

5/4/2019 ‘I shall reign with righteousness’: Thailand crowns king in ornate ceremonies by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat
People sit near an image of King Maha Vajiralongkorn during his coronation in Bangkok, Thailand, May 4, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Saturday completed Buddhist and Brahmin rituals to symbolically transform him into a living god as the Southeast Asian nation crowned its first monarch in nearly seven decades.
    The coronation of King Vajiralongkorn, 66, took place inside the Grand Palace throne hall in Bangkok after a period of official mourning for his revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October 2016 having reigned for 70 years.
    The king sat on a golden throne under a nine-tiered umbrella to receive royal regalia including a gold-enameled, diamond-tipped crown in ceremonies that mixed glittering pomp with solemn religious rites.
    The monarch was joined by new Queen Suthida after a surprise announcement three days before the coronation that the thrice-divorced monarch had married for a fourth time.
    His coronation comes amid the uncertainty of an unresolved election battle between the current military junta chief and a “democratic front” trying to push the army out of politics.
    “I shall continue, preserve, and build upon the royal legacy and shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the people forever,” the king said in his first royal command.
    Traditionally uttered after a king is crowned, the king’s first command serves to capture the essence of his reign.    The king’s command was similar to that of his father’s.
    Late in the afternoon, the king was carried in a royal palanquin in a procession from the Grand Palace to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, where yellow-clad Thais awaited his arrival, repeatedly chanting, “Long live the king.”
    After 80 Buddhist monks chanted, the king proclaimed himself the Royal Patron of Buddhism: “I will rightfully protect Buddhism forever.”
    Later, King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida will perform a private housewarming ritual at the royal residence in the Grand Palace where they will stay the night, as previous kings have done, ending the first of the three-day coronation ceremonies.
    In his first speech earlier on Saturday to members of the royal family, the Privy Council, and top government officials, among others, the king called for national unity.
    “I invite everyone here and all Thai people to share my determination and work together, each according to his status and duty, with the nation’s prosperity and the people’s happiness as the ultimate goals,” he said.
    Military junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, the speaker of the army-appointed parliament and the chairman of the Supreme Court – representing the three branches of government – also spoke to express “gratitude” to the king.
    Prayuth is seeking to stay on as an elected prime minister after the first elections since the military seized power five years ago.    Final results of the March 24 vote will be announced after the coronation.
DIVINE MONARCH
    Thai coronation rituals are a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu Brahmin traditions dating back centuries.    One of the many official titles King Vajiralongkorn will take is Rama X, or the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty founded in 1782.
    Saturday’s rituals were about transforming him into a “Devaraja,” or a divine embodiment of the gods.
    The king received the royal golden plaque containing his name and title, the royal horoscope, and the royal seal, which were made in a three-hour ritual last week.
    He also received and put on five articles of the royal regalia from the chief Brahmin.
    The high-reaching crown, which weighs 7.3 kg (16 lb) symbolizes the summit of Mount Meru, the Hindu god Indra’s heavenly abode, and its weight represents the monarch’s royal burden.
    King Vajiralongkorn put the crown on his head himself with the help of court officials, and adjusted it several times during the ceremony.
    Before the crowning ritual, he appeared dressed in white robes as he underwent a purification ritual, sitting under a canopied fountain that poured consecrated waters over his head.
    The country’s Buddhist Supreme Patriarch also poured sacred waters over the king, followed by Brahmin priests and royal family members.    During the ceremonies, the king gave alms to saffron-robed, barefoot monks.
    The monarch also granted Queen Suthida, a former Thai Airways flight attendant and head of his personal bodyguard regiment, her full royal title.
    Outside the palace walls, people in yellow polo shirts sat on roadsides, holding up portraits of the king and the national flag as 19th-century cannons fired to announce the new reign.
    Yellow is the color of Monday, the day the king was born, and the color of the sun, which represents the monarch in the cosmos, according to Thai culture.
    One onlooker, Kanjana Malaithong, told local media she had traveled since 1 a.m. from northern Thailand to witness the ceremony, shown live on big screens outside the palace.
    “I’m so overjoyed … There’ll never be another chance like this, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” she said.
    During 18 months of his reign so far, King Vajiralongkorn has moved to consolidate the authority of the monarchy, including taking more direct control of the crown’s vast wealth with the help of Thailand’s military government.
    Thailand ended absolute rule by its kings in 1932, but the monarchy remains highly revered as the divine symbol and protector of the country and Buddhist religion.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Kay Johnson, Stephen Coates and Ros Russell)

5/4/2019 Iran to keep enriching uranium despite U.S. move: parliament speaker
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting with tribal leaders
in Kerbala, Iraq, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will continue with low-level uranium enrichment in line with its nuclear deal with world powers, Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani was quoted as saying on Saturday, despite a U.S. move to stop it.
    Washington acted on Friday to force Iran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant, intensifying a campaign aimed at halting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power.
    “Under the (nuclear accord) Iran can produce heavy water, and this is not in violation of the agreement.    Therefore we will carry on with enrichment activity,” the semi-official news agency ISNA quoted Larijani as saying.    The Fars agency carried a similar report.
    Heavy water can be employed in reactors to produce plutonium, a fuel used in nuclear warheads.
    The United States also scrapped its sanctions waiver that had allowed Iran to evade a 300-kg limit on the amount of low-enriched uranium it can store under the nuclear deal at its main nuclear facility of Natanz.
    Washington said the move was aimed at forcing Tehran to end its production of low-enriched uranium, a demand Iran has repeatedly rejected as it says it uses the uranium to help produce electricity.
    Until now, Iran was allowed to ship low-enriched uranium produced at Natanz to Russia before it hit the 300-kg limit, an expert said.
    The United States also said it would no longer waive sanctions that allowed Iran to ship to Oman for storage heavy water produced at its Arak facility beyond a 300-tonne limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal.
    A senior parliamentarian called for talks with Iran’s partners in the nuclear deal and the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure Iran could continue to enrich uranium, ISNA reported.
    “With new sanctions, America wants to slow Iran’s nuclear industry, so new talks should be held with nuclear deal members and the IAEA to approve that Iran can enrich fuel to 20 percent and higher,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, head of parliament’s national security committee, was quoted as saying by ISNA.
    Separately, President Hassan Rouhani said live on television on Saturday that Iran must counter U.S. sanctions by continuing to export its oil as well as boosting non-oil exports.
    “America is trying to decrease our foreign reserves … So we have to increase our hard currency income and cut our currency expenditures,” Rouhani said.
    “Last year, we had we non-oil exports of $43 billion.    We should increase production and raise our (non-oil) exports and resist America’s plots against the sale of our oil.”
    Friday’s U.S. move, which Rouhani made no direct reference to, was the third punitive action Washington has taken against Iran in as many weeks.
    Last week, it said it would stop waivers for countries buying Iranian oil, in an attempt to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero.    It also blacklisted Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps.
    The Trump administration’s efforts to impose political and economic isolation on Tehran began last year when it unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal it and other world powers negotiated with Iran in 2015.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; editing by John Stonestreet and Hugh Lawson)

5/4/2019 President Trump still confident deal will be reached with North Korea by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump expresses confidence in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, following reports that say the country is testing out new missiles.
People watch a TV showing a file footage of North Korea’s missile launch during a news program at the
Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 4, 2019. North Korea on Saturday fired several
unidentified short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said,
a likely sign of Pyongyang’s growing frustration at stalled diplomatic talks with Washington meant to provide coveted
sanctions relief in return for nuclear disarmament. The signs read: ” North Korea fired short-range missiles.” (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
    In a tweet Saturday morning, the president said anything is possible, and he believes Kim realizes North Korea’s economic potential, and will not do anything to interfere with that.
    President Trump also said the chairman doesn’t want to break his promise to him, and that a deal will happen.
    Trump tweet: “Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!
    His remarks come amid reports of North Korea testing more nuclear missiles from its east coast Saturday, despite previously agreeing to stop its nuclear ambitions.
    However, the U.S. said it will keep a close eye on the Asian nation.

5/5/2019 North Korean leader Kim oversaw testing of multiple rocket launchers: KCNA by Cynthia Kim and Joyce Lee
North Korean military conducts a "strike drill" for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea during
a military drill in North Korea, in this May 4, 2019 photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has conducted a “strike drill” for multiple launchers, firing tactical guided weapons into the East Sea in a military drill supervised by leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday, the North’s state media reported on Sunday.
    The purpose of the drill was to test performance of “large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons by defense units,” the Korean Central News Agency said.
    Photographs released by KCNA showed the tactical guided weapons fired could be a short-range, ground-to-ground ballistic missiles, according to Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Korea’s Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies.
    While such a missile launch would be in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions, at least it would not involve long-range ballistic missiles that have been seen as a threat to the United States.
    “What was sobering for me was that unexpectedly, there was a photo of short-range, ground-to-ground ballistic missile, otherwise known as the North’s version of Iskander,” said IFE’s Kim.
    The new, solid fuel ballistic missiles can fly as far as 500 kilometers (311 miles), putting the entire Korean Peninsula within its range and are capable of neutralizing the advanced U.S. anti-missile defense system (THAAD) deployed in South Korea, the military analyst said.
    The South Korean defense ministry, however, put the range of weapons fired on Saturday at between 70 to 240 km (44 to 149 miles).
    Giving orders on Saturday for the test firing, North Korean leader Kim stressed the need to “increase the combat ability so as to defend the political sovereignty and economic self-sustenance” of North Korea in the face of threats and invasions, the report said.
    The statement came a day after the test firing, which analysts interpreted as an attempt to exert pressure on Washington to give ground in negotiations to end the North’s nuclear program after a summit in February ended in failure.
    North Korea had maintained a freeze in nuclear and ballistic missiles testing in place since 2017, which U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly pointed out as an important achievement from his engagement with Pyongyang.
    “With North Korea never promising to completely stop all missile testing — it only promised a self-imposed moratorium of testing long-range missiles such as ICBMs that can hit the U.S. homeland — we should not be shocked by North Korea’s short-range launch,” said Harry Kazianis, director of Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest.
    The latest test firing prompted Seoul to call on its communist neighbor to “stop acts that escalate military tension on the Korean Peninsula” on Saturday, while Trump said in a Twitter post that he was still confident he could have a deal with Kim.
    “I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it,” Trump wrote.    “He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!
    The projectiles, fired from the east coast city of Wonsan around 9 a.m. (0000 GMT) flew about 70 kms to 200 kms (44-124 miles) in a north-easterly direction, South Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement on Saturday.
    The South Korean military initially described it as a missile launch, but subsequently gave a vaguer description and said it was conducting joint analysis with the United States of the latest launches.
    “Yes, the tests were the most serious since the end of 2017, but this is largely a warning to Trump that he could lose the talks unless Washington takes partial denuclearization steps offered by Kim,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.    “A resumption of long-range test could be next unless Kim gets what he wants soon.”
    Talks stalled after a second summit between Kim and Trump in Hanoi in February failed to produce a deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
    North Korea demanded Washington to lift the U.S.-led sanctions in return for a partial dismantling of its nuclear weapons program, while the United States wanted the quick rollback of the North’s entire nuclear weapons program.
    The North’s last missile launch was in November 2017, when it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile.    Soon after that missile test, the North declared that its nuclear force was complete, after which Pyongyang extended an olive branch to the South and the United States.
(Reporting by Cynthia Kim and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler & Simon Cameron-Moore)

5/5/2019 Iran using all resources to sell oil in ‘grey market’: deputy minister
FILE PHOTO: Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf,
south of the capital Tehran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has mobilized all its resources to sell oil in a “grey market,” bypassing U.S. sanctions that Tehran sees as illegitimate, state media quoted Deputy Oil Minister Amir Hossein Zamaninia as saying on Sunday.
    The United States, which last year withdrew from a 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers, has told buyers of Iranian oil to stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions.
    Iran says it will continue to export oil in defiance of U.S. sanctions, part of a campaign by Washington aimed at halting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power.
    “We have mobilized all of the country’s resources and are selling oil in the ‘gray market’,” state news agency IRNA quoted Zamaninia as saying.
    Zamaninia gave no details about the “gray market,” but Iran is widely reported to have sold oil at steep discounts and often through private firms during sanctions earlier this decade.
    “We certainly won’t sell 2.5 million barrels per day as under the (nuclear deal),” Zamaninia said, giving no figures for current sales.
    “We will need to make serious decisions about our financial and economic management, and the government is working on that.”
    “This is not smuggling. This is countering sanctions which we do not see as just or legitimate,” Zamaninia said.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Dale Hudson)

5/6/2019 Sri Lanka police discover suspected training camp for Islamist militants by Alexandra Ulmer and Omar Rajarathnam
A police officer stands inside a training camp allegedly linked to Islamist militants
in Kattankudy, near Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    KATTANKUDY (Reuters) – Sri Lankan police on Sunday discovered a 10-acre camp in the eastern town of Kattankudy, where Islamist militants linked to the deadly Easter attacks are believed to have practiced shooting and bombmaking.
    The walled terrain is nestled in a poor residential area on the outskirts of the home town of Zahran Hashim, who is believed to have been a key player in plotting the April 21 attacks.    Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the church and hotel bombings that killed more than 250 people.
    The narrow, sandy plot is dotted with a cinderblock four-storey watchtower, as well as mango trees, a chicken coop and a goat shed.
    “They wanted to show this place was normal.    If someone comes to see, it looks like a farm.    But what they were doing is terrorism,” said a senior police officer in the Batticaloa area, asking to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to media.
    Police found bullet holes in the wall on one side of the grounds, as well as long tubes suspected of holding bombs, the officer said.
    Two owners of the plot of land have been arrested, the officer said.
(Reporting by Reporting By Alexandra Ulmer and Omar Rajarathnam in KATTANKUDY, additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in COLOMBO; Editing by A. Ananthalakshmi and David Goodman)

5/7/2019 Sri Lanka says dismantles big part of bombers’ network, freezes assets by Ranga Sirilal
A policeman stands guard outside the sealed office of National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ), a
banned Islamist group in Kattankudy, Sri Lanka, May 6, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lankan authorities say they have dismantled a major part of the network linked to the Easter Sunday bombings, confiscating bomb-making material and freezing assets worth about $40 million linked to the plotters.
    In an audio statement issued by the defense ministry on Monday, acting police chief Chandana Wickramaratne said almost all suspects and plotters involved in the April 21 attacks had either been arrested or were dead.
    "There were also two people among that group of plotters who are experts in bombs and those two are dead now,” Wickramarate said.    “They had stored part of the explosives for future attacks and we have confiscated all of this.”
    Investigators are still tracking down 10 more key players associated with plotting the bombings, which killed more than 250 people, including 42 foreigners, a military source told Reuters on Tuesday.
    “The investigations show there were another 8 to 10 people who attended meetings with the other plotters,” the source said.
    Assets worth about $40 million belonging to the bombers and plotters linked to the April 21 attacks have been frozen, police spokesman Ruwan Gunesekera said.
    Sri Lankan authorities have said the bombings were believed to have been carried out by two little-known domestic Islamist groups, the National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI). Islamic State has claimed responsibility.
    Investigators from eight countries, including the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Interpol, are helping Sri Lanka with the investigation.
    In focus are whether the plotters had any foreign help, the sources of funding and if the bombers had any credible link to Islamic State.
    Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena told Reuters over the weekend that all indications pointed to Islamic State involvement.
(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shri Navaratnam; Editing by Peter Graff and Clarence Fernandez)

5/7/2019 Exclusive: Analysts – Images show construction on China’s third – and largest – aircraft carrier by Greg Torode and Ben Blanchard
A satellite image shows what appears to be the construction of a third Chinese aircraft carrier at the
Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, China April 17, 2019. CSIS/ChinaPower/Maxar Technologies 2019/Handout via REUTERS
    HONG KONG/BEIJING(Reuters) – Construction of China’s first full-sized aircraft carrier is well under way, according to satellite images obtained and analyzed by a U.S. think tank.
    The images from April, provided to Reuters by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, reveal considerable recent activity during the last six months on a large vessel at the Jiangnan shipyard outside Shanghai.
    China has not formally confirmed it is building a third carrier, despite recent hints in state media, and the timing and extent of its carrier program remain state secrets.
    The Pentagon said last week that work had begun, but no images have emerged until now.
    Both Asian and Western militaries, and regional security analysts, are seeking information on the carrier, which is expected to be China’s first large, modern platform capable of leading a full range of strike group operations.
    The effort to build a large, locally designed carrier is seen as a core part of China’s extensive military modernization drive.    A series of recent Reuters Special Reports showed how that effort is challenging decades of U.S. strategic superiority in East Asia. (Click this link to read the series: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/section/china-army)
    The CSIS images show a bow section that appears to end with a flat 30-metre (98-foot) front and a separate hull section 41 meters wide, with gantry cranes looming overhead.
    That suggests a vessel, which China has dubbed Type 002, somewhat smaller than 100,000-tonne U.S. carriers but larger than France’s 42,500-tonne Charles de Gaulle, analysts say.
    Fabrication halls the size of several soccer pitches have been built nearby, and work appears to be continuing on a floodable basin, possibly to float the finished hull into the nearby Yangtze River estuary.
    “While details regarding the Type 002 are limited, what is observable at Jiangnan is consistent with what is expected for the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s third aircraft carrier,” said the CSIS’ ChinaPower analysis, published on its website Tuesday.
    CSIS analyst Matthew Funaiole told Reuters that images taken late last year were inconclusive, but that now the work under way is clear.
    “From what we can see there has been a lot of activity in the last six months or so,” he said.    “It would appear that it is the third carrier, and if it is not, it’s hard to envisage what other large vessel it would be.”
    The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military modernization, issued last Friday, noted that the third carrier would probably be larger than the first two and fitted with a catapult launch system to accelerate aircraft during takeoff.
    “This design will enable it to support additional fighter aircraft, fixed-wing early-warning aircraft, and more rapid flight operations,” the report said.
    Funaiole and other analysts said it was unclear what kind of catapult – traditional steam-powered or a more cutting-edge electromagnetic system – would be used.
    It also remains unclear whether the Type 002 would be nuclear-powered.    China has 10 nuclear-powered submarines, but so far no surface ships with nuclear propulsion; some analysts think China is not ready to make that step.
    Singapore-based regional security analyst Ian Storey said a full-sized carrier would make some of China’s neighbors nervous and highlight the importance of their strategic relationship with the United States.
    “Once completed, it will outclass any warship from any Asian country, including India and Japan,” said Storey, of the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.    “It is yet another indication that China has emerged as Asia’s paramount naval power.”
    China’s first two carriers are relatively small, with only up to 25 aircraft, less than half the number aboard U.S. carriers, and have jump ramps built into their bows.    That configuration limits not just the types of aircraft that can fly off them, but how much weaponry and fuel they can carry.
    Its first carrier, the Liaoning, was a Soviet-era Ukrainian ship bought secondhand in 1998 and re-fitted in China.    A still-unnamed second carrier based on that design, launched in 2017, was built locally.
    The Liaoning had been seen as more of a training platform for teaching personnel the tricky art of carrier operations.    But last month, Chinese state media said the ship “is starting to play a combat role following recent modifications and intensive training exercises.”
    The second carrier has been undergoing sea trials from its base in northern Dalian and is not expected to enter service until 2020.
    China’s state media have quoted experts as saying China needs at least six carriers.    The United States operates 11 carriers.
    China’s Ministry of Defence did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting By Greg Torode in Hong Kong and Ben Blanchard in Beijing. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

5/7/2019 Seoul urges North Korea to halt military action, says missile tests escalate tensions by OAN Newsroom
    Seoul is urging caution to North Korea, following Pyongyang’s recent series of missile tests.    In a statement Tuesday, South Korea confirmed the launches of several short-range projectiles in North Korea over the weekend.
    The North Korean Central News Agency has claimed the test was a strike drill intended to increase the country’s combat ability in order to defend their sovereignty.
FILE – This Saturday, May 4, 2019, file photo provided by the North Korean government shows a test of weapon systems, in North
Korea. North Korea’s test of what appears to be new short-range ballistic missile may not have been a direct threat to the United States,
but experts warn it’s almost certainly an omen of bigger problems on the horizon. Independent journalists were not given access to cover
the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
    South Korea’s defense ministry has since called on the north to stop all actions that heighten tensions on the peninsula.
    “We are very concerned about North Korea’s action, which goes against the purpose of 19th of September Military Agreement,” stated Choi Hyun Soo, spokesperson for the South Korean Defense Ministry.    “We urge North Korea to stop action that intensifies military tension on the Korean Peninsula.”
    In the meantime, the Trump administration is remaining optimistic about a potential nuclear deal with Pyongyang.
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the missile launches did not present a threat to the U.S. or its allies and won’t derail diplomacy talks.

5/8/2019 Report: Iran prepares to withdraw from parts of nuclear deal
    TEHRAN, Iran – Iran on Wednesday will announce it is partially withdrawing from the nuclear deal it struck with world powers, a year to the day that President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. from the accord.    The terms of the withdrawal remain unclear, though the IRNA news agency said President Hassan Rouhani will explain Iran’s decision in letters to leaders of Britain, France and Germany that will be handed to ambassadors in Tehran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif separately will write to the European Union.

5/8/2019 Iran rolls back pledges under nuclear pact abandoned by Washington by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting with tribal leaders
in Kerbala, Iraq, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran announced on Wednesday it was scaling back curbs to its nuclear program under a 2015 deal with world powers, and threatened to do more — including enriching uranium to a higher level — if countries did not shield it from U.S. sanctions.
    A year after Washington pulled out of the nuclear deal, President Hassan Rouhani unveiled measures that do not appear to violate its terms yet, but could do so in the future if Iran were to persist on the course he set out.
    Rouhani said Tehran would halt sales of excess enriched uranium and heavy water to other countries.    Such sales, used to keep Iran’s own stockpiles below caps under the deal, were already effectively blocked by a U.S. sanctions move last week.
    And he threatened that in 60 days Iran would resume enrichment of uranium beyond the low level permitted under the deal, unless the five other powers signed up to it found a way to protect Iran’s oil and banking industries from U.S. sanctions.
    “If the five countries came to the negotiating table and we reached an agreement, and if they could protect our interests in the oil and banking sectors, we will go back to square one,” Rouhani said.
    “The Iranian people and the world should know that today is not the end of the JCPOA,” he said, using the acronym for the nuclear deal.    “These are actions in line with the JCPOA.”
    The 2015 deal was signed between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.    Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
    Washington’s European allies opposed President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out and have tried to find ways to blunt the impact of new U.S. sanctions, in the hope of persuading Tehran to continue to abide by it.
    However, their efforts have largely failed, with all major European companies abandoning plans to do business with Iran for fear of U.S. punishment.
    France’s defense minister said she wanted to keep the deal alive, and Iran could face more sanctions if it did not honor it: “Today nothing would be worse than Iran, itself, leaving this agreement,” Florence Parly told BFM TV.
    The Kremlin blamed Washington for provoking Iran’s move.    Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had predicted consequences from the “unthought-out steps” of U.S. withdrawal.    “Now we are seeing those consequences.”
    China said the agreement should be implemented and called on all sides to avoid an escalation of tensions.
TENSIONS
    The weeks leading up to the anniversary of Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement have seen a sharp tightening of U.S. sanctions and an increase in tensions on other fronts.
    From this month, Washington has effectively ordered countries around the world to stop buying any Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.    It has revoked waivers that had allowed some countries to continue buying Iranian oil and it aims to reduce Iranian crude exports to zero.
    Washington has also blacklisted Iran’s Revolutionary Guards force as a terrorist organization and Iran responded with threats to close the Gulf’s strait of Hormuz if its ships were blocked there.
    Washington announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Gulf to counter what it says are Iranian threats.    Tehran says the USS Abraham Lincoln is replacing another carrier that had already left the area under a scheduled rotation, and calls the announcement “psychological warfare” based on old news.
    The looming total ban on oil sales is likely to sharply increase the economic hardship for Iran’s 80 million people.    Finding a response is the biggest test yet for Rouhani, a pragmatist who has faced strong opposition from the hardline faction of Iran’s leadership throughout his six years in office.
    The nuclear deal was the flagship policy of Rouhani, who won two landslide elections on promises to end Iran’s isolation and open its economy up to the world.    Ultimate authority in Iran is in the hands of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a cleric in power since 1989, who signed off on the nuclear deal but remains close to the hardline faction that challenges Rouhani.
    Washington’s European allies say Trump’s repudiation of the deal hurts the pragmatic wing of Iran’s leadership and plays into the hands of hardliners.    It means ordinary Iranians see no economic benefits from Rouhani’s efforts to open the country.
    The Trump administration argues that the deal, negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, was flawed because it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish Iran for meddling in the affairs of other countries.
    Trump’s hard line is backed by Israel and Washington’s Gulf Arab allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which see Iran as a foe and which gain leverage over global oil prices by keeping Iranian crude off the market.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “After a year of patience, Iran stops measures that US has made impossible to continue.”    Zarif said the remaining countries had a “narrowing window” to save the deal.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; by Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Sophie Louet in Paris; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle)

5/8/2019 Explosion shakes Afghan capital, no word on casualties
Smoke rises from the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – An explosion shook an upscale area of the Afghan capital on Wednesday, the third day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, sending a cloud of smoke and dust into the sky, Reuters witnesses said, but it was not clear if there were any casualties.
    Security around Kabul has been tight since Taliban militants announced their annual spring offensive and the group vowed to target Afghan government and foreign installations.
    Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the blast was in the Shahr Naw area of Kabul, but he had no details on casualties.
    Rahimi added there was sporadic gunfire in the area.
    Qais Zaman, a witness, said the site of the explosion was close to the Attorney General’s office.    The area was cordoned off as ambulances and police trucks rushed to the scene.
    The blast comes just over two weeks after gunmen targeted the communications ministry in central Kabul, killing at least seven people.    That attack was claimed by Islamic State.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Writing by Hamid Shalizi, Editing by Robert Birsel)

5/8/2019 Iran threatens to begin enriching stores of uranium by OAN Newsroom
    The U.S. is on high alert as Iran begins to distance itself from parts of the Obama-era nuclear deal.    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani outlined the terms of a partial withdrawal Wednesday.
    The Iranian leader threatened to begin enriching his stores of uranium if the remaining countries in the deal refuse to help Iran find relief for its sanctioned oil and banking sectors.    The enriching process could put Iran on track to developing nuclear weapons.
    Last week marked the end to waivers, which allowed some countries to continue buying limited amounts of sanctioned Iranian oil.
    “The Americans will see for themselves that over the next few months we will continue to export our oil…there are six other doors available and the Americans don’t know it,” stated Rouhani.    “We have to export our oil by all means possible within our power and stand up against them — the Americans.”
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani heads a cabinet meeting
in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Rouhani said Wednesday that it will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water from its
nuclear program, setting a 60-day deadline for new terms to its nuclear deal with world powers before it will resume higher uranium enrichment. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
    The Iranian president also pulled out of a planned deal to sell off excess uranium from its nuclear power sector.    He set a 60-day deadline for the leaders of Britain, China, France, Germany and the EU to negotiate better terms for the deal.
    This comes one-year after President Trump pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal and reinstated sanctions on Iran.

5/9/2019 Iran’s ‘surgery’ cuts compliance on nuclear deal by Kim Hjelmgaard and Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
    Iran’s president announced Wednesday that the nation would stop complying with two provisions in the nuclear accord it signed with world powers.
    Hassan Rouhani said Iran would reduce its compliance with the 2015 deal in response to new restrictions imposed by the Trump administration, part of a broader U.S. campaign to ratchet up economic and military pressure on Tehran.    Iran’s declaration came on the oneyear anniversary of President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement that limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
    Rouhani said Iran will keep excess low-enriched uranium and “heavy water” from its nuclear program inside the country – as opposed to selling it internationally – in a move that effectively amounts to a partial breach of the deal.
    The Trump administration said last week it would sanction any country or business that purchased those products from Iran.
    Rouhani set a 60-day deadline for new terms to the nuclear accord, absent negotiations with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the European Union.    He said that if those terms aren’t met, Iran will resume higher uranium enrichment, the process that creates nuclear fuel.
    “We felt that the nuclear deal needs a surgery, and the painkiller pills of the last year have been ineffective,” Rouhani said in a nationally televised address.    “This surgery is for saving the deal, not destroying it.”
    American officials slapped yet more economic penalties on Iran Wednesday.    The White House announced sanctions barring Iran from exporting iron, steel, aluminum and copper, which it said were the regime’s largest non-petroleum- related sources of export revenue.
    Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran and senior policy adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said Iran intends to expand its nuclear weapons program.    “That is in defiance of international norms and yet another attempt by the regime at nuclear blackmail,” he said.
    “The U.S. has tried to bring Iran to its knees with its maximum pressure campaign in a minimum amount of time, and for about a year, the Iranians demonstrated restraint and remained committed to their obligations under the nuclear deal,” said Ali Vaez,     Iran project director at the Crisis Group, a nonpartisan group focused on preventing conflict.
    “But they have increasingly less to lose because the U.S. sanctions have effectively deprived them of all the benefits that the nuclear deal promised,” Vaez said.
Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook
President Hassan Rouhani says Iran will store low-enriched uranium and “heavy water.” EPA-EFE

5/9/2019 Europeans reject “ultimatums” from Iran as it eases nuclear curbs
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Feb. 14 2019. Sergei Chirikov/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – European countries said on Thursday they wanted to preserve Iran’s nuclear deal and rejected “ultimatums” from Tehran, after Iran scaled back curbs on its nuclear program and threatened moves that might breach the pact.
    Iran announced steps on Wednesday to ease curbs on its nuclear program, in response to new U.S. sanctions imposed after Washington abandoned the deal a year ago.
    Experts say the new moves announced by Tehran so far are not likely to violate the terms of the deal immediately.
    But President Hassan Rouhani said that unless world powers find a way to protect Iran’s banking and oil industries from U.S. sanctions within 60 days, Iran would start enriching uranium beyond limits allowed in the deal.
    “We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA and the NPT,” read a statement issued jointly by the European Union and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany.
    The JCPOA refers to the 2015 nuclear deal, and the NPT refers to the non-proliferation treaty that bans countries from developing nuclear weapons.
    They also said they regretted the re-imposition of sanctions by the United States and added that they remained committed to preserving and fully implementing the Iran nuclear deal.
    “We are determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran,” said the European states, adding that included getting a special purpose vehicle aimed at enabling business with Iran off the ground.
    The 2015 nuclear deal requires Iran to curb its nuclear program in return for the elimination of international sanctions.    It was signed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
HARDLINERS
    The administration of President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement a year ago and imposed U.S. sanctions, which it has ratchetted up this month, effectively ordering all countries to halt all purchases of Iranian oil or face their own sanctions.
    Washington’s European allies have opposed the U.S. decision to abandon the nuclear deal, which they say plays into the hands of hardliners in Iran and undermines pragmatists within the Iranian leadership who want to open the country up to the world.
    They have tried to develop a system to allow outside investors to do business with Iran while avoiding falling foul of U.S. sanctions.    But in practice this has failed so far, with all major European companies that had announced plans to invest in Iran saying they would no longer do so.
    Iran has always denied that it was seeking a nuclear weapon, but the United Nations concluded Tehran had been doing so before 2003.
    Tehran says it wants to abide by the nuclear deal but cannot do so if its economy is still subjected to sanctions.    A spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said on Thursday Tehran’s goal was to bring the agreement “back on track.”
    Supporters of the nuclear deal, including Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama and European allies, say the pact extends the time it would take Iran to make a nuclear weapon if it decided to do so, and guarantees that it would be caught.
    Lifting sanctions would show ordinary Iranians the benefits of cooperating with the world and make it harder for hardliners to roll back reforms, they argue.
    The Trump administration argues that the nuclear deal was flawed because it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish Iran for what Washington considers meddling in regional countries.
    Trump’s hardline stance is supported by Israel and by Arab allies of the United States such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which consider Iran a foe and gain leverage over global oil prices from having its exports taken off the market.
    For a graphic on Iran’s nuclear program, click on https://tmsnrt.rs/2WqRqfI
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by William Maclean)

5/9/2019 Christian woman who was on death row has left country, Pakistan says by Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: Governor of the Punjab Province Salman Taseer is reflected as he speaks to the media after meeting
with Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, at a jail in Sheikhupura,
located in Pakistan's Punjab Province November 20, 2010. REUTERS/Asad Karim/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan on Thursday provided its first official confirmation that Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row falsely charged with blasphemy, had left the country more than six months after being acquitted by the Supreme Court.
    The case created an international furor in October, after her release prompted days of rioting and demands for her death from hardline Islamists who rejected the outcome and warned Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government not to let her leave.
    “Asia Bibi has left Pakistan of her free will,” foreign office spokesman Mohammad Faisal told reporters in Islamabad, the capital.    “She is a free person and left of her own free will.”
    Faisal did not confirm media reports that she had joined family members in Canada, however.
    On Wednesday, Bibi’s lawyer Saif-ul-Malook said she had left for Canada to unite with her daughters, who were believed to have already taken asylum there but Canadian authorities have not confirmed this.
    In November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada was in talks with Pakistan about helping Bibi.    This week, Canada said it had no comment on the matter, however.
    Pakistan’s Supreme Court in January upheld an earlier verdict to free Bibi, but officials have worried that her sudden departure could trigger further riots.
    Islamists have been criticizing the government and the military for caving in to what they call pressure from the West.
    Bibi’s departure is a Western conspiracy against Islam, a hardline extremist party, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, which has made blasphemy a rallying cry, said in a statement on Wednesday.
    The farm worker and mother of five was convicted in 2010 of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors working in the fields with her objected to Bibi’s drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
    Two Pakistani politicians who sought to help her were assassinated, including Punjab province governor Salman Taseer, who was shot by his own bodyguard.
    Any insult to Islam or the Prophet Muhammad carries a death sentence in Pakistan, although no one has been executed in decades.
    Blasphemy is such a sensitive issue that a mere accusation can result in mob lynching. At least 67 people have been killed over unproven blasphemy accusations since 1990, human rights groups say.
    The blasphemy laws are often invoked to settle personal scores and to intimidate liberal journalists, lawyers and politicians.
(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

5/9/2019 U.S., Japan, India and Philippines challenge Beijing with naval drills in the South China Sea
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell during a divisional tactics exercise in the
South China Sea, January 15, 2019. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Harris/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – In fresh show of naval force in the contested South China Sea, a U.S. guided missile destroyer conducted drills with a Japanese aircraft carrier, two Indian naval ships and a Philippine patrol vessel in the waterway claimed by China, the U.S. Navy said on Thursday.
    While similar exercises have been held in the South China Sea in the past, the combined display by four countries represents a fresh challenge to Beijing as U.S. President Donald Trump threatens to hike tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.
    “Professional engagements with our allies, partners and friends in the region are opportunities to build upon our existing, strong relationships,” Commander Andrew J. Klug, the captain of the U.S. destroyer, the USS William P. Lawrence, said in a statement.
    Japan sent one of its two big aircraft carriers, the Izumo, while India deployed a destroyer, the INS Kolkata, and a tanker, the INS Shakti.
    The week of joint drills, which ended Wednesday, comes after two other U.S. warships sailed near islands in the region claimed by China on Monday, prompting a protest from Beijing, which said the action infringed its sovereignty.
    The U.S. Navy says it conducts such freedom of navigation operations in international waters around the world, even in seas claimed by its allies, without political considerations.
    China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam pushing competing claims to parts of the maritime region.    The United States, Japan and India do not have any territorial claims there.
    In a separate challenge to Beijing in Asian waters, the USS William P. Lawrence and another U.S. destroyer sailed through the Taiwan Strait in April separating Taiwan, which Beijing views as a rogue province, from the Chinese mainland.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry)

5/9/2019 China says ‘fed up’ with hearing U.S. complaints on Belt and Road
FILE PHOTO: A Belt and Road Forum (BRF) logo is seen outside the China National Convention Center
in Beijing, China, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jason
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China is “fed up” with hearing complaints from the United States about its Belt and Road program to re-create the old Silk Road, the government said on Thursday, following stinging criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
    The initiative, a key thrust of President Xi Jinping’s administration, has hit opposition in some countries over fears its opaque financing could lead to unsustainable debt and that it aims more to promote Chinese influence than development.
    China sought to tackle those concerns at a summit in Beijing last month, promising to make the program sustainable and green and follow international standards, especially regarding debt.
    The United States has been particularly critical, and Pompeo, speaking in London on Wednesday, slammed China for peddling “corrupt infrastructure deals in exchange for political influence” and using “bribe-fuelled debt-trap diplomacy.”
    In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said various people in the United States had been making “irresponsible comments” on the program, especially before the summit when, he said, such criticism reached a crescendo.
    “But what was the result?    One hundred and fifty countries, 92 international organizations and more than 6,000 delegates from various countries attended the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, including 50 delegates from the United States,” Geng told reporters.
    “I think this is the international community taking actual actions to cast a vote of confidence and support in the Belt and Road initiative, and the best response to the words and actions of the United States.”
    In the past two days, some Americans have been “singing the same old tune,” seeking to attack and smear the program, he added.
    “They’re not fed up with saying it; we’re fed up with hearing it,” he said.
    “I want to remind them again, don’t overestimate your ability to create rumors, and don’t underestimate the judgment of others.    If they want to, let them continue talking.    We will continue getting on with things.”
    The spat has fueled already tense relations between Beijing and Washington, most notably over their trade war, which the two countries have been seeking to end.
    Vice Premier Liu He will hold talks in Washington on Thursday and Friday aimed at salvaging a deal that appeared to be unraveling after U.S. officials accused China of backtracking on earlier commitments and President Donald Trump threatened to hike tariffs on Chinese goods on Friday.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

5/9/2019 China threatens retaliation if tariffs increase by OAN Newsroom
    Beijing is threatening to take retaliatory measures against the U.S. if it goes through with raising tariffs on imported Chinese goods.    The Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued the warning in a statement Wednesday.
    Ministry spokesperson Gao Feng said Beijing is prepared to implement countermeasures if trade frictions escalate.    Despite this, the White House appears to be standing by its decision to slap 25-percent tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods on Friday.
FILE- In this March 5, 2019, file photo the Cape Kortia container ship, left, heads into the
Port of Tacoma in Commencement Bay in Tacoma, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
    “China hopes the United States meets China half way and resolves problems through dialog rather than unilateral steps, stated Feng.    Our goal is to reach a mutual beneficial deal based on mutual respect and treating each other equally…China is fully prepared, determined and capable of defending its legal rights.”
    The Chinese vice premier is headed to Washington Thursday for the next round of trade negotiations.

5/9/2019 U.S. seizes North Korean cargo ship for violating international sanctions by OAN Newsroom
    A North Korean cargo ship used to transport coal has been seized by the U.S. for violating international sanctions.
    The Department of Justice recently announced that the rogue regime was concealing the origin of the vessel, called the ‘Wise Honest,’ which was used to deliver coal in exchange for machinery since November 2016.    It’s Pyongyang’s largest bulk carrier, and the first to be seized by the U.S. for violating sanctions.
    The U.S. then issued a warning to the rogue regime and anyone who helps it, saying they will be caught if it happens again.
This undated photo released by the U.S. Justice Dept, Thursday, May 9, 2019, shows the North Korean cargo ship Wise Honest. The Trump administration
says it has seized a North Korean cargo ship that U.S. officials say was used to transport coal in violation of international sanctions.
    President Trump weighed in on the deteriorating relationship with North Korea during an event at the White House Thursday:
    “Well, we’re looking at it very seriously right now.    They were smaller missiles, short-range missiles…nobody’s happy about it, but we’re taking a good look and we’ll see.    The relationship continues, but we’ll see what happens.    I know they want to negotiate.    They’re talking about negotiating, but I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate.”
    This comes amid reports another missile was fired out of North Korea.

5/10/2019 Exclusive: U.S. commander says he could send carrier into Strait of Hormuz despite Iran tensions by Phil Stewart
U.S. aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln is pictured while it travels through the Suez Canal
in Egypt May 9, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Bud Kinsey/via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The commander overseeing U.S. naval forces in the Middle East told Reuters on Thursday that American intelligence showing a threat from Iran will not prevent him from sending an aircraft carrier through the vital Strait of Hormuz, if needed.
    Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, did not say whether he would send the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group into the strategic waterway off Iran, through which passes a fifth of oil consumed globally.
    The group, whose deployment to the Middle East was fast-tracked by President Donald Trump’s administration as a warning to Iran, transited through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea on Thursday and was now under Malloy’s command.
    “If I need to bring it inside the strait, I will do so,” Malloy said in an interview by phone.    “I’m not restricted in any way, I’m not challenged in any way, to operate her anywhere in the Middle East.”
    Iran has dismissed the U.S. contention of a threat as “fake intelligence.”    Tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington since the Trump administration withdrew a year ago from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran and began ratcheting up sanctions to throttle the Islamic Republic’s economy.
    The Pentagon said it expedited the Lincoln’s deployment and sent bombers to the Middle East after U.S. intelligence signaled possible preparations by Tehran to stage attacks against U.S. forces or interests.    Malloy said the intelligence was linked “with actual activity that we observed
.”
    “And that was certainly enough for me … to say that we saw this as a threat,” he said.
    U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say one of the pieces of intelligence indicated Iran had moved missiles on boats.    One of the officials said the particular missile observed was perhaps capable of launching from a small ship.
    The officials also noted growing concerns about the threat from Iran-backed Shi’ite militia in Iraq, which have long avoided any confrontation with U.S. troops under the shared goal of defeating Islamic State, a Sunni militant organization.
    Malloy, whose naval forces would support efforts to defend U.S. troops throughout the region, did not enter into details on the U.S. intelligence.    But he confirmed that some of the U.S. concerns centered on Iranian missiles.
    “It might be a new fielding of technology by Iran,” Malloy said, adding the weaponry “falls under the category of destabilizing and offensive in nature.”
‘NOT IN A WAR-PLAN FOOTING’
    The nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers required Tehran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity to head off any pathway to developing a nuclear bomb, in return for the removal of most international sanctions.    Iran has always said it pursued a nuclear program for peaceful purposes only.
    In the past month, the U.S. designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) as a terrorist organization and increased sanctions pressure, with an explicit goal of slashing Iran’s oil exports to zero.
    Beyond the deployment of the Lincoln, the United States also dispatched B-52 bombers to the Middle East in response and is also weighing the redeployment of Patriot missiles after pulling several out of the region last year, officials said.
    Some of Trump’s critics fear the White House is intentionally provoking Iran.    Although the military sought the deployments, the announcement itself came in a statement from White House national security adviser John Bolton – a hawk on Iran policy.
    Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said he worried “that the Trump administration is leading us toward an unnecessary war.”
    Malloy, in his first interview since the IRGC designation, confirmed that U.S. forces were operating at a heightened state of readiness.    Still, Malloy stressed that the U.S. military was not seeking or preparing for war with Iran.
    “I am not in a war-plan footing and have not been tasked to do so,” Malloy said.    “However we are absolutely ready to respond to any aggression against the United States, partners in the region, or our interests.”
    Trump also reaffirmed that message on Thursday, saying he did not want conflict.
    “We have one of the most powerful ships in the world that is loaded up and we don’t want to do anything,” Trump told reporters.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

5/10/2019 Muslims afraid, resentful as ethnic divide deepens in Sri Lanka by A. Ananthalakshmi and Ranga Sirilal
Muslims pray inside a mosque in Kattankudy, Sri Lanka, May 4, 2019. Picture taken May 4, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    RATHMALYAYA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – N.K. Masliya says she has been visiting a neighborhood clinic in the northwestern Sri Lankan village of Rathmalyaya for over five years, always dressed in a black abaya – a cloak-like over-garment worn by some Muslim women.
    But when Masliya went to the clinic nearly three weeks after Islamic militants killed over 250 people in churches and hotels across the country, she said things had changed.
    The 36-year-old said she was in a queue with her five-year-old daughter when a nurse told her to remove her abaya, saying: “What if you blow us up with your bomb?
    Muslim groups say they have received dozens of complaints from across Sri Lanka about people from the community being harassed at workplaces, including government offices, hospitals and in public transport since the Easter Sunday attacks.
    The government has blamed the attacks on two little-known radical Islamic groups.    Islamic State has claimed responsibility.
    In the city of Negombo, where over 100 people were killed at the St. Sebastian’s Church during Easter prayers, many Pakistani refugees said they fled after threats of revenge from locals.
    Now, anger against Muslims seems to be spreading.    On Sunday, a violent clash erupted between local Muslims and Christians after a traffic dispute.
    “The suspicion towards them (Muslims) can grow and there can be localized attacks,” said Jehan Perera of non-partisan advocacy group, the National Peace Council.    “That would be the danger.”
    A ban on facial veils and house-to-house searches by security forces in Muslim-majority neighborhoods across the country have added to the distrust.
    The government says it is aware of tensions between communities and is closely monitoring the situation.
    “The government is consciously in dialogue with all the religious leaders and the community leaders,” Nalaka Kaluwewa, Sri Lanka’s director general of information, told Reuters, adding that security has been increased across the country to avoid any communal tensions.
BUDDHIST HARDLINERS
    Muslims make up nearly 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist.    The Indian Ocean island was torn for decades by a civil war between separatists from the mostly Hindu Tamil minority and the Sinhala Buddhist-dominated government.
    The government stamped out the rebellion about 10 years ago.
    In recent years, Buddhist hardliners, led by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or “Buddhist Power Force,” have stoked hostility against Muslims, saying influences from the Middle East had made Sri Lanka’s Muslims more conservative and isolated.
    Last year, scores of Muslim mosques, homes and businesses were destroyed as Buddhist mobs ran amok for three days in Kandy, the central highlands district previously known for its diversity and tolerance.
    The violence in Kandy was triggered by an attack on a Buddhist truck driver by four Muslim men after a traffic dispute.    The driver later died from the injuries.
    BBS’ chief executive Dilantha Vithanage said as successive Sri Lankan governments had failed to address what he called a rise in Islamic extremism, Sri Lankans might be forced to do it on their own.
    “This is a bigger danger than Tamil separatism,” Vithanage told Reuters.
    Sri Lanka’s junior defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, told Reuters the government was taking measures to curb radicalization but conceded that communal tensions were a big concern.
BOYCOTTING BUSINESSES
    In Batticaloa, an eastern city home mainly to Christians and Hindus and where a bomber from a neighboring town attacked an evangelical church on Easter, a Tamil group has called for a boycott of Muslim-run businesses.
    The alleged ringleader of the Easter attacks, preacher Zahran Hashim, and the bomber who targeted Zion Church in Batticaloa were natives of neighboring Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated town.
    “If you have any dignity, stop buying from Muslim shops,” read a red-inked leaflet distributed in Batticaloa and produced by a group called ‘Tamil Youth, Eastern Province.’
    Two members of the group, who both said had lost relatives in the blast, told Reuters that resentment had been building for years against the people of Kattankudy.
    “They have always been hostile towards us.    They do not eat from our places.    If they are going to grow by insulating themselves, we might as well too,” one of them said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Business has plummeted at the around 250 Muslim-owned stores in Batticaloa and some will be forced to shut unless sales pick up, said Mohamed Kaleel, the vice-president of the Batticaloa Traders Association.
PRIOR WARNINGS
    Among many Muslims, resentment is also building because they believe the community is being unfairly targeted, even though the government was warned repeatedly about possible attacks.
    The government has said it had received prior warnings about impending attacks on churches but these were not shared across agencies and admitted that was a lapse.
    Muslim community leaders have also said they had repeatedly warned the authorities about Zahran, the alleged mastermind, for years.
    “The government knew about the bombings and yet they didn’t take any action.    But once it happened, they are targeting us innocent people.    This is not fair,” said Milhan, a resident in the northwestern town of Puttalam.
    Abdullah, a Muslim preacher in Puttalam who declined to give his full name, said the discrimination will alienate Muslims and make them more vulnerable.
    “By doing this, extremism will only increase, it won’t go away.    This is what happened with the Tamils,” he said.
(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Ranga Sirilal in Rathmalyaya, Alexandra Ulmer and Omar Rajarathnam in Batticaloa, and Shihar Aneez in Colombo; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

5/10/2019 Taiwan president says China steps up infiltration efforts by Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen attends a ceremony to sign up for Democratic Progressive Party's
2020 presidential candidate nomination in Taipei, Taiwan March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen said on Friday that China has stepped up its efforts to infiltrate and gain influence in Taiwan and she asked national security agencies to counter Beijing’s efforts.
    Tsai, speaking to reporters after a national security meeting, said China’s influence operations included attempts to interfere with elections and fake news campaigns.
    She did not detail specific incidents but said Taiwan’s national security agencies would be finding ways to tackle China’s moves.
    Tsai said Taiwan would deter military aggression in the Taiwan strait, vowing to boost defense capabilities, including upgrading military equipment and the recently launched program to build submarines locally.
    “The Chinese Communist Party continues to demonstrate provocative actions in the Taiwan Strait, destroying the status quo across the Taiwan Strait,” Tsai said.
    Her comments follow a spike in cross-strait tensions last month when China’s military staged extensive drills with warships, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft around the island.
    Taiwan scrambled jets to monitor the drills, which a senior U.S. official at the time described as “coercion” and a threat to regional stability.
    Beijing suspects Tsai is pushing for the island’s formal independence and has steadily stepped up political and military pressure.
    Any formal independence move is a red line for China, which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.
    Tsai has says she wants to maintain the status quo with China but will defend Taiwan’s security and democracy.
    The U.S. House of Representatives this week unanimously backed legislation supporting Taiwan as members of the U.S. Congress push for a sharper approach to relations with Beijing.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; writing by Farah Master and Greg Torode; editing by Darren Schuettler and Michael Perry)

5/10/2019 ‘Missiles like these will start the war’: North Korea tests showcase growing capability by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: North Korean military conducts a "strike drill" for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into
the East Sea during a military drill in North Korea, in this May 4, 2019 photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s second missile test on Thursday signals it is serious about developing new, short-range weapons that could be used early and effectively in any war with South Korea and the United States, analysts studying images of the latest launches say.
    Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the first flight of a previously untested weapon – a relatively small, fast missile experts believe will be easier to hide, launch, and maneuver in flight.
    Photos released by state media on Friday showed Thursday’s test involved the same weapon.
    The tests have increased tensions after the last U.S.-North Korea summit collapsed in February in Hanoi with no agreement over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in said late on Thursday the launches seemed like a protest over the failed summit, while North Korea has defended the tests as routine and self-defensive.
    Some analysts say the multiple tests show the missiles aren’t only for political show.
    “This second test solidifies that these launches are not just to stir the pot and elicit a U.S. response to resume negotiations,” said     Grace Liu, one of a team of missile experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) in California.    “They are developing a reliable, operable missile that can defeat missile defenses and conduct a precision strike in South Korea.”
DEFEATING MISSILE DEFENSES
    The U.S. and South Korean responses to the launches have been muted, with U.S. President Donald Trump and other officials emphasizing the missiles are not the large, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the United States.
    But analysts said the military applications of the new missiles should not be underestimated.
    “The Trump administration keeps downplaying these missiles because they are not ICBMs, but even though they can’t reach the U.S. mainland, it’s missiles like these that will start the war,” said Melissa Hanham, a weapons expert at Datayo, which tracks international security threats.
    “They are small, easy to hide, easy to maneuver and you can’t tell what kind of warhead they are carrying.    They could carry a nuclear weapon.”
    In a preliminary report on Wednesday, the North Korea tracking website 38 North said the new missile looks similar to Russia’s SS-26 Iskander missile, and could exploit gaps in South Korean and American missile defense coverage.
    The United States and South Korea field Patriot and THAAD missile batteries designed to shoot down various ballistic and cruise missiles, but their capabilities have been disputed.
    While the origin of the North Korean missile remains unclear, a team of analysts at CNS told Reuters that Thursday’s test confirmed the missile is capable of maneuvering to elude defenses and protect its launch crew from detection.
    “You can tell from the low apogee that this missile maneuvers a bit in boost to defeat missile defenses and aircraft hunting the launcher,” said Jeffrey Lewis of CNS.
    Michael Duitsman, a rocket propulsion expert with the team, said North Korean state media photos of the launch show likely thrust vanes and steerable fins that guide the missile with precision and allow it to maneuver through much of its flight.
    While Saturday’s missile was fired from a transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicle with wheels, Thursday’s test featured a tracked vehicle.
    Use of a tracked vehicle, which North Korea has more experience building, suggests it may plan to deploy a large number of the missiles and launchers, said Joshua Pollack, editor of The Nonproliferation Review.
    “This seems to be their only mass-production option for highly capable TELs at the moment,” he said.
    The missile uses solid fuel, which allows the weapon to be easily moved and fired more quickly than those using liquid fuel, analysts said.
    In the end, the new missiles add a new level of unpredictability to an already tense situation, Hanham said.
    “If North Korea pulls out (an ICBM) everyone knows it’ll be launched with a nuke,” she said.    “These little missiles you don’t know, so it’s hard to be prepared.”
POLITICAL SHOCKWAVES
    The new weapon’s maneuverability and low flying has led some South Korean officials to hesitate to label the weapon a “ballistic missile,” a weapon that would likely violate United Nations Security Council resolutions.
    “Given its low altitude, more careful analysis is required,” said ruling party lawmaker Ahn Gyu-baek, citing military officials.    “One should also be careful to not aggravate the situation with hasty actions.”
    Ahn said South Korean military officials had assessed a number of potential political motives behind the missile launches.    Those included increasing pressure for sanctions relief, and protesting Seoul’s military buildup including the purchase of new F-35 fighter aircraft as well as joint military drills by the United States and South Korea, which North Korea complained about in statements defending the tests.
    The tests also likely held a message for domestic audiences designed to boost support for Kim’s government, he said.
    “The Kim regime is determined to fight pressure with pressure,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.    “It is threatening to raise regional tensions and create political problems for Moon and Trump if not offered economic concessions it failed to win in Hanoi.”
    While Kim may not return to launching ICBMs or testing nuclear weapons immediately, he may seek other provocative ways to break the stalemate, Pollack said.
    “Kim Jong Un has given the United States until the end of the year to rethink its approach,” he said.    “But if they don’t get a meaningful response to these tests, maybe they’ll try to push the envelope further.”
(Reporting by Josh Smith. Additional reporting by Joyce Lee. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

5/10/2019 U.S., Iran tensions unyielding, Europeans reject Iran ‘ultimatums’ over nuclear deal
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends talks in the Black Sea resort
of Sochi, Russia, Feb. 14 2019. Sergei Chirikov/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – European countries said on Thursday they wanted to preserve Iran’s nuclear deal and rejected “ultimatums” from Tehran, after Iran relaxed restrictions on its nuclear program and threatened moves that might breach the 2015 international pact.
    Iran’s announcement on Wednesday, related to curbs on its stockpiling of nuclear materials, was in response to U.S. sanctions imposed following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the accord with Tehran a year ago.
    Iran’s initial moves do not appear to violate the accord yet. But President Hassan Rouhani said that unless the world powers which signed the deal protect Iran’s economy from U.S. sanctions within 60 days, Iran would start enriching uranium beyond limits set in the agreement.
    “We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments …,” read a statement issued jointly by the European Union and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, co-signatories of the deal.
    “We are determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran,” they said, adding that this included getting a special purpose vehicle aimed at enabling non-dollar business with Iran off the ground.
    In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Twitter post that EU countries should uphold their obligations in the nuclear deal with Iran and normalize economic ties despite U.S. sanctions, “instead of demanding that Iran unilaterally abide by a multilateral accord.”
    The nuclear deal required Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity to head off any pathway to developing a nuclear bomb, in return for the removal of most international sanctions.    A series of more intrusive U.N. inspections under the deal have verified that Iran is meeting its commitments.
    Iran has always denied that it was seeking a nuclear weapon and says it wants to abide by the nuclear deal.
    The Trump administration argues that the nuclear deal was flawed because it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish Iran for what Washington considers meddling in regional countries.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alluded to that in a statement on Thursday.
    “To date the regime’s default option has been violence, and we appeal to those in Tehran who see a path to a prosperous future through de-escalation to modify the regime’s behavior,” Pompeo said.
    “Our restraint to this point should not be mistaken by Iran for a lack of resolve,” Pompeo said.
Iran nuclear deal – https://tmsnrt.rs/2WqRqfI
TRUMP RENEWS TALKS APPEAL
    Trump, who has previously expressed a willingness to meet Iranian leaders to no avail, on Thursday renewed that appeal in an impromptu news conference at the White House.
    “They should call.    If they do, we’re open to talk to them,” Trump said.
    He also said he could not rule out a military confrontation given the heightened tensions.    Trump declined to say what prompted him to deploy the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the region over what was described as unspecified threats.
    In an MSNBC interview, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi said: “All of a sudden he decided to leave the negotiating table … What is the guarantee that he will not renege again?
    He dismissed U.S. allegations of an Iranian threat as “fake intelligence” comparing it to the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
    The commander overseeing U.S. naval forces in the Middle East told Reuters on Thursday that American intelligence showing a threat from Iran will not prevent him from sending an aircraft carrier through the vital Strait of Hormuz, if needed.
    “I am not in a war-plan footing and have not been tasked to do so,” U.S. Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said in a phone interview.    “However we are absolutely ready to respond to any aggression against the United States, partners in the region, or our interests.”
    The Trump administration has ratcheted up sanctions this month, effectively ordering all countries to halt all purchases of Iranian oil or face their own sanctions.
    The move creates a dilemma for Washington’s European allies which say they share its concerns about Iranian behavior but think the Trump administration’s tactics are likely to backfire.
    The European allies believe Trump’s campaign to isolate the Islamic Republic plays into the hands of Tehran hardliners and undermines pragmatists within the Iranian leadership who want to open the country up to the world.
    French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called for the nuclear deal to be extended to cover other issues of concern to the West, such as Iran’s regional policies and ballistic missiles, rather than jettisoned.
    “Leaving the 2015 nuclear agreement is a mistake because it is undoing what we have already done.    That’s why France is remaining and will remain a part of it and I deeply hope that Iran will remain,” Macron said.
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU wants to avoid an escalation in the dispute and Tehran must recognize that it is in its own interests to remain committed to the deal.
    European countries have tried to develop a system to allow outside investors to do business with Iran while avoiding falling foul of U.S. sanctions.    But in practice this has failed so far, with all major European firms that had announced plans to invest in Iran saying they would no longer do so.
    A spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said on Thursday Tehran’s goal was to bring the agreement “back on track.”
    But Tehran has also maintained that it will leave the deal, known as the JCPOA, unless it receives more economic support as envisaged by the 2015 pact.
    “We have not left the JCPOA so far, but we have put such a move on our agenda and that would happen step by step,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying by state-run PressTV on Wednesday night.
    Supporters of the nuclear deal, including Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama and European allies, say the pact extends the time it would take Iran to make a nuclear weapon if it decided to do so, and guarantees that it would be caught.
    Lifting sanctions, they argue, would show ordinary Iranians the benefits of cooperating with the world and make it more difficult for hardliners to roll back reforms.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Andreas Rinke, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, Steve Holland and Phil Stewart; Writing by Peter Graff and Grant McCool; Editing by Mark Heinrich and James Dalgleish)

5/11/2019 Islamic State claims ‘province’ in India for first time after clash in Kashmir by Fayaz Bukhari and Alasdair Pal
FILE PHOTO: A member of the Iraqi rapid response forces walks past a wall painted with the black flag
commonly used by Islamic State militants, at a hospital damaged by clashes during a battle between Iraqi forces and
Islamic State militants in the Wahda district of Mosul, Iraq, January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani/File Photo
    NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Islamic State (IS) claimed for the first time that it has established a “province” in India, after a clash between militants and security forces in the contested Kashmir region killed a militant with alleged ties to the group.
    IS’s Amaq News Agency late on Friday announced the new province, that it called “Wilayah of Hind,” in a statement that also claimed IS inflicted casualties on Indian army soldiers in the town of Amshipora in the Shopian district of Kashmir.
    The IS statement corresponds with an Indian police statement on Friday that a militant called Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi was killed in an encounter in Shopian.
    IS’s statement establishing the new province appears to be designed to bolster its standing after the group was driven from its self-styled “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria in April, where at one point it controlled thousands of miles of territory.
    IS has stepped up hit-and-run raids and suicide attacks, including taking responsibility for the Easter Sunday bombing in Sri Lanka that killed at least 253 people.
    “The establishment of a ‘province’ in a region where it has nothing resembling actual governance is absurd, but it should not be written off,” said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intel Group that tracks Islamic extremists.
    “The world may roll its eyes at these developments, but to jihadists in these vulnerable regions, these are significant gestures to help lay the groundwork in rebuilding the map of the IS ‘caliphate’.”
    Sofi had been involved in several militant groups in Kashmir for more than a decade before pledging allegiance to Islamic State, according to a military official on Saturday and an interview given by Sofi to a Srinagar-based magazine sympathetic to IS.
    He was suspected of several grenade attacks on security forces in the region, police and military sources said.     “It was a clean operation and no collateral damage took place during the exchange of fire,” a police spokesman said in the statement on Friday’s encounter.     The military official said it was possible that Sofi had been the only militant left in Kashmir associated with IS. Separatists have for decades fought an armed conflict against Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir.    The majority of these groups want independence for Kashmir or to join India’s arch-rival Pakistan.    They have not, like Islamic State, sought to establish an empire across the Muslim world.
    Nuclear powers India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, and came to the brink of a third earlier this year after a suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group killed at least 40 paramilitary police in the Indian-controlled portion of the region.
    A spokesman for India’s home ministry, which is responsible for security in Kashmir, did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in SRINAGAR and Alasdair Pal in NEW DELHI, additional reporting by Hesham Hajali in CAIRO; Edited by Martin Howell and Christian Schmollinger)

5/11/2019 Iran’s Rouhani calls for unity to face ‘unprecedented’ U.S. pressure
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends talks in the Black Sea resort
of Sochi, Russia, Feb. 14 2019. Sergei Chirikov/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani called on Saturday for unity among Iran’s political factions to overcome conditions which he said may be harder than those during the 1980s war with Iraq, state media reported, as the country faces tightening U.S. sanctions.
    U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran’s leaders talk with him about giving up their nuclear program and said he could not rule out a military confrontation with U.S.
    Trump made the offer as he increased economic and military pressure on Iran, moving to cut off all Iranian oil exports this month while beefing up the U.S. Navy and Air Force presence in the Gulf.    Washington also approved a new deployment of Patriot missiles to the Middle East, a U.S. official said on Friday.
    “Today, it cannot be said whether conditions are better or worse than the (1980-88) war period, but during the war we did not have a problem with our banks, oil sales or imports and exports, and there were only sanctions on arms purchases,” Rouhani said, according to the state news agency IRNA.
    “The pressures by enemies is a war unprecedented in the history of our Islamic revolution… but I do not despair and have great hope for the future and believe that we can move past these difficult conditions provided that we are united,” Rouhani told activists from various factions.
    Hardliners have criticized Rouhani after Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which Rouhani supported, and reimposed sanctions last year.    The pragmatic president has also been abandoned by some of his moderate allies.
    Separately, a media court on Saturday suspended the weekly Seda (Voice), the semi-official news agency ISNA reported, after the reformist magazine published an issue that included articles warning about the possibility of war with the United States.
    “At the Crossroads of War and Peace, have moderates lost or will they again save Iran from war?” the main headline on the front page read against a photograph of U.S. Navy warships.
    On social media, hardliners attacked the magazine as “Trump’s voice,” suggesting its warning about the danger of war amounted to a call for talks with the United States, the Islamic Republic’s arch enemy.
    “At the height of America’s political, economic and media war against the Iranian nation, an Iranian publication supplements the enemy’s media operations inside the country,” the hardline-led news agency Fars wrote in a comment.
    Iran has dismissed the U.S. military build up as “psychological warfare” designed to intimidate it.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

5/12/2019 Iran Guards chief says Americans have started ‘psychological war’
FILE PHOTO: The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits the Strait of Gibraltar,
entering the Mediterranean Sea as it continues operations in the 6th Fleet area of responsibility in this April 13, 2019 photo
supplied by the U.S. Navy. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Clint Davis/Handout via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States has started a psychological war in the region, the commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said in a parliament session on Sunday, according to a parliamentary spokesman.
    The U.S. military has sent forces, including an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers, to the Middle East to counter what the Trump administration says are “clear indications” of threats from Iran to U.S. forces there.
    The USS Abraham Lincoln is replacing another carrier rotated out of the Gulf last month.
    “Commander Salami, with attention to the situation in the region, presented an analysis that the Americans have started a psychological war because the comings and goings of their military is a normal matter,” the spokesman for the parliamentary leadership, Behrouz Nemati, said, summarizing the Guards’ commander’s comments, according to parliament’s ICANA news site.
    Major General Hossein Salami was appointed as head of the Guards last month.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/13/2019 EU supports Iran nuclear deal, may talk to U.S.’s Pompeo: Mogherini
FILE PHOTO: European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini takes part in a news conference atfer
a Turkey-EU Association Council in Brussels, Belgium, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union fully supports the international nuclear accord with Iran and wants rival powers to avoid any further escalation over the issue, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday.
    “We will continue to support it as much as we can with all our instruments and all our political will,” Mogherini told reporters before a meeting with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, who are signatories to the deal.
    United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also expected to meet EU officials in Brussels on Monday to talk about Iran.
    Mogherini said she was informed during the night of Pompeo’s arrival to Brussels where EU foreign ministers are gathered for a regular monthly meeting.
    “We will be here all day with a busy agenda. So we will see during the day how and if will manage to arrange a meeting.    He’s always welcome obviously, but there are no precise plans at the moment,” Mogherini said.
    Pompeo is on his way to the Black Sea resort of Sochi where he plans to meet Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister     Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday to discuss Iran.
    European countries said last week they wanted to preserve Iran’s nuclear deal and rejected “ultimatums” from Tehran, after Iran relaxed restrictions on its nuclear program and threatened moves that might breach the 2015 international pact.
    Iran’s move was in response to U.S. sanctions imposed following Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the accord with Tehran a year ago.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Raissa Kasolowsky)

5/13/2019 Chinese yuan falls to 2019 low on U.S.-China trade setback by Tom Finn
FILE PHOTO: Euro, Hong Kong dollar, U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, pound and Chinese 100 yuan banknotes are
seen in this picture illustration, January 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Illustration/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – China’s yuan was set for its worst daily fall in nine months on Monday as trade negotiations between the U.S. and China ended after President Donald Trump raised tariffs on Chinese goods.
    Currency moves in response to the latest trade hostilities have been muted, but on Monday the yuan fell 0.8% to 6.9040, its weakest since Dec. 27.
    The yuan has fallen for six consecutive days and some analysts believe it will breach 7 per dollar in coming months, a level last seen during the global financial crisis.
    China would probably use its vast currency reserves to stop any plunge through 7 to the dollar, which could trigger speculation and heavy capital outflows.
    Investors bid up the yen, which is considered a safe haven in times of stress given Japan’s status as the world’s largest creditor and its huge hoard of assets abroad.
    The yen was 0.25% higher at 109.700 yen, near last week’s three-month high of 109.470.
    “Since demand for safe haven could exaggerate any gains in the yen, Japanese exporters could find themselves particularly disadvantaged in these circumstances.    We expect the yen to be trading in the region of 108 on a 12-month view,” said currency analysts at Rabobank.
    The world’s two biggest economies appear deadlocked.    Washington demands changes to Chinese law; Beijing says it won’t swallow any “bitter fruit” that harms its interests.
    President Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are likely to meet during a G20 summit in Japan at the end of June and discuss trade.
    The Australian dollar shed 0.3% to $0.6976.    A drop below $0.6960 would take the currency, already burdened by a dovish shift by the Reserve Bank of Australia, to its lowest since early January.
    The Aussie is sensitive to shifts in risk sentiment and also serves as a proxy for trades related to China, Australia’s largest trading partner.
    The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was flat at 97.318.
(Additional reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro in Tokyo, editing by Larry King)

5/14/2019 Sri Lanka soldiers patrol areas hit by anti-Muslim violence by Alexandra Ulmer and Omar Rajarathnam
Sri Lankan soldiers patrol a road of Hettipola on top of an armored vehicle, after a mob attack in a mosque in
the nearby village of Kottampitiya, Sri Lanka May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    KOTTAMPITIYA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – Sri Lankan soldiers in armored vehicles on Tuesday patrolled towns hit by sectarian violence this week as residents recalled how Muslims had hid in paddy fields to escape mobs attacking their homes and shops.
    Authorities said the situation in the worst-affected northwestern parts of the Indian Ocean island nation was under control after anti-Muslim mobs appeared to have moved from town to town starting on Sunday.
    A man was stabbed to death and crowds attacked mosques and burned Korans in violence targeting Muslims for the Easter bombings that killed more than 250 people in churches and hotels, mostly in Colombo.
    “The Muslim community huddled in nearby paddy fields, that’s how no one died,” said one of a group of men gathered outside a white-and-green mosque with smashed windows and doors in the town of Kottampitiya.
    A group of about a dozen people had arrived in taxis and attacked Muslim-owned stores with stones just after midday on Monday, they said, with the mob soon swelling to 200, and then 1,000.
    Besides the main mosque, the mob attacked the main mosque, 17 Muslim-owned businesses and 50 homes, witnesses said.
    Abdul Bari, 48, told Reuters his small brick shop had been burned down with a petrol bomb.    “The attackers were on motorbikes, armed with rods and swords,” he added.
    Others blamed the police for failing to disperse the crowd.
    “The police were watching.    They were in the street, they didn’t stop anything.    They told us to go inside,” said Mohamed Faleel, 47, who runs a car paint business.
    “We asked police, we said stop them.    They didn’t fire.    They had to stop this, but they didn’t,” he added.
    Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera rejected allegations that police had stood by while the violence unfolded.    He said the security situation was under control and the perpetrators would be punished.
    “All police officers have been instructed to take stern action against the violators, even to use the maximum force. Perpetrators could face up to a 10-year jail term,” Gunasekera told Reuters.
    Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said late on Monday he had given powers to the security forces to take strong action against those responsible for anti-Muslim violence.
    Muslims form nearly 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people who are predominantly Sinhalese Buddhists, with a sprinkling of minority Hindus and Christians.    Most Muslims are concentrated in the east, with scattered pockets in the west.
(Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

5/14/2019 Hong Kong lawmakers clash over what democrats call ‘evil’ extradition bill
Legislators are seen surrounded by media inside a conference room during the bills committee
on extradition laws, in Hong Kong, China May 14, 2019. REUTERS/James Pomfret
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong legislators clashed on Tuesday over a proposed extradition law that would allow people to be sent to China for trial, after ugly brawls in the legislature over the weekend.
    The bill is the latest lightning rod for many worried about Beijing overreach in the former British colony that was promised a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    More than 130,000 people marched against the proposed legislation several weeks ago in one of the biggest protests since the Umbrella pro-democracy movement in 2014.
    Following the skirmishes on Saturday that saw one lawmaker taken to hospital, pro-democracy lawmakers again tried to hold a committee meeting to discuss the extradition bill.    But a scrum ensued as democrats scrambled to block their rivals from holding a meeting of their own.
    “Scrap the evil law,” some democrats shouted through loud-hailers as security guards fought to keep the two sides apart.
    The pro-Beijing lawmakers left the chamber, saying rational debate was impossible.    They returned a little later but were forced to beat a retreat a second time.
    The democrats say their rivals breached procedural rules in forming their own committee and in trying to elect their own chairman to usher through the bill.    Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, has said she wants the bill passed before the summer.
    It needs to be voted upon by the full legislature, that is now controlled by pro-Beijing and pro-establishment lawmakers.
    The proposed changes have sparked an unusually broad chorus of concern from international business to lawyers and rights groups and even some pro-establishment figures.
    Under the changes, Hong Kong’s leader would have the right to order case-by-case extraditions of wanted offenders to mainland China, Macau and Taiwan, as well as other countries not covered by Hong Kong’s existing extradition treaties.
    Authorities say such orders need to be approved by the city’s independent judiciary as a safeguard, but critics say judges will have difficulty validating evidence presented by mainland authorities against potential fugitives.
    The president of the legislature, Andrew Leung, urged both sides to resolve the standoff through talks.
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Jessie Pang; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/14/2019 U.N. investigators urge nations to snap financial ties with Myanmar military by Simon Lewis and Shoon Naing
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows burned down villages once inhabited by the Rohingya seen from the Myanmar military helicopters that
carried the U.N. envoys to northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, May 1, 2018. Picture taken on May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Michelle Nichols
    YANGON (Reuters) – The world must cut off financial and other support for Myanmar’s armed forces, a U.N. fact-finding mission said on Tuesday, repeating a call for top generals to be prosecuted for abuses against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
    Myanmar security forces are accused of killings, gang rape and arson during a crackdown that drove more than 730,000 people to flee western Rakhine state for neighboring Bangladesh after attacks on police posts by Rohingya insurgents in August 2017.
    Myanmar has rejected most of the accusations and dismissed a report last September by the U.N.-appointed panel, which said military officers carried out the campaign against the Rohingya with “genocidal intent” and should stand trial.
    Australian human rights lawyer and panel member Christopher Sidoti said it had seen no evidence Myanmar was trying to resolve the crisis or ease the safe return of refugees.
    Myanmar has barred the experts from visiting the country, but they visited the region, including refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, beginning early this month.
    “Due to the gravity of the past and continuing violations, attention must be given to the political, economic and financial ties of the Myanmar military, to identify who and what should be targeted,” Sidoti said.
    That would aid efforts to cut off the money supply, as a means of boosting pressure and reducing violence, he added.
    The statement did not identify specific nations.    Myanmar’s military buys weapons from China and Russia, among others.    Many Western countries have suspended training programs over human rights abuses and impose arms embargoes.
    Myanmar rejected the fact-finding mission when it was formed at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2017, with a mandate to investigate military abuses against the Rohingya and in other conflicts with ethnic armed groups in Myanmar.
    Government spokesman Zaw Htay did not immediately answer a telephone call to seek comment.
    Military spokesman Major General Tun Tun Nyi said the military would investigate allegations backed by evidence but the fact-finding mission had leveled false accusations at troops.
    “Our country is an independent country, so we don’t accept our matters being interfered with,” he told Reuters by telephone.
    The military was cooperating with a government-appointed panel on alleged abuses in Rakhine, Tun Tun Nyi said.    Human rights campaigners say it lacks credibility.
    The U.N. panel said it was still receiving reports of human rights abuses in Rakhine and Chin states, where clashes between the military and insurgents from the mainly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group since late last year have displaced more than 30,000 people.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Shoon Naing; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

5/14/2019 Iran foreign minister in India for talks after U.S. sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends India-Iran
business forum in New Delhi, India, January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will hold talks with his counterpart in the Indian capital on Tuesday after New Delhi stopped purchases of Iranian oil this month in the wake of renewed U.S. sanctions.
    India was Iran’s top oil client after China, but halted imports after Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran and later withdrew waivers to eight nations, including India, which had allowed them to import some Iranian oil.
    “India is one of our most important partners, economic, political and regional,” Zarif told Reuters’ partner ANI on Monday ahead of talks with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.
    “We have regular consultations with India on various issues and I’m here to have consultations with my counterpart on most recent developments in the region as well as our bilateral relations,” he added.
    Washington wants to block Iran’s oil exports after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 accord between Iran and six world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme.
    “Unfortunately, the United States has been escalating the situation unnecessarily.    We do not seek escalation but we have always defended ourselves,” Zarif said.
    The sanctions have more than halved Iran’s oil exports to 1 million barrels per day (bpd) or less, from a peak of 2.8 million bpd last year.    Exports could drop to as low as 500,000 bpd from May, an Iranian official told Reuters this month.
    Iran is insisting on exporting at least 1.5 million bpd of oil as a condition for staying in an international nuclear deal, sources with knowledge of Iran-EU talks said on Monday.
(Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Darren Schuettler)

5/15/2019 As trade war bites, China’s Xi preaches openness by Ben Blanchard
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations
in Beijing, China May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China has a glorious history of being open to the world and it will only be more open, President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday, in his first public address since trade tension with the United States spiked last week.
    China and the United States are locked in an escalating trade war, with both levying tariffs on each other’s imports.    Just before Xi spoke, the government reported surprisingly weaker growth in retail sales and industrial output for April.
    China on Monday announced higher tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods, effective on June 1, in retaliation for a U.S. decision on Friday to raise levies on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports.
    Xi was addressing a forum in Beijing organized by the propaganda ministry, called the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations.    He made no direct reference to the trade tension, focusing instead on presenting China as a non-threatening country open to all.
    Chinese civilization was an “open system” that had continuously had exchanges and learned from other cultures, including Buddhism, Marxism and Islam, Xi told the forum.
    “Today’s China is not only China’s China.    It is Asia’s China and the world’s China.    China in the future will take on an even more open stance to embrace the world,” he added.
    No country could stand alone, Xi said, perhaps taking an indirect swipe at U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy.
    “Civilizations will lose vitality if countries go back to isolation and cut themselves off from the rest of the world,” Xi said.
    “The people of Asian countries hope to distance themselves from being closed, and hope that all countries will adhere to the spirit of openness and promote policy communication, connectivity and smooth trade.”
    Xi offered no new concrete measures to open China up, aside from proposing an Asia tourism promotion plan, and even on that he gave no details.
    Officials have billed the forum as part of a soft power push to put a gentler face on China’s growing might, though it only attracted a handful of foreign leaders to the opening session, at which Xi spoke, including the presidents of Greece, Sri Lanka and Singapore.
    China has faced opposition to some of its global ambitions, mainly in the West but especially in the United States, where there has been suspicion of Chinese technology, Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative to re-create the Old Silk Road, and government-run Confucius Institutes to teach the Chinese language.
    China has also faced criticism for its tight cyber controls – though forum organizers unblocked the internet for foreign media – and for a controversial re-education campaign for Muslims in its far Western region of Xinjiang.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/15/2019 Iran halts some commitments under nuclear deal
FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers
and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during Iran nuclear talks
at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran has officially stopped some commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers following an order from its national security council, an informed official in the country’s atomic energy body told the ISNA news agency on Wednesday.
    Last week, Iran notified China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom of its decision to halt some commitments under the nuclear deal, a year after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord and re-imposed sanctions.
    Under the nuclear deal, Tehran was allowed to produce low-enriched uranium with a 300-kg limit, and produce heavy water with a stock capped around 130 tonnes.    Tehran could ship the excess amounts out of the country for storage or sale.
    The official said Iran has no limit from now for production of enriched uranium and heavy water
.
    Iran’s initial moves do not appear to violate the nuclear deal yet. But Iran has warned that unless the world powers protect Iran’s economy from U.S. sanctions within 60 days, Iran would start enriching uranium at higher level.
    The European Union and the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain said they were still committed to the deal but would not accept ultimatums from Tehran.
    The deal also caps the level of purity to which Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67 percent, far below the 90 percent of weapons grade.    It is also well below the 20 percent level to which Iran enriched uranium before the deal.
    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Tehran does not seek war with the United States despite mounting tensions between the two arch-enemies over Iranian nuclear capabilities and its missile program.
    Khamenei also said Tehran would not negotiate with the United States on another nuclear deal.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Michael Perry)

