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

    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 May-June or continue to King Of The East 2019 September-October

KING OF THE EAST 2019 JULY-AUGUST




2019 JULY-AUGUST

7/1/2019 North Korea upbeat on Trump-Kim surprise meeting as a chance to push nuclear talks by Joyce Lee
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the demilitarized zone
separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed at their meeting on Sunday to push forward dialogue for making a new breakthrough in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, North Korean state media said on Monday.
    Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea on Sunday when he met Kim in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas and agreed to resume stalled nuclear talks.
    “The top leaders of the two countries agreed to keep in close touch in the future, too, and resume and push forward productive dialogues for making a new breakthrough in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and in the bilateral relations,” KCNA news agency said.
    The meeting, initiated by a tweet by Trump that Kim said took him by surprise, displayed the rapport between the two, but analysts said they were no closer to narrowing the gap between their positions since they walked away from their summit in February in Vietnam.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters shortly before departing South Korea that a new round of talks would likely happen “sometime in July” and the North’s negotiators would be foreign ministry diplomats.
    In a photo released by KCNA on Monday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Pompeo are shown sitting next to Kim and Trump respectively in Freedom House, the building in which the two leaders had their one-on-one talks.
    KCNA said that during the chat between Trump and Kim, the two leaders explained “issues of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula,” “issues of mutual concern and interest which become a stumbling block in solving those issues,” and “voiced full understanding and sympathy.”
    Kim said it was the good personal relationship he had with Trump that made such a dramatic meeting possible at just one day’s notice and that the relationship with Trump would continue to produce good results, according to KCNA.
    The two leaders’ “bold, brave decision” that led to the historic meeting “created unprecedented trust between the two countries” that had been tangled in deeply rooted animosity, KCNA said.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the meeting between Trump and Kim and “fully supports the continued efforts of the parties to establish new relations toward sustainable peace, security and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
    China also welcomed the meeting, with a foreign ministry spokesman describing it as “constructive and achieving positive results.”
    But problems could lie ahead.
    “The fact that the nuclear talks have jump-started is very encouraging, but that doesn’t mean that the two sides have already adjusted their positions and set the conditions for successful working-level negotiations,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
    Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, dismissed a report in The New York Times on Monday that Washington is seeking to soften its approach, floating an idea of accepting a nuclear freeze – instead of complete dismantlement – and giving tacit recognition that North Korea is a nuclear state.
    “I read this NYT story with curiosity,” Bolton said in a tweet.    “Neither the [National Security Council] staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.’    This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President.    There should be consequences.”
(Reporting by Jack Kim and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at United Nations, Josh Smith in Seoul, and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler)

7/1/2019 Trump makes history by visiting North Korea - DMZ meeting with Kim advances talks on nukes by Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    PANMUNJOM, Korea – With wide grins and a historic handshake, President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un met at the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone on Sunday and agreed to revive talks on the pariah nation’s nuclear program.
    Trump, pressing for a legacy-defining deal, became the first sitting American leader to step into North Korea.
    What was intended to be an impromptu exchange of pleasantries turned into a 50-minute meeting, another historic first in the yearlong rapprochement between the two technically warring nations.
    It marked a return to face-to-face contact between the leaders after talks broke down during a summit in Vietnam in February.
    Doubts remain, though, about the future of the negotiations and the North’s willingness to give up its stockpile of nuclear weapons.
    The border encounter was a madefor television moment.    The men strode toward one another from opposite sides of the Joint Security Area and shook hands over the raised patch of concrete at the Military Demarcation Line as cameras clicked.
    After asking if Kim wanted him to cross, Trump took 10 steps into the North with Kim at his side, then escorted Kim back to the South for talks at Freedom House, where they agreed to revive the stalled negotiations.
    The spectacle marked the latest milestone in two years of roller-coaster diplomacy between the two nations.    Personal taunts of “Little Rocket Man” (by Trump) and “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” (by Kim) and threats to destroy one another have given way to on-again, off-again talks, professions of love and flowery letters.
    “I was proud to step over the line,” Trump told Kim as they met on the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom.    “It is a great day for the world.”
    Kim hailed the moment, saying of Trump, “I believe this is an expression of his willingness to eliminate all the unfortunate past and open a new future.”    Kim added that he was “surprised” when Trump issued an unorthodox meeting invitation by tweet on Saturday.
    As he left South Korea on his flight to Washington, Trump tweeted that he had “a wonderful meeting” with Kim.    “Stood on the soil of North Korea, an important statement for all, and a great honor!
    Substantive talks between the countries had largely broken down after the last Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, which ended early when the leaders hit an impasse.
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump meet Sunday on the south side of the Military Demarcation Line
in the Joint Security Area of Panmunjom, South Korea. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

7/1/2019 Hong Kong descends into chaos as protesters storm legislature by Jessie Pang and Alun John
Lawmakers Kwok Ka-ki and Leung Yiu-chung talk to protesters as they try to break into the Legislative Council building
during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong protesters stormed the Legislative Council on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 return to Chinese rule on Monday amid widespread anger over laws that would allow extraditions to China, plunging the city deeper into chaos.
    A small group, mostly students wearing hard hats and masks, used a metal trolley, poles and pieces of scaffolding to hack through reinforced glass and charge at the government compound.
    Some protesters entered the building but it was unclear how many were still inside.
    Riot police in helmets and carrying batons fired pepper spray as the standoff continued into the sweltering heat of the evening. Some demonstrators removed steel bars that were reinforcing parts of the council building.
    The protesters, some with cling film wrapped around their arms to protect their skin in the event of tear gas, once again paralyzed parts of the Asian financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers.
    Some were building barricades with steel pipes on the approach roads, facing outwards like a porcupine, to keep the police back, and scouring nearby streets for railings.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill on June 15 after some of the largest and most violent protests in the former British colony in decades, but stopped short of protesters’ demands to scrap it.
    The Beijing-backed leader is now clinging on to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government and a series of mass protests that poses the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
    “This is the end of Hong Kong.    If Carrie Lam continues to be our chief executive, we only see real darkness ahead,” said a 60-year-old housewife surnamed Lau, who holds a foreign passport.    “So we want to fight for the young people."
    “I have friends… They don’t want their children to grow up in a just another Chinese city with no future for the next generation.”
    Opponents of the extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law and are demanding it be scrapped and Lam step down.
    Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.
    Beijing denies interfering but, for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.
    China has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington and London, about the legislation.
    Beijing said on Monday that Britain had no responsibility for Hong Kong any more and was opposed to its “gesticulating” about the territory.
THOUSANDS RALLY
    Tens of thousands marched in temperatures of around 33 degrees Celsius (91.4°F) from Victoria Park in an annual rally that organizers hoped would get a boost from the anger over the extradition bill. Many clapped as protesters held up a poster of Lam inside a bamboo cage.
    Tension rose as police used pepper spray beat some protesters with batons as they fell to the ground near where officials were preparing a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover.
    More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger.
    Weeks of unrest forced nervous authorities to deploy a massive security blanket around the waterfront Convention and Exhibition Centre, the venue of the flag-raising ceremony.
    A tired-looking Lam appeared in public for the first time in nearly two weeks, flanked by her husband and former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa.
    “The incident that happened in recent months has led to controversies and disputes between the public and the government,” she said.    “This has made me fully realize that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiment accurately.”
PROTEST MOVEMENT REINVIGORATED
    Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong has intensified markedly since Xi took power and after pro-democracy street protests that gripped the city in 2014 but failed to wrestle concessions from China.
    The extradition bill has sent jitters across all sectors of Hong Kong in an unprecedented backlash against the government.
    Tensions spiraled on June 12 when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at anti-extradition protesters near the heart of the city, sending plumes of smoke billowing among some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.
    The uproar over the bill has reignited a protest movement that had lost steam after the failed 2014 demonstrations that led to the arrests of hundreds of activists.
    Activists raised a black bauhinia flag to half mast outside the Legislative Council building before the rally and turned Hong Kong’s official flag, featuring a white bauhinia flower on a red background, upside down.
    The turmoil comes at a delicate time for Beijing, which is grappling with a trade dispute with the United States, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea.
    Opponents of the extradition bill fear it would put them at the mercy of China’s justice system, where human rights are not guaranteed.
    Beyond the public outcry, the extradition bill has 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.
(Additional reporting by Vimvam Tong, Thomas Peter, Sumeet Chatterjee, Anne Marie Roantree, Sharon Lam, Donny Kwok, Joyce Zhou, Twinnie Siu and Felix Tam in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