5/15/20219 U.S. says China’s focus on its South China Sea operations unwarranted by John Geddie and Fathin Ungku
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell during a divisional tactics exercise in the
South China Sea, January 15, 2019. Photo taken January 15, 2019. Mass Communication Specialist
2nd Class John Harris/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The head of operations of the United States Navy said on Wednesday that its freedom of navigation movements in the disputed South China Sea get more attention than they deserve.
    The U.S. military said two of its warships sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Monday last week, a move that angered Beijing at a time of tense ties between the world’s two biggest economies.
    “(The operations) get more attention in the media and also have, sometimes from China, than they warrant, to be honest,” John Richardson told reporters on the sidelines of a maritime defense conference in Singapore.
    China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which trillions of dollars worth of ship-borne trade passes every year.    Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
    In an earlier speech, Richardson said that U.S. naval operations had been consistent over decades and had not risen recently.
    “I’ve done the analysis and I can state with confidence that our level of operations has been consistent over the decades,” Richardson said, adding that there had been “no spikes recently.”
    Beijing denounced what the United States said was an “innocent passage” near the Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands last week, saying it infringed upon Chinese sovereignty, and “damaged the peace, security and good order of the relevant seas.”
    The U.S. freedom of navigation operations are aimed at challenging what it sees as Chinese activity limiting freedom of movement in the strategic waters.
    In particular, the United States has criticized China’s construction of islands on tiny reefs and shoals and its installation of military facilities on them, including air strips and docks.
    Richardson told reporters that he’s not surprised by China’s reaction any more.
    “They’ve been, I guess, fairly increasingly consistent in their response to these but if I just got back to first principles…I just want to make sure that the U.S. Navy’s approach has been consistent. We haven’t done anything increasingly provocative or anything else,” Richardson said.
(Reporting by John Geddie and Fathin Ungku; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/16/2019 Iran says exercising restraint despite ‘unacceptable’ escalation of U.S. sanctions
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a meeting with Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Iran is committed to its obligations under an international nuclear deal despite the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark agreement, its foreign minister said on Thursday, calling the reimposition of U.S sanctions “unacceptable.”
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comments in a meeting with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo as tensions rise in the Middle East, fuelling concern that the United States and Iran are heading for conflict.
    Iran is exercising “maximum restraint in spite of the fact the United States withdrew from (the) JCPOA last May,” Zarif said at the beginning of his meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.
    He was referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in 2015 by the United States, Iran and other countries, under which Iran curbed its uranium enrichment capacity and won sanctions relief in return.
    President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement last year and is ratcheting up sanctions on Iran, aiming to strangle its economy by ending its international sales of crude oil.    Japan was a major buyer of Iranian oil for decades before the sanctions.
    An attack on four oil tankers in the Gulf on Sunday, for which no one has claimed responsibility, and Saudi Arabia’s announcement on Tuesday that armed drones hit two of its oil pumping stations have compounded worries about war.
    The United States withdrew staff from its embassy in Iraq on Wednesday out of apparent concern about threats from Iran, with U.S. sources saying they believe Iran encouraged the attacks on the oil tankers.
    Trump is sending an aircraft carrier group, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East to counter what the United States calls a heightened threat from Iran to U.S. soldiers and interests in the region.
    “We believe that escalation by the United States is unacceptable and uncalled for,” Zarif told Kono in front of reporters before they met privately.
    Nevertheless, Iran has relaxed restrictions on its nuclear program and threatened action that could breach the nuclear deal, although the initial moves do not appear to violate the agreement.
    “I’m concerned that the situation in the Middle East is becoming very tense,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Zarif in a later meeting.
    Kono said it was essential to maintain the nuclear agreement and urged Iran to keep implementing it, echoing other countries.
    Asian shippers and refiners have put ships heading to the Middle East on alert and are expecting a possible rise in marine insurance premiums after the attacks on the Saudi oil tankers and pipeline facilities, industry sources said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Paul Tait)

5/16/2019 Lack of innovation is ‘Achilles heel’ for China’s economy, Xi says
Chinese President Xi Jinping raises his glass and proposes a toast at the end of his speech
during the welcome banquet, after the welcome ceremony of leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum at the
Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, April 26, 2019. Nicolas Asfour/Pool via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A lack of innovation is China’s “Achilles heel,” President Xi Jinping warned in an article given high prominence by state media on Thursday, where he also bemoaned the economy for being big yet without being strong.
    Xi’s comments, carried in the latest issue of the ruling Communist Party’s influential bimonthly theoretical journal Qiu Shi, were made in a speech in January 2016, and originally published a year later in a collection of Xi’s speeches.
    In the piece, re-published as the economy faces strains during a protracted trade war with the United States, Xi takes an unvarnished look at the problems the country faces.
    “Though our economy has vaulted to second place in the world, it is big and not strong, and its bloatedness and frailty are quite prominent,” Xi said.
    “This is mainly reflected in the lack of strength in innovation ability, which is the ‘Achilles heel’ of this lug of an economy of ours.”
    China’s technological prowess is still at the low end of the global value chain, and the “reserves” the country has for science and technology are far from enough, he added.
    “The environment in which we open up and develop today is generally more favorable than ever.    At the same time, the contradictions, risks, and games we face are unprecedented.    If we are not careful, we may fall into the traps set by others.”
    Xi has repeatedly promised to open up the Chinese economy, including a vow at a key party meeting in 2013 to let markets play a “decisive” role in the economy, but has also called for stronger, bigger state firms.
    Lack of market access for foreign firms has been one of the causes for the current U.S. trade dispute with China, a complaint echoed by the European Union, China’s largest trading partner.
    The reprinting of the speech came as the Trump administration hit Huawei with severe sanctions on Wednesday, banning the Chinese telecoms giant from buying components and technology from U.S. firms without prior U.S. government approval.
    The article was on Thursday widely picked up by other state media outlets, most likely on orders of the propaganda ministry to ensure maximum impact and readership.
    In an explanatory piece to accompany the reprinting of the speech, Qiu Shi also made direct reference to the trade war with the United States, which has seen both countries level tariffs on each other’s imports, and suggested there was no cause for alarm, a message China has repeatedly put forward.
    “The whole party must be prepared to make more arduous and harder efforts and carry out a great struggle,” the bimonthly publication said.
    “China’s economy is full of strength and resilience.    The long-term positive trend has not changed and will not change.    We are sure to be able to cope with various risks and challenges, including Sino-U.S. economic and trade frictions.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

5/16/2019 Weapons tests, stalled talks complicate South Korea’s push for food aid to North by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of
Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL),
inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Impoverished North Korea is suffering its worst drought in decades and food supplies are reportedly running low, but South Korea’s push to provide aid is bogged down in the growing tension marked by missile tests and sanctions crackdowns.
    South Korea is seeking to send food directly to the North while scaling up donations to international agencies including the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
    If it comes off, it would mark the South’s first bilateral food aid since 2010, when it delivered 5,000 tons of rice, Unification Ministry data shows.
    The WFP says more than 10 million North Koreans are in urgent need after crop output plunged to a decade low last year.    On Monday, the Red Cross said this year’s early drought is threatening the summer harvest, adding to the crisis.
    A devastating famine in the 1990s, exacerbated by drought, killed as many as a million North Koreans, with many resorting to eating tree bark and grass.
    The North’s official KCNA news agency on Wednesday said this year’s rainfall so far was the lowest since 1982, while the Rodong Sinmun newspaper called for staging “war against the nature,” mobilizing all available water pumps and irrigation equipment.
    But tension again has mounted since a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, aimed at bringing about the denuclearization of the North, broke down in Hanoi in February.
    The North has fired two missiles and multiple projectiles in recent weeks, in what South Korean President Moon Jae-in called a calibrated protest against Washington.
    Moon said Trump supported his aid plan, but after promising to ease hurdles for humanitarian aid earlier this year, U.S. officials remain half-hearted, especially in light of the recent weapons tests, blaming the North Korean regime for the food shortages.
    Moon’s administration, whose 2017 push for $8 million aid to U.N. agencies fell apart amid flaring tensions, is adamant about implementing its latest commitment, but it’s unclear when and how that plan will materialize, according to the sources who spoke on anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.
    “They’ll try their best to make it happen, but nothing has been decided.    There is a lot more to consider than two years ago,” one of the sources said.
‘SENSE OF CRISIS’
    The source said there was a “sense of crisis” brewing within the administration ahead of a key parliamentary election next year amid the stalled nuclear talks and lackluster progress in inter-Korean initiatives.
    The dramatic detente between the two Koreas has propped up Moon’s approval ratings, which were hit by a stagnating economy and jobs crunch and then fell to their lowest levels after the Hanoi summit.
    Moon said the aid would not only help needy North Koreans but also reduce his government’s excessive rice stockpile and break the nuclear standoff between Pyongyang and Washington.
    About 45 percent of South Koreans support humanitarian aid to the North, according to a study released on Monday by the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification.
    But the North’s Maeri propaganda website brushed off the South’s aid plan as “empty words” and “far-fetched mockery.”
    Early this year, South Korea offered to provide flu medication, but its delivery was delayed amid consultations with the United States and the North eventually refused to take it.
    Rice has also historically been a sensitive item, along with cement and fertilisers, due to concerns that Pyongyang may divert any outside handouts to bankroll its weapons programs.
    “The situation is extremely sensitive,” another source said.    “If the two-track approach proves unfeasible, we would just have to go through the international organizations.”
    Some observers, including Lee Hye-hoon, head of the parliamentary intelligence committee, said the situation may not be as tough as aid groups say.
    Data compiled by Daily NK, a defector-run website, showed rice prices have dropped about 15% since November, suggesting the shortages may not be as bad as some people think.
    But Seoul’s Unification Ministry said it sees data from the WFP and other U.N. agencies as more “official and objective.”
    “It’s difficult to know just how bad the situation really is,” said Peter Ward, a scholar who researches North Korea’s economy, citing the lack of credible information.
    “It doesn’t look like we are headed for another famine, but the food situation definitely appears to have deteriorated.”
(Additional reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/16/2019 Hardliners target Iran’s president as U.S. pressure grows by Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech during the ceremony of the
National Army Day parade in Tehran, Iran April 18, 2019. Tasnim News Agency/via
REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY - /File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Growing U.S. pressure on Iran has weakened pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani and made his hardline rivals more assertive at home and abroad, recent developments show.
    When he succeeded firebrand leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013, Rouhani was seen as an establishment figure who would do little to end Iran’s long standoff with the West.    Two years later, his administration signed the nuclear deal with six world powers that spurred hopes for wider political change.
    Rouhani’s authority is now waning: his brother, a key adviser on the 2015 deal, has been sentenced to jail on unspecified corruption charges, a hardline rival heads the judiciary and his government is under fire for responding too softly to U.S. President Donald Trump’s sanctions squeeze.
    Trump has said lifting sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program did not stop Tehran meddling in neighboring states or developing ballistic missile capabilities and Rouhani’s outreach to the West was a fig leaf.
    Yet the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal a year ago and subsequent attempts to end Iran’s oil exports have led to a sharp increase in regional tension: the U.S. military said on Tuesday it was braced for “possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces” from Iran-backed forces in neighboring Iraq.
    Rouhani has urged opposing factions to work together and noted limits on his power in a country where an elected government operates under clerical rule and alongside powerful security forces and an influential judiciary.
    “How much authority the government has in the areas that are being questioned must be examined,” the presidency’s website quoted Rouhani as saying on Saturday, an apparent attempt to fend off public anger at plummeting living standards.
    Ebrahim Raisi, who became head of the judiciary in March and is a contender to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, retorted that all branches of government had sufficient authority to carry out their duties.
    Local media interpreted the statement as a direct rebuke from Raisi, who ran against Rouhani in the 2017 presidential election.
    On May 4, Rouhani’s brother Hossein Fereydoun was sentenced to prison.    The judiciary has not given details of the charges against him and attempts by Reuters to seek comment were unsuccessful.    The judiciary has said it has no political motivation for the cases it tries.
OFFENSIVENESS AND ARROGANCE
    Rouhani has two years until his term ends, but if he is seen by Iranians as responsible for their problems, his successor is more likely to take a hard line with the West, some analysts say.
    “[Hardliners] couldn’t ask for a better ally than the Trump administration,” said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the Crisis Group.
    When Rouhani announced last week that Iran would roll back some of its commitments under the international nuclear deal a year after Trump withdrew, the hardline daily Kayhan newspaper called the move “late and minimal.”
    “If Mr. Rouhani’s government had reacted reciprocally from the beginning to the broken promises of America and Europe, they (the Americans and Europeans) would not have reached this level of offensiveness and arrogance,” an article in the newspaper said on Thursday.
    Restrictions on social media, championed by hardline officials and clerics, are putting further political pressure on Rouhani, who promised in his 2017 and 2013 election campaigns to lift such curbs.
    Telegram, a messaging app popular in Iran, was banned last year.    Twitter is also banned and hardliners have set their sights on Instagram, used by some 24 million Iranians.
    In his comments on Saturday, Rouhani said the government does not have full authority over the cyberspace, underlining the limits to his powers.
    He and other officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have active Twitter accounts despite the ban.
    Last month, Instagram shut down several accounts under the names of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, the country’s most powerful military and economic force, after Washington declared the Guards a foreign terrorist organization.
    Some lawmakers are now seeking a complete ban on Instagram, one of the few social media platforms yet to be blocked.
    Javad Javidnia, the deputy in charge of cyberspace affairs at the prosecutor general’s office in Tehran, said last month Instagram would be blocked unless the government found an effective way to monitor its content, Fars news agency said.
    Telecoms Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi told Reuters in an interview last month that he used social media actively, including Twitter, and wanted fewer restrictions.    But he said filtering usually takes place with a judicial decree.
    “Ayatollah Raisi has recently started his work in this area and we will have to see what his view will be,” he said.
FILL THE EMPTY SPOT
    The Guards have used authorities response to heavy flooding in March to criticize the government and promote their effectiveness.
    A video of the head of the Guards’ ground forces lambasting the government after visiting a flood-stricken area in western Iran in early April was widely circulated on social media.
    “There are a lot of problems.    There is no management.    No government official has the courage to go there,” Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said in the video.    “It’s horrible.”
    Hardline news sites posted pictures of members of the Guards helping remote villages, with their uniforms covered in mud.
    Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, a Rouhani ally who has tried to attract investment, has been accused by hardline politicians of giving away the nation’s wealth and criticized for not doing more to bypass sanctions.
    The Guards have developed expertise in bypassing sanctions through years of experience and are now eyeing opportunities arising from the new U.S. economic restrictions.
    Khatam al Anbia, the Guards’ huge engineering and construction arm controls over 800 affiliated companies worth billions of dollars.    Its head, Saeed Mohammad, said at an oil and gas exhibition in Tehran on May 2 that the firm has the ability to develop a phase of South Pars, the world’s largest gas field, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.
    “Our goal is to fill the empty spot left by foreign companies,” he said.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharefedin in London and the Dubai newsroom; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

5/16/2019 Iran plans no changes to nuclear centrifuges, IAEA ties: spokesman
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters
in Vienna, Austria March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has no plans to launch centrifuge machines able to enrich uranium at higher capacity or to alter its relations with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the spokesman for its civilian nuclear agency was quoted as saying on Thursday.
    Last week, Iran notified China, France, Germany, Russia and Britain that would scale back some commitments under its 2015 nuclear deal, a year after the United States withdrew from the pact and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
    Iran’s initial moves, involving the stockpiling of some nuclear materials, did not appear to violate the deal’s terms.
    But Iran warned that unless the other signatories to the deal protect Iran’s economy from U.S. sanctions within 60 days, Tehran would start refining uranium to a fissile purity above that deemed suitable for fuelling civilian power plants.
    “We do not currently have any plan to increase capacity and production process by changing the capacity of centrifuges,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the semi-official news agency ISNA.
    “Increasing the capacity and production process is being carried out with the same number of already installed centrifuges in Natanz (enrichment plant),” Kamalvandi said.
    Regarding enhanced monitoring of Iranian nuclear sites by the IAEA under the deal, “in some stages, and to carry out some technical work, the IAEA needs to be informed in advance, which has been done and is being done,” ISNA quoted him as saying.
    The restrictions on uranium enrichment accepted by Iran under the deal were aimed at extending the time it would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, to a year from roughly 2-3 months.    The United States and the IAEA believe Iran had a clandestine nuclear weapons program that it later abandoned.    Tehran denies ever having had one.
    The deal imposes a 15-year cap on the level of purity to which Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67 percent, far below the 90 percent of weapons grade.    It is also well below the 20 percent level to which Iran enriched uranium before the deal.
    Iran is also allowed to refine uranium only with its first-generation, lower-capacity IR-1 centrifuges.    It can use small numbers of more advanced centrifuges for research, but without accumulating enriched uranium.
. (Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/17/2019 Iran’s Zarif calls for “practical steps” to save nuclear deal
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif
attend a news conference in Moscow, Russia May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    (Reuters) – The international community and remaining signatories of Iran’s nuclear deal should act to save the accord as “supportive statements” are not enough, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told state media during a visit to Japan and China.
    Last week, Iran notified the five remaining signatories that it would scale back some commitments under its 2015 nuclear deal, a year after Washington left the pact and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.    Tehran has asked the other signatories to help protect its economy from U.S. sanctions.
    “Safeguarding the (nuclear accord) is possible through practical measures, and not only through supportive statements,” Zarif was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.
    “If the international community feels that this (nuclear) accord is a valuable achievement, then it should take practical steps just like Iran does,” Zarif said on Iranian state television.    “The meaning of practical steps is fully clear: Iran’s economic relations should be normalized.”
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/17/2019 U.S. urging talks while ‘holding gun’ at Iran: Iranian military official
FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and
representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during Iran nuclear
talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A senior Iranian military official has accused U.S. President Donald Trump of dishonesty, saying Washington is calling for talks while “holding a gun” at Tehran, the semi-official news agency Mehr reported on Friday.
    Trump has said publicly he wants to pursue a diplomatic route with Iran after withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, moving to cut off all Iranian oil exports this month while beefing up the U.S. Navy and Air Force presence in the Gulf.
    Iran has dismissed the U.S. military build up as “psychological warfare” designed to intimidate it, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said this week that Tehran would not negotiate with the United States on another nuclear deal and such talks would be “poison.”
    “The actions of American leaders in exerting pressure and launching sanctions … while speaking of talks, is like holding a gun at someone and asking for friendship and negotiations,” Mehr quoted Rasoul Sanai-Rad, a political deputy of the armed forces command, as saying.
    “The behavior of American leaders is a political game which consists of threats and pressure while showing a willingness to negotiate in order to present a peaceful image of themselves and fool public opinion,” Sanai-Rad said.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/17/2019 Japan’s Suga: possible for PM Abe to dissolve lower house
FILE PHOTO : Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to media after phone talks with U.S. President Donald Trump (not pictured)
after second North Korea-U.S. summit, at Abe's residence in Tokyo, Japan February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s top government spokesman said on Friday it is possible that the prime minister could dissolve the lower house of parliament if the opposition submits a motion of no confidence against his cabinet.
    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga spoke in response to questions at a press conference.,br> (Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

5/17/2019 Exclusive: Insurer says Iran’s Guards likely to have organized tanker attacks by Jonathan Saul and Gwladys Fouche
FILE PHOTO: Port officials take a photo of the damaged tanker Andrea Victory at the
Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo
    LONDON/OSLO (Reuters) – Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are “highly likely” to have facilitated attacks last Sunday on four tankers including two Saudi ships off Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, according to a Norwegian insurers’ report seen by Reuters.
    The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Norway are investigating the attacks, which also hit a UAE- and a Norwegian-flagged vessel.
    A confidential assessment issued this week by the Norwegian Shipowners’ Mutual War Risks Insurance Association (DNK) concluded that the attack was likely to have been carried out by a surface vessel operating close by that despatched underwater drones carrying 30-50 kg (65-110 lb) of high-grade explosives to detonate on impact.
    The attacks took place against a backdrop of U.S.-Iranian tension following Washington’s decision this month to try to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero and beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it called Iranian threats.
    The DNK based its assessment that the IRGC was likely to have orchestrated the attacks on a number of factors, including:
– A high likelihood that the IRGC had previously supplied its allies, the Houthi militia fighting a Saudi-backed government in Yemen, with explosive-laden surface drone boats capable of homing in on GPS navigational positions for accuracy.
– The similarity of shrapnel found on the Norwegian tanker to shrapnel from drone boats used off Yemen by Houthis, even though the craft previously used by the Houthis were surface boats rather than the underwater drones likely to have been deployed in Fujairah.
– The fact that Iran and particularly the IRGC had recently threatened to use military force and that, against a militarily stronger foe, they were highly likely to choose “asymmetric measures with plausible deniability.”    DNK noted that the Fujairah attack had caused “relatively limited damage” and had been carried out at a time when U.S. Navy ships were still en route to the Gulf.
    Both the Saudi-flagged crude oil tanker Amjad and the UAE-flagged bunker vessel A.Michel sustained damage in the area of their engine rooms, while the Saudi tanker Al Marzoqah was damaged in the aft section and the Norwegian tanker Andrea Victory suffered extensive damage to the stern, DNK said.
    The DNK report said the attacks had been carried out between six and 10 nautical miles off Fujairah, which lies close to the Strait of Hormuz.
SENDING A MESSAGE
    Iran has in the past threatened to block all exports through the Strait of Hormuz, through which an estimated fifth of the world’s oil passes.
    According to DNK, it was highly likely that the attacks had been intended to send a message to the United States and its allies that Iran did not need to block the Strait to disrupt freedom of navigation in the region.
    DNK said Iran was also likely to continue similar low-scale attacks on merchant vessels in the coming period.
    Iranian officials and the Revolutionary Guards’ (IRGC) spokesman were not available for comment.
    Tehran had already rejected allegations of involvement and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had said that “extremist individuals” in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies.    No one claimed responsibility for the attacks.
    DNK’s managing director Svein Ringbakken declined to comment, except to say that “this is an internal and confidential report produced to inform shipowner members of the DNK about the incidents in Fujairah and the most likely explanation.”
    The UAE has not blamed anyone for the attack.
    Two U.S. government sources said this week that U.S. officials believed Iran had encouraged Houthi militants or Iraq-based Shi’ite militias to carry out the attack.
    In a joint letter seen by Reuters and sent to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Norway said the attacks had been deliberate and could have resulted in casualties, spillages of oil or harmful chemicals.
    “The attacks damaged the hulls of at least three of the vessels, threatened the safety and lives of those on board, and could have led to an environmental disaster,” the letter said.
    Last month, the United States designated the entire IRGC as a terrorist organization.    Washington had previously designated entities and individuals connected with the IRGC, which controls vast segments of Iran’s economy.
    Tehran responded by designating the regional United States Central Command (CENTCOM) as a terrorist organization.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/18/2019 Chinese state media hits out at ‘fabricated’ U.S. tech claims
FILE PHOTO: The flags of China, U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party are displayed in a flag stall
at the Yiwu Wholesale Market in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, China, May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The United States has “fabricated” accusations that China forces firms to hand over technology in exchange for market access, China’s top Communist Party newspaper said on Saturday, the latest salvo in a bitter trade war.
    China announced this week it would retaliate against a move by Washington to raise tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports amid complaints Beijing had done little to resolve U.S. concerns about the theft of intellectual property and the forced transfer of technology to Chinese firms.
    The People’s Daily said in an editorial China had never forced U.S. firms to hand over technology and the claim was “an old-fashioned argument used by some people in the United States to suppress China’s development.”
    “The U.S. argument about the ‘forced transfer of technology’ can be described as being fabricated from thin air,” it said.    The United States had not yet been able to provide any evidence to back up the claims, the editorial said.
    It said the United States benefited substantially from voluntary technological cooperation, earning $7.96 billion in intellectual property use fees in 2016 alone.    Washington’s “fragile nerves” were caused by China’s own rapidly growing research and development capabilities, the paper said.
    The increasingly acrimonious dispute between the world’s top two economies has rattled investors and roiled global markets.    The United States said negotiations were likely to resume soon but China said no fixed date had been set yet and Washington needed to show sincerity in any new round of talks.
    State news agency Xinhua accused the United States of pursuing global hegemony in a separate editorial published on Saturday and said Washington would suffer more from an all-out trade war than China.
    “In fact, compared to China, the United States is more reliant on external markets and international economic relations, and is more vulnerable to global economic shocks,” Xinhua said.
    “If the United States persistently stokes up trade disputes, it will certainly affect the global market, and the consequences will inevitably see itself suffering greater losses,” it said.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Paul Tait)

5/18/2019 North Korea asks U.N. chief to address ship seizure by ‘gangster’ U.S.
An undated image provided in a U.S. Department of Justice complaint for forfeiture released May 9, 2019 shows
the North Korean vessel Wise Honest. Department of Justice/Handout via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has asked United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deal with the “illegal” seizure of one of its cargo ships by the United States, state media said on Saturday.
    “This act of dispossession has clearly indicated that the United States is indeed a gangster country that does not care at all about international laws,” the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations said in a letter sent to Guterres dated Friday, according to North Korea’s KCNA news agency.
    Pyongyang’s protest to the United Nations over the seizure comes amid mounting tensions since a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, aimed at bringing about the denuclearization of the North, broke down in Hanoi in February.
    The letter also called for “urgent measures” by Guterres and claimed that Washington infringed the North’s sovereignty and violated U.N. charters.
    With the denuclearisation talks stalled, North Korea went ahead with more weapons tests this month.    The tests were seen as a protest by Kim after Trump rejected his calls for sanctions relief at the Hanoi summit.
    North Korea has said the ship seizure violated the spirit of the summit and demanded the return of the vessel without delay.
    The U.S. Justice Department said the North Korean cargo ship, known as the “Wise Honest,” was seized and impounded to American Samoa. The vessel was accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of sanctions and was first detained by Indonesia in April 2018.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Paul Tait)

5/18/2019 U.S. Diplomats warn airliners of new threats from flying over Persian Gulf by OAN Newsroom
    The U.S. issues a warning for airlines who flying over the Persian Gulf.
    In a statement Saturday, U.S. diplomats claimed commercial airlines will be at an increased risk while flying over the Persian sea, adding American planes may be misidentified, and possibly attacked by the Iranian military.
In this Thursday, May 16, 2019 photo released by the U.S. Navy, Lt. Nicholas Miller. U.S. diplomats warned that
commercial airliners flying over the wider Persian Gulf faced a risk of being “misidentified” amid heightened tensions
between the U.S. and Iran. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeff Sherman, U.S. Navy via AP)
    This comes amid rising tensions with Iran, after the White House sent warships and bombers to the region in response to recent escalation.
    The Middle Eastern nation of Bahrain has also issued similar warnings to its citizens against traveling to Iraq and Iran.
    In an announcement Saturday, the country’s foreign ministry urged all citizens to leave both countries, due to the “unstable situation in the region, and recent escalations and threats against security and stability.”
    This move comes after Washington, D.C. withdrew all non-emergency personnel from sites in Iraq earlier this week.    On Saturday, the chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said the country is in a “full intelligence war with the U.S.
    Both the United States and the Netherlands have also suspended military operations in Iraq.

5/18/2019 U.S. drug czar heads to china to verify if country is combating fentanyl trafficking by OAN Newsroom
    The U.S. drug czar is planning a trip to China later in the year, to ensure the country is enforcing its new laws and regulations on fentanyl production.
    James Carroll announced Friday he will head to the communist nation, to make sure it’s living up to its promises.
    Last month China announced it would regulate all fentanyl-related drugs as a controlled substance, amid pressure from Washington.
    U.S. drug czar to travel to China to press government to stop fentanyl trafficking Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroine, and is a driving cause behind the nation’s over-dose epidemic.
    Caroll explained at a House hearing back in March, that while the substance is often manufactured in China, it’s typically shipped to Mexico, before being smuggled across the U.S. southern border.
    According to the CDC, fentanyl accounted for close to 40% of the nearly 70,000 overdose deaths in 2017, one of the deadliest years on record.
    The president declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in an effort to address the deadly crisis.

5/18/2019 Iran dismisses possibility of conflict, says does not want war
U.S. Sailors, review ordnance bomb checks on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), in
Arabian Sea, May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. Garrett LaBarge/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s top diplomat dismissed the possibility of war erupting in the region at a time of escalating confrontation with the United States, saying Tehran did not want conflict and no country had the “illusion it can confront Iran.”
    Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased in recent days, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict.    Earlier this week the United States pulled some diplomatic staff from its embassy in neighboring Iraq following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf.
    “There will be no war because neither do we want a war, nor has anyone the idea or illusion it can confront Iran in the region,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran’s IRNA state news agency before ending a visit to Beijing.
    President Donald Trump has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, and his administration says it has built up the U.S. military presence in the region.    It accuses Iran of threats to U.S. troops and interests.    Tehran has described U.S. moves as “psychological warfare” and a “political game.”
    “The fact is that Trump has officially said and reiterated again that he does not want a war, but people around him are pushing for war on the pretext that they want to make America stronger against Iran,” Zarif said.
    He told Reuters last month that Trump could be lured into a conflict by the likes of U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, an ardent Iran hawk.
    In Tehran, Major General Hossein Salami, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said on Saturday that Iran had nothing to fear from the United States, which he said was in decline, the semi-official news agency ISNA reported.
    “The U.S. political system is full of cracks.    Though impressive-looking, it has osteoporosis.    In fact, America’s story is like the World Trade Center towers that collapse with a sudden blow,” Salami, known for his fiery rhetoric, was quoted as saying.    He     was referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
    Trump has said publicly he wants to pursue a diplomatic route with Iran after ratcheting pressure on Tehran.
    President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday Iran would not be bullied into negotiating, IRNA reported.
    “The (U.S.) claim that it is forcing us to the negotiating table is worthless… We are for logic, negotiation and dialogue …but we will never surrender to anyone who intends to bully us,” Rouhani was quoted as saying.
    A year ago Trump pulled the United States out of a 2015 pact that limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.    Iran has continued to abide by the terms of the pact, although Rouhani said this month it would scale back some curbs on nuclear activity.
REGIONAL TENSIONS
    In a sign of the heightened tension across the region, Exxon Mobil evacuated foreign staff from an oilfield in neighboring Iraq after days of sabre rattling between Washington and Tehran.
    Elsewhere in the Gulf, Bahrain warned its citizens against traveling to Iraq or Iran due to “unstable conditions.”
    In Washington, officials urged U.S. commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution.
    A Norwegian insurers’ report seen by Reuters said Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards were “highly likely” to have facilitated the attacks last Sunday on four tankers including two Saudi ships off Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.
    Iranian officials have denied involvement in the tanker attacks, saying Tehran’s enemies carried them out to lay the groundwork for war against Iran.
    U.S. officials are concerned that Tehran may have passed naval combat expertise onto proxy forces in the region.
    Following the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, a senior Iranian maritime official said Iran had adopted new tactics and new destinations in shipping its oil exports.
    Iranian crude oil exports have fallen in May to 500,000 barrels per day or lower, according to tanker data and industry sources, after the United States tightened the screws on Iran’s main source of income.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Helen Popper, Ros Russell and Peter Graff)

5/18/2019 China’s top diplomat calls for U.S. restraint on trade, Iran
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) meets Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (not pictured)
at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, May 17, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s senior diplomat Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday that recent U.S. words and actions had harmed the interests of China and its enterprises, and that Washington should show restraint, China’s foreign ministry said.
    Speaking to Pompeo by telephone, Wang said the United States should not go “too far” in the current trade dispute between the two sides, adding that China was still willing to resolve differences through negotiations, but they should be on an equal footing.
    On Iran, Wang said China hoped all parties will exercise restraint and act with caution to avoid escalating tensions.
    U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that Pompeo spoke with Wang and discussed bilateral issues and U.S. concerns about Iran, but gave no other details.
    Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased in recent days, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict.    Earlier this week the United States pulled some diplomatic staff from its Baghdad embassy following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf.
    China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States on Friday, suggesting a resumption of talks between the world’s two largest economies would be meaningless unless Washington changed course.
    The tough talk capped a week that saw Beijing unveil fresh retaliatory tariffs, U.S. officials accuse China of backtracking on promises made during months of talks, and the Trump administration level a potentially crippling blow against one of China’s biggest and most successful companies.
    The United States announced on Thursday it was putting Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, the world’s largest telecoms equipment maker, on a blacklist that could make it extremely hard to do business with U.S. companies.
    The U.S. Commerce Department then said on Friday it may soon scale back restrictions on Huawei.    It said it was considering issuing a temporary general license to “prevent the interruption of existing network operations and equipment.”
    Potential beneficiaries of this license could, for example, include telecoms providers in thinly populated parts of U.S. states such as Wyoming and Oregon that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years.    On Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about state media reports suggesting there would be no more trade negotiations, said China always encouraged resolving disputes with the United States through dialogue and consultations.
(Reporting by Twinnie Siu in HONG KONG, David Stanway in SHANGHAI and David Brunnstrom and Nadita Bose in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
[China was the one who wanted a delay in Tariffs to make a deal and I now believe they did that so they could pull out at the 11th hour which was a delay tactic and now they will experience the tariffs, which the U.S. will now keep on them until they are forced to make a deal with Trump, especially if he wins a re-election.].

5/19/2019 Miracle win offers Australian PM authority and government stability by Colin Packham
Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media as he arrives at the Horizon Church in Sutherland
in Sydney, Australia, May 19, 2019. AAP Image/Joel Carrett/via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison may have won more than just another three years in office for his conservative coalition government.
    By winning what was seen as an unwinnable election, the unexpected leader has cemented his authority over the Liberal Party, giving him the muscle to end a decade of instability that has seen a revolving door of prime ministers.
    It was a stunning personal victory for Morrison, who largely flew solo during campaign as senior ministers stayed close to home to defend seats thought to be at risk.
    “It was a one-man show.    There will be much written about this in the years to come,” Haydon Manning, a professor of political science at Flinders University, told Reuters.    “He delivered the victory against the odds.”
    Morrison became prime minister as a compromise candidate after a right-wing faction ousted Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal Party leader last August.
    The resulting Liberal-National coalition was behind in every opinion poll – including an exit poll on Saturday – since Morrison took over, with voters angry at Turnbull’s ouster and frustrated by a perceived lack of action over climate change and a dearth of fresh polices.
    But Morrison on Saturday defied those odds, securing re-election in what he described as a miracle.    The coalition is on course to win a third term either with the support of independents or through an outright majority.
    After a decade of political turmoil that saw both Labor and the coalition depose several prime ministers, changes Morrison introduced last year mean that it is now very difficult for his party to remove him now that he has won an election.
ASPIRATION MESSAGE
    The secret of Morrison’s success, lawmakers, election strategists and analysts say, was twofold.
    First, he could see a path to victory through target areas such as the urban fringes of Queensland state, where he won enough seats to offset expected swings against the government in city-based seats.
    And he was able to frame the ballot as a contest between him and Labor leader Bill Shorten, whose reform agenda was portrayed by the government as at odds with Australian aspirations.
    “Morrison’s biggest asset was Bill Shorten. He made the election a personal contest and in the end, the people never liked or trusted Shorten,” John Hewson, former leader of Australia’s Liberal Party, told Reuters.
    Hewson now shares a connection with Shorten: as Liberal leader in opposition in 1993, he similarly lost what was considered an unloseable election after releasing a detailed and comprehensive tax reform policy well ahead of the vote.
    In this weekend’s election, Labor proposed removing two generous tax concessions enjoyed primarily by older, wealthy Australians.    But rather than winning favor with younger voters, the policies become the target of Morrison’s campaign, fostering suspicion of Labor.
    Morrison – who centered his campaign on his government’s economic credentials – used Labor’s tax proposals as evidence that the opposition was “coming after your money.”
    A Labor strategist said the government successfully cobbled together a coalition of support among voters in urban fringes and rural townships.
    “They won a lot of voters from older Australians with its attacks about a retirement tax.    But we lost votes from younger people that we didn’t expect,” said the strategist, who declined to be named as he is not authorized to talk to the media.    “We didn’t do enough to talk about jobs for these people in these regions.”
NEVER STOPPED CAMPAIGNING
    Shortly after the first vote counts were released on Saturday evening, it was clear a shock was in the works.
    Although Morrison’s support for the mining industry was expected to deliver victories in the north of Queensland, a state where coal is a major employer, victories in the outer suburbs in the south of the state belied exit polls.
    On Saturday, Morrison embarked on a last-ditch visit to the southern island state of Tasmania before flying back to his Sydney electorate to vote.    That bore fruit, with the government’s winning two seats in Tasmania from Labor that may help deliver an outright majority.
    Morrison was also able to limit swings against the government in Victoria, seen as the major weak spot after a stinging rejection of the Liberal Party at state elections in November.
    In rural areas, the National Party comfortably fended off what were expected to be strong challenges from independent candidates after the party had lost safe seats in state elections.
    Throughout the campaign, Morrison continued to privately stress that a victory was possible, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Sunday.    But he often seemed alone in that belief.
    “I have to say, until it happened, I didn’t think it would happen,” Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos said on ABC TV late on Saturday night.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by John Mair and Gerry Doyle)

5/19/2019 In coal we trust: Australia’s voters back PM Morrison’s faith in fossil fuel by Sonali Paul
FILE PHOTO: A reclaimer places coal in stockpiles at the coal port in Newcastle, Australia, June 6, 2012. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s re-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison once brandished a lump of coal in parliament, crying, “This is coal – don’t be afraid!”    His surprise win in what some dubbed the ‘climate election’ may have stunned the country, but voters should know what comes next in energy policy – big coal.
    Battered by extended droughts, damaging floods, and more bushfires, Australian voters had been expected to hand a mandate to the Labor party to pursue its ambitious targets for renewable energy and carbon emissions cuts.
    Instead, Saturday’s election left them on course to re-elect the Liberal-led center-right coalition headed by Morrison, a devout Pentecostal churchgoer who thanked fellow worshippers for his win at a Sydney church early on Sunday.
    The same coalition government last year scrapped a bipartisan national energy plan and dumped then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull because he was viewed as anti-coal.
    Power companies and big energy users, who last year rallied behind the national energy plan to end a decade of policy flip-flops, said on Sunday they wanted to work with the coalition anew to find ways to cut energy bills and boost power and gas supply.
    “We just need this chaotic environment to stop and give us some real direction,” said Andrew Richards, chief executive of the Energy Users Association of Australia, which represents many of the country’s largest industrial energy users.
    The country’s power producers – led by AGL Energy, Origin Energy and EnergyAustralia, owned by Hong Kong’s CLP Holdings – want the government to set long-term goals to give them the confidence to invest an estimated A$25 billion ($17 billion) needed for new power supply.
    “Customers are looking to energy companies and the government to get bills down and secure our energy supplies,” said EnergyAustralia Managing Director Catherine Tanna.
    “We have an opportunity now to reset our relationships and recommit to working toward a clear, stable and long-term energy policy,” she said in comments emailed to Reuters after Saturday’s election.
    At Origin Energy, Chief Executive Officer Frank Calabria said in emailed comments he would be looking for appropriate policy that would allow the company to invest in a pumped hydro project and gas exploration in the Northern Territory.
DIVISIVE DEBATE
    Australia has endured years of divisive debate on energy policy, with attacks by the Liberal-led coalition on Labor’s “carbon tax” policy helping to bring down the government of then-leader Julia Gillard in 2013.
    Despite top companies, from global miner BHP Group to Australia’s biggest independent gas producer Woodside Petroleum, calling for the country to put a price on carbon emissions, the Liberal-led coalition killed the carbon price mechanism in 2014.
    Its own attempts to fashion a bipartisan national energy policy foundered amid fierce opposition from coal supporters and climate skeptics on its right-wing.
    Its policy now is focused on driving down power prices and beefing up power supply.    For the moment that includes underwriting one new coal-fired power plant and providing A$1.38 billion toward a A$4 billion energy storage expansion at state-owned hydropower scheme Snowy Hydro, designed to back up wind and solar power.
    While the coalition stuck to an official target to cut carbon emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2030, the United Nations warned last year Australia was unlikely to meet this goal.
    The opposition Labor party campaigned on more aggressive targets, aiming to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reach 50 percent renewable power by 2030.    The re-elected Liberal-led coalition has no renewable energy target beyond 2020.
ADANI JOBS = VOTES FOR COALITION
    In the election, stopping a coal mine in the northern state of Queensland proposed by Indian conglomerate Adani Enterprises was the catchword for inner city voters in the south pressing for tough action on climate change.     Labor, torn between its traditional union base and its urban environmentally conscious supporters, made no commitments on the Adani mine.    The move backfired in the mining heartland of Queensland, where voters with jobs in mind handed the Liberal-led coalition crucial seats in the election.
    Adani’s mining chief Lucas Dow was not available on Sunday to comment on whether the election outcome might speed up approvals for the long-delayed mine.
    “There is now a clear mandate for resources projects that have lawful approvals to proceed, such as the Adani coal mine,” the Minerals Council of Australia’s chief executive Tania Constable said in a statement on Sunday.
    Energy users and the power industry, however, see the transition to cleaner energy as inevitable, with states pushing ambitious targets out of line with the national government.
    At the same time, Australia, the world’s second-largest exporter of coal for power, faces falling demand for coal as its biggest customers – Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan and India – are shifting toward cleaner energy, said Tim Buckley, a director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
    “I would expect the coalition to fight a rearguard action that will slow the transition, but they can’t stall it,” he said.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin and Kenneth Maxwell)

5/19/2019 Australian PM heads to church, football after ‘miracle’ election win by Lidia Kelly and Jonathan Barrett
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison with wife Jenny, children Abbey and Lily after winning the 2019 Federal Election, at the
Federal Liberal Reception at the Sofitel-Wentworth hotel in Sydney, Australia, May 18, 2019. AAP Image/Dean Lewins/via REUTERS
    MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked his fellow Pentecostal churchgoers on Sunday after a miraculous election victory that defied years of unfavorable opinion polls and bruised a Labor opposition that had been widely expected to win.
    Morrison’s Liberal-led conservative coalition has won or is leading in 76 seats, the number needed to form a majority government, according to the Australian Electoral Commission.    Slightly more than three-quarters of the roughly 17 million votes have been counted.
    A jubilant Morrison hugged community members after an early Sunday service at the Horizon Church in Sydney’s southern suburbs, from where he was first elected to parliament in 2007.
    “You don’t get to be a prime minister and serve in that capacity unless you first are a member of your local electorate,” he said.
    He drew cheers later on Sunday when he arrived in the stands to watch his team, the Cronulla Sharks, in a rugby league match in his beachside electorate.
    Morrison told raucous supporters late on Saturday, who had earlier seemed resigned to defeat, that he had always believed in miracles.
    The result drew comparisons with Republican Donald Trump’s victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
    Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were among the first world leaders to congratulate Morrison.
    “Congratulations to Scott on a GREAT WIN,” Trump said on Twitter before calling the Australian leader.. Jacinda Ardern, the progressive prime minister of neighboring New Zealand, also called to congratulate him, saying that Morrison “understands us.”
    Opinion polls in Australia had all pointed to a Labor victory.    So strong was the expectation the government would fall that one betting agency even paid out bets on a Labor win days before the election.
    Morrison, who emerged as an unlikely leader after Liberal party infighting last year, cast himself as the candidate who would work for aspirational voters and the tactic seemed to strike a chord.
PAINFUL LABOR LOSS
    If the coalition fails to secure at least 76 seats, it will need to rely on support from independent politicians, such as maverick conservative Bob Katter, or small parties to govern.
    Labor conceded defeat even with several seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives too close to call and millions of early votes still to be counted.    Its leader, Bill Shorten, said he would step down.
    Senior Labor figures began lining up on Sunday for the leadership after the center-left party lost what some commentators called an “unlosable” election.
    Labor campaigned on a platform of reducing inequality through tax reform, higher wages, better public infrastructure and faster action on climate change but Shorten, a former union leader, was never seen as a popular leader.
    “You know I really don’t like what [Shorten] stands for, although I like what the Labor party stands for,” voter Rob Harb told Reuters at Sydney’s Bondi Beach on Sunday.
    Tanya Plibersek, Shorten’s deputy, said she was considering running for the leadership. Veteran Labor figure Anthony Albanese announced he would run after calling the defeat “devastating.”
    “What you see is what you get with me, for better or worse,” Albanese told a news conference.    “I am a bit rough at the edges, but I think that Australians don’t want someone who just utters talking points.”
    Attempts by populist and far-right parties to win influence in the upper house Senate largely fell flat.
    Fraser Anning, who sparked outrage when he blamed Muslim immigration for the New Zealand mosque shootings that killed 51 people in March, lost his Senate seat in Queensland state.
    Mining magnate Clive Palmer, who spent tens of millions of dollars on a campaign aimed at disaffected voters, also failed to secure a place, although his campaign against Labor likely had an impact on the overall result.
    Morrison’s coalition defied expectations by holding onto a string of seats in the outer suburbs of Australia’s largest cities, as well as in the resources-rich states of Queensland and Western Australia and the small island state of Tasmania.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in MELBOURNE and Jonathan Barrett in SYDNEY; Additional reporting by James Redmayne; Editing by Paul Tait)
[It is laughable that Australian's are on opposites of what is left and right in politics, but then their up is our down and their down is our up, so go figure.    By the way in the universe there is no such thing as up or down, right or left because it is absolute, which is relative to the theory of relativity stuff.].

5/20/2019 U.S. Ambassador to China visiting Tibet this week
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad speaks at an event to celebrate the re-introduction of
American beef imports to China in Beijing, China June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Schiefelbein/Pool
    BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad was scheduled to visit Tibet this week, a U.S. embassy spokeswoman said, the first visit to the region by a U.S. ambassador since 2015, amid escalating trade tension between the two countries.
    The visit follows the passing of a law in December that requires the United States to deny visas to Chinese officials in charge of implementing policies that restrict access to Tibet for foreigners, legislation that was denounced by China.
    “This visit is a chance for the ambassador to engage with local leaders to raise longstanding concerns about restrictions on religious freedom and the preservation of Tibetan culture and language,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
    Branstad was traveling to Qinghai province and neighboring Tibet from May 19 to May 25 on a trip that will include official meetings as well as visits to religious and cultural heritage sites, the spokesperson said.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the government welcomed Branstad’s visit and he could see for himself the big changes that have taken place there since Tibet was “peacefully liberated” more than six decades ago.
    China hopes that Branstad does not take any “prejudices” with him on this trip and goes with an objective attitude so he can reach his own conclusions, Lu told a daily news briefing.
    “Especially on the protection and development of Tibetan culture, religion, heritage, and history, I hope that he can respect the facts and draw his own conclusions, instead of being confused and disturbed by hearsay and certain long-standing rumors and smears.”     In December, China criticized the United States for passing the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which seeks to promote access to Tibet for U.S. diplomats and other officials, journalists and other citizens by denying U.S. entry for Chinese officials deemed responsible for restricting access to Tibet.
    The U.S. government is required to begin denying visas by the end of this year.
CALL FOR RESTRAINT
    China says it is “resolutely opposed” to the U.S. legislation on what China considers an internal affair, and it risked causing “serious harm” to their relations.
    The ambassador’s visit comes as tensions have been running high between the two countries over trade.    China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States on Friday, suggesting a resumption of talks between the world’s two largest economies would be meaningless unless Washington changed course.
    On Saturday, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that recent U.S. words and actions had harmed the interests of China and its enterprises, and that Washington should show restraint.
    While the Trump administration has taken a tough stance towards China on trade and highlighted security rivalry, it has not acted on congressional calls for it to impose sanctions on China’s former Communist Party chief in Tibet, Chen Quanguo, for the treatment of minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region, where he is party chief.
    The State Department said in a March report Chen had replicated in Xinjiang policies similar to those credited with reducing opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet.
    Beijing sent troops into remote, mountainous Tibet in 1950 in what it officially terms a peaceful liberation and has ruled there with an iron fist ever since.
(Reporting by Tony Munroe and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Nandita Bose and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

5/20/2019 Indonesia steps up security ahead of presidential election result
A woman walks passed a metal detector as she enters the General Election Commission (KPU) headquarters, ahead of the announcement of
the presidential election results after the last month election in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Police rolled out more barbed wire on Monday to tighten security outside Indonesia’s election agency and readied armored trucks and water cannons to quell any civil unrest when official results of a presidential poll are released this week.    With the General Election Commission (KPU) set to declare its count from last month’s election by Wednesday, authorities have detained dozens of militant Islamists suspected of planning attacks to create mayhem during demonstrations.
    The result is expected to confirm unofficial counts by private pollsters that put incumbent President Joko Widodo about 10 percentage points ahead of challenger Prabowo Subianto.
    Although independent observers and analysts have said the poll was free and fair, Prabowo has refused to concede defeat, with his campaign team making accusations of “massive cheating and irregularities” during the vote and vote-counting.
    The retired general has said the situation could trigger “people power”-style protests, while the government and police have urged protesters to keep the peace and vowed action against anyone stirring unrest.
    Indonesia’s election supervisory panel has dismissed two official complaints of election cheating, on grounds of insufficient evidence of violations.
    Heavily armed security stood guard outside the election commission in central Jakarta, some accompanied by police dogs.
    Last week, chief security minister Wiranto ordered police and military across Indonesia to prevent people from traveling to Jakarta en masse to join protests.
    In East Java province, more than 1,200 Prabowo supporters were stopped from traveling to the capital.
    “These people were attempting to travel by bus, car and train to join the rallies on May 22,” said East Java police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera.    “We prevented them.”
    Indonesia’s biggest Islamic group, Nahdlatul Ulama, has also urged people to avoid rallies, saying its mosques would not accommodate protesters from outside the capital, except for prayers, media said.
    National police, who report directly to Widodo, have also held or interrogated at least three leading opposition figures for suspected treason.
    Last week, police said they had detained about 30 suspected militants with ties to Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), Indonesia’s largest group linked to Islamic State, including some capable of using Wi-Fi networks to trigger blasts.
    In a security alert, the U.S. embassy in Jakarta advised citizens to avoid the sites of large demonstrations.    The Australian embassy also warned that protests could unexpectedly turn violent.
    Widodo now leads with 55% of the vote, while Prabowo has 45%, according to the panel’s official count of nearly 90% of votes.
    Once the official result is released, the losing party can lodge a legal challenge at the constitutional court.
    Otherwise, the commission will officially declare the winner by May 28.
    Prabowo has not yet confirmed if he intends to go to court, but his challenge to his 2014 defeat by Widodo was rejected.
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Yerica Lai, and Kanupriya Kapoor; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez)

5/20/2019 Britain warns Iran of retaliation from U.S. amid rising tensions, recent aggression by OAN Newsroom
    Britain is warning Iran against provoking the White House.    On Monday, U.K. officials said the U.S. would be ready with a counter-strike if Tehran moved to attack American interests.
    Tensions between Washington and the Muslim nation hit new highs, following reports of attacks on U.S. troops in the Middle East.
    However, Britain’s foreign minister reiterated the Trump administration is only attempting to hold Iran responsible for its recent aggression and is not looking for a full-scale war.
    “I would say to the Iranians, do not underestimate the resolve of the U.S side in this situation,” stated British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt.    “They are not seeking a conflict, they don’t want a war with Iran, but if American interests are attacked they will retaliate and that is something that the Iranians need to think about very, very carefully.”
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt speaks to reporters during a press briefing, at the 72nd World Health Assembly at the
European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, May 20, 2019. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
    Over the weekend the president also tweeted a warning to the nation, saying "Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”
    Trump tweet: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.    Never threaten the United States again!

5/21/2019 Iran boosting stockpile of enriched uranium - Amount will soon pass limit in nuclear accord by Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TEHRAN, Iran – Iran has quadrupled its production of enriched uranium amid tensions with the U.S. over the unraveling nuclear accord with Tehran, two semiofficial news agencies reported Monday, an announcement that came just after President Donald Trump and Iran’s foreign minister traded threats and taunts.
    While the reports said the production is of uranium enriched only to the 3.67% limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran reached with world powers, it means that Iran soon will surpass the stockpile limitations the accord set.
    This follows days of heightened tensions sparked by the Trump administration’s deployment of bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf over still-unspecified threats from Iran. While Trump’s dueling approach of flattery and threats has become a hallmark of his foreign policy, the risks have only grown in dealing with Iran, where mistrust between Tehran and Washington stretches back four decades.
    This month, officials in the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers sustained damage in a sabotage attack; Yemeni rebels allied with Iran launched a drone attack on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia; and U.S. diplomats relayed a warning that commercial aircraft could be misidentified by Iran and attacked, something Tehran dismissed.
    All these tensions are the culminament tion of Trump’s decision a year ago to pull the U.S. out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.    While both Washington and Tehran say they don’t seek war, many worry any miscalculation could spiral out of control.
    Both the semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported on the quadrupled production quoting Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency. He said the increase in production of 3.67% enriched uranium does not mean Iran increased the number of centrifuges it has in use, another requirement of the deal.
    He said Iran “in weeks” would reach the 300-kilogram limit set by the deal.
    Kamalvandi said Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency about its move.    The IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for com- Monday.
    Trump’s tweet early Monday came just hours after a Katyusha rocket fell in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone near the statue of the Unknown Soldier, less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy, causing no injuries.    Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that the rocket was believed to have been fired from eastern Baghdad.    The area is home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.
    “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted.    “Never threaten the United States again!
    Trump’s tweet reflects what has been a strategy of alternating tough talk with more conciliatory statements he says is aimed at keeping Iran guessing at the administration’s intentions.
The fast combat support ship USNS Arctic moves cargo to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln
in the Arabian Sea on Sunday. JEFF SHERMAN/U.S. NAVY VIA AP

5/21/2019 Hong Kong leader presses on with extradition bill undeterred by critics by James Pomfret
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends the
China Development Forum in Beijing, China, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s leader said on Tuesday that her administration was determined to push through an extradition bill that could see individuals sent back to mainland China for trial, despite mounting opposition locally and internationally.
    The proposed legislation has stoked mass protests in the former British colony, which was promised a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    On Monday, the government said it would bypass legislative procedure to expedite the passage of amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, last week described as threatening the rule of law in Hong Kong.
    Opponents had disrupted a succession of legislative sessions meant to scrutinize the bill, with brawls breaking out in the legislative council.
    “Valuable time for deliberation has been lost,” Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters.
    “The most serious issue is that we couldn’t see a way forward, how to break this deadlock other than to force me to scrap this bill, but this is unrealistic,” she told reporters.
    She said the bill would now be sent directly to the full legislature on June 12 for a second reading, to try to pass it before the legislature’s summer recess.
    If the bill is passed, Hong Kong would allow, for the first time, ad hoc extradition requests to countries with no existing extradition treaties, including places like Taiwan, and crucially, mainland China.
    Taiwan has said the bill would extend China’s reach into Hong Kong, putting at risk any Taiwanese who pass through the city.    Criticism has also poured in from the business, legal, media and diplomatic communities in Hong Kong.
    The Hong Kong government insists the extradition law has safeguards to protect human rights, including the need for all extradition requests to be approved by a local court.
    During the past week, Beijing has hardened its stance, with senior officials saying the law was urgently needed, though Lam said the initial push for the law had come from her government.
    A deputy commissioner of China’s Foreign Commissioner’s office in Hong Kong, Song Ru’an, told a gathering of journalists that “the loophole is becoming increasingly conspicuous,” and that Beijing “resolutely supports” the bill.
    He said China wouldn’t seek to prosecute anyone on account of “race, religion, nationality or political opinions,” adding that it was “highly deplorable” that foreign governments or “external forces” had weighed in on this matter.
    More large protests are expected, including on June 4, when the city hosts an annual candlelight vigil for victims of a bloody crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
    Lam Cheuk-ting, an opposition Democratic Party lawmaker, criticized the government’s move to fast-track the “evil law.”
    Lawmakers may still be able to propose amendments to the bill, but critics say the government can choose not to adopt them, given backing from a pro-Beijing majority in the legislature.
    Pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai, who runs Hong Kong’s tabloid Apple Daily newspaper, said in a talk at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club that the law’s implications were grave.
    “In one swoop it finishes Hong Kong.    It’s a massacre of our freedom, of our legal system, of the free press.    Everything,” Lai said.
(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Tom Hogue)

5/21/2019 Hundreds protest as Indonesia confirms president’s re-election by Tabita Diela and Kanupriya Kapoor
FILE PHOTO - Incumbent Indonesian president Joko Widodo leaves after a press briefing in Jakarta, Indonesia,
April 18, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Aditya Pradana Putra/ via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian President Joko Widodo comfortably won re-election in last month’s poll, an official count showed on Tuesday, throwing the spotlight on his opponent who refused to concede as his supporters gathered in the capital in protest at the result.
    The General Election Commission (KPU) confirmed unofficial counts by private pollsters in the April 17 election, giving Widodo a 55.5% share of votes against 44.5% for Prabowo Subianto.
    Widodo won more than 85 million votes of a total of 154 million cast in the world’s third-largest democracy, but Prabowo told reporters he believed there had been widespread cheating and about 1,000 supporters gathered in a peaceful protest.
    The retired general pledged he would “continue to make legal efforts in line with the constitution to defend the mandate of the people.”
    Sufmi Dasco Ahmad, the legal director of Prabowo’s campaign team, confirmed it planned to contest the result in the Constitutional Court.
    On Monday, an election supervisory agency dismissed claims of systematic cheating, citing a lack of evidence, and independent observers have said the poll was free and fair.
    Flanked by riot police, Prabowo’s supporters were gathering mainly at the election supervisory agency (Bawaslu) in the heart of the city’s commercial and government district.
    “We have a long struggle ahead of us to find the truth in this election,” one of the protest leaders shouted into a megaphone, urging people to remain peaceful.
    There was also a small rally at the KPU in support of the election commission.
    Chief Security Minister Wiranto told a briefing there had been plans for “massive demonstrations to storm the KPU, Bawaslu, parliament and the state palace.”
    He threatened severe punishment for criminal activity and vowed to maintain security, while denying authorities were being draconian.
    The KPU announced official results more than a day earlier than expected after working into the early hours of Tuesday, a move that meant the announcement came before planned protests.
    A relaxed looking President Widodo pledged on Tuesday to be a leader for all Indonesians.
    “We are grateful and proud that amid our differences, we have been mature in keeping the peace,” he said on a visit to a poor neighborhood of the capital.
    Ben Bland, director of the Southeast Asia Project at Lowy Institute, said the election showed how identity and religious politics appeared to be increasingly “embedded in the political discourse in Indonesia.”
    “The challenge for Jokowi is to try and find a way to defuse tensions,” said Bland, using the president’s nickname.
TIGHT SECURITY
    Financial markets were mixed, with stocks up nearly 1% and the rupiah off 0.1%.
    Andry Taneli, a portfolio manager at Ciptadana Asset Management, said stocks had responded positively to the official result.
    “On the other hand there is concern of Prabowo not accepting the result, but we can see everywhere the police and army are ready to ensure security,” Taneli said.
    Prabowo had warned the cheating claims could trigger “people power”-style protests, though ahead of the result he had urged supporters in a video to be “peaceful in our struggle.”
    Authorities have tightened security in the capital in a bid to choke off any civil unrest and detained dozens of militant Islamists suspected of planning attacks.    Police said they had held or interrogated at least three leading opposition figures for suspected treason.     The losing candidate can lodge a challenge in the constitutional court within three days, otherwise the election panel will officially declare the winner.    Prabowo’s challenge to his 2014 defeat by Widodo was rejected.
(Additional reporting by Maikel Jefriando, Gayatri Suroyo, and Fransiska Nangoy; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

5/21/2019 China calls out big state firms, others on pollution violations amid slowing economy fears
FILE PHOTO: A cooling tower (C) and chimneys are seen at a thermal power plant on a
polluted day in Beijing, China, November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – China has publicly accused dozens of firms, including some of its biggest state enterprises, of exceeding pollution limits and breaching monitoring standards, as concerns rise that the slowing economy is undermining a five-year war on pollution.
    In lists published by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment over the past week, subsidiaries of state giants such as China Baowu Steel Group and the Aluminum Corporation of China were cited and fined for breaching emissions standards among other violations.
    China has been stepping up its supervision capabilities and has plugged thousands of factories into a real-time emissions monitoring system, but enforcement remains one of its biggest challenges.
    The ministry has continued to warn that China’s slowing economy had given some regions an excuse to “loosen their grip” on environmental protection
    In the first quarter of this year, air quality in smog-prone northern regions fell compared to last year, and some regions also saw pollution readings in major lakes and rivers rise over the period.
    A notice published last Friday said as many as 82 Chinese enterprises exceeded wastewater emissions standards in the fourth quarter of 2018, including 44 sewage treatment plants and six wastewater treatment facilities.    A unit of the Aluminum Corporation of China in Shanxi province was named as one of five “serious offenders.”
    It said the unit had exceeded emissions restrictions for a total of 92 days during the period.    The firm did not respond to requests for comment.
    As well as being fined, the companies cited were told to restrict operations until problems were resolved.    The biggest fine was meted out to a wastewater treatment plant in Liaoning province, which was ordered to pay 7.2 million yuan ($1.04 million).
    In a separate review of monitoring standards in the Yangtze river delta and the Fenwei plain regions, the ministry identified more than 300 firms for equipment quality violations and exceeding wastewater discharge restrictions.    It found only 22 percent of equipment was of the required standard.
    The list included a special steel producing unit of Baosteel, China’s biggest steelmaker.    Baosteel did not respond to a request to comment.
(Reporting by David Stanway, Muyu Xu and Tom Daly; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

5/21/2019 Huawei founder: U.S. blacklist will have no effect on sales numbers by OAN Newsroom
    The founder of Chinese telecom giant Huawei said the White House’s decision to ease some trade restrictions on the company will not effect business.    Ren Zhengfei made the comments early Tuesday, following the Commerce Department’s blacklisting of the company last week.
    The founder said the company was prepared for the move and stockpiled chips in preparation to work around the restrictions.    He also said nothing will stand in the way of Huawei’s 5G technology becoming the new global standard:
    “Maybe some of our lower end products on the periphery might easily be hurt.    They will be knocked out of the market sooner or later, and we didn’t do much preparation for this.    Some of these things might be affected, but our most advanced products will not.    At least our 5G technology won’t be affected.    And not only will it not be affected, but after two or three years, no one will be able to catch up with it.”
Ren Zhengfei, founder and CEO of Huawei, gestures during a round table meeting with the media in
Shenzhen city, south China’s Guangdong province, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
    The walk-back of restrictions will allow the company to purchase American parts to maintain its existing networks.    However, it is still barred from buying American technology to produce new products.

5/22/2019 Japan woos Trump with pomp and circumstance, looks to avoid trade battle by Linda Sieg and Tim Kelly
FILE PHOTO : U.S. President Donald Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe feed carp before their
working lunch at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will treat U.S. President Donald Trump to an imperial banquet, front row seats at a sumo tournament and a trip to the country’s biggest warship on a state visit as Tokyo seeks to avoid a bust-up over trade.
    New Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Harvard-educated Empress Masako will host a lavish dinner for Trump during his stay through May 28, part of a display meant to showcase the two countries’ alliance.
    The U.S. leader will become the first foreign dignitary to be so honored since the monarch inherited the throne this month.    Trump will also play golf with Abe and inspect Japan’s Kaga helicopter carrier.
    At their summit on Monday, Trump and Abe are expected to discuss topics from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and China’s economic and military rise to two-way trade at a time when Washington is embroiled in a trade war with Beijing.
    “Various issues will come up during President Trump’s visit but I don’t think they will be so severe,” Kenji Wakamiya, chairman of the lower house foreign affairs committee, told a Reuters News seminar this week.    “I don’t think (demands) will be as harsh as towards China.”
    Abe has made forging close personal ties with Trump a top priority and the two have bonded on the links, over burgers and with frequent telephone calls and face-to-face meetings.
    “It’s part of Prime Minister Abe’s full embrace of Mr. Trump,” Toshihiro Nakayama, a Japan Fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, said of Trump’s visit.
    “What Prime Minister Abe has done was quite effective and you can even say strategic, because for Mr. Trump, personal chemistry is quite important.”
    Designating Trump’s stay in Tokyo as an official state visit means that it is by definition supposed to be a success, said former diplomat Kunihiko Miyake, research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies.
    “It’s more ceremonial and symbolic than substantive,” Miyake said.    “As far as trade issues are concerned, America’s first priority is China.”
TRADE TROUBLES
    Trump has nonetheless made clear he is unhappy with Japan’s $68-billion trade surplus with the United States, much of it from auto exports, and wants a two-way deal to tackle it.
    Japan’s trade surplus with the United States rose 17.7% in April from a year earlier, to 723.2 billion yen ($6.6 billion), driven partly by an increase of 8.3% in auto exports, data showed this week.
    Last Friday, Trump declared some imported vehicles and parts posed a national security threat but delayed a decision on imposing tariffs for as long as six months, allowing more time for trade talks with Japan and the European Union.
    Japan says it opposes limits on its exports, a violation of world trade rules.
    “We are not in the 1980s or 1990s,” Miyake said, referring to the era of Japan’s “voluntary” restraints on auto exports to the United States.    “It’s a non-starter.”
    U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who leads the talks for Washington, will visit Japan from Friday to meet Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi before the summit, two sources with direct knowledge of the plan said.
    Trump pressed Abe for Japanese automakers to turn out more vehicles in the United States at a meeting in Washington last month, according to U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty – a move Wakamiya said could be an option.
    Trump said at the time that a trade deal was possible by his May visit and told a campaign rally last month that Abe had said Japan would invest $40 billion in U.S. car factories, a figure that had some Japanese officials scratching their heads.
    Washington also wants Tokyo to cut tariffs on U.S. farm products to restore their competitiveness after Trump shunned an 11-nation Pacific trade pact
.
    However, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said last week that the administration realized Abe faced an upper house election in July that could make an early deal tough.
    “I hope we will have significant progress here very, very shortly,” Hagerty said this week.
(Additional reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto in Tokyo and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

5/22/2019 Modi’s party promises to boost India’s economy; Congress calls exit polls fake by Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he is presented with a garland during a thanksgiving ceremony by Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) leaders to its allies at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s ruling coalition has promised to rev up growth, double farmers’ income and boost infrastructure spending in the next five years after exit polls showed it would retain power when general election votes are counted on Thursday.
    Exit polls have predicted an outright majority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alliance in the seven-phase election that ended on Sunday.
    Such surveys have proved misleading before, and the main opposition Congress party on Wednesday dismissed them as fake.
    The coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which is led by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), met in New Delhi on Tuesday confident of victory.
    “The NDA has resolved to speed up economic growth and fulfill the needs of the people in the next five years of our government,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh, also a senior member of the BJP, told reporters.
    “We’re committed to a strong, developed and inclusive India.”
    Six of the seven exit polls conducted have predicted the NDA will comfortably exceed the majority mark of 272 seats in parliament’s lower house.
    But Congress has dismissed the polls and urged its workers to remain vigilant at centers where votes are being stored before Thursday’s count.
    “The next 24 hours are important, stay alert and vigilant,” its president, Rahul Gandhi, said on Twitter on Wednesday, addressing party workers.
    “Don’t be scared.    You are fighting for the truth.    Don’t be disheartened by the false propaganda of fake exit polls.    Believe in yourself and the Congress party, your hard work will not go in vain.”
    But analysts say another bad showing by Congress would prompt questions over the leadership of the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has dominated politics for decades.
TSUNAMI” FOR MODI
    Economic growth eased to a five-quarter low of 6.6% in the three months to December and there are signs it is still slowing.    Modi has also faced criticism for weak farm prices and a shortage of jobs.
    March industrial output contracted for the first time in nearly two years, and surveys show a slackening in manufacturing and services growth, while car and motorbike sales have tumbled.
    Some economists have called for some stimulus.
    Singh said plans were ready to meet the BJP’s manifesto pledge to spend 100 trillion rupees ($1.44 trillion) on infrastructure in the next five years and 25 trillion rupees on agriculture and rural development.
    He also reiterated the BJP goal of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, the 75th year of India’s independence from British colonial rule.
    Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, whose regional party is part of the NDA, said the election had unleashed a “tsunami” of support for Modi.
    Political analysts say the result could cement Modi’s dominant position in politics while undermining the role of Congress and opening up space for newer parties.
    “If the exit polls are to be believed, Modi’s image as the incorruptible defender of the faith and nation has triumphed once again,” said Nikhil Menon, assistant professor of history at the University of Notre Dame.
    “Narendra Modi may well be leading his party into an era of electoral dominance.”
    Nearly two dozen opposition parties have complained to the election panel of attempts to tamper with voting machines in vote-counting centers. It has rejected the accusation.
($1=69.6425 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)

5/22/2019 Indonesian police arrest at least 20 amid post-election violence
Police officers go on patrol outside the Brimon (Mobile Police) Dormitory Complex, Petamburan, Jakarta, Indonesia,
early May 22, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian police have arrested at least 20 people accused of provoking riots in Jakarta following official results showing President Joko Widodo had been re-elected, a police spokesman said on Wednesday.
    Television footage on Wednesday showed smoke billowing from behind dozens of protesters who were dancing in the street in the Tanah Abang district of central Jakarta.
    A separate crowd in front of the election supervisory body threw rocks at police, a Reuters witness said.
    The General Election Commission (KPU) on Tuesday confirmed unofficial counts by private pollsters in the April 17 election, which gave Widodo a 55.5% share of votes against 44.5% for his opponent, former general Prabowo Subianto.
    Widodo won more than 85 million votes of a total of 154 million cast in the world’s third-largest democracy, but Prabowo told reporters he believed there had been widespread cheating and about 1,000 supporters gathered in Jakarta a day earlier.
    On Monday, an election supervisory agency dismissed claims of systematic cheating, citing a lack of evidence.
    Independent observers have said the poll was free and fair.
    Protests that started peacefully on Tuesday turned violent in the evening, forcing police to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd.    Cars parked near an apartment housing the police’s mobile brigade were set ablaze, media reported.
    “As of now, police have arrested more than 20 people we thought were the provocateurs and who did other crimes,” said police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo.
    Prasetyo said police were checking on reports of casualties, but stressed that security officers on the ground, which include military personnel, were not equipped with live bullets.
    News website Tirto reported a man died of bullet wounds in Tanah Abang, quoting a doctor at a hospital near the site.
    Indonesian authorities have said 40,000 police and army personnel were on duty across Jakarta in a bid to maintain security.
(Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Editing by Ed Davies and Michael Perry)

5/22/2019 In an Indian village, Muslims talk of leaving as divide with Hindus widens by Krishna N. Das, Zeba Siddiqui and Aftab Ahmed
Muslim children eat their lunch during a break at a madrasa or religious school in village Nayabans in the
northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India May 9, 2019. Picture taken on May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NAYABANS, India (Reuters) – Muslims in Nayabans, an unremarkable village in northern India, say they remember a time when their children played with Hindu youths, and people from either faith chatted when they frequented each other’s shops and went to festivals together.
    Such interactions no longer happen, many say, because of how polarized the two communities have become in the past two years, and some are frightened and thinking of moving away – if they can afford it.
    Muslim residents who spoke to Reuters said they thought tensions would only worsen if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins a second term in the current general election, as exit polls released on Sunday indicate is likely.    Votes will be counted Thursday.
    “Things were very good earlier.    Muslims and Hindus were together in good and bad times, weddings to deaths.    Now we live our separate ways despite living in the same village,” said Gulfam Ali, who runs a small shop selling bread and tobacco.
    Modi came to power in 2014 and the BJP took control of Uttar Pradesh state, which includes Nayabans, in 2017, partly on the back of a Hindu-first message.    The state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, is a hardline Hindu priest and senior BJP figure.
    “Modi and Yogi have messed it up,” said Ali.    “Dividing Hindus and Muslims is their main agenda, only agenda.    It was never like this earlier.    We want to leave this place but can’t really do that.”
    He says about a dozen Muslim families have left in the past two years, including his uncle.
    The BJP denies its policies have stoked community divisions.
COW KILLING
    At the end of last year, Nayabans, a village of wheatfields, narrow cemented streets, bullock carts and loitering cows, became a symbol of India’s deepening divide as some Hindu men from the area complained they had seen a group of Muslims slaughtering cows, which Hindus regard as sacred.
    Angry Hindus accused police of failing to stop an illegal practice, and a Hindu mob blocked a highway, threw stones and burned vehicles.    Two people were shot and killed – including a police officer.
    Five months later many Muslims, who only number about 400 of the village’s population of more than 4,000, say the wounds haven’t healed.
    And in a country where 14 percent of the population are Muslim and 80 percent Hindu, Nayabans reflects wider tensions in places where Muslim residents are heavily outnumbered by Hindu neighbors.
    The BJP denies it is seeking to make Muslims second-class citizens or is anti-Muslim.
    “There have been no riots in the country under this government.    It’s wrong to label criminal incidents, which we denounce, as Hindu-Muslim issues,” BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal said.
    “The opposition has been playing communal politics but we believe in neutrality of governance.    Neither appeasement of any, nor denouncement of any.    Some people may be finding that they are not being appeased anymore.”
CALL TO PRAYER
    To be sure, villagers say Nayabans was not free of conflict in the past – attempts to build a mosque in 1977 led to communal riots in which two people were killed.    But for the 40 years after that there had been relative harmony, villagers say.
    Some Muslim residents said Hindu hardliners started asserting themselves more in the village after Yogi took office in March 2017.
    The atmosphere worsened around the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2017 – Hindu activists demanded Muslims stop using a microphone in their madrasa, which also acts as a mosque, to call people to prayer, arguing it disturbed the whole community.
    The Muslims reluctantly agreed to stop using the mike and speaker – even though they say it had been operating for many years – to keep the peace, but the move created deep resentment.
    Some Hindus were unsympathetic.
    “God knows what they are moaning about,” said Hindu elder Om Prakash, a 63-year-old tailor.    “There’s peace here but we won’t tolerate any mike there.    That’s a madrasa, not a mosque.”
    Islam requires the faithful to pray five times a day.    Without the reminder of hearing the call, some Muslim residents say they risk missing prayer times.
    “We can’t express our religion in any way here, but they are free to do whatever they want,” said Muslim law student Aisha, 21.
    She said that Hindu men from the village often shouted anti-Muslim slogans during festival processions.    At least a dozen Hindus in the village denied that was the case.
    Aisha remembers when relations were better.
    “Earlier they would speak very nicely to us, but now they don’t,” said Aisha.    “If there was any problem at all, or someone was sick in the family, all the neighbors would come over and help – whether Hindus or Muslims.    Now that doesn’t happen.”
EMPTY OUT
    Sharfuddin Saifi, 38, who runs a cloth shop at a nearby market, was named in a complaint filed with the police by local Hindus over the cow incident last year.
    After 16 days in jail, he was released as the police found he had nothing to do with the suspected slaughter, but said he found much had changed.
    Hindus now shun his business.    The money he spent on lawyers meant he had to stop going to Delhi to buy stock for the shop, which is largely empty.    And he withdrew his 13-year-old son from a private school because he could no longer afford it.
    “For someone who had never seen the inside of a police station or even dreamt of committing a crime, it’s a big thing,” he said of the trauma of his detention.
.     He often thinks about leaving the village, he says, but tells himself: “I have not done anything wrong, why should I leave?
    Carpenter Jabbar Ali, 55, moved to a Muslim-dominated area in Masuri, closer to Delhi, buying a house with money he saved from working in Saudi Arabia.
    “If Hindus could kill a Hindu police inspector, in front of a police outpost, with armed guards alongside him, then who are we Muslims?”    Ali said, recalling the December incident.
    He still keeps his house in Nayabans and visits occasionally but said he feels much safer in his new home, where all his immediate neighbors are Muslims.
    “I’m fearful here,” he said.    “Muslims may have to empty out this place if Modi gets another term, and Yogi continues here.”
    Junaid, a round-faced 22-year-old with a goatee, comes from one of the most affluent Muslim families in the village.    His father runs a gold shop in a town nearby.
    Seated outside his home, he recalled playing sport together with Hindus.
    “When we were young all the Hindus and Muslims used to play together, especially cricket – I played it a lot,” he said.    “Now we haven’t played in at least a year.”
    He said he wanted to move to New Delhi soon to study at a university there.    “Things are not good here,” he said.
    Some Muslims, however, say they are committed to remaining.    Aas Mohammed, 42, the owner of a flourishing tiles and bathroom fixtures business in a nearby town, has decided to stay in the village, though he has a house on Delhi’s outskirts.
    Mohammed helped arrange a lawyer for Saifi after his arrest over the cow incident.    He is now lobbying to have the microphone brought back and fighting a legal battle to get a new mosque built.
    “I will fight on,” he said.    “I am not scared, but another term for Modi will make it very difficult for many other people to live here.”
(The story fixes typo in lead paragraph.)
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui, Krishna N. Das and Aftab Ahmed; Additional reporting by Munsif Vengattil; Editing by Martin Howell and Alex Richardson)

5/22/2019 Get ready for difficult times, China’s Xi warns during trade war
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Conference on Dialogue of
Asian Civilizations in Beijing, China May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China must prepare for difficult times as the international situation is increasingly complex, President Xi Jinping said in comments carried by state media on Wednesday, as the country faces increased tariffs in a bitter trade war with Washington.
    The two countries are locked in tit-for-tat tariff increases on each other’s imports, after talks broke down to resolve their dispute.
    Acrimony has intensified since Washington last week blacklisted Chinese telecom equipment company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, a potentially devastating blow for the company that has rattled technology supply chains and investors.
    During a three-day trip this week to the southern province of Jiangxi, one of the cradles of China’s Communist revolution, Xi urged people to learn the lessons of hardship of the past.
    “Today, on the new Long March, we must overcome various major risks and challenges from home and abroad and win new victories for socialism with Chinese characteristics,” state news agency Xinhua paraphrased Xi as saying.
    “Our country is still in a period of important strategic opportunities for development, but the international situation is increasingly complicated,” he added.
    “We must be conscious of the long-term and complex nature of various unfavorable factors at home and abroad, and appropriately prepare for various difficult situations.”
    The report did not elaborate on those difficulties, and nor was there a direct mention of the trade war or of the United States.
    Xi also talked about the importance of technology, and “emphasized that technology innovation is the lifeblood of companies.”
    “Only by having indigenous intellectual property and core technology can products possessing core competitiveness be produced, and only then can an invincible position be attained amid fierce competition.”
    China must master more core technologies and seize the “high ground” in industrial development, he added.
    Xi visited a rare earths firm too, sparking speculation the sector could be the next front in the Sino-U.S. trade war.
    Xi learned in detail about China’s rare earth resource situation, exploitation techniques, applications, and environmental protection measures, Xinhua said.
    “Rare earths are important strategic resources, and are non-renewable resources.”
(Reporting by Stella Qiu, Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jacqueline Wong)

5/22/2019 Iran youth will witness demise of Israel, ‘American civilization’: Khamenei
FILE PHOTO - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during Friday prayers
in Tehran September 14, 2007. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran’s youth will witness the demise of Israel and American civilization, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday in comments published on his official website.
    “You young people should be assured that you will witness the demise of the enemies of humanity, meaning the degenerate American civilization, and the demise of Israel,” Khamenei said in a meeting with students.
    He gave no further details.
    Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
    Khamenei said last week that there would be no war with the United States.
    Separately, Khamenei distanced himself from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in his comments on Wednesday.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran last year and reimposed sanctions, saying the accord did not address the Islamic Republic’s missile program and what he saw as their malign influence in the region.
    “The way (the nuclear deal) was put into action, I didn’t have much faith (in it),” Khamenei, who is the highest authority in Iran, said.    “And we repeatedly told the president and the foreign minister and gave them notice.”
    Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have been the main advocates of the nuclear deal within Iran’s political system.
    Two weeks ago, Iran notified the remaining signatories to the deal – China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom – that it would halt some commitments under the nuclear deal, a year after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord.
(The story refiles to remove extraneous phrase in first paragraph.)
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Susan Thomas)

5/22/2019 Pentagon mulling U.S. military request to send 5,000 troops to Middle East: officials by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge
sail in the Arabian Sea May 17, 2019. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur/Handout via REUTERS.
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Defense is considering a U.S. military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East amid increasing tensions with Iran, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
    Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.
    The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the request had been made by U.S. Central Command, but added that it was not clear whether the Pentagon would approve the request.
    The Pentagon regularly receives – and declines – requests for additional resources from U.S. combatant commands throughout the world.
    One of the officials said the requested troops would be defensive in nature.
    It is unclear if any specific request will ultimately be presented to the White House.    The request for 5,000 additional troops was first reported by Reuters.
    This appeared to be the latest request for additional resources in the face of what U.S. officials have said are credible threats from Iran against U.S. forces and American interests in the Middle East.
        The United States has not publicly shown any evidence of what the specific intelligence on the Iranian threat is.
    The Pentagon declined to comment.
    “As a matter of longstanding policy, we are not going to discuss or speculate on potential future plans and requests for forces,” Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said on Wednesday.
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday that while threats from Iran in the Middle East remained high, deterrence measures taken by the Pentagon had “put on hold” the potential for attacks on Americans.
    The U.S. military accelerated the deployment of a carrier strike group to the Middle East, and sent bombers and Patriot missiles to the region earlier this month in response to what Washington said were troubling indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran.
    U.S. government sources told Reuters last week they believe Iran encouraged Houthi militants or Iraq-based Shi’ite militias to carry out attacks on tanker ships off the United Arab Emirates.
    Trump has warned that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East.
    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Iran’s youth will witness the demise of Israel and American civilization.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; editing by Rosalba O’Brien and G Crosse)
[Iran's youth might not see that if the U.S. takes Khamenei and his thugs first and frees the Iranian people from their regime.].

5/23/2019 U.S. Navy again sails through Taiwan Strait, angering China by Idrees Ali
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88) transits the Indian Ocean March 29, 2018. Picture
taken March 29, 2018. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Morgan K. Nall/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military said it sent two Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, its latest transit through the sensitive waterway, angering China at a time of tense relations between the world’s two biggest economies.
    Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a bitter trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols.
    The voyage will be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from the Trump administration amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing, which views the island as a breakaway province.
    The transit was carried out by the destroyer Preble and the Navy oil tanker Walter S. Diehl, a U.S. military spokesman told Reuters.
    “The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said in a statement.
    Doss said all interactions were safe and professional.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing had lodged “stern representations” with the United States.
    “The Taiwan issue is the most sensitive in China-U.S. relations,” he told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
    Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the two U.S. ships had sailed north through the Taiwan Strait and that they had monitored the mission.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said there was no cause for alarm.
    “Nothing abnormal happened during it, please everyone rest assured,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
    U.S. warships have sailed through the Taiwan Strait at least once a month since the start of this year.    The United States restarted such missions on a regular basis last July.
    The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide the island with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms.
    The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taipei more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
    China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers part of “one China” and sacred Chinese territory, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if needed.
    Beijing said a recent Taiwan Strait passage by a French warship, first reported by Reuters, was illegal.
    China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle Taiwan on exercises in the past few years and worked to isolate it internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.
    The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report earlier this year describing Taiwan as the “primary driver” for China’s military modernization, which it said had made major advances in recent years.
    On Sunday, the Preble sailed near the disputed Scarborough Shoal claimed by China in the South China Sea, angering Beijing.
    The state-run China Daily said in an editorial on Wednesday that China had shown “utmost restraint.”
    “With tensions between the two countries already rife, there is no guarantee that the presence of U.S. warships on China’s doorstep will not spark direct confrontation between the two militaries,” it said.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei and Ben Blanchard and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

5/23/2019 Turkey stopped purchasing Iranian oil as of May: Turkish official by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed - RC1F33C0B450/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Turkey stopped purchasing Iranian oil as of May as U.S. waivers granted last November to eight buyers expired, and will continue to abide by Washington’s demand that it halt all imports of crude oil from the Islamic Republic, a senior Turkish official said on Wednesday.
    “We are not getting any oil from Iran now,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.    “We were one of the eight countries getting an exception from those sanctions, and now we are ready to abide by them,” he said.
    Reuters on Monday reported that no tankers loaded in Iran have arrived at Turkish ports so far in this month, according to Refinitiv tracking data.    Analysts said it was replacing Iranian oil with supplies from Iraq, Russia and Kazakhstan.
    The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers.    Aiming to cut Iran’s sales to zero, Washington this month ended sanctions waivers for importers of Iranian oil, ending a six-month reprieve for Turkey and seven other big importers including China and India.
    Iranian crude oil exports have fallen in May to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) or lower, tanker data showed and industry sources said last week.    The bulk of the crude was heading for Asia but it was unclear who was buying and whether the oil was heading to end-users or storage.
    Turkey’s largest oil refiner Tupras had pressed Washington for an extension of the import waiver before the May 1 expiration, according to a person familiar with the talks, adding that when it was not granted, the company made clear it would halt all imports from Iran.
    But the senior Turkish official added that Ankara did not agree with U.S. sanctions policy on Iran.
    “We don’t believe in sanctions, but as a strategic ally we respect the U.S. decision …”    "We don’t believe isolation of Iran will be helpful,” he said.
    Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Jonathan Oatis, James Dalgleish and Sonya Hepinstall)
[This is not hard to figure out all the military build up is to assure Iran is not selling its oil to any country, which means they will not have any incoming monetary source from oil, which is at $61.42 per barrel and dropped to $57.91 and they can only make less than $30 per barrel, which will not happen if no imports.    So the armada is also here if Iran tries to attack anything also.].

5/23/2019 India’s Modi stuns opposition with huge election win by Alasdair Pal and Mayank Bhardwaj
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he is presented with a garland during a
thanksgiving ceremony by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders to its allies at the party headquarters
in New Delhi, India, May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo
    NEW DELHI/AYODHYA (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored a dramatic election victory on Thursday, putting his Hindu nationalist party on course to increase its majority on a mandate of business-friendly policies and a tough stand on national security.
    His re-election reinforces a global trend of right-wing populists sweeping to victory, from the United States to Brazil and Italy, often after adopting harsh positions on protectionism, immigration and defense.
    Official data from the Election Commission showed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party ahead in 302 of the 542 seats up for grabs, up from the 282 it won in 2014 and more than the 272 seats needed for a majority in the lower house of parliament.
    That would give his party the first back-to-back majority for a single party since 1984.    Votes will be fully counted by Friday morning.
    Modi was showered with rose petals by some of the thousands of cheering supporters who waited for hours in a thunderstorm for his arrival at party headquarters on Thursday evening.
    “Whatever happened in these elections is in the past, we have to look ahead.    We have to take everyone forward, including our staunchest opponents,” he said in a televised address.
    He was critical of the many people that doubted the BJP could increase its majority.
    “The political pundits of India have to leave behind their ideas of the past,” he added.
CHALLENGES AWAIT
    Modi has slashed red tape in the world’s fifth-largest economy, though some overseas firms, including Amazon, Walmart and Mastercard, have complained about policies they say are designed to benefit domestic rivals.
    He will face demands to provide jobs for the tens of millions of young people coming on to the market in the next few years and to boost depressed farm incomes.
    “The immediate challenges are to address employment, the issue of agricultural income and revive the banking sector,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Care Ratings in Mumbai.
    But making good on his promise of unity will be difficult as the BJP campaign was often divisive, and India’s Muslim minority has expressed fears that policies aimed at pleasing the Hindu majority could imperil their livelihoods.
    Modi’s pledge of a strong stand against a separatist movement in Muslim-majority Kashmir has fueled tension with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, although its prime minister, Imran Khan, congratulated Modi on his win.
    “Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia,” Khan added on Twitter.
    Besides a harder line on national security, BJP members will look to Modi for progress on a project to building a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque demolished by Hindu zealots in the northern holy town of Ayodhya in 1992.
    “I want Modi to finish terrorism from Kashmir (and) make Pakistan bite the dust again and again,” said Shekhar Chahal, a BJP worker from the capital, New Delhi.
    “I am confident that Modi will also make the temple in Ayodhya.”
    The NDA’s predicted margin of victory, at 351 seats versus 93 for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, according to broadcaster NDTV, far exceeds survey forecasts in the run-up to the vote.
    Among the winners for the BJP was a Hindu ascetic accused of plotting a bomb attack on Muslims.
    Most polls indicated a victory for Modi’s alliance but expected it to fall short of an overall majority.
(Click HERE https://reut.rs/2VXBoxz for graphic of live updates of election results)
SECURITY SWING
    Modi was under pressure when he began campaigning, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.
    However, campaigning shifted toward India’s relationship with Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 40 Indian police in February in the Himalayan region of Kashmir claimed by both countries.
    Modi ordered an air strike on what India said was a militant training camp on the Pakistani side of the border, a tough response that benefited the right-wing BJP, analysts said.
    While Pakistan has signaled a willingness to open talks with India, it also displayed its military might, with the test of a surface-to-surface ballistic missile with a range of up to 1,500 miles (2,400 km).
    The BJP has also capitalized the star power of Modi, a frenetic campaigner, as well as its superior financial resources.
    It outspent Congress by six times on Facebook and Google advertising, data showed, and by as much as 20 times overall, sources told Reuters this month.
    The main opposition Congress party was ahead in just 52 seats, but its leader Rahul Gandhi, twice defeated in general elections by Modi, refused to rule out resigning as party chief in a brief televised news conference.
    Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all served as prime minister, lost to the BJP candidate in the northern constituency of Amethi the family has held almost continuously for the last four decades.
    But he was leading in the southern constituency from which he is also running for parliament.
    “The Congress party has not been able to improve at all,” said Rahul Verma, a fellow at the center for Policy Research in New Delhi.
    “One big story is the emerging challenge for the Congress to remain a national alternative to the BJP.    That now is under question.”
STRONG LEADER
    In the populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest number of lawmakers to parliament, the BJP was leading in 60 of the 80 seats in the fray, out in front of a powerful alliance of caste-based parties campaigning to improve rural conditions.
    “After the air strike on Pakistan, almost all these important issues started fading and farmers decided to cast their ballot for the BJP,” said Raghubar Das, 55, who grows rice and wheat on the outskirts of Ayodhya, which many devout Hindus believe to be the birthplace of the God-king Rama.
    “Mind you, they didn’t vote for the BJP, they voted for Modi.    Everyone loves a strong a leader.”
    The party also won seats in several states where it has long struggled, including West Bengal, where it took on the Trinamool Congress, a powerful regional party.    Data showed it leading in 19 of 42 seats, surpassing the two it won in 2014, data showed.
    Investors welcomed Modi’s victory, hoping his government will push through reforms.
    Indian stocks surged more than 5 percent this week to hit record highs on Thursday, but the euphoria fizzled quickly, with stocks and the rupee ending the day weaker, as the focus returned to a faltering economy.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal, Aftab Ahmed, Sanjeev Miglani, Nigam Prusty, Neha Dasgupta, Devjyot Ghoshal and Munsif Vengattil in NEW DELHI, Mayank Bhardwaj in AYODHYA, Subrata Nag Choudhury and Abhirup Roy in KOLKATA and James Mackenzie in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Robert Birsel, Clarence Fernandez and Toby Chopra)

5/23/2019 Iran says it will not surrender even if it is bombed
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Revolutionary Guards speed boats are seen near the USS John C. Stennis CVN-74 (not pictured) as it
makes its way to gulf through strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo
    GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) – Iran will not surrender to U.S. pressure and will not abandon its goals even if it is bombed, President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday, stepping up the war of words between the Islamic Republic and the United States.
    Earlier in the day, Iran’s top military chief said the standoff between Tehran and Washington was a “clash of wills,” warning that any enemy “adventurism” would meet a crushing response, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
    Tensions are festering between the two countries after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
    After pulling out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, U.S. President Donald Trump restored U.S. sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.
    “More than one year after the imposition of these severe sanctions, our people have not bowed to pressures despite facing difficulties in their lives,” Rouhani was quoted by the state news agency IRNA as saying.
    Addressing a ceremony in commemoration of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, he added: “We need resistance, so our enemies know that if they bomb our land, and if our children are martyred, wounded or taken as prisoners, we will not give up on our goals for the independence of our country and our pride.”
    Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, also pointed to an Iranian battle victory in the war with Iraq and said that outcome could be a message that Iran will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for any enemy “adventurism.”
    On Sunday, Trump tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.    Never threaten the United States again!
    Trump wants Iran to come to the table to negotiate a new deal with stricter curbs on its nuclear and missile programs.
    Reiterating Iran’s stance, the spokesman for its Supreme National Security Council said on Thursday: “There will not be any negotiations between Iran and America.”
    Keyvan Khosravi was also quoted as saying by the state broadcaster that some officials from several countries have visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States.”
    He did not elaborate, but the foreign minister of Oman, which in the past helped pave the way for negotiations between Iran and the United States, visited Tehran on Monday.
    “Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said.
    In Berlin, a German diplomatic source told Reuters that Jens Ploetner, a political director in Germany’s Foreign Ministry, was in Tehran on Thursday for meetings with Iranian officials to try to preserve the nuclear accord and cool tensions in the region.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/24/2019 Why U.S.-Iran tensions could quickly escalate into a crisis by Phil Stewart and Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A Iranian Revolutionary Guard boat is seen near the U.S. aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush in the Strait of
Hormuz as U.S. Navy helicopters hover nearby on March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo/File Photo
    WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Three years ago, when Iran’s military captured 10 U.S. sailors after they mistakenly strayed into Iranian waters, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif jumped on the phone in minutes and worked out the sailors’ release in hours.
    Could a similar crisis be so quickly resolved today?         “No,” Zarif said in a recent interview with Reuters.    “How could it be averted?
    Zarif and the current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, have never spoken directly, according to Iran’s mission at the United Nations.    They instead tend to communicate through name-calling on Twitter or through the media.
    “Pompeo makes sure that every time he talks about Iran, he insults me,” Zarif said.    “Why should I even answer his phone call?
    The open rancor between the nations’ two top diplomats underscores growing concern that the lack of any established channel for direct negotiation makes a military confrontation more likely in the event of a misunderstanding or a mishap, according to current and former U.S. officials, foreign diplomats, U.S. lawmakers and foreign policy experts.
    The Trump administration this month ordered the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East, citing intelligence about possible Iranian preparations to attack U.S. forces or interests.
    “The danger of an accidental conflict seems to be increasing over each day,” U.S. Senator Angus King, a political independent from Maine, told Reuters as he called for direct dialogue between the United States and Iran.
    A senior European diplomat said it was vital for top U.S. and Iranian officials to be on “speaking terms” to prevent an incident from mushrooming into a crisis.
    “I hope that there are some channels still existing so we don’t sleepwalk into a situation that nobody wants,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.    “The rhetoric that we have is alarming.”
    State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus declined to address how the administration would communicate with Iran in a crisis similar to the 2016 incident, but said: “When the time to talk comes, we are confident we will have every means to do so.”
    The administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran, she said, aims to force its leaders to the negotiating table.
    “If the Iranians are willing to engage on changing their ways to behave like a normal nation,” Ortagus said, “we are willing to talk to them.”
TWITTER DIPLOMACY
    In 2016, Kerry and Zarif knew one another well from the complex negotiations to reach a 2015 pact to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
    Three years later, top-level diplomatic relations have all but disintegrated in the wake of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear pact, its tightening of sanctions on Iranian oil, and its recent move to designate part of Iran’s military as a terrorist group.
    U.S. military officials cite growing concern about Iran’s development of precise missiles and its support for proxy forces in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond.
    In the absence of direct talks, Twitter has become a common forum for U.S. and Iranian officials to trade biting barbs.    On Wednesday, an advisor to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani fired off a tweet at Pompeo castigating him for provoking Iran with military deployments.
    “You @SecPompeo do not bring warships to our region and call it deterrence.    That’s called provocation,” the advisor, Hesameddin Ashena, tweeted in English.    “It compels Iran to illustrate its own deterrence, which you call provocation.    You see the cycle?
    That followed a Trump tweet on Sunday threatening to “end” Iran if it sought a fight, and a long history of bitter insults traded by Pompeo and Zarif.
    Pompeo in February called Zarif and Iran’s president “front men for a corrupt religious mafia” in a tweet.    That same month, another official at Pompeo’s State Department tweeted: “How do you know @JZarif is lying?    His lips are moving.”
    Zarif, in turn, has used the social media platform to condemn Pompeo and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton’s “pure obsession with Iran,” calling it “the behavior of persistently failing psychotic stalkers.”
‘AMERICANS HAVE OPTIONS’
    U.S. officials, diplomats and lawmakers said they doubted Zarif would refuse to take a call from Pompeo in a crisis, given the risks for Iran in any conflict with the U.S. military.
    In a Tuesday briefing with reporters, Pompeo appeared to dismiss concerns about Washington’s ability to communicate and negotiate with Iran.
    “There are plenty of ways that we can have a communication channel,” Pompeo said.
    Diplomats say Oman, Switzerland and Iraq are nations with ties to both countries that could pass messages.
    “It’s a little bit like the Israelis – when they need to get messages to people, they can get messages to people,” said a second senior European diplomat.
    Representative Michael Waltz – the first U.S. Army Green Beret elected to Congress, said he favored the diplomatic freeze as a way to force Iran into serious negotiations.
    “If you don’t have diplomatic isolation, you’re having one-off talks, that lessens the pressure,” said Waltz, who is also a former Pentagon official.
    But indirect message-passing can be too cumbersome in a fast-moving crisis, said Kevin Donegan, a retired vice admiral who oversaw U.S. naval forces in the Middle East as commander of the Fifth Fleet when the U.S. sailors were captured by Iran.
    Such dealings through intermediaries “require time and will not allow an opportunity to de-escalate a rapidly unfolding tactical situation,” said Donegan, now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who added that he was not commenting on current U.S. policy.
    Donegan and Waltz both said it would be helpful to have some kind of hotline between the U.S. and Iranian militaries, but Donegan and other experts were skeptical Iran would agree to such an arrangement.
BACK CHANNELS THROUGH OMAN, IRAQ … RUSSIA?
    On May 3 – after Washington became alarmed by intelligence indicating that Iran might be preparing for an attack on the United States or its interests – it sent messages to Iran via “a third party,” one U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told Congress on May 8 that messages had been sent to “to make sure that it was clear to Iran that we recognized the threat and we were postured to respond.”
    Waltz said Dunford told lawmakers at a closed-door hearing that he had sent a message to Qassem Soleimani – the influential commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force – warning him that Iran would be held directly accountable if one of its proxy forces attacks Americans.
    “The message now was: ‘We’re not going to hold your proxies accountable'” if they attack U.S. citizens or forces in the region, he said.    “‘We’re going to hold you, the regime, accountable.'
    Another official said the United States had authorized Iraq “to let the Iranians know that there is no plausible deniability about attacks on Americans in Iraq” after U.S. intelligence flagged preparations for a possible attack by Iran-backed militias in Iraq.
    Joseph Votel, the now retired four-star general who oversaw U.S. troops in the Middle East until March, noted earlier this year that the U.S. military might be able to indirectly get a message to Iranian forces through an existing hotline with Russia meant to avoid accidental conflicts in Syria.
    “The Iranians can talk to the Russians,” he said.    “We have a well-established professional communication channel with the Russians.”
    But the prospect of relying on the Russian government to get United States out of a crisis with Iran is hardly reassuring to many current and former officials in the United States.
    “That would be a risky choice,” said Wendy Sherman, an under secretary of state in the Obama administration.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

5/24/2019 Japan’s Motegi says he will meet U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer on Saturday
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a member of the U.S. trade delegation,
leaves a hotel in Beijing, China March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Friday that he will meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Tokyo on Saturday for trade talks ahead of a summit meeting between leaders from the two nations on Monday.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump are expected to discuss topics including North Korea’s nuclear programs, trade issues and the coming Group of 20 leaders’ summit.
(Reporting by Stanley White and Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

5/24/2019 North Korea blames U.S. for failed summit, urges ‘new calculation’ by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel
during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said on Friday an “arbitrary and dishonest” U.S. position had resulted in the failure to reach a deal during a second North Korea-U.S. summit, warning the nuclear issue would never be resolved without a new approach.
    A spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry accused the United States of trying to shift the blame for the breakdown of the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in February by raising a “completely irrelevant issue.”    He did not elaborate.
    “The underlying cause of setback of the DPRK-U.S. summit talks in Hanoi is the arbitrary and dishonest position taken by the United States, insisting on a method which is totally impossible to get through,” the unidentified spokesman said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
    “The United States would not be able to move us even an inch with the device it is now weighing in its mind, and the further its mistrust and hostile acts toward the DPRK grow, the fiercer our reaction will be.”
    The official was referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
    The statement was the latest criticism of the United States since the failed summit in Vietnam, where Kim had sought sanctions relief in return for the partial dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program.
    Trump called for a full roadmap for denuclearization including the transfer of bombs to the United States.
    Tension has again mounted in recent weeks.    The North fired short-range missiles early this month and Washington unveiled the seizure of a North Korean ship suspected of illicit coal shipments in breach of sanctions.
    Kim has set a year-end deadline for the United States to show more flexibility, but Trump and other U.S. officials have brushed that aside, calling for Kim to take action on a commitment to denuclearize.
    Unless the United States offered a new method of calculation, the stalled nuclear talks would never be restarted, the foreign ministry spokesman said.
    “And by extension, the prospect for resolving the nuclear issue will be much gloomier,” the official said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel)

5/24/2019 China says trade negotiations must be based on mutual respect by OAN Newsroom
    China’s ambassador to the U.S. — Cui Tiankai — recently explained what he believes needs to be done for trade talks to start back up.
    While speaking on the sidelines of the U.S.-China Governors Forum in Kentucky on Thursday, the ambassador said future negotiations must be based on mutual respect, the event hosted politicians, banks, and private businesses from both countries to exchange views and build connections.
    This year’s forum comes after a tense couple of weeks in which the U.S. raised tariffs on Chinese imports and blacklisted Huawei.
China’s ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai during an interview in Washington in November. Photo: Reuters
    “For any negotiation between countries, first there should be sincerity. Second, it should be based on good will, and third, just like the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said, you should keep your word.    If the negotiating parties can talk within the framework, they can reach a deal in a short period of time; if not, the deal cannot be reached no matter how much time you’ve spent.” — Cui Tiankai, China’s Ambassador to the U.S.
    Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with Chinese leaders at the event to help smooth over trade tensions.    The forum is set to wrap on Friday.

5/25/2019 U.S. troop move to Middle East dangerous for international peace: Iran’s Zarif
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sits for an interview with Reuters
in New York, New York, U.S. April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday that the U.S. decision to deploy more troops to the Middle East in response to the perceived threat from Iran was “extremely dangerous” for peace.
    The United States said it was sending 1,500 troops to region in what it called an effort to bolster defenses against Tehran, and it accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of direct responsibility for attacks on tankers this month.
    “The Americans have made such allegations to justify their hostile policies and to raise tensions in the Persian Gulf,” Zarif told state news agency IRNA.
    “Increased U.S. presence in our region is extremely dangerous and it threatens international peace and security, and this should be addressed,” he said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump also invoked the threat from Iran to declare a national security-related emergency that would clear the sale of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries without congressional approval.
    It follows decisions to speed up the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as to send bombers and additional Patriot missiles to the Middle East.
    Following U.S. media reports that Zarif had met Senator Dianne Feinstein during a U.S. visit last month, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said informative talks were common and did not involve negotiations.
    “For more than two decades, discussions have been held with non-governmental U.S. political elites, including members of Congress, to clarify and explain the policies of the Islamic Republic,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.
    Separately, a Revolutionary Guards commander said the security of the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil shipping route, was linked to Iran being able to export its oil, the semi-official news agency Fars reported.
    “Major General Gholamali Rashid said that talking about security and stability in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz is not possible without considering the interests of the Iranian nation, including the export of oil,” Fars said.
    Iran has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if the United States tries to strangle Tehran’s economy by halting its oil exports through increased sanctions.
    Separately, an Iranian military official said Iran could sink U.S. warships in the Gulf, while another said it was unlikely for a war to start in the region.
    “America…is sending two warships to the region.    If they commit the slightest stupidity, we will send these ships to the bottom of the sea along with their crew and planes using two missiles or two new secret weapons,” General Morteza Qorbani, an adviser to Iran’s military command, told the Mizan news agency.
    Western experts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, although there are concerns about its missile program and particularly its long-range ballistic missiles.
    “We believe rational Americans and their experienced commanders will not let their radical elements lead them into a situation from which it would be very difficult to get out, and that is why they will not enter a war,” Brigadier General Hassan Seifi, an assistant to Iran’s army chief, told Mehr news agency.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Sam Holmes, Alexander Smith and Angus MacSwan)

5/25/2019 Pakistan PM warns against war in region amid Iran tensions with U.S., Saudi by Drazen Jorgic
FILE PHOTO: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan delivers a speech at the opening ceremony for the second
Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan warned against the risk of conflict in the region, following a visit to Islamabad by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated.
    Strains have increased between Iran and the United States, which is a firm backer of Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, in the wake of this month’s attack on oil tankers in the Gulf region that Washington has blamed on Iran.
    Tehran has distanced itself from the bombings, but the United States has sent a aircraft carrier and an extra 1,500 troops to the Gulf, sparking concerns about the risks of conflict in a volatile region.
    Khan, who has been seeking to improve Pakistan’s strained relations with neighbor Iran, said he was concerned about the “rising tensions in the Gulf,” but did not specifically name the United States or Saudi Arabia.
    “He underscored that war was not a solution to any problem,” Khan’s office said in a statement late on Friday, citing the premier.
    “Further escalation in tensions in the already volatile region was not in anyone’s interest.    All sides needed to exercise maximum restraint in the current situation.”
    Washington has been seeking to increasingly tighten sanctions against Iran, as relations continue to worsen President Donald Trump.
    At the end of the two-day visit to Pakistan, Zarif told Iranian state-run newswire IRNA that U.S. allegations against Tehran were increasing tensions.
    “These actions are also a threat to global peace and stability,” he said.
    Earlier this month, four tankers, including two belonging to Saudi Arabia, were bombed near the United Arab Emirates’ Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs, located just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
    Washington has accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of carrying out the attacks, and the Trump administration has declared a national security-related emergency that would clear the sale of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries, bypassing congressional approval.
    Pakistan’s relations with Iran have also been strained in recent months, with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across the border.
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Sam Holmes)

5/25/2019 North Korean missile test violated U.N. resolution, says Bolton
FILE PHOTO: U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks during a graduation ceremony at the
U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, U.S., May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin
    TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Saturday North Korea’s recent missile launches violated a U.N. Security Council resolution and urged leader Kim Jong Un to return to denuclearization talks.
    It was the first time a senior U.S. official has described the tests as a violation of U.N. resolutions aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and came ahead of a four-day visit to Japan by U.S. President Donald Trump who arrives later in the day.
    “The U.N. resolution prohibits the launch of any ballistic missiles,” Bolton said at a press roundtable.    North Korea’s test firings included short range ballistic missiles and so there was “no doubt” it was a violation, he added.
    Earlier this month, Kim Jong Un oversaw the first flight of a previously untested weapon – a relatively small, fast missile experts believe will be easier to hide, launch and maneuver in flight.
    Bolton said that the United States was still open to talks with Kim’s regime but that it had not changed its position from the one outlined at the last summit between the United States and North Korea in Hanoi.
    “Trump has held the door open for Kim, the next step is for Kim to walk through it,” he said.
    Bolton also urged Kim to agree to a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which he said could help restart dialogue on North Korea’s weapons programs.
    An Abe Kim summit “could be substantive assistance to that,” he said.
    Trump, who will play golf with Abe on Sunday before watching Sumo wrestling, is expected to discuss topics ranging from North Korea to China and two-way trade when they sit down for a summit on Monday.
    The two leaders will also discuss rising tensions with Iran, Bolton said.    Abe is considering a visit to Iran as early as mid-June, public broadcaster NHK said on Friday, the first such trip in four decades.
    Washington has said it will stop waivers for countries buying Iranian oil and has designated Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
    The United State is also deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to what the Trump administration described as troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran.
    Bolton, who has spearheaded an increasingly hawkish U.S. policy on Iran, described recent attacks on tankers off the United Arab Emirates and a pipeline pumping station in Saudi Arabia, as well as a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone in Iraq, as “manifestations of concern.”
    The United States has “deep and serious” intelligence on the threat posed by Iran, said Bolton, who declined to provide details.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/25/2019 Iran FM: I have never spoken directly with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by OAN Newsroom
    Mike Pompeo’s Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif claims that he’s never directly spoken with the secretary of state.
    On Friday, the foreign minister said the main reason for the lack of communication was due to Pompeo’s “tendency to insult” him.
In this May 21, 2019, photo, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, left, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speak to members
of the media after a classified briefing for members of Congress on Iran on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    A State Department spokeswoman deflected concern over Zarif’s comments, explaining the administration’s “high-pressure campaign is aimed at forcing Iran to the negotiating table.”
    She added, “if the Iranians are willing to engage on changing their ways to behave like a normal nation, we are willing to talk to them.”
    Meantime, the foreign minister also took aim at the White House for its recent deployment of 15,000 troops to the Middle East.
    In a statement Saturday, Zarif called the president’s move dangerous for peace in the region, adding the U.S. is “inflating tensions with Iran.”
    His comments come after President Trump announced he will send troops to assist our Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE.
    He said the move was meant as a “deterrent” to Iran’s military, and will help guarantee the safety of U.S. forces.

5/25/2019 Nat’l Sec. Adviser: ‘No doubt’ NK violated UN resolutions by OAN Newsroom
    National Security Adviser John Bolton said North Korea violated UN restrictions, during a missile test earlier this month.
National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks at the commencement for the United States Coast Guard Academy
in New London, Conn., Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    Reports Saturday said Bolton told reporters there was “no doubt” the launches violated UN security council resolutions, adding they clearly included weapons North Korea is banned from testing.
    Pyongyang launched short range ballistic missiles on May 4 and 9, the first launches since late 2017.
    Bolton also said North Korea hasn’t responded to attempts to resume diplomatic talks, noting the U.S. special representative is ready to talk at any time.

5/25/2019 President Trump Lands in Japan, Touts Economic Ties With Tokyo by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump says commerce between the U.S. and Japan is necessary for ‘peace and prosperity’ between the two nations.
    The President stressed the importance of having ‘fair and reciprocal trade’ with Japan while delivering remarks in Tokyo Saturday morning.
President Donald Trump speaks as he meets with Japanese business leaders, Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    He praised Japan for making strides in closing the trade deficit by investing more money into American manufacturing and military equipment.
    “It’s my sincere hope that the Reiwa Era, the economic ties between the United States and Japan continue to grow deeper and stronger if that is possible I think we right now probably have the best relationship that we have ever had and that goes back a long ways, but I don’t think its ever been better” President Trump said.
    The President also said negotiations with Japan are moving along nicely, adding he thinks a deal could be reached ‘very quickly.’
    A potential deal would stop the U.S. from raising tariffs on Japanese auto imports, and would give American farmers access to greater markets.
    White House National Security Adviser John Bolton was also in Japan, where he met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo Friday, to brief him about the latest threats from North Korea and Iran.
    During the roundtable discussion, Bolton became the first senior U.S. official to describe North Korea’s recent missile tests as a violation of UN policy.
    Bolton reportedly encouraged Abe to hold a summit with chairman Kim Jong Un, as a way to re-open dialogue about the North’s weapons program.
    They also discussed Iran, and Washington’s decision to end oil waivers which could affect Japan’s fuel imports.
    President Trump will sit down for his own meeting with Abe on Monday.

5/26/2019 Trade beef aside, Trump and Abe bond over burgers, sumo and golf by Jeff Mason and Elaine Lies
U.S. President Donald Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe play golf at Mobara Country Club in Mobara,
Chiba prefecture, Japan May 26, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
    TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday played golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and presented a trophy to the winner of a sumo tournament, turning to personal diplomacy for the second day of a Japan visit shadowed by tough trade talk.
    Trump is unhappy with Japan’s large trade surplus and is considering putting high tariffs on its auto exports if a bilateral trade agreement is not reached.    The United States and China are also engaged in an expensive trade war that has pounded financial markets worldwide.
    But it was all smiles on Sunday as the two leaders played golf and later, with wives Melania and Akie, watched giant sumo wrestlers grapple on the final day of a 15-day tournament won by rising Japanese star Asanoyama.
    Trump, the first U.S. president to watch sumo in the sport’s homeland, waved to the audience as he entered the hallowed Kokugikan and then saluted them with applause as they waved and raised their phones to take photos.
    Arriving just in time for Asanoyama’s bout, Trump nodded as Abe gestured in explanation, later watching as the three final wrestlers, wearing only traditional loincloths, lifted their legs high and stamped them to the ground in a ritual entrance.
    The two couples used armchairs instead of sitting cross-legged on the “zabuton” cushions traditional for close ringside seats.
    Trump, using a special set of wooden stairs fitted to the sumo ring, presented the 25-year-old Asanoyama with the President’s Cup, a trophy topped with a bald eagle, the U.S. national bird.
    “In honor of your outstanding achievement as Sumo Grand Champion, I hereby award you the United States President’s Cup,” Trump said, reading from a prize certificate.
    Security was tight, with fans forced to pass through metal detectors.    The traditional throwing of cushions to mark an exciting round was prohibited.
BURGERS AND TRADE BEEFS
    The two met early at a suburban golf course. Trump, dressed in a red pullover, and Abe, wearing a blue blazer and white pants, smiled for photographers before taking off for their game, which took place in 30 degree Celsius (86 F) temperatures as an unseasonal heat wave blasts Japan.
    Abe’s office later posted a “selfie” picture on the course with Trump and Abe smiling together, Trump wearing a red “USA” cap.    Abe said in the post he hoped to make the Japan-U.S. alliance “even more unshakeable.”
    Despite the bonhomie, trade was never far from mind.
    “Great progress being made in our trade negotiations with Japan.    Agriculture and beef heavily in play,” Trump tweeted after arriving back in Tokyo from the suburban golf course where the two played 16 holes.
    “Much will wait until after their July elections where I anticipate big numbers.”
    Later, prior to the start of dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant where the food is handed to the diners on paddles, Trump said the two had had a productive day.
    “The prime minister and I talked a lot today about trade and military and various others things,” he said.    “I think we had a very productive day.”
    An election for the upper house of parliament is likely to take place in July, though there is also speculation Abe may call a snap election for the lower house at the same time.
    Beef was also heavily in play at lunch. The golf was followed by double cheeseburgers made with U.S. beef, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    The president’s state visit is meant to showcase the strength of the Japan-U.S. relationship, but tensions over trade have provided a backdrop of uncertainty.
    During remarks to business leaders on Saturday night, Trump ribbed Japan over its trading “edge” while saying progress had been made.
    “With this deal, we hope to address the trade imbalance, remove barriers to United States exports, and ensure fairness and reciprocity in our relationship.    And we’re getting closer,” he said.
    “Just last week, U.S. beef exports gained full access to Japan and to the markets in Japan for the first time since the year 2000.    We welcome your support in these efforts, and we hope to have several further announcements soon, and some very big ones over the next few months.”
    U.S. officials have played down prospects of any major progress on the president’s trip.
    The two leaders are also likely to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, another point where their thinking diverges.
    Though Japan has said North Korea’s recent missile launches were a violation of U.N. resolutions aimed at halting Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, Trump said on Sunday he was not concerned about them and was confident that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, would keep his promises.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/26/2019 Iran will defend itself against any aggression, says foreign minister by Ahmed Rasheed
Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaks during a news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister
Mohamed Ali Alhakim in Baghdad, Iraq May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iranian will defend itself against any military or economic aggression, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday, calling on European states to do more to preserve a nuclear agreement his country signed.
    Speaking in a news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed al-Hakim, Zarif said his country wanted to build balanced relations with its Gulf Arab neighbours and that it had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.
    “We will defend against any war efforts against Iran, whether it be an economic war or a military one, and we will face these efforts with strength,” he said.
    Strains have increased between Iran and the United States, which is a firm backer of Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, after this month’s attack on oil tankers in the Gulf region that Washington has blamed on Iran.
    Tehran has distanced itself from the bombings, but the United States has sent an aircraft carrier and an extra 1,500 troops to the Gulf, sparking concerns about the risks of conflict in a volatile region.
    Iraq stands with Iran and is willing to act as an intermediary between its neighbour and the United States, Hakim said, adding that Baghdad does not believe an “economic blockade” is fruitful, a reference to U.S. sanctions.
    “We are saying very clearly and honestly that we oppose the unilateral actions taken by the United States.    We stand with the Islamic     Republic of Iran in its position,” said Hakim.    The United States and Iran are Iraq’s two main allies.
NUCLEAR REFERENDUM?
    Washington has been seeking to tighten sanctions against Iran, as relations worsen under President Donald Trump, who last year pulled out of a nuclear agreement his predecessor Barack Obama had signed with Iran alongside other world powers in 2015.
    In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani floated the idea of holding a referendum over Iran’s nuclear programme, Iranian media reported.
    A referendum over the controversial nuclear programme could give Iran’s leaders space to manoeuvre and a chance to resolve the standoff with the United States.
    Top Iranian leaders have said they are not seeking war with the United States and officials speaking to Reuters from Tehran said last week that despite the sharpened rhetoric with Washington, authorities are trying to avoid an open conflict.
    “Article 59 of the Constitution (referendum ) is a deadlock breaker … and could be a problem-solver at any junction,” the semi-official news agency ILNA quoted Rouhani as saying late on Saturday.
    Rouhani said that, when he was a top nuclear negotiator in 2004, he had proposed holding a referendum on the nuclear issue to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    Iran has only held three referendums since its 1979 Islamic revolution — to approve the setting up of an Islamic Republic and then to approve and amend the constitution.
    Washington says it has built up the U.S. military presence in the region, accusing Tehran of threats to U.S. troops and interests.    Tehran has described U.S. moves as “psychological warfare” and a “political game.”
    Separately, a deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said the U.S. military presence in the Middle East was at its “weakest in history” despite the talk of a build-up.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Dubai newsroom ; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Keith Weir)

5/26/2019 China’s robot censors crank up as Tiananmen anniversary nears by Cate Cadell
People take pictures of paramilitary officers marching in formation in Tiananmen Square
in Beijing, China May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – It’s the most sensitive day of the year for China’s internet, the anniversary of the bloody June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square, and with under two weeks to go, China’s robot censors are working overtime.
    Censors at Chinese internet companies say tools to detect and block content related to the 1989 crackdown have reached unprecedented levels of accuracy, aided by machine learning and voice and image recognition.
    “We sometimes say that the artificial intelligence is a scalpel, and a human is a machete,” said one content screening employee at Beijing Bytedance Co Ltd, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to media.
    Two employees at the firm said censorship of the Tiananmen crackdown, along with other highly sensitive issues including Taiwan and Tibet, is now largely automated.
    Posts that allude to dates, images and names associated with the protests are automatically rejected.
    “When I first began this kind of work four years ago there was opportunity to remove the images of Tiananmen, but now the artificial intelligence is very accurate,” one of the people said.
    Four censors, working across Bytedance, Weibo Corp and Baidu Inc apps said they censor between 5,000-10,000 pieces of information a day, or five to seven pieces a minute, most of which they said were pornographic or violent content.
    Despite advances in AI censorship, current-day tourist snaps in the square are sometimes unintentionally blocked, one of the censors said.     Byte dance declined to comment, while Weibo and Baidu did not respond to requests for comment.
SENSITIVE PERIOD
    The Tiananmen crackdown is a taboo subject in China 30 years after the government sent tanks to quell student-led protests calling for democratic reforms.    Beijing has never released a death toll but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.
    June 4th itself is marked by a cat-and-mouse game as people use more and more obscure references on social media sites, with obvious allusions blocked immediately.    In some years, even the word “today” has been scrubbed.
    In 2012, China’s most-watched stock index fell 64.89 points on the anniversary day https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-stocks-tiananmen-idUSBRE8530F720120604, echoing the date of the original event in what analysts said was likely a strange coincidence rather than a deliberate reference.
    Still, censors blocked access to the term “Shanghai stock market” and to the index numbers themselves on microblogs, along with other obscure references to sensitive issues.
    While companies censorship tools are becoming more refined, analysts, academics and users say heavy-handed policies mean sensitive periods before anniversaries and political events have become catch-alls for a wide range of sensitive content.
    In the lead-up to this year’s Tiananmen Square anniversary, censorship on social media has targeted LGBT groups, labor and environment activists and NGOs, they say.
    Upgrades to censorship tech have been urged on by new policies introduced by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).    The group was set up – and officially led – by President Xi Jinping, whose tenure has been defined by increasingly strict ideological control of the internet.
    The CAC did not respond to a request for comment.
    Last November, the CAC introduced new rules aimed at quashing dissent online in China, where “falsifying the history of the Communist Party” on the internet is a punishable offence for both platforms and individuals.
    The new rules require assessment reports and site visits for any internet platform that could be used to “socially mobilize” or lead to “major changes in public opinion,” including access to real names, network addresses, times of use, chat logs and call logs.
    One official who works for CAC told Reuters the recent boost in online censorship is “very likely” linked to the upcoming anniversary.
    “There is constant communication with the companies during this time,” said the official, who declined to directly talk about the Tiananmen, instead referring to the “the sensitive period in June.”
    Companies, which are largely responsible for their own censorship, receive little in the way of directives from the CAC, but are responsible for creating guidelines in their own “internal ethical and party units,” the official said.
SECRET FACTS
    With Xi’s tightening grip on the internet, the flow of information has been centralized under the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department and state media network.    Censors and company staff say this reduces the pressure of censoring some events, including major political news, natural disasters and diplomatic visits.
    “When it comes to news, the rule is simple… If it is not from state media first, it is not authorized, especially regarding the leaders and political items,” said one Baidu staffer.
    “We have a basic list of keywords which include the 1989 details, but (AI) can more easily select those.”
    Punishment for failing to properly censor content can be severe.
    In the past six weeks, popular services including a Netease Inc news app, Tencent Holdings Ltd’s news app TianTian, and Sina Corp have all been hit with suspensions ranging from days to weeks, according to the CAC, meaning services are made temporarily unavailable on apps stores and online.
    For internet users and activists, penalties can range from fines to jail time for spreading information about sensitive events online.
    In China, social media accounts are linked to real names and national ID numbers by law, and companies are legally compelled to offer user information to authorities when requested.
    “It has become normal to know things and also understand that they can’t be shared,” said one user, Andrew Hu.    “They’re secret facts.”
    In 2015, Hu spent three days in detention in his home region of Inner Mongolia after posting a comment about air pollution onto an unrelated image that alluded to the Tiananmen crackdown on Twitter-like social media site Weibo.
    Hu, who declined to use his full Chinese name to avoid further run-ins with the law, said when police officers came to his parents house while he was on leave from his job in Beijing he was surprised, but not frightened.
    “The responsible authorities and the internet users are equally confused,” said Hu.    “Even if the enforcement is irregular, they know the simple option is to increase pressure.”
(Reporting by Cate Cadell. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)
[The above article is shocking in if that could ever happen in the U.S.    I want to remind you that when Obama took over in 2009 it took some time for them to take control of the main press and TV networks and they controlled the narratives of its contents with no confrontation and pushed the Affordable Care Act using improper Execute actions and their computer activation was not their strong points if you remember the ACA implentation in 2014 bombed on them and had to spend millions to get it operational, and I was beginning to catch on to Obama's Progressive Socialist Liberal policies being pushed on us, and started fighting back on it.    What I am telling you now if you read the above article that if the Democrats manage to take over the elections in 2020 and president.    God help us that they are crazy enough now that they would activate a AI system as China has to control the narrative of the press, radio, TV, internet and anything else they can to maintain control.    THAT WOULD BE EQUAL TO THE REVELATION OF THE BEAST OF THE BIBLE OF THE END IS NEAR PLEASE VOTE THEM OUT AMERCIA.].

5/26/2019 U.S. ambassador urges China to talk to the Dalai Lama
FILE PHOTO: Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrives for his visit to the
Tibet Institute Rikon in Rikon, Switzerland September 21, 2018. REUTERS/ Arnd Wiegmann
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China should hold talks with Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad told Chinese officials during a trip to the Himalayan region where he criticized Beijing for interfering in religious freedom.
    Branstad visited Tibet last week, the first such trip by a U.S. ambassador since 2015, amid escalating trade and diplomatic tension between the two countries.
    His visit followed the passing of a U.S. law in December that requires the United States to deny visas to Chinese officials in charge of implementing policies that restrict access to Tibet for foreigners, legislation that was denounced by China.
    Branstad met Chinese government officials and Tibetan religious and cultural figures, and “raised our long-standing concerns about lack of consistent access” to Tibet, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said in an emailed statement on Saturday.
    “He encouraged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, to seek a settlement that resolves differences,” an embassy spokeswoman said.
    “He also expressed concerns regarding the Chinese government’s interference in Tibetan Buddhists’ freedom to organize and practice their religion,” she said.
    Beijing sent troops into remote, mountainous Tibet in 1950 in what it officially terms a peaceful liberation and has ruled there with an iron fist ever since.
    The Dalai Lama fled to India in early 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and Beijing still brands him a dangerous separatist.    China says its leaders have the right to approve his successor, as a legacy from China’s emperors.
    But the 83-year-old Nobel peace laureate monk, who lives in exile in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala, has said that his incarnation could be found in India after he dies, and that any other successor named by China would not be respected.
    Tibetan tradition holds that the soul of a senior Buddhist monk is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death.
    Tibet’s Communist Party secretary, Wu Yingjie, told Branstad how China had made “huge achievements” in “guaranteeing according to law” religious freedom and traditional culture in Tibet, the official Tibet Daily newspaper said late on Saturday.
    Wu added that he “sincerely welcomed more American friends to visit” the region.
    China’s Foreign Ministry said last week that China hoped the ambassador would not take any “prejudices” with him on the trip.
    In December, China criticized the United States for passing the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which seeks to promote access to Tibet for U.S. diplomats and other officials, journalists and other citizens by denying U.S. entry for Chinese officials deemed responsible for restricting access to Tibet.
    The U.S. government is required to begin denying visas by the end of this year.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/27/2019 Trump says Iran nuclear deal possible as sanctions bite by Jeff Mason and Malcolm Foster
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at
Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo, Japan, May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday a deal with Iran on its nuclear program was possible, crediting economic sanctions for curbing activities Washington has said are behind a spate of attacks in the Middle East.
    “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen,” Trump said during a news conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
    “It has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership,” Trump said.    “We aren’t looking for regime change — I just want to make that clear.    We are looking for no nuclear weapons.”
    Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States after this month’s attack on oil tankers in the Gulf region.
    Washington, a firm backer of Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, has blamed the attacks on Iran, which denies the accusations.
    The United States has deployed a carrier strike group and bombers to the Mideast region and an extra 1,500 troops to the Gulf, prompting fears of a conflict.
    Trump’s comments came after his national security adviser John Bolton said on Saturday that the United States had “deep and serious” intelligence on threats posed by Iran, without providing details.
    Trump, on a four-day visit to Japan, welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran after broadcaster NHK said Japan’s leader is considering a trip to Tehran as early as mid-June.    Iran said a visit was unlikely in the near future.
    “I know for a fact that the prime minister is very close with the leadership of Iran, and we’ll see what happens,” Trump said.
    During his joint news conference with Trump, Abe said Japan would do what it can on the Iran issue.
    “Peace and stability of the Middle East is very important for Japan and the United States and the international community as a whole,” Abe said.
    Trump last year withdrew the United States from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, and is ratcheting up sanctions in an effort to end Iran’s international sales of crude oil and strangle its economy.
    Japan was a major buyer of Iranian oil for decades before the U.S. sanctions — which Trump said were taking effect.
    “They were fighting in many locations,” he said of Iran.    “Now they are pulling back because they have serious economic problems.”

    Bolton, who has spearheaded an increasingly hawkish U.S. policy on Iran, described recent bomb attacks on tankers off the United Arab Emirates and a pipeline pumping station in Saudi Arabia, as well as a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone as “manifestations of concern” about Iran.
    Iran has distanced itself from the bombings and on Sunday, its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said his country will defend itself against any military or economic aggression.
(Additional reporting by Tim Kelly; Writing by Tim Kelly and Malcolm Foster; editing by Darren Schuettler)
[The fake news will not tell you that Trump's sanctions are hurting Iran and they do not have the funds to support their attacks in the Middle East nations.    Note that I have Iran in the East with China who Trump is applying pressure on both of them who are in the King of the East.].

5/27/2019 Trump presses Japan over trade gap, expects ‘good things’ from North Korea by Jeff Mason and Linda Sieg
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are escorted by Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako
during an welcome ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump pressed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to even out a trade imbalance with the United States and said he was happy with how things were going with North Korea but was in no rush to reach a peace deal.
    Trump said at a news conference with Abe after their summit that his goal was to remove trade barriers to put U.S. exports on a fair footing in Japan.    He said he hoped to have more to announce on trade very soon and said he and Abe had agreed to expand cooperation in human space exploration.
    “We have an unbelievably large imbalance, as you know, trade imbalance with Japan for many, many years, Japan having the big advantage,” Trump said.
    “They are brilliant business people, brilliant negotiators, and put us in a very tough spot.    But I think we will have a deal with Japan,” he added.
    Abe, for his part, said the two leaders had agreed to speed up two-way trade talks, but dodged a question about timing.
    Trump, who is on a four-day state visit to Japan meant to showcase the alliance between the allies, said on Twitter on Sunday that he expected big moves on trade would wait until after Japan’s upper house election in July.
    “Trade-wise, I think we’ll be announcing some things, probably in August, that will be very good for both countries,” Trump said on Monday at the start of the talks.    “We’ll get the balance of trade, I think, straightened out rapidly.”
    Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters there was no agreement to reach a trade deal by August.
    Abe, who has developed a warm relationship with Trump since the U.S. leader came to office, stressed the closeness of ties.
    “This visit of President Trump and Madame Trump is a golden opportunity to clearly show the unshakable bond to the whole world and inside Japan as well,” Abe told the news conference.
    Earlier, Trump was greeted by Emperor Naruhito and his Harvard-educated wife at the imperial palace in Tokyo in a formal welcome ceremony broadcast live on national television.
    Trump is the first foreign dignitary to be received by the monarch since the latter inherited the throne after his father, Akihito, stepped down on April 30 in the first abdication by a Japanese emperor in two centuries.
    Trump has made clear he was pleased to have the honor of the first reception with the emperor, who is hosting a state dinner for the U.S. leader and his wife on Monday.
    On Sunday, Trump spent what he said was “an incredible evening” watching the Japanese national sport of sumo – where nearly naked wrestlers grapple on a raised sand ring – after he and Abe had bonded over hamburgers and golf.
FRIENDSHIP AND FRICTION
    Abe and Trump have put on a show of friendship but have policy disagreements over trade and North Korea.    Trump has threatened to target Japanese automakers with high tariffs.
    He has also spearheaded an expensive trade dispute with China.    That trade war between the world’s two largest economies has hurt markets worldwide and confounded U.S. allies, including Japan and the European Union, although those allies share U.S. concerns about Chinese practices.
    Trump told the news conference that Washington was not ready to make a deal with Beijing but he expected on in the future.
    “I believe that we will have a very good deal with China sometime in the future.    Because I don’t believe that China can continue to pay these really hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs,” he said.
    “You know businesses are leaving China, by the hundreds, by the thousands, and going into areas that are not tariffed.”
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing that China’s stance was consistent: all disputes should be resolved through negotiations and China-U.S. consultations “must be based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.”
    Trump also expressed optimism over prospects that North Korea would give up its nuclear program, and repeated that he was not bothered by its recent missile tests.
    “My people think it could have been a violation, as you know.    I view it differently – I view it as a man, perhaps he wants to get attention.    Perhaps not.    Who knows?    It doesn’t matter.    All I know is that there have been no nuclear tests, no ballistic missiles going out, no long-range missiles going out.    And I think that someday we’ll have a deal,” Trump said.
    “I’m not in a rush,” he added.
    Trump also said he agreed with Kim that former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who has been critical of North Korea and is now campaigning to become the Democratic Party candidate for the 2020 U.S. presidential election, was a “low IQ individual.”
    Abe said he supported Trump’s approach to Kim, but repeated Japan’s stance that recent short-range missile tests violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
    The two leaders also discussed Iran.    Japanese media have said Abe was considering a trip there next month, to try to soothe rising tension between Iran and the United States.
    Also on Monday, Trump met families of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea and told the relatives that he would work with Abe to bring the abductees home.
    In 2002, North Korea admitted its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese decades ago.    Japan says 17 of its citizens were abducted, five of whom were repatriated.    North Korea has said eight are dead and that another four never entered the country.
    Abe has vowed not to rest until all the abductees come home.
(Additional reporting by Malcolm Foster, Elaine Lies, Tim Kelly and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Jeff Mason and Linda Sieg; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

5/27/2019 China bridles at rare meeting between Taiwan and U.S. security officials
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting between U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce speaks
and with Su Chia-chyuan, President of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China responded angrily on Monday as Taiwan confirmed the first meeting in more than four decades between senior U.S. and Taiwanese security officials.
    Taiwan’s national security chief David Lee met White House national security adviser John Bolton earlier this month, the island’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
    The official Central News Agency said the meeting was the first since the island and the United States ended formal diplomatic ties in 1979.
    China considers Taiwan a wayward province, to be reclaimed by force if necessary, and the meeting angered Beijing which is already locked in a bitter trade war with Washington.
    “China is extremely dissatisfied and resolutely opposed to this,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing, adding China was against any form of official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan.
    The diplomatic ties between Beijing and Washington have become increasingly strained in recent weeks due to an escalating trade war, U.S. support for Taiwan and China’s muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols.
    The rare meeting will be viewed by Taiwan as a sign of support from the Trump administration.    Tensions have also risen between Taipei and Beijing, which considers the democratically ruled island part of “one China.”
    The meeting took place during Lee’s May 13-21 visit to the United States, Taiwan’s brief statement said.
    “During the trip, together with U.S. government officials, Secretary-General Lee met with representatives from our diplomatic allies, reiterating support and commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the statement said.
    Taiwan’s foreign affairs ministry and the de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan declined to comment on Monday.
    Beijing regularly calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue in ties with the United States, which has no formal ties with Taiwan but is the island’s main source of arms.
    The United States has in recent months increased the frequency of patrols through the strategic Taiwan Strait despite opposition from China.
    China has been ramping up military and diplomatic pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, conducting drills near Taiwan and snatching its few remaining diplomatic allies.
    Earlier in May, the U.S. House of Representatives backed legislation supporting Taiwan as members of the U.S. Congress pushed for a sharper approach to relations with Beijing.
    The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taipei more than $15 billion in arms since 2010.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

5/27/2019 China’s industrial profits shrink in April, add to pressure on economy
FILE PHOTO: A worker stands next to robotic arms welding pump truck part at a factory of the Foton Loxa
Heavy Machinery Co in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, China May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Profits for China’s industrial firms shrank in April as slowing manufacturing activity halted the previous month’s surge, putting more pressure on policymakers to step up support for an economy hit by a bitter trade war with the United States.
    Earnings at China’s key manufacturing sector have been declining since November last year, with the exception of March, as both domestic and global demand slackened.
    Industrial profits dropped 3.7% year-on-year to 515.4 billion yuan ($74.80 billion) in April, partly due to a high base of comparison in the previous year, according to data published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Monday.    That compared with a 13.9% surge in March, which was the biggest gain in eight months.
    Zhu Hong of the statistics bureau said in a statement the March results benefited from companies buying industrial goods ahead of a value added tax (VAT) cut.    The firms then scaled back on purchases in April in a blow to profits.
    For the first four months, industrial firms notched up profits of 1.81 trillion yuan, down 3.4% from a year earlier, compared with a 3.3% drop in the first quarter this year.
    The contraction in profits was in line with the weak growth in industrial output in the January-April period.    Weak fixed-asset investment has also stoked worries about demand as have new factory orders, which remained sluggish in April, while exports have fallen on a sharp drop in shipments to the United States.
    China’s trade frictions with the United States escalated suddenly this month, reversing the apparent progress in dialogue seen earlier this year, as U.S. President Donald Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods and threatened to slap tariffs of up to 25% on another $300 billion Chinese imports.
    The U.S. has also put the Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to a blacklist, effectively banning the company to do business with U.S. firms.
    Profits in telecommunications and electronic equipment manufacturing, which are more vulnerable to U.S. tariffs than other product classes, declined 15.3% in Jan-April, worsening from a 7.0% drop in the first three months.
    Iris Pang, Greater China Economist at ING, said the broadening rift between China and the United States over Huawei along with increasing concerns in other countries about the security of Huawei’s products will hit China’s exports as well as earnings of its telecom sector.
    “As the technology war continues, China’s industrial profits starting from May will likely deteriorate faster (than January-April),” she said, adding that a 5.0% year-on-year contraction in January-May profits is possible as a downturn in earnings for the telecom industry deepens.
    In response to a slowing economy and higher U.S. import tariffs on Chinese goods, Beijing has stepped up support for cash-strapped manufacturing firms.    China has pledged billions of dollars in additional tax cuts and infrastructure spending, while its central bank has also announced a cut in three phases in the reserve requirement ratio for regional banks to reduce small companies’ financing costs.
    Upstream sectors like oil extraction still saw the lion’s share of profit gains with faster growth in January-April.    The decline in profits earned by steel mills and chemical plants moderated from the first three months.
    Liabilities of industrial firms rose 5.5% year-on-year as of end-April, the NBS said.
    The data includes companies with annual revenues of more than 20 million yuan from their main operations.
($1 = 6.8901 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Stella Qiu, Min Zhang and Ryan Woo, additional reporting by Roxanne Liu; Editing by Sam Holmes & Shri Navaratnam)

5/27/2019 Pres. Trump: we’re not looking for regime change by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump takes an optimistic tone, as he suggests he could make a denuclearization deal with Iran.
FILE – In this Nov. 8, 2017 photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, German soldiers
assigned to Surface Air and Missile Defense Wing 1, fire the Patriot weapons system at the NATO Missile
Firing Installation, in Chania, Greece. (Sebastian Apel/U.S. Department of Defense, via AP)
    During a joint press conference with the Japanese prime minister Monday, the president said when he came into office Iran was a terror, and was enabled by former president Obama and the Iran nuclear deal.
    He then said thanks to his maximum pressure sanctions campaign, Iran is pulling back because of its hurting economy.
    The president added; he believes Iran’s leadership could come to the table to lift Tehran out of ruin.
    “And I’m not looking that, to hurt Iran at all.    I’m looking to have Iran say no nuclear weapons.    We have enough problems in this world right now with nuclear weapons,” said President Trump.    “No nuclear weapons for Iran. And I think we’ll make a deal.    I think Iran, again I think Iran has tremendous economic potential.    And I look forward to letting them get back to the stage where they can show that.    I think Iran, I know so many people from Iran.    These are great people.    It has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership.    We’re not looking for regime change.    I just want to make that clear.    We’re looking for no nuclear weapons.”
    The president went on to say, the sunset clause in the Obama-Biden deal would have given Iran free access to nuclear weapons in just a short period of time, adding “what kind of deal is that.”

5/27/2019 China: trade dispute should only be resolved through talks by OAN Newsroom
    China’s Foreign Ministry says any dispute between China and the U.S. should be resolved through talks.
    This comes after trade negotiations between the world’s largest economies stalled earlier this month.
    President Trump has hiked tariffs to 25% on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, and threatened to impose duties on all remaining Chinese goods sold in the U.S.
    During a press conference Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman criticized the U.S., while claiming Beijing’s attitude has always been consistent.
    “As everyone has seen, the U.S. side, including those in high places, has been saying all sorts of things about the China-U.S. trade and economic consultations,” said China Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang.    “Sometimes they say a deal will be reached shortly, sometimes they say reaching a deal will be difficult.    But you can look back that during the same period, China’s attitude has always been the same.    First, we have always believed that all disputes between two countries, of course, should be resolved through negotiations and consultations.”
    President Trump has said the U.S. is not ready to make an agreement with China, but remains optimistic a great deal will be reached in the future.

5/27/2019 NK fires back at Bolton’s comments on recent missile tests by OAN Newsroom
    North Korea condemns National Security Adviser John Bolton, after he said Pyongyang’s recent missile launch potentially violated UN rules.
In this Friday, May 24, 2019, photo, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton is surrounded by reporters at the prime minister’s
official residence in Tokyo. Bolton called a series of short-range missiles launched by North Korea last month were violations to U.N.
Security Council resolutions, stressing the need to keep sanctions in place. Bolton said Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Tokyo the
U.S. position on the North’s denuclearization is consistent and that a repeated pattern of failures should be stopped. (Yohei Kanasashi/Kyodo News via AP)
    In a statement by North Korea’s official news agency, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said giving up missile tests would mean giving up the right to self-defense and sovereignty.
    The official pivoted to blast Bolton’s remarks, calling him “inordinately ignorant” and a “war monger.”    Several U.S. Defense officials have warned that those launches in early may could signal Pyongyang may not be ready to fully denuclearize.
    However, President Trump has said the launches do not concern him, adding he is still confident in his relationship with Kim Jong-Un.

5/27/2019 Zarif says Iran not seeking nuclear arms: Twitter
FILE PHOTO - Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaks during a news conference with Iraqi
Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim in Baghdad, Iraq May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, which its supreme leader had banned in an edict, adding on Twitter that U.S. policies were hurting the Iranian people and causing regional tensions.
    “Ayatollah (Ali) @khamenei_ir long ago said we’re not seeking nuclear weapons—by issuing a fatwa (edict) banning them,” Zarif said in a tweet.    “(U.S.) Economic Terrorism is hurting the Iranian people and causing tension in the region.”
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Catherine Evans)

5/27/2019 U.S. sanctions policy threatens Middle East security: Iran deputy foreign minister
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi speaking at the Chatham House
think tank in London, Britain February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Washington’s sanctions policy threatens the security of the Middle East, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Monday, according to a statement on the ministry’s website.
    Araqchi, while on a visit to Kuwait, also said Iran was ready for dialogue with other countries in the region.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh)

5/28/2019 Iran sees no prospect of negotiations with U.S.: foreign ministry
FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers
and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during Iran
nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran sees no prospect of negotiations with the United States, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program was possible.
    Washington withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran, and is ratcheting up sanctions in efforts to strangle Iran’s economy by ending its international sales of crude oil.
    Trump said on Monday: “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen.”
    Asked about Trump’s comments in a news conference in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency: “We currently see no prospect of negotiations with America.”
    “Iran pays no attention to words; What matters to us is a change of approach and behavior.”
    Trump also said that United States was not looking for regime change in Iran, adding that “we are looking for no nuclear weapons.”
    Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said on Tuesday the country was not allowed to pursue the development of nuclear weapon as this was banned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority.
    Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States since Washington deployed a carrier strike group and bombers and announced plans to deploy 1,500 troops to the Middle East, prompting fears of a conflict.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Andrew Heavens and John Stonestreet)

5/28/2019 North Koreans paying bribes to survive: U.N. report by Stephanie Nebehay
The flag of North Korea is seen in Geneva, Switzerland, June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy
    GENEVA (Reuters) – North Koreans are forced to pay bribes to officials to survive in their isolated country where corruption is “endemic” and repression rife, the U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday in a report that Pyongyang dismissed as politically motivated.
    The report said officials extorted money from a population struggling to make ends meet, threatening them with detention and prosecution – particularly those working in the informal economy.
    The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the formal name for North Korea, rejected the report, saying it was “politically motivated for sinister purposes.”
    “Such reports are nothing more than fabrication … as they are always based on the so-called testimonies of ‘defectors’ who provide fabricated information to earn their living or are compelled to do so under duress or enticement,” its Geneva mission said in a statement to Reuters.
    North Korea blames the dire humanitarian situation on U.N. sanctions imposed for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs since 2006.    But the report said that the military receives priority funding amid “economic mismanagement.”
    “I am concerned that the constant focus on the nuclear issue continues to divert attention from the terrible state of human rights for many millions of North Koreans,” Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.
    “The rights to food, health, shelter, work, freedom of movement and liberty are universal and inalienable, but in North Korea they depend primarily on the ability of individuals to bribe State officials,” she said.
    Four in 10 North Koreans, or 10.1 million people, are chronically short of food and further cuts to already minimal rations are expected after the worst harvest in a decade, a U.N. assessment said earlier this month.
    “The threat of arrest, detention and prosecution provide State officials with a powerful means of extorting money from a population struggling to survive,” the U.N. rights office report said.
CASH OR CIGARETTES
    Bribery is “an everyday feature of people’s struggle to make ends meet,” said the report, entitled “The price is rights.”    It denounced what it called a “vicious cycle of deprivation, corruption and repression.”
    It is based on 214 interviews with North Korean “escapees,” mainly from the northeastern provinces of Ryanggang and North Hamgyong, bordering China.    They were the first to be cut from the public distribution system that collapsed in 1994, leading to a famine estimated to have killed up to 1 million, it said.
    “As my father still had to work at a state firm that could no longer afford giving rations, we survived by selling taffy and liquor my mom made,” Ju Chan-yang, a 29-year-old defector, told a news conference hosted by the U.N. rights office in Seoul on Tuesday.
    Ju, who defected to the South in 2011, said she also made a living by selling banned South Korean and U.S. products in the underground economy.    Sometimes she had to bribe authorities.
    “If you get caught and don’t have bribes to pay, you could get executed, just like my relatives,” she said.
    Many North Koreans pay bribes of cash or cigarettes not to have to report to state-assigned jobs where they receive no salary, thus allowing them to earn income in rudimentary markets, the report said.
    Others bribe border guards to cross into China, where women are vulnerable to trafficking into forced marriages or the sex trade, it added.
    “North Korea is a society where all of its members are involved in corruption because they’re forced to do illegal acts only to survive,” said Lee Han-byeol, who came to the South in 2001 and now runs a group that helps defectors.
    Bachelet urged North Korean authorities to stop prosecuting people for engaging in legitimate market activity and to allow them freedom of movement within the country and abroad.    China should not forcibly repatriate North Koreans, she added.
    The United States called on North Korea this month to “dismantle all political prison camps” and release all political prisoners, who it said numbered between 80,000 and 120,000.    North Korea denies the existence of such camps.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Andrew Heavens and Darren Schuettler)

5/28/2019 Veteran cleric and Hong Kong democrat keeps up quest for ‘historical truth’ of Tiananmen by James Pomfret
Chu Yiu-ming, one of the key organisers of Operation Yellowbird, smuggling Chinese dissidents out of China after the 1989
Tiananmen Square protests, poses after an interview, at a church, in Hong Kong, China May 14, 2019. REUTERS/James Pomfret
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Veteran Hong Kong democracy campaigner and Baptist cleric Chu Yiu-ming was in his mid-40s when he joined demonstrators around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, just before a bloody crackdown that roiled China.
    Thirty years later, the political landscape appears even bleaker to Chu, who helped smuggle out dissidents after the bloodshed, and helped lead pro-democracy protests in 2014 that blocked major roads in Hong Kong for months.
    Under President Xi Jinping, Chinese authorities have clamped down hard on rights lawyers, activists, Muslim minority Uighurs in the far western region of Xinjiang and Chu’s home city of Hong Kong.
    “Regarding China’s political situation, I feel even more pessimistic,” the silver-haired Chu told Reuters while seated in a wooden pew in his Hong Kong church.
    “The students back then were opposing corruption … but now things are more serious than in 1989.”
    The June 4 events remain a taboo topic, censored by the government, which has never given an official account of the killings, released a death toll or investigated those responsible.
    Witnesses and rights groups say hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed and wounded.
    In Hong Kong, where a gritty opposition has agitated for full democracy since the British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, Chu is considered a more measured democratic voice.
    But this year, he was convicted on a public nuisance charge for helping to organize the “Umbrella Revolution” protests of 2014 and received a 16-month jail term, suspended because of his poor health.
    In a speech from the dock, Chu, 75, said that in this “last mile” of his life, he would continue to fight for justice.
    “Ours is an age of absurdity,” he told the court.    “Living in a society on the brink of authoritarianism and of arbitrary rule, let me be a brave bell toller, ringing, waking up sleepy souls.”
OPERATION YELLOWBIRD
    After the troops of the People’s Liberation Army crushed the democracy movement in 1989, calling it a counter-revolutionary plot, more than a million outraged Hong Kong residents spilled into the streets in mass protests.
    A small group of activists, businessmen and gangsters organized a covert effort, Operation Yellowbird, to smuggle hundreds of students and activists out of mainland China, sometimes using high-powered speedboats.
    About 400 dissidents escaped, passing through Hong Kong en route to Western nations such as Canada, France and the United States.
    Chu helped with the diplomatic negotiations, while British authorities allowed fugitives to stay in Hong Kong until they received asylum abroad.
    Chu believes that even in the face of authoritarian power, there remains hope for change and progress, as symbolized by Hong Kong’s refusal to forget.
    He has long attended the city’s annual candlelight vigil for the victims of June 4, saying it helps preserve the “historical truth” of Tiananmen in the face of blanket Chinese censorship.
    “Many Chinese officials come to see me and ask me, ‘Can’t you stop holding the vigil?’.    And I tell them, ‘No’. Until the dictatorship apologizes, this candlelight will continue to make their conscience uncomfortable.”
(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

5/28/2019 ‘Education under fire’ as attacks on Afghan schools jump, UNICEF says
FILE PHOTO - Class 11 Afghan girl students attend a class at Zarghona high school in
Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Attacks on schools in Afghanistan increased almost threefold last year, making it increasingly difficult to ensure an education for children in many parts of the country, the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF said on Tuesday.
    The agency, which promotes education and children’s rights, said the number of attacks against Afghan schools jumped from 68 in 2017 to 192 last year.    It was the first time since 2015 that a rise in attacks had been recorded.
    “Education is under fire in Afghanistan,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.    “The senseless attacks on schools; the killing, injury and abduction of teachers; and the threats against education are destroying the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of children.”
    More than 1,000 schools across the country remain closed because of security threats from groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State, which have sought soft targets for attacks aimed at extending and consolidating their influence through intimidation.
    Although the Taliban have shifted from their previous opposition to all forms of girls’ education, they have faced regular accusations of shutting down schools run in a way they do not approve.
    UNICEF said the use of school buildings as voter centers during last year’s parliamentary election may have been a factor behind the rise in attacks.
    Afghanistan has a young and fast-growing population but about 3.7 million children, or nearly half of all school-age children, are not in formal education, UNICEF said.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

5/28/2019 Asian renewable investment to overtake upstream oil and gas spending in 2020: Rystad by Henning Gloystein
An animal farm covered with silicon solar panels is seen in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia
autonomous region, China September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Muyu Xu
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Renewable energy investment in the Asia-Pacific region will overtake spending on oil and gas exploration by 2020, consultancy Rystad Energy said on Monday.
    Total capital expenditure in renewables will rise above $30 billion in the region by 2020, just overtaking investment into exploration and production for oil and natural gas, the consultancy said.
    India, Australia, Japan, Vietnam and South Korea will be the leading destinations for investment in Asia, according to Rystad.
    The company focuses on China separately and did not include the nation in this assessment.    China is the world’s biggest investor into renewables and also one of the leading spenders in upstream oil and gas.
    Investment into renewables is being supported by government policies such as solar and wind feed-in-tariffs across the region.
    “Importantly, most (countries) have large targets outlining the inclusion of renewable power sources within their respective energy mixes, with corresponding support policies,” said Gero Farruggio, Rystad’s head of renewables.
.     Rystad said one big change in the renewable industry was the emergence of oil and gas majors as investors.
    “By 2020, it is feasible that the majors will be the dominant renewable developers in Australia,” Farruggio said, adding they were building “building sizeable utility storage, solar and … offshore wind portfolios” there.
    He said Malaysia’s state-owned petroleum company Petronas and Anglo-Dutch oil major Royal Dutch Shell had also “recently made moves in the Indian … renewables space.”
(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Joseph Radford)

5/28/2019 President Trump gives remarks to American troops aboard USS Wasp in Japan by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump is back in Washington, following his four-day visit to Japan.    Before leaving Japan, the president and First Lady Melania gave a Memorial Day address to American service members aboard the USS Wasp in Yokosuka.
    The president praised the brave men and women who serve our country, calling them the face of American strength and power in the Pacific.    He also touted the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, saying the alliance between the two nations has never been stronger.
U.S. President Donald Trump greets to U.S. servicemen at U.S. Navy multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp at
the U.S. Navy’s Yokosuka base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo Tuesday, May 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
    The president then gave a special shout out to the men and women serving on the warship:
    “Every day the men and women of the 7th Fleet live out their motto: ‘Ready power for peace.’    You faced down terrorism and render aid in the wake of devastating natural disasters and I’ve seen what you do.    Incredible.    You proudly patrol the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and the South China Sea.    You defend your homeland and our allies against missile attack with our most advanced radar and weapons systems in the world.”
    Earlier in the day, President Trump made history, again, by becoming the first U.S. president in modern history to set foot upon a Japanese warship.

5/28/2019 Taiwan military conducts drills to defend against China by OAN Newsroom
    Taiwan is demonstrating its tactical abilities amid rising tensions with China.    In a series of simulations Tuesday, the Taiwanese military landed several aircraft on a closed-off highway to practice its defense against possible Chinese air attacks.
    Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the Air Force is being tested on their combat readiness and their ability to convert the highway into a runway.
    This comes after China threatened to use force to achieve reunification with the island.
In this photo released by Military News Agency, Taiwan war planes are parked on a highway during an exercise to
simulate a response to a Chinese attack on its airfields in Changhua in southern Taiwan. Tuesday’s exercise is
part of annual drills designed to showcase the island’s military capabilities and resolve to repel an attack
from across the Taiwan Strait amid perceptions of a rising threat. (Military News Agency via AP)
    “Whether it is the Chinese Army’s long-distance training or its fighter jets encircling around Taiwan, it has posed a certain degree of threat to regional peace and stability,” stated Ing-wen.
    The exercise is part of a nationwide annual drill to demonstrate the Air Force’s tactical abilities.

5/28/2019 Iran has sapped U.S. capacity for war: Revolutionary Guards chief
FILE PHOTO: Hossein Salami, deputy head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, speaks during
Tehran's Friday prayers July 16, 2010. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran’s “absolute power” in its region has sapped the capacity of arch-enemy the United States to wage war against it, the commander of its elite Revolutionary Guards said on Tuesday, according to semi-official Mehr news agency.
    He was speaking a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was not seeking regime change in Iran following moves to beef up U.S. forces in the Middle East, and that a new deal on Iran’s nuclear program was possible.
    “We have been able to…empty the enemy’s capacity for war.    You see the decline and crash of the enemies’ speech,” Major General Hossein Salami said, apparently alluding to Trump’s remarks during a visit to Japan.
    “Today, Iran is an absolute power of the region and because of this it is not afraid of the enemy’s threats.    Today, America has been defeated in its political philosophy.”
    Trump appeared to soften his tone toward Iran, saying he believed it wanted to make a deal, crediting heavy U.S. economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
    “We aren’t looking for regime change – I just want to make that clear.    We are looking for no nuclear weapons.”
    Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States after an attack earlier this month on oil tankers in the Gulf.    Washington, a close ally of Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, blamed the attacks on Tehran, which denied the accusations.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/29/2019 Iran’s Rouhani suggests U.S. talks possible if sanctions lifted
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends talks in the Black Sea resort
of Sochi, Russia, Feb. 14 2019. Sergei Chirikov/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signaled on Wednesday that talks with the United States might be possible if Washington lifted sanctions, days after U.S. President Donald Trump said a deal with Tehran on its nuclear programme was conceivable.
    Washington withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran, and is ratcheting up sanctions in efforts to shut down Iran’s economy by ending its international sales of crude oil.
    Trump said on Monday: “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen.”
    Rouhani said in remarks carried by state television: “Whenever they lift the unjust sanctions and fulfill their commitments and return to the negotiations table, which they left themselves, the door is not closed.”
    “But our people judge you by your actions, not your words.”
    Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Tuesday that Iran saw no prospect of negotiations with the United States.
    Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States since Washington deployed military resources including a carrier strike group and bombers and announced plans to deploy 1,500 troops to the Middle East, prompting fears of a conflict.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, and Dubai newsroom; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Hugh Lawson)

5/29/2019 Exclusive: Hong Kong judges see risks in proposed extradition changes by Greg Torode and James Pomfret
FILE PHOTO: Judges take part in a ceremony to mark the beginning of the legal year
in Hong Kong, China January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Some Hong Kong judges fear they are being put on a collision course with Beijing as the special administrative region’s government pushes for sweeping legal changes that would for the first time allow fugitives captured in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial.
    Three senior judges and 12 leading commercial and criminal lawyers say the changes, called the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance amendment bill, mark one of the starkest challenges to Hong Kong’s legal system and are increasingly troubling its business, political and diplomatic communities.
    It is the first time judges – who by convention don’t comment on political or legislative matters – have discussed the issue publicly.
    The city’s independent legal system was guaranteed under the laws governing Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago and is seen by the financial hub’s business and diplomatic communities as its strongest remaining asset amid encroachments from Beijing.    Hong Kong’s extensive autonomy is guaranteed until 2047.
    The judges and lawyers say that under Hong Kong’s British-based common law system, extraditions are based on the presumption of a fair trial and humane punishment in the receiving country – a core trust they say China’s Communist Party-controlled legal system has not earned.
    “These amendments ignore the importance of that trust – and in the case of the mainland, it simply doesn’t exist,” one highly experienced judge told Reuters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
    “Many of us see this as unworkable,” the judge said. “And we are deeply disturbed.”
SAFEGUARDS
    Led by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, local officials have limited public consultation on the amendments and are pushing hard for the city’s legislative body to pass the changes before it breaks for summer in July, saying long-standing “loopholes” need to be plugged.
    Lam’s office declined to comment directly, referring questions to the security bureau.    On Tuesday, she told reporters that the government would consider calls for more safeguards.
    Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said in a response to Reuters that only after all “human rights and procedural safeguards” had been satisfied, and the requesting jurisdiction has “pledged to those safeguards,” would any extradition case be put to the courts.
    The proposed changes provide for case-by-case extraditions to countries, including mainland China, beyond the 20 states with which Hong Kong already has treaties.
    The amendments allow for the chief executive to both seek the arrest of a fugitive and sign off on their extradition once approved by the courts, including any appeals and judicial reviews.
    But they also eliminate the oversight roles of the chief executive’s cabinet and the city’s legislative body, which can currently step in to evaluate extradition arrangements.
    Lam and her administration have repeatedly stressed that there are provisions to stop people from being persecuted for political crimes, religious beliefs or being put at risk of torture.    They have highlighted the role of Hong Kong’s judiciary as gatekeepers and guardians.
    However, some judges say China’s increasingly close relationship with Hong Kong and the limited scope of extradition hearings would leave them little room to maneuver.    They worry that if they tried to stop high-profile suspects from being sent across the border, they would be exposed to criticism and political pressure from Beijing.
    Conversely, they say, if they approve contentious extradition requests, local critics may accuse the judges of merely doing Beijing’s bidding, denting perceptions of independence.
    China’s Justice Ministry declined to comment.
    The Hong Kong Bar Association, business groups such as the American Chamber of Commerce, and several foreign governments, including the U.S., have voiced concerns about the changes undermining Hong Kong’s rule of law.
‘CHILLING EFFECT’
    In extradition cases, judges in Hong Kong have little role beyond establishing, through documentary evidence, that the requesting country has a legitimate case.    They cannot establish guilt and do not routinely weigh the evidence or cross-examine the foreign prosecutors.
    Those features will not change under the proposed amendments.
    But a statement from 12 current and former chairs of the city’s barristers’ association warns that the government’s “oft-repeated assertion that the judges will be gatekeepers is misleading.”
    “It is not, and never has been, the function of the Courts … to consider the legal system and procedure of the foreign jurisdiction,” it said.
    “The proposed new legislation does not give the Court power to review such matters and the Court would be in no such position to do so.”
    Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor wrote a joint letter to Lam in March warning that China’s justice system had a record of arbitrary detention, torture, and violations of rights to a fair trial.
    Rights lawyer Michael Vidler spoke of a deepening concern across the legal community.
    “It’s going to have a dramatic chilling effect,” Vidler said.    “The damage to Hong Kong’s reputation as a free and safe place where the rule of law is upheld is incalculable.”
CHANGE COMING
    If the amendments are passed, any person in Hong Kong, whether a local resident or a foreign passport holder, can be extradited.    The 37 extraditable offences include murder, sexual offences, kidnapping, corruption, money laundering, fraud and smuggling.
    China’s laws allow it to charge Chinese nationals with crimes committed outside the country, meaning they could be arrested in Hong Kong for actions committed internationally.
    For all offences, the punishment threshold is at least three years, and no extradition involving the death penalty would be allowed.    Under Hong Kong law, the crime for which someone is being extradited must be a crime in Hong Kong as well as the requesting country.
    Geoffrey Ma, the Chief Justice of Hong Kong, declined to comment about the proposed amendments.
    Some judges, leading lawyers and diplomats acknowledge the need for extraditions to the mainland in the long term, but say improvements to the Chinese system and a negotiated treaty with broad consultation and tougher safeguards would be needed.
    Professor Simon Young of the University of Hong Kong’s law school said Hong Kong’s separate legal system needed to be better defined ahead of the 2047 deadline.    It therefore makes sense to implement a clear and robust extradition arrangement with the mainland, he said.
    For instance, he said, the existing provisions for the Legislative Council to review extradition requests should be included.
    “If done properly, it could help Hong Kong maintain its distinct system … the key will be having adequate safeguards in place,” Young said.    “That doesn’t seem to be case now, and more consultation is needed.”
(Reporting By Greg Torode and James Pomfret; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

5/29/2019 China not seeking ‘sphere of influence’ in Pacific, Xi says
Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands at the
Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Pool
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China is not seeking a sphere of influence in Pacific Ocean island states, President Xi Jinping told the visiting prime minister of Vanuatu amid fears in Western capitals of China’s growing role in the region.
    China has offered to help developing countries, including those in the Pacific, and many see Chinese lending as the best way to develop their economies.    Critics say Chinese loans can lead countries into a debt trap, which Beijing denies.
    The United States and Australia have looked on with particular concern at China’s growing role in the Pacific.    Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will visit the Solomon Islands next week.
    Xi met Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People and said China upholds the principles of sincerity, real results and good faith to strengthen cooperation with Pacific island countries, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday.
    “We have no private interests in island countries, and do not seek a so-called ‘sphere of influence’,” the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.
    China will always be a reliable good friend and partner, he said.
    “Countries, no matter big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community,” Xi said.
    China also opposes “great-power chauvinism,” he said, without offering details.
    Xi said Beijing was willing to deepen agricultural technology cooperation with Vanuatu and would continue to encourage Chinese companies to invest there.
    Vanuatu and China denied reports last year that Beijing wanted to establish a permanent military presence there.
    The Pacific is also an area of competition between China and self-ruled Taiwan, which maintains formal diplomatic ties with several island nations.    China views Taiwan as merely a Chinese province with no right to diplomatic relations.
    A top U.S. official said on Friday Pacific Island countries that have diplomatic ties with Taiwan should maintain them in the face of “heavy handed” attempts by China to reduce Taiwan’s overseas contacts.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)

5/29/2019 No negotiations with U.S., says Iran’s Supreme Leader by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran,
May 29, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran will not negotiate with the United States, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday, after President Hassan Rouhani signaled talks with Washington might be possible if sanctions were lifted.
    Washington withdrew last year from an international nuclear deal signed with Tehran in 2015, and it is ratcheting up sanctions in efforts to shut down Iran’s economy by ending its international sales of crude oil.
    U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the accord, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, as flawed for not being permanent and for not covering Iran’s ballistic missile program and role in conflicts around the Middle East.
    Trump said on Monday he was hopeful Iran would come to negotiating table to reach a new deal: “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal … and I think that’s a possibility to happen.”
    Khamenei was quoted as saying on his website: “We said before that we will not negotiate with America, because negotiation has no benefit and carries harm.”
    Khamenei said Iran had no problems negotiating with Europeans and other countries, but added, “We will not negotiate over the core values of the revolution.    We will not negotiate over our military capabilities.”
    Earlier in the day, Rouhani had taken a more positive stance.
    In remarks carried by state television, he said: “Whenever they lift the unjust sanctions and fulfill their commitments and return to the negotiations table, which they left themselves, the door is not closed.”
    “But our people judge you by your actions, not your words.”
    Khamenei has the final say in all major policies under Iran’s dual system, split between the clerical establishment and the government. He is also the head of the armed forces.
    Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Tuesday that Iran saw no prospect of negotiations with the United States.
    Last week the Pentagon announced the deployment of 900 additional troops to the Middle East, and extended the deployment of another 600 service members in the region, describing it as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran.
    Speaking with reporters en route to Indonesia on Wednesday, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the additional troops announced last week would be going to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.    Without giving details or evidence, Shanahan said that while the Iranian posture had changed recently, the threat remained.
    He added that sending military assets into the region, such as deploying bombers, Patriot missiles and accelerating the movement of an aircraft carrier strike group to the Middle East, had helped deter attacks against Americans in Iraq.
    U.S. national security adviser John Bolton also said on Wednesday naval mines “almost certainly from Iran” were used to attack oil tankers off the United Arab Emirates this month, and warned Tehran against conducting new operations.
    Mousavi dismissed Bolton’s remarks as a “ludicrous claim.”
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Idrees Ali in Jakarta, and Dubai newsroom; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Alison Williams and Frances Kerry)

5/29/2019 President Trump: Kim called Biden ‘low-IQ idiot’ by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump recently dismissed Democrat criticism of his remarks regarding the intellectual capabilities of former Vice President Joe Biden.
    In a tweet Tuesday, the president said he was actually defending Biden in the wake of Kim Jong-un’s remarks.    According to Pyongyang’s official statement, Kim called Biden a “low IQ idiot.”    However, President Trump pointed out he relayed it in a “much softer” way.
    Trump tweet: “I was actually sticking up for Sleepy Joe Biden while on foreign soil. Kim Jong Un called him a “low IQ idiot,” and many other things, whereas I related the quote of Chairman Kim as a much softer “low IQ individual.” Who could possibly be upset with that?
FILE – This May 9, 2019, file photo provided on May 10, by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader
Kim Jong Un, observing a military test in North Korea. North Korea has labeled Joe Biden a “fool of low IQ” and
an “imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being” after the Democratic presidential hopeful during a
recent speech called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a tyrant. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
    “Well Kim Jong-un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low IQ individual,” said the president.    “He probably is based on his record…I think I agree with him on that.”
    Biden campaign officials attacked the president, accusing him of criticizing a fellow American on foreign soil.
    However, President Trump said his characteristic of Biden wasn’t even offensive.

5/29/2019 China mulls limiting rare-earth exports to U.S. by OAN Newsroom
    China is considering limiting the exports of rare-earth materials to the U.S. On Tuesday, the country’s state-run media said Beijing could retaliate against the U.S. by asserting dominance in the global rare-earth market.
    Chinese restrictions could hurt America’s military-industrial complex as the materials are crucial for making electronics.    The consumer market could also suffer, because the minerals are used in devices like smart phones and computers.
FILE – In this Friday, May 10, 2019, file photo, a customer looks at her iPhone at an Apple store in Beijing. Few U.S.
companies are more vulnerable to a trade war with China than Apple. The company relies on factories in China to assemble the
iPhones that generate most of its profits; it has also cultivated a loyal following in the country. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
    President Trump said China could face tariffs on another $300 billion worth of goods unless Beijing comes to its senses.
    “I think they probably wish they made the deal that they had on the table before they tried to renegotiate it…they would like to make a deal,” stated the president.    “We’re not ready to make a deal, and we’re taking in tens of billions of dollars of tariffs…and that number could go up very very substantially, very easily.”
    China accounts for about 80-percent of U.S. imports of rare-earth materials.    Economists say President Trump could have to boost trade with Australia, South Africa and Russia to find a new source of minerals.

5/29/2019 At least 23 dead after Taliban attacks in Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
    Two recent Taliban attacks in Afghanistan have left at least 23 people dead and dozens of others injured.
    According to officials, Monday’s attacks targeted security checkpoints in the country’s east and western regions.    Members of Afghanistan’s security forces were killed in the exchange.
    Insurgents reportedly overran an army checkpoint in one town, and sparked an hours-long gun battle in another.    A number of innocent civilians were also killed during the attacks.
A member of the Afghan security force keeps watch in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo/REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)
    “We were praying and still in the mosque, when we heard that the Taliban came.    We came out of mosque and we were not ready to fight them.    They (Taliban) killed everyone, even a woman was killed as well.” — Haji Ahmad, attack victim.
    This comes as Taliban and Afghan officials met in Moscow to discuss a political settlement between the two sides.

5/30/2019 Blast near Afghan military training center kills at least six: officials
Afghan soldiers stand guard at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – A suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to a military training center in the Afghan capital on Thursday, killing at least six people and wounding six, police and security officials said.
    One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the attacker detonated his explosives after being prevented from entering the Marshal Fahim National Defense University, to the west of Kabul.
    The explosion occurred as cadets were leaving the college, which is one of Afghanistan’s main officer training academies.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came as Taliban representatives met senior Afghan politicians in Moscow as part of efforts to reach a settlement to end the 18-year-long conflict.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

5/30/2019 Cambodia PM dismisses fears of Chinese debt trap
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives at Beijing airport ahead of the Belt and Road Forum
in Beijing, China, April 25, 2019. Greg Baker/Pool via REUTERS
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Prime Minister Hun Sen dismissed on Thursday fears that Cambodia was falling into a Chinese “debt trap,” saying its loans are low interest, low risk and were not a threat to national independence.
    Speaking at a Future of Asia conference in Japan, Hun Sen said China respected Cambodia’s sovereignty when it came to using Chinese loans.
    “I’ve heard so many people saying that Cambodia may fall into China’s debt trap,” Hun Sen said.
    “For Cambodia, we maintain our sovereignty in borrowing, we borrowed according to the projects we need, and China respects our decision.”
    His comments were broadcast on state television in Cambodia.
    China is Cambodia’s biggest aid donor and investor, pouring in billions of dollars in development funds and loans through its Belt and Road initiative, which aims to bolster land and sea links with Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
    Hun Sen said Chinese loans were low interest and long-term, and that overall debt remained low, at 21.5% of gross domestic product (GDP).
    Some countries owe up to 200%, 300% or 500% of their GDP,” Hun Sen said.
    Cambodia’s public debt was $7 billion as of last year, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the country had repaid 19 percent of it.     Cambodia has for years come under criticism for human rights violations and other problems but Western countries hoping to see improvements have little leverage when China can be counted on to help in the event of Western aid cuts
.
    The European Union, which accounts for more than one-third of Cambodia’s exports, including garments, footwear and bicycles, in February began an 18-month process that could lead to the suspension of special market access for least developed countries because of human rights violations.
    China has pledged to help Cambodia if the EU withdraws the market access, Hun Sen said in April during a visit to Beijing.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Robert Birsel)

5/30/2019 Taiwan holds military drills, vows to defend against Chinese aggression
An AH-1W attack helicopter releases flares during the live fire Han Kuang military exercise, which simulates
China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) invading the island, in Pingtung, Taiwan May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    PINGTUNG, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan’s air, sea and land forces conducted a drill to repel an invading force on Thursday, as its defense minister pledged to defend the self-ruled island against China’s rising military threat.
    Fighter jets launched strikes and warships opened fired to destroy an enemy beachhead, while more than 3,000 soldiers took part in the live-fire drill in the southern county of Pingtung.
    During annual military exercises across the island this week, fighter jets have landed on Taiwan’s main highway and air raid drills have shut its major cities.
    While it was just a mock exercise, Defence Minister Yen Teh-fa left no doubt where the greatest perceived threat lay.     “The military force of the Chinese Communist Party has continued to expand, without giving up the use of force to invade Taiwan,” Yen told reporters while observing the drill.
    China sees Taiwan part of “one China” and has never renounced the use of force to bring the democratic island under its control.
    Yen’s comments follow a spike in cross-strait tensions.    During recent months, China’s military staged extensive drills with warships, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft near the island, moves Taipei denounced as intimidation.
    Yen said it was Beijing’s intention to “destroy regional stability and cross-strait security.”
    Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which include an escalating trade war and China’s muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols.
    Earlier this month, senior U.S. and Taiwanese security officials held a rare meeting, a move that angered Beijing.
    China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan, suspecting that its President Tsai Ing-wen is pushing for the island’s formal independence – a red line for Beijing.
    Tsai repeatedly says she wants to maintain the status quo with China but will defend Taiwan’s security and democracy.
(Reporting By Tyrone Siu and Fabian Hamacher in PINGTUNG; Writing by Yimou Lee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

5/31/2019 China says hopes Canada understands consequences of siding with U.S.
FILE PHOTO: Picture of Canadian and Chinese flags taken prior to the meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and China's
President Xi Jinping at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on December 5, 2017, in Beijing. Fred Dufour/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China hopes Canada understands the consequences of siding with the United States and doing its bidding, China’s foreign ministry said on Friday, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called for the release of two Canadians detained in China.
    Chinese authorities detained Canadian businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig in December, shortly after Canada arrested China-based Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s Chief Financial Officer, Meng Wanzhou, on a U.S. warrant.
    She faces extradition to the United States on charges she conspired to defraud global banks about Huawei’s relationship with a company operating in Iran.    She and the company have denied the charges and China has called for her release.
    Asked about Pence comments that U.S. President Donald Trump would speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the detained Canadians at a G20 meeting in Japan in June, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang implied Canada was to blame for its problems in China.
    “We hope that the Canadian side will come to understand the full consequences of pulling chestnuts from the fire on behalf of the United States, and not inflict more harm on themselves,” Geng told reporters, without elaborating.
    Pence, who has taken a hard line on China, discussed the detained Canadians with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Thursday, where they also talked about Huawei and China trade issues.
    Kovrig and Spavor were formally charged with espionage this month. China has also cut off imports of key Canadian commodities in an effort to press it.
    Canada has called the arrests arbitrary.
    During his visit, Pence thanked Canada for standing up for the rule of law in detaining Meng.
    While Canada says China has made no specific link between the detentions of the two men and Meng’s arrest, experts and former diplomats say they have no doubt it is using their cases to pressure Canada.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Ben Blanchard, Robeert Birsel)

5/31/2019 Chinese militarization of South China Sea “excessive”: acting Pentagon chief
An aerial view of China occupied Subi Reef at Spratly Islands in disputed South China Sea April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Francis Malasig/Pool
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Friday that China’s militarization of the disputed South China Sea had been “excessive.”
    Shanahan, speaking with reporters in Singapore on the sidelines of a defense forum, said China’s actions in the South China Sea, like installing surface to air missiles, was “excessive” and “overkill.”
    China and the United States have repeatedly traded barbs in the past over what Washington says is Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

5/31/2019 China, U.S. defense chiefs hold talks at Asia security summit by Idrees Ali
A food deliveryman rides past the venue of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe. and acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan held talks on Friday at an Asia security summit in Singapore, amid heightened tensions between the two countries over trade and security.
    The United States and China, locked in an escalating trade war, are also at odds over a series of strategic issues, from the disputed South China Sea to democratic Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory, to be taken by force if needed.
    Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buccino, a Pentagon spokesman, said Shanahan found their 20-minute meeting to be “constructive and productive
    “The two leaders discussed ways to build military-to-military relations that reduce the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation between our nations,” Buccino said.
    He added that Shanahan discussed how the two militaries could better cooperate to enforce North Korea sanctions.
    “Secretary Shanahan hopes to build on this evening’s discussion with future engagements,” Buccino said.
    Shanahan – who on his first day in his role in January said the U.S. military would focus on “China, China, China” – told reporters ahead of his meeting with Wei that China’s military actions in the disputed South China Sea had been “excessive.”
    “They argue that it is defensive, it looks like it’s a bit overkill, surface to air missiles, long runways, it seems excessive,” Shanahan said.
    China and the United States have repeatedly traded barbs over what Washington says is Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs.
    China claims almost all of the strategic waterway and blames the United States and its allies for escalating tensions by carrying out naval operations in the region.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

5/31/2019 Exclusive: India to see ‘big-bang’ reforms in Modi’s second term, says government think tank by Aftab Ahmed
Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman of NITI Aayog (National Institute for Transforming India), poses for
a photograph inside his office in New Delhi, India, May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – In the first 100 days of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term, a slew of ‘big-bang’ economic reforms that should please foreign investors are likely to be pursued, according to a top official at the government’s main think tank.
    The reforms will include changes in labor laws, privatization moves, and creation of land banks for new industrial development, said Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman of NITI Aayog (National Institute for Transforming India), who reports directly to Modi.
    “They (foreign investors) will have reasons to be happy.    You will see a slew of reforms I can assure you of that. We are going to pretty much hit the ground running,” Kumar told Reuters in an interview.
    Modi is chairman of the think tank.
    Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were last week declared landslide winners of India’s general election with an increased majority in the lower house of parliament.
    He was sworn into office for his second term on Thursday night.
    Kumar was speaking before Modi on Thursday announced members of his new cabinet, though he hasn’t said who will get which portfolio. Several Indian media outlets say that BJP President Amit Shah will become the country’s new finance minister.
    Niti Aayog, which now acts as the main center for policy making and for driving new ideas, was founded four years back when Modi scrapped the 65-year old planning commission, saying that India was stifled with Soviet-style bureaucracy.
    Kumar said reforms in India’s complicated labor laws will see the light of day as early as the next parliamentary session in July, when the government will place a new bill before the lower house for approval.
    It will aim to combine 44 central laws into four codes – wages, industrial relations, social security and welfare, and the fourth – occupational safety, health and working conditions.
    This should help companies avoid getting embroiled in a series of complicated disputes with their workers and officials that involve regulations set by authorities at different levels of government and can lead to long, drawn-out adjudication in various parts of the legal system.
    The government could also offer swathes of land to foreign investors from the land banks it plans to create from unutilized land controlled by public sector enterprises, Kumar said.
    “What could be attempted is to build an inventory of government land that can then be offered to foreign investors,” Kumar said.
    The land parcels could be designed as clusters catering to a specific set of investors or industrial sectors, Kumar said.
    Getting access to some of the large amounts of unutilized Indian government land would reduce major risks for foreign companies as there would be a lot less risk of legal challenges over ownership and development.    A lot of the sites they have used in the past was previously farm land, opening them up to protests and court action by local communities over land rights, the environment and other issues.
    Kumar said the government will focus on fully privatizing or closing more than 42 state-controlled companies in the coming months.    The government is even mulling lifting the foreign direct investment cap on Air India, the loss-making state-owned flagship carrier, to make it easier to sell.
    Kumar also said that it could create an autonomous holding company that would control all state-owned firms and wouldn’t be answerable to lots of different ministries.    This would speed up decision making for asset sales, avoiding much of the central government’s bureaucracy.
BIG BANG
    India’s economic growth rate decelerated to a five-quarter low of 6.6% in the last three months of 2018, and is expected to fall further in the January-March quarter due to a sharp drop in consumption.
    The economy needs far faster growth if it is to generate enough jobs for the millions of young people entering the labor market each month.
    Kumar blamed the stressed balance sheet of banks and a crisis in the shadow lending industry for the recent drop in growth.
    He suggested the government should start with reforming the state-owned banking sector and also create more money for spending on infrastructure and new public housing through more and quicker privatizations and better tax collection.
    “We should (start with the banks).. There will be big bang, there will be 100 days action.    We are all geared for that … I have maintained that the fiscal policy should be counter cyclical.    There is scope for that.”
(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Martin Howell)

5/31/2019 Hong Kong’s independence advocates fear reach of proposed extradition law by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret
Independence activist Paladin Cheng is pictured inside a restaurant in Hong Kong, China January 8, 2019. REUTERS/James Pomfret
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Some Hong Kong independence activists say they may be forced to leave the city if a proposed extradition law allowing suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial is enacted.
    The government wants Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to quickly pass the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance amendment bill, which would allow case-by-case transfers of people to countries without extradition treaties, including China.
    The bill says extradition can’t be used for political and religious offences, and that safeguards such as court oversight over extradition requests will ensure rights are upheld.
    But Hong Kong’s small band of independence activists – who have railed against China’s tightening grip on their city’s autonomy and freedoms and say Hong Kong should be its own country – sense peril.
    “In the future, no matter which fugitives China seeks to extradite, Hong Kong won’t be able to say no,” said Alan Li, 27, a former leader of independence group Hong Kong Indigenous.
    Li is in Germany after being granted political asylum there in a landmark case that has underscored growing international concern about Hong Kong’s activists.
    “We can’t trust the Hong Kong government,” he added.
    Li and activist Ray Wong, 25, ended up in refugee camps in Germany after skipping bail on rioting charges linked to a violent standoff with police on Feb. 8, 2016.
    “We will see more and more people being granted political asylum in the future,” Li said via phone from Germany, noting that it was a rigorous process.
    At least 23 activists from the February 2016 protest have been jailed for up to seven years.    Critics say those are unusually harsh sentences for violating colonial-era rioting laws not used since the late 1960s.
‘INALIENABLE’
    China considers Hong Kong to be an “inalienable” part of the country, so calls for independence are anathema to China’s Communist Party leaders.
    But freedom of expression and assembly – not protected in mainland China – were enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Britain and Canada said in a news release on Thursday that the extradition bill could hurt local freedoms.
    Zhang Xiaoming, the director of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office, has said that China respects the city’s freedoms but that there is ‘zero tolerance’ for activists who seek to undermine China’s sovereignty.
    The disconnect between what is allowed in Hong Kong but harshly punished in the mainland has added pressure to independence activists. Chinese leaders dub them “separatists” – a pursuit that would make them criminals in the mainland.
    Paladin Cheng, an outspoken leader of the independence movement who lives alone in a ramshackle rooftop flat in Hong Kong, said that if the government doesn’t scrap the law, there could be a backlash.
    “This China rendition law represents the mainlandisation of Hong Kong,” said Cheng, whom police often follow on the streets and during protests.
    “If the Chinese government really continues to make Hong Kong more similar to the mainland, even more people will support the idea of Hong Kong independence,” he said.
    The independence movement peaked in 2016, when two pro-independence activists, Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching, won Legislative Council seats, earning 7 percent of the popular vote in some districts.
    Since then, authorities have moved to shut localists out of local politics.
    Leung and Yau were removed from public office, dozens of others have been kept from running in local elections, and one pro-independence group was banned last year on national security grounds.
    “The atmosphere was really bad.    And up to today, nothing has changed.    Many of my friends have been harassed, imprisoned, or forced into exile,” said Leung, 32.
    Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in announcing the ban that it was necessary on the grounds of national security, public order and public safety.    She has also emphasized that Hong Kong respects electoral freedoms.
    Leung said that on the last day of 2018, five men forced their way into an office run by fellow activists, smashing open the door and taking some flags.    After reviewing CCTV footage of the incident, he filed a police report.
    A Hong Kong police spokesman confirmed a break-in had occurred, but said no one had been arrested so far.
‘SHRINKING SPACE’
    A German Foreign Office spokeswoman, Maria Adebahr, said Berlin was “increasingly worried about the shrinking space the opposition enjoys and the creeping erosion of the freedom of opinion.”
    She declined to specifically discuss Li’s case.
    Some activists think the extradition law, even if not immediately deployed against them, would still weigh psychologically.
    “The Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong government have hinted several times that whoever is anti-Communist will be a target,” said Wayne Chan, 29, another independence advocate.    “Pro-independence parties may be forced into exile.”
    Despite the potential danger, some activist say they’ll stay and fight.
    “No one knows what is next for Hong Kong,” said Tony Chung, 18, who was assaulted twice on the streets last year by four men who were later arrested.
    The men are free on bail; police say they are investigating.
    Chung was arrested this month over grabbing a small Chinese flag at a protest and breaking the stick.    He was charged with criminal damage, which can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.
    “Hong Kong has changed completely from the place I knew,” he said.    “But I don’t want to give up and leave right now.”
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin; editing by Greg Torode and Gerry Doyle)

5/31/2019 Iran stays within nuclear deal’s main limits while testing another by Francois Murphy
The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters
in Vienna, Austria March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has stayed within the main restrictions of its nuclear deal, a quarterly report by the U.N. atomic watchdog indicated on Friday, at a time when Tehran is threatening to break the rules in future in response to new U.S. sanctions.
    The report found that Iran was abiding by the main terms of its 2015 deal with world powers, including the most sensitive issues of its stockpile of enriched uranium and level of enrichment.
    The report did however flag up questions about the number of advanced centrifuges Iran is allowed, which is loosely defined in the deal.
    A year after Washington abandoned the landmark deal, which curbed Tehran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions, European powers are trying to keep it in place.
    The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency comes at a particularly sensitive time, with Washington having sharply tightened sanctions on Tehran this month, and Iran threatening to take steps in response that could eventually bring it out of compliance with the pact.
    The administration of President Donald Trump says the deal negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama does not go far enough to curb Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
    After reintroducing sanctions last year, the Trump administration has ordered all countries to halt all imports of Iranian oil from this month.    Tehran has responded by threatening to increase its enrichment of uranium, although it says it has not violated the agreement so far.
    Washington has also raised the prospect of military confrontation in recent weeks, blaming Iran for attacks on oil tankers and announcing the deployment of extra forces to the Gulf.    Iran denies any link to attacks on shipping and says the U.S. military moves are “psychological warfare.”
    The IAEA report said its staff had access “to all the sites and locations in Iran which it needed to visit.”
    Inspectors found that Iran’s stock of enriched uranium was well below the limit set by the deal, as of May 20.    That last date covered by the report is also the day Iran said it had increased the rate at which it enriches uranium, meaning any acceleration will appear only in the next report.
    The IAEA said Iran had installed 33 advanced IR-6 centrifuges, machines that can enrich uranium, although only 10 had been tested with uranium feedstock so far.    The deal allows Iran to test up to 30, but only after 8 1/2 years have passed.    The limit before then is a “grey area,” diplomats say.
    “Technical discussions in relation to the IR-6 centrifuges are ongoing,” the report said.    A senior diplomat, asked about the nature of those discussions, declined to elaborate.
    While Iran has stayed within the deal’s main limits over the past three years, it has breached a cap on its heavy water stock within the first year, although this is acknowledged by diplomats as a comparatively minor issue.    Diplomats also say it has dragged its feet on allowing access to some sites, without explicitly violating the requirements of the deal.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/31/2019 North Korea executes envoy to failed U.S. summit -media; White House monitoring by Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee
FILE PHOTO - Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea's special representative for U.S. affairs, leaves the
Government Guesthouse in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 23, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea executed its nuclear envoy to the United States as part of a purge of officials who steered negotiations for a failed summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, a South Korean newspaper said on Friday.
    Kim Hyok Chol was executed in March at Mirim Airport in Pyongyang, along with four foreign ministry officials after they were charged with spying for the United States, the Chosun Ilbo reported, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the situation.
    “He was accused of spying for the United States for poorly reporting on the negotiations without properly grasping U.S. intentions,” the source was quoted as saying.
    The February summit in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, the second between Kim and Trump, failed to reach a deal because of conflicts over U.S. calls for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.     Reuters was unable to independently confirm the report.    Previously, some North Korean officials who were reported to have been executed or purged reappeared later with new titles.
    A spokeswoman at South Korea’s Unification Ministry declined to comment. An official at the presidential Blue House in Seoul said it was inappropriate to comment on an unverified report.
    White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders declined to comment on the reports, saying, “I am not going to comment on intelligence one way or another.”
    “I can tell you we are monitoring the situation and continuing to stay focused on our ultimate goal, which is denuclearization,” she told reporters in Washington.
    The United States is attempting to check on the reports of the envoy’s execution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during his visit to Berlin on Friday.
    When asked about reports of a “shakeup” of Kim Jong Un’s negotiating team in a May 5 interview with ABC News, Pompeo said it did appear that his future counterpart would be somebody else “but we don’t know that for sure.”
    A diplomatic source told Reuters there were signs Kim Hyok Chol and other officials were punished, but there was no evidence they were executed and they may have been sent to a labor camp for re-education.
    The newspaper reported that other officials had been punished, but not executed.
    Kim Yong Chol, Kim Jong Un’s right-hand man and the counterpart to Pompeo before the Hanoi summit, had been sent to a labor and reeducation camp in Jagang Province near the Chinese border, the Chosun Ilbo reported.
    Officials who worked with Kim Yong Chol have been out of the public eye since the summit, while seasoned diplomats who appeared to have been sidelined, including vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui, were seen returning to the spotlight.
    A South Korean lawmaker told Reuters in April that Kim Yong Chol had been removed from a key party post.
RISE AND FALL
    Kim Hyok Chol was seen as a rising star when he was appointed to spearhead working-level talks with U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun weeks before the Hanoi summit.
    However, little was known about his expertise or his role in the talks.    The four executed alongside him included diplomats working on relations with Vietnam, the Chosun report said.
    “This is a man who might provide some tactical advice to the leader but is otherwise a message bearer with little negotiating or policymaking latitude,” said Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Centre.
    “Instead, they put in someone like Kim Hyok Chol to insulate Choe Son Hui and more substantive diplomatic personnel, to a certain degree he is expendable and his superiors are not.”
    The penalized members of Kim Yong Chol’s team included Kim Song Hye, who led the preparations, and Sin Hye Yong, a newly elevated interpreter for the Hanoi summit.    They were said to have been detained in a camp for political prisoners, the newspaper said.
    The diplomatic source said Kim Song Hye’s punishment seemed inevitable because she was a “prime author” of the North’s plan to secure sanctions relief in return for dismantling the Yongbyon main nuclear complex.
    The idea was rejected by the United States which demanded a comprehensive roadmap for denuclearization.
    Kim Song Hye had also worked closely with Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s younger sister and a senior party official whom Kim Song Hye accompanied to South Korea for the Winter Olympics last year.
    Kim Yo Jong was also lying low, the paper reported, citing an unidentified South Korean government official.
    Madden, however, said Kim Yo Jong’s status was unchanged as Kim Jong Un’s top aide, citing her attendance at key party meetings in April and appearance in state media reports.
    Sin Hye Yong was charged with making critical interpretation mistakes that included missing an unspecified “last-minute offer” the North Korean leader supposedly made as Trump was about to walk out, Chosun reported.
‘TWO-FACED’
    North Korea’s official party mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun warned on Thursday that “two-faced” officials would face the “stern judgment of the revolution.”
    “It is an anti-Party, anti-revolutionary act to pretend to be revering the leader in front of him when you actually dream of something else,” it said in a commentary.
    Hong Min, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said it was possible Kim Hyok Chol and other officials faced some penalty but further verification was needed.
    “Executing or completely removing people like him would send a very bad signal to the United States because he was the public face of the talks and it could indicate they are negating all they have discussed,” Hong said.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in BERLIN and Hyunjoo Jin in SEOUL; Editing by Paul Tait, Lincoln Feast, Darren Schuettler and Marguerita Choy)

5/31/2019 Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan: Our job is to run military, not politics by OAN Newsroom
    Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has insisted the military will remain apolitical.    While speaking Friday at an Asia Security Summit in Singapore, Shanahan reasserted the long-standing mandate to shield the military from politics.
    The U.S. defense secretary went on to address a wide variety of topics, including the deployment of USS Abraham Lincoln, which has been deployed to the Middle East to deter Iran from any military action.
Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, left, attends the opening dinner of the
18th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defense and
security forum in Asia, in Singapore, Friday, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)
    Shanahan said U.S. policy is aimed at maintaining free and open seas, and is not targeting any one country:
    “But in terms of the capacity of the department, we’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars generating readiness over the last couple of years.    When we think about our depth in terms of readiness and capacity, we have a significant amount we have generated.    So, the deployment isn’t depleting our capability.”
    Shanahan is in Singapore for talks with the Chinese defense minister amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China over trade and security.

6/1/2019 U.S. won’t ‘tiptoe’ around China with Asia stability at threat: defense chief by Idrees Ali
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks at the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, June 1, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The United States will no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behavior in Asia, with stability in the region threatened on issues ranging from the South China Sea to Taiwan, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Saturday.
    Shanahan did not directly name China when making accusations of “actors” destabilizing the region, but went on to say the United States would not ignore Chinese behavior, the latest in the exchange of acerbic remarks between the world’s two biggest economies.    He added, however, he was keen to foster a military relationship with Beijing.
    “Perhaps the greatest long-term threat to the vital interests of states across this region comes from actors who seek to undermine, rather than uphold, the rules-based international order,” Shanahan said at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s biggest security gathering.
    “If the trends in these behaviors continue, artificial features in the global commons could become tollbooths, sovereignty could become the purview of the powerful.”     Shanahan’s first major speech since taking over as acting defense secretary in January came as the United States and China remain locked in an escalating trade war and at odds over a range of security issues in Asia.
    His reference to artificial features was a swipe at islands built by China in the disputed South China Sea, a strategic waterway claimed almost wholly by Beijing.
    “We’re not going to ignore Chinese behavior and I think in the past people have kind of tiptoed around that,” Shanahan said later in answer to a question.
    A senior Chinese military official responded to Shanahan’s comments by saying that the United States’ actions on Taiwan and the South China Sea were hardly conducive to maintaining stability in the region.
    Shanahan said it was in Beijing’s interests to have a constructive relationship with the United States.     But he added: “Behavior that erodes other nations’ sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions must end.”
    “Until it does, we stand against a myopic, narrow, and parochial vision of the future, and we stand for the free and open order that has benefited us all – including China.”
    U.S. lawmakers said Shanahan’s speech was impressive.
    “I was very impressed and I certainly am looking much more positively on potentially voting for him when his confirmation happens,” Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth told reporters.
    The White House said last month that it plans to nominate Shanahan as defense secretary, a job he has been doing in an acting capacity since January, the longest in Pentagon history.    His nomination, if and when it comes, will have to be confirmed by the Senate.
    “The way he laid out the facts and the United States’ position in a firm way, but very upfront, impressed me tremendously,” Duckworth added.
    Senator Angus King, a political independent from Maine and on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Shanahan had “distinguished” himself and was hopeful the confirmation hearing would take place within about a month.
TRADE WAR
    Shanahan said that he did not see the current trade dispute between China and the United States as a trade war, but rather just part of trade negotiations.
    An increase in Chinese tariffs on most U.S. imports on a $60 billion target list took effect as planned on Saturday, after Washington’s own tariff increases.
    Shanahan also became the latest senior U.S. official to call out Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, saying in his speech that it was too close to the Chinese government.
    The United States has accused Huawei of espionage, breaching trade sanctions against Iran and intellectual property theft.    Huawei disputes all allegations.
    China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe is due to address Asia’s marquee security summit on Sunday when he is expected to criticize the United States over its implied support for a democratic Taiwan.
    On Friday, Shanahan held talks with Wei that both sides called “constructive,” although their teams later reverted to type with critical comments on each other’s defense strategies.
    Along with the expected warnings aimed at China, Shanahan referred to cooperation between the two countries in areas like military-to-military exchanges, counter-piracy and joint efforts to reduce the “extraordinary threat” posed by North Korea’s military ambitions.
    “I am confident that we’ll solve problems,” Shanahan said.
    Shanahan also called on U.S. allies to contribute more to their own defense.    Burden-sharing, from Asia to Europe, has long been a demand of President Donald Trump’s administration.
    “We need you to invest in ways that take more control over your sovereignty and your own ability to exercise sovereign choices.”
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; additional reporting by Joe Brock, Lee Chyen Yee and Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson)

6/1/2019 China says U.S. actions on Taiwan, South China Sea threaten stability
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan looks on during the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, June 1, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The United States’ actions on Taiwan and the South China Sea are hardly conducive to maintaining stability in the region, a senior Chinese military official said on Saturday, responding to comments by acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
    “He (Shanahan) has been expressing inaccurate views and repeating old tunes about the issues of Taiwan and the South China Sea,” Shao Yuanming, a senior official of the People’s Liberation Army, told reporters after Shanahan’s speech.
    “This is harming regional peace and stability.”
    Shao added that China would defend its sovereignty at any cost should anyone try to separate Taiwan from its territory.    It views the self-ruled island as a wayward province and has not ruled out the use of force to return it to the fold.
    “China will have to be reunified,” Shao said.    “If anybody wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will protect the country’s sovereignty at all costs.”
    China translates the Chinese word “tong yi” as “reunification,” but it can also be translated as “unification,” a term in English preferred by Taiwan independence supporters who say the Communist government has never ruled the island, so it cannot be “reunified.”
    Earlier, Shanahan told delegates at a defense forum in Singapore that the United States would no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behavior in Asia, with stability in the region at threat on issues ranging from the South China Sea to Taiwan.
    Shanahan did not directly name China when he spoke of “actors” destabilizing the region, but went on to say the United States would not ignore Chinese behavior.
    However, Shao responded by saying it was the United States that was destabilizing the region with its recent actions.
    In May, a U.S. warship sailed near the disputed Scarborough Shoal claimed by China in the South China Sea, angering Beijing at a time of tension over trade between the world’s two biggest economies.
(This story has been refiled to correct the spelling of Shanahan in paragraph 2)
(Reporting by Lee Chyen Yee in Singapore)

6/1/2019 Iran may hold talks if shown respect, international rules followed: Rouhani
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a cabinet meeting in
Tehran, Iran, May 29, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday suggested Iran may be willing to hold talks if the United States showed respect and followed international rules, but Tehran would not be pressured into negotiations, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.     Tehran has repeatedly denounced Washington’s withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers as a breach of international regulations and rejected U.S. sanctions as efforts to bully the Islamic republic into agreeing to talks toward a new accord.
    “We are for logic and talks if (the other side) sits respectfully at the negotiating table and follows international regulations, not if it issues an order to negotiate,” Rouhani said, according to Fars.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra)

6/1/2019 Acting defense secy calls out China in national security conference by OAN Newsroom     Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan takes a swipe at China.
    At a press conference in Singapore Friday, Shanahan warned against Chinese measures to destabilize other countries.
    Shanahan described China as a “bad actor,” accusing Beijing of using economic exploitation and military coercion to advance its own agenda on the world stage.
    “Perhaps the greatest long-term threat to the vital interests of the states across this region comes from actors who seek to undermine, rather than uphold, the rules-based international order,” Shanahan said.
Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan delivers his speech entitled “The U.S. Vision for Indo-Pacific Security
during the first plenary session of the 18th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-la Dialogue,
an annual defense and security forum in Asia, in Singapore, Saturday, June 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)
    Shanahan warned the U.S. will not ignore Chinese behavior, but he insisted Washington does not want confrontation with Beijing.
    His speech comes amid heightened tension between the two nations over trade and activity in the South China Sea.
    Meanwhile, a Chinese official responded to Shanahan’s comments, calling them “inaccurate” and “harmful.”
    While speaking at a press conference Saturday, a Chinese deputy chief accused Shanahan spreading lies.
    This comes after Shanahan described china as a bad actor Friday, accusing Beijing of using economic exploitation and military coercion to advance its own agenda in the South China Sea and Taiwan.
    China condemned the statement, warning they are ready to use military “at all costs” if anyone tries to separate Taiwan from its territory.
    “Recently, the U.S. side, regarding the Taiwan issue, made a series of unconstructive words and actions, which has gone against the one-China policy and the Sino-U.S. three communique,” said deputy chief of People’s Liberation Army, Shao Yuan Ming.
    “Damaged the China’s sovereignty and security and sent a severely wrong signal to Taiwan independence forces, harming the peace and stability in the region.”
    The legitimate governing body of Taiwan has long been disputed between Chinese and Taiwanese officials.
    However amid mounting tension in recent weeks, Shanahan insisted the U.S. would no longer “tiptoe” around China’s questionable actions in Asia.

6/2/2019 U.S. prepared to engage with Iran without pre-conditions: Pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis attend a joint news conference
at the medieval Castelgrande castle in Bellinzona, Switzerland June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    BELLINZONA, Switzerland (Reuters) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States was prepared to engage with Iran without pre-conditions but added it needed to see the country behaving like “a normal nation.”
    Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani suggested on Saturday that Iran may be willing to hold talks if Washington showed it respect, but said Tehran would not be pressured into talks.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and John Revill; Editing by Alexander Smith)
[Respect has to be earned.].

6/2/2019 Iran warns any clash in the Gulf would push oil prices above $100
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside
an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. military vessels in the Gulf are within range of Iranian missiles, a top military aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday, warning any clash between the two countries would push oil prices above $100 a barrel.
    Iran and the United States have been drawn into starker confrontation in the past month, a year after Washington pulled out of a deal between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in return for lifting international sanctions.
    Washington re-imposed sanctions last year and ratcheted them up in May, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.    In recent weeks it has also hinted at military confrontation, saying it was sending extra forces to the Middle East to respond to an Iranian threat.
    Yahya Rahim Safavi, a top military aide to Khamenei, said: “The Americans are fully aware that their military forces (in the region) are within the Iran’s missile range and all U.S. and foreigners’ navy in the Persian Gulf are within the range of land-to-sea missiles of the Revolutionary Guards.”
    “The first bullet fired in the Persian Gulf will push oil prices above $100.    This would be unbearable to America, Europe and the U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea,” Rahim Safavi was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has condemned the nuclear deal, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, as flawed for not being permanent and for not covering Iran’s ballistic missile programme and role in conflicts around the Middle East.
    Trump said last week he was hopeful Iran would come to negotiating table to reach a new deal.
    Dismissing any negotiations with Washington on Iran’s missile programme, Iran’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri was quoted as saying by Fars on Sunday: “Iranian nation with not retreat an iota from Iran’s defensive capabilities.”
    President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday suggested Iran may be willing to hold talks if the United States showed it respect, but said Tehran would not be pressured into negotiations.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
[The price of oil would not go up because the companies would just pump more to keep the price down Iran.    You are getting desperate and will either give in or your own people will overthrow you.].

6/2/2019 China and U.S. clash again on trade and regional security by Lee Chyen Yee
FILE PHOTO: Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan gestures during the
IISS Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, June 1, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China and the United States clashed again this weekend on trade and security, accusing each other of destabilizing the region and potentially the world.
    Speaking on Sunday at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s premier defense summit, China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe warned the United States not to meddle in security disputes over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
    On Saturday, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the meeting that the United States would no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behavior in Asia.
    “Perhaps the greatest long-term threat to the vital interests of states across this region comes from actors who seek to undermine, rather than uphold, the rules-based international order,” Shanahan said.
    It was the latest exchange of acerbic comments between the two sides as their ties come under increasing strain due to a bitter trade war, U.S. support for Taiwan and China’s muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols.
    China has been particularly incensed by recent moves by President Donald Trump’s administration to increase support for self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, including U.S. Navy sailings through the Taiwan Strait that separates the island from China.
    Wei, dressed in his uniform of a general in the People’s Liberation Army, said China would “fight to the end” if anyone tried to interfere in its relationship with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a sacred territory to be taken by force if necessary.
    “If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs … The U.S. is indivisible, and so is China.    China must be, and will be, reunified.”
    He however said both sides realized that any war between the two “would bring disaster to both countries and the world.”
    The United States, like most countries, has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is its strongest backer and main source of weapons.
    While Shanahan’s speech was critical of China, his tone was often conciliatory.    Wei took a more combative approach.
    Taiwan’s government condemned Wei’s remarks, saying Taiwan has never belonged to the People’s Republic of China, that Taiwan would never accept Beijing’s threats and that China’s claim of its “peaceful development” was the “lie of the century.”
    Taiwan “will continue to strengthen its self-defense capabilities, defend the country’s sovereignty and democratic system, and uphold the right of the 23 million people of Taiwan to freely choose their future,” its Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement.
TIANANMEN ANNIVERSARY
    Taiwan is gearing up for presidential elections in January, and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly accused Beijing of seeking to undermine Taiwan’s democracy and has vowed to defend the island and its freedoms.
    Wei, in a clear reference to the United States, also said: “Some countries from outside the region come to the South China Sea to flex muscles in the name of freedom of navigation.”
    This week will mark 30 years since a bloody Chinese military crackdown on protesters around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, refocusing scrutiny on China’s approach to security threats.
    Taking questions from the floor, Wei defended the government’s handling of the Tiananmen “incident,” a rare official acknowledgement of the events of June 4, 1989; references to it are heavily censored in China.
    “The government was decisive in stopping the turbulence,” Wei said of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
    “Due to this, China has enjoyed stability, and if you visit China you can understand that part of history.”
    On the ongoing trade war, which has shaken financial markets around the world, Wei said China would “fight to the end” if the United States wanted a fight.    But if Washington wanted to talk, “we will keep the door open.”
    Trade tensions escalated sharply last month after Trump’s administration accused China of having “reneged” on its previous promises to make structural changes to its economic practices.
    Washington later slapped additional tariffs of up to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods, prompting Beijing to retaliate.
    Speaking at a hastily arranged news conference in Beijing, Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said it was irresponsible of the United States to accuse China of backtracking.
    “If the U.S. side wants to use extreme pressure, to escalate the trade friction, to force China to submit and make concessions, this is absolutely impossible,” said Wang, who has been part of China’s trade negotiating team.
(Reporting by Lee Chyen Yee; additional reporting by Gerry Doyle in Singapore, Cate Cadell in Beijing and Yimou Lee in Taipei; writing by Joe Brock and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/2/2019 Thirty years after Tiananmen, protesters’ goals further away than ever by Michael Martina
FILE PHOTO: Paramilitary officers change guard in front of the portrait of the late Chinese chairman
Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Three decades after China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, increased government suppression of rights activism has pushed the demonstrators’ original goals further away than ever.
    In April 1989, weeks before Chinese leaders ordered a military assault to clear the protesters from central Beijing, tens of thousands of students got behind seven key demands – including a free press and freedom of speech, disclosure of leaders’ assets and freedom to demonstrate.
    With the demands embodied in a 10-metre (33 ft) high “Goddess of Democracy” sculpture modeled on the Statue of Liberty and printed on thousands of leaflets, the students defied Beijing’s declaration of martial law in calling for reforms to a government rife with corruption and a country shaken by growing inequality.
    But rights advocates say the ruling Communist Party, which on Tuesday faces the highly sensitive June 4 anniversary of Chinese troops opening fire on their own people, has in the past 10 years suppressed a civil society nurtured by years of economic development.
    “It is much, much worse than 1989,” Shao Jiang, one of the student leaders instrumental in crafting the list of demands, told Reuters from London, where he lives in exile.
    “The Chinese government has turned China into a big prison,” Shao said, referring to the internment of a million or more minority Muslims in its Western Xinjiang region, and the government’s extensive “stability maintenance” measures to monitor dissidents.
    China describes the camps as vocational training centers and has justified martial law-like conditions, with mass surveillance, police patrols and DNA collection, in the name of counterterrorism.
    Despite a constitution that promises freedom of speech, religion and assembly, large-scale political protests like those seen in 1989 are almost unthinkable in today’s China, where even small demonstrations can be quickly snuffed out by police with sophisticated digital surveillance.
    But those who practice more politically anodyne forms of advocacy have also run afoul of authorities.
    Patrick Poon, who researches China at Amnesty International, said “only very brave, diehard advocates” would raise systemic questions about governance.    It is activism itself that has become the target, he said.
    Last year, authorities moved to contain a fledgling #MeToo movement on Chinese campuses, cancelling marches and censoring online posts supporting the women’s rights cause, and detained Marxist activists from some of the top universities who supported workers in the southern city of Shenzhen seeking to form an independent union.
    Some of the student activists are still missing.
    A foreign non-government organization law adopted in 2016 has put restrictions on hundreds of groups in China, forcing some to suspend operations, cancel events and forego partnerships.
    One foreign environmental researcher who asked to not be named told Reuters that her charity was unable to give away funds for the conservation of endangered species in China because Chinese sponsors shunned the group under the law.
RIGHTS AWARENESS RISING
    International rights campaigners say President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012, has accelerated efforts by the party to insulate itself from the political demands of an increasingly educated, wealthy and rights-aware population.
    “Rights awareness was rising. Civil society had been empowered, and the party saw this as a fundamental threat to its rule and it started to tighten up,” Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said of China’s renewed crackdown on lawyers and activists since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
    “The values those (Tiananmen) protesters aspired to are further away than ever.”
    The anniversary remains taboo in China and will not be marked by the government.    On Thursday, China’s Defence Ministry took exception to the use of the word “suppression” to refer to how the military put down the protests, and said China had made great strides.
    “In the last 30 years, the course of China’s reforms, development and stability, the successes we have achieved have already answered this question,” spokesman Wu Qian told reporters, when asked for his assessment of the anniversary.
ECONOMIC FREEDOM?
    China has never provided a death toll of the 1989 violence, but rights groups and witnesses say it could run into the thousands.
    In the intervening years, China has joined the World Trade Organization and become the world’s second-largest economy, lifting millions of people out of poverty.
    “From that day on they said, okay, we’re going to give you economic freedom.    In exchange you give us your submission,” Wu’er Kaixi, one of the Tiananmen student leaders who now lives in Taiwan, told Reuters.
    That has meant efforts to stifle challenges to the party, including the jailing of dozens of rights lawyers and activists under Xi’s administration.
    Ahead of the anniversary, censors at Chinese internet companies say tools to detect and block content related to the 1989 crackdown have reached unprecedented levels of accuracy, aided by machine learning and voice and image recognition.
    The party has also tightened its grip over academic freedom on university campuses.
    Xi has acknowledged that rampant graft and scandals over officials’ extravagant lifestyles risked the party’s legitimacy.    But in 2014, as he escalated a sweeping anti-corruption campaign, China handed out multi-year prison sentences to numerous activists who had pushed for government officials to reveal their assets, one of the Tiananmen protesters’ demands.
    The party, which does not have an independent anti-corruption body, still insists that it can police itself.
    Xi in 2018 cemented his status as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong by removing presidential term limits from the constitution, allowing him to remain in office indefinitely.
    Shao, the London-based Tiananmen activist, said the world failed to hold China to account ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which symbolized the country’s arrival on the world stage.
    Chinese leaders have been emboldened by China’s economic might, and many of the world’s top companies and politicians feel it is too strong to rebuke, said Shao, who was arrested briefly in 2015 by London police for protesting against a visit by Xi.
    “Now, democracy is not only facing problems in China,” he said.    “Democracy cannot survive if China is the global power.”
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard, and Fabian Hamacher in TAIPEI; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/2/2019 Twitter apologizes for blocked China accounts ahead of Tiananmen anniversary
FILE PHOTO: The Twitter logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)
in New York City, U.S., September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Twitter Inc has apologized for suspending accounts critical of Chinese government policy days ahead of the 30th anniversary of a bloody crackdown on protesters at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, after an outcry among users.
    In a statement posted to the company’s Public Policy Twitter feed on Saturday, Twitter said “a number of accounts” had been suspended as part of efforts to target accounts engaging in “platform manipulation.”
    “Some of these were involved in commentary about China.    These accounts were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities – this was a routine action on our part,” the company said.
    Such actions sometimes “catch false positives or we make errors,” it added.    Twitter said it was working to “ensure we overturn any errors.”
    Twitter’s statement follows a sharp reaction from its users over the suspensions, including U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who in a tweet accused Twitter of becoming “a Chinese (government) censor.”
    The approach of the 30th anniversary of the bloody June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square has been accompanied in     China by a tightening of censorship.    Tools to detect and block content related to the 1989 crackdown have reached unprecedented levels of accuracy.
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

6/2/2019 Chinese defense minister says Tiananmen crackdown was justified by Lee Chyen Yee
Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe speaks at the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said on Sunday that the bloody crackdown on protesters around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 30 years ago was the “correct” decision, citing the country’s “stability” since then.
    Responding to a question at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore after a hardline speech about China and international security cooperation, he called the protests political “turbulence.”
    It is rare for Chinese government officials to acknowledge the events of June 4, 1989; references to it are heavily censored in China.
    “Everybody is concerned about Tiananmen after 30 years,” Wei said on Sunday.    “Throughout the 30 years, China under the Communist Party has undergone many changes – do you think the government was wrong with the handling of June Fourth?    There was a conclusion to that incident.    The government was decisive in stopping the turbulence.”
    He added that China’s development since 1989 showed that the government’s actions were justified.
    The Tiananmen protests were “political turmoil that the central government needed to quell, which was the correct policy,” he said.    “Due to this, China has enjoyed stability, and if you visit China you can understand that part of history.”
    Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the protests, in which Chinese troops opened fire to end the student-led unrest.    Rights groups and witnesses say hundreds or even thousands may have been killed.    China has never provided a final death toll.
    His comments echoed those of Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, who last week decried the use of the word “suppression” to describe the military’s response to the 1989 protests.
    China at the time blamed the protests on counter-revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the party.
    The event will not be officially commemorated by the ruling Communist Party or government.
(Writing by Gerry Doyle; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/2/2019 Australia PM in Solomon Islands to build ties with eye on China by Colin Packham and Will Ziebell
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media as he arrives at the Horizon Church in Sutherland in Sydney, Australia, May 19, 2019. AAP Image/Joel Carrett/via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in the Solomon Islands on Sunday, the first visit by an Australian leader in more than a decade as Western nations seek to rein in China’s influence in the Pacific.
    The trip comes as the United States and its regional allies try to ensure that Pacific nations with diplomatic links to Taiwan do not severe those in favor of ties with Beijing.
    The Solomon Islands is one of six Pacific countries to recognize Taiwan, a policy now in question after recent elections.    China views Taiwan as a renegade province with no right to state-to-state ties.
    Morrison flew into the capital Honiara on Sunday on his first overseas trip since winning re-election last month. He did not make any public comments on arrival, but has said the visit will show Australia’s commitment to the region.
    “The Pacific is front and center of Australia’s strategic outlook,” he said in a statement last week.
    Morrison’s trip comes just a few days before a visit to the Solomon Islands by New Zealand deputy prime minister Winston Peters, who will also travel to Vanuatu this week.
    Australia has historic ties with the Pacific, but China has raised its influence in the region in recent years.
    Keen to undercut China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to recreate the old Silk Road to link China with Asia and Europe through big infrastructure projects, Australia has directed ever larger amounts of its foreign aid to the Pacific.
    Australia has offered Pacific countries up to A$3 billion in grants and loans to build infrastructure, as Morrison declared the region was “our patch.”
    Canberra said last year it would spend $139 million to develop undersea internet cable links to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, amid national security concerns about Chinese telecoms company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd
    Australia became the first country to ban the world’s largest maker of telecom network gear from its nascent broadband network, a step the United States followed this year by effectively banning U.S. firms from doing business with Huawei.
    President Xi Jinping said last month China has offered to help developing nations and is not seeking a sphere of influence in Pacific Ocean island states.
    The issue of climate change, which has at times strained Australia’s relationship with its Pacific neighbors, will probably feature prominently during the visit, Australian broadcaster SBS News said on Sunday.
    Peter Kenilorea Jr, a Solomon Islands legislator, said he wanted Australia to show “stronger leadership” on climate change, SBS News journalist Pablo Viñales said in a tweet on Sunday.
    Last month, Fiji’s prime minister hit back at remarks by an Australian politician that Fijians should seek higher ground in response to higher seas.
(Reporting by Colin Packham and Will Ziebell; editing by Darren Schuettler)

6/2/2019 Report: China ready to resume trade talks by OAN Newsroom
    China expresses “a wish to work together” with the U.S. on a trade deal, amid U.S. imposed tariffs on their imports.
    Sources Sunday said Chinese officials and documents recently revealed they are willing to “adopt a cooperative approach to find a solution.”
    Beijing trade experts said the softened rhetoric is a signal talks can resume.    However, China reiterated in order for a deal to be reached, President Trump has to put his America first policy on the back-burner.
    This comes after China threatened to bar exports of rare earth metals to the U.S. and create their own blacklist of American companies.

6/2/2019 North Korea’s former top nuclear envoy seen with Kim Jong Un on Sunday: KCNA
FILE PHOTO: Vice Chairman of the North Korean Workers' Party Committee Kim Yong Chol, North Korea's lead negotiator in nuclear
diplomacy with the United States, waves as he meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (reflected in background 2ndL) for talks
aimed at clearing the way for a second U.S.-North Korea summit in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean senior official and former top nuclear envoy Kim Yong Chol accompanied leader Kim Jong Un to a Sunday art performance, state media KCNA said on Monday, signaling that the former spymaster is alive and remains a force in North Korea’s power structure.
    South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported on Friday that Kim Yong Chol, Kim Jong Un’s right-hand man and the counterpart to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the failed Hanoi summit, had been sent to a labor and re-education camp in Jagang Province near the Chinese border, citing an unidentified North Korea source.
    Asked about the last U.S. contact with Kim Yong Chol and North Korea in general on Sunday, Pompeo declined to answer, saying: “We conduct our negotiations in private.”
    During an amateur art performance by the wives of officers in the North Korean Army attended by Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, on Sunday, Kim Yong Chol was among “leading officials” who accompanied them, according to KCNA on Monday.
    He was the 10th official named among 12 mentioned overall.
    As Kim Jong Un’s point man for nuclear talks with the United States, Kim Yong Chol was apparently censured for the summit’s collapse by being removed from a key party post, a South Korean lawmaker said in April.
    Kim Yong Chol was pictured standing behind Kim Jong Un in an official photo released from a session of North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature in April, but did not accompany Kim on his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin later that month.
    The Chosun Ilbo story, which Reuters was unable to independently confirm, also said North Korea executed its working-level nuclear envoy to the United States, Kim Hyok Chol, as part of a purge of officials who steered negotiations for the collapsed summit in February.
    Officials who worked with Kim Yong Chol have been out of the public eye since the summit, while seasoned diplomats who appeared to have been sidelined, including Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, were seen returning to the spotlight.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Peter Cooney)

6/2/2019 U.S. prepared to talk to Iran with ‘no preconditions’, Iran sees ‘word-play’ by David Brunnstrom and John Revill
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis attend a joint news conference
at the medieval Castelgrande castle in Bellinzona, Switzerland June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    BELLINZONA, Switzerland (Reuters) – The United States is prepared to engage with Iran without pre-conditions about its nuclear program but needs to see the country behaving like “a normal nation,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.
    Iran dismissed the offer as “word-play.”
    Tension between the two foes has increased sharply in the past month, a year after U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 deal with world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
    Washington, which reimposed sanctions last year, has sharply tightened them since the start of May, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.    It has hinted at military confrontation, sending extra forces to the region in response to what it calls Iranian threats.
    Iran has responded by saying it could increase its production of enriched uranium beyond levels permitted under the deal, although it has not yet done so.
    Asked about comments by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday that Iran might be willing to hold talks if Washington showed it respect, Pompeo said: “We are prepared to engage in a conversation with no pre-conditions.    We are ready to sit down.”
    However, he said Washington would continue to work to “reverse the malign activity” of Iran in the Middle East, citing Tehran’s support to Hezbollah and to the Syrian government.
    Pompeo said U.S. President Donald Trump had been saying for a long time that he was willing to talk to Iran.
    “We are certainly prepared to have that conversation when the Iranians can prove that they want to behave like a normal nation,” he told a joint news conference with his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis.
    The State Department later pointed to remarks Trump had made nearly a year ago in which he said he was willing to hold talks with Iran without conditions.
    Responding to Pompeo’s latest remarks, Rouhani said on Sunday it was up to the United States to return to the negotiating table and resume compliance with the 2015 deal.
    “The other side that left the negotiating table and breached a treaty should return to normal state,” he said in comments reported on the government website.
    He presented the offer of talks with no pre-conditions as a sign of Iran’s strength: “The enemies sometimes say they have conditions for negotiations with Iran… but in recent weeks they said they have no conditions.    They threatened us as if they were a military superpower, but now they say they do not seek a war,” he said.
    Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “The Islamic Republic of Iran does not pay attention to word-play and expression of hidden agenda in new forms.”
    Both sides have made seemingly conflicting remarks about the possibility of talks in recent weeks, while saying it was up to the other side to make the first move.
    Rouhani had suggested on Saturday that Iran might be willing to hold talks if Washington showed it respect, but said Tehran would not be pressured into talks.
‘MAY WORK IN REAL ESTATE, DOES NOT WORK IN IRAN’
    The Trump administration argues that the 2015 deal agreed by his predecessor Barack Obama is not strong enough, and that Iran can be pressed by new sanctions into signing a tougher deal.
    Washington’s European allies say the U.S. decision to abandon the agreement was a mistake, which strengthens Iranian hardliners at the expense of Rouhani, a pragmatist who won two landslide elections on promises to open Iran up to the world.
    Trump said last Monday he was hopeful Iran would come to the negotiating table.    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Tehran would not negotiate with Washington.
    Khamenei, a hardline cleric in power since 1989, is Iran’s ultimate authority although the elected president is in charge of day-to-day affairs.
    In an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Foreign Minister Javad Zarif saw little chance of taking up Trump’s offer, and said Trump’s tough negotiating techniques from his real estate career would fail in diplomacy.
    “It’s not very likely because talking is the continuation of the process of pressure.    He is imposing pressure,” Zarif said.    “This may work in the real estate market.    It does not work in dealing with Iran.”
    A quarterly report by the U.N. atomic watchdog indicated on Friday that Iran was still abiding by the main limits set in the nuclear deal.    Pompeo said Washington has its own “independent understanding of what is taking place there.”
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and John Revill; Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken, William Maclean, Lisa Shumaker and Peter Graff)

6/3/2019 Exclusive: U.N. bid to curb North Korean missile tests, revive air traffic, delayed amid U.S. concerns – sources by Allison Lampert, Hyonhee Shin and Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A person walks past a banner showing North Korean and U.S. flags ahead of the
North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
    MONTREAL/SEOUL/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.N. agency’s bid to curb North Korea’s missile program with an airspace safety audit and at the same time revive its air traffic has been delayed amid U.S. concerns that it may breach U.N. sanctions, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
    Airlines currently take indirect routes to avoid North Korea due to the threat of surprise missile tests, which have been witnessed by some passengers on commercial flights.
    The U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) met North Korean officials last year to discuss Pyongyang’s hopes for a new route that would pass through South Korean airspace following a dramatic detente between the two sides.
    ICAO had planned to conduct its first aviation safety audit in North Korea in more than a decade this year, but it has been delayed until 2020 amid U.S. concerns that it could include sharing technology that could also be used to advance North Korea’s weapons programs, the sources said.
    All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.
    “They’re concerned because it involves technology that could possibly be diverted for military purposes, unlike humanitarian aid that would be exempted from sanctions more easily,” one of the sources told Reuters.
    A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department declined to comment because the talks held by ICAO’s council were private. ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin confirmed the postponement on Friday.
    “Multilateral assistance and capacity-building activities always require a significant amount of negotiation and advance consultation,” he said.
    The delay comes as the United States maintains sanctions pressure on North Korea after a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February.
    The summit failed to reach a deal due to conflicts over Trump’s calls for complete denuclearization of North Korea and Kim’s demands for relief from U.N. sanctions.
    Reclusive North Korea for years pursued missile and nuclear weapons programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
    The audit and a separate joint military and civilian workshop, which was initially due for September this year, were designed to curb Pyongyang’s long-standing practice of carrying out missile tests without prior notice, a second source said.
    But those efforts faced pushback not just from the United States but also some other U.N. member nations, including Japan, over whose territory North Korea has test-fired missiles in the past, a third source said.
    Ahead of the Hanoi summit, ICAO informed a Security Council panel overseeing the enforcement of the sanctions that its planned workshop would not contravene the U.N. sanctions, according to a letter seen by Reuters.
    But on March 12, days after the summit collapsed, the United States told the committee that it disagreed with ICAO’s view.
    “This training is subject to (sanctions) because it is technical cooperation on aerospace and aeronautical engineering and technology and therefore requires the committee to review it on a case-by-case basis,” the United States told the panel.
    In May, ICAO’s 36-member governing council agreed to put off an exemption request for the workshop in Pyongyang, which would promote civil and military cooperation on aviation safety and airspace management.
    The Montreal-based ICAO cannot impose rules on governments, but wields clout through its safety and security standards which are approved by its 193 member states.
CAUTION AND TENSION
    Tension has mounted in the Koreas since the breakdown of the Hanoi summit. North Korea launched short-range missiles in May and Washington unveiled its seizure of a North Korean ship suspected of illicit coal shipments in breach of sanctions.    “We are being very cautious, especially since the missile tests restarted,” said a fourth source, who is a non-U.S. representative at ICAO.
    Some officials in South Korea, which often trains developing countries on aviation safety as part of its humanitarian aid programs, were initially cautiously optimistic over ICAO’s plans.
    Korean Air Lines, which hosted a gathering of global airline leaders in Seoul over the weekend, would benefit from the lifting of air restrictions over North Korea, allowing international carriers to save fuel and time on some routes between Asia and Europe and North America.
    “We’re in an extremely sensitive situation,” a South Korean official said.    “It was evident that there are worries about sanctions, and we can’t afford violating them.”
    Mark Zee, founder of OPSGROUP, which provides safety guidance to air operators, said he believed North Korean airspace had potential.
    “The risk was elevated when missiles started landing in the Sea of Japan, in October 2017. But that’s stopped,” Zee said.
    “Overflying it ought to be almost without risk at present.    I would operate an aircraft through there long before Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and some of the other places that airlines are currently overflying.”
(Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Singapore; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/3/2019 China warns students, academics of risks of studying in U.S.
FILE PHOTO: Students shield themselves from the sun as they line up at a job fair at a university in
Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China November 29, 2018. Tan Qingju/Southern Metropolis Daily via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China warned students and academics on Monday about risks involved in studying in the United States, pointing to limits on the duration of visas and visa refusals, amid a bitter trade war and other tension between the two countries.
    Relations between China and the United States have nosedived because of their trade conflict, U.S. sanctions on Chinese tech firm Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and tension over the disputed South China Sea and U.S. support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
    The Ministry of Education, in a short statement, said that recently some students seeking to study in the United States had encountered problems with the duration of their visas being limited and an increase in visa refusals.
    “This has affected Chinese students going to study in the United States or smoothly completing their studies,” it added.
    “The education ministry reminds students and academics of the need to strengthen risk assessment before studying abroad, enhance prevention awareness, and make corresponding preparations.”
    However, state television cited ministry spokeswoman Xu Mei as saying despite the trade tensions, the “general situation” for Chinese students going to the United States remained stable, and U.S. institutes of higher education welcomed Chinese students and cooperation with China.
    The ministry declined to offer any other details when contacted by Reuters.
    At stake is about $14 billion of economic activity, most of it tuition and other fees generated annually from the 360,000 Chinese nationals who study in the United States.
    Hu Xijin, editor of the widely read Chinese newspaper the Global Times, linked the warning to recent discrimination against students faced and the trade dispute.
    “This warning is a response to recent series of discriminatory measures the U.S. took against Chinese students and can also be seen as a response to the U.S.-initiated trade war,” Hu wrote on his Twitter account in English.
‘REALLY SCARY’
    The warning quickly became a top trending topic on China’s Weibo microblogging site, with some people expressing concern about going to the United States and others saying they would just go to other countries.
    “This is really scary,” wrote one user.
    “The world is so big, why do you have to go to the United States?” wrote another.
    Last year, China’s embassy in Washington issued a security advisory to Chinese nationals traveling to the United States, warning tourists to be aware of issues including expensive medical bills, the threat of public shootings and robberies, and searches and seizures by customs agents.
    A group of U.S. President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress introduced legislation last month intended to prohibit anyone employed or sponsored by the Chinese military from receiving student or research visas to the United States.
    The bill would require the U.S. government to create a list of scientific and engineering institutions affiliated with China’s People’s Liberation Army, and prohibit anyone employed or sponsored by those institutions from receiving the visas.
    The bill comes as some U.S. officials have expressed concern about the possibility of the theft of intellectual property or even espionage by Chinese nationals at U.S. universities and other institutions.
    Many U.S. and university officials also warn about over-reacting, however, arguing it is important to acknowledge the important role Chinese scholars and students play at U.S. institutions while being aware of security risks.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Michael Martina and Gao Liangping; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/3/2019 China releases official document blaming the U.S. for the trade war by OAN Newsroom
    China recently released an official document blaming the U.S. for the escalating trade war.    In the report, which was delivered at a news conference Sunday morning, Beijing argued the trade dispute is negatively affecting the world.
    China states it will not back down to “major issues of principle.”    The country accused the U.S. of backtracking three times during trade negotiations by introducing new tariffs and other conditions beyond what was agreed on.    It also claimed the U.S. is an untrustworthy negotiator, and that the Chinese government wants talks that are equal, mutually beneficial and trustworthy.
    Beijing allegedly backed out from basically all negotiating points during talks with the U.S. several weeks ago.    However, China’s Commerce Ministry said U.S. actions are the primary reason for the lack of progress in negotiations.
Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen speaks during a press conference about China-U.S. Trade issues
at the State Council Information Office in Beijing, Sunday, June 2, 2019. China issued a report blaming the
United States for a trade dispute and says it won’t back down on “major issues of principle.” (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
    “China-U.S. trade and economic consultations have suffered severe frustrations because the U.S. raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 17-percent to 25-percent, and announced the start of procedures for raising tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese exports,” stated Chinese Commerce Vice Minister Wang Shouwen.    “And it also abused export control exceptions and included Chinese companies in this list for export control.”
    Wang said they have kept their word throughout nearly a dozen round of talks, and will honor its commitments if a trade agreement is reached.    He also did not confirm whether President Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, would meet at the G20 meeting at the end of June.

6/3/2019 Defense Secretary Shanahan says there’s no need to restart U.S., South Korea military drills by OAN Newsroom
    Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said President Trump’s decision to stall war games with South Korea doesn’t worry him.    The annual drills were shelved last year in a gesture of good faith by the U.S. toward North Korea, who called the games “an act of aggression.”
    Instead, Shanahan wants to rollback the large-scale exercises and continue with revised post-drills and field training.    The move comes amid continued efforts to negotiate a denuclearization deal with a reluctant chairman Kim Jong-un.    Despite his hesitation, Shanahan, joined by his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, reaffirmed their mutual goal of denuclearizing North Korea.
    “As three vibrant, strong Pacific democracies, we share a common vision of the future of our region: upholding a rules-based international accord; achieving complete denuclearization of North Korea in fully verified manner; and strengthening the network of like-minded nations in the region,” stated Shanahan.
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, second from left, talks with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, right,
during their meeting at the ministry of National Defense in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, June 3, 2019 .(Kim Min-hee/Pool Photo via AP)
    While the U.S. holds out hope for a sit down with North Korea, South Korea continued with its own series of defense drills in place of those conducted with the U.S.    Those exercises reportedly involve thousands of civilians and troops taking part in war and natural disaster scenarios.    Military, police, and local governments teamed up during the exercises in the capital city of Seoul, where they simulated a biological attack at a stadium.
    Officials have said the new drill model incorporates training from the previous U.S.-partnered games.
    “Today’s drills against biological terror is a part of Ulji Taegeuk training, and aims to minimize casualties through strengthening cooperation among the military, police, government, fire department, civil, and public sectors,” explained Kim Jung-il, the Nowon District Chief of Public Health.
    The U.S. decision to pull out of the scheduled exercises came with criticism from the Pentagon, following North Korea’s launch of short-range missiles.
    Shanahan said the U.S. will continue maintaining diplomacy with U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific, and evaluate military readiness plans on an “as needed” basis.

6/3/2019 Iran calls U.S. sanctions ‘economic war’, says no talks until they are lifted
FILE PHOTO - Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaks during a news conference with Iraqi
Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim in Baghdad, Iraq May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran called U.S. sanctions “economic war” on Monday, and said there could be no talks with the United States until sanctions are lifted, a day after Washington suggested it could hold talks without pre-conditions if Iran changed its behavior.
    “#EconomicTerrorism against Iran targets innocent civilians. Like this little boy, whose heartbroken mother can’t get him prosthetic legs as he grows.    They’re sanctioned,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Monday, with a video clip of a woman saying the prosthetic leg her son needs is sanctioned.
    Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the video.
    “This is @realDonaldTrump’s ‘economic war’. And war and talks – with or without preconditions – don’t go together,” Zarif added in the tweet.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that the United States was prepared to engage with Iran without pre-conditions about its nuclear program but needs to see the country behaving like “a normal nation” first.
    Tensions between the two foes have escalated in the past month, a year after the United States pulled out of a deal between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions.
    Washington reimposed sanctions last year and tightened them sharply at the start of last month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.    It has also hinted at military confrontation, sending extra forces to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
    Iran for its part has responded by threatening to increase its production of enriched uranium beyond limits set in the nuclear agreement, although it has not done so yet.
    Both sides have made repeated remarks in recent weeks about possible talks to resolve their differences, while saying that the other side must act first.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Peter Graff)

6/3/2019 U.S. to sell 34 surveillance drones to allies in South China Sea region by Mike Stone
FILE PHOTO - U.S. ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are displayed at a hangar before a transfer from the U.S. to the
Philippine Air Force at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay city, Metro Manila, Philippines March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration has moved ahead with a surveillance drone sale to four U.S. allies in the South China Sea region as acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Washington will no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behavior in Asia.
    The drones would afford greater intelligence gathering capabilities potentially curbing Chinese activity in the region.     Shanahan did not directly name China when making accusations of “actors” destabilizing the region in a speech at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday but went on to say the United States would not ignore Chinese behavior.
    The Pentagon announced on Friday it would sell 34 ScanEagle drones, made by Boeing Co. to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam for a total of $47 million.
    China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea and frequently lambastes the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands.    Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.
    The Pentagon said Friday’s sales included spare and repair parts, support equipment, tools, training and technical services and work on the equipment was expected to be completed by March 2022.
    As many as 12 unarmed drones and equipment would go to Malaysia for about $19 million.    Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country would buy eight drones, the Philippines eight, and Vietnam six.
    In 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of U.S. arms export policy aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defense industry and create jobs at home.
    That initiative eased rules for exporting some types of lethal as well as non-lethal U.S.-made drones to potentially dozens more allies and partners.
    There is no armed version of the ScanEagle, but Insitu, the division of Boeing that makes the drone, also makes the RQ-21A Blackjack which is an optionally armed drone used by U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; editing by Grant McCool)

6/4/2019 Security tight in Tiananmen 30 years after students ‘died for nothing’ by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina
A paramilitary police officer stands guard in front of a police vehicle as people wait for the flag-raising
ceremony held at Tiananmen Square during sunrise, in Beijing, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Tourists thronged Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Tuesday amid tighter-than-usual security, although most visitors approached by Reuters said they were unaware of the bloody crackdown on student-led protests 30 years ago or would not discuss it.
    The anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, when Beijing sent troops and tanks to quell pro-democracy activists, is not spoken of openly in China and will not be formally marked by the government, which has ramped up censorship.
    A 67-year-old man surnamed Li, sitting on a bench about a 10-minute walk from the square on Tuesday, said he remembered the events of June 4, 1989, and its aftermath clearly.
    “I was on my way back home from work.    Changan Avenue was strewn with burned-out vehicles.    The People’s Liberation Army killed many people.    It was a bloodbath,” he said.
    Asked if he thought the government should give a full account of the violence, he said: “What’s the point?    These students died for nothing.”
    Among the students’ demands in 1989 were a free press and freedom of speech, disclosure of leaders’ assets and freedom to demonstrate.    However, exiled former protest leaders say those goals are further away in China than ever before because the government has in the past decade suppressed a civil society nurtured by years of economic development.
    Tiananmen also remains a point of contention between China and many Western countries, which have implored Chinese leaders to account for giving the People’s Liberation Army the order to open fire on their own people.
    China’s Foreign Ministry angrily denounced criticism by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called for China to release all political prisoners and offered his salute to “the heroes of the Chinese people who bravely stood up 30 years ago in Tiananmen Square to demand their rights.”
    Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing that Pompeo had “maliciously attacked China’s political system.”
    Some people in the United States were so accustomed to wagging their tongues on the pretext of democracy and human rights and interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, that they turned a blind eye to their own problems, he added.
    “The Chinese people have seen their hypocrisy and evil motives,” Geng said.    “These lunatic ravings and babblings are destined for the garbage heap of history.”
    China has never released a final death toll from the events on and around June 4.    Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to thousands.
TIGHT SECURITY
    Security was heavy on and around the square itself, with no signs of any protests or memorials.
    Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police monitored the square and its surroundings, conducting spot ID checks and inspecting car trunks.    Thousands of visitors lined up at security checkpoints to enter the square, many carrying tour group flags.
    A male tourist in his 30s near the square, who gave his family name as Zhang, said he had no idea about the anniversary.
    “Never heard of it,” he said.    “I’m not aware of this.”
    An older woman applying grout to a building close to the square’s southern entrance said: “That’s today?    I’d forgotten.”    She quickly waved away a Reuters reporter when security guards approached.    Her colleague, a younger man, said he had never heard of the events in the spring and summer of 1989.
    Rights groups said authorities had rounded up dissidents in the run-up to the anniversary. Amnesty International said police had detained, put under house arrest, or threatened dozens of activists in recent weeks.
    While no public events to mark the anniversary will be tolerated in mainland China, a large memorial is expected in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, later on Tuesday.    There will also be events in self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
    One online censor, who worked a shift of more than 12 hours until early morning on Tuesday for Twitter-like social media site Weibo, said content removed included memes, video game references and images including Tuesday’s date.
    “Some accounts are totally taken down, but mostly the content is just removed,” said the censor.    “People like to play games and see what is possible to post.”
    Financial information provider Refinitiv, under pressure from China’s government, has removed from its Eikon terminal Reuters news stories related to the anniversary.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in BEIJING, Yimou Lee in TAIPEI, and David Lawder in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

6/4/2019 Do you believe in UFOs? China hints at test of new missile
A Chinese flag flutters in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) – With a cryptic message about UFOs and a picture of a missile launcher, China’s military has hinted that it has carried out a test of a new missile, after images of an object streaking toward the sky circulated on Chinese social media.
    The People’s Liberation Army typically does not announce new missile tests, but occasionally drops hints about what it is up to, amid a massive modernization push championed by President Xi Jinping to ramp up combat capabilities.
    On Sunday, footage circulated on China’s Weibo microblogging service of an object traveling up into the sky, leaving a white trail behind it, over the Bohai Sea, partly closed at the time for military drills.
    That caused some Chinese internet users to wonder if it was a UFO, though most thought it was probably the test of a new underwater launched ballistic missile.
    In a short post on its official Weibo account late on Monday, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force showed a picture of what looked like a road mobile intercontinental ballistic missile launcher against a night sky.
    “Do you believe in this world there are UFOs?” it wrote in the caption, without offering further explanation.
    The navy then chimed in on its Weibo account with a picture of a missile being launched from underwater heading off into the blue sky above, with a similar caption: “Do you believe in UFOs?
    Defense publication Janes said on its website that the weekend pictures could have been China’s next generation submarine-launched ballistic missile, the JL-3.
    The Ministry of Defence did not respond to a request for comment.
    The development of the nuclear-armed JL-3 is being closely watched by the United States and its allies as it is expected to have a longer range than its predecessor and will significantly strengthen China’s nuclear deterrent.
    In its latest annual survey of China’s military modernization, the Pentagon said last month the new missile would likely to be fitted on China’s next generation nuclear missile submarines.    Construction is due to start in the early 2020s.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/4/2019 Iran’s Khamenei: Tehran will not abandon its missile program
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the 30th death anniversary of the founder
of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran, Iran June 4, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Tehran would not be “deceived” by U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer of negotiations and would not give up its missile program.
    Iran and the United States have been drawn into starker confrontation in the past month, a year after Washington pulled out of a deal between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in return for lifting international sanctions.
    Trump has condemned the nuclear deal, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, as flawed for not being permanent and for not covering Iran’s ballistic missile program and its role in conflicts around the Middle East.    He has called on Iran to come to negotiating table to reach a new deal.
    Trump said last week that Iran “has a chance to be a great country, with the same leadership.    We’re not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear.    We’re looking for no nuclear weapons.”
    Reacting to those comments, Khamenei said in a speech broadcast on state television: “The U.S. president recently said Iran can achieve development with its current leaders. That means they do not seek regime change … But this political trick will not deceive Iranian officials and the Iranian nation.”
    “In the missile program, they know we have reached a point of deterrence and stability.    They want to deprive us from it, but they will never succeed,” Khamenei said, speaking at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
    Khamenei said U.S. sanctions have created hardship for Iranians and called on the government to make improving economic conditions its top priority.
    President Hassan Rouhani, who has taken a softer stance, suggested last week that Iran might be willing to hold talks if the United States showed it respect and lifted sanctions.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States was prepared to engage with Iran without pre-conditions about its nuclear program.    Iran dismissed the offer as “word-play.”
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)

6/4/2019 New commander takes on corruption “mess” in Afghan police by Hamid Shalizi
General Khoshal Sadat, Deputy Minister of Interior, speaks during an interview in Kabul, Afghanistan May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s new police chief Khoshal Sadat has one of the hardest jobs in the country – rooting out abuses and bringing new energy to a force that for years has been used as a cash machine by corrupt politicians.
    Khoshal, a 34-year-old police Special Forces officer who has spent his entire adult life fighting the Taliban, was appointed three months ago by President Ashraf Ghani as part of a broader drive against graft.
    Poorly paid, undertrained and often illiterate, and subject to unauthorized interference by local strongmen or Kabul-based politicians, Afghanistan’s 180,000 police officers have long been regarded as the poor cousins to the army in the country’s security structure.
    They include the uniformed national police (ANP) and other units, including irregular local police militias (ALP), and are generally used more as paramilitary troops than for law enforcement, suffering heavy casualties and viewed with suspicion by many Afghans, who often see them as predators rather than protectors.
    Speaking in a rapid-fire mix of Dari and the American-accented English typical of the elite young Afghan officers who have come of age alongside U.S. advisers, Khoshal admits he faces “a mess” but insists: “I know how to fix it.”
    “There is corruption in the (interior) ministry – those earning from contracts, food, fuel.    But there is also corruption outside – taking money from hotels, shops, highways,” he told Reuters in the same week officials uncovered a major scandal inflated invoices for police rations.
    “This is the culture I inherited three months ago.”
    Some, however, are skeptical about whether one man, however energetic, can succeed in a ministry described last year by Ghani as the most corrupt in the country.
    With upcoming presidential elections and uncertainty over peace talks with the Taliban already raising the political temperature, the stakes are high if he cannot.
NIGHT OPERATIONS
    A graduate of the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, Britain’s officer training college, as well as the U.S. Army Command and Staff College, Khoshal joined the police Special Forces in 2003, gaining an inside view on problems that have dogged the security forces for years.
    Restless and impatient, he still joins some night operations and says he hates sitting in an office.
    He first came to wider public attention in March, during a stand-off over the appointment of a new police chief in the northern province of Balkh.    Accustomed to being able to defy the government of Kabul in his stronghold city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the powerful former local governor Atta Mohammad Noor refused to allow the man sent by Ghani to take office.    In response, Khoshal ordered in a Special Forces unit that fought a gunbattle with local militiamen, killing five of them.
    Khoshal said he had sacked 30 of 34 provincial police chiefs for incompetence or corruption since taking charge, replacing them with young Special Forces officers in his own mould.
    He has also moved to rotate police more often and pull them off isolated posts, where they are regularly picked off by the Taliban.    Casualties, he says, have been cut from 50 a day to around 90 a week.
    Extortion has also been reduced, he said, by cutting down informal roadside checkpoints where police extorted money from truckers.
    Twice a week he talks with provincial commanders through video links, getting updates and listening to complaints ranging from lack of ammunition and supplies to a shortage of manpower.
    “My vision is that the force should do community policing, law enforcement, getting rid of corrupt officials and bring in educated, trained and talented police officers,” he said.
NO COMPREHENSIVE STRATEGY
    The problems facing the new police chief remain huge, the product of years of weak oversight, favouritism and incapacity, despite repeated attempts to fix them and billions of dollars of foreign aid.
    A recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. Congressional watchdog, noted that: “there is no comprehensive strategy for a competent civil police force backed by the rule of law.”    It added that the lack of such a force created “a risk to the long-term stability of the Afghan government.”
    Apart from corruption, sheer inefficiency and waste has hindered development and allowed rampant abuses that range from selling weapons and equipment on the black market to the notorious payroll lists of non-existent “ghost” police maintained by commanders who pocket the salaries themselves.
    “There was zero accountability in the ministry,” Khoshal said referring on the interior ministry that overseas the police.    “No-one asked about the condition of vehicles, weapons and personnel.”
    He still regularly fields calls from powerful local politicians and well-connected members of parliament, trying to get favorites appointed to key jobs to protect their interests.
    “In one province, the police chief was appointed by one side, his deputy and head of intelligence by other sides. So there was no obedience,” he said.
    On one recent call, a new police chief in the southern province of Zabul complained that local militiamen were collecting illegal taxes on the highway and 800 police, whose salaries had been paid for years, simply did not exist.
    “This is what I am dealing with,” said Khoshal, shaking his head.
(Editing by Alex Richardson)

6/5/2019 China paper cites drawn-out Korean War talks as reason not to bow to U.S.
FILE PHOTO: Flags of U.S. and China are displayed at American International Chamber of Commerce (AICC)'s booth during
China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing, China, May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s determination to resist U.S. bullying in two years of negotiations to end the Korean War is a reason not to bow to Washington in bitter trade talks, a top Chinese newspaper suggested on Wednesday.
    State media has increasingly alluded to or directly referenced the 1950-53 Korean War – when China and North Korea battled United Nations forces led by the United States – to rally public opinion behind the government during China’s ongoing trade conflict with the United States.
    Tensions rose sharply in May after U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration accused China of having reneged on its previous promises to make structural changes to its economic practices.
    Washington later slapped additional tariffs of up to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods, prompting Beijing to retaliate.
    In a front page commentary, the Study Times, published by the Central Party School which trains rising officials, said China’s spirit and determination during talks to end the Korean War, which took two years, were relevant today.
    While the piece made no direct mention of the current trade war, the message in it left little doubt as to the intention of the article, China having repeatedly blasted the United States for trying to bully it into submission over trade.
    “The Chinese People’s Volunteers, in the face of the world’s top military and economic power and diplomatic blackmail, made full use of the Communist Party’s spirit of not being afraid of pressure, daring to fight and being good at fighting,” it said.
    “To this day, it remains worthy of appreciation and promotion,” the commentary said.
    China and North Korea went into the talks with the United States over the Korean War with sincerity and suggestions both sides could basically accept, the paper said, echoing wording China has used to describe its approach to the trade discussions.
    But China and North Korea would not make concessions in the face of U.S. “hegemony” and would not accept terms signed under duress, the commentary added, in another reference to expressions used today by China on the trade war.
    Finally in 1953 the armistice was signed, largely based upon China and North Korea’s original proposals put forward in 1951, the paper said.
    China has said its door is open to more trade talks with the United States on trade, but there have been no high-level, face-to-face meetings since last month.
    Trump has said he is expecting to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit at the end of this month in Japan, though China has declined to confirm this.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Gao Liangping; editing by Darren Schuettler)

6/5/2019 ‘I’ll be PM of change’, says Thai opposition candidate ahead of vote for PM by Patpicha Tanakasempipat
Thai parliament members attend a session to vote for prime minister in Bangkok, Thailand June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – An upstart Thai opposition politician vying to become prime minister called for change on Wednesday, as both houses of parliament convened for the first time since a 2014 coup to vote for either him or the chief of the ruling junta to be leader.
    The vote will officially restore civilian rule after more than five years under junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has been nominated to stay on as prime minister by a coalition led by the pro-army Palang Pracharat Party.
    The retired general is considered to have a big advantage over Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a charismatic political newcomer nominated by the opposition Democratic Front of seven parties that want to remove the military from politics.
    “Coups will only lead Thailand to dead-ends … We must make parliament a place of honor, not a place where people’s faith goes to die,” Thanathorn said in a speech just outside the parliamentary chamber.
    “I am ready to be Thailand’s next prime minister … I will be the prime minister of change.”
    Thanathorn was barred from taking up his seat in the lower house last month after being suspended, pending a ruling by the Constitutional Court on his alleged illegal holding of shares in a media company.
    He denied the allegation and said the case was the latest politically motivated bid to block him from politics.
    The vote for a prime minister who will form the next government this month, comes 10 weeks after a March 24 general election the opposition says was heavily weighted to favor pro-army parties.
    Each parliamentarian will be called on by the house speaker to verbally vote for either candidate.    It could be hours before they start voting.
ABHISIT OUT
    A new prime minister will need at least 376 votes, or more than half the parliament.    That includes 500 members in the lower House of Representatives elected in the March election and 250 senators, who were all appointed by the junta.
    Neither the opposition nor Palang Pracharat’s side officially has a majority in the lower house, with 246 seats and 203 respectively.
    Palang Pracharat gained the Democrat Party as a new ally on Tuesday and that would likely also attract the Bhumjaithai Party, which holds 51 seats but hasn’t officially declared an alignment with either side.
    Former Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is also a former prime minister, gave up his seat in parliament earlier on Wednesday, saying he could not break a pre-election promise and vote along with his party to support Prayuth.
    “We have seen abuse of state power … The (junta’s) extension of power is not just rhetoric, it is reality,” Abhisit said.
    The Democratic Front has said the appointed Senate’s votes give Prayuth an unfair advantage and urged senators to vote in line with the will of the people.
    With the backing of the Senate, Prayuth could easily gain enough votes to stay in power.
    The junta will remain in power until a new cabinet is sworn in.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Kay Johnson and Robert Birsel)

6/5/2019 Australian media decry raids on national broadcaster ABC and News Corp by Byron Kaye
Editorial Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) Craig McMurtie speaks to members of the media outside
the ABC building located at Ultimo in Sydney, Australia, June 5, 2019. AAP/David Gray/via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian police raided the offices of the national broadcaster on Wednesday over allegations it had published classified material, the second raid on a media outlet in two days, prompting complaints of assaults on press freedom.
    The Australian Federal Police said its officers carried out a search warrant at the head office of the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) in Sydney.
    Police raided the home of a News Corp editor a day earlier, although they said the raids were unrelated.
    The ABC said the raid was over its 2017 reports about alleged misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan, while News Corp said the raid at an editor’s home on Tuesday related to a 2018 report about plans for surveillance of Australians’ emails, text messages and bank records.
    “It is highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way,” ABC Managing Director David Anderson said in a statement.
    “This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and defense matters,” he said.
    News Corp, controlled by media baron Rupert Murdoch, called the raid “outrageous and heavy handed” and “a dangerous act of intimidation.”
    Police questioning of journalists is not new, but raids on two influential news organizations sparked warnings that national security was being used to justify curbs on whistleblowing and reporting that might embarrass the government.
    “There are insufficient safeguards to prevent law enforcement agencies from using these powers to expose journalists’ confidential sources,” said Emily Howie, a Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre.
    “This is shocking for those who are targeted but this surveillance also has a chilling effect on people coming forward,” she added.
    The ABC investigations editor, John Lyons, tweeted a photo of the search warrant which showed the targets included two ABC journalists, the organization’s news director and a former Australian military lawyer, David William McBride, who was charged last year with leaking national secrets.    Media reports said he had pleaded not guilty.
    “It’s a complex case but it’s also a simple case.    It comes down to: At what point are you obliged to basically rebel against the government?” online publication The New Daily quoted McBride as saying on Wednesday.
    Reuters was not immediately able to reach McBride to verify his comments.
‘DANGEROUS DAY’
    The raids came barely two weeks after Australia’s conservative government won a May 18 election it was widely expected to lose, and which almost cost Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton his seat.
    The home affairs minister must authorize raids considered politically sensitive, according to guidelines on the police website.
    Dutton denied involvement in the police investigations and said his office was notified after the raids were carried out.
    “It is entirely appropriate they conduct their investigations independently and, in fact, it is their statutory obligation,” Dutton said in a statement.
    Police confirmed they had not notified Dutton in advance and said their actions were “independent and impartial at all times.”
    Both raids “relate to separate allegations of publishing classified material … which is an extremely serious matter that has the potential to undermine Australia’s national security,” they added.
    ABC staff posted footage and comments as the raid unfolded.
    “This is a bad, sad and dangerous day for a country where we have for so long valued … a free press,” Lyons said on Twitter.
    Peter Greste, director of the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, said the raids were a serious issue for Australians who he said cared deeply about press freedom.
    Greste is a former Al Jazeera reporter who was jailed with two colleagues in Egypt from 2013-2015 on national security charges brought by the Egyptian government.
    “I’m not suggesting that Australia is about to become Egypt any time soon but what we are seeing seems to me to be on the same spectrum,” he said.
    Media reports said McBride was due in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court on June 13.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye, Tom Westbrook and Colin Packham; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

6/5/2019 In rare move, Pakistan military agrees to budget cut amid economic woes, PM says by Drazen Jorgic
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan delivers a speech at the opening ceremony for the
second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s powerful military has agreed in a rare move to cut its hefty budget for a year to help ease the South Asian country’s “critical financial situation,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said.
    Pakistan has struck an agreement in principle with the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion loan but Islamabad is expected to put in place measures to rein in a ballooning fiscal and current account deficits to get access to the funds.
    The IMF has said the primary budget deficit should be trimmed by the equivalent of $5 billion, but previous civilian rulers have rarely dared to trim defense spending for fear of stoking tension with the military.
    Unlike some other civilian leaders in Pakistan’s fragile democracy, Khan appears to have good relations with the generals who have ruled the nuclear-armed nation for nearly half its history since independence in 1947.
    Pakistan’s de facto finance chief, Hafeez Shaikh, on June 11 is due to announce spending plans for the financial year beginning in July.
    Under Pakistan’s devolved system, the federal government must hand over more than half its budget to the provinces, and the remainder is mostly eaten up by debt servicing and the military’s vast budget.
    Khan late on Tuesday tweeted that he appreciated the military’s “unprecedented voluntary initiative of stringent cuts in their defense expenditures” for next financial year because of the country’s “critical financial situation.”
    This will allow money to be spent on the development of the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, still recovering from more than a decade-long Islamist insurgency, and violence-racked Baluchistan province, Khan added.
    The previous government hiked military spending by 20 percent to 1.1 billion, but the military appears to have overshot that figure amid a flare up in tensions with arch-foe India.
    Khan did not say by how much defense spending would be trimmed.
    A military spokesman said the “voluntary cut” in the defense budget for a year would not be at the expense of security.
    “We shall (maintain) effective response potential to all threats,” he added on Twitter.
    Pakistan has one of the world’s largest armies but critics say the military’s spending is unnecessary and holds the country back in key areas such as health and education.    More than 40 percent of the population is illiterate.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/5/2019 Exclusive: U.S. preparing to sell over $2 billion in weapons to Taiwan, testing China – sources by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO - Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is pursuing the sale of more than $2 billion worth of tanks and weapons to Taiwan, four people familiar with the negotiations said, in a move likely to anger China as a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies escalates.
    An informal notification of the proposed sale has been sent to the U.S. Congress, the four sources said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the possible deal.
    The potential sale included 108 General Dynamics Corp M1A2 Abrams tanks worth around $2 billion as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft munitions, three of the sources said.    Taiwan has been interested in refreshing its existing U.S.-made battle tank inventory which includes M60 Patton tanks.
    The United States is a main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-ruled island under its control.
    Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in March that the United States was responding positively to Taipei’s requests for new arms sales to bolster its defenses in the face of pressure from China.    The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself.
    China and the United States are engaged in a fierce trade war, with clashes over Taiwan and the South China Sea exacerbating tensions.
    A spokesman for the State Department, which oversees foreign military sales, said the U.S. government does not comment on or confirm potential or pending arms sales or transfers before they have been formally notified to Congress.
    The congressional notifications included a variety of anti-tank munitions including 409 Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp-made Javelin missiles worth as much as $129 million, two of the sources said.
    In addition, the notifications included 1,240 TOW anti-tank missiles worth as much as $299 million, one of the sources said adding that there were also 250 stinger missiles worth as much as $223 million in the notification.
    Stingers are often used in man-portable anti-aircraft weapons systems.
    In 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of U.S. arms export policy aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defense industry and create jobs at home.
    One of the administration’s architects of that policy was Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro.    Navarro, a China hawk, wrote about the possible sale of tanks to Taiwan in a March opinion column in the New York Times ahead of presidential trip to the Lima, Ohio plant where they are made.
    At a low point, the U.S. Army had only one tank coming from the plant a month, General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic said during an April conference call with investors, but said “we’ll be rolling out 30 tanks a month by the end of this year,” partly because of international orders.
    Last week, the Pentagon announced it would sell 34 ScanEagle drones, made by Boeing Co to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam for $47 million.    The drones would afford greater intelligence gathering capabilities potentially curbing Chinese activity in the region.    China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea and frequently lambastes the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands.    Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.
    Last weekend, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe warned the United States not to meddle in security disputes over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the meeting that the United States would no longer “tiptoe” around China’s behavior in Asia.
(Reporting by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; editing by Mary Milliken, Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)

6/5/2019 Trump casts doubt on reports of North Korean executions by Steve Holland
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar at
Shannon Airport in Shannon, Ireland, June 5, 2019. Liam McBurney/Pool via REUTERS
    SHANNON, Ireland (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to cast doubt on news reports of North Korean executions as part of a purge in the aftermath of a failed Hanoi summit and lamented that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was blamed too quickly.
    Asked about South Korean reports that North Korea had executed a top diplomat, Trump said, “I don’t know if the reports are correct.”
    “They like to blame Kim Jong Un immediately,” Trump said during an appearance with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
    Trump has famously sided with autocratic leaders, including saying last July he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence findings that Russia had attempted to sway the 2016 presidential election.
    In May, he said he agreed with the North Korean leader’s criticism of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate.
    There have been conflicting reports about shakeups in the North Korean diplomatic team.    South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo said last week that nuclear envoy Kim Hyok Chol was executed in March along with four foreign ministry officials after they were charged with spying for the United States.
    Reuters was unable to independently confirm the account.    Previously, some North Korean officials who were reported to have been executed or purged reappeared later with new titles.
    CNN reported on Tuesday, however, that Kim Hyok Chol was alive and in state custody.
    The South Korean newspaper said earlier that the former top nuclear negotiator, Kim Yong Chol, had been sent to a labor camp.    He was then pictured on Monday in a state media photo accompanying Kim Jong Un to an art performance.
    In his comments, Trump appeared to mistake the senior official who was reported to have been sent to hard labor for the negotiator who was reported to have been executed.
    “They said he was killed but he wasn’t.    He was at the theater the other night.    So he wasn’t killed.    The other four people I know nothing about,” Trump said.
    The February summit in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, the second between Kim and Trump, failed to reach a deal because of conflicts over U.S. calls for Pyongyang’s complete denuclearization and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.
    Diplomatic efforts have stalled since then, and North Korea conducted short-range missile tests last month.
    Trump struck an upbeat tone.    “It’s been going pretty well because there hasn’t been testing of anything major,” he said.    “I think that Chairman Kim would like to make a deal and I’d like to make a deal with him, and I look forward to seeing him at the appropriate time.”br> (Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by James Dalgleish)

6/5/2019 U.S. lawmakers prep bills targeting China spy threat on campus by Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO - Chinese staffers adjust U.S. and Chinese flags before the opening session of trade negotiations between U.S. and Chinese
trade representatives at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some U.S. lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would make it harder for Chinese students and scholars to work in the United States, citing security concerns as a trade war rages between Washington and Beijing.
    The members of Congress, mostly President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, are writing bills that would require more reporting from colleges, universities and laboratories about funds from China, prohibit students or scholars with ties to the Chinese military from entering the United States or set new limits on access to sensitive academic research.
    Failure to comply could mean financial hardship.
    The proposed bills add to growing pressure against Chinese students, researchers, companies and other organizations in the United States.
    Amid an escalating trade war between China and the United States, members of Congress have become increasingly concerned the thousands of Chinese students, professors and researchers in the United States could pose a security threat by carrying sensitive information back to China.
    Republican Senator John Cornyn said on Wednesday he hoped to win bipartisan support for the “Secure our Research Act,” a bill he planned to introduce next week to prompt U.S. institutions to do more to protect valuable research.
.     “We are under attack,” Cornyn said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing examining foreign threats to U.S. research. “Their (China’s) goals are to dominate the United States military and economically,” he said.
    Cornyn, who is also a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called U.S. academia “naive” about the threat from China. He warned that he would not vote for any plan to give taxpayer dollars to public institutions unless they improve security.
    Many of the individual bills face little chance of passing despite growing bipartisan concern in Congress over security risks from China.
    While Trump and many other Republicans want stricter controls on immigration as well as a hard line on China, Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, warn about the risks of making immigrants feel unwelcome.
    “Foreign-born scientists put Americans on the moon.    They worked on the Manhattan Project.    Nearly a third of all American Nobel laureates were born outside the United States,” said Senator Ron Wyden, another Intelligence Committee member who is ranking Democrat on the Finance panel.
CHINESE STUDENTS SPEND MILLIONS IN THE U.S.
    Lawmakers from both parties, as well as university officials, point to the multimillion-dollar contribution to the U.S. economy from the 350,000 Chinese who come for undergraduate or graduate studies.
    “We believe that the overwhelming number of international students from all countries come here with the best of intentions and we should continue to encourage them to come,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education.
    However, small pieces of the measures could make their way into broader, must-pass bills, like the massive annual National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently making its way through Congress.
    Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Republican Representative Francis Rooney marked the 30th anniversary of China’s bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown on Tuesday by re-introducing the “Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft (SHEET) Act,” intended to prevent what they described as Chinese espionage efforts at U.S. universities.
    Chinese authorities reject such accusations and are pushing back.    On Monday, Beijing warned students and academics about risks in the United States, pointing to limits on the duration of visas and visa refusals.
    On Tuesday, China widened its warning to companies and tourists.    It told companies operating in the United States they could face harassment from U.S. law enforcement and cited gun violence, robberies and thefts.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Chris Sanders, Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker)

6/6/2019 Exclusive: U.S. pursues sale of over $2 billion in weapons to Taiwan, sources say, angering China by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO - Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is pursuing the sale of more than $2 billion worth of tanks and weapons to Taiwan, four people familiar with the negotiations said, sparking anger from Beijing which is already involved in an escalating trade war with Washington.
    An informal notification of the proposed sale has been sent to the U.S. Congress, the four sources said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the possible deal.
    The potential sale included 108 General Dynamics Corp M1A2 Abrams tanks worth around $2 billion as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft munitions, three of the sources said.    Taiwan has been interested in refreshing its existing U.S.-made battle tank inventory, which includes M60 Patton tanks.
    The United States is the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-ruled island under its control.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said in March Washington was responding positively to Taipei’s requests for new arms sales to bolster its defenses in the face of pressure from China.    The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself.
    China and the United States are engaged in a fierce trade war, with clashes over Taiwan and the South China Sea exacerbating tensions.
    A spokesman for the State Department, which oversees foreign military sales, said the U.S. government does not comment on or confirm potential or pending arms sales or transfers before they have been formally notified to Congress.
    The congressional notifications included a variety of anti-tank munitions, including 409 Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp-made Javelin missiles worth as much as $129 million, two of the sources said.
    The notifications also included 1,240 TOW anti-tank missiles worth as much as $299 million, one of the sources said. There were also 250 stinger missiles worth as much as $223 million in the notification, the source said.
    Stingers are often used in portable anti-aircraft weapons systems.
    Taiwan’s Defense Ministry confirmed it had requested those weapons and that the request was proceeding normally.
    The U.S. commitment to providing Taiwan with the weapons to defend itself helps Taiwan’s military to raise its combat abilities, consolidates the Taiwan-U.S. security partnership and ensures Taiwan’s security, the ministry said in a statement.
    The Chinese government condemned the planned sale.
    “We are severely concerned about the U.S. move and are firmly against U.S. arms sales to Taiwan,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
    China urges the United States to stop arms sales to Taiwan and prudently deal with issues relating to Taiwan to prevent harm to bilateral relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, he added.
CHINA HAWK
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of U.S. arms export policy in 2018 aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defense industry and create jobs at home.
    Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro was one of the administration’s architects of that policy.    Navarro, a China hawk, wrote about the possible sale of tanks to Taiwan in a March opinion column in the New York Times ahead of a presidential trip to the Lima, Ohio, plant where they are made.
    At a low point, the U.S. Army had only one tank coming from the plant a month, General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic said during an April conference call with investors, but said “we’ll be rolling out 30 tanks a month by the end of this year,” partly because of international orders.
    The Pentagon announced last week it would sell 34 ScanEagle drones, made by Boeing Co, to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam for $47 million.
    The drones would afford greater intelligence-gathering capabilities, potentially curbing Chinese activity in the region.
    China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea and frequently lambastes the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands.    Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have competing claims.
    China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe warned the United States at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last weekend not to meddle in security disputes over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the meeting that the United States would no longer “tiptoe” around China’s behavior in Asia.
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, responding to the Reuters report of planned the new arms sale, said Wei’s “threatening” comments and recent Chinese military drills near Taiwan showed the importance of its need to strengthen its defensive abilities.
    “Going forward our government will continue to deepen the close security partnership between Taiwan and the United States,” it said.
(Reporting by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI and Ben Blanchard and Cate Cadell in BEIJING; Editing by Mary Milliken, Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)

6/7/2019 China warships leave Sydney after surprise visit ‘raises hackles’
The Sydney Opera House can be seen as the Chinese naval ship Kunlun Shan departs the Garden Island
Naval Base in Sydney, Australia, June 7, 2019. AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi/via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Three Chinese warships sailed out of Sydney on Friday after an unannounced visit that came amid a tussle for influence between Australia and China in the Pacific.
    The show-of-force call by a frigate, supply ship and amphibious warfare vessel was planned but never announced by Canberra.
    “That raised a lot of hackles,” John Blaxland, professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Friday.
    “The ships arrived off Darling Point and other famous places in Sydney’s harbor without people knowing in advance … and with armed soldiers and sailors on the decks of the ships looking fairly aggressive.”
    They left for China under leaden skies in the early afternoon.
    The warships had arrived on the eve of the 30th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.    Photos showed members of the Chinese community waiting at the navy wharf where the ships docked to greet the sailors.
    “It was a reciprocal visit because Australian naval vessels visited China,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in the Solomon Islands’ capital Honiara this week.
    “So it may have been a surprise to others, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise to the government.”
    Ties between Australia and China hit a low last year when Canberra passed laws aimed at thwarting Chinese influence in domestic affairs and also over China’s assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.
    Australia has offered diplomatic support to U.S. “freedom of navigation” voyages through the South China Sea.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/7/2019 Cambodia’s Hun Sen says Singapore supported genocide
FILE PHOTO: Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (front) inspects an honour guard as Singapore's Prime Minister
Lee Hsien Loong walks behind him at the Istana in Singapore July 26, 2010. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/File Photo
    PHNOM PENH/HANOI (Reuters) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has accused Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of supporting genocide because of comments Lee made about Vietnam’s 1978 invasion of Cambodia which ended Pol Pot’s genocidal “killing fields” regime.
    In the remarks, which have stirred Cold War animosity and drawn a strong response from Vietnam, Lee referred to the Vietnamese action to oust Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime and install a new government as an “invasion” and “occupation,” terms to which both Vietnam and Cambodia object.
    Lee made the comments in a tribute to Thailand’s former prime minister, General Prem Tinsulanonda, who died last month.
    Prem had been leader at a time when Singapore, Thailand, and other Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries opposed Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia, Lee said.
    “General Prem was resolute in not accepting this fait accompli, and worked with ASEAN partners to oppose the Vietnamese occupation in international forums,” Lee said in comments posted on his Facebook page.
    “This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimized.    It protected the security of other Southeast Asia countries, and decisively shaped the course of the region.”
    In a strongly worded Facebook post late on Thursday, Hun Sen said he deeply regretted Lee’s remarks and accused him of supporting the Khmer Rouge genocide.
    “His statement reflects Singapore’s position then in support of the genocidal regime and the wish for its return to Cambodia,” Hun Sen said.
    Singapore “had indeed contributed to the massacre of the Cambodian people,” he said.
    The Vietnamese invasion and 10-year occupation of Cambodia ended Pol Pot’s regime, which devastated the Southeast Asian country for more than three years, from 1975 to early 1979, and led to the deaths of almost a quarter of the population.
    Southeast Asia was deeply riven by Cold War hostility at the time.    Singapore and Thailand were part of the then six-member, pro-Western ASEAN, set up in the 1960s partly to block the spread of communism.
    Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge were backed by China while Vietnam was supported by China’s communist foe, the Soviet Union.
‘INSULT’
    Hun Sen was a junior member of the Khmer Rouge but fled to Vietnam when the group split.    He returned with the Vietnamese army that intervened in late 1978 to oust Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and rose to power in a government set up by Vietnam.
    Hun Sen said Lee’s comments were an “insult to the sacrifice of the Vietnamese military volunteers who helped to liberate Cambodia.”
    Lee made similar comments at a security forum in Singapore on the weekend, noting how Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia had posed a serious threat to non-communist countries in the region.
    On Tuesday, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said it had raised the issue of Lee’s comments with Singapore.
    “Vietnam finds it regrettable that certain elements of the speech did not view history under an objective lens, causing negative impact on the public opinion,” spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement.
    The Singaporean Embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to a request for comment.    A spokeswoman for Lee had no immediate comment.
    Through the 1980s, Singapore along with other ASEAN and Western countries recognized a three-faction “coalition government” in exile, which included the Khmer Rouge.    The factions battled Vietnamese forces in Cambodia from sanctuaries on the Thai border.
    Vietnam withdrew its forces from Cambodia in late 1989, paving the way for a 1991 treaty that officially ended the war. Vietnam joined ASEAN in 1995 and Cambodia joined in 1999.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul in PHNOM PENH and James Pearson in HANOI, additional reporting by Joe Brock in SINGAPORE; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/7/2019 As pressure for Afghan peace grows, drug threat remains
FILE PHOTO: Raw opium from a poppy head is seen at a poppy farmer's field on the outskirts of Jalalabad, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Parwiz
    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Mohammad Ahmadi, a young opium farmer in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar has the kind of confidence that underlines how meager the results have been of years of effort and billions of dollars spent fighting narcotics.
    “I’m not afraid of anyone.    No one can harm me and the others while we’re harvesting poppy,” he said as he took a break from working his field.
    As pressure grows for a political settlement to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan, the drug trade remains a major threat, leaving the country at the risk of becoming a “narco-state,” the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. Congressional watchdog, said in recent report.
    Growing opium is theoretically a crime in Afghanistan but it is a way of life for tens of thousands of farmers like Ahmadi, who feeds a family of 14 with the money he makes from selling the sticky, brown sap from the poppies in his fields to be refined into heroin.
    Efforts to develop alternative crops like saffron for poor farmers have had some success, but overall, they have hardly put a dent in the drugs trade.
    “I want to continue my studies but economic issues force me to do this,” Ahmadi said, blaming the government for not creating the conditions for other jobs.
    For years, Afghanistan has been the global leader in opium production, despite some $8.9 billion spent since 2002 by the U.S. government to stop production and trafficking in narcotics.
    With compelling economic incentives and politically protected networks – from cultivators to producers and distributors – deeply entrenched, officials say there is little they can do to stop it.
    “We don’t have the ability to annihilate poppy cultivation in all of the country,” said Gul Mohammad Shukran, head of counter-narcotics in Kandahar.
    The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2018 estimated that 263,000 hectares of land produced 6,400 metric tonnes of opium in 24 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
    In a bad year for drought, that represented a 20% decline in the area under cultivation from the record year in 2017, but it was still the second highest in recent years.
    By contrast, efforts to wipe out the crop have been meager and just 406 hectares were cleared last year, according to the UNODC, hampered in part by expanding Taliban control over larger parts of the country.
BOMBING, BAN
    About half of Afghanistan’s opium is produced in areas of high insurgent activity, according to SIGAR.
    “It is increasingly getting very difficult to destroy standing crops due to the fighting and the increased Taliban control in poppy-yielding provinces,” said Mohammad Hashim Aurtaq, the deputy interior minister in Kabul who oversees opium eradication.
    Air strikes are the only way to dent drug production, he said.
    Since late 2017, U.S. forces have attacked sites believed to be used for processing drugs as part of efforts to cut off funds to the Taliban, who profit greatly from narcotics.
    However, results have been modest, according to SIGAR.
    Between November 2017 and May 2018, U.S. air and ground strikes against drug processing sites cost the Taliban some $86 million in lost revenues, raw materials and equipment, SIGAR said.
    That compares with an estimated $600 million generated for Afghan farmers in 2018 from a trade that is reckoned to be the equivalent to as much as 30% of Afghanistan’s entire legitimate economic output.
    For their part, the Taliban, who famously banned opium growing in 2000, when they held power across most of the country, have suggested they will once again eliminate the poppies if peace talks succeed.
    For the moment, however, drugs provide them with a stream of revenue from levies on farmers and traffickers, and they say they are reluctant to disrupt the lives of farmers like Ahmadi.
    “We have neither banned nor promoted poppy cultivation,” said the chief Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid.
    “We don’t ban poppy cultivation because banning the crops means going against poor local people and it is not the right time for us go against our people.”
(Additional reporting by Rupam Jain, Abdul Qadir Sediqi in KABUL; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/7/2019 Explainer: Why is Japan’s Abe going to Iran? What can he accomplish? by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Aaron Sheldrick
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe greets Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (R) during the annual meeting
of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to visit Iran next week in an apparent mediation mission to ease tension between Iran and the United States.
    Following are some of the reasons for Abe’s June 12-14 trip, and what it might accomplish.
WHY IS ABE GOING TO IRAN?
    Japan is in a unique position as a U.S. ally because it has long maintained close ties with Iran, making Abe an ideal mediator.
    U.S.-Iran ties have frayed since President Donald Trump pulled out of an Iran nuclear deal in which it agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.    The United States has also hinted at military confrontation, sending extra forces to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
    During a visit to Japan last month, Trump welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran, highlighting the “very good relationship” between Tokyo and Tehran.
    “I do believe that Iran would like to talk,” Trump said at the time.    “And if they’d like to talk, we’d like to talk also.”
    For its part, Japan is keen to see stability in the Middle East as the bulk of its oil imports come from the region, although it stopped buying Iranian oil this year because of U.S. sanctions.
WHAT CAN ABE ACHIEVE?
    The most Abe could probably achieve would be to persuade Iran and the United States to resume direct talks, possibly in a third country.    Both sides may be seeking a face-saving way out of the confrontation, experts say.
    Abe could, for example, invite Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to a G20 summit that Japan is hosting at the end of June, said Momoyo Kondo, a research fellow at the Middle East Institute of Japan.
    If that is not possible, Abe could relay a message from Iran to the United States, perhaps at the G20 summit, said Motohiro Ono, an opposition lawmaker and former diplomat who served in various Middle Eastern countries.
    Japan is not a party to the Iran nuclear agreement, which was signed by Iran, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the United States, so he would not be able to directly address that.
    Japan won Russia’s endorsement to try to ease tension with Iran when Japanese and Russian foreign and defense ministers held four-way talks in Tokyo last week. [nL4N235213]
HISTORY OF JAPAN-IRAN TIES
    Japan has had a generally positive relationship with Iran going back about 70 years, mostly revolving around oil.
    In the 1950s, Japanese refiner Idemitsu broke a British oil embargo of Iran and sent a tanker to get a shipload of gasoline and diesel oil.
    Thirty years later, during the Iran-Iraq war, Abe’s father, then Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, visited both countries to try to mediate.    A young Shinzo Abe joined him as his secretary.
    “Japan has been seen in the Middle East as a country that links the United States with the rest of the world,” said Kondo.
    Broadly speaking, Japan has maintained neutral ties with many Middle Eastern countries because it relies on them for oil.
    “Japan’s focus on commercial and diplomatic relations in the region, rather than military deployments, may also mean Tehran perceives it to be more neutral than other U.S. allies,” said Richard Mallinson, a senior analyst at Energy Aspects in London.
IS IRAN A BIG SOURCE OF OIL FOR JAPAN?
    Iran has been a major supplier of crude to Japan, providing 10-15 percent before 2012, when U.S. sanctions began to tighten.    That still lagged imports from Saudi Arabia, however, long Japan’s main supplier.
    Japan has at times been caught in the political crossfire between Iran and the United States, with Japan invariably falling into line with its old ally.
    In 2004, Japan’s Inpex agreed to take a 75% stake in Iran’s Azadegan oil field, one of the world’s biggest oil discoveries in the last 30 years.    But under U.S. pressure, Inpex reduced the stake to 10 percent in 2006, and then exited completely in 2010.     Japan stopped importing Iranian oil by a deadline to avoid U.S. sanctions last month – although it has pushed for imports to continue.     Japan wants to keep open the option of Iranian oil to protect it from possible disruptions in Saudi Arabian or UAE supplies, a U.S. diplomat told Reuters recently.
WHAT ARE THE POLITICAL RISKS AND REWARDS?
    There is not a lot of downside for Abe.    Even if he is not able to achieve a breakthrough, he will be seen as an international statesman seeking peace.
    A successful trip would make him look good ahead of an upper house election this summer, and might encourage him to call a snap general election at the same time.
    Abe has had little success in his efforts to reach a deal with Russia on disputed islands or resolve a feud with North Korea over abducted Japanese citizens – two issues he has hoped to resolve to cement his legacy.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Aaron Sheldrick and Jessica Jaganathan; Writing by Malcolm Foster; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/7/2019 U.S. and Russia trade blame over near collision in East Asian waters by Andrew Osborn and Tim Kelly
A screen grab from video shows the Russian naval destroyer Udaloy making what the U.S. Navy describes as an unsafe maneuver against
the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville in the Philippine Sea June 7, 2019. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS.
    MOSCOW/TOKYO (Reuters) – Russia and the United States blamed each other for a near collision between their warships in East Asian waters on Friday with both countries accusing one another of dangerous and unprofessional behavior.
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Washington would lodge a formal diplomatic protest to Russia, while a senior Russian parliamentarian said such episodes could easily escalate tensions, which he said were already balanced “on a razor’s edge.”
    Russia’s Pacific Fleet said that the USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, had come within just 50 meters (165 feet) of the Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov which was forced to take emergency action to avoid a collision, Russian news agencies reported.
.     They cited a Russian Pacific Fleet statement as saying the incident took place in the early hours of Friday morning in the eastern part of the East China Sea at a time when a group of Russian warships was on a parallel course with a U.S. naval strike group.
    “The U.S guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed course and cut across the path of the destroyer Admiral Vinogradov coming within 50 meters of the ship,” the statement said.
    “A protest over the international radio frequency was made to the commanders of the American ship who were warned about the unacceptable nature of such actions,” it said.
    The U.S. Navy rejected that version of events, saying the behavior of the Russian ship had been “unsafe and unprofessional.”
    “While operating in the Philippine Sea, a Russian Destroyer … made an unsafe maneuver against USS Chancellorsville,” U.S. Seventh Fleet spokesman Commander Clayton Doss said.
    “This unsafe action forced Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision.”
    He described a Russian assertion that the U.S. ship had acted dangerously as “propaganda.”    The Russian destroyer came within 50 to 100 feet of the Chancellorsville, he said, putting the safety of its crew and the ship at risk.
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Shanahan said Washington would formally protest.
    “We’ll have military-to-military conversations with the Russians, and of course we’ll demarche them, but to me safety at the end of the day is the most important (part),” he told reporters outside the Pentagon.
    “It will not deter us from conducting our operations.”
    The incident comes days after Washington and Moscow sparred over an allegedly unsafe spy plane intercept by a Russian fighter jet near Syria.
    Alexei Pushkov, a senior Russian parliamentarian, said the near naval miss and other incidents like it were dangerous.
    “We’re balancing on a razor’s edge,” he wrote on social media.
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and by Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Frances Kerry)

6/8/2019 New U.S. sanctions show offer of talks with Iran not genuine: Foreign Ministry
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an
Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Additional sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States show that Washington’s offer of talks is not genuine, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Saturday.
    The United States sanctioned Iran’s largest petrochemical holding group on Friday for indirectly supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a step it said aimed to dry up revenues to the elite Iranian military force but that analysts called largely symbolic.
    U.S. President Donald Trump said earlier this month that he would be willing to talk to the Islamic Republic.
    “It was only necessary to wait one week until the claim of the president of America about talks with Iran were proven to be hollow,” Mousavi said in a statement.    “The American policy of maximum pressure is a defeated policy.”
    Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States in recent weeks after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials call Iranian threats to U.S. troops and interests in the region.
    The United States aims to intensify economic and military pressure on Iran because of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes as well as its support for proxy groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
    U.S. President Donald Trump antagonized Iran, and dismayed key U.S. allies, last year when he exited a 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers under which Tehran curbed its nuclear program in return for an easing of most international sanctions.
    Trump denounced the deal, signed before he took office, as flawed and reimposed tough financial sanctions on Iran that were subsequently extended to its lifeblood oil exports.
    Trump said on Thursday that Iran was failing as a nation, under the pressure of his sanctions, and repeated his call for talks with the leadership in Tehran.    Mousavi on Friday dismissed Trump’s comments as “repetitive, groundless and paradoxical” and said they did not merit a response.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/8/2019 Huge Hong Kong protest expected in last push to scrap extradition bill by Greg Torode and James Pomfret
Students chain up themselves as they protest to demand authorities to scrap a proposed
extradition bill with China, in Hong Kong, China June 8, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – At least half a million people in Hong Kong are expected to brave sweltering heat on Sunday to press the government to scrap a proposed extradition law that would allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial, organizers of the march said.
    A committee of pro-democratic groups has raised turnout estimates and are now eyeing the biggest single-day rally since 2003, when a similar number of protesters forced the government to shelve tighter national security laws.
    The march will end at the city’s Legislative Council, where debates start on Wednesday into sweeping amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.    The extradition bill is due to be passed by the end of the month.
    After weeks of growing local and international pressure, the protest is expected to reflect the broad range of opposition to the bill, with many saying they simply cannot trust China’s court system or its security apparatus.
    The city’s independent legal system was guaranteed under laws governing Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago, and is seen by the financial hub’s business and diplomatic communities as its strong remaining asset amid encroachments from Beijing.
    Concerns have spread from the city’s democratic and human rights groups to secondary school students, church groups and media lobbies as well as corporate lawyers and pro-establishment business figures, some usually loathe to contradict the government.
(For the most recent stories on the extradition debate, click on. For a story explaining the issues, see)
    Veteran Democratic Party lawmaker James To told Reuters that he believed a big turnout on Sunday could finally sway Hong Kong’s embattled government.
    “It could really force a severe re-think by the government,” he said.
    “There is everything to play for People really sense this is a turning point for Hong Kong.”
    That concern has mounted despite extensive efforts by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her senior officials, both in public and private, to insist that adequate safeguards are in place to ensure that anyone facing political and religious persecution or torture would not be extradited.
    Similarly, anyone facing a death penalty would not be extradited, but legislative oversight of extradition arrangements has been removed under the bill.
    While the chief executive has to sign off on any extradition, court hearings and appeals must first be exhausted and the government has insisted judges will play a key “gatekeeper” role.
    Some senior judges have expressed deep-set fears over the changes, however.
    The march will cap an intense political week for the city, with an estimated 180,000 people holding a candle-lit vigil on Tuesday to mark 30 years since the Tiananmen Square crackdown and a rare rally by the city’s lawyers on Thursday.
    It follows an earlier protest by more than 100,000 people in late May.
    Commercial lawyer and commentator Kevin Yam said he expected many people who attended the recent rallies would turn out on Sunday.
    He said it was the first time since the handover that the government had ignored both the concerns of the international community and the local business community at the same time.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his British and German counterparts have spoken against the bill, while 11 European Union envoys met Carrie Lam to formally protest.
    On Saturday, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department reiterated U.S. concerns.
    “The United States is closely monitoring and concerned by the Hong Kong government’s proposed amendments to the law,” she said.    “Continued erosion of the ‘One country, Two systems’ framework puts at risk Hong Kong’s long-established special status in international affairs.”
    Influential U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio has expressed repeated concern about the bill and a spokeswoman for his office said he was expected to again reintroduce his bipartisan “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” which would update a 1992 law that has afforded Hong Kong trade and economic privileges not enjoyed by mainland China.
    The act would require the U.S. secretary of state to certify annually that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous before enacting any new laws or agreements granting Hong Kong such different treatment.    It would also allow the secretary to waive the certification on national security grounds.
    Yam said the issue had moved beyond politics at this point.    “It is about not doing something stupid,” he said.
(Reporting By Greg Torode and James Pomfret; Additional reporting by Jessie Pang in Hong Kong and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Kim Coghill and David Gregorio)

6/9/2019 Hundreds of thousands march in Hong Kong to protest China extradition bill by James Pomfret and Sumeet Chatterjee
Demonstrators hold yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the Occupy Central movement, during a protest to demand authorities
scrap a proposed extradition bill with China, in Hong Kong, China June 9, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Several hundred thousand people jammed Hong Kong’s streets on Sunday in a last bid to thwart a proposed extradition law that would allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial, with police bracing for the biggest march in the city in 15 years.
    Police chiefs called for public restraint, government-funded broadcaster RTHK reported, as they mobilized more than 2,000 officers for a march that organizers expected to draw more than half a million people.
    That would make it the biggest rally since a similar number turned out in 2003 to challenge government plans for tighter national security laws, which were later shelved.
    Police and organizers had yet to give estimates, but as tens of thousands reached the Legislative Council in Admiralty business district, the starting point in Victoria Park was crowded with thousands more still waiting to join the march.
    Streets were packed along the route, with Reuters witnesses at various key points estimating the crowd at several hundred strong.
    Debates start at the council on Wednesday over the amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.    The bill could be passed into law by the end of June.
    Chants of “no China extradition, no evil law” echoed through the high-rise city streets, while other marchers called for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down.    One protester held a sign reading “Carry off Carrie.”
    Lam has tweaked the proposals but has refused to withdraw the bill, saying it is vital to plug a long-standing “loophole.”
    The genial crowd included young families pushing babies in prams as well as the elderly braving 32 degree C (90°F) heat, some spraying each other with water misters.
    Opposition to the proposed bill has united a broad range of the community, from usually pro-establishment business people and lawyers to students, pro-democracy figures and religious groups.
    Insurance agents, executives and small entrepreneurs joined bus drivers and mechanics, with Reuters speaking to dozens of people saying it was their first protest march.
    “I come here to fight,” said a wheelchair-bound, 78-year-old man surnamed Lai, who was among the first to arrive.
    School teacher Garry Chiu joined the protest with his wife and 1-year-old daughter, saying “it is no longer about me.”
    “I need to save my daughter.    If the law is implemented anyone can disappear from Hong Kong.    No one will get justice in China.    We know there is no human rights,” he said.
    “The extradition bill will directly threaten the core values of Hong Kong and rule of law,” said 21-year-old Kelvin Tam, a student in London.    “It will remove the firewall of Hong Kong judicial independence.”
    Sunday protests were also being planned in 25 cities globally, including London, Sydney, New York and Chicago.     The changes will simplify case-by-case arrangements to allow extradition of wanted suspects to jurisdictions, including mainland China, Macau and Taiwan, beyond the 20 that Hong Kong already has extradition treaties with.
    But it is the prospect of renditions to mainland China that has alarmed many in Hong Kong.    The former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997 amid guarantees of autonomy and freedoms, including a separate legal system.
    “It’s a proposal, or a set of proposals, which strike a terrible blow … against the rule of law, against Hong Kong’s stability and security, against Hong Kong’s position as a great international trading hub,” the last British governor, Chris Patten, said on Thursday.
    Opponents of the plan say they deeply question the fairness and transparency of the Chinese court system and worry about security forces contriving charges.
    Foreign governments have also expressed concern, warning of the impact on Hong Kong’s reputation as an international financial hub, and noting that foreigners wanted in China risk getting ensnared in Hong Kong.
    The concerns were highlighted on Saturday with news that a local high court judge had been reprimanded by the chief justice after his signature appeared on a public petition against the bill.
    Reuters reported earlier that several senior Hong Kong judges were concerned about the changes, noting a lack of trust in mainland courts as well as the limited nature of extradition hearings.
    Human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concerns about the use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions and problems accessing lawyers in China.
    Hong Kong officials have defended the plans, even as they raised the threshold of extraditable offences to crimes carrying penalties of seven years or more.
    They say the laws carry adequate safeguards, including the protection of independent local judges who will hear cases before any approval by the Hong Kong chief executive.    No-one will be extradited if they face political or religious persecution or torture, or the death penalty.
    “We continue to listen to a wide cross-section of views and opinions and remain to open to suggestions on ways to improve the new regime,” a government official said on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Farah Master, Anne Marie Roantree, Jessie Pang, Greg Torode, Shellin Li, Forina Fu, Vimvam Tong and Aleksander Solum; Writing by Greg Torode; Editing by Kim Coghill)

6/9/2019 Iran urges Europe to normalize economic ties with it or face consequences
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an
Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran said on Sunday Europe was in no position to criticize Tehran for its military capabilities and it called on European leaders to normalize trade ties with the Islamic Republic despite U.S. sanctions, or face consequences.
    President Donald Trump last year withdrew the United States from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sweeping sanctions.    Trump condemned the accord, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, as flawed for not being permanent and for not covering Iran’s ballistic missile program or its role in conflicts around the Middle East.
    The west European signatories to the deal – France, Britain and Germany – share the same concerns as the United States over Iran’s ballistic missile development and regional activities.
    However, they have defended the nuclear accord as the best way to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, and a basis for future negotiations on a broader palette of security and other longstanding disputes.
    “Europeans are not in a position to criticize Iran for issues outside the JCPOA,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying by the state broadcaster, using the acronym for the nuclear deal.
    “The Europeans and other signatories of the JCPOA should normalize economic ties with Iran…We will halt our commitments or will take action in accordance with their measures.”
    Last month, Iran scaled back some commitments under the 2015 deal and warned that in 60 days it would resume enriching uranium to a higher degree than that permitted by the accord if the Europeans failed to shield it against the U.S. sanctions, which aim to cripple its oil-dependent economy.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will visit Iran this week to explore options for preserving the fraying nuclear non-proliferation pact.
    Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani on Sunday criticised French President Emmanuel Macron for saying last week in a meeting with Trump that they shared the same objectives on Iran.
    Macron said France wanted to make sure Tehran will not get nuclear weapons: “We had an accord until 2025 and we want to go further and have full certainty in the long run… (Then) reduce ballistic activity and contain Iran regionally.”
    Larijani was quoted as saying by state media: “The recent remarks by the French president in a meeting with Trump were shameful and inept…Macron’s comments did not match what he has been telling our president…in their meetings and on the phone.”
    Iran insists its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful, and has repeatedly refused to discuss its missile program.
    Tehran unveiled on Sunday a new “domestically-produced” air defense system with the capability to trace six targets – including fighter jets, bombers and drones at the same time and destroy them with missiles.
    “Iran will increase its military capabilities to protect its national security and interests, and it will not ask permission from anyone on this matter,” Defense Minister Amir Hatami said at an unveiling ceremony for the system.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/9/2019 China Calls On Tech Companies to Resist U.S. Blacklist by OAN Newsroom
    China reportedly called a meeting last week with global tech giants like Microsoft, Samsung, and British chip-manufacturer Arm, urging them not to comply with a U.S. blacklist.
    Reports Sunday said the meeting was led by China’s National Development and Reform Commission.
    The group allegedly told companies that complying with the U.S. blacklist of Huawei products would “lead to further complications.”
    The meeting was reportedly not meant to serve as a warning but rather, an alert for company officials to avoid hasty decision-making before fully examining the situation.
    It is reportedly not unusual for China to summon foreign company officials to voice concerns over specific policies.
    In fact, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he held a “constructive meeting with the governor of the Peoples Bank of China” in a post to Twitter Sunday.
    The two reportedly had a private side discussion over the weekend during the G20 summit in Japan.
    Although no details from the meeting were released, Mnuchin clarified their meeting was not part of negotiations.

6/9/20109 German minister to meet Iran’s Rouhani in bid to save nuclear pact by Sabine Siebold
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting with a group of
Iranian athletes, in Tehran, Iran, June 1, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Germany’s foreign minister will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Monday, a German diplomatic source said, as part of a concerted European effort to preserve Iran’s nuclear pact with world powers and defuse rising U.S.-Iranian tensions.
    A cautious thaw in long antagonistic relations between Tehran and Washington set in when Iran struck a 2015 deal with six big powers limiting its nuclear activity. But hostility has resurged since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions on Iran.
    West European signatories, including Germany, want to try to keep the nuclear accord alive although they share the Trump administration’s disquiet about Iran’s ballistic missile program and its role in conflicts around in the Middle East.
    Germany, France and Britain maintain that the nuclear pact remains the best way to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium, a potential pathway to the development of nuclear weapons, and to seek agreement with Iran on other security issues in future.
    “I can confirm that the (German) Foreign Minister will meet President Rouhani on Monday,” said the diplomatic source, giving no further details.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned during a weekend stopover in Iraq en route to Tehran about the dangers of any conflict with Iran for the entire Middle East.
    “We Europeans are convinced that it is worth trying to keep the Vienna nuclear agreement with Iran,” Maas said, adding he wanted dialogue even when disputes seemed insurmountable.
    Washington has sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials call Iranian threats to U.S. troops and interests in the region.
    Last month, Iran scaled back some commitments under the 2015 deal and warned that in 60 days it would resume refining uranium to a higher fissile degree than that permitted by the accord if Europe failed to shield its trade benefits from U.S. sanctions.
    Iran has always said its nuclear activity is peaceful and refuses to put its missile and military capabilities on the negotiating table, as the Trump administration has demanded.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted by Fars news agency on Sunday as saying Maas’s trip to Tehran showed Germany was trying to “keep the (nuclear deal) alive.”
    But, suggesting Tehran did not view Maas as a mediator between Tehran and Washington, he added: “It is unlikely that the German foreign minister is traveling to Tehran to carry a special message.”
    The German foreign minister will also meet Zarif in Tehran.
    Maas, who also stopped in Jordan and Abu Dhabi on his Middle East tour, has coordinated his trip with France and Britain and it also discussed it with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/10/2019 Hong Kong pushes bill allowing extraditions to China despite biggest protest since handover by James Pomfret and Farah Master
Police officers stand near a protester sitting during a protest to demand authorities scrap a proposed extradition bill
with China, outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China early June 10, 2019. REUTERS/James Pomfret
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam vowed on Monday to push ahead with amendments to laws allowing suspects to be extradited to mainland China a day after the city’s biggest protest since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Riot police ringed Hong Kong’s legislature and fought back a hardcore group of several hundred protesters who stayed behind early on Monday after Sunday’s peaceful march that organizers said drew more than a million people, or one in seven of the city’s people.
    “I don’t think it is (an) appropriate decision for us now to pull out of this bill because of the very important objectives that this bill is intended to achieve,” a somber Lam told reporters while flanked by security and justice chiefs.
    “While we will continue to do the communication and explanation there is very little merit to be gained to delay the bill.    It will just cause more anxiety and divisiveness in society.”
    The protests plunged Hong Kong into political crisis, just as months of pro-democracy “Occupy” demonstrations did in 2014, heaping pressure on Lam’s administration and her official backers in Beijing.    Chants echoed through the high-rise city streets on Sunday calling on her to quit.    “Extradite yourself, Carrie!,” one placard read.
    The rendition bill has generated unusually broad opposition, from normally pro-establishment businesspeople and lawyers to students, pro-democracy figures and religious groups who fear further erosion of Hong Kong’s legal autonomy and the difficulty of ensuring even basic judicial protections in mainland China.
    Britain handed Hong Kong back to China under a “one country, two systems” formula with guarantees that its autonomy and freedoms, including an independent justice system, would be protected.
    But many accuse China of extensive meddling in many sectors, denying democratic reforms and squeezing freedoms, interfering with local elections and the disappearances of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.    All later appeared in detention in China, and some appeared in apparent forced confessions broadcast in Hong Kong.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing that Beijing would continue to support the extradition bill.
    “We resolutely oppose wrong words and actions by any foreign forces to interfere in the legislative matters of the Hong Kong SAR,” he said, referring to the “special administrative region.”
    An official newspaper in China, where the Communist Party holds sway over the courts, said “some Hong Kong residents have been hoodwinked by the opposition camp and their foreign allies into supporting the anti-extradition campaign.”
    The proposed changes provide for case-by-case extraditions to jurisdictions, including mainland China, beyond the 20 states with which Hong Kong already has treaties.
    It gives the chief executive power to approve an extradition after it has been cleared by Hong Kong’s courts and appeal system.
PEOPLE “TREASURE AUTONOMY
    Lam said last month that, after feedback from business and other groups, only suspects facing more serious crimes, or those normally dealt with by Hong Kong’s High Court, with a minimum punishment of at least seven years, rather than the three years, would be extradited.
    She said that extradition requests from China could only come from its highest judicial body, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, rather than any provincial authorities.
    A U.S. official said Washington was monitoring the situation closely, noting that it called into question Hong Kong people’s confidence in the future of “one country, two systems.”
    “It shows how much Hong Kong people treasure their autonomy and how much they want it to continue,” the official said.
    Tara Joseph, president of the local American Chamber of Commerce, said the credibility of Hong Kong was on the line.
    “The passage of this bill comes at the expense of the business community and we fear business confidence will suffer,” she said.
    Hong Kong leader Lam sought to soothe public concerns and said her administration was creating additional amendments to the bill, including safeguarding human rights.
    “This bill is not about the mainland alone.    This bill is not initiated by the central people’s government.    I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing to do this bill,” she told reporters.
    She said the bill would be put for debate on Wednesday as planned in the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council which is now controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.
    Lam and her officials stress the need for haste to prosecute a young Hong Kong man suspected of killing his girlfriend in Taiwan.    But Taiwanese officials say they won’t agree to any transfer if the bill goes ahead, citing rights concerns.
    In Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province, President Tsai Ing-wen said on her FaceBook page: “We support the people of Hong Kong’s search for freedom, democracy and human rights.”
    Beijing officials have increasingly defended Lam’s plan, couching it as a sovereign issue.    A retired senior mainland security official said in March that Beijing had already had a list of 300 mainland criminals it wanted back from Hong Kong.
    Organizers put the size of Sunday’s crowd at more than a million, outstripping a demonstration in 2003 when 500,000 took to the streets to challenge government plans for tighter national security laws.
    Police put the figure at 240,000 at the march’s peak.
    About 1,000 people joined a protest in Sydney and another protest was also reported in London.
    U.S. and European officials have issued formal warnings, matching international business and human rights lobbies that fear the changes will dent Hong Kong’s rule of law.
    Guards removed damaged barricades from the front of the Legislative Council building during Monday’s morning rush hour and cleaning staff washed away protest debris.    All but one protester were cleared from the area.
    Hong Kong newspaper Mingpao said in an editorial the government should take the protesters seriously and that pushing the legislation forward would exacerbate tensions.
(Reporting by Vimvam Tong, Anne Marie Roantree, James Pomfret, Greg Torode, Clare Jim, Sumeet Chatterjee, Jessie Pang, Shellin Li, Forina Fu, Donny Kwok, Aleksander Solum and Twinnie Siu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing; Writing by Farah Master and Greg Torode.; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/10/2019 Germany’s Maas: Europe will stick to Iran’s nuclear deal, but cannot work miracles
Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif shakes hands with his German counterpart Heiko Maas
after their meeting in Teheran, Iran, June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Sabine Seibold
    TEHRAN (Reuters) – Britain, France and Germany are committed to stick to their commitments from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday, adding that it was important to keep on talking to avoid a military escalation.
    “We want to fulfil our obligations,” Maas said during a joint news conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran.    “We cannot work miracles, but we will try to avert a failure (of the nuclear deal),” Maas added.
    Maas said it was important to continue dialogue with Iran and use those talks also for frank discussions.    “The situation in the region here is highly explosive and extremely serious,” Maas said.    “A dangerous escalation of existing tensions can also lead to a military escalation.”
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/10/2019 China stays silent on G20 Xi-Trump meeting, but says door open for talks
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and Chinese flags are seen in front of a U.S. dollar banknote featuring American founding father
Benjamin Franklin and a China's yuan banknote featuring late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong in this
illustration picture taken May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Illustration/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China is open for more trade talks with Washington but has nothing to announce about a possible meeting between the Chinese and U.S. leaders at this month’s G20 summit, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he is getting ready to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Osaka summit at the end of June, but China has not confirmed it.
    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday that the leaders’ meeting has some parallels with their Buenos Aires summit last December, which saw Washington postpone a tariff hike while the two sides resumed negotiations.
    Speaking in Beijing at a daily news briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang again would not confirm such a meeting.
    But Geng said China has noticed that recently the U.S. side has said many times it hopes to arrange a Xi-Trump meeting then.
    “If there is concrete news on this, China will release it in a timely manner,” Geng said.
    On the trade dispute and talks about it, China’s position is very clear, he added.
    “China does not want to fight a trade war, but is not afraid of one.    If the U.S. side is willing to have equal consultations then our door is open.    If the U.S. side insists on escalating the trade friction, we will firmly respond and fight to the end.”
    As this year’s June 28-29 G20 summit in Osaka approaches, Trump is preparing to launch 25% tariffs on virtually all Chinese imports so far untouched by the two countries’ tariff war.    They would apply to a $300 billion list of consumer goods including cell phones, computers and clothing.
    Trump said on Thursday in France that he will decide whether to proceed with the tariffs after the meeting with Xi.
    The Buenos Aires summit paved the way for five months of talks aimed at ending the festering trade dispute.
    But negotiations broke down in early May, with the U.S. accusing the Chinese side of reneging on earlier commitments.    No face-to-face meetings have been held since May 10, the day that Trump sharply increased tariffs on a $200 billion list of Chinese goods to 25% – the increase that he delayed after the Buenos Aires meeting.
    Since then, acrimonious rhetoric and trade threats between Beijing and Washington have steadily increased, especially after the United States imposed severe sanctions against Huawei Technologies Co, China’s premier telecommunications equipment firm.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kim Coghill)

6/10/2019 IAEA chief worried about rising tension over Iran nuclear issue
FILE PHOTO: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano addresses a news conference during a
board of governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. atomic watchdog’s chief said on Monday he was worried about rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and called for de-escalation through dialogue, departing from his usual guarded language on the country.
    Washington has ratcheted up pressure on Tehran over what it sees as its nefarious role in the region.    It has tightened already punishing economic sanctions, and deployed an aircraft carrier and other extra hardware to the Middle East in response to what it said was a threat from Iran.
    Tehran has responded by threatening to abandon some of the restrictions on its nuclear activities imposed by its landmark 2015 deal with major powers, which also lifted international sanctions against the country.
    “I am worried about increasing tensions over the Iranian nuclear issue,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said in a speech to a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors, one of its main decision-making bodies.
    The United States pulled out of the 2015 deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – a year ago and reinstated its sanctions. European powers are scrambling to do what little they can to protect Iranian oil sales and other trade.
    Amano said he hoped “that ways can be found to reduce current tensions through dialogue.    It is essential that Iran fully implements its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by John Stonestreet and Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/10/2019 Japan’s military says pilot vertigo likely cause of F-35 crash by Tim Kelly
A Japan Coast Guard vessel and a U.S. military aircraft conduct rescue and search operations at the site where an
Air Self-Defense Force's F-35A stealth fighter jet crashed during an exercise on April 9, 2019, off Aomori
prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 10, 2019. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s air force said on Monday “spatial disorientation” likely caused one of its pilots to fly his F-35 stealth fighters into the Pacific Ocean in April, hitting the water at more than 1,100 kph (683 mph).
    The Lockheed Martin Corp jet disappeared from radar screens during an exercise with three other F-35s over the ocean off northwest Japan on April 9.    The 41-year-old pilot was killed.
    “We believe it highly likely the pilot was suffering from vertigo or spatial disorientation and wasn’t aware of his condition,” Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya told a briefing.
    “It can affect any pilot regardless of their experience.”
    By dismissing mechanical or software problems as a cause for the advanced fighter’s crash, Japan’s assessment is likely to come as a relief to other countries that operate or plan to introduce the jet, including the United States, Britain and Australia.
    Japan, Iwaya said, would increase vertigo training for its pilots, check its remaining F-35s and meet residents living near the base from which they operate, in Misawa, Aomori prefecture, before restarting flights.
    The air force has yet to recover any intact data from the $126 million aircraft’s flight data recorder to back its assessment, which is based on data and communication received by ground controllers and interviews with other pilots.
    The pilot, who had only 60 hours flying time in the F-35, gave no indication he was in trouble and did not try to avoid a collision despite advanced instrumentation and a ground proximity warning system that should have alerted him to pull up.
    The air force did not find any indication he had attempted to eject.
    His plane, which was less than a year old and part of a squadron that had just became operational, crashed 28 minutes after taking off.    Debris from the plane is spread across the sea floor about 1,500 meters below where it slammed into the water.
    Japan in December said it would buy 45 more F-35 stealth fighters, including some short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL)B variants, worth about $4 billion, adding to the 42 jets it has ordered.
    Japan says it eventually wants to field a force of about 150 F-35s, making it the biggest overseas purchaser of the fighter, as it tries to keep ahead of China’s advances in military technology.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/11/2019 Oil stable as market eyes ongoing supply cuts amid downturn by Henning Gloystein
FILE PHOTO: Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in
Heilongjiang province, China December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices stabilized on Tuesday on expectations that producer group OPEC and its allies will keep withholding supply to prevent prices from tumbling amid a broad economic slowdown which has started eating away at fuel demand growth.
    Front-month Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $62.36 at 0023 GMT, 7 cents, or 0.1%, above Friday’s close.
    U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $53.42 per barrel, 16 cents, or 0.3%, above their last settlement.
    Prices fell by around 1% in the previous session and crude futures are down by some 20% from their 2019 peaks in late April, dragged lower by a widespread economic downturn that has started to impact oil consumption.
    Russia on Monday said it might support an extension of supply cuts that have been in place since January, warning oil prices could fall as low as $30 per barrel if producers supply too much crude.
    The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-affiliated producers including Russia, known collectively as OPEC+, have withheld supplies since the start of the year to prop up prices.
    OPEC+ is due to meet in late June or early July to decide output policy for the rest of the year.
    “Due to the general fear of an economic downturn … (and) the realization that demand growth is slowing … no one will argue for abandoning (the) OPEC+ accord,” said Fereidun Fesharaki, chairman of energy consultancy FGE, in a note published on Tuesday.
    FGE said global crude oil demand growth could drop below 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, down from previous expectations of 1.3 to 1.4 million bpd.
    “This effectively gives us an extra 300,000-400,000 barrels per day of supply,” said Fesharaki.
(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; editing by Richard Pullin)

6/11/2019 Hong Kong gears up for protests, strikes as extradition anger boils over by Clare Jim and Kane Wu
A group of assistants to members of the Legislative Council speak to the media as they hold placards outside
the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong, China June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong geared for more protests, including strikes, transport go-slows and even picnics, against a proposed extradition law that would allow people to be sent to China for trial, even as the city’s leader vowed on Tuesday to push ahead with the bill.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s defiant pledge in the face of more mass protests underscored deep concerns across vast swaths of the Asian financial hub two days after hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest against the bill.
    In a rare move, prominent business leaders warned that pushing through the extradition law could undermine investor confidence in Hong Kong and erode its competitive advantages.
    The extradition bill, which has generated unusually broad opposition at home and abroad and plunged the city into political crisis, is due for a second round of debate on Wednesday in the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council (LegCo).    The legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.
    Riot police ringed the LegCo building early on Monday and fought back a group of several hundred protesters after an otherwise peaceful march through the city’s financial district on Sunday.
    Lam warned against any similar action.
    “I call on schools, parents, institutions, corporations, unions to consider seriously if they advocate these radical actions,” Lam told a news briefing.
    Human rights groups have repeatedly cited the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions and problems accessing lawyers in China as reasons why the bill should not proceed.     An online petition has called for 50,000 people to surround LegCo at 10 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Tuesday and remain until Wednesday, when the     Chinese-ruled city is expected to see mass protests and more calls for the embattled Lam to step down.
    Nearly 2,000 mostly small retail shops, including restaurants, grocery, book and coffee shops, have announced plans to strike, according to an online survey, a rare move in the staunchly capitalist economy.
    Some tutorial schools, small hotels, law firms, social welfare workers and nearly 4,000 teachers also said they would go on strike and rally on Wednesday.
    The student union of several higher education institutions and the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union urged people to strike on Wednesday.
    “We just want to protect our homeland is this wrong?…I urge all Hong Kong people and students to go on strike tomorrow to tell them we will not accept this evil law,” one student member said.
    The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong called on the government not to pass the bill “hurriedly” and urged all Christians to pray for the former British colony.
    Prominent human rights lawyer Michael Vidler said he had notified all employees that his firm supported those who wanted to act according to their consciences on Wednesday.
    A staff union affiliated to a pro-democracy labor group under the New World First Bus Company called on its members to drive at the speed of 20-25 kmh (12-15 mph) to show their opposition to the proposed law.
    A Facebook post called on people to enjoy a picnic next to government offices on Wednesday morning, describing the area as “among the best picnic sites.”    The post has attracted close to 10,000 responses from people promising to attend.
MISSTEPS COULD BE COSTLY
    Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a “one-country, two-systems” formula, with guarantees that its autonomy and freedoms, including an independent justice system, would be protected.
    However, many accuse China of extensive meddling, denying democratic reforms and squeezing freedoms, interfering with local elections and the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.
    Prominent business figures urged the government to tread cautiously to protect Hong Kong’s competitiveness.
    “The integrity and independence of (Hong Kong’s) legal system are absolutely central to Hong Kong’s future,” said Fred Hu, founder and chairman of China-based private equity firm Primavera Capital Group.
    “Any missteps could be extremely costly, undermining the confidence of global investors and eroding Hong Kong’s competitive advantages.”
    Activist investor David Webb, in a post on Lam’s Facebook page, urged her to send the bill to the Law Reform Commission for further study.
    “If you press ahead and bulldoze the bill through LegCo, then you will probably get the legislation passed, but at huge political cost and damage to the international credibility of HK for due process when reforming its legislation,” Webb said.
    On Monday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said “the continued erosion of the ‘one country, two systems’ framework puts at risk Hong Kong’s long-established special status in international affairs.”
    A 1992 U.S. law recognizes Hong Kong’s special status and allows the United States to engage with it as a non-sovereign entity distinct from China in matters of trade and economics.    Areas of special treatment include visas, law enforcement, including extraditions, and investment.
(Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree and Felix Tam; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

6/11/2019 Thai coup leader completes transition to elected PM, cabinet unclear by Panarat Thepgumpanat
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanks coalition party members after the royal endorsement ceremony appointing him as
Thailand's new prime minister at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand June 11, 2019. Lillian Suwanrumpha/Pool/via REUTERS
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s king formally endorsed former army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha as an elected prime minister on Tuesday, five years after he seized power in a military coup, though the makeup of his coalition government’s cabinet is unclear.
    Prayuth’s unwieldy coalition will face fierce opposition from the Democratic Front of seven parties that says the military junta’s electoral rules ensured a victory for pro-army forces and whose members have been subjected to what they denounce as legal harassment.
    Thailand held a bitterly fought general election in March, and the new parliament last week voted for Prayuth as prime minister, thanks to the votes of the upper house, the Senate, which was entirely appointed by the military junta Prayuth had led since 2014.
    In the 500-member elected lower House of Representatives, his 19-party coalition holds only a slim majority and media has been rife with reports of wrangling over cabinet positions.
    Prayuth earlier on Tuesday expressed optimism.
    “The policy ideas proposed by parties are all beneficial to the people. So the government that comes from the election and through the joining of members of parliament must be a government of all Thais,” he said “I hope things will be sorted out as soon as possible.”     During the swearing-in, Prayuth bowed to a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.    The monarch, who was formally crowned in ornate rites last month, did not attend the ceremony.
    “I will promote a peaceful environment for a unified society based on love, unity and compassion … and I will safeguard the dignity of the institutions of state, religion and the monarchy, which are deeply cherished by the people of Thailand,” Prayuth said.
    The junta leader had campaigned on a promise of bringing an end to confrontation between opponents and supporters of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose loyalists lead the Pheu Thai Party that heads the Democratic Front.
    Prayuth’s party members have in some cases accused rivals of insufficient loyalty to the monarchy, and the leader of the opposition Future Forward Party – also part of the Democratic Front – faces police charges of sedition and cyber crime.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/11/2019 New Zealand selects Lockheed C-130J as preferred military transport replacement by Jamie Freed
A U.S. Air Force (USAF) Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules aircraft takes part in a flying display during
the 49th Paris Air Show at the Le Bourget airport near Paris June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – New Zealand on Tuesday said it had selected Lockheed Martin Corp’s C-130J Super Hercules as the preferred replacement for five aging C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft, a choice in line with its closest allies.
    The cabinet will seek detailed costing information through the U.S. foreign military sale process, New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark said, adding the government had previously estimated the cost at more than NZ$1 billion ($659.50 million).
    “After considering the range of military air transport aircraft carefully, the Super Hercules has been selected as it offers the necessary range and payload capability as well as fully meeting NZDF’s requirements,” he said in a statement referencing the New Zealand Defence Force.
    “We need a proven performer, and this aircraft is tried and tested.    We cannot take risks with what is one of our most critical military capabilities,” Mark said.
    A Lockheed Martin spokeswoman said her company was excited to welcome New Zealand into the family of C130-J operators.    The United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, close allies of New Zealand and fellow members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network, all have the planes.
    Airbus SE had proposed its A400M and Embraer SA had pitched its KC-390 to replace the country’s 1960s-era Hercules transports, industry sources with knowledge of the matter said.
    An Airbus spokesman said his company respected New Zealand’s decision, but added the A400M had proven itself in service with major air forces around the world.
    Embraer did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
    Mark said no final contract decision has been made for the C-130J on numbers, detailed costs or funding and budget implications.    A business case is expected to progress to cabinet next year, he said.
    New Zealand last year agreed to buy four Boeing P-8A Poseidon planes for NZ$2.34 billion including training costs to strengthen its maritime patrol capabilities.
($1 = 1.5163 New Zealand dollars)
(Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Michael Perry)

6/11/2019 China says its Panchen Lama made first trip outside country in May
FILE PHOTO: Gyaltsen Norbu, the 11th Panchen Lama and a delegate of Chinese People's Political Consultative
Conference (CPPCC), hands an elderly delegate as they leave after the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative
Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A youth appointed by China as the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism but reviled as a fake by many Tibetans made his first trip outside the country last month, attending events in Thailand, Chinese state media reported.
    Although officially atheist, China selected Gyaltsen Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995 in a drive to win the hearts and minds of Tibetans.
    Tibet’s current spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing brands a dangerous separatist, had announced his own choice of a six-year-old boy, but he was taken away by authorities and has since vanished from public view.
    In a brief report late on Monday, the official China News Service said that China’s Panchen Lama had gone to Thailand in the middle of May, the first time he had ever left China.
    On his trip, which has not been reported before, he gave a speech at a Buddhist university in Bangkok and attended other Buddhist events and religious exchanges.
    The visit made him even more aware of the “greatness of the motherland and the Chinese Communist Party,” he told the Chinese News Service.
    “We thank the Chinese Communist Party for leading the Chinese people to stand up and become rich and strong.”
    China has gradually exposed its Panchen Lama in public roles in the hope he will achieve the respect commanded by the Dalai Lama among Tibetans and globally.    He made his first trip outside mainland China in 2012, when he visited Hong Kong.
    Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.    China routinely rejects criticism of its rule there, saying it has brought much-needed development to a remote region and that it respects Tibet’s culture and religion.
    After the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, the 10th Panchen Lama stayed on and was initially seen as a collaborator.    It later emerged that his criticism of Beijing had earned him more than a decade spent either in prison or under house arrest.
    Freed in 1977, he was politically rehabilitated the following year and died in 1989.
    April this year marked the 30th birthday of the boy appointed by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama.    China has said he is living a “normal life” and does not want to be disturbed.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Gao Liangping; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/11/2019 Iran has accelerated enrichment of uranium, IAEA says by Sabine Siebold and Francois Murphy
Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif shakes hands with his German counterpart Heiko Maas
after their meeting in Teheran, Iran, June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Sabine Seibold
    TEHRAN/VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has followed through on a threat to accelerate its production of enriched uranium, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Monday, departing from his usual guarded language to say he was worried about increasing tension.
    The assessment comes at a time of sharply increased U.S.-Iranian confrontation in recent weeks, a year after Washington abandoned an agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international financial sanctions.
    Washington tightened sanctions from the start of May, ordering all countries and companies to halt all imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.    It has also dispatched extra troops to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
    Iran has responded with a threat to increase its enrichment of uranium, saying it is up to Europeans who still support the nuclear deal to save it by finding ways to ensure Tehran gets the economic benefits it was promised.
    IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, whose agency is responsible for monitoring Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal, said Iran was now producing more enriched uranium than before, but it was not clear when it might reach stockpile limits set in the pact.
    “Yes, (the) production rate is increasing,” he told a news conference when asked if enriched uranium production had accelerated since the agency’s last quarterly report, which found Iran compliant with the nuclear deal as of May 20.    He declined to quantify the increase.
    Iran said last month it was still abiding by the deal but would quadruple its production of enriched uranium – a move that could take it out of compliance if stockpiles rise too far.    It demanded European countries do more to shield it from sanctions.
    On Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas became the most senior Western official to visit Iran since the new war of words erupted last month between Washington and Tehran.
    “The situation in the region here is highly explosive and extremely serious,” Maas told a news conference alongside Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.    “A dangerous escalation of existing tensions can also lead to a military escalation.”
    In his meeting with Maas, President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States for the soaring tension and called on the European signatories of the deal to “resist the economic war on Iran imposed by America.”
    “This war … will never be beneficial for any country and the Iranian people will resist these pressures and bullying behaviors,” Iran’s state TV quoted Rouhani as saying.
    Zarif said Iran would cooperate with the European Union to save the deal.    “Reducing tension is only possible through stopping the economic war by America,” he said.    “Those who wage such wars cannot expect to remain safe.”
    Maas called on Iran to avoid an escalation and stick to its commitments from the nuclear deal.    Otherwise, Tehran would risk further isolation on the international stage and more instability in the region, Maas warned in an interview with ZDF television, broadcast shortly after his return to Berlin on Monday evening.
REDUCE TENSIONS THROUGH DIALOGUE
    Amano said he was worried about increasing tensions over the nuclear issue. He added he hoped “that ways can be found to reduce the current tensions through dialogue.    It is essential that Iran fully implements its nuclear-related commitments” under the deal.
    In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the IAEA findings showed “that Iran is going in the wrong direction and it underscores the continuing challenge Iran poses to international peace and security.”
    Washington’s European allies opposed its decision last year to abandon the nuclear deal, reached in 2015 between Iran and the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China.    They have promised to help Iran find other ways to trade, although with no success so far.    All major European companies that had announced plans to invest in Iran have since called them off for fear of U.S. punishment.
    Iran says the Europeans have not done enough to provide it with alternative ways to trade.
    “We have not seen any serious measures taken by the Europeans in the past year despite their fairly good political stance,” Rouhani said.
    Maas said there were limits to how much help the European countries could provide.
    “We want to fulfill our obligations,” Maas said during his news conference with Zarif.    “We cannot work miracles, but we will try to avert a failure” of the nuclear deal.
    France, Britain and Germany have set up a special-purpose vehicle called Instex, designed to allow payments to Iran that would legally bypass sanctions.    It has yet to be launched.
    It is a new instrument and not straightforward to put into effect, Maas told reporters, adding: “But all the formal requirements are in place now, and so I’m assuming we’ll be ready to use it in the foreseeable future.”
    Washington has denounced the European plans.    Diplomats say the system is unlikely to have much impact on commercial business with Iran but could be used for humanitarian transactions that are permitted under U.S. sanctions.
    The State Department’s Ortagus said the United States would not support any payment mechanism that allowed countries or businesses to conduct transactions with sanctioned Iranian entities.
    Washington says the nuclear deal should be expanded to cover other issues including Iran’s missile program and its role in wars in the region.    European countries argue that while they share those concerns, it would be harder to address them without the nuclear deal in place.
    Iran has ruled out any negotiation over its ballistic missile program and its activities in the Middle East, where Tehran has been involved in proxy wars with Saudi Arabia for decades.
(Additional reporting by Tuqa Khalid in Dubai and Michael Nienaber in Berlin; Writing by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Lesley Wroughton in Washington.; Editing by Peter Graff, Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney)

6/11/2019 Iran open to negotiations with U.S. if economic pressure reduced by OAN Newsroom
    Iran said it will consider negotiations with the U.S. if it eases economic sanctions against the country.    At a news briefing in Tehran Monday, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry said they would consider negotiations when statements are backed up by actions and attitude.
    Abbas Mousavi said the best way for the U.S. to approach this would be a “decrease in pain and suffering of the Iranian people,” which he says has been caused by the targeted pressure by the U.S.    The spokesman also warned Iran is ready to continue to push its nuclear program if things don’t change.
FILE – In this file photo an Iranian security official directs media at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, with the reactor building
seen in the background, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
    “If we see that special and concrete actions by the remaining members of the nuclear deal are not being taken, and at the same time economic terrorism against the Islamic Republic of Iran is continuing, we will powerfully take the second step,” stated Mousavi.
    The warning comes amid reports Iran is ramping up its uranium enrichment efforts.    The United Nations said it’s still unclear if Iran can produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel.
[No, the regime needs to change or their people will suffer, and if they expire who will you rule with your weapons and sending money to Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS or Houthis only to destroy yourselves in the long run.].

6/11/2019 Hong Kong gears up for mass strikes as thousands rally overnight against extradition bill by James Pomfret and Greg Torode
Protest placards and flowers are displayed during a demonstration to demand authorities scrap a proposed
extradition bill with China, in Hong Kong, China June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong braced for mass strikes on Wednesday after thousands braved thunderstorms overnight to stage fresh protests against a proposed extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.
    Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would press ahead with the legislation despite deep concerns across large swathes of the Asian financial hub that on Sunday triggered its biggest political demonstration since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Thousands more from across various sectors in Hong Kong were expected to join the protesters early on Wednesday as businesses across the city prepared to go on strike.
    The bill, which has generated unusually broad opposition at home and abroad, is due for a second round of debate on Wednesday in Hong Kong’s 70-seat Legislative Council.    The legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.
    “When the fugitive extradition bill is passed, Hong Kong will become a ‘useless Hong Kong’,” said Jimmy Sham, convenor of Civil Human Rights Front, the main organizer of Sunday’s demonstration.
    “We will be deep in a place where foreign investors are afraid to invest and tourists are afraid to go. Once the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, (it) will become nothing.”
    Lam has sought to soothe public concerns and said her administration was creating additional amendments to the bill, including safeguarding human rights.
    In a rare move, prominent business leaders warned that pushing through the extradition law could undermine investor confidence in Hong Kong and erode its competitive advantages.
    Sunday’s protest, which organizers said saw more than a million people take to the streets, in addition to a snowballing backlash against the extradition bill could raise questions about Lam’s ability to govern effectively.
    Protesters remained defiant in Wednesday’s early hours, rallying peacefully just a stone’s throw from the heart of the financial center where glittering skyscrapers house the offices of some of the world’s biggest companies, including HSBC.
    One protester sat on a small plastic stool outside the gates of government offices waving Hong Kong’s old colonial-era flag featuring a Union Jack, watched by a dozen police officers.
    HSBC and Standard Chartered, in addition to the Big Four accounting firms, had all agreed to flexible work arrangements for staff on Wednesday, local media reported.
SECURITY BLANKET
    Security was tight in and around the legislature building, with riot police deployed in some areas. Protesters stood under umbrellas in heavy rain, some singing “Hallelujah”, as police conducted random ID checks.
    Plainclothes officers, in jeans and sneakers and carrying batons and shields, were also deployed, with other reinforcements gathering behind barricades.
    Police searched the bags of scores of young passersby and detained some briefly in a nearby metro station.    A police officer on the scene who declined to be named said they were searching for weapons to try to stave off any violence.
    The Civil Human Rights Front condemned the searches, saying authorities had made people afraid to participate in peaceful gatherings.
    Strikes and transport go-slows were also announced for Wednesday as businesses, students, bus drivers, social workers, teachers and other groups all vowed to protest in a last-ditch effort to block the bill.
    The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong called on the government not to pass the bill “hurriedly,” and urged all Christians to pray for the former British colony.
    Embattled leader Lam, who warned against “radical action” at the latest protest, is herself a Catholic.
    Britain handed Hong Kong back to China 22 years ago under a “one-country, two-systems” formula, with guarantees that its autonomy and freedoms, including an independent justice system, would be protected.
    But many accuse China of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with local elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.
    Beijing rejects those accusations and official Chinese media this week said “foreign forces” were trying to damage China by creating chaos over the extradition bill.
    Sunday’s protest rally plunged Hong Kong into political crisis, just as months of pro-democracy “Occupy” demonstrations did in 2014, heaping pressure on Lam’s administration and her official backers in Beijing.
    The failure of the 2014 protests to wrestle concessions on democracy from Beijing, coupled with prosecutions of at least 100 protesters, mostly youths, discouraged many young people from going back out on the streets – until Sunday.
    Nearly 2,000 mostly small retail shops, including restaurants, grocery, book and coffee shops, have announced plans to strike on Wednesday, according to an online survey, a rare move in the staunchly capitalist economy.
    Eaton HK Hotel, which is owned by Langham Hospitality Investments and operated by Great Eagle Holdings, said it respected workers’ “political stances” and would allow them to rally.
    Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo encouraged businesses to go on strike “for a day…or probably for one whole week.”
    Many residents of the financial center, both expatriate and local, are increasingly unnerved by Beijing’s tightening grip over the city.
    Human rights groups have repeatedly cited the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions and problems accessing lawyers in China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party, as reasons why the Hong Kong bill should not proceed.
    China denies accusations that it tramples on human rights.
    On Tuesday, New Zealand’s Court of Appeal, citing human rights risks, ordered the government to reassess its decision to extradite a man to China to face murder charges.
(Reporting By James Pomfret, Greg Torode, Jessie Pang, Felix Tam, Kane Wu, Vimvam Tong, Thomas Peter, Twinnie Siu; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/11/2019 U.S. says Iran is in breach of nuclear deal but repeats offer of talks
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters
in Vienna, Austria March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The United States said on Tuesday that Iran’s work with advanced centrifuges is a breach of the nuclear deal Washington has already pulled out of, expressing its concern while repeating that it is open to holding talks with Tehran.
    In a statement to a quarterly meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation Board of Governors, the United States also said Tehran’s acceleration of uranium enrichment would not lead to Washington backing down in its policy of trying to isolate Iran.
    “Attempting to generate negotiating leverage 1 kg of uranium at a time will not bring sanctions relief,” U.S. Ambassador Jackie Wolcott said in her statement to the board.
    The landmark 2015 deal between Iran and major powers allows Tehran to operate thousands of first-generation IR-1 centrifuges – machines that enrich uranium – but puts much stricter limits on more advanced models.
    A quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is policing the deal, last month said Iran had installed up to 33 IR-6 centrifuges, although only 10 had been tested with uranium hexafluoride feedstock so far.
    The deal allows Iran to “test” up to 30, but only after 8-1/2 years have passed.    How many Iran can currently test and how is a “gray area,” Western diplomats say, adding that it would be crossing a red line if it fed uranium feedstock into all of them.
    The IAEA has declined to say whether Iran is complying with its obligations, adding that it is up to the parties in the agreement to decide that.
    Wolcott took a stricter view of Iran’s compliance with the deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
    “Iran has claimed that it continues to comply with the JCPOA, but it is now reported to be in clear violation of the deal. This should be of great concern to all of us,” she said.
    Since her country is no longer part of the deal, however, she called on the remaining parties – which together with Iran meet in a format known as the Joint Commission – to take action.
    “The United States calls on Iran to return to compliance without delay. We understand the JCPOA Joint Commission is treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves, and we urge the JCPOA participants to address this issue as soon as possible,” she added.
    Wolcott also repeated that Washington remains open to talks with Iran aimed at reaching a “comprehensive deal” and ending its “destabilizing behaviors” in the region.    Iran has dismissed such offers.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/12/2019 Iran to ask Japan’s Abe to mediate over U.S. oil sanctions: officials by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe greets Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (R) during the annual meeting
of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will ask Japan to mediate between Tehran and Washington to ease oil sanctions imposed by the United States, Iranian officials said ahead of a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
    Abe, the first Japanese leader to visit Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, arrives in Tehran as brewing confrontation between Iran and the United States stokes fear of another military conflict in the crisis-ridden Middle East.
    “Japan can help in easing the ongoing tension between Iran and America… As a goodwill gesture, America should either lift the unjust oil sanctions or extend the waivers or suspend them,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters.
    On a four-day visit to Japan last month, U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran, highlighting what he called the “very good relationship” between Tokyo and Tehran.
    As a U.S. ally that also has good diplomatic relations with Iran, Japan could be in a unique position to mediate between the Islamic Republic and the United States.
    “Mr. Abe can be a great mediator to facilitate that (easing of oil sanctions)…Japan has always respected Iran and Mr. Abe can play a very constructive role to calm the ongoing tension that can harm the (Middle East) region,” said another Iranian official, who asked not to be named.
    Strains between Washington and Tehran have sharply increased in recent weeks, a year after the United States abandoned a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
TRUMP CRANKS UP PRESSURE ON IRAN
    Washington, calling the nuclear deal flawed and seeking to push Iran into new negotiations, intensified sanctions from the start of May, ordering all countries and firms to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.
    It has also dispatched extra armed forces to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
    Iran threatened in May that in 60 days it would resume enrichment of uranium beyond the low fissile purity – suitable for civilian nuclear power generation – allowed under the deal, unless other powers signed up to it found a way to protect Iran’s oil and banking industries from U.S. sanctions.
    European parties of the deal have promised to help Iran find other ways to trade, although with no success so far.    All major European companies that had announced plans to invest in Iran have since called them off for fear of U.S. punishment.
    Abe was to hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday afternoon following his arrival in Tehran, and on Thursday will meet the Islamic Republic’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    “Japan wants to do as much as possible toward peace and stability in the Middle East,” Abe said in Tokyo, ahead of his departure, according to Iranian TV.
    To achieve his aim of slashing Iran’s oil exports to zero, the Trump administration has revoked waivers since May that had allowed some countries, including Japan, to continue buying Iranian crude and has effectively ordered countries to stop purchasing Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.
    Despite pushing for imports to continue, Japan has stopped importing oil from Iran for now to avoid U.S. sanctions.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/12/2019 Explainer: Why proposed changes to Hong Kong’s extradition law are fueling protests by Greg Torode
Protesters march along a road demonstrating against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, China June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s government has indefinitely delayed the second round of debate on an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial for the first time, after chaotic protests by tens of thousands of people.
    Hong Kong residents, as well as foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the global financial hub, would all be at risk if they are wanted on the mainland.
    Pro-establishment political forces are dominant in the Legislative Council and the bill is expected to be passed by the end of the month.
(To see a live blog of coverage of the Hong Kong protests, click https://reut.rs/2Iajtez)
WHAT DOES THE EXTRADITION BILL INVOLVE?
    The Hong Kong government first launched the proposals in February, putting forward sweeping changes that would simplify case-by-case extraditions of criminal suspects to countries beyond the 20 with which Hong Kong has existing extradition treaties.
    It explicitly allows extraditions from Hong Kong to greater China – including the mainland, Taiwan and Macau – for the first time, closing what Hong Kong government officials have repeatedly described as a “loophole” that they claim has allowed the city to become a haven for criminals from the mainland.
    Hong Kong’s leader would start and finally approve an extradition following a request from a foreign jurisdiction but only after court hearings, including any possible appeals. However, the bill removes Legislative Council oversight of extradition arrangements.
WHY IS THE HONG KONG GOVERNMENT PUSHING IT NOW?
    Officials initially seized on the murder last year of a young Hong Kong woman holidaying in Taiwan to justify swift changes. Police say her boyfriend confessed on his return to Hong Kong and he is now in jail on lesser money-laundering charges.
    Taiwan authorities have strongly opposed the bill, which they say could leave Taiwanese citizens exposed in Hong Kong and have vowed to refuse taking back the murder suspect if the bill is passed.
    A long-forgotten issue, the need for an eventual extradition deal with the mainland was acknowledged by government officials and experts ahead of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” model.
    The city maintains a separate and independent legal system as part of the broader freedoms the formula guarantees.    Little progress has been made in discreet talks since then with justice and security officials on the mainland, where the Communist Party still controls the courts.
HOW STRONG IS OPPOSITION TO THE BILL?
    Concern about the amendments has spiraled in recent weeks, taking in pro-business and pro-Beijing elements usually loath to publicly contradict the Hong Kong or Chinese governments.    Senior Hong Kong judges have privately expressed alarm, and mainland commercial lawyers based in Hong Kong have echoed their fears, saying the mainland system cannot be trusted to meet even basic standards of judicial fairness.    Hong Kong lawyers’ groups have issued detailed submissions to the government, hoping to force a postponement.
    Authorities have repeatedly stressed that judges will serve as “gatekeepers” or guardians for extradition requests.    However, some judges say privately that China’s increasingly close relationship with Hong Kong and the limited scope of extradition hearings will leave them exposed to criticism and political pressure from Beijing.
    Schools, lawyers and church groups have joined human rights groups to protest against the measures.    Following a brawl in the legislature over the bill, the government moved to fast-track the bill by scrapping established legislative procedures that stoked outrage amongst critics.
    Foreign political and diplomatic pressure over human rights concerns is rising, too.    As well as recent statements from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his British and German counterparts, some 11 European Union envoys met Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to protest formally.
    “It’s a proposal, or a set of proposals, which strike a terrible blow … against the rule of law, against Hong Kong’s stability and security, against Hong Kong’s position as a great international trading hub,” Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, said on Thursday.
    Some opposition politicians say the issue now represents a turning point for the city’s free status.
WILL THE GOVERNMENT DROP THE BILL?
    Lam and her key officials have been strident in defending the bill both publicly and privately, stressing the need for action in the Taiwan murder and the need to plug a loophole.
    They also insist broad safeguards mean that anyone at risk of political or religious persecution or who faces torture will not be extradited. Likewise, no one who faces the death penalty will be extradited.    China denies accusations of human rights abuses.
    While they have raised the threshold to serious crimes only, and excluded nine specific economic offences, there is no hint yet that they will actually scrap the plan.    They have also not announced more extensive consultations given the potentially grave repercussions.
    Chinese officials have also now publicly supported the Hong Kong government in the face of diplomatic pressure, saying it has become a sovereign issue.
    Some opposition politicians believe the Hong Kong government position is finally wavering, however, and Beijing may allow it to climb down if enough people hit the streets.
(Reporting by Greg Torode, James Pomfret and Jessie Pang; Editing by Nick Macfie and Paul Tait)

6/12/2019 Japan PM calls on Iran to play constructive role for regional stability
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and officials in Tehran, Iran, June 12, 2019. Official Iranian President
website/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES - RC150C4B13E0
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday called on Iran to play a constructive role in securing peace and stability in the Middle East and said Japan is determined to do everything it can to help.
    “Amid rising tension, it is essential for Iran to play a constructive role in strengthening peace and stability in the Middle East, so that this region won’t be destabilized further or accidental clashes won’t happen,” Abe told a joint news conference in Tehran with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
    The event was aired live in Japan on public broadcaster NHK.
    Abe’s Tehran visit comes at a time of increased U.S.-Iranian tensions in recent weeks, a year after Washington abandoned an agreement between Iran and world powers to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international financial sanctions.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka)

6/13/2019 Uneasy calm in Hong Kong after day of violence over extradition bill by Clare Jim and Sumeet Chatterjee
Police officer holds a sign during a demonstration against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, China June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong authorities were shutting government offices in the city’s financial district for the rest of the week after a day of violence over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.
    Early on Thursday just a handful of protesters remained milling about as a widespread cleanup around the city’s legislature took place.
    Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray in a series of skirmishes on Wednesday to clear demonstrators from the city’s legislature.    It was some of the worst violence in Hong Kong since Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.
    The Hong Kong Hospital Authority said 72 people had been hospitalized by 10 p.m. on Wednesday.
    The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the city, has sparked concerns it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.
    Wednesday night was the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organizers said was more than a million people in the biggest street demonstration since the 1997 handover.
    Overnight several thousand demonstrators remained near the legislature in the Admiralty district, while thousands more retreated to the Central business district, overlooked by the towers of some of Asia’s biggest firms and hotel chains, including HSBC and AIA.
    Ken Lam, a protestor in his 20s who works in the city’s food and beverage industry said he would remain on strike until the bill was scrapped.
    “I don’t know what the plan for protesters is today, we will just go with the flow, but we think the turnout will be smaller than yesterday and it will be peaceful, after what happened yesterday,” he said.
    Most roads around the central business district were opening for traffic on Thursday, but Pacific Place mall next to the legislature remained closed.
    Banks based in the Central district – the financial heart of the city – emphasized it was ‘business as usual’ but many offered staff, where possible, the option of working from home.
    Hong Kong’s China-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence late on Wednesday and urged a swift restoration of order.
    While acknowledging the controversy, Lam has refused to postpone or withdraw the bill, which she and her officials say is necessary to plug “loopholes” allowing the city to be a haven for criminals wanted on the mainland.
    Lam has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards in vetting case-by-case extraditions to mainland China.
    Opponents, including leading lawyers and rights groups, say China’s justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.
    Chinese state media said in editorials published on Thursday that the protests were “hammering” Hong Kong’s reputation.
    “It is lawlessness that will hurt Hong Kong, not the proposed amendments to its fugitive law,” said the English-language China Daily.
WORKING AS NORMAL
    Face masks, goggles, helmets and water bottles strewn around the legislature area were being cleaned up on Thursday, while a police team stood nearby looking relaxed.
    HSBC, whose ground-level public space at its headquarters has previously been a focal point for protests, said it was operating as normal, but giving staff the option of working from home.
    “As a precaution, we shut two outlets early where the protests were taking place.    Our priorities are the safety of our employees and supporting our customers,” the bank said in a statement.
    The benchmark Hang Seng Index closed 1.7% lower on Wednesday, having lost as much as 2% in the afternoon, while Chinese companies in Hong Kong ended down 1.2%.
    Amnesty International joined local rights groups in condemning the use of police force on Wednesday as excessive, while a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva said it was following the situation closely.
    “We call on all parties to express their views peacefully and on Hong Kong’s authorities to engage in an inclusive and transparent dialogue over the draft legislation,” the spokeswoman said.
(Reporting by Julie Zhu, Clare Jim, Sumeet Chatterjee, Jennifer Hughes, Anne Marie Roantree, James Pomfret and Jessie Pang; additional reporting by David Stanway in BEIJING; Writing by Farah Master and Greg Torode in HONG KONG, Editing by Michael Perry)

6/13/2019 Iran supreme leader says he has no intention to make or use nuclear weapons
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
in Tehran, Iran June 13, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Iran has no intention of making or using nuclear weapons, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying on Thursday by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
    Khamenei’s comment, a reiteration of Iran’s stance, comes at a time of increased U.S.-Iranian tension, a year after     Washington abandoned an agreement between Iran and world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international financial sanctions.
    “Supreme Leader Khamenei made a comment that the country will not and should not make, hold or use nuclear weapons, and that it has no such intentions,” Abe told reporters in Tehran following a meeting with Khamenei.
    “Today, I met Supreme Leader Khamenei and heard his belief in peace. I regard this highly as a major progress toward this region’s peace and stability,” said Abe, the first-ever Japanese prime minister to hold talks with Khamenei.
    Abe’s comment was broadcast on Japanese public broadcaster NHK.
    On Wednesday, Abe warned of unintended clashes in the crisis-hit Middle East after meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
    Abe was visiting Iran to help ease rising tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic.
    Japan is in a unique position to act as a mediator as the U.S. ally has long maintained close ties with Iran.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Robert Birsel)
[But Iran had no problem attacking two Japanese oil tankers in the Hormuz Strait while Japanese PM Abe was in Iran.].

6/13/2019 Australia to step up challenge to China in Pacific with new investment by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison is hugged by a woman as he greets locals at the opening of a new building at the University of
Papua New Guinea after an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, November 18, 2018. Mick Tsikas/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will soon offer millions of dollars in funding for infrastructure projects in the Pacific, two sources familiar with the plan told Reuters, as part of its efforts to undercut Chinese influence.
    Australia has long enjoyed nearly unchecked prominence in the Pacific but its position has been challenged by China in recent years as it increases its aid to the sparsely populated region that controls vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.
    China denies it is seeking a sphere of influence in Pacific, insisting it gives aid to help with economic development.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last year Australia would create a fund to offer Pacific countries up to A$3 billion ($2.07 billion) in cheap loans and grants to cement its position in what he declared was “our patch.”
    The fund will be operational by July 31, and Australia plans to quickly approve several projects to demonstrate its commitment, the sources said.
    “We haven’t finalised which projects will be approved first but the plan is to have them rubber stamped quickly,” said one source familiar with plans, who both declined to be identified.
    The Australian investment will be channeled into telecommunications, energy, transport and water projects.
    The funding commitments will come just before Morrison travels to the island of Tuvalu for the annual Pacific Islands Forum in August.
    Tuvalu is one of six Pacific islands to recognize Taiwan, which Beijing views as a Chinese province with no right to diplomatic relations.
    In recent months China has intensified its lobbying of those countries to adopt the One China policy, and switch their diplomatic ties to Beijing.
    Morrison late last month became the first Australian prime minister to visit to the Solomon Islands, another Pacific country that recognizes Taiwan.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/13/2019 Taiwan president wins ruling party’s nomination for 2020 election
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during the Han Kuang military exercise simulating China's People's Liberation Army (PLA)
invasion of the island, in Changhua, Taiwan May 28, 2019. Military News Agency /Handout via REUTERS
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday won the ruling party’s hotly contested nomination for the 2020 presidential election in a boost to her administration, which suffered a poll defeat amid rising threats from China.
    Tsai beat her former premier, William Lai, in a national tally for the party’s primary race, Cho Jung-tai, chairman of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, told reporters.
    “We have come up with the strongest candidate for the Taiwanese people,” Cho said, urging the party to unite after the months-long race marked by heated exchanges between Tsai’s administration and the former premier.
    Tsai’s administration suffered a defeat in local elections late last year amid mounting criticism over the party’s reform agenda and rising pressure from China, prompting Lai’s resignation as premier.
    The self-ruled island is set to hold its presidential election in January, amid heightened tension with China, which considers it a wayward province and has never ruled out the use of force to return it to the fold.
    The race for the presidency has grabbed headlines since Terry Gou, the billionaire chairman of Apple supplier Foxconn, said he will seek the nomination for the China-friendly opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party.
    KMT is scheduled to choose its candidate in July.
    China has been ramping up military and diplomatic pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, conducting drills near Taiwan and snatching its few remaining diplomatic allies, moves Taipei denounced as intimidation.
    Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the relationship between Beijing and Washington, which is Taiwan’s main source of arms.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Fabian Hamacher; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

6/13/2019 Japan still wants to buy Iranian oil despite U.S. embargo, according to Iranian president by OAN Newsroom
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has claimed Japan is still interested in buying Iran’s oil despite a U.S. embargo. Rouhani made the claim following talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran on Wednesday.
    Separately, top Iranian diplomats urged the U.S. to either lift the oil embargo or extend oil waivers for some of Iran’s key energy customers.    Japan is heavily reliant on imports of fuel form the Middle East, and is now seeking for alternative sources of energy.
    The Japanese prime minister stressed a new military conflict in the Middle East must be avoided at all costs.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, attend a joint press
conference after their meeting at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. The Japanese leader
is in Tehran on an mission to calm tensions between the U.S. and Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    “Peace and stability in the Middle East will benefit not only this region, but also the whole world,” stated Abe.    “Nobody would like a war to happen and Japan hopes to be able to make any effort it can, and to do its utmost to reduce tension — this is the goal of my trip.”
    The Japanese leader urged additional efforts to ensure peace and security in the Middle East despite Iran’s ongoing criticism of U.S. policies in the region.

6/13/2019 U.S. blames Iran for tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman, oil prices rise by Lisa Barrington and Phil Stewart
An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two oil tankers were attacked on Thursday and left adrift in the Gulf of Oman, driving up oil prices and stoking fears of a new confrontation between Iran and the United States, which blamed Tehran for the incident.
    “It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters without providing explicit evidence to back up the U.S. stance.
    “This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication,” Pompeo said.
    Crude oil prices spiked more than 4% after the attacks near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping artery for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf energy producers, stoked fears such disruptions could impact oil flows from the Middle East. Prices later settled about 2% higher.
    Washington accused Tehran of being behind a similar attack on May 12 on four tankers in the same area.
    Tensions between Iran and the United States, along with its allies including Saudi Arabia, have risen since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a deal last year between Iran and global powers that aimed to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
    Iran has repeatedly warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz if it cannot sell its oil due to U.S. sanctions.
    No one claimed responsibility for the attacks. Analysts warned against jumping to conclusions about the culprit, saying it was conceivable that Iran might have carried them out but also that someone else might have done to discredit Tehran.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the incidents as “suspicious” on Twitter and called for regional dialogue. Tehran has denied responsibility for the May 12 attacks.
    A European security official said his nation was being very cautious in making judgments about the incident.
    “There are lots of moving parts and ‘facts’ at the moment, so my only advice would be treat things with extra caution,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
SHIPS ABANDONED
    The crew of the Norwegian-owned Front Altair abandoned ship in the waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran after a blast that a source said might have been from a magnetic mine.    The ship was ablaze, sending a huge plume of smoke into the air.
    The crew were picked up by a passing ship and handed to an Iranian rescue boat.
    The second ship, the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous tanker whose crew were also picked up safely, was hit by a suspected torpedo, the firm that chartered the ship said. A person with knowledge of the matter said the attack did not use torpedoes, however.
    An unexploded device, believed to be a limpet mine, was spotted on the side of the Japanese tanker, a U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.    If confirmed, the next steps might be to either deactivate or detonate the device.
    The Bahrain-based U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet said it had assisted the two tankers after receiving distress calls.
    The Saudi-led military coalition, which is battling the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, described Thursday’s events as a “major escalation.”
    Russia, one of Iran’s main allies, urged caution, saying no one should rush to judgment about the incident or use it to put pressure on Tehran.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States that the world cannot afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”
    Pompeo said he asked the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to raise the attacks during a closed-door meeting of the Security Council to be held later on Thursday.
    “We need to remember that some 30% of the world’s (seaborne) crude oil passes through the straits.    If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk,” said Paolo d’Amico, chairman of INTERTANKO tanker association.
(Graphic: Position of evacuated tankers in Gulf of Oman – https://tmsnrt.rs/2X6nIQF)
IRAN REJECTS TALKS WITH U.S. FOR NOW
    Iran has not openly acted on its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz even though U.S. sanctions have seen its oil exports drop from 2.5 million barrels per day in April last year to around 400,000 bpd in May.
    Both sides have said they want to avoid war.
    “Our policy remains an economic and diplomatic effort to bring Iran back to the negotiating table at the right time to encourage a comprehensive deal that addresses the broad range of threats (from Iran),” Pompeo said.    “Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not with terror, bloodshed and extortion.”
    In abandoning the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Trump made clear he wanted Iran to curb not merely its nuclear work but also its development of missiles and its support for proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
    Some regional analysts said they thought the attacks were likely to have been carried out by Iran and described them as a way for Tehran to try to acquire negotiating leverage and perhaps increase global pressure for U.S.-Iran talks.
    “There is always the possibility that somebody is trying to blame the Iranians,” said Jon Alterman of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, referring to a so-called “false flag” operation to implicate another nation.
    “But there is the greater likelihood that this represents an effort to bolster Iranian diplomacy by creating a perceived international urgency to have the United States and Iran talk,” he added.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Tehran when Thursday’s attacks occurred, carrying a message for Iran from Trump.    Abe, whose country was a big importer of Iranian oil until Washington ratcheted up sanctions, urged all sides not to let tensions in the area escalate.
    Iran said it would not respond to Trump’s overture, the substance of which was not made public.
    Britain said it was “deeply concerned” about the attacks.    Germany, which like Britain remains a party to the nuclear pact with Iran, said the “situation is dangerous” and all sides needed to avoid an escalation.
    The Arab League said some parties were “trying to instigate fires in the region,” without naming a particular party.
    Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both majority Sunni Muslim nations that have a long-running rivalry with predominantly Shi’ite Iran, have previously said attacks on oil assets in the Gulf pose a risk to global oil supplies and regional security.
(Reporting by Koustav Samanta and Jessica Jaganathan in Singapore, Liang-Sa Loh and Yimou Lee in Taipei, Terje Solsvik in Oslo, Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Marwa Rashad in Riyadh, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Jessica Resnick Ault in New York; Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul and Jonathan Saul and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London; Doina Chiacu, Mark Hosenball, Jonathan Landay, Phil Stewart, and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Edmund Blair, Alison Williams and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Jon Boyle, Nick; Tattersall and Sonya Hepinstall)

6/13/2019 Secretary Pompeo says U.S. is open to trade dialogue with India by OAN Newsroom
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is open to dialogue with India in an effort to resolve trade differences.    He made those remarks during the U.S.-India Business Council Wednesday ahead of his planned trip to the country later this month.
    Pompeo is hoping India will forfeit their trade barriers by allowing more American companies into their markets.    The state secretary went on to stress the need for continued economic and military partnership between the two nations.
FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2019 file photo, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi hold a press conference
as Pompeo began a Mideast visit to talk to regional leaders about ramping up pressure on Iran, in Amman, Jordan. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh, File)
    “I elaborated on President Trump’s vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific…it starts from the premise that we share a common set of values — the values of democracy and freedom and a core belief in the ingenuity of the human spirit,” stated Pompeo.    “We also have to make sure that we have economic openness, we have to have a central theme being the idea that we have liberty and sovereignty in each of our two nations and build on those ideas.”
    This comes after President Trump most recently ended preferential trade treatment for the country over its trade barriers.    Meanwhile, Pompeo is set to make stops in India, Sri Lanka, Japan and South Korea during his tour of Asia.

6/13/2019 Iranian leader tells Japan’s Abe Trump ‘not worthy’ of a reply to message by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during in Tehran, Iran,
June 12, 2019. Official Iranian President website/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader told Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday that it was pointless to reply to a message he had brought to Tehran from U.S. President Donald Trump, as a peacemaking visit was overshadowed by attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
    The attacks were the latest incident in a confrontation between the United States and Iran after weeks of tightening U.S. sanctions and a war of words.
    One of the tankers was Japanese.    Iran’s foreign minister tweeted that it was “suspicious” that the attacks took place during Abe’s visit to Tehran.
    Trump said that he appreciated the recent visit by Abe to Iran to meet Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but that he believed it is “too soon to even think about” the United States making a deal with Tehran.
    “They are not ready, and neither are we!” Trump said in a tweet.
    Japan was one of the main buyers of Iranian oil until last month, when Washington ordered all countries to halt all Iranian oil imports or face sanctions of their own.    Abe, who had discussed Iran with Trump last month, brought a message from the U.S. president, but Khamenei rebuffed it.
    “I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future,” Iranian state media quoted Khamenei as telling the Japanese premier.
    U.S. allies in Europe and Asia have repeatedly expressed concern that tension between the United States and Iran could escalate into an armed conflict.    Abe warned on Wednesday of unintended clashes in the Middle East, after meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
    A year after the United States abandoned an agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in return for lifting sanctions, confrontation between the two foes has reached a new pitch.
    Washington has dispatched additional forces to the region in recent weeks after accusing Tehran of threatening shipping there.    Iran has denied being behind attacks on ships and suggested they could be intended as a provocation.
    Thursday’s attacks on “Japan-related” tankers were suspicious, especially on the day Khamenei and Abe met, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.
    The Trump administration says the agreement it quit last year, which was negotiated by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, was not firm enough and new sanctions are needed to force Iran to make more concessions.    Iran says it cannot negotiate with a country that abandoned the previous deal.
    U.S. allies in Europe and Asia say they share Washington’s concerns about some Iranian behaviour but believe exiting the agreement was a mistake, which undermines Iranian pragmatists, strengthens hardliners and makes further negotiations harder.
BITTER EXPERIENCE
    Ultimate authority in Iran is wielded by Khamenei, a hardline cleric in power since 1989, although the country is run day-to-day by Rouhani, the pragmatist president who won two landslide elections on promises to open Iran to the world.
    Khamenei said a recent promise by Trump not to seek regime change in Iran was “a lie.”
    “The Islamic Republic of Iran has no trust in America and will never repeat the bitter experience of previous negotiations with America in the framework of the JCPOA,” Khamenei said, using the acronym for the nuclear deal.    “No wise and proud nation will accept negotiations under pressure.”
    Abe told reporters in Tehran that Khamenei had promised Iran had no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons.    Iran has always maintained its nuclear programme is peaceful.
    On a visit to Japan last month, Trump welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran.
    Last month Washington revoked sanctions waivers that had allowed some countries, including Japan, to buy Iranian crude.    In its latest move, the U.S. Treasury prohibited companies on Friday from doing business with Iran’s largest petrochemical group, citing ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
    “The U.S. president, after a meeting with you and discussions on Iran… imposed sanctions on Iranian petrochemical sector.    Is this a message of honesty?    Does that show he seeks honest negotiations?” Khamenei told Abe.
    “Japan is an important Asian country and if it wants to expand ties with Iran, it should show a firm stance, as other countries have done,” Khamenei said.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Mary Milliken in Washington; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Graff)

6/14/2019 U.S. blames Iran for attack on oil tankers, Tehran calls accusation alarming by Parisa Hafezi and Maher Chmaytelli
An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, in waters between
Gulf Arab states and Iran, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Friday it was alarming and wrong of the United States to blame Tehran for attacks on two oil tankers at the entrance to the Gulf, after an incident that has raised concerns about a new confrontation in the vital oil shipping route.
    Washington released a video that it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were behind Thursday’s attacks near the Strait of Hormuz on the Norwegian-owned Front Altair, which was set ablaze, and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous.
    Both vessels were adrift in the Gulf of Oman on Friday, after their crews abandoned ship following the attacks that caused a spike in oil prices.
    A fire that had raged on the Front Altair, which carried a cargo of petrochemical feedstock naphtha, had been extinguished, the owner said. The blaze left a blackened scar along the hull.
    About a fifth of the oil consumed globally passes through the Strait of Hormuz, shipped from Gulf energy producers, including Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter.
    The U.S. military said a black-and-white video filmed from a U.S. aircraft showed Guards on one of their patrol boats drawing up to the Kokuka Courageous, after blasts struck both vessels, and removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull.
    “It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters.
    He said the assessment was based on intelligence, the weapons used, expertise required and similar recent attacks.
    Washington has blamed Iran or its proxies for attacks on May 12 that crippled four oil tankers in the same area.    It also said Tehran was behind May 14 drone strikes on two Saudi oil-pumping stations.    Tehran has denied all the charges.
    “These accusations are alarming,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, adding that blaming Iran for Thursday’s attacks was “the simplest and the most convenient way for Pompeo and other U.S. officials.”
    “We are responsible for ensuring the security of the Strait and we have rescued the crew of those attacked tankers in the shortest possible time,” he said, Iranian state radio reported.
WARMONGERING
    Tehran has also said the United States and regional allies, such as Iran’s regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were “warmongering” by making such charges.
    In comments directed at Iran, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Twitter: “De-escalation in current situation requires wise actions not empty words.”
    U.S. and European security officials, as well as regional analysts, have cautioned against jumping to conclusions, leaving open the possibility that Iranian proxies, or someone else entirely, might have been responsible for Thursday’s attacks.
    Britain said it took the matter “extremely seriously” and, if Iran was involved, “it is a deeply unwise escalation.”
    Iranian-U.S. tensions began ratcheting up after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a deal last year between Iran and global powers that aimed to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from international sanctions.
    Since then Washington has toughened its sanctions regime, seeking to force Iran’s oil customers to slash their imports.
    Iran’s crude exports fell to about 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May from 2.5 million bpd in April 2018, draining Tehran’s main source of revenues and hurting an economy already weakened by years of isolation.
    Iran has repeatedly warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow channel between the Iranian and Omani coastlines, if it is barred from selling oil.
    The Trump administration said in May it would send troops and other forces to the Middle East, citing Iranian threats.
    Tehran has called the move “psychological warfare” and said the U.S. moves offered more of a target than a threat to Iran.
CRUSHING RESPONSE
    Responding to rising regional tension, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday that the world could not afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”
    Iran and the United States have both said they want to avoid a war.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday before that attacks: “Iran will never initiate a war but will give a crushing response to any aggression.”
    U.S. Central Command said on Thursday: “We will defend our interests, but a war with Iran is not in our strategic interest, nor in the best interest of the international community.”
    Pompeo said U.S. policy was to make economic and diplomatic efforts to bring Iran back to negotiations on a broader deal.
    Thursday’s attack took place while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Tehran with a message from Trump.    Japan was a big Iranian oil importer until Trump stepped up sanctions.
    But Iran dismissed Trump’s overture, details of which were not made public.    “I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said.
    In abandoning the nuclear deal, Trump said he wanted Iran to curb its nuclear work and development of missiles, as well as halt support for proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
    Regional analysts said Iran could have carried out the attacks in a bid to gain negotiating leverage.
    “There is always the possibility that somebody is trying to blame the Iranians,” said Jon Alterman of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    “But there is the greater likelihood that this represents an effort to bolster Iranian diplomacy by creating a perceived international urgency to have the United States and Iran talk.”
(Reporting by Parisa Hafez, Maher Chmaytelli and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Phil Stewart and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

6/14/2019 China turns its anger on ‘Cold War warrior’ Pompeo by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a joint news
conference in The Hague, Netherlands June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Beijing has found its villain in its multi-fronted conflict with the United States: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
    The former CIA chief has been singled out for scorn, in Chinese state media and even at the foreign ministry, over his criticism of everything from Chinese tech giant Huawei to its record on human rights.
    During a regular media briefing on Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry accused Pompeo by name of telling lies, a striking departure from its usual practice of referring to foreign officials as “the relevant person”, or using similar wording.
    Relations between the world’s two largest economies have nosedived amid a bitter trade war, U.S. sanctions on Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, Washington’s support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan and criticism of a China’s treatment of Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang.
    Pompeo has also angered Beijing with warnings about Chinese activity in the Arctic and President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road infrastructure program.
    On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry took Pompeo to task for an interview with Swiss media where he criticized Huawei.
    “For some time, Mr. Pompeo has been talking about China wherever he goes. Unfortunately his remarks are filled with lies and fallacies,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.
    “Mr. Pompeo should understand a plain truth.    That is, every smear campaign with rumor-mongering and discord-sowing will only whittle down further his credibility and that of his country, the United States.”
    One Chinese official acknowledged to Reuters the “rare direct mention” of Pompeo by name at the ministry’s daily briefing, its main venue for getting messages out to the rest of the world.
    Chinese state media, given a long leash by propaganda authorities to lash out at the United States since the latest trade talks failed last month, has also not minced words.
    Strongly nationalistic tabloid the Global Times last month called Pompeo a “gossipy woman” who is trying to “foment dissension,” in a piece that was widely re-published by other media outlets.
    On Wednesday the same newspaper called Pompeo “harsh and unreasonable" with a “gangster style.”
    A second Chinese official said the reason Beijing didn’t like Pompeo was simple: “He’s a Cold War warrior.”
    Beijing often tells Washington to abandon “Cold War thinking.”
    A senior U.S. State Department official, asked about the unusually direct criticism of Pompeo, said: “We don’t comment on Chinese Communist Party propaganda.”
    Last week, the foreign ministry targeted Pompeo for his remarks on the 30th anniversary of Beijing’s bloody June 4, 1989, crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, in which he said “ghosts” had yet to be laid to rest and urged a full accounting of the victims.
    One foreign diplomatic source told Reuters that China was responding to the harder line coming out of the State Department on China, and might be testing the waters to try to work out whether this was also representative of what Trump thought, especially ahead of the G20 meeting later this month.
    A second foreign diplomatic source said that in private meetings the Chinese are even harsher about Pompeo.
    “They rant.    They hate him,” said the source, who, like the first source, spoke on condition of anonymity.
    Wang Yiwei, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s elite Renmin University, said China viewed Pompeo against the backdrop of his CIA heritage and does not like his direct attacks.
    “China feels this is unprofessional and has been upset by it,” Wang said.    “Generally China wouldn’t react so intensely, but this man has gone too far.”
    The rancor comes ahead of the G20 summit in the Japanese city of Osaka, which Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump will both attend.
    China has not cut off communications with Pompeo, though.    Last month, he and the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, spoke by telephone, with Wang saying the United States must “change its course,” according to the ministry.
    Trump himself has largely been spared in the foreign ministry blasts, at least directly, and in Russia last week Xi referred to Trump as his friend.
    More acrimony could lie ahead, with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who gave a hard-line speech on China in November, expected on June 24 to give a China-focused speech at Washington’s Wilson Center.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Gao Liangping, and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/14/2019 Support wavers in Hong Kong for bill allowing extraditions to China after protests by James Pomfret and Farah Master
A woman attends a protest following a day of violence over a proposed extradition bill, under a footbridge leading
to the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong, China, June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Cracks appeared to emerge on Friday in the support base for a proposed Hong Kong law that would allow extraditions to China as opponents of the bill vowed further demonstrations after hundreds of thousands took to the streets this week.
    The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling in the city, has many concerned it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.
    Opposition to the bill on Sunday triggered the former British colony’s biggest political demonstration since its return to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal guaranteeing it special autonomy, including freedom of assembly, free press and independent judiciary.
    Many accuse China of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.
    On Friday, one of the key advisers to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, Executive Council member Bernard Chan, told Cable TV he did not think formal discussion of the bill, a precursor to a final vote by the legislature, should continue at present.
    “Do we consult, strengthen the bill, or what?    Is there still any chance of the bill passing?    These are all factors the government must consider,” he said.
    “But I definitely say that right now it’s not possible – at a time when there are such intense divisions – to keep discussing this issue. The difficulty is very high.”
    Michael Tien, a member of Hong Kong’s legislature and a deputy to China’s national parliament, urged the city government to put the bill on hold.
    And 22 former government officials or Legislative Council members, including former security secretary Peter Lai Hing-ling, signed a statement calling on Lam to “yield to public opinion and withdraw the Bill for more thorough deliberation.”
    “It is time for Hong Kong to have a cool-down period,” Lai told Reuters.    “Let frayed tempers settle before we resume discussion of this controversial issue. Please, no more blood-letting!
‘VAIN PLOTS’
    Beijing-backed Lam has stood by the bill, saying it is necessary to plug loopholes that allow criminals wanted on the mainland to use the city as a haven. She has said Hong Kong courts would safeguard human rights.
    Lam has not appeared in public or commented since Wednesday.
    China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party, has rejected accusations of undermining Hong Kong’s freedoms.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Hong Kong matters were an internal affair for China and nobody had a right to interfere.
    “Any vain plots to cause chaos in Hong Kong or to damage Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability will be resolutely opposed by the whole people of China including the vast majority of Hong Kong compatriots,” he said.    “This does not enjoy popular support and will not succeed.”
    The proposed bill has thrown Hong Kong, one of the world’s most densely populated cities, into chaos, starting on Sunday with a march that drew what organizers said was more than a million people.
    Tens of thousands demonstrated in the following days.    On Wednesday, protesters surrounded the legislature and swarmed on to a major highway, before being forced back by riot police firing volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.
    On Friday, police kept a close watch as the city returned to normal, with most protesters retreating and banks re-opening.
    But further demonstrations are planned.
    Organizers have urged people to take to the streets on Sunday and protesters have applied for a permit to gather on Monday, when legislators may reconvene to discuss the bill.    The Confederation of Trade Unions and Professional Teachers Union called for a citywide strike.
‘STARK PROVOCATION’
    A few dozen demonstrators clustered on Friday near the legislature, which had been scheduled to debate the bill this week.
    “We are going to be here fixed today to show people that we are here to support. Everyone is planning for a big march on Sunday like last week but no one knows what will happen at night or after,” said a woman surnamed Chan, who was helping at a makeshift first aid and supply station.
    Police have made more than a dozen arrests, some in hospitals and university campuses, while scores were wounded in the clashes.
    In the United States, senior congressional lawmakers from both parties introduced legislation to require an annual justification from the U.S. government for the continuation of special business and trade privileges to Hong Kong. China’s foreign ministry said on Friday it had summoned a senior U.S. embassy official in protest.     The hawkish Chinese newspaper, the Global Times, lambasted foreign leaders for being hypocrites and said their failure to condemn violent demonstrators was “a stark provocation.”
(Writing by John Ruwitch; Additional reporting by Sijia Jiang, Sumeet Chatterjee, Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim and Felix Tam and in HONG KONG, David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Perry, Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

6/14/2019 Exclusive: Hong Kong police “i>trapped in the middle” by polarizing extradition bill by James Pomfret
Riot police gather outside the Legislative Council, following a day of violence over an extradition bill that would
allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, in Hong Kong, China June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Several senior Hong Kong police officials feel caught between a rock and a hard place as city leader Carrie Lam tries to ram through contentious extradition laws that have triggered violent clashes between police and protesters.
    Police fired tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets at young protesters who gathered this week around the Chinese-ruled city’s legislature and government headquarters in the tens of thousands.
    The clashes wounded 22 police and more than 60 protesters, as demonstrators advanced toward the legislature, hurling bricks, iron poles and sticks, while barging their way forward with metal barricades.
    “We are definitely restrained and we wouldn’t indiscriminately use weapons,” police chief Stephen Lo told reporters a day after the clashes, describing them as a “riot.”
    “We were facing tens of thousands of protesters.    The pressure was very great.”
    The protesters demand that Lam scrap controversial amendments to an extradition bill that would allow individuals, including foreigners passing through Hong Kong, to be extradited to mainland China.
    Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal guaranteeing it special autonomy, including freedom of assembly, a free press and an independent judiciary.    Many accuse China, where the courts are strictly controlled by the Communist Party, of extensive meddling since then, with the extradition bill a further example.
    Lawyers, judges, business-people, rights groups and foreign governments have called on Lam – who says the initiative was hers and not Beijing’s – to scrap the bill.
    But her refusal to do so has incensed the public who lack confidence in China’s legal system and assurances that safeguards introduced into the bill will ensure individuals get a fair trial on the mainland.
    Over one million people, or one in seven people in the city, marched on Sunday against the bill.    Less than a day later, however, a stern-faced Lam told reporters she wouldn’t back down.
    Some senior police officers say Lam’s refusal to heed public opinion is sowing resentment in the force, which was already battered by accusations of police brutality during the 2014 pro-democracy “Umbrella” civil disobedience movement.
    “There are a significant number that blame her for this crisis,” said a senior law enforcement officer in a command position.    “It’s madness.”
    He said the demands of the protesters weren’t unreasonable, given an inherent mistrust of mainland China’s legal system.
    “There’s definitely a feeling that we’re trapped in the middle,” said a senior police officer who declined to be named as he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
    “We can’t solve this.    The protesters can’t solve this.    But Carrie can.”
FEELING THE HEAT
    At the same press conference by Hong Kong’s police chief, a group of more than 20 photo-journalists donned hard hats and gas masks in a symbolic protest against what they considered to be the excessive use of force by police during the unrest.
    “Some police were out of control,” said Leung Pang-wai, 28, a photographer for HK01 newspaper who wore a gas mask during the press conference.    “They shot at us and they didn’t deal with the situation rationally.”
    Senior police officers, however, defended the use of force to deal with much more violent protesters than during the 2014 demonstrations when tens of thousands occupied roads around the legislature and government headquarters for 79 days.
    The protesters this time, unified for a very specific goal – to prevent a policy seen as an existential threat to Hong Kong’s unique global position – have pledged not to back down.
    A hardcore element, numbering in the tens of thousands, has not shied away from violence, while being highly organized and tech savvy, using encrypted phone apps like Telegram to mobilize swiftly through multiple group chats, and more strategically, with less risk of police infiltration.
    “Telegram is a big breakthrough from the old traditional strategies,” said Jason Chan, a 22-year-old protester.    “Since there were no leaders in this movement, Telegram facilitates the communication across protesters by allowing different channels or groups to set up and thereby unite the people.”
    Another senior law enforcement officer acknowledged greater risks going forward.
    “The protesters are a lot more determined this time,” he said.    “The violence will keep escalating if the government doesn’t back down.”
    Steve Vickers, a former commander of the police’s Criminal Intelligence Bureau who now runs a risk consultancy, said in a report that there was a risk of further violence.
    “An unfortunate polarization has occurred, where demonstrators perceive the police to be the enemy (rather than the government, in their absence), and many junior police officers see both the media and protesters as the main protagonists.”
(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/14/2019 U.S. blames Iran for tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman, Iran rejects assertion by Lisa Barrington and Lesley Wroughton
An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday that drove up oil prices and raised concerns about a new U.S.-Iranian confrontation, but Tehran bluntly denied the allegation.
    It was not immediately clear what befell the Norwegian-owned Front Altair or the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, which both experienced explosions, forcing crews to abandon ship and leave the vessels adrift in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran.
    One source said the blast on the Front Altair, which caught fire and sent a huge plume of smoke into the air, may have been caused by a magnetic mine.    The firm that chartered the Kokuka Courageous tanker said it was hit by a suspected torpedo, but a person with knowledge of the matter said torpedoes were not used.
    On Thursday night, U.S. Central Command spokesman Bill Urban released a video of what the U.S. military said was an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp Gashti Class patrol boat approaching the Kokuka Courageous “and was observed and recorded removing (an) unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.”
    The tanker attack will not affect Japanese energy supply, Japanese Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said, although the ministry issued a warning to Japanese energy companies.
    Crude oil prices spiked more than 4% after the attacks near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping artery for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf energy producers. Prices later settled about 2% higher.    [O/R] Brent crude was down by 0.4% at $61.06 a barrel in early Asia trading.
    The United States, which has accused Iran or its proxies of carrying out a May 12 attack on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates’ coast as well as May 14 drone strikes on two Saudi oil-pumping stations, squarely blamed Iran for Thursday’s attacks.
    “It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo https://www.reuters.com/article/mideast-tanker-usa/update-1-u-s-top-diplomat-says-u-s-believes-iran-behind-attacks-on-oman-gulf-tankers-idUSL2N23K18H told reporters.
    Pompeo did not provide explicit evidence to back up the U.S. assertion.
    “This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication,” Pompeo said.
    Iran “categorically rejects the U.S. unfounded claim with regard to 13 June oil tanker incidents and condemns it in the strongest possible terms,” the Iranian mission to the United Nations said in a statement on Thursday evening.
    It accused the United States and its regional allies, which include Iranian rival Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, of “warmongering.”    Iran called on “the international community to live up to its responsibilities in preventing the reckless and dangerous policies and practices of the U.S. and its regional allies in heightening the tensions in the region.”
    U.S. and European security officials as well as regional analysts cautioned against jumping to conclusions about who carried out the attacks, leaving open the possibility that Iranian proxies, or someone else entirely, might have been responsible.
    In London, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK was taking the matter “extremely seriously” and that if Iran was involved; “it is a deeply unwise escalation which poses a real danger to the prospects of peace and stability in the region.”
‘SUSPICIOUS’
    Tensions between Iran and the United States have risen since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a deal last year between Iran and global powers that aimed to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.
    Iran has repeatedly warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz if it cannot sell its oil because of U.S. sanctions.
    Tensions have increased further since Trump acted at the beginning of May to force Iran’s oil customers to slash their imports to zero or face draconian U.S. financial sanctions.    Iran’s oil exports have dropped to around 400,000 barrels per day in May from 2.5 million bpd in April last year.
    Also in May, the Trump administration said it would send more troops to the Middle East, citing what it saw as a threat of potential attack by Iran.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the tanker explosions as “suspicious.”
https://www.reuters.com/article/mideast-tanker-iran-zarif/irans-zarif-calls-oil-tanker-incidents-suspicious-wants-regional-talks-idUSD5N20801L on Twitter and called for regional dialogue. In a later Twitter post, Zarif described the U.S. allegations against Iran as part of “sabotage diplomacy.” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-tankers-zarif/iran-foreign-minister-u-s-allegations-over-tanker-attacks-part-of-sabotage-diplomacy-idUSKCN1TF04S
    Tehran has denied responsibility for the May 12 attacks.
    The crews of both ships struck on Thursday were picked up safely.    The Bahrain-based U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet said it had assisted the two tankers after receiving distress calls.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a meeting of the Security Council on cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States that the world could not afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”
    The Security Council discussed the attacks behind closed doors on Thursday at the request of the United States.
    Kuwait’s U.N. ambassador, Mansour Al-Otaibi, president of the council for June, said after the meeting that all 15 council members had condemned the attacks.
    When asked if the United States had shown any evidence to support its accusation that Iran was responsible, Al-Otaibi told reporters: “We didn’t discuss any evidence.”
IRAN, U.S. SAY WAR SHOULD BE AVOIDED
    Both Iran and the United States have said they want to avoid war.
    “Iran will never initiate a war but will give a crushing response to any aggression,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday.
    U.S. Central Command said in a statement on Thursday evening that “we have no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East.    We will defend our interests, but a war with Iran is not in our strategic interest, nor in the best interest of the international community.”
    Pompeo said U.S. policy remained making economic and diplomatic efforts to bring Iran back to negotiations on a broader deal.
    The Iranian U.N. mission’s statement said: “It is ironic that the U.S. who unlawfully withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action now calls Iran to come back to negotiations and diplomacy,” using the formal name of the 2015 nuclear accord.
    In abandoning the deal, Trump made clear he wanted Iran to curb not merely its nuclear work but its development of missiles and support for proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
    Some regional analysts said they thought the attacks were likely to have been carried out by Iran and described them as a way for Tehran to try to acquire negotiating leverage and perhaps increase global pressure for U.S.-Iran talks.
    “There is always the possibility that somebody is trying to blame the Iranians,” said Jon Alterman of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    “But there is the greater likelihood that this represents an effort to bolster Iranian diplomacy by creating a perceived international urgency to have the United States and Iran talk,” Alterman said.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Tehran when Thursday’s attacks occurred, carrying a message for Iran from Trump.    Abe, whose country was a big importer of Iranian oil until Trump ratcheted up sanctions, urged all sides not to let tensions increase.
    Iran said it would not respond to Trump’s overture, the substance of which was not made public.
(Reporting by Koustav Samanta and Jessica Jaganathan in Singapore, Liang-Sa Loh and Yimou Lee in Taipei, Terje Solsvik in Oslo, Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Marwa Rashad in Riyadh, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Jessica Resnick Ault in New York; Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul and Jonathan Saul and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London; Doina Chiacu, Mark Hosenball, Jonathan Landay, Phil Stewart, and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Edmund Blair, Alison Williams and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)

6/14/2019 Xi says China will promote steady ties with Iran
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during a session of the St. Petersburg
International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping told Iran’s president on Friday that China will promote steady development of ties with Iran no matter how the situation changes, Chinese state media said.
    The official Xinhua news agency said Xi made the comment in a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
    The United States blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday that drove up oil prices and raised concerns about a new U.S.-Iranian confrontation, though Tehran has denied the allegation.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/14/2019 Suicide bomber kills at least 9 in Eastern Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
    Authorities in Afghanistan are investigating a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad. According to reports, the attacker set off his explosives by foot as a police vehicle was passing. At least nine people were killed during the attack.
    No group has claimed responsibility for the act, however, Islamic State militants have a strong history of attacks on government offices, schools and aid groups in the area.
.
A wounded men receives treatment in a hospital after a suicide attack on the outskirts of Jalalabad city east of Kabul, Afghanistan,
Thursday, June 13, 2019. Afghan officials said the suicide bomber attacked a police vehicle killing several police and civilians.
The attack in eastern Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province also wounded another 11 people. (AP Photo)
    “We were sitting here when we heard a terrible sound and then everyone was screaming and getting away.    The victims were on the ground.” — Jamal Khogyani, blast eyewitness.
    Five civilians, including a child, and four policemen are said to have been among the fatalities.

6/15/2019 Iran president renews ultimatum over nuclear pact compliance
Participants listen to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is seen on screens, during the Conference on Interaction and
Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov
    DUSHANBE (Reuters) – Iran will continue scaling back compliance with its nuclear deal commitments unless other signatories show “positive signals,” the Iranian president told a meeting of Russian, Chinese and other Asian leaders in Tajikistan.
    Iran stopped complying in May with some commitments in a 2015 nuclear deal that was agreed with global powers, a year after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord and tightened sanctions.
    Tehran said in May that Iran would start enriching uranium at a higher level, unless world powers protected its economy from U.S. sanctions within 60 days.
    “Obviously, Iran cannot stick to this agreement unilaterally,” President Hassan Rouhani told the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.
    “It is necessary that all the sides of this agreement contribute to restoring it,” he said, adding that Iran needed to see “positive signals” from other signatories to the pact, which include Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
    He did not give details on what actions Iran would take or say what positive signals Tehran wanted to see.
    France and other European signatories to the deal, which aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have said they wanted to save it, but many of their companies have canceled deals with Tehran, under financial pressure from the United States.
    Western powers have accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies saying it wants nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
    Rouhani made no mention of attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman this week which Washington has blamed on Tehran, raising concern about new confrontation.    Iran has denied any role in the attacks.
(Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Edmund Blair)

6/15/2019 Hong Kong leader suspends controversial extradition bill after protests by James Pomfret and Clare Jim
People attend a rally in support of demonstrators protesting against proposed extradition bill
with China, in Hong Kong, China, June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Saturday delayed indefinitely a proposed law that would allow extraditions to mainland China, in a dramatic retreat after widespread anger over the bill sparked the biggest street protests in three decades.
    The extradition bill, which would cover Hong Kong’s 7 million residents as well as foreign and Chinese nationals in the city, was seen by many as a threat to the rule of law in the former British colony.
    Around a million people marched through Hong Kong last Sunday to oppose the bill, according to protest organizers, the largest since protests in the city against the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations centered around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
    Demonstrations continued through the week and were met with tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets from police, plunging the city into turmoil and piling heavy pressure on Lam.
    “After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise, restart our communication with all sectors of society, do more explanation work and listen to different views of society,” Lam told a news conference.
    She said there was no deadline, effectively suspending the process indefinitely.
    The about-face was one of the most significant political turnarounds under public pressure by the Hong Kong government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, and it threw into question Lam’s ability to continue to lead the city.
    But it potentially alleviated an unwanted headache for the leadership in Beijing, which is grappling with a slowing economy and a simmering trade war with the United States.
    Asked repeatedly if she would step down, Lam avoided directly answering and appealed to the public to “give us another chance.”    She said she had been a civil servant for decades and still had work she wanted to do.
    The extradition bill deliberations started in February and Lam had pushed to have it passed by July.    Backing down was unthinkable last week when the law’s passage seemed inevitable as Lam remained defiant.
    But the protests changed the equation.
    Cracks began to appear on Friday in the support base for the bill with several pro-Beijing politicians and a senior advisor to Lam saying discussion of the bill should be postponed for the time being.
    Lam had not appeared in public or commented since Wednesday.    She met pro-Beijing lawmakers to explain her pending announcement earlier on Saturday.
    Sing Tao newspaper reported that China’s top official overseeing Hong Kong policy, Vice Premier Han Zheng, met Lam in Shenzhen in recent days.
    Lam declined to confirm whether or not the meeting had happened, but took ownership for the decision to suspend the bill and said she had support from the central government.
    She stopped short of apologizing, saying she felt “deep sorrow and regret that the deficiencies in our work and various other factors have stirred up substantial controversies and disputes in society.”
    Beyond the public outcry, the extradition bill had spooked some of Hong Kong’s tycoons into starting to move their personal wealth offshore, according to financial advisers, bankers and lawyers familiar with the details.
    And senior police officers have said Lam’s refusal to heed public opinion was sowing resentment in the force, which was already battered by accusations of police brutality during the 2014 pro-democracy “Umbrella” civil disobedience movement.
    Michael Tien, a member of Hong Kong’s legislature and a deputy to China’s national parliament, said a total withdrawal of the bill would not be possible.
    “The amendment is supported by the central government, so I think a withdrawal would send a political message that the central government is wrong.    This would not happen under ‘one country, two systems’,” he told Reuters, referring to the model under which Hong Kong enjoys semi-autonomy.
    Organizers of last Sunday’s protest march are planning another march this Sunday.
    In addition to calling for the bill to be completely dropped, they would also be pushing for accountability of the police for the way protests have been handled.
    Lam has said the extradition law is necessary to prevent criminals using Hong Kong as a place to hide and that human rights will be protected by the city’s court which will decide on the extraditions on a case-by-case basis.
    Critics, including leading lawyers and rights groups, note that China’s justice system is controlled by the Communist Party, and marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.
    Hong Kong is governed by China under a “one country, two systems” deal that guarantees it special autonomy, including freedom of assembly, free press and independent judiciary.
    Many accuse Beijing of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.
    The Chinese government has denied that it has overreached in Hong Kong.
(Reporting by James Pomfret, Joyce Zhou, Vimvam Tong, Clare Jim, Anne Marie Roantree, Greg Torode and Twinnie Siu; Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Michael Perry and Christian Schmollinger)

6/15/2019 Russia’s Putin gives China’s Xi ice cream on his 66th birthday
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) toasts with Chinese President Xi Jinping while congratulating him on his birthday before the Conference on
Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan June 15, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping celebrated his 66th birthday on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who Xi considers a close friend and who gave Xi ice cream as a present, Chinese state media reported.
    The discussion of senior leaders’ private lives is extremely rare in China, and the exact birth dates of most of them are not revealed publicly, as they are considered a state secret.
    State television showed pictures of Xi and Putin holding up champagne glasses to toast Xi’s birthday at the hotel he is staying at in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, where they are both attending a regional summit.
    While Putin gave Xi Russian ice cream – the flavor was not mentioned – Xi gave Putin back some Chinese tea, the report said.
    Xi thanked Putin and said that in China Putin was extremely popular, it added.
    Pictures on Chinese state television’s website showed the two men inspecting a white cake decorated with red and blue confectionary flowers with the words written on it, in somewhat shaky red-colored Chinese characters, “good fortune double six.”
    It was not immediately clear if Xi ate any of the cake.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Christian Schmollinger)

6/15/2019 Embattled Hong Kong leader Lam suspends China extradition bill
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam arrives for a news conference in Hong Kong, China, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Saturday delayed indefinitely a proposed law to allow people to be extradited to mainland China for trial after widespread anger and large-scale protests in the Asian financial hub.
    In one of the most significant climbdowns by the government since Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, Lam said the city’s legislature would stop all work on the bill.    Next steps would be decided after consultations with various parties, she said.
    About 1 million people marched through Hong Kong last Sunday to protest the bill, according to organizers of the march.    Street demonstrations through the week were met with tear gas and rubber bullets from the police, plunging the city into turmoil.
    The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling in the city, has many concerned it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.
(Reporting by John Ruwitch, Clare Jim, Jessie Pang, Anne Marie Roantree; editing by Christian Schmollinger)

6/15/2019 Brusque to bruised: Hong Kong’s Lam caves to pressure on extradition bill by James Pomfret, Greg Torode and Ben Blanchard
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a news conference in Hong Kong, China, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – With an escalating U.S. trade war, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea vexing her bosses in Beijing, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam appeared in no mood to compromise on a planned extradition law at recent meetings, according to foreign envoys and business people who met with her.
    Some of the people at those meetings in recent weeks pointed to media reports that even Hong Kong’s usually reticent judges were worried about the proposed law which threatened to send people for trial in mainland China for the first time.
    But Lam bluntly dismissed concerns about a Chinese justice system that is widely criticized for forced confessions, arbitrary detentions and one-sided trials, saying judges were not supposed to speak.
    Worries over the bill’s impact on Hong Kong’s international standing as a financial hub with a respected legal system were building in Washington, London and other European capitals, but Lam stressed the need for the extradition law to help solve the murder of a Hong Kong woman in Taiwan.
    “She needed a dinghy and she deployed the Titanic,” one diplomat who met Lam this month told Reuters, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
    In numerous public appearances after that, Lam was unyielding on the need for the bill, despite huge and sometimes violent street protests including one last Sunday that organizers said drew more than a million people.
    Then on Saturday, Lam suddenly announced the bill had been postponed indefinitely.
    She told a news conference she felt “deep sorrow and regret that the deficiencies in our work and various other factors have stirred up substantial controversies and disputes in society.”
    Hong Kong’s self-styled Iron Lady had cracked, having apparently created an entirely fresh crisis for President Xi Jinping – and the city’s biggest since Britain handed it over to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee its freedoms and autonomy would be preserved.
    Clues to the catalyst for the about-face may lie in a reported meeting between Lam and China’s Vice-Premier Han Zheng.     According to Hong Kong’s Sing Tao newspaper, Lam had a clandestine emergency meeting with Han, a member of the Politburo’s seven-person Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body, across the border in Shenzhen on Thursday.
    The content of the meeting is unknown. Lam on Saturday refused to confirm or deny that it had taken place, despite repeated questions.
BEIJING BACKDOWN
    Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong has intensified markedly since Chinese President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, and after the city’s protracted 2014 pro-democracy street protests.
    He warned in 2017 that any attempts to undermine Chinese sovereignty were a “red line” that Beijing would not allow to be crossed – warnings that reinforced his strongman image amongst Hong Kongers.
    Many politicians, diplomats and analysts had not expected Beijing to allow any backdown on the bill, unlike in 2003 when contentious national security laws were scrapped after half a million people took to the streets.
    But a source in Beijing with ties to China’s leadership who meets regularly with senior officials, said the Hong Kong government had handled the extradition saga badly.
    And while a backdown from Beijing on the bill seemed near inconceivable just a week ago, the violence and escalating unrest forced their hand.
    “The outcome doesn’t bear thinking about if this situation wasn’t turned around,” the source said, also declining to be named given the sensitivity of the matter.
    The source added that Beijing now had severe doubts about Lam’s capabilities.    China’s State Council and the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
    Steve Tsang, a London-based political scientist, said Lam had caused Xi “major embarrassment” at a time that is not helpful for him given trade tensions with the United States, and ahead of a possible meeting with U.S. president Donald Trump at the month’s end at the G20 summit in Japan.
    “Xi is not a leader who tolerates failures of officials,” Tsang said.
    Retired senior Hong Kong government official Joseph Wong said he was shocked by Beijing’s U-turn, but the situation had become so untenable that he believed it had led to a recalculation by Han after meeting Lam in Shenzhen.
    “I suspect … he (Han) would have had to consider, are we prepared to continue to fire rubber bullets or even real bullets in order to get this through, and what would be the implications for the central government internationally, vis-a-vis the U.S.    So that protest was the turning point.”
    Lam has refused calls from the opposition and protestors to step down but her ability to govern has been questioned on numerous fronts, including her failure to gauge the pulse in Hong Kong, the broader U.S.-China relationship, and Taiwan’s refusal to accept any extradition bill, undermining her core argument the bill would resolve the Taiwan murder case.
    Political scientist Tsang said he did not expect Lam to last much longer as leader.
    “I think Carrie Lam’s days are numbered…Beijing cannot afford to sack her right away because that would be an indication of weakness.    They would have to allow for a bit of decent interlude.”
    Two former post-colonial leaders, Tung Chee-Hwa and Leung Chun-ying, were forced to truncate their terms of office from various controversies linked to policies that stoked fears of Chinese encroachment on the city’s freedoms.
    For her part, Lam has asked for time so that the bill can be properly deliberated.
    “Give us another chance and we will do this thing well,” she told Saturday’s news conference.
    Asked about China’s leaders, she said: “They have confidence in my judgment and they support me.”
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Greg Torode in Hong Kong and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree, Clare Jim and Jessie Pang and John Ruwitch in Hong Kong; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

6/16/2019 ‘Sea of black’ Hong Kong protesters demand leader step down by Alun John and James Pomfret
Members of Civil Human Rights Front hold a news conference in response to the announcement by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam regarding
the proposed extradition bill, outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong, China, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people clogged the streets in central Hong Kong on Sunday dressed in black to demand the city’s leader step down, a day after she suspended an extradition bill in a dramatic retreat following the most violent protests in decades.
    The massive rally saw some protesters carry white carnation flowers, while others held banners saying, “Do not shoot, we are HongKonger,” as they sought to avoid a repeat of the violence that rocked the financial center on Wednesday when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
    The protesters, including young families as well as the elderly, formed a sea of black along roads, walkways and train stations across Hong Kong’s financial center to vent their frustration and anger at Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
    Loud cheers rang out when activists called through loud hailers for Lam to step down and “step down” echoed through the streets.    Protesters also chanted “pursue the black police,” angry at what they say was an overreaction by police that left more than 70 people injured in Wednesday’s violent protest.
    Beijing-backed Lam on Saturday indefinitely delayed the extradition bill that could send people to mainland China to face trial, expressing “deep sorrow and regret” although she stopped short of apologizing.
    The about-face was one of the most significant political turnarounds by the Hong Kong government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, and it threw into question Lam’s ability to continue to lead the city.
    “Carrie Lam refused to apologize yesterday.    It’s unacceptable,” said 16-year-old Catherine Cheung.    “She’s a terrible leader who is full of lies … I think she’s only delaying the bill now to trick us into calming down.”
    Her classmate, Cindy Yip, said: “That’s why we’re still demanding the bill be scrapped.    We don’t trust her anymore. She has to quit.”
    Critics say the planned extradition law could threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law and its international reputation as an Asian financial hub.    Some Hong Kong tycoons have already started moving personal wealth offshore.
    Activist investor David Webb, in a newsletter on Sunday, said if Lam was a stock he would recommend shorting her with a target price of zero.
    “Call it the Carrie trade.    She has irrevocably lost the public’s trust,” Webb said.
    “Her minders in Beijing, while expressing public support for now, have clearly lined her up for the chop by distancing themselves from the proposal in recent days.”
    China’s Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, said in a commentary on Sunday that central authorities expressed “firm support” for Lam.
POLITICAL CRISIS
    The protests have plunged Hong Kong into political crisis, just as months of pro-democracy “Occupy” demonstrations did in 2014, heaping pressure on Lam’s administration and her official backers in Beijing.
    The turmoil comes at a difficult time for Beijing, which is already grappling with an escalating U.S. trade war, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea.
    Chinese censors have been working hard to erase or block news of the Hong Kong protests, wary that any large public rallies could inspire protests in the mainland.
    The violent clashes near the heart of the financial center on Wednesday grabbed global headlines and forced some shops and banks, including HSBC, to shut branches.
    Activists on Sunday pasted hundreds of fliers and notes to a wall near the protest site, with some reading, “Stop shooting innocent people,” and “Use your brain, violence is insane.”
    At the start of the march, protesters paused for a minute’s silence to remember an activist who died from a fall on Saturday near the site of the recent demonstrations.
    In the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own, about 5,000 people rallied outside the parliament building in Taipei with banners saying, “No China extradition law” and “Taiwan supports Hong Kong.”
    Some of the protesters in Hong Kong also waved Taiwan flags.
EXTENSIVE MEDDLING
    The city’s independent legal system was guaranteed under laws governing Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago, and is seen by business and diplomatic communities as its strong remaining asset amid encroachments from Beijing.
    Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return to Beijing, allowing freedoms not enjoyed on mainland China but not a fully democratic vote.
    Many accuse Beijing of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.
    Some opponents of the extradition bill said a suspension was not enough and want it scrapped and Lam to go.
    “If she refuses to scrap this controversial bill altogether, it would mean we wouldn’t retreat.    She stays on, we stay on,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo.
    Asked repeatedly on Saturday if she would step down, Lam avoided answering directly and appealed to the public to “give us another chance.”    Lam said she had been a civil servant for decades and still had work she wanted to do.
    Lam’s reversal was hailed by business groups including the American Chamber of Commerce, which had spoken out strongly against the bill, and overseas governments.
    The UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter: “Well done HK Government for heeding concerns of the brave citizens who have stood up for their human rights.”
    China’s top newspaper on Sunday condemned “anti-China lackeys” of foreign forces in Hong Kong.
    “Certain people in Hong Kong have been relying on foreigners or relying on young people to build themselves up, serving as the pawns and lackeys of foreign anti-China forces,” the ruling People’s Daily said in a commentary.
    “This is resolutely opposed by the whole of the Chinese people including the vast majority of Hong Kong compatriots.”
    The Hong Kong protests have been the largest in the city since crowds came out against the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations centered around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
    Lam had said the extradition law was necessary to prevent criminals using Hong Kong as a place to hide and that human rights would be protected by the city’s court which would decide on the extraditions on a case-by-case basis.
    Critics, including leading lawyers and rights groups, note China’s justice system is controlled by the Communist Party, and say it is marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.
(Reporting By Alun John, Jessie Pang, James Pomfret, Anne Marie Roantree, Felix Tam, Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim, Noah Sin; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Fabian Hamacher in Taipei, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree, Editing by Diane Craft and Michael Perry)

6/16/2019 China says reached ‘broad consensus’ with U.N. after Xinjiang visit
FILE PHOTO: Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre
in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China and the United Nations have reached a “broad consensus” about counter-terror work, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday after a controversial visit by a senior U.N. official to the restive far western Chinese region of Xinjiang this week.
    The United States and other western countries objected to a visit by the U.N. counterterrorism chief to Xinjiang, where U.N. experts say some one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centers.
    Diplomats said that along with the United States several other countries, including Britain, complained about the trip of Vladimir Voronkov, a veteran Russian diplomat who heads the U.N. Counterterrorism Office.
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan spoke with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Friday “to convey deep concerns” about Voronkov’s trip because “Beijing continues to paint its repressive campaign against Uighurs and other Muslims as legitimate counterterrorism efforts when it is not.”
    In a brief statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said that Voronkov had visited Beijing and Xinjiang from June 13-15, meeting senior diplomats including Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng.
    The two sides “had a deep exchange of views on the international counter-terrorism situation and counter-terrorism cooperation between China and the United Nations, and reached a broad consensus,” the ministry said, without giving details.
    China and the world need to stand together to fight terror, and China supports the work of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office, the statement added.
    China has been condemned internationally for setting up the detention complexes, which it describes as “education training centers” helping to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.
    Voronkov visited Xinjiang before U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who has repeatedly pushed China to grant the United Nations access to investigate reports of disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly of Muslims in Xinjiang.
    Guterres raised the plight of Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region with the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, during a visit to Beijing in April.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping has been in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over the past few days, where he has spoken of the importance of fighting extremism and terror.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

6/16/2019 Iran government has no plans to remove oil minister: spokesman
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran’s government has no plans to remove Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh from his post, a government spokesman said on Sunday, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
    A senior Iranian lawmaker said last month he was gathering signatures in parliament to support a motion to oust Zanganeh for his inability to counter U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil sales.
    Hedayatollah Khademi said last month he still needed to gather enough signatures to move the motion forward.    Similar attempts against Zanganeh have failed in recent years.

6/16/2019 Iran to scale back nuclear deal commitments: Tasnim
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will announce further moves on Monday to scale back compliance with an international nuclear pact that the United States abandoned last year, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Sunday.
    “Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation tomorrow at the Arak heavy water site will announce preparatory steps that have been taken to further decrease Tehran’s commitments under the deal,” Tasnim said, without citing sources.
    The organization will announce moves to increase stocks of enriched uranium and production of heavy water at Arak, Tasnim reported.
    The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency believe Iran had a nuclear weapons program that it abandoned.    Tehran denies ever having had one.
    Iran stopped complying in May with some commitments in the 2015 nuclear deal that was agreed with global powers, after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and re-introduced sanctions on Tehran.
    Iran said in May it would start enriching uranium at a higher level, unless world powers protected its economy from U.S. sanctions within 60 days.
    Tensions between the United States and Iran have ratcheted up further in recent days, with Washington accusing Tehran of carrying out Thursday’s attacks on two oil tankers in a vital oil shipping route.    Iran has denied having any role.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh; Writing by Tuqa Khalid and Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Potter)

6/16/2019 China prepared for long trade fight with the U.S.: party journal
FILE PHOTO: A Chinese woman adjusts a Chinese national flag next to U.S. national flags before a
Strategic Dialogue expanded meeting, part of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) held at the
Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, July 10, 2014. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The United States has underestimated the Chinese people’s will to fight a trade war and Beijing is prepared for a long economic battle, an influential Chinese Communist Party journal said on Sunday.
    China would not give way on major principles in its negotiations with the United States on ending the dispute, the commentary in the ideological journal Qiushi, or Seeking Truth, said.
    The editorial represented “a further mobilization of Chinese society” in the struggle against U.S. trade pressure, wrote Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper, in a tweet.
    "China will not be afraid of any threats or pressure the United States is making that may escalate economic and trade frictions. China has no choice, nor escape route, and will just have to fight it out till the end,” the commentary said.
    “No one, no force should underestimate and belittle the steel will of the Chinese people and its strength and tenacity to fight a war.”
    The United States kicked off a tariff battle with China in 2018, seeking sweeping structural changes from Beijing and alleging that the Chinese have engaged in intellectual property theft over many years, which China denies.
    But tensions rose sharply in May after the Trump administration accused China of reneging on promises it had made during months of talks.
    The commentary also accused the United States of trying to hamper Chinese technological innovation.
    “We must keep the initiative of innovation and development firmly in our hands, increase investment and research in key, core technology areas, pool together more high-value talents, enhance innovation and get rid of the core technology plight,” it said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, said on Thursday the economic burden of a trade war would shift to China.
    Qiushi said U.S. consumers and businesses had reaped huge benefits from trade with China and warned that trade frictions would inevitably have a serious negative impact on the U.S. economy.
    “In an era of economic globalization, trade protectionism is poison, not panacea,” the article said, adding that higher tariffs would increase manufacturing costs for U.S. businesses and push up U.S. consumer inflation.
    “As a result of the trade frictions, only a very few Americans will benefit, but the majority of Americans will suffer.”
    The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office on Monday will kick off seven days of testimony from U.S. retailers, manufacturers and other businesses about Trump’s plan to hit another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods with tariffs.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Samuel Shen; Additional Reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Stephen Coates)

6/17/2019 Freed Hong Kong democracy activist joins mass calls for leader to quit by Farah Master and Clare Jim
Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong addresses the crowds outside the Legislative Council during a demonstration demanding
Hong Kong's leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Activist Joshua Wong, who has become the face of Hong Kong’s push for full democracy, walked free from prison on Monday and vowed to join a mass protest movement demanding that the city’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, steps down.
    His release comes as a political crisis in the Chinese-ruled city enters its second week, amid growing uncertainty over the fate of Lam and an extradition bill she postponed at the weekend after it triggered one of the most violent protests in decades.
    “I will join to fight against this evil law,” said Wong, 22, one of the leaders of the 2014 “Umbrella” pro-democracy protests that blocked major roads in Hong Kong for 79 days.
    “I believe this is the time for her, Carrie Lam the liar, to step down.”
    The crisis escalated during Wong’s five-week jail term for contempt of court.    Until this month, the failure of the “Umbrella” protests to wrest concessions from Beijing, coupled with prosecutions of at least 100 protesters, had discouraged many young people from going back out on the streets.
    The upheaval comes at a delicate time for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is grappling with a deepening U.S. trade war, an ebbing economy and regional strategic tension.
    Many residents of Hong Kong are increasingly unnerved by Beijing’s tightening grip and what they see as the erosion of its freedoms, fearing that changes to the rule of law could imperil its status as a global financial center.
    Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return to Beijing, allowing freedoms not granted to the mainland, but short of a fully democratic vote.
    The benchmark index climbed 0.8%, having risen more than 1% in early trade, outperforming gains in Asia ex-Japan and onshore China.    Most tenors in interbank lending rates shortened, after a spike last week during the protests.
    The city’s “highly leveraged property owners are breathing a collective sigh of relief, and the Hang Sang is in a celebratory mood as well,” Stephen Innes, managing partner at Vanguard Markets, said in a note.
PROTEST DEMANDS
    Protest organizers said almost 2 million people turned out on Sunday to demand that Lam resign, in what is becoming the most significant challenge to China’s relationship with the territory since it was handed back by Britain 22 years ago.
    The mass rally, which police said drew 338,000 participants, forced Lam to apologize over her plans to push through the extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China to face trial.
    On Monday, protest organizers said they wanted Lam to withdraw the bill, release arrested students, drop the official description of Wednesday’s rally as a riot, and step down.
    Hong Kong opposition politicians echoed marchers’ calls for both Lam and the proposed law to go.
    “Her government cannot be an effective government, and will have much, much, much difficulties to carry on,” veteran Democratic Party legislator James To told government-funded broadcaster RTHK.
    “I believe the central people’s government will accept her resignation.”
    However, the official China Daily said Beijing’s leaders would continue to back Lam, as it lashed out at foreign “meddling” in the crisis.
    China’s support for Lam will “not waver, not in the face of street violence nor the ill-intentioned interventions of foreign governments,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
    While Lam delayed the bill, it has yet to be completely shelved.
    “We cannot accept her apology, it doesn’t remove all our threats,” said social worker Brian Chau, one of several hundred protesters who stayed overnight in the Admiralty district around the government headquarters and legislature.
    Some demonstrators cleared rubbish left after the vast, but peaceful, march while others sang ‘Hallelujah’, a gospel song that has become the unofficial anthem of protesters against Lam.
    The headquarters will stay closed on Monday, the government said.    A group of uniformed police stood by without riot gear, in contrast to their appearance during recent skirmishes with protesters.
(Reporting by Marius Zaharia, John Ruwitch, Clare Jim, Farah Master, Vimvam Tong, Noah Sin, Greg Torode; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

6/17/2019 Indian doctors stage nationwide strike over ‘inhuman’ working conditions by Alasdair Pal and Subrata Nagchoudhury
Medical students participate in a protest called by Indian Medical Association (IMA), during a
nationwide doctors strike in Ahmedabad, India, June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave
    NEW DELHI/KOLKATA (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of doctors across India went on strike on Monday demanding better working conditions, the country’s top medical body said, as the outrage over lax security conditions at hospitals escalated.
    The nationwide protests, affecting hundreds of hospitals, started after an attack at a medical college in West Bengal state a week ago.    The attack left three junior doctors seriously injured after a dispute with a family whose relative had died.
    The incident resonated with Indian doctors, many of whom are poorly paid and overworked compared with their foreign counterparts.
    Thousands of doctors protested outside hospitals across India on Monday, holding placards and wearing black arm bands and bloodied mock bandages.
    The Indian Medical Association (IMA), that represents more than 300,000 doctors and half-a-million junior doctors, medical students and other staff, said almost all of its members, apart from those providing emergency services, have joined the protests.
    “Practically, the entire medical fraternity is on strike,” Dr RV Asokan, the IMA’s honorary general secretary told Reuters on Monday.    “Everybody is on the street.”
    The IMA is demanding tougher punishments for those who attack doctors, as well as higher recruitment to support the overworked staff.
    A doctor in an outpatient unit in India often saw more than 100 patients in a day, Asokan said, and despite tens of thousands of junior doctors graduating every year, many were out of work.
    “The workload of doctors is inhuman,” he said.    “The government is not recruiting enough.”
    Doctors, who have been protesting in West Bengal ever since the attack a week ago, were due to hold talks with the government after the state authorities permitted the media to cover the meeting.
    There were queues at Ernakulam Government Hospital in the southern state of Kerala on Monday morning, as patients waited to consult the limited number of doctors who were on duty.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in NEW DELHI and Subrata Nagchoudhury in KOLKATA, additional reporting by Sivaram V in KOCHI and Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

6/17/2019 Iran says time is short for Europe to save nuclear deal: Fars
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting with tribal leaders
in Kerbala, Iraq, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – The time is short for Europe to save the international nuclear deal with Tehran after Washington’s withdrawal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday, according to Fars news agency.
    “It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.
    Rouhani said the collapse of the nuclear deal would not be in the interests of the region and the world.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

6/17/2019 Iran to increase nuclear stockpile by OAN Newsroom
Iran’s atomic agency spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, speaks to the media in Tehran, Iran. Iran will break the uranium stockpile limit
set by Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days, he announced Monday June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
    Iran has escalated tensions with the west after announcing it will break it’s uranium stockpile limit.
    On Monday, Iranian atomic energy agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi announced the Islamic Republic will begin increasing its supply of enriched uranium within in the next 10 days.
    He added, the levels of nuclear energy will steadily increase based on the country’s needs.
    The limit was imposed on Tehran in the JCPOA , better known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, which was put forth by the Obama administration and several other world powers.
    “We have quadrupled uranium production and in recent days we have once again increased production, and today we can tell you that the countdown has started,” stated Kamalvandi.
    This comes amid the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign of economic sanctions on Iran, which have seemingly crippled the Middle Eastern country.

6/17/2019 U.S. military releases new images from oil tanker attacks
A U.S. military image released by the Pentagon in Washington on June 17, which is says was taken from a
U.S. Navy MH-60R helicopter in the Gulf of Oman in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran on June 13, shows mine blast damage to
M/T Kokuka Courageous, a Japanese owned commercial motor tanker. Picture taken June 13, 2019. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military on Monday released new images it says showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) removing an unexploded limpet mine from a Japanese-owned tanker that was attacked on June 13 in the Gulf of Oman, as Washington blames Tehran for the attack.
    “Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine,” the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement explaining the still-images.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Sandra Maler)

6/17/2019 U.S. denounces ‘nuclear blackmail’ as Iran plans to breach uranium limit by Parisa Hafezi and Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran announced on Monday it would soon breach limits on the amount of enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 international agreement, in a new point of contention with the United States, which accused Tehran of “nuclear blackmail.”
    Tensions between Iran and the United States are rising more than a year after President Donald Trump announced Washington was withdrawing from the nuclear deal.    Fears of a confrontation increased last week when oil tankers in the Gulf were attacked.
    The accord, which Iran and the other signatories have maintained following Trump’s decision, caps Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg enriched to 3.67 percent.
    But Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on Monday: “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment (of uranium) and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit.”
    “Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate,” he told state TV, adding that “the move will be reversed once other parties fulfil their commitments.”
    The move further undermines the nuclear pact also signed by Russia, Britain, Germany, China and the European Union, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.
    A White House National Security Council spokesman said Iran’s plan amounted to “nuclear blackmail” and must be met with increased international pressure.
    The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.
    Britain said if Iran breached agreed limits then London would look at “all options.”
    Israel, Iran’s arch foe, urged world powers to step up sanctions against Tehran swiftly should it exceed the enriched uranium limit.
    However, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.
GULF TANKERS
    U.S.-Iran tensions are growing again following attacks last Thursday on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil shipping route.    Trump’s administration has accused Iran of being behind the incidents.    Iran denies having any role.
    Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, on Monday denied Tehran was behind the attacks and said if the Islamic Republic decided to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane it would do so publicly.     The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged U.S. forces to leave the region, state TV said.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spoken to officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, China, Kuwait, South Korea, Britain and other countries to share evidence of Iran’s involvement in the attacks on the Norwegian and Japanese tankers, a senior State Department official said.
    Iran on Monday accused its main regional rival Saudi Arabia – a close U.S. ally – of adopting a “militaristic, crisis-based approach” for accusing Tehran of carrying out the tanker attacks.
    In May, Tehran said it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact in protest at the U.S. decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions.
    The accord requires Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, capping Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent or its equivalent for 15 years.    That is far below the 90 percent needed for weapons grade uranium and also below the 20 percent level to which Iran enriched uranium before the deal.
    A series of U.N. inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments.
    Iran’s Rouhani said on Monday that European nations still had time to save the accord.
    “It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.
    French President Emmanuel Macron said he regretted Iran’s announcement but that Paris would hold talks with Iran and its partners to avoid any further escalation in the region.
NUCLEAR REACTOR
    Kamalvandi, in a news conference at Iran’s Arak heavy water nuclear reactor which has been reconfigured under the deal, said Tehran could rebuild the underground facility to make it functional.    Heavy water can be employed in reactors to produce plutonium, a fuel used in nuclear warheads.
    In January, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi told state TV that “despite pouring concrete in pipes within the core of the Arak reactor … Iran had purchased pipes for replacement in case the West violated the deal.”
    Mojtaba Zolnour, head of parliament’s nuclear committee, said Iran would quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty against the spread of nuclear weapons unless European powers saved the 2015 agreement.
    The western European signatories to the deal – France, Britain and Germany – have defended it as the best way to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium.
    But Iran has repeatedly criticized delays in setting up a European mechanism that would shield trade with Iran from U.S. sanctions in an effort to save the nuclear deal.
    The United States and the IAEA believe Iran had a nuclear weapons program that it abandoned.    Tehran denies ever having had one.
    Pompeo said on Sunday the United States did not want to go to war with Iran but would take every action necessary, including diplomacy, to guarantee safe navigation through Middle East shipping lanes.
    Iran said on Monday it had exposed a cyber espionage network, accused the CIA of running it and that several U.S. spies had been arrested in different countries as a result.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and William Schomberg in London, Francois Murphy in Vienna, Robin Emmott in Brussels, and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by William Maclean, Grant McCool and Cynthia Osterman)

6/18/2019 Hong Kong leader signals end to extradition bill but refuses to quit by Clare Jim and Noah Sin
A man looks at notes and placards with messages of support for the protest against the extradition bill, along
a road near the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong, China June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday signaled the end of a controversial extradition bill that she promoted and then postponed after some of the most violent protests since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    In a closely watched press conference, Lam apologized for the turmoil but refused to say the bill would be “withdrawn,” only that it wouldn’t be re-introduced during her time in office if public fears persist.
    This was the strongest indicator yet that the government was effectively shelving legislation that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China to face trial, even if it fell short of protester demands for the government to scrap the bill altogether.
    “Because this bill over the past few months has caused so much anxiety, and worries and differences in opinion, I will not, this is an undertaking, I will not proceed again with this legislative exercise if these fears and anxieties cannot be adequately addressed,” Lam told reporters.
    Lam, appearing both contrite and defiant, used much of the same language as a previous press conference on Saturday when she announced a postponement of the bill.    A day later, about two million people spilled on to the streets, many demanding that she step down.
    Lam, asked repeatedly whether she would quit, refused to do so, saying there remained important work ahead in the next three years, which would bring her to the end of her current five-year term of office.
    “After this incident, I think work in the next three years will be very difficult … but myself and my team will work harder to rebuild public confidence.”
    Lam apologized for plunging the city into major upheaval, saying she had heard the people “loud and clear” and would try to rebuild trust.
    But some protest organizers and opposition Democrats said Lam remained tone-deaf to public demands, namely that she state categorically a retraction of the bill, step down immediately and pledge not to prosecute any protesters on rioting charges.
    “Carrie Lam is continuing to lie,” said Jimmy Sham, the convener of the Civil Human Rights Front.    “We hope the people of Hong Kong can unite with us … to keep working hard to withdraw the evil law,” he told reporters.
    Alvin Yeung, a democratic lawmaker, said Lam had failed again to lower the political temperature in the city of seven million.
    “Hong Kong will not accept this,” he said.
    Lam’s climb-down, with the approval of China’s Communist Party leaders, was the biggest policy reversal since 1997 and presented a new challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping who has ruled with an iron fist since taking power in 2012.
    Since the proposed amendments to the Fugitives Offenders’ Ordinance were first put to the legislature in February, Lam has repeatedly rebuffed concerns voiced in many quarters, including business groups, lawyers, judges, and foreign governments against the bill.
    Critics say the bill would undermine Hong Kong’s independent judiciary and rule of law, guaranteed by the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong returned to China, by extending China’s reach into the city and allowing individuals to be arbitrarily sent back to China where they couldn’t be guaranteed a fair trial.
    Chinese courts are ultimately controlled by the Communist Party.
    Lam issued an apology on Sunday night through a written government statement that many people said lacked sincerity.    It failed to pacify many marchers who said they no longer trusted her and doubted her ability to govern.
    Lam, a career civil-servant known as “the fighter” for her straight-shooting and tough leadership style, took office two years ago pledging to heal a divided society.    Some observers say she is unlikely to step down immediately but any longer-term political ambitions she may have harbored are now all but dead.
(Reporting by Clare Jim, Noah Sin, Twinnie Siu, Anne Marie Roantree and Hong Kong newsroom; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/18/2019 Iran says it won’t wage war, U.S. deploys more troops to Middle East by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Sylvia Westall
A U.S. military image released by the Pentagon in Washington on June 17 shows what the Pentagon says is a view of internal hull
penetration and blast damage sustained from a limpet mine attack on the starboard side of the Japanese owned motor tanker Kokuka
Courageous in the Guld of Oman in the waters between Iran and Guld States on June 13, 2019. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday Iran would not wage war against any nation, sounding a note of restraint after the United States announced more troop deployments to the Middle East.
    Fears of a confrontation between Iran and its long-time foe the United States have mounted since Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, which Washington blamed on Tehran.
    Iran denied involvement in the attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.
    Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.
    The standoff drew a call for caution from China.    Its top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced U.S. pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal.
    Russia urged restraint on all sides.
    In a speech, Rouhani dismissed U.S. efforts to isolate Iran as unsuccessful and suggested the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump was inexperienced in international affairs.
    But he said Iran did not seek conflict.
    “Iran will not wage war against any nation,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state TV.    “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”
    On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged U.S. forces to leave the region.
SANCTIONS TIGHTENED
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.
    The new U.S. deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May.    Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.
    Iran’s announcement on Monday that it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal was denounced by a White House National Security Council spokesman as “nuclear blackmail.”
    The move further undermines the nuclear pact, but Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.
    The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.
    Speaking in Beijing, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.
CHINA “VERY CONCERNED
    Wang told reporters China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension.
    “We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.
    “In particular, the U.S. side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said.    “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law.    Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”
    Wang also said the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and urged Iran to be prudent.
    European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.
    The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, was flawed as it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai, Tom Balmforth and Maxim Rodionov in Moscow, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Writing by William Maclean, Editing by Janet Lawrence)

6/18/2019 Photos of tanker attack released by OAN Newsroom
    Amid mounting concern over Iran, the Pentagon says it is sending an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East.    The announcement comes as the U.S. Central Command releases new photos, which it says proves Iranian forces were behind attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
    Military officials said 11 color photos, made public Monday, show Iran’s Revolutionary Guard approached the ships shortly after the incident.    The pictures allegedly show Iranian troops removing an unexploded mine, which is the device believed to have been used in the attack.
Imagery taken from a U.S. Navy MH-60R helicopter of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy removing an
unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous. (Photo/handout/Department of Defense)
    The U.S., U.K., Saudi Arabia and Israel have put the blame on Iran, while other allies such as Germany and Japan have demanded more evidence.
    Over the weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted the White House had more evidence to support their claims.
    “This was taken from an American camera, this is the real data…we’ve shared it with allies already…the world needs to unite against this threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he stated.
    Pompeo is set to meet with CENTCOM commanders Tuesday.    In the meantime, officials say the mines used in the latest attack appear to match those used in other Iranian operations.
This photo is a view of hull penetration/blast damage sustained from a limpet mine attack on the starboard side of motor vessel
M/T Kokuka Courageous, while operating in the Gulf of Oman, June 13. (Photo/handout/Department of Defense)

6/18/2019 Don’t open ‘Pandora’s Box’ in Middle East, China warns by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a news conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez
(not pictured) at Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese government’s top diplomat warned on Tuesday that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced U.S. pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of a landmark nuclear deal.
    Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since last Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman.
    The United States blamed Iran for the attacks, more than a year after President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    Iran denied involvement in the tanker attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced on the same day the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.
    Speaking in Beijing after meeting Syria’s foreign minister, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.
    Wang told reporters that China was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension and not head towards a clash.
    “We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.
    “In particular, the U.S. side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said.
    “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”
    Wang also said that the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and he urged Iran to be prudent.
    “We understand that relevant parties may have different concerns but first of all the comprehensive nuclear deal should be properly implemented,” he added.    “We hope that Iran is cautious with its decision-making and not lightly abandon this agreement.”
    At the same time, China hopes other parties respect Iran’s legitimate lawful rights and interests, Wang said.
    China and Iran have close energy ties, and China has been angered by U.S. threats against countries and companies that violate U.S. sanctions by importing Iranian oil, including Chinese firms.
    China has had to walk a fine line as it has also been cultivating relations with Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia, the Asian giant’s top oil supplier.
    Iran’s foreign minister has visited China twice this year already.    Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has also visited Beijing this year.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Se Young Lee and Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

6/18/2019 Myanmar official says runaway monk ‘incited hatred’ against Suu Kyi by Thu Thu Aung
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar Buddhist monk Wirathu speaks at a rally against constitution change
in Yangon, Myanmar, May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File photo
    YANGON (Reuters) – A Myanmar official on Tuesday told a court that a nationalist Buddhist monk, Wirathu, who has evaded arrest on sedition charges, “incited hatred” against leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government.
    Police issued an arrest warrant for Wirathu last month but he has not been detained and has taunted authorities on social media.
    Complainant San Min, an administrator in the city of Yangon, told the court he had been ordered by the office of President Win Myint, a close ally of Suu Kyi, to file a legal complaint against the monk.
    “Wirathu’s speeches can cause disrespect and incite hatred in the people against Aung San Suu Kyi … (and) the government,” San Min said in his complaint.
    Wirathu is infamous as a proponent of anti-Muslim rhetoric that has spread as Myanmar has transitioned from full military rule and as social media sites like Facebook have become popular.
    He speaks in support of the military and opposes Nobel laureate Suu Kyi and her efforts to amend a 2008 charter that cements the generals’ power.
    The sedition charge is related to his criticism of the government, not to his comments on Muslims.
    The Western Yangon District Court on Tuesday held the first of several hearings to decide whether Wirathu should be formally declared a fugitive from the law, which requires a judge to rule there is evidence he broke the law.
    A video was played of a speech Wirathu gave at a rally in Yangon last month, when he argued broadly against democratic governance and warned Myanmar would “drown in a muddy puddle” if its constitution was amended to reduce the political role of the military.
    A transcript of a separate speech Wirathu gave in southern Myanmar in April, submitted to the court, records Wirathu crudely criticizing Suu Kyi’s relationships with foreigners.    Suu Kyi married and had two sons with the late British academic Michael Aris.
    “Tap, tap, tap go her high heels,” the monk said, according to the transcript, referring to when Suu Kyi meets foreigners.
    A Buddhist nationalist group said on Monday that Wirathu’s “positive criticism” of Suu Kyi did not merit legal action.
    Some human rights activists have said Wirathu should face action for inciting violence against Muslims, especially the Rohingya minority, rather than for comments critical of a politician.
    Buddhist authorities have previously censured Wirathu, but a one-year order banning him from speeches expired this year.
(Reporting by Thu Thu Aung; Writing by Simon Lewis; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/18/2019 World Bank: China’s Belt and Road can speed development, needs transparency
FILE PHOTO: A member of the security personnel sits behind a logo of the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) at the
China National Convention Center, in Beijing, China, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure drive could speed up economic development and reduce poverty for dozens of developing countries, the World Bank said on Tuesday in a new report that called for deep policy reforms and more transparency for the initiative.
    The long-delayed report said that the Belt and Road, a string of ports, railways, roads and bridges and other investments connecting China to Europe via central and southern Asia, could lift 32 million people out of moderate poverty conditions if implemented fully.
    Still, the initiative comes with “significant risks” given a lack of transparency and institutional issues in some of the participating economies, the World Bank said.
    “Achieving the ambitions of the Belt and Road Initiative will require equally ambitious reforms from participating countries,” Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, World Bank vice president for equitable growth, said in a statement.
    “Improvements in data reporting and transparency – especially around debt – open government procurement, and adherence to the highest social and environmental standards will help significantly,” she added.
    The World Bank’s new president, David Malpass, skipped the Belt and Road summit in April and was a critic of the initiative when he was an official at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Additional reporting and writing by Chris Prentice; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Cynthia Osterman)

6/19/2019 South Korea gives most aid to North Korea since 2008 amid food shortage by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO - A North Korean flag is seen on the top of its embassy in Beijing, China, February 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea has provided its largest food and aid donation since 2008 to U.N. aid program in North Korea, officials said on Wednesday, amid warnings that millions of dollars more is needed to make up for food shortages.
    South Korea followed through on a promise to donate $4.5 million to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), and announced it was also providing 50,000 tonnes of rice for delivery to its northern neighbor.
    North Korea has said it is facing droughts, and U.N. aid agencies have said food production fell “dramatically” last year, leaving more than 10 million North Koreans at risk.
    “This is the largest donation from the Republic of Korea to WFP DPRK since 2008 and will support 1.5 to 2 million children, pregnant and nursing mothers,” WFP senior spokesman Herve Verhoosel said in a statement, referring to his agency’s operation in North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
    More aid would be needed, however, to make up for the shortfalls, he said.
    “WFP estimates that at least 300,000 metric tons of food, valued at $275 million, is needed to scale up humanitarian assistance in support of those people most affected by significant crop losses over successive seasons,” Verhoosel said.
    North Korea is under strict international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
    While inter-Korean engagement spiked last year amid a push to resolve the nuclear standoff, Seoul’s efforts to engage with Pyongyang have been less successful after a second U.S.-North Korea summit ended with no agreement in February.
SANCTIONS A PROBLEM
    South Korea would work with the WFP to get the aid as quickly as possible to the North Korean people who need, the South’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said in a statement.
    “The timing and scale of additional food assistance to North Korea will be determined in consideration of the outcome of the aid provision this time,” the ministry said.
    According to South Korean officials the rice is worth 127 billion won ($108 million).
    The government would aim to have the rice delivered before September, and officials were in touch with counterparts in North Korea, Unification minister Kim Yeon-chul told reporters.
    South Korea’s Agriculture Ministry said the last time South Korea sent rice to North Korea was in 2010, when 5,000 tonnes were donated.    The largest donation ever was in 2005 when South Korean sent 500,000 tonnes of rice.
    Seoul also recently donated $3.5 million to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for humanitarian projects in North Korea.
    Technically humanitarian aid is not blocked by the sanctions, but aid organizations said sanctions enforcement and a U.S. ban on its citizens traveling to North Korea had slowed and in some cases prevented aid from reaching the country.
    Aid shipments have also been controversial because of fears that North Korea’s authoritarian government would divert the supplies or potentially profit off it.
    Verhoosel said the WFP would require “high standards for access and monitoring” to be in place before distributing any aid.
    In March, Russia donated more than 2,000 tonnes of wheat to the WFP’s North Korea program.
(Reporting by Josh Smith. Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin.; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/19/2019 Cambodia targets 140 opposition figures to silence dissent: U.N.
FILE PHOTO: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks during a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping
(not pictured) in Beijing, China, April 29, 2019. Madoka Ikegami/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Cambodian authorities have questioned, summoned or detained more than 140 members of the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in an escalating suppression of dissent, two U.N. human rights experts said on Wednesday.
    U.N. special rapporteurs Rhona Smith and David Kaye, mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate human rights in Cambodia and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, respectively, said the authorities appeared to be making “an attempt to intimidate or silence political opinion.”
    The opposition party supporters were questioned in relation to gatherings and comments made in support of Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy, two leaders of the CNRP, the only opposition party in the National Assembly until a court dissolved it in late 2017.
    “We are concerned about the use of criminal law to target free speech, both offline and online,” they said in a statement, adding that some of the detainees had posted videos on Facebook.
    Many of the summonses appeared to breach the right to due process and a fair trial, and some of those detained had been charged with “incitement to commit a felony,” which was not appropriate for expressing political support, they said.
    The statement did not specify the time frame within which the 140 people had been questioned and detained.
    In February the European Union began an 18-month process that could lead to the suspension of Cambodia’s duty-free trade access over its record on human rights and democracy.
    The EU acted after elections maintained veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen in power and gave his party all parliamentary seats. He has led the Southeast Asian country since 1985.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/19/2019 ASEAN must not turn a blind eye to plight of Rohingya, groups say by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat
FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees gather at a market inside a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Human rights groups on Wednesday called on Southeast Asian leaders to rethink their approach to the Rohingya refugee crisis ahead of a regional summit in Bangkok this week.
    Myanmar regards Rohingya Muslims as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to camps in its western Rakhine State since violence swept the area in 2012.
    More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017, according to U.N. agencies, after a crackdown by Myanmar’s military sparked by Rohingya insurgent attacks on the security forces.
    The Rohingya issue, especially their repatriation from Bangladesh, is expected to be a major topic during four days of meetings among leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Thailand from Thursday.
    Human rights activists say the bloc should not rush to get involved in the repatriation without addressing the root causes of their displacement.
    “ASEAN needs to stop turning a blind eye to Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya, and cease lending legitimacy to the repatriation process,” Eva Sundari, an Indonesian lawmaker and a board member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement.
    U.N. investigators have said the 2017 Myanmar military operation that drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh was executed with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson.
    Myanmar denies widespread wrongdoing and says the military campaign across hundreds of villages in the north of Rakhine State was in response to the attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
    But rights groups say conditions in Rakhine State are not conducive to the safe return of refugees.
    “ASEAN seems intent on discussing the future of the Rohingya without condemning – or even acknowledging – the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against them,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director of the Human Rights Watch.
    “It’s preposterous for ASEAN leaders to be discussing the repatriation of a traumatized population into the hands of the security forces who killed, raped, and robbed them.”
    Mostly Buddhist Myanmar is a member of ASEAN.    The grouping includes Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia, where the plight of the Rohingya is of particular concern.
    Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai rejected any suggestion the grouping, which is under Thailand’s chairmanship this year, would gloss over Myanmar’s action, but at the same time, said ASEAN would not be apportioning blame.
    “This is not about whitewashing anyone,” he told Reuters.
    “ASEAN is not here to point to who is right or wrong, our concern is the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in refugee camps who should begin to take their first step to making a return.”
    Repatriation would only take place on a voluntarily basis, and with the consent of both Myanmar and Bangladesh, he said.
    Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea in an exodus that peaked in 2015, crossing the Andaman Sea to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
    Last week, a boat carrying 65 Rohingya arrived at a southern Thai island, raising concern that there could be a new wave of people smuggling by sea after a 2015 regional crackdown on trafficking.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/19/2019 U.S. Navy finds evidence suggesting Iran explosives used in tanker attack by OAN Newsroom
    Iran has assured that it is not seeking war with the U.S. In a statement Wednesday, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Council — Ali Shamkhani — said there would be “no military confrontation between Iran and America since there is no reason for a war.”
    He was referencing the recent fallout over a series of explosive strikes on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.    The official also claimed it has become “common practice” for the White House to blame Tehran for similar incidents.    Many officials in the administration have placed blame on Iran for the attacks, and both the U.K. and Saudi Arabia have also said the Iranian government had a hand in the strikes.
A U.S. Navy patrol boat carrying journalists to see damaged oil tankers leaves a U.S. Navy 5th Fleet base
near Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. The limpet mines used to attack a Japanese-owned oil tanker
near the Strait of Hormuz bore “a striking resemblance” to similar mines displayed by Iran, a U.S. Navy
explosives expert said Wednesday. Iran has denied being involved. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
    During a press briefing Wednesday, experts said damage to the Japanese oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman is consistent with Iran mine explosives.    They also discovered a magnet allegedly left over by the Iranian military after it recovered an unexploded mine from the ship’s hull.    According to the Navy’s report, the mines used in the strike resemble those used by the Iranian military.
    “The attack occurring on the motor vessel Kokuka Courageous was a result of limpet mines.    The limpet mine that was used does bear a striking resemblance to that which has been publicly displayed in the Iranian military parades.” — Cmdr. Sean Kido, explosives expert – U.S. Navy.
    Investigators said they uncovered “biometric” evidence, including finger prints, to help build a criminal case against those responsible.
Mine fragment.

6/19/2019 U.S. Navy says mine fragments suggest Iran behind Gulf tanker attack by Aziz El Yaakoubi
A general view of Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous tanker off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Abdel Hadi
    FUJAIRAH, United Arab Emirates (Reuters) – The United States sought on Wednesday to bolster its case for isolating Iran over its nuclear and regional activities by displaying limpet mine fragments it said came from a damaged oil tanker and saying the ordnance looked Iranian in origin.
    Iran has denied involvement in explosive strikes on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week and four tankers off the United Arab Emirates on May 12, both near the Strait of Hormuz, a major conduit for global oil supplies.
    But the incidents have fueled tensions that flared with the U.S. pullout last year from world powers’ 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, followed by fresh U.S. sanctions to stifle Tehran’s vital oil trade, and a retaliatory Iranian threat this week to resume uranium enrichment in breach of the deal.
    France and Germany said on Wednesday they would crank up efforts to halt any spiral towards conflict with Iran, but that time was running out and the risk of war could not be ruled out.
    Iran’s signal of preparedness to stockpile enriched uranium beyond the deal’s limit, and refine uranium to a fissile purity higher than deemed necessary for civilian uses, prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to warn on Tuesday he was ready to take military action to stop Tehran developing a nuclear bomb.
    The Islamic Republic denies having any such intentions.
    But Trump also left open whether he would support the use of force to protect Gulf oil supplies Washington fears might be put in jeopardy by Iran in the brewing confrontation.
    “We want to unify our efforts so that there is a de-escalation process that starts,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Paris.
    “There is still time and we hope all the actors show more calm. There is still time, but only a little time.”
    French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said later that his top diplomatic adviser, Emmanuel Bonne, went to Tehran on Wednesday for talks to help ease the crisis. Bonne has been based in Iran in the past and is a Middle East expert.
    Iran, where hardline foes of detente with the West have been strengthened by Trump’s pressure campaign, said on Wednesday it would give European powers no more time beyond July 8 to save the nuclear deal by shielding its economy from U.S. sanctions.
    President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s actions were the “minimum” Tehran could undertake one year after the Trump administration withdrew from the deal, but that its steps were reversible “if they return to their commitments.”
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry said later that senior diplomats from Iran, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China – the remaining signatories to the nuclear deal – would hold the next quarterly meeting of the accord’s oversight commission in Vienna, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog is based, on June 28.
    Underscoring regional jitters, Kuwait and Iraq called for wisdom and reason in dealing with the latest developments in order to defuse tension and forestall clashes, Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA reported.
U.S. DISPLAYS MINE FRAGMENTS, MAGNET
    In the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah on Wednesday, the U.S. Navy exhibited pieces of limpet mines and a magnet it said its personnel extracted from one of two oil tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman last week.
    The U.S. military earlier released images it said showed Iranian Revolutionary Guards removing an unexploded mine from Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous, which was hit by blasts along with Norwegian-owned Front Altair tanker on June 13.
    “The limpet mine that was used in the attack is distinguishable and also strikingly bearing a resemblance to Iranian mines that have already been publicly displayed in Iranian military parades,” Sean Kido, commanding officer of an explosive ordnance dive and salvage task group in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), told reporters.
    Small fragments said to have been removed from the Kokuka Courageous were on display alongside a magnet purportedly left by the Revolutionary Guard squad allegedly captured on video.
    The Japanese company that owns the Kokuka Courageous had said its ship was damaged by two “flying objects,” but NAVCENT dismissed this account.
    “The damage at the blast hole is consistent with a limpet mine attack, it is not consistent with an external flying object striking the ship,” Kido said, adding that nail holes visible in the hull indicated how the mine was attached to the ship’s hull.
    The location of the mine above the ship’s waterline indicated the intention was not to sink the vessel, he said.
    Two Western security sources told Reuters this week the attacks seemed calibrated to inflict only limited damage and avoid injury to show that Iran could sow chaos if it wanted to, possibly to persuade Washington and other foes to back off rather than trigger conflict.
    Kido also said NAVCENT had collected biometric information including fingerprints from the ship’s hull that would help in crafting a criminal case against the assailants.
ROCKET HITS WESTERN OIL SITE IN IRAQ
    In another incident likely to fan tensions, a rocket crashed onto a site in southern Iraq used by foreign oil companies on Wednesday, including U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil, wounding three people.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack near the southern Iraqi city of Basra – the fourth time in a week rockets have landed near U.S. installations.    There were no casualties or major damage in the earlier incidents.
    An Iraqi security source said it appeared that Iran-backed groups in southern Iraq were behind Wednesday’s Basra incident.
    Iranian officials have made no comment about the attack but have strongly denied all other allegations that Tehran has targeted energy tankers and facilities in the region.
    Although the United States and Saudi Arabia have pointed fingers at Iran for all the tanker attacks, several European nations have said more evidence is needed.
    “The dynamics of the two attacks are not clear, and the video that the U.S. said demonstrated Iran’s role was also not clear,” a Western diplomat in the Gulf told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Abdelhadi al-Ramahi, Sylvia Westall, Firouz Sedarat and Davide Barbuscia in Dubai, Aref Mohammed and Ahmed Rasheed in Iraq, Nayera Abdallah in Cairo, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, John Irish and Michel Rose in Paris and Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/19/2019 Xi visit raises prospect of ‘concrete cooperation’ with North Korea by Ben Blanchard and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: China’s President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin
(not pictured) and Mongolia's President Khaltmaagiin Battulga (not pictured) on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organisation (SCO) summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan June 14, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – China’s President Xi Jinping heads to Pyongyang this week holding out the prospect of fresh measures to support North Korea’s floundering, sanctions-bound economy, the first trip in 14 years by a Chinese leader.
    Neighboring China is reclusive North Korea’s only major ally, and the visit comes amid renewed tensions on the Korean peninsula as the United States seeks to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
    “It is believed that Xi’s visit to the DPRK will present the opportunity for the two leaders to agree on some concrete cooperation projects based on the complementarity of the two economies,” the official China Daily said in editorial this week, referring to North Korea’s official name.
    Xi, given the rare honor of a front-page op-ed piece in North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Thursday, said China will firmly support Kim “to implement the new strategic line, concentrate energy on developing the economy, improve people’s livelihoods, and promote new achievements in North Korea’s socialist construction.”
    While China has signed up for United Nations sanctions and said it is fully enforcing them – despite some U.S. doubts – it has suggested sanctions relief for the country.
    China, engaged in a bitter trade war with the United States, has also defended its “normal” trade and business ties with North Korea.
    Li Zhonglin, a North Korea expert at China’s Yanbian University, said there was plenty of space for China to assist North Korea in areas that lie outside the scope of U.N. sanctions, such as by increasing Chinese tourist numbers.
    “But with U.N. sanctions not lifted, and especially as there is still considerable friction between China and the United States, China probably needs to be a bit cautious,” Li said.
    Last month hundreds of Chinese and other foreign vendors took part in an international trade fair in North Korea despite sanctions pressure.
    International sanctions appear to be hurting the North Korean economy, as fuel imports are limited and most major exports are banned.
    North Korean state media says the country has also been hit by droughts with international aid organizations reporting food production has dropped dramatically amid poor harvests.
    Since last year, Kim has embarked on a diplomatic campaign to try to get the sanctions lifted and allow him to jumpstart the economy.
    “If Xi goes and supports North Korea economically, even creates a hole in sanctions, then Kim Jong Un doesn’t have to negotiate with the     U.S. from a position of weakness,” said Kim Hyun-wook, professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.    “It can have both nuclear weapons and economic aid from China.”
‘TELLING BLOW’
    Under its young, third-generation leader, North Korea has seen a rise in private markets and growing consumerism, but it faces tight political and economic control.
    China has tried coaxing North Korea on the path to Chinese-style economic reforms before when Kim’s father Kim Jong Il was alive, including setting up free trade zones on the North Korean side of the border, which have largely stood idle.
    In April, Kim said his country needs to deliver a “telling blow” to those imposing sanctions by ensuring its economy is more self-reliant.
    “North Korea desperately needs assistance from its most reliable neighbor to boost economic cooperation without violating Security Council resolutions,” Zheng Jiyong, director of the center for Korean studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Chinese tabloid the Global Times.
    North Korea and China fought U.S.-led forces in the 1950-53 Korean War, and have traditionally called each other “as close as lips and teeth,” though ties have been severely tested by North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests and other disagreements.
    Since a failed summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Hanoi earlier this year, Pyongyang has resumed some weapons tests and warned of “truly undesired consequences” if the United States is not more flexible.
    Kim has warned he could take an unspecified “new path” if negotiations with the United States don’t yield results.
    “I think Xi’s visit might provide an inflection point for North Korea to gradually shift from the U.S.-North Korea Plan A to a ‘new path’ Plan B,” said Kim Dong-yub, professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in South Korea.
    Xi’s visit kicks off a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity around the Korean peninsula, with Trump set to visit ally South Korea after the G20 summit next week in Osaka, Japan.
    In recent weeks there have been signs of preparation for a major event in the North Korean capital, said Greg Vaczi, a guide for the Beijing-based Koryo Tours, who returned from a trip to Pyongyang on Friday.
    School children were weeding and grooming lawns, while a number of building facades in downtown Pyongyang were being repaired or repainted, he said.
    China’s ambassador to Pyongyang, Li Jinjun, wrote in the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily on Tuesday there was a “festive atmosphere” in the capital for Xi’s visit.
    “Beautiful Pyongyang was adorned as new” for the trip, the same paper said on Thursday.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Gao Liangping in Beijing, David Stanway in Shanghai, and Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul.; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

6/19/2019 Iran talking to Russia and China in case EU nuclear deal efforts fail: TASS
FILE PHOTO - Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Supreme National Security Council of Iran, attends the swearing-in ceremony for Iranian president
Hassan Rouhani for a further term, at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, August 5, 2017. Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Iran is in talks with Russia and China on a possible settlement mechanism in case discussions with EU over a nuclear deal fail, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security council, Ali Shamkhani, said, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
    Tehran said in May it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact it agreed with China, Russia and other world powers in 2015, in protest at the United States’ decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions last year.
    Iran added that it would start enriching uranium at a higher level unless other European signatories to the deal protected its economy from the U.S. sanctions within 60 days.
    The new U.S. sanctions have forced countries around the world to boycott Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.
    Shamkhani said that Iran could solve the issue of exporting oil, according to TASS.
(Writing by Anastasia Teterevleva)

6/20/2019 Iran shoots down U.S. military drone in Gulf region by Parisa Hafezi and Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: The MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system completes its inaugural cross-country ferry flight
at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, U.S., September 18, 2014. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran has shot down a U.S. drone which the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday was flying over southern Iran, raising fears that a major military confrontation could erupt between Tehran and Washington.
    Guards website Sepah News said the “spy” drone was brought down over the southern Iranian province of Hormozgan, which is on the Gulf.
    While Iran’s state news agency IRNA carried the same report, identifying the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk, a U.S. official said a U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton had been shot down in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.
    The MQ-4C Triton’s manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, says on its website that the Triton can fly for over 24 hours at a time, at altitudes higher than 10 miles, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.
    Earlier, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command, Navy Captain Bill Urban, said no U.S. aircraft were flying over Iran on Wednesday.
    The U.S. military has in recent days confirmed an attempt by Iran to shoot down a U.S. drone last week as well as the successful shooting down of one on June 6 by Iran-aligned Houthi forces in Yemen.
    A senior Iranian security official said on Wednesday Iran would “strongly respond” to any violation of its airspace.
    “Our airspace is our red line and Iran has always responded and will continue to respond strongly to any country that violates our airspace,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security council as saying.
    Tension between Iran and the United States has spiked since last year when President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers and reimposed sanctions on it.
    Concern about a military confrontation has increased since attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week and on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates on May 12, both near the Strait of Hormuz, a major conduit for global oil supplies.
    The United States and its regional ally, Saudi Arabia, blamed Iran for the incidents.    Iran has denied responsibility.
    The U.S. military has sent forces, including aircraft carriers, B-52 bombers and troops to the Middle East.    However, Trump said he does not seek war with Iran.
    Iran said last week that it was responsible for the security of the Strait of Hormuz, calling on American forces to leave the Gulf.
    In protest at Trump’s “maximum pressure,” in May Iran said it would start enriching uranium at a higher level unless other European signatories to the nuclear deal protected its economy from the U.S. sanctions within 60 days.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Toby Chopra)

6/20/2019 China’s Xi arrives in North Korea a week before he’s due to meet Trump by Ben Blanchard
Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen on a screen while delivering a speech during a session of the
St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in North Korea on Thursday as Beijing looks to bolster its neighbor, hit by U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, a week before Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump meet amid a bitter trade dispute.
    Xi, whose entourage includes the head of China’s state economic planner, will be in reclusive North Korea for two days, becoming the first Chinese leader to visit in 14 years, and could bring fresh support measures for its floundering, sanctions-bound economy.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, greeted Xi at the airport, Chinese state TV said.    Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, and officials who played prominent roles in recent nuclear talks with the United States were also on hand.
    Xi was driven through Pyongyang in a convertible car and greeted warmly by the crowds on his way to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, a complex that serves as the mausoleum for North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, the report said.
    “On both sides of the streets were huge crowds of people, a magnificent and unprecedented event,” it said.
    China is the North’s only major ally and the visit comes amid renewed tension on the Korean peninsula as the United States seeks to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
    The trip is also an assertion of a key leverage point that China has in its deteriorating relationship with the United States, diplomats say.
    “Comrade Xi Jinping is visiting…in the face of crucial and grave tasks due to complex international relations, which clearly shows the Chinese party and the government place high significance on the friendship,” the North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.
.     The trip highlights two-way ties that “never waver despite any headwinds,” and strengthens “blood ties” between the two peoples, it added in a front page commentary.
    Xi will hold a summit with Kim Jong Un, attend a welcoming banquet and watch a mass gymnastic performance on his first day, according to Chinese state media.
    He is also expected to pay tribute at the Friendship Tower, which commemorates Chinese troops who fought together with North Koreans during the 1950-53 Korean War.    The conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, leaving the North technically still at war with South Korea.
    Xi and Kim will meet just a week before a G20 summit in Osaka where Xi and Trump are due to meet in a bid to reset ties poisoned by a bitter trade dispute.
    The timing of Xi’s visit to North Korea was no accident, said Li Zhonglin, a North Korea expert at China’s Yanbian University.
    China could be hoping to play a role in coaxing the North and the United States to resume denuclearization talks after this year’s failed Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi, he added.
    “President Xi’s visit to North Korea can play a positive role in bringing about a third U.S.-North Korea summit,” Li said.    “China wants a breakthrough.”
    Kim has visited Xi in China four times since last year, and China has praised North Korea and the United States for trying to resolve their issues through dialogue rather than threats of force or military posturing.
    While China has signed up to U.N. sanctions for the North’s repeated nuclear and missile tests, saying it is enforcing them fully, despite some U.S. doubts, it has also suggested sanctions relief.
    China has also defended its “normal” trade and business ties with North Korea.
    This week, in a rare honor afforded a foreign leader, Xi wrote in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper that China supported North Korea’s “correct direction” in politically resolving issues on the Korean peninsula.
    China has also suggested the tough sanctions on the North could be eased if it abides by U.N. resolutions.
    With fuel imports limited and most major exports banned, the sanctions appear to be hurting the North’s economy.
    State media say drought has hit North Korea, with international aid groups reporting food production dropping dramatically amid poor harvests.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Gao Liangping and Se Young Lee in BEIJING and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by Michael Perry, Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

6/20/2019 Hong Kong ignores protest deadline to scrap extradition bill, sets stage for further protests by Anne Marie Roantree
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, China, June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam ignored a Thursday deadline set by some protesters to withdraw an extradition bill that she promoted then postponed, setting the stage for a new wave of demonstrations in the Chinese-ruled city.
    Lam suspended the bill, which would allow criminal suspects in the former British colony to be extradited to mainland China for trial, but some student groups called on her to axe it altogether, setting the 5 p.m. (0900 GMT) deadline.
    They are also demanding that the government drop all charges against those arrested during last week’s protests, charge police with what they describe as violent action and stop referring to the protests as a riot.
    The activists pledged to surround the Legislative Council on Friday if their demands were not met, which would reignite tension in the financial hub and raise new questions about the Beijing-backed Lam’s ability to lead the city.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, since when it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula, allowing freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including a much-cherished independent judiciary.
    But many residents are increasingly unnerved by Beijing’s tightening grip over the city and what they see as an erosion of civil liberties.    Courts on the mainland are controlled by the Communist Party.
    The bill prompted millions to take to the streets this month, triggering some of the most violent protests in decades as police fired rubber bullets and tear gas and marking the biggest challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.
    Campaigners have registered thousands of new voters during the mass protests, pouncing on an opportunity to bolster the democratic opposition’s prospects in upcoming elections.
    The city’s pro-democracy camp needs a strong showing in city-wide legislative polls next year to recapture a big enough bloc to veto proposals from pro-establishment rivals, who now dominate the 70-seat legislature.
    Beijing has said it respects and supports Lam’s decision to suspend the extradition bill, but has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington, about the legislation.
    U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday threw her influence behind bipartisan legislation to require the Trump administration to certify Beijing is maintaining its special treatment of Hong Kong.
    China’s foreign ministry on Thursday again hit back at what it described as forces trying to destroy Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.
    Lam has stopped short of saying the extradition bill will be withdrawn, stating only that it would not be introduced during her time in office if public concerns persist.
    She has apologized for the turmoil the bill has caused, saying she has heard the people “loud and clear,” although she rejected calls to step down.
    The Civil Human Rights Front, organizer of a protest on Sunday that it said attracted about 2 million people, is gearing up for an annual pro-democracy march on July 1, the 22nd anniversary of the handover.
    The group has called on people to turn out in force.
    The failure of pro-democracy protests in 2014 to wrestle concessions from Beijing, coupled with prosecutions of at least 100 protesters, had discouraged many young people from going back out on the streets – until this month.
(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree, Jessie Pang and Vimvam Tong, additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/20/2019 Pakistan Pashtun activists say leader arrests herald state crackdown by Saad Sayeed
FILE PHOTO: Members of the Pakistan's Pashtun community listen to their leader during a rally against,
what they say, are human rights violations, organised by the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM)
in the southern city Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/FIle Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – After a deadly clash between troops and activists at a security post in northern Pakistan, organizers of a rights movement that has unnerved the powerful army say a campaign of intimidation against them has intensified, with many top leaders detained.
    The military denies a crackdown against the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), which campaigns against alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of Pashtuns and other ethnic minorities, but says it is acting against lawbreakers.
    Manzoor Pashteen, the PTM’s charismatic figurehead, said he has seen his closest aides detained.    Two lawmakers who are part of the group’s leadership have also been arrested.
    “In the past, they wanted to stop protests. Now they want to stop the movement,” Pashteen, who says he is the only member of the group’s core leadership not in custody, told Reuters.    “They have directly arrested the leadership and begun a campaign to malign them (on social media).”
    The PTM’s appeal among Pakistan’s more than 35 million Pashtuns – and its unusually direct criticism of the powerful military over alleged human rights violations – has brought it into conflict with the authorities, who allege it is being bankrolled by hostile neighboring countries.
    The group has been barred from parts of the country and security forces have regularly tried to stop its rallies by arresting workers.
    Some analysts and senior PTM members believe the latest arrests targeting leaders and aides were an attempt to isolate Pashteen within the group and provoke more hardline elements into a violent response that could then be used as a pretext to move against it.
    The military press wing said there was no campaign against the PTM and that security forces had acted within the law.
    “A few individuals are trying to incite Pashtun youth in a post-conflict environment, exploiting the ethnic/linguistic angle,” the military’s spokesman, Lieutenant General Asif Ghafoor, told Reuters in a statement.
    “Whereas the state is responsible to address their genuine post-conflict care, no-one will be allowed to challenge the writ of the state … a few individuals have been arrested for taking the law into their hands and they are facing legal procedures.”
FRESH ARRESTS
    Many ethnic Pashtuns hail originally from the borderlands with Afghanistan, the focal point of a near-decade long insurgency by Islamist militants.
    PTM leaders complain that violence in their traditional homeland has led to Pashtuns throughout Pakistan being unfairly targeted and suffering abuses at the hands of security forces in the name of fighting terrorism.
    The latest flashpoint came last month in North Waziristan, a majority Pashtun region on the Afghan border where the Pakistani Taliban controlled swathes of territory until they were pushed out by military operations in 2009 and 2014.
    On May 26, a group of protesters led by PTM leaders and serving parliamentarians Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir was fired upon by soldiers at a security check post, according to PTM representatives.
    Kifayat Azad, a close aide of Dawar and Wazir, told Reuters that 13 civilians were killed in the incident.    At least 25 PTM members were arrested in the following days, he said, of whom 10 have since been released on bail.
    In its account of the incident, the army said the protest was aimed at exerting pressure for the release of a “suspected terrorists’ facilitator arrested the other day.”    Troops exchanged fire with the protesters when they attacked the check post, it said, adding that three of the attackers were killed.
    Rights groups in Pakistan have called for an investigation into the incident.
    The PTM emerged last year after the killing of an ethnic Pashtun man by police in the southern city of Karachi, which led to a series of nationwide protests and turned the issue of alleged state violence against Pashtuns into a national debate.
    Journalists at local television channels and newspapers have since said they face a complete ban on covering PTM protests and statements made by the groups leaders. The military has in the past denied that it muzzles Pakistan’s media.
TURNING POINT
    In a strongly worded speech in April, the military’s spokesman warned PTM “their time is up” and said the group had received funding from Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies.    PTM has denied taking foreign funding.
    Analysts say the speech set the stage for the current spate of arrests.
    “(General Ghafoor’s) warning that the PTM’s ‘time is up’ a few weeks ago seems to mark an official turning point in the state’s strategy,” Nida Kirmani, professor of sociology at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, told Reuters.
    “This crackdown will only increase their (Pashtuns’) sense of alienation.”
    Days after the check post incident, Pashteen said he was in a car with his close aide Idrees Mehsud when they noticed they were being followed.
    As the car turned a corner onto another street, a number of men in plainclothes were waiting, alongside police officials.
    Pashteen said the men told him they wanted to ask Mehsud a few questions. He was then taken away in a car and remains in custody.
    The arrest followed the detention of Dawar and Wazir, whose election to Pakistan’s parliament last year affirmed PTM’s popularity amongst the country’s Pashtun electorate.
    Both men have spoken out against military operations in the former tribal areas bordering Afghanistan since being elected, and have led large demonstrations across the country.
    Another senior member and human rights advocate, Gulalai Ismail, is in hiding after being threatened with arrest.    Her father told Reuters security officials routinely search their home and harass the family without providing a warrant.
    Police officials did not respond to request for comment.
    Pashteen says PTM believes in non-violent protest as a way to secure the rights of Pashtuns and other marginalized groups.
    “If people truly believe that those who live in the tribal areas are human beings, that they are Muslims, whether they accept them to be Pakistanis or not, they have the right to not be killed extrajudicially,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismial Khan and James Mackenzie in Islamabad; Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Alex Richardson)

6/20/2019 In Hong Kong, science of crowd counting comes into focus by Simon Scarr and Vimvam Tong
FILE PHOTO - Protesters attend a demonstration demanding Hong Kong's leaders to step down and withdraw
the extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China, June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – When Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest a controversial extradition law on consecutive weekends this month, observers on all sides agreed the crowds were huge.
    But exactly how huge is a point of contention – and reflects a growing divergence in opinion among protest organizers, police and researchers.
(For an interactive graphic about how crowds are calculated in Hong Kong, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2RttpDg)
Organizers of the June 16 protest in the Chinese-ruled city say 2 million people took to the streets.    They measured the numbers by simply counting everyone, according to Bonnie Leung of march organizer Civil Human Rights Front, although she did not say how many people they devoted to the effort.
    The Hong Kong Police Force told Reuters it measured how many people were in the designated protest area – which stretched from Victoria Park in the city’s Causeway Bay neighborhood to Tamar Park, several kilometers away in Admiralty – at the time when the crowds were most dense.    Their estimate: 380,000 people at the protest’s “peak.”
    Academics who study crowds say scientific methods for measuring protest size depend on the type of event.    For a rally in one place, they say, multiplying the average number of people per square meter by the size of the protest area gives great accuracy.
    For a march, measuring the number of people passing through a given stretch of the route over a short period, and multiplying it by the duration of the event, works better.
    Hong Kong University, whose Public Opinion Programme often measures the size of large events such as the annual July 1 march, did not have a survey team at either the June 9 or June 16 protests.
    But judging by what he saw of the protests, Paul Yip Siu-fai, professor in the university’s social sciences faculty, said it appeared 500,000 to 800,000 took to the streets.
    He emphasized, however, that trying to boil protests down to numbers missed the point.
    “The actual number of people doesn’t really matter.    It does matter whether you can feel that the mass of people coming out,” he said.    “I think Hong Kong people are very powerful and we are very proud of this.”
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam ignored a Thursday deadline set by some protesters to withdraw the extradition bill, which would allow criminal suspects in the former British colony to be extradited to mainland China for trial, setting the stage for a new wave of demonstrations.
(Writing by Gerry Doyle; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/20/2019 China could build 30 ‘Belt and Road’ nuclear reactors by 2030: official
FILE PHOTO - A map illustrating China's silk road economic belt and the 21st century maritime silk road, or the so-called
"One Belt, One Road" megaproject, is displayed at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, China January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China could build as many as 30 overseas nuclear reactors through its involvement in the “Belt and Road” initiative over the next decade, a senior industry official told a meeting of China’s political advisory body this week.
    Wang Shoujun, a standing committee member of the China People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), told delegates on Wednesday that China needed to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by “Belt and Road” and give more financial and policy support to its nuclear sector.
    “‘Going out’ with nuclear power has already become a state strategy, and nuclear exports will help optimize our export trade and free up domestic high-end manufacturing capacity,” he was quoted as saying in a report on the CPPCC’s official website.
    He said China needed to improve research and development, localize the production of key nuclear components, and grow both the domestic and foreign nuclear markets to give full play to the country’s “comprehensive advantages” in costs and technology.
    Wang, also the former chairman of the state-owned China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), said “Belt and Road” nuclear projects could earn     Chinese firms as much as 1 trillion yuan ($145.52 billion) by 2030, according to more details of his speech published by BJX.com.cn, a Chinese power industry news portal.
    He said 41 “Belt and Road” nations already had nuclear power programs or were planning to develop them, and China only needed to secure a 20% market share to create five million new jobs in the sector, according to the news portal.
    CPPCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    China is in the middle of a reactor-building program it hoped would serve as a shop window to promote its homegrown designs and technologies overseas, especially its own third-generation reactor design known as Hualong One.
    But the pace of construction at home has slowed down amid technological problems and delays at some key projects, as well as a suspension of new approvals that lasted over three years.
.     Wang, according to BJX.com.cn, said there was currently overcapacity among local nuclear manufacturers, but the domestic market value for nuclear equipment could reach more than 48 billion yuan a year within two years.    He didn’t say how much it was worth currently.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

6/20/2019 Hong Kong lets protesters’ deadline to scrap extradition bill pass, setting stage for further demos by Anne Marie Roantree
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, China, June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam appeared to ignore a Thursday deadline set by some protesters to withdraw an extradition bill that she promoted then postponed, setting the stage for a new wave of demonstrations in the Chinese-ruled city.
    Lam suspended the bill, which would allow criminal suspects in the former British colony to be extradited to mainland China for trial, but some student groups called on her to axe it altogether, setting the 5 p.m. (0900 GMT) deadline.
    They are also demanding that the government drop all charges against those arrested during last week’s protests, charge police with what they describe as violent action and stop referring to the protests as a riot.
    The activists pledged to surround the Legislative Council on Friday if their demands were not met, which would reignite tension in the financial hub and raise new questions about the Beijing-backed Lam’s ability to lead the city.    A few dozen protesters gathered peacefully outside government headquarters on Thursday evening.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, since when it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula, allowing freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including a much-cherished independent judiciary.
    But many residents are increasingly unnerved by Beijing’s tightening grip over the city and what they see as an erosion of civil liberties.    Courts on the mainland are controlled by the Communist Party.
    The bill prompted millions to take to the streets this month, triggering some of the most violent protests in decades as police fired rubber bullets and tear gas and marking the biggest challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.
    Campaigners have registered thousands of new voters during the mass protests, pouncing on an opportunity to bolster the democratic opposition’s prospects in upcoming elections.
    The city’s pro-democracy camp needs a strong showing in city-wide legislative polls next year to recapture a big enough bloc to veto proposals from pro-establishment rivals, who now dominate the 70-seat legislature.
    Beijing has said it respects and supports Lam’s decision to suspend the extradition bill, but has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington, about the legislation.
    U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday threw her influence behind bipartisan legislation to require the Trump administration to certify Beijing is maintaining its special treatment of Hong Kong.
    China’s foreign ministry on Thursday again hit back at what it described as forces trying to destroy Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.
    Lam has stopped short of saying the extradition bill will be withdrawn, stating only that it would not be introduced during her time in office if public concerns persist.
    She has apologized for the turmoil the bill has caused, saying she has heard the people “loud and clear,” although she rejected calls to step down.
    The Civil Human Rights Front, organizer of a protest on Sunday that it said attracted about 2 million people, is gearing up for an annual pro-democracy march on July 1, the 22nd anniversary of the handover.
    The group has called on people to turn out in force.
    The failure of pro-democracy protests in 2014 to wrestle concessions from Beijing, coupled with prosecutions of at least 100 protesters, had discouraged many young people from going back out on the streets – until this month.
(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree, Jessie Pang and Vimvam Tong, additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/21/2019 Fate of 24 arrested Hong Kong protesters hangs in balance as anger turns on police by Jessie Pang
Police officers lock the gate of a police headquarter after protesters attempt
to storm in, in Hong Kong, China June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong protesters have managed to pull off an unlikely victory, forcing the city’s Beijing-appointed leader to suspend an extradition bill that would have allowed individuals to be sent to China for trial.
    But the victory has come at an uncertain cost for 24 people arrested during the largely peaceful demonstrations, with the government saying those at the frontline, charging at police with umbrellas for instance, would be shown no clemency.
    Thirty-two were arrested in total and eight cases were dropped, police said.    They did not give details of the charges.
    The arrests have further enraged many protesters who are demanding the government drop the cases and stop referring to the protests as a riot, which could lead to heavier jail terms.
    The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula, which guaranteed its freedoms, including freedom to protest and an independent legal system, which many say are being slowly eroded by Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
    Demonstrators on Friday focused much of their anger on police as they surrounded their headquarters.
    “Our kids are beaten by police, by tear gas and rubber bullets. Stop shooting our children,” some shouted.
    In a departure from Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy “Occupy” protests, which gridlocked parts of the city for 79 days, these protesters managed to mobilize several million people on to the streets thanks in part to social media and encrypted messaging apps like Telegram.
    Unlike Whatsapp, which has limits on group size, Telegram allowed the instant formation of vast communities of resistance, marshaled by anonymous administrators.
    But police were watching.
    Ivan Ip, a 22-year-old student and one of the administrators of a Telegram group with more than 30,000 users, was arrested on public nuisance charges.
WHAT’S THE PASSWORD?
    Police raided his home, he said, before a protest that saw riot police fire 150 rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets.
    Police confirmed to Reuters that they arrested a 22-year-old man after an investigation by the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau, without giving details.
    Ip said he had only been disseminating information shared by anonymous users and didn’t participate in any protest.
    Police forced him to reveal his password to unlock his phone, downloaded data and asked him questions about how the Telegram group functions, Ip said.
    Police did not respond to a request for comment.
    “Police do not have the right to force people to give the password for them.    There’s a precedent in high court that states very clearly that there’s no need to give passwords to the police,” said solicitor Ng Gene Bond.
    Telegram, banned in Russia and mainland China, is one of the most targeted encrypted apps by Chinese censors, according to industry experts.
    Telegram’s chief executive, Pavel Durov, said its service experienced a “state actor-sized” cyber-attack as the protests in Hong Kong escalated on June 12.
    He declined to elaborate when contacted by Reuters.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam apologized for the turmoil caused by the planned extradition legislation and said she had heard the people “loud and clear.”
    But protester Jason Chan, charged with unlawful assembly and now on bail, said a government apology was not enough.
    “If most citizens are peaceful protesters, why is such kind of force being used against them?
(Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing and Vimvam Tong in Hong Kong; Editing by James Pomfret and Nick Macfie)

6/21/2019 Exclusive: After bruising election, Indonesia to vet public servants to identify Islamists by Kanupriya Kapoor
FILE PHOTO: Indonesia's incumbent presidential candidate Joko Widodo gestures as he speaks during a campaign
rally at Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia plans to tighten vetting of senior public servants amid fears that hardline Islamist ideology has permeated high levels of government, according to documents reviewed by Reuters and a senior official involved in the plan.
    Indonesia is officially secular, but there has been a rise in politicians demanding a larger role for Islam in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, with some groups calling for an Islamic state.
    The rise in conservatism was a major test for President Joko Widodo in the April election, with some Islamist groups accusing him of being anti-Islam and throwing their support behind political rivals, including challenger Prabowo Subianto.
    Widodo was re-elected for a second term but voting patterns revealed deepening divisions between areas known for a moderate following of Islam and conservative Muslim regions that backed Prabowo.
    The senior government official, who is part of a team formulating the new vetting policy, said Widodo intends it to be a part of his legacy of ensuring Indonesia remains a model for moderate Islam.
    The official said the president strongly believed that radical Islam threatened the state apparatus as well as the future of democracy.    The vetting plan was a big priority for him, said the official, who declined to be identified.
    “He wants that before the next election in 2024, hardline and radical elements be weeded out to aim for a healthier democracy,” said the official.
    Widodo’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
    According to the documents reviewed by Reuters, the government wants to introduce stricter background checks and a new psychological test to gauge candidates’ political leanings – especially for those seeking promotions to the top two rungs of the bureaucracy.
    The official said the plan will be rolled out by the end of the year at 10 of the country’s biggest ministries by budget and several state-owned enterprises.
    Ministries to be targeted as priorities include Finance, Defense, Health, Education, Religious Affairs, and Public Works.    Priority enterprises include state energy company Pertamina, flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, the biggest state bank BRI, state miners Antam and Timah, and two state media companies.
SEEDS PLANTED YEARS AGO
    Civil servants would not be sacked but the new policy could be used to keep those with hardline leanings from rising through the ranks, the official said.
    One of the factors driving the new policy is a 2017 survey done by independent Jakarta-based pollster Alvara Research Center that found one in five civil servants and 10 percent of state enterprise workers did not agree with the secular state ideology Pancasila, and instead favored an Islamic theocratic state.
    “What we’re seeing is not sudden but the result of seeds that were planted years ago through small movements that at the time were not considered a threat to the state. For over 10 years, these ideas have been tolerated, accepted, and perhaps even used by elements of the state,” one government document said.
    The government official who spoke to Reuters is part of a team of 12 officials and experts that will work with the National Agency to Promote Pancasila and with civil society organizations to formulate new metrics to strengthen existing recruitment tests.
    Pancasila includes upholding national unity, social justice and democracy alongside belief in God, and enshrines religious diversity in an officially secular system of government.
    The official said the government is expecting a backlash both from within the state bureaucracy and from rights activists who could liken the moves to the authoritarian era of former President Suharto, when loyalty to the state ideology was mandatory and equated with loyalty to the regime.
    “We are aware the Pancasila was used in the past as a tool to consolidate power, but we believe it is an umbrella that protects all Indonesians and is a tool to unify against the virus of radicalism,” Benny Susetyo, an official at the national Pancasila agency, said in an interview.
    A representative for the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), an Islamist group that calls for sharia law to be imposed in Indonesia, said the planned vetting procedures would “amount to discrimination against Islam.”
    “This government is affected by the disease of secularism and is trying to separate politics and religion, which is very dangerous,” said Novel Bamukmin of the FPI’s Jakarta chapter.
    “They should be focusing on targeting the communists and Shia (minority Muslims) in the bureaucracy instead,” he added.
(Editing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/21/2019 ‘I Love Thee, China’: North Korea woos Xi in lavish state visit by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith
A mass display is held showing the image of China's President Xi Jinping during Xi's visit in Pyongyang, North Korea in
this undated photo released on June 21, 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed that strengthening bilateral ties, at a time of “serious and complicated” international affairs, was good for regional peace, North Korean state media said on Friday.
    Xi arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday for a two-day visit, the first by a Chinese leader in 14 years, and received a lavish welcome that included a performance of the song “I Love Thee, China” and thousands of people holding up placards that formed a picture of Xi’s face and the Chinese flag.
    China is the North’s only major ally and Xi’s visit is aimed at bolstering Pyongyang against pressure from U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs and a breakdown in denuclearization talks with the United States.
    The visit also comes a week before Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump meet at the G20 summit in Osaka amid an ongoing trade dispute.
    Video footage and photos released by North Korean state media showed Kim and Xi with wide smiles at Pyongyang airport.    They drove through the streets of the capital in an open top limousine, and later attended a “Mass Games” propaganda show.
    The show – titled “Invincible Socialism” – was specially prepared for Xi’s goodwill visit and included songs such as “No New China without Communist Party” and “I Love Thee, China,” the KCNA news agency said.
    One sign in Chinese read: “Happy to see you Grandpa Xi.”
    A photo released by KCNA showed thousands of people holding placards to form a giant picture of Xi’s face and the Chinese flag at the mass gymnastics and arts performance.
    Other KCNA photos showed Xi and Kim smiling and laughing at the airport, on the red carpet, gazing at cheering children and sitting with their wives.
    The ruling party’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, ran a special expanded edition on Friday, with eight of 10 pages devoted to photos and text about Xi’s visit.
DECISIVE RELATIONSHIP
    Kim said Xi’s visit, which may see China offer fresh support for North Korea’s floundering, sanctions-bound economy, was “decisive” to show their unchanging friendship to the world, KCNA said.
    Nevertheless, relations have been strained at times, particularly over North Korea’s nuclear program.
(https://reut.rs/2KqPQbz)
    Xi said Beijing and Pyongyang agreed that a political settlement of the Korean peninsula’s nuclear issue has been “an inevitable trend,” and that they need to continue to stick to peace talks, according to Xinhua, China’s state news agency.
    The two leaders agreed to promote close strategic communication and strengthen cooperation in all fields, KCNA said.
    On Thursday, Xi praised Pyongyang’s efforts toward denuclearization and said the world hopes North Korea and the United States can talk to each other and for those talks to be successful.
    Since a failed summit between Trump and Kim in Hanoi earlier this year, Pyongyang has conducted some weapons tests and warned of “truly undesired consequences” if the United States is not more flexible.
    At a dinner banquet on Thursday, Xi said China firmly supported Kim seeking a political solution to the Korean Peninsula issue and the establishment of a great environment for self-development via a “new strategic line,” according to KCNA.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by John Ruwitch and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Stephen Coates, Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler)

6/21/2019 Black-clad, anti-extradition protesters flood streets of Hong Kong by Farah Master and Jessie Pang
Demonstrators look into their mobile phones at the site of the protests against the extradition bill, along a
road near the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong, China June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of black-clad protesters blocked roads and surrounded police headquarters in Hong Kong on Friday in the latest demonstrations over an extradition bill that has triggered violent protests and plunged the Chinese-ruled city into crisis.
    Groups of mostly students wearing hard hats, goggles and face masks set up roadblocks and trapped vehicles in a generally peaceful protest to demand that embattled leader Carrie Lam, who promoted and then postponed the bill, scrap it altogether.
    “Having people here is giving pressure to the government that we don’t agree with your extradition plans,” said student Edison Ng, who was protesting in sweltering heat of about 32 degrees Celsius (90°F).
    “It is not clear how long we will stay … To go or not to go, (the) people will decide,” he added.
    The protests, which pose the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012, once again forced the temporary closure of government offices over security concerns.    (For an interactive graphic about how crowds are calculated in Hong Kong, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2RttpDg)
    Roads that would normally be jammed with lunch-time traffic near the heart of the Asian financial center were empty, except for a few dozen demonstrators who were reinforcing roadblocks with metal barriers.
    “Never surrender,” echoed through the streets as the protesters chanted near police headquarters and called on police chief Stephen Lo to step down.
    Police warned activists through loud hailers not to charge.
    Hundreds remained outside government buildings on Friday evening, sitting peacefully and spraying each other with water to keep cool.     Nearby, a large group sang “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” which has emerged as the unlikely anthem of the protests.
    Millions of people, fearing a further erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms by China, have clogged the streets of the former British colony this month to rally against the bill, which would allow people to be extradited to the mainland to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.
    It triggered the most violent protests in decades when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowds.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and since then has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including a much-cherished independent judiciary.
    But many accuse China of obstructing democratic reforms, interfering with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.
    Friday’s marchers demanded that the government drop all charges against those arrested in last week’s clashes, charge police with what they describe as violent action and stop referring to the protests as a riot.
    Democracy activist Joshua Wong, who walked free from prison on Monday after serving nearly five weeks for contempt of court, urged police chief Stephen Lo to speak to the protesters, while others expressed anger at police treatment.
SINCERE AND HUMBLE ATTITUDE
    Opponents of the bill fear the law could put them at the mercy of the mainland Chinese justice system which is plagued by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions.
    The turmoil has also raised questions over Lam’s ability to govern, two years after she was selected and pledged to “unite and move forward.”
    Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng became the latest government minister to apologize over the bill.
    “Regarding the controversies and disputes in society arising from the strife in the past few months, being a team member of the government, I offer my sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong,” Cheng wrote in her blog.
    “We promise to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public.”
    While Lam admitted shortcomings over the bill and said she had heard the people “loud and clear,” she has rejected repeated calls to step down.
    Concerns over the bill spread quickly, from democratic and human rights groups to the wider Hong Kong community, including pro-establishment business figures, some usually loath to contradict the government.    Some Hong Kong tycoons have started moving personal wealth offshore.
    Protesters had gathered early on Friday outside government offices before marching toward police headquarters.    One activist read a letter of support from a Taiwan student.
    “Brave HKers, perhaps when faced with adversity, we are all fragile and small, but please do not give up defending everything that you love,” the protester read through a loud hailer to applause.
    Beijing has never renounced the use of force to take over self-ruled Taiwan, which it regards as a recalcitrant, breakaway province.    Many have waved Taiwan flags at recent demonstrations in Hong Kong, images certain to rile authorities in Beijing.
    Taiwan, overwhelmingly opposed to a “one country, two systems” formula for itself, has voiced support for Hong Kong.
    After promises that post-handover Hong Kong should enjoy a high degree of autonomy, Beijing’s squeeze has fueled widespread resentment and in 2014 sparked pro-democracy protests that paralyzed parts of the city for 79 days.
(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang, Vimvam Tong, Clare Jim, Anne Marie Roantree, Farah Master, Twinnie Siu, Felix Tam, Ryan Chang; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

6/21/2019 Iran claims downed U.S. drone was in its territorial waters, FAA issues air advisory by OAN Newsroom
    Iran is continuing to insist the downed U.S. drone was in its territorial waters at the time of the attack.    Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif took to Twitter Thursday to release what he claims are the coordinates of the drone at the moment it was shot down.
    Zarif stressed the U.S. has violated its airspace, and released maps to allegedly support his claims.    The veracity of the maps could not be independently verified by One America News.    Iranian officials also released video footage of Thursday’s incident.
    Javid Zarif “The US wages #EconomicTerrorism on Iran, has conducted covert action against us & now encroaches on our territory.
    We don't seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters.
    We'll take this new aggression to #UN & show that the US is lying about international waters

    “At 00:14 US drone took off from UAE in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace.    It was targeted at 04:05 at the coordinates (25°59'43"N 57°02'25"E) near Kouh-e Mobarak.”
    “Uncertainty, you know, imperfect information and so mistakes happen in in military operations,” stated Col. David Maxwell, (ret.) U.S. Army Special Forces.    “So, I think it is very plausible that an Iranian operator, a military commander, made a decision based on imperfect and uncertain information, and took this action that now could have severe consequences for the Iranians.”
    Zarif also said he would demand a UN investigation into the incident as he insists the information he provided was accurate.
FILE – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)
    Meanwhile, the FAA has issued an emergency order prohibiting all U.S. aircraft operators from flying over Iranian-controlled airspace over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.    The advisory, issued Thursday, cites heightened political tensions in the region, which may put American aircraft in danger.
    This comes just after President Trump considered taking military action against Iran after the country’s officials admitted to shooting down the U.S. drone.
    On Thursday, multiple U.S. airlines had already suspended flights over Iran due to ongoing security concerns.
Debris from what Iran’s Revolutionary Guard aerospace division describes as the U.S. drone which was shot down
on Thursday is displayed in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 21, 2019. Major airlines from around the world on Friday
began rerouting their flights to avoid areas around the Strait of Hormuz following Iran’s shooting down of a U.S. military
surveillance drone there, as the U.S. warned commercial airliners could be mistakenly attacked. (Borna Ghasemi/ ISNA via AP)

6/21/2019 Kim, Xi reach consensus, to develop relations no matter the int’l situation: KCNA
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea,
in this undated photo released on June 21, 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and China’s President Xi Jinping reached a consensus on “important issues,” and agreed on Friday they will carry forward friendly relations “whatever the international situation,” North Korean state media KCNA said on Saturday.
    Xi left the North Korean capital Pyongyang on Friday after a two-day visit, the first by a Chinese leader in 14 years.     China is North Korea’s only major ally and Xi’s visit was aimed at bolstering the isolated country against pressure from United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs and stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.
    The visit comes a week before Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump are due to meet at a Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, amid a trade dispute that has rattled global financial markets.
    During a luncheon on Friday, the last day of Xi’s visit to Pyongyang, the leaders discussed a series of plans for strengthening collaboration between their two countries, and talked about the “major internal and external policies” of their respective countries and exchanged views on domestic and international issues of mutual concern, KCNA said without elaborating.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hayoung Choi; editing by Sandra Maler and G Crosse)

6/22/2019 Hong Kong protesters disperse after blockading police headquarters
Staff try to clean off the marks from thrown eggs and anti-extradition graffiti on the walls of the
Hong Kong Police headquarters in Hong Kong, China June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters who had blockaded police headquarters in Asia’s leading financial center had mostly dispersed by Saturday morning with some roads reopened for traffic as normal but it remained unclear whether further mass protests would take place.
    Hong Kong has been bracing for a third weekend of widespread protests against an extradition bill that has plunged the Chinese-ruled city into crisis, posing the greatest popular challenge to President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.
    On Friday groups of mostly students wearing hard hats, goggles and face masks set up roadblocks and trapped vehicles in a generally peaceful protest to demand that leader Carrie Lam, who promoted and then postponed the bill, scrap it altogether.
    Police removed barricades early on Saturday morning while staff were able to go home, after a more than 15 hour blockade. Only a few hundred protesters remained.
    In a statement early on Saturday, police said the acts of the protesters had seriously affected their work including the provision of emergency services to the public.
    “Police have shown the greatest tolerance to the protesters…but their means of expressing views have become illegal, irrational and unreasonable.    Police will stringently follow up on these illegal activities.”
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, since when it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including a much-cherished independent judiciary.
(Reporting by Farah Master; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

6/22/2019 Southeast Asian leaders open summit in Bangkok
A woman walks past a banner at the venue of the upcoming ASEAN summit in Bangkok, Thailand June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Southeast Asian leaders opened a two-day summit in Bangkok on Saturday, though it was unclear what progress their 10-country group could make on disputes in the South China Sea and the plight of ethnic Rohingya fleeing Myanmar.
    Formed more than half a century ago, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has historically struggled with challenges facing the region because it works only by consensus and is reluctant to become involved in any matter regarded as internal to a member state.
    Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was making his debut as a civilian leader representing current chair Thailand, after a general election in March that opposition parties say was designed to ensure his victory five years after the former army chief seized power in a 2014 coup.
    Officials are expected to discuss a Code of Conduct (COC) for negotiations over the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways and a potential flashpoint, as it is claimed by several ASEAN members as well as China.
    However, it was unlikely much progress would be made, though member nations might discuss the June 9 collision of a Philippine boat and a Chinese fishing vessel.
    “It is encouraging to see that the ASEAN-China talks on the COC have continued,” said Marty Natalegawa, former foreign minister of Indonesia.
    “However, there is real risk that developments on the ground – or more precisely at sea – are far outpacing the COC’s progress thereby possibly rendering it irrelevant.”
    Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted China’s proposal to jointly investigate allegations that a Chinese fishing vessel abandoned 22 Filipinos after it sank their boat in the South China Sea, his spokesman said on Saturday. [nL4N23S4LU]
    Rights groups have also called on ASEAN leaders to rethink support for plans to repatriate Rohingya Muslims who have fled member state Myanmar, where activists say returnees could face discrimination and persecution. [nL4N23Q197]
    More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017, according to U.N. agencies, after a crackdown by Myanmar’s military sparked by Rohingya insurgent attacks on the security forces.
    However, it is unlikely that there will be any criticism of Myanmar at the summit over the Rohingya, said Prapat Thepchatree, a political science professor at Thailand’s Thammasat University said.
    “This issue has been a very sensitive one for ASEAN,” he said.
    Host country Thailand deployed about 10,000 security forces around Bangkok for the summit, mindful of a decade ago when Thailand last hosted an ASEAN summit and dozens of protesters loyal to military-ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra forced their way into the meeting venue.
    But on Saturday morning, only a small group of people had planned to stage a protest to call Prayuth’s election the product of a rigged system.
    The group, called Citizens Wanting Elections, was stopped by police before it could reach a meeting point near the summit venue.    The group later released a statement welcoming visiting leaders but criticizing Prayuth.
    “The individual who serves as President of ASEAN, who welcomes everyone today, did not come from a clean and fair election,” the letter said.
(Reporting by Kay Johnson, Panu Wongcha-um, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by SImon Cameron-Moore)

6/22/2019 Sri Lanka extends emergency for third month after Easter bombings
FILE PHOTO: Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena speaks during a meeting with the Foreign Correspondents
Association at his residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Nov. 25, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka on Saturday extended a law granting security forces emergency powers into third month following the Easter Day bomb attacks on hotels and churches that killed more than 250 people.
    Allowed to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders, Sri Lanka’s police and military have arrested more than 100 suspects in the crackdown after the Islamist militant attacks.
    President Maithripala Sirisena issued orders for the law to be extended for another month from midnight on Friday, according to a gazette notification seen by Reuters.
    Authorities say the threat of more attacks has been contained and security services have dismantled most of the network linked to the bombings, but operations were still underway to find any remaining suspects.
    Sirisena said in the notification that extending emergency rule was “in the interest of public security, the preservation of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.”
    The attacks sent shockwaves through the Indian Ocean island state, which had enjoyed relative peace since a civil war ended a decade ago.    The economy has slowed worryingly, forcing the government to seek foreign loans, and the lucrative tourism industry has been hit.
    Despite three advance intelligence reports from India that attacks were being planned, Sri Lanka’s top defense officials failed to act before the Easter Day suicide bombings by Islamist militants that targeted three churches and three luxury hotels.
    Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks that killed more than 250 people, including 42 foreigners, though Sri Lankan authorities have blamed two little known domestic groups: the National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim.
    Both have been banned under the emergency regulations.
    Sirisena told foreign diplomats in May that he planned to lift the emergency once the security situation was “99 percent” back to normal.
(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal, editing by Alasdair Pal & Simon Cameron-Moore)

6/22/2019 Iran says it will respond firmly to any U.S. threat as tension spikes by Parisa Hafezi and Lisa Barrington
Activists carry Iranian flags as they hold an "Uprising for Regime Change" rally and "solidarity march with
the Iranian resistance
" outside the White House in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Saturday it would respond firmly to any U.S. threat against it, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, amid escalating tension between Tehran and Washington over the shooting down of an unmanned U.S. drone by the Islamic Republic.
    On Thursday, an Iranian missile destroyed a U.S. Global Hawk surveillance drone.    Tehran said the drone was shot down over its territory and Washington said it had occurred in international airspace.
    U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he aborted a military strike to retaliate for Iran’s downing of the U.S. drone because it could have killed 150 people, and signaled he was open to talks with Tehran.
    Iran has vowed to defend its borders.
    “Regardless of any decision they (U.S. officials) make… we will not allow any of Iran’s borders to be violated.    Iran will firmly confront any aggression or threat by America,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told Tasnim.
    Worries about a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted despite Trump saying that he has no appetite to go to war with Iran.    Tehran has also said it is not seeking a war but has warned of a “crushing” response if attacked.
    A senior Arab diplomat said the sharply increased tensions would further harm the crisis-hit Middle East region.
    “De-escalation is very important because tempers are flaring … It’s very important we avoid confrontation right now,” the senior diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.    “Confrontation, whatever we think about Trump or Iran, will be disastrous for everyone.”
POWDER KEG
    “Any mistake by Iran’s enemies, in particular America and its regional allies, would be like firing at a powder keg that will burn America, its interests and its allies to the ground,” the senior spokesman of Iran’s Armed Forces, Abolfazl Shekarchi, told Tasnim on Saturday.
    The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday issued an emergency order prohibiting U.S. operators from flying in an oversea area of Tehran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.    Some other international airlines are taking related precautions.
    But Iran said on Saturday its airspace was “safe and secure” for all planes to cross, Tasnim reported.
    The United States and Iran’s main regional rival Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers last week in the Gulf of Oman and on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates on May 12, both near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a major conduit for global oil supplies.
    Iran has denied any involvement in those incidents.
    Britain’s Foreign Office said Middle East minister Andrew Murrison would raise concerns about “Iran’s regional conduct and its threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal” during a visit to Tehran on Sunday.
    Tensions began to worsen significantly when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers and reimposed sanctions on the country.    The sanctions had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.
    Iran has threatened to breach the deal if the European signatories to the deal fail to salvage it by shielding Tehran from U.S. sanctions.
    “The Europeans will not be given more time beyond July 8 to save the deal,” Mousavi said, referring to Iran’s deadline of 60 days that Tehran announced in May.
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Alistair Smout in London; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/23/2019 Trump says new sanctions on Iran to start Monday, dials back rhetoric by Parisa Hafezi and Nandita Bose
The purported wreckage of the American drone is seen displayed by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps
(IRGC) in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2019. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday he would impose fresh sanctions on Iran but that he wanted to make a deal to bolster its flagging economy, an apparent move to defuse tensions following the shooting down of an unmanned U.S. drone this week by the Islamic Republic.
    On Thursday, an Iranian missile destroyed a U.S. Global Hawk surveillance drone, an incident that Washington said happened in international airspace. Trump later said he had called off a military strike to retaliate because it could have killed 150 people.
    Tehran repeated on Saturday that the drone was shot down over its territory and said it would respond firmly to any U.S. threat.
    Speaking in Washington on Saturday before heading to the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David, Trump indicated the government was taking a diplomatic path to put pressure on Tehran by moving to impose new sanctions.
    Military action was “always on the table,” the president said, but he added that he was open to quickly reaching a deal with Iran that he said would bolster the country’s flagging economy.
    “We will call it ‘Let’s make Iran great again,'” Trump said.
    He later wrote on Twitter from Camp David: “We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday.    I look forward to the day that Sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again.”
    The Trump administration has sought to use promises of economic revival to solve other thorny foreign policy challenges, including the Israel-Palestinian peace process, with the White House outlining on Saturday a plan to create a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies.
    Both Trump and Tehran have said they are not seeking a war, but Iran has warned of a “crushing” response if attacked.
    “Regardless of any decision they (U.S. officials) make… we will not allow any of Iran’s borders to be violated.    Iran will firmly confront any aggression or threat by America,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday.
    A senior commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards struck a similarly defiant note, in comments quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
    “If the violation is repeated then our response will be repeated,” said Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards’ aerospace division.    “It’s possible that this infringement of the Americans was carried out by a general or some operators.”
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned a United Arab Emirates envoy on Saturday because the UAE allowed the drone to be launched from a U.S. military base on its territory, the Fars news agency reported.
    The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, published a map on Twitter with detailed coordinates which he said showed the drone was flying over the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Saturday that the United States had “shown beyond any doubt” that the drone was in international airspace.
    “When the Iranian regime decides to forgo violence and meet our diplomacy with diplomacy, it knows how to reach us,” he said.    “Until then, our diplomatic isolation and economic pressure campaign against the regime will intensify.”
    He also denied reports U.S. forces would evacuate personnel from a military base in neighboring Iraq over what military sources had said were “potential security threats.”
FLIGHTS REROUTED
    Tensions in the region began to worsen significantly when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers and reimposed sanctions on the country.    The sanctions had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.
    The United States and Iran’s main regional rival Saudi Arabia have also blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers last week in the Gulf of Oman and on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates on May 12.
    Both incidents happened near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a major conduit for global oil supplies. Iran has denied any involvement.
    On Thursday, the Pentagon launched a long-planned cyber attack in retaliation for the oil tanker incidents, Yahoo News reported, citing former intelligence officials.    The cyber strike disabled Iranian rocket launch systems, the Washington Post said on Saturday.
    A Department of Defense spokeswoman said it would not comment on cyberspace operations, intelligence or planning.
    Washington, meanwhile, accused Tehran of stepping up cyber attacks. Chris Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency, said on Twitter that officials have detected a rise in “malicious cyber activity” directed at the United States by people tied to the Iranian government.
    World powers have called for calm and sent in envoys for talks to try to lower the temperature of a dispute that has pushed up the price of oil. [O/R]
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Saturday for a political resolution of the crisis, adding: “That is what we are working on.”
    Britain’s Foreign Office said Middle East minister Andrew Murrison would visit Tehran on Sunday to raise concerns about “Iran’s regional conduct and its threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal.”
    Iran has threatened to breach the deal if the European signatories to the agreement fail to salvage it by shielding Tehran from U.S. sanctions.
    “The Europeans will not be given more time beyond July 8 to save the deal,” Mousavi said, referring to Iran’s deadline of 60 days that Tehran announced in May.
    The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday prohibited U.S. operators from flying in Tehran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.    Saudi Arabian Airlines joined some other international airlines on Saturday in taking related precautions.
    Iran said on Saturday that its airspace was “safe and secure” for all planes to cross, Tasnim reported.
    Separately, Iran has executed a former contract employee for the aerospace organization of the Ministry of Defence on charges of spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the IRIB news agency reported on Saturday.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Nandita Bose in Washington; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Alistair Smout in London, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva, and Idrees Ali and Jason Lange in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Alison Williams, Chizu Nomiyama and Daniel Wallis)

6/23/2019 Southeast Asian leaders emphasize economic strength in face of U.S.-China tensions by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panu Wongcha-um
ASEAN leaders shake hands on stage during the opening ceremony of the 34th ASEAN Summit at the Athenee Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand June 23, 2019.
Seen here are Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, chairman of 34th ASEAN Summit, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong,
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo,
Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi,
and Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Southeast Asian leaders agreed on Sunday to work together on regional economy and security to strengthen their positions amid growing U.S.-China tensions, as they wrapped up this year’s first summit in Bangkok.
    The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will need its collective economic strength for bargaining power globally, especially amid the trade tensions between the world’s top two economies, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told a news conference, as chairman of the 34th ASEAN Summit.
    Prayuth urged ASEAN nations to complete negotiations this year for the China-initiated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact that includes 16 countries.
    “This will help ASEAN handle the changes and uncertainty that will happen in the region going forward, particularly the impacts of trade tension between ASEAN’s important trade partners.”
    Negotiations began in 2012 on RCEP, which envisions the creation of a free trade zone encompassing 45% of the world’s population and more than a third of its GDP, but does not involve the United States.
    First proposed by China, RCEP’s 16 signatories include the 10 ASEAN member states and six Asia-Pacific countries, including major economies China, India, Japan and South Korea.    ASEAN has existing free-trade agreements with all six countries.
    “If we can do this, we will have the bargaining power and base for negotiation.    Because when combined, we are 650 million people, the largest regional bloc in the world,” the Thai prime minister said.
    Four ASEAN countries – Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam – will discuss the trade war in next week’s G20 summit, which assembles 20 major economies, in Tokyo, Prayuth said.
    ASEAN countries also agreed on a common approach on a U.S.-led Indo-Pacific initiative, at a time when U.S.-China tensions were rising and forcing ASEAN countries to take sides.
    Prayuth hailed the bloc’s agreement on the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific as a “significant step” for the region.
    The endorsed outlook document, seen by Reuters, acknowledges “maritime issues such as unresolved maritime disputes that have the potential for open conflict” as existing and emerging geopolitical challenges.
    It outlines maritime cooperation “for peaceful settlement of disputes.”    It also aims for connectivity in the Indo-Pacific region.
SKIRTS PRESSING ISSUES
    Prayuth’s speech made no mentions of major issues such as the plight of Myanmar’s fleeing Rohingyas and the South China Sea dispute.
    Rights groups have called on ASEAN to rethink support for plans to repatriate Rohingya Muslims who have fled member state Myanmar, where activists say returnees could face discrimination and persecution.
    More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017, according to U.N. agencies, after a crackdown by Myanmar’s military sparked by Rohingya insurgent attacks on security forces.
    “Developments in Myanmar … is providing a litmus test for ASEAN’s capacity to manage developments in one of its member states that have wider ramifications for the region and, indeed, beyond,” said Marty Natalegawa, a former Indonesian foreign minister.
    Malaysia’s foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah called on Saturday for perpetrators of massacres and atrocities against the Rohingya to be “brought to justice” and said the repatriation process “must include the citizenship of the Rohingyas.”
    Formed more than 50 years ago, ASEAN has historically struggled with challenges facing the region because it works only by consensus and is reluctant to become involved in any matter regarded as internal to a member state.
    The South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest waterways, and a potential flashpoint in the region as several ASEAN members – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia – as well as China and Taiwan have conflicting territorial claims.
    ASEAN likely will finish a first reading of a Code of Conduct negotiating draft for the disputed South China Sea by the end of this year, Thailand said on Saturday, adding that the final reading is expected by the end of 2021.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Kay Johnson and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

6/24/2019 Hong Kong activists renew protest against extradition bill
Anti-extradition bill protesters occupy the Revenue Tower in Hong Kong, China, June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – More than 100 people blocked a Hong Kong government building on Monday in protest against proposed legislation allowing extraditions to mainland China that they want scrapped.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, saying she had heard the protesters “loud and clear”, this month postponed the bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial in courts conrolled by the Communist Party.
    The activists, mostly students, are demanding the bill be withdrawn, the government drop all charges against those arrested in recent protests and stop referring to the demonstrations as a riot, which could potentially lead to heavier jail terms.
    “It’s inconvenient but I support it,” a South African businessman who declined to be identified said of the protest at the skyscraper inland revenue building near the heart of the financial center.
    The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, since when it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows it freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including freedom to protest and a much-cherished independent judiciary.
    The bill has seen millions of people, fearing a continual, drip-drip erosion of those freedoms, clog the streets in protest and plunge the city into political crisis, with many questioning the ability of Lam to govern.
    The protesters plan another demonstration on Wednesday to raise awareness among world leaders attending the Group of 20 nations summit in the Japanese city of Osaka this week.
    Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Jun said on Monday that China would not allow the G20 nations to discuss Hong Kong at the summit.
    “What I can tell you for sure is that G20 will not discuss the Hong Kong issue.    We will not allow G20 to discuss the Hong Kong issue,” Zhang said.
    The Civil Human Rights Front, organizer of the mass protests, is gearing up for an annual pro-democracy march on July 1, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Beijing.
    The group has called on people to turn out in force.
    Beijing has said it supports Lam’s decision to suspend the extradition bill, but has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington, about the legislation.
    U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Hong Kong authorities on Monday to “consult broadly before passing or amending” the extradition bill or any other legislation.
    The extradition bill triggered the most violent protests in decades when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowds earlier this month.
    Human rights groups have repeatedly cited the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions and problems accessing lawyers in China as reasons why the Hong Kong bill should not proceed.
    China denies accusations that it tramples on human rights and official media said last week “foreign forces” were trying to damage China by creating chaos over the extradition bill.
(Reporting By Vimvam Tong and Delfina Wentzel Bermudez in Hong Kong, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Ben Blanchard and Kevin Yao in Beijing; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/24/2019 China says will not allow Hong Kong issue to be discussed at G20 summit
FILE PHOTO: The head of the Chinese delegation Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Jun delivers his opening remarks
during a Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) conference with the UN Security Council's five permanent
members (P5) China, France, Russia, Britain, and U.S., in Beijing, China, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Jun said on Monday that China will not allow the Group of 20 nations to discuss the Hong Kong issue at its summit this week.
    Millions of people demonstrated on the streets of Hong Kong this month against a bill that would allow people to be extradited to the mainland to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.
    It triggered the most violent protests in decades when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowds.    The extradition bill and police reaction to the protests drew international criticism from rights groups.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump will meet at the G20 summit in the Japanese city of Osaka this week amid heightened trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
    “What I can tell you for sure is that G20 will not discuss the Hong Kong issue. We will not allow G20 to discuss the Hong Kong issue,” Zhang said, when asked whether Trump and Xi would discuss Hong Kong at the G20.
    “Hong Kong is China’s special administrative region.    Hong Kong matters are purely an internal affair due China.    No foreign country has a right to interfere,” Zhang said.
    “No matter at what venue, using any method, we will not permit any country or person to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Kevin Yao; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Michael Perry)

6/24/2019 Energy on the agenda when Saudi crown prince visits South Korea this week
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the opening of the
G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman plans to visit South Korea this week as the two countries seek to bolster economic ties, officials in Seoul said on Monday.
    The two-day visit from Wednesday will be the first by an heir to the throne of the world’s largest oil exporter since 1998.
    The crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and defense minister, will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday, Moon’s office said.
    “The two sides will sign a series of agreements to promote cooperation on areas including energy and public service,” a South Korean official told Reuters.
    Saudi Arabia is South Korea’s top oil supplier.    South Korea imported 101.5 million barrels of crude oil from the Middle Eastern country in the first four months of 2019, down 2.7% from a year ago, according to data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC).    South Korea has also been keen on Saudi Arabia’s nuclear power project.    State-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp was shortlisted last July to bid for building nuclear plants in the kingdom.
    The trip follows a recent U.N. report that accused Saudi Arabia of the “deliberate, premeditated execution” of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October.    The report said the crown prince and other senior officials should be investigated over Khashoggi’s murder.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Jane Chung; Editing by Paul Tait)

6/24/2019 China says both U.S., China should make compromises in trade talks by Kevin Yao and Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Vice Commerce Minister and Deputy China International Trade Representative Wang Shouwen attends a news conference
during the ongoing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China March 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Both China and the United States should make compromises in trade talks, Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said on Monday, ahead of a much anticipated meeting between the Chinese and U.S. presidents at this week’s G20 summit in Japan.
    China and the United States last week said they were reviving talks ahead of the meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.     Hopes that it will lead to a de-escalation of a trade war that is damaging the global economy has cheered financial markets.
    Talks to reach a broad deal broke down last month after U.S. officials accused China of backing away from previously agreed commitments.
    Speaking at a news briefing on the G20 summit, Wang, who is also part of the trade negotiating team with the United States, said talks between the two countries’ trade teams were underway, though he gave no details.
    China’s principles are clear, he said – mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit and meeting each other halfway.
    “Mutual respect means each side must respect the other’s sovereignty,” Wang said.
    “Equality and mutual benefit means the consultations have to happen on an equal basis, the agreement to be reached has to be beneficial for both sides,” he said.
    “Meeting each other half way means both sides have to compromise and make concessions, not just one side.”
    Wang declined to answer a question about what specific compromises Xi may offer to win a trade deal with Trump.
    The two countries are in the middle of a costly trade dispute and have slapped increasingly severe tariffs on each other’s imports.    China has vowed to not give in on issues of principle nor under U.S. pressure.
    Trump has threatened to put tariffs on another $325 billion of goods, covering nearly all the remaining Chinese imports into the United States, including consumer products such as cellphones, computers and clothing.
    Both the Chinese and U.S. teams are making preparations for the Xi-Trump meeting, Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Jun told the same briefing, again without offering details.
    Trump has threatened to put tariffs on another $325 billion of goods, covering nearly all the remaining Chinese imports into the United States, including consumer products such as cellphones, computers and clothing.
    Another problem is U.S. sanctions on Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co Inc.
    Wang said that Xi, when speaking by telephone to Trump last week, had said he hopes the United States can fairly treat Chinese companies.
    “We hope that the U.S. can remove certain unilateral measures inappropriately taken against Chinese companies, in the spirit of free trade and the World Trade Organization.”
    The Trump administration has accused China of failing to protect intellectual property rights, forced technology transfers and of failing to provide a level playing field for U.S. companies.
    China has repeatedly promised to open its market wider to foreign investors and provide them with better services and treatment.    China has also denied accusations of failing to protect intellectual property rights or of forcing foreign companies to transfer technology.
(Reporting by Kevin Yao and Ben Blanchard; Writing by Ryan Woo; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

6/24/2019 North Korea’s Kim not ready to denuclearize: U.S. intelligence agency chief
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reads a letter from U.S. President Donald Trump, in Pyongyang, North Korea in this
picture released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 22, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. intelligence community does not believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is ready to denuclearize, U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Robert Ashley told Fox News in an interview on Monday.
    A summit in February between Kim and President Donald Trump collapsed when the two leaders were unable to bridge differences between U.S. demands for denuclearization and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.
    “We still continue to assess within the IC (intelligence community) that Kim Jong Un is not ready to denuclearize,” Ashley said.
    Trump will visit South Korea this weekend after an exchange of letters with Kim boosted hopes for a resumption of talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear program.
    Trump is set to arrive in South Korea for a two-day visit on Saturday, and will meet President Moon Jae-in on Sunday, following a summit of G20 leaders in Japan, Moon’s spokeswoman, Ko Min-jung, said on Monday.
    The announcement came hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped a letter Trump sent to Kim could pave the way for a revival of talks that have been stalled since February’s failed summit in Vietnam.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Tom Brown and Bill Berkrot)

6/25/2019 China Vice Premier Liu holds call with Lighthizer, Mnuchin
China's Vice Premier Liu He exits the office of the U.S. Trade Representative following a morning round of negotiations
on the second day of last ditch trade talks in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese Vice Premier Liu He held a phone conversation with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Tuesday.
    During the call, which took place on Monday, the Chinese and U.S. officials exchanged opinions on trade and agreed to maintain communications, the statement said.
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; editing by Richard Pullin)

6/25/2019 Iran says U.S. sanctions on Khamenei mean end of diplomacy by Parisa Hafezi
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seen during meeting with health ministry top officials
in Tehran, Iran, June 25, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – New U.S. sanctions against Iran’s supreme leader and foreign minister have closed off diplomacy, Iran said on Tuesday, blaming the United States for abandoning the only route to peace just days after the two foes came within minutes of conflict.
    U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Monday against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior figures.    Sanctions against Foreign Minister Mohmmad Javad Zarif are expected later this week.
    The moves came after Iran shot down a U.S. drone last week and Trump called off a retaliatory air strike minutes before impact, which would have been the first time the United States had bombed Iran in decades of hostility between them.
    Trump said he decided at the last minute that too many people would die.
    “Imposing useless sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Twitter.
    “Trump’s desperate administration is destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security,” Mousavi tweeted.
    In a televised address, President Hassan Rouhani said sanctions against Khamenei would have no practical impact because the cleric had no assets abroad.
    Rouhani, a pragmatist who won two elections on promises to open Iran up to the world, described the U.S. moves as desperate and called the White House “mentally retarded,” an insult Iranian officials have used in the past about Trump but a departure from Rouhani’s own comparatively measured tone.
    Rouhani and his cabinet run Iran’s day-to-day affairs, while Khamenei, in power since 1989, is Iran’s ultimate authority.
    “The White House actions mean it is mentally retarded,” Rouhani said.    “Tehran’s strategic patience does not mean we have fear.”
    Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, visiting Israel, repeated earlier offers to hold talks, as long as Iran was willing to go beyond the terms of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers which Trump abandoned last year.
OPEN DOOR
    “The president has held the door open to real negotiations to completely and verifiably eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons program, its pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems, its support for international terrorism and other malign behavior worldwide,” Bolton said in Jerusalem.    “All that Iran needs to do is to walk through that open door.”
    The United States has imposed crippling economic sanctions against Iran since last year, when Trump withdrew from an agreement between Tehran and world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
    The crisis has escalated sharply since last month, when the Trump administration tightened the sanctions, ordering all countries to halt purchases of Iranian oil.
    That effectively starved the Iranian economy of the main source of revenue Tehran uses to import food for its 81 million people, and left Iran’s pragmatic faction with no benefits to show for its nuclear agreement.
    Washington says the 2015 agreement reached under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama did not go far enough because it is not permanent and does not cover issues beyond the nuclear program, such as missiles and regional behavior.
    Iran says there is no point negotiating with Washington when it has abandoned a deal that was already reached.
    The downing of the U.S. drone — which Iran says was over its air space and the United States says was international skies — was the culmination of weeks of rising tensions that had begun to take on a military dimension.
    The United States and some regional allies have blamed Iran for attacks on tankers in the Gulf, which Tehran denies.    Washington’s European allies have repeatedly warned both sides of the danger that a small mistake could lead to war.
    Washington says forcing Iran to the table is the purpose of its sanctions.    Tehran has said it is willing to talk if the United States lifts the new sanctions first, although Tuesday’s statements appear to toughen that stance.
    U.S. officials have launched a diplomatic campaign to rally their allies in the face of the escalating crisis.    Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo jetted to the Middle East on Monday to meet leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Gulf Arab states that favor the toughest possible line against Iran.
    The U.S. envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, is visiting Europe, where he is likely to get a frostier reception from allies who support the nuclear deal.    They believe Trump’s decision to quit the accord was a mistake that has strengthened Iran’s hardline faction, weakened its pragmatists and endangered regional peace.
    Iran says it still aims to comply with the nuclear deal, but cannot do so indefinitely unless it receives some benefits.    It has given     European countries until July 8 to find a way to shield its economy from U.S. sanctions, or else it will enrich uranium to levels banned under the deal.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle)

6/25/2019 Hong Kong activists crowdfund for anti-extradition bill voice at G20 by Clare Jim and Anne Marie Roantree
Anti-extradition bill protesters occupy the Revenue Tower in Hong Kong, China, June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong activists have raised more than HK$5 million ($640,606) in a crowdfunding campaign to take out newspaper ads in a bid to get a controversial extradition bill on the agenda at the G20 summit.
    Millions have taken to the streets of the former British colony this month to protest against the bill, that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, plunging the city into political crisis and posing a grave challenge to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill in a dramatic climbdown, saying she had heard the protesters “loud and clear,” but the activists are demanding the bill be scrapped altogether.
    “We now need your support: get our voices heard at your governments and consulates; let freedom prevail at the upcoming G20 summit and beyond,” a draft of an ad that appeared on the group’s gogetfunding.com page said.
    “We can be saved, if you act now,” said the ad, which was signed Hong Kong Citizens, Vanguards of Freedom.
    G20 leaders meet in the Japanese city of Osaka this week.
    A senior western diplomatic source who declined to be named, said while Hong Kong wasn’t on the official agenda, it was still expected to be raised at the summit by a number of countries with stakes in the city.
    “Hong Kong is important to the international community … and there are still concerns there that need to be addressed,” the source said.
    Protesters plan a silent march on Wednesday to foreign consulates in the Asian financial hub to raise awareness among world leaders ahead of the summit, while the crowdfund campaign confirmed ads would appear in five newspapers.
    The campaign is certain to rile Beijing, after Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Jun said China would not allow the G20 nations to discuss Hong Kong.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, since when it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.
    But many accuse China of increased meddling over the years, obstructing democratic reforms, interfering with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.
    Opponents of the extradition bill fear it would put them at the mercy of Chinese courts, controlled by the Communist Party, with a record of arbitrary detentions, torture and other human rights violations.
    More than 22,000 people had raised HK$5.5 million within hours of the crowdfunding campaign’s launch, exceeding a HK$3 million target.
    Any money left over from the ad campaign would go toward funding of activists arrested during the protests, the group said.
    There were chaotic scenes when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters near the heart of the financial center, which was gripped by 79 days of pro-democracy “Umbrella” protests in 2014.
    The Civil Human Rights Front, organizer of this month’s protests, is gearing up for an annual march on July 1, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Beijing. The group has called on people to turn out in force.
    Beijing has said it supports Lam’s decision to suspend the extradition bill, but has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington, about the legislation.
(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang in HONG KONG; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Kevin Yao in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/25/2019 At U.N. rights forum, Xinjiang vice-governor defends centers for Uighurs by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Imams and government officials pass under security cameras as they leave the Id Kah Mosque during a government
organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The vice-governor of China’s Xinjiang region responded to international criticism of state-run detention camps on Tuesday by saying they were vocational centers which had helped to “save” people from extremist influences.
    China had now effectively contained terrorism and religious extremism in Xinjiang, Vice-Governor Erkin Tuniyaz told the U.N. Human Rights Council Diplomats said his address was an effort to head-off any censure at the three-week session that began on Monday.
    U.N. experts and activists say at least one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims are held in the detention centers in Xinjiang.    China describes them as training centers helping to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.
    “By setting up vocational education and training centers in accordance with the law, we aim to educate and save those who were influenced by religious extremism and committed minor legal offences,” said Tuniyaz, who is an Uighur.
    “This will prevent them from becoming victims of terrorism and extremism and to protect the basic human rights of the citizens from infringement,” he said.
    U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet told the forum on Monday that she continued to raise issues related to Xinjiang, including “unfettered access” to the western region, and other matters with China. [L8N23V1VS]
    Tuniyaz said freedom of religious belief is protected by law in Xinjiang, a multi-ethnic region of 25 million people where various religions coexist.nbsp;   But religious extremists have disseminated “sinister preachings” in Xinjiang, leading some to act like “drug addicts,” he said.
    “Xinjiang has placed fundamental interests of the people of all ethnic groups first, cracked down on violent terrorism crimes and emphasized taking preventive counter-terrorism measures and addressing the root causes of extremism," he said.
    U.N. security was reinforced at the meeting, where Tuniyaz was accompanied by more than a dozen Chinese diplomats.
    Sarah Brooks of the activist group International Service for Human Rights, told Reuters after the speech: “We should be clear that what is happening in Xinjiang is the wholesale destruction of a minority people and a culture, from the razing of religious sites to the separation of families, incentives for intermarriage, and the imprisonment of more than 350 academics and intellectuals.”
    Dolkun Isa, president of the exiled World Uighur Congress who led a protest in Geneva on Monday, accused China of “hiding the reality of what is happening to Uighurs.”
    “He (Tuniyaz) is not representative of the Uighur community,” Isa told Reuters.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/26/2019 U.S., North Korea in behind-the-scenes talks over third summit, Moon says by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel
during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States is in behind-the-scenes talks with North Korea over a possible third summit and has proposed working-level negotiations that have been stalled since the second such meeting in February, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday.
    Moon, in written answers to questions posed by visiting foreign journalists, said there was no reason to talk of a “stalemate” just because there had been no official dialogue, aimed at the denuclearization of North Korea.
    U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their second meeting in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi in February but failed to reach a deal due to differences between U.S. calls for denuclearization and North Korean demands for relief from sanctions.
    “Both sides have been engaged in dialogue in regard to a third summit,” Moon said.
    “It’s noteworthy that the behind-the-scenes talks have been preceded by the mutual understanding of each other’s position gained through the Hanoi summit.”
    The United States had made a proposal for working-level talks, Moon said, urging North Korea to return to the negotiating table “at the earliest date possible.”
    North Korea pursued nuclear and missile program for years in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions and U.N. and U.S. sanctions.
    Moon has been an ardent champion of efforts to end the confrontation, vowing to play a mediator role in nudging North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons in exchange for an end to sanctions and security guarantees.
    The Hanoi breakdown was a blow for Moon, who days before the summit offered to “ease the burden” of the United States by providing concessions to the North through inter-Korean economic initiatives which he seeks to revive.
    Moon did not specify when and how the U.S. proposal was made. But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that a recent exchange of letters between Trump and Kim boosted hopes for a restart of talks, calling it a “very real possibility.”
    North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said on Sunday that Trump’s letter had “excellent content” and Kim would “seriously contemplate” it, without elaborating.
‘NEXT LEVEL’
    Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea who led working-level talks ahead of the Hanoi summit, is visiting Seoul from Thursday for meetings with South Korean officials before joining Trump, who is due in South Korea this weekend.
    Trump is considering visiting the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, where Kim and Moon had their historic first summit last year, a South Korean official said.    The two Koreas are technically still at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.
    But a U.S. official said on Tuesday that Trump had no plans to meet Kim during his trip and declined to comment on whether Trump would go to the DMZ.
    Trump wanted to travel to the DMZ on a 2017 visit to South Korea but heavy fog prevented it.
    “The resumption of negotiations between North Korea and the United States will take it to the next level.    I believe everything has now fallen into place for that to happen,” Moon said.
    The Hanoi summit cast doubt on Kim’s commitment to denuclearize.    There has been little progress since then, with Pyongyang resuming some limited testing of weapons and being aloof toward dialogue offers both from Washington and Seoul.
    There is also a gray area over talk about denuclearization of the “Korean peninsula,” which, by North Korea’s reckoning, includes the regional U.S. nuclear umbrella protecting Japan and South Korea.    The United States only wants North Korea to denuclearize.
    Moon said Kim had told him he wanted to “finalize a denuclearization process as soon as possible and to concentrate on economic development.”
    Moon called for the North to scrap the “passive stance” it has presented since the Hanoi summit and take action on its past promises.
    “By responding to the U.S. proposal for working-level negotiations, it can also show its determination to denuclearize,” he said.
    The questions for the written interview were provided by Reuters, AP, AFP, Yonhap, Kyodo, Xinhua and Tass ahead of a symposium on the Korea peace process hosted by Yonhap in Seoul on Thursday.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/26/2019 Hong Kong protesters call on world leaders for help ahead of the G20 summit by OAN Newsroom
    Protesters in Hong Kong are calling on President Trump and other world leaders to put pressure on Beijing to scrap a controversial extradition bill.
    Over 1,000 demonstrators marched to the U.S. and EU consulates in Hong Kong Wednesday, urging leaders to raise concerns about the bill during this week’s G20 summit in Japan.
    “We know that countries like U.S.A. or Germany, they think that human rights is very important,” said activist Alfred Lee.    “So, we want to let the international (community), let the globe know that in Hong Kong we are fighting for the people’s freedom and say no to the extradition bill to China.”
Protesters gather near the U.S. Consulate as they stage a protest in Hong Kong, Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Hong Kong
activists opposed to contentious extradition legislation on Wednesday called on leaders of the U.S., the European Union
and others to raise the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping at this week’s G-20 summit in Japan. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
    This comes after Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam agreed to indefinitely suspend the bill earlier this month, falling short of protester’s demands to get rid of it altogether.
    Some Hong Kong activists have even traveled to Osaka to protest at the G20 summit later this week.

6/26/2019 Iran says saving nuclear deal not its problem, EU warns no alternative by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO : Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht-Ravanchi speaks to the media outside Security
Council chambers at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Iran warned the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that it would no longer be burdened with preserving a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as European states pushed Tehran to stick with the agreement because there is “no credible, peaceful alternative.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal last year, inflaming tensions between Tehran and Washington that led to Iran shooting down a U.S. drone last week.    Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes but called them off at the last minute.
    Under the deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program most U.N. and western sanctions on Iran were lifted, however the United States has imposed new sanctions that it says are designed to force Iran back to the negotiating table.
    “The U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and re-imposition of its sanctions, rendered the JCPOA almost fully ineffective,” Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi told the 15-member Security Council, using the acronym for the deal’s formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
    “Iran alone cannot, shall not and will not take all of the burdens any more to preserve the JCPOA,” he said.
    European powers have been trying to save the deal, but Iran has has given them a deadline of July 8.    It has said it is ready to go through with a threat to enrich uranium to a higher level than permitted under the deal if Europe cannot shield Tehran from U.S. sanctions.
    “The JCPOA is a nuclear agreement that has been working and delivering on its goals.    There is also no credible, peaceful alternative,” European Union U.N. Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida warned the U.N. Security Council.
    The nuclear deal is endorsed in a 2015 Security Council resolution. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reports every six months on implementation of that resolution, which also subjects Iran to an arms embargo and other restrictions.
MIXED SIGNALS
    Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen described Iran’s actions as “deeply counterproductive.”
    “Iran’s defiance of the Security Council and its reckless behavior threatening peace and security globally must not be downplayed in the name of preserving a deal that doesn’t fully cut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon,” he said.
    He noted that the U.N. resolution endorsing the nuclear deal “provides a mechanism for the council to address significant non-performance of Iran by its nuclear commitments.”
    Under the nuclear deal there is a process culminating at the U.N. Security Council that can trigger a so-called snapback of all sanctions if Iran violates the agreement.
    Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi told reporters on Monday: “The U.S. is not in a position to spark snapback because they are not part of the deal.”
    French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre warned that the end of the deal “would mean a dangerous step backwards” and urged Tehran not to breach the deal.
    Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow wanted Iran to remain committed to the nuclear deal, but also accused the United States of sending mixed signals.
    “We hear assertions that nobody is planning regime change in Iran and then at the same time we hear threats about obliteration and new sanctions are being introduced, there are calls for dialogue and then in parallel openly they declare the intention to increase military presence in the region,” he said.
    “Such signals, which even an experienced cryptologist would struggle to decode, can only bring the situation to a point of no return,” Nebenzia said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Nick Zieminski and James Dalgleish)

6/27/2019 Fresh protests rock Hong Kong as activists seek a voice at G20 by Vimvam Tong and Delfina Wentzel
Anti-extradition graffiti is seen outside the police headquarters, after a rally ahead of the G20 summit, urging the international
community to back their demands for the government to withdraw the extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong was plunged into chaos again on Thursday as protesters rallied outside the justice secretary’s offices, blocking roads and forcing workers to leave in the latest unrest to rock the city over an extradition bill that has now been suspended.
    Millions have thronged the streets in the past three weeks to demand that the bill, which would allow criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial in courts controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, be scrapped altogether.
    “I think this movement is very successful because this time the goal is very clear,” said one protester, Ken Yau, drawing a contrast with Hong Kong’s 2014 democracy movement that gridlocked parts of the Asian financial center for 79 days.
    “I was 11 when the Umbrella Movement happened.    I only went to the occupied sites a few times with my family.”
    In sweltering heat of 32 degrees C (89.6°F), some protesters chanted, “Withdraw evil law, release martyrs…Teresa Cheng, come out,” referring to the justice secretary.    Others shouted, “Condemn excessive force by police and release protesters.”
    Police formed a cordon to block the demonstrators, and one officer held a banner warning them away.    Minor scuffles broke out between pro-democracy group Demosisto and officers.
    “Fight for Justice,” “Free Hong Kong,” and “Democracy Now” were some of the demands emblazoned on the protesters’ banners.
    Police chief Stephen Lo warned of consequences for outbreaks of violence and condemned what he said was an environment of hostility making his officers’s task difficult.
    In the early hours, riot police wielding batons and shields chased dozens of protesters as they broke up a siege of police headquarters.
    The demonstrators have seized on this week’s G20 summit of world leaders in Japan to appeal for Hong Kong’s plight to be put on the agenda, a move certain to rile Beijing, which has vowed not to tolerate such discussion.
    “We know that the G20 is coming.    We want to grasp this opportunity to voice for ourselves,” said Jack Cool Tsang, 30, a theater technician who took a day off work to protest.
    Images of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas beneath gleaming skyscrapers this month near the heart of the financial center grabbed global headlines and drew condemnation from international rights groups and protest organizers.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who has kept a low profile over the past few days, bowed to public pressure and suspended the bill a day after the violent protests but stopped short of a full withdrawal and rejected repeated calls to step down.
    The demonstrations, which pose the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012, have repeatedly forced the temporary closure of government offices, blocked major roads and caused massive disruptions.
    Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the liberty to protest and an independent judiciary.
    But many accuse China of increased meddling over the years, by obstructing democratic reform, interfering with elections, suppressing young activists, as well as being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.
    Opponents of the extradition bill fear being placed at the mercy of a justice system rights group say is plagued by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions.
(This story refiles to fix typo in eight paragraph)
(Reporting By Vimvam Tong, Jessie Pang, Delfina Wentzel, Donny Kwok and Noah Sin, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

6/27/2019 Exclusive: Iran still short of nuclear deal’s enriched uranium cap -diplomats by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting with tribal leaders
in Kerbala, Iraq, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran is still short of the maximum amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to have under its deal with major powers but it is on course to reach that limit at the weekend, the latest data from U.N. nuclear inspectors shows, diplomats say.
    This makes it unlikely Iran will follow through on its threat to violate one of the nuclear deal’s central restrictions on Thursday, which could have unravelled the pact altogether.
    It also sets up a meeting with other signatories on Friday aimed at saving the accord, which is straining under U.S. pressure.
    “They haven’t reached the limit… It’s more likely to be at the weekend if they do it,” one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
    The 2015 deal, which lifted international sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities, is aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, to a year from roughly 2-3 months.
    On Wednesday, the U.N. nuclear watchdog verified that Iran had roughly 200 kg of low-enriched uranium, below the deal’s 202.8 kg limit, three diplomats who follow the agency’s work said.
    Two of the diplomats said Iran was producing at a rate of around 1 kg a day, meaning it could go over the line soon after the meeting of senior officials from Iran, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China in Vienna on Friday.
ZERO TOLERANCE
    Washington pulled out of the nuclear accord last year and has imposed punishing economic sanctions against Tehran.
    Iran has threatened to respond by setting aside some of the deal’s restrictions, which could cause the deal to collapse, though it has called on European powers to do more to shield it from U.S. sanctions – a move the White House has called “nuclear blackmail.”
    The European powers are scrambling to protect trade with Iran but what they can achieve pales in comparison to U.S. sanctions aimed at slashing Iran’s vital oil exports to zero.
    Diplomats have also stressed the European signatories are weary of Iranian demands that they sustain a pact that Washington has withdrawn from and said if Tehran followed suit they would have little choice but to acquiesce in the reimposition of U.N. sanctions.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is policing the deal’s nuclear restrictions, does not generally comment on details of its inspections.    It was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
    “We’ve made it clear to the Iranians that we have zero tolerance on the nuclear issue,” a senior European official said.    “They are close to the threshold, but we will wait for the IAEA to report back to us in the coming days.”
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Toby Chopra)

6/27/2019 Macron says he warned Iran’s Rouhani about breaking nuclear commitments
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference after the European Union
leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    TOKYO (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron warned Iran on Thursday not to quit its 2015 nuclear deal or give signals that it intended to do so, and said he would discuss efforts to avoid military escalation with U.S. President Donald Trump.
    U.S. allies in Europe have been alarmed by an escalation between the United States and Iran in recent weeks, which culminated last week when Trump ordered air strikes only to call them off minutes before impact.
    Washington, which quit an agreement last year under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in return for access to world trade, has sharply tightened sanctions since May.    Iran has responded by saying it could take steps that would violate the nuclear deal.
    The crisis took on a military dimension in recent weeks, with Washington blaming Tehran for attacks on ships in the Gulf, and Iran shooting down a U.S. drone.    Iran denies blame for the attacks on ships and says the drone was in its air space when it was struck.
    Washington says it was in international skies.
    European countries, which disagreed with the U.S. decision to withdraw from the pact but share U.S. concerns about Iranian behavior, have been caught in the middle, expressing increasing concern that a mistake on either side could trigger war.
    Macron said he had two priorities: keeping Iran inside the nuclear deal and avoiding military escalation.
    “Tensions are growing and for me the first element is that there is no exit from the framework.    The second thing, and I will discuss it with president (Trump) tomorrow, is to do everything to avoid a military escalation,” Macron said.
    “I had a conversation with President (Hassan) Rouhani a couple of days ago and I indicated that any exit from the accord would be an error and any signals in that direction would be an error,” Macron told reporters.
    He said France believed the U.S. drone was over international waters when it was shot down, “so that was an aggression which was one more step in this escalation.”
    Tehran has said it intends to continue to abide by the nuclear agreement, but cannot do so indefinitely if it receives no economic benefits.    It has set a number of deadlines in recent weeks for European countries to shield it from U.S. sanctions or it will take steps that could ultimately violate it.
    One of those deadlines expires on Thursday, when Iran has said it could accumulate more than the maximum stockpile of low-enriched uranium allowable under the deal. Diplomats have told Reuters that Iran is still short of that threshold but on course to reach it in coming days.
    Senior diplomats from the European powers are due to meet the U.S. special envoy on Iran in Paris on Thursday. Macron said officials were working on ways to improve the nuclear deal.
    Washington says the nuclear deal, agreed under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, is too weak because it is not permanent and does not cover areas outside of nuclear activity such as Iran’s missile program and regional behavior.
    Trump has invited Iran to talks “without pre-conditions.”    Iran says it cannot negotiate unless the United States accepts the agreement it already signed and lifts the sanctions.
(Reporting by Christopher Gallagher; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

6/27/2019 Iran warns U.S. of stronger reaction if its borders violated again: Tasnim
FILE PHOTO: Speaker Ali Larijani attends a session of parliament in Tehran, Iran
June 25, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency via REUTERS.
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran warned the United States against violating its borders, with parliament speaker Ali Larijani threatening a stronger reaction, the Tasnim news agency said on Thursday, a week after Tehran shot down a U.S. drone, spiking tension between them.
    “The downing of their drone was a good experience for them to avoid any aggression against our borders,” the semi-official agency quoted Larijani as saying late on Wednesday.
    “Iran’s reaction will be stronger if they repeat their mistake of violating our borders.”
    Iran said the unmanned U.S. aircraft was in its air space, which Washington denied.    Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes but called them off at the last minute, later saying too many people would have died.
    The rhetoric between the sides has heated up, with Trump threatening Iran’s “obliteration.”    On Wednesday, Trump said any war between Iran and the United States would be swift, but reiterated his desire to avoid a military confrontation even while blasting Tehran’s leaders.
    Some 116 Iranian human rights defenders and groups around the globe have warned of “devastating” consequences of a military conflict between the arch foes, said the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
    “We also fear that military action against Iran will be disastrous for millions of ordinary people and could lead to the type of violent sectarian civil conflict seen in neighboring countries,” said a statement signed by activists, lawyers and journalists.
    Tehran and Washington have been at odds since last year when Trump exited Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers and reimposed sanctions that had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran limiting its nuclear work, including its enrichment of uranium.
    In reaction to Washington’s increasingly crippling sanctions, Tehran has quadrupled its production of uranium and said on Wednesday it will exceed limits, set by the nuclear deal, on its enrichment of uranium as of Thursday unless EU took steps to save the deal.
    In an unprecedented step that has increased tensions, Trump on Monday targeted Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other senior Iranian officials with new U.S. sanctions.    Iran has rejected the latest sanctions as an “idiotic” move.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Toby Chopra)

6/27/2019 Exclusive: Iran still short of nuclear deal’s enriched uranium cap – diplomats by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting with tribal leaders
in Kerbala, Iraq, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran is still short of the maximum amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to have under its deal with major powers but it is on course to reach that limit at the weekend, the latest data from U.N. nuclear inspectors shows, diplomats say.
    This makes it unlikely Iran will follow through on its threat to violate one of the nuclear deal’s central restrictions on Thursday, which could have unravelled the pact altogether.
    It also sets up a meeting with other signatories on Friday aimed at saving the accord, which is straining under U.S. pressure.
    “They haven’t reached the limit… It’s more likely to be at the weekend if they do it,” one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
    The 2015 deal, which lifted international sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities, is aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, to a year from roughly 2-3 months.
    On Wednesday, the U.N. nuclear watchdog verified that Iran had roughly 200 kg of low-enriched uranium, below the deal’s 202.8 kg limit, three diplomats who follow the agency’s work said.
    Two of the diplomats said Iran was producing at a rate of around 1 kg a day, meaning it could go over the line soon after the meeting of senior officials from Iran, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China in Vienna on Friday.
ZERO TOLERANCE
    Washington pulled out of the nuclear accord last year and has imposed punishing economic sanctions against Tehran.
    Iran has threatened to respond by setting aside some of the deal’s restrictions, which could cause the deal to collapse, though it has called on European powers to do more to shield it from U.S. sanctions – a move the White House has called “nuclear blackmail.”
    The European powers are scrambling to protect trade with Iran but what they can achieve pales in comparison to U.S. sanctions aimed at slashing Iran’s vital oil exports to zero.
    Diplomats have also stressed the European signatories are weary of Iranian demands that they sustain a pact that Washington has withdrawn from and said if Tehran followed suit they would have little choice but to acquiesce in the reimposition of U.N. sanctions.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is policing the deal’s nuclear restrictions, does not generally comment on details of its inspections.    It was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
    “We’ve made it clear to the Iranians that we have zero tolerance on the nuclear issue,” a senior European official said.    “They are close to the threshold, but we will wait for the IAEA to report back to us in the coming days.”
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Toby Chopra)

6/27/2019 ‘We only want to sell our oil,’ Iran official says before nuclear talks by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012, a day before
the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran’s main demand in talks aimed at saving its nuclear deal is to be able to sell its oil at the same levels that it did before Washington withdrew from the accord a year ago, an Iranian official said on Thursday.
    Iran is threatening to go over the maximum amount of enriched uranium it is allowed under the deal in retaliation for crippling U.S. economic sanctions imposed in the past year.    It is just days away from that limit, diplomats say, and going over it could unravel the accord.
    Senior officials from Iran and the deal’s remaining parties will meet in Vienna on Friday with the aim of saving the agreement.    But with European powers limited in their ability to shield Iran’s economy from U.S. sanctions it is unclear what they can do to provide the large economic windfall Tehran wants.
    “What is our demand?    Our demand is to be able to sell our oil and get the money back.    And this is in fact the minimum of our benefit from the deal,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
    “We are not asking Europeans to invest in Iran… We only want to sell our oil.”
    European powers and Iran have set up a mechanism for barter trade called Instex that would net out amounts at either end but it is not yet operational and diplomats have said it will only be able to handle small volumes for items like medicine, not the large oil sales Iran is seeking.
    “Europeans should either buy oil from us or give its money (price) to us,” the official said.
    “Instex is a netting company. It is supposed to net the accounts between importers and exporters.    And the only export of Iran to Europe is oil.    So if they don’t buy oil from us there is no money to be netted between import and export.”br>     Until its demand is met, Iran will continue on its current path and go over limits of the deal one by one, starting with the uranium enrichment level, he said, adding that those steps could also be undone quickly, such as by ‘downblending’ enriched uranium with natural uranium to reduce its stock.
KILL THE DEAL?
    Going over such central limits of the deal could prompt European powers to re-impose sanctions through a process known as ‘snapback.’    The official said if that happened the deal would be dead.
    “I believe and I think the Europeans are wise enough not to kill the deal for something which is easily reversible,” he said.
    If the Europeans did, however, go to the U.N. Security Council to carry out the snapback process, that could prompt Iran to abandon its current policy of engagement and pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as North Korea did, he said.
    “Going out of NPT doesn’t happen immediately.    It needs three months’ notification in advance. Even in that scenario there is still a chance for diplomacy,” he said.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean)

6/28/2019 Trump prepares for ‘productive’ talks with Xi on trade war by Roberta Rampton
(R-L) Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, U.S. President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
attend the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan June 28, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    OSAKA (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he hoped for productive talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on a trade war that is casting a shadow on global growth, but said he had not made any promises about a reprieve from escalating tariffs.
    The trade feud and signs of a global slowdown has loomed over a two-day Group of 20 (G20) summit in the Japanese city of Osaka, where Trump and Xi met in passing, and prepared for one-on-one talks on Saturday.
    To lay the groundwork for the talks, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He met Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at the hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying, a source familiar with the talks said.
    China has said it hoped the United States would meet halfway on the issues.
    The world’s two biggest economies are locked in a trade dispute and expectations have dimmed that Trump and Xi can ease tension when they meet on the sidelines of the meeting.
    “At a minimum it will be productive.    We’ll see what happens and what comes out of it,” Trump told reporters after a series of meetings with leaders where he made clear that his priority was two-way trade deals to boost the U.S. economy.
    Asked, however, if he had promised Xi a six-month reprieve on imposing new tariffs on a $300 billion list of Chinese imports, Trump said: “No.”
    Trump has already imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports and is threatening to extend those to another $300 billion of goods, effectively everything China exports to the United States.    China has retaliated with tariffs on U.S. imports.
    Asian shares stumbled and gold slipped on Friday, as doubts grew that the highly anticipated meeting between the two leaders would bring progress in resolving their dispute.
    In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he hoped the U.S. side could meet China halfway.
    “This accords with the interests of both countries and is what the international community is hoping for,” he told a news briefing.
THREAT TO GLOBAL GROWTH
    Trump’s administration also has trade feuds with India, Japan and Germany, whose leaders he met on Friday.
    Trump said he saw U.S. trade prospects improving, days after criticizing the U.S.-Japan security treaty and demanding that India withdraw retaliatory tariffs.
    “I think we’re going to have some very big things to announce. Very big trade deal,” Trump said before he began talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but gave no details.
    A White House official said the two leaders had called on their teams to work on mutually beneficial trade solutions.
    Trump also made a push to discuss U.S. concerns about Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei.
    The United States has pressed its allies to shun Huawei in their fifth generation, or 5G, networks on security grounds, and it has also suggested it could be a factor in a trade deal with Xi.
    “We actually sell Huawei many of its parts,” Trump said at his meeting with Modi.    “So we’re going to be discussing that and also how India fits in. And we’ll be discussing Huawei.”
    Several leaders warned that the growing trade friction was threatening global growth.
    “The trade relations between China and the United States are difficult, they are contributing to the slowdown of the global economy,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a news conference.
    Xi also warned about the protectionist steps he said some developed countries were taking.
    “All this is destroying the global trade order … This also impacts common interests of our countries, overshadows peace and stability worldwide,” Xi told a gathering of leaders of the BRICS grouping on the sidelines of the G20 meet.
REFORMING WORLD TRADE RULES
    Modi, at the same meeting, called for a focus on reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he called efforts to destroy the Geneva-based body.
    “We consider counter-productive any attempts to destroy WTO or to lower its role,” Putin said.
    The situation of the global economy was worrying, as trade felt the effect of “protectionism (and) politically motivated restrictions” he added.
    Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin said there was no agreement on how to reform the WTO system, whose rules Washington believes are outdated, though a Japanese official said G20 members agreed on the importance of reform.
    The G20 leaders were also struggling to find common ground on issues such as information security, climate change and migration, said Svetlana Lukash, a Russian official helping to coordinate the meetings.
    A White House official took a more positive view, saying there was a “good sense of unity in the room” between most leaders on working together on economic issues.
    “China was less positive in its outlook which was in stark contrast to basically everybody else,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    Trump, who often castigates trading partners on Twitter and at raucous political rallies, put a positive spin on trade developments in his meetings.
    “I appreciate the fact that you’re sending many automobile companies into Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and North Carolina,” Trump told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had presented him with a map showing the locations of Japanese auto investments in the United States.
    Abe urged G20 leaders to send a strong message in support of free and fair trade, warning that trade and geopolitical tensions were rising and downside risks to the global economy prevailed.    He also said he wanted to see momentum toward WTO reform.
    Japanese and U.S. officials will meet next month to accelerate progress toward a trade deal, Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters after meeting Lighthizer, but added that they did not discuss a target date.
(Additional reporting by Leika Kihara, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Katya Golubkova; Writing by Linda Sieg in Tokyo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

6/28/2019 With Iran nuclear deal on brink, world powers in ‘last chance’ talks by Francois Murphy and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – World powers will warn Iran to stick to the terms of their nuclear deal when they meet on Friday for “last chance” talks, but with Tehran feeling the pressure from punishing U.S. sanctions expectations of saving the 2015 accord are low, diplomats say.
    President Donald Trump last year pulled the United States out of the multinational deal under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear program, verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
    Washington has since re-imposed tough sanctions on Iran, aiming to cut the Islamic Republic’s oil sales to zero to force it to negotiate a broader deal that would also cover its ballistic missile capabilities and regional influence.
    Senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia meet with Iranian officials in Vienna on Friday, with Tehran threatening to exceed the maximum amount of enriched uranium it is allowed under the deal, adding to fears of a military escalation in the region.
    “We will repeat to the Iranians that nuclear issues are not negotiable. We want them to stay in the accord, but we won’t accept them messing us around,” a senior European diplomat said.
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Friday described the talks as a “last chance for the remaining parties … to gather and see how they can meet their commitments towards Iran.”
    An Iranian official told reporters ahead of the meeting that his country’s main demand was to sell its oil at the same levels that it did before Washington withdrew from the accord.
    However, he cautioned that Tehran had lost patience with the European signatories.    Until its demand is met, Iran will continue on its current path and go over limits of the deal one by one, starting with the uranium enrichment level, the official said, although none of the actions are irreversible.
    “For one year we exercised patience.    Now it is the Europeans’ turn to exercise patience,” he said.    “They should try to find solutions, practical solutions and there’s always enough time for diplomacy and there’s always the possibility to go back, to reverse.”
RELUCTANT TO PULL THE PLUG
Going over such central limits of the deal could prompt European powers to re-impose sanctions through a process known as ‘snapback’.     European officials have warned that Europe could go down that road, but are likely to hold back for now and wait for an assessment from the IAEA.
    “Europe will react cautiously. Despite strident warnings about the consequences of an Iranian violation, Europe will be reluctant to pull the plug on one of its most important multilateral accomplishments in recent years.    It will instead play for time,” said Eurasia analyst Henry Rome.
    The cornerstone of European efforts to placate the Iranians is the creation of a mechanism for barter trade called Instex that would net out amounts at either end.
    Almost six months after it was created, it is still not operational and diplomats say it will only be able to handle small volumes for items like medicine, not the large oil sales Iran is seeking.
    European officials argue that it is crucial to show Iran that it is not isolated. At Friday’s meeting they will demonstrate that it is progressing by offering credit lines to facilitate its implementation.    But when and if there is a first transaction remains unclear.
    “They are impatient on Instex, but it’s complicated,” said one European diplomat.    “We’re able to show progress now, but they say it’s not enough.    Well that’s tough luck for them.    We are doing our best.”
    The European powers will also stress their frustration with Tehran publicly pointing the finger at them.    They say neither Russia or China, which imported some 40 percent of its oil from Iran prior to sanctions, have done much to ease Tehran’s economic woes.
    “It’s about time they also stepped up,” said the diplomat.
(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

6/28/2019 Envoy says U.S. ready for ‘constructive’ talks with North Korea: South Korea by Hyonhee Shin
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun sits during a meeting with South Korea's
Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Lee Do-hoon, unseen, at the Foreign Ministry
in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, June 28, 2019. Lee Jin-man/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A U.S. special envoy said on Friday that the United States was ready to hold constructive talks with North Korea to follow through on a denuclearization agreement reached by the two countries last year, South Korea’s foreign ministry said.
    Stephen Biegun told his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, that Washington wanted to make “simultaneous, parallel” progress on the agreement reached at a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last year, the ministry said in a statement.
    Both sides agreed to establish new relations and work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    But negotiations have stalled since a second summit in Vietnam in February collapsed as both sides failed to taper differences between U.S. calls for denuclearization and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.
    The envoys met ahead of Trump’s visit to South Korea this weekend, during which Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are expected to discuss ways to kick-start the dialogue with the North.
    Reclusive North Korea has pursued nuclear and missile programs for years in defiance of U.N. Security Council and U.S. sanctions.
    “Biegun said the upcoming summit would provide a crucial chance to foster peace and prosperity of the Korean peninsula,” the ministry said.
    Lee offered positive views on a recent cordial exchange of letters between Trump and Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s summit with Kim early this year.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised hopes for a revival of talks after the letters, while Xi told Moon on Thursday that Kim’s resolve for denuclearization and dialogue remained unchanged.
    Biegun also met South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul in charge of inter-Korean affairs, during which they vowed utmost efforts to revive nuclear talks, the ministry said in a statement.
    Moon has said Washington is in behind-the-scenes talks with Pyongyang over a possible third summit and has proposed a fresh round of talks.    But the North said on Thursday that the United States had become “more and more desperate in its hostile acts” even as it spoke of dialogue.
    North Korea’s state media KCNA on Friday urged the United States and South Korea to scrap their plans to carry out joint military drills in the summer.
    The allies have replaced their annual major exercises with smaller-scale programs following last year’s detente.    But Pyongyang sees the drills as a rehearsal for war and demands they be called off.
    “This amounts to a wanton challenge to the desire and expectation of all the Koreans and the international community for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and an act to create the atmosphere of confrontation and danger of war again,” KCNA said in a commentary.
    Working toward the denuclearization of the “Korean peninsula” is also a grey area which, by North Korea’s reckoning, includes the regional U.S. nuclear umbrella protecting Japan and South Korea.    The United States only wants North Korea to denuclearize.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Kim Coghill and Nick Macfie)

6/28/2019 Impeach me, I’ll jail you – Philippines’ Duterte dares foes to test him
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech during their joint press statement with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
(not pictured) at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan May 31, 2019. Kazuhiro Nogi /Pool via Reuters
    MANILA (Reuters) – (Attention to strong language in paragraphs five and six.)
    Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened opponents with prison if they try to impeach him, the latest in what a top U.N. official and an Asian lawmakers’ group this week called a pattern of persecution and assaults on free speech.
    Duterte vented his anger late on Thursday amid intense media scrutiny and accusations that he is siding with China over a June 9 sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel, which happened inside Manila’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
    The maverick leader has echoed Beijing’s line that it was an accident, not an intentional ramming, and shrugged off the presence of Chinese fishermen inside the Philippine EEZ, saying he would allow it out of friendship.
    Some high-profile critics, among them a top judge and a former foreign minister, have called that a breach of the constitution, or worthy of his impeachment.
    “Me?    Will be impeached?    I will jail them all,” Duterte told reporters.    “Try to do it and I will do it.    Son of a bitch.”
    He added: “I am challenging you to do it.    You really want to force my hand into it?    Okay.    You sons of bitches, do it.    Yes.    File it.”
    A report on Tuesday by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights chided the Duterte administration for what it said were threats and aggressive rhetoric and trumped-up criminal charges against opponents that amounted to “deliberate effort to muzzle critics and weaken checks and balances.”
    U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday said there was a “very real risk of violence” for Filipinos who speak out, noting threats were publicly made by state officials.
    While Duterte’s popularity and mandate have been bolstered by a recent midterm election, the sinking incident has put the domestic spotlight on cracks that are appearing in his much-trumpeted foreign policy of non-confrontation with China in return for economic incentives.
    Some analysts say China’s offers of high-interest infrastructure loans and promises of massive investments have won Duterte’s acquiescence, but with much of that yet to materialize and China further militarizing its artificial islands and strengthening its fishing militia, Duterte risks looking like he is being duped.
    Asked on Friday about threats to jail opponents, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte was merely upset that people could not see he had the country’s interests at heart.
    “He cannot understand why people are against his policy,” Panelo told reporters.
(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Kim Coghill)

6/28/2019 Iran seen breaking nuclear pact limit in days; Trump says ‘no time pressure’ by Francois Murphy and Roberta Rampton
FILE PHOTO: A general view of Bushehr nuclear power plant, 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran, August 21, 2010. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    VIENNA/OSAKA (Reuters) – Diplomats said Iran is on course to breach a threshold in its nuclear agreement within days but U.S. President Donald Trump, who has ratcheted up pressure on the Middle Eastern country, said there was “absolutely no time pressure” on the issue.
    The prospect that Tehran could soon violate its nuclear commitments, a week after Trump called off air strikes on Iran at the last minute, has created additional diplomatic urgency to find a way out of the crisis.
    Iran had set Thursday as a deadline beyond which it would exceed the threshold for stockpiles of enriched uranium allowed under its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, which Tehran is still following even though Washington abandoned it last year.
    The diplomats, citing U.N. inspectors’ data, said the Islamic Republic was on course to exceed the limits soon by accumulating more enriched uranium than permitted but it had not done so by Thursday.
    However, Trump said of Iran on Friday: “We have a lot of time.    There’s no rush.”
    “They can take their time.    There’s absolutely no time pressure.    I think in the end, hopefully, it’s going to work out.    If it does, great – and if it doesn’t, you’ll be hearing about it,” he said as he greeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Osaka.
    Other world leaders gathered in Japan continued to express concern about Iran, even as Trump appeared relaxed.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping said the Gulf region was “standing at a crossroads of war and peace,” calling for calm and restraint and talks to resolve the issue.
    “China always stands on the side of peace and opposes war,” state news agency Xinhua paraphrased Xi as saying in Osaka.    “All parties must remain calm and exercise restraint, strengthen dialogue and consultations, and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability.”
    European Council President Donald Tusk, also at the G20, expressed concern about Iran potentially breaching the pact, saying the European Union would continue to monitor Tehran’s compliance.
    “We strongly urge Iran to continue the full implementation of all its commitments under the nuclear deal, and we take very seriously the possibility of any breach of its commitment,” he told a news conference.
    “Maintaining the nuclear deal is in the regional and international security interest,” Tusk said.    “The EU is committed to the deal as long as Iran continues to uphold it.”
    One diplomat in Vienna, headquarters of the U.N. nuclear agency the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on Thursday: “They haven’t reached the limit … It’s more likely to be at the weekend if they do it.”
‘NUCLEAR BLACKMAIL’
    The U.S. envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, met European officials in Paris on Thursday to discuss what he described as Iran’s “nuclear blackmail.”
    France, one of the European countries caught in the middle, said it would ask Trump to suspend some sanctions on Iran to make room for negotiations to