7/1/2019 Gun battle rages in Afghan capital after Taliban blast injures 100 by Hamid Shalizi, Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi
Smoke rises from the site of a blast and gunfire in Kabul, Afghanistan July 1, 2019.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan security forces on Monday were battling Taliban gunmen who stormed a building in the capital, Kabul, after a bomb-laden truck exploded near the defense ministry at rush hour, injuring at least 100 people, including 51 children, officials said.
    Sporadic gunfire and explosions could be heard in the area where at least three gunman had entered a building near the defense ministry, a security official said.
    Special forces cordoned off the area and had rescued 210 people so far, the Interior Ministry said.
    “Gunmen have entered a building and they are clashing with the Afghan forces after the powerful blast,” said interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.
    The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
    “The target was the defense ministry’s technical installation,” the Islamist militants’ spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in a statement.
    Afghan security officials said the truck loaded with explosives was detonated near the ministry’s engineering and logistics department.
    About 100 wounded people were taken to hospital, said health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar, but there was no immediate word of fatalities.
    Fifty-one children in two schools near the blast site were hurt by flying shards of glass, said Nooria Nazhat, a spokeswoman of the education ministry.
    “These children were in the classrooms when the blast shattered the glass windows.    All injured children were rushed out of their schools,” said Nazhat.
    A security guard at Shamshad TV, a Pashto-language media organization, was killed and several employees injured in their office near the blast site, said director Abid Ehsas.
    The blast sent a plume of black smoke rising over the city and shook buildings.
    The area has a cluster of military and government buildings, as well as an office of the Afghan Football Federation, whose chief, Yosuf Kargar, was among several members injured, according to spokesman Shafi Shadab.
PEACE TALKS
    The attack comes as U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad holds a seventh round of peace talks with the Taliban Islamist militant group in Qatar, aimed at bringing an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
    The talks, described by one U.S. official as a “make-or-break moment,” have focused on issues ranging from counter-terrorism and withdrawal of foreign troops to an intra-Afghan dialogue and a comprehensive ceasefire.
    Two sources at the peace talks said direct negotiations between the warring sides was unlikely to go beyond Monday.
    “The latest attack by the Taliban has changed the entire context of our meeting, unease has crept in,” said an official present in the room where negotiations are underway in Doha.
    Sohail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban political office in Doha, said the group’s key concern was to make sure a timeline for foreign troop pullout is announced.
    Taliban officials have previously said they want all foreign troops withdrawn before they hold talks with the Afghan government or declare a ceasefire.
    About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counter-terrorism operations.
    Less than a week ago, U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo paid a short visit to Kabul and said the Trump administration was hopeful that a peace deal with the Taliban was achievable by Sept. 1.
    Despite peace talks gaining momentum, fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces who are backed by the foreign troops, has raged across Afghanistan.
    The ministry of defense said on Monday 67 insurgents were killed in 11 provinces in the last 24 hours.    The Taliban said their fighters had conducted 52 operations against Afghan forces in which more than 170 people were killed.
    Both side accuse each other of exaggerating casualty figures to boost the morale of their fighters.
(Additional reporting, writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

7/1/2019 Iran breaches 2015 nuclear deal’s stockpile limit: sources by Parisa Hafezi
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) – Iran has breached the limit of its enriched uranium stockpile set in a 2015 deal with major powers, two sources told Reuters on Monday, defying a warning by European co-signatories to stick to the deal despite U.S. sanctions.
    “As we announced when we said our steps would continue, the stockpile has passed 300 kg,” one of the sources said.
    The semi-official Fars news agency quoted a source as saying that the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had measured the stockpile on Monday.    The IAEA was not immediately available for comment.
    Enriching uranium to a low level of 3.6% fissile material is the first step in a process that could eventually allow Iran to amass enough highly-enriched uranium to build a nuclear warhead.
    Last Wednesday, the IAEA verified that Iran had roughly 200 kg of low-enriched uranium, just below the deal’s 202.8 kg limit, three diplomats who follow the agency’s work told Reuters.    On Monday, the IAEA was not immediately available for comment.
    After talks on Friday in Vienna, Iran said European countries had offered too little in the way of trade assistance to persuade it to back off from its plan to breach the limit, a riposte to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last year to quit the deal and reimpose economic sanctions.
    The deal between Iran and six world powers lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for restrictions on its nuclear work aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.
    Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, including generating power.
    In May, Washington piled pressure on Tehran by ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil, and tensions have been growing in the Gulf ever since.
    Washington has dispatched extra forces to the Middle East, and U.S. fighter jets came within minutes of conducting air strikes on Iran last month after Tehran downed an unmanned American drone.
    In a speech on Monday broadcast live on state TV, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “Iran will never yield to pressure from the United States … If they want to talk to Iran, they should show respect …"
    “Never threaten an Iranian … Iran has always resisted pressure, and has responded with respect when respected.”
    Trump has called for negotiations with Iran with “no preconditions,” but Tehran has ruled out talks until the United States returns to the nuclear pact and drops its sanctions.
(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Francois Murphy in Vienna; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

7/1/2019 Pompeo: Iran extorting international community by OAN Newsroom
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran is using its nuclear program to “extort the international community.”    As the world’s top sponsor of terrorism, he said the country should “never be allowed to enrich uranium at any level.”
    Pompeo tweeted the statement Monday amid reports the Islamic Republic exceeded its uranium enrichment limit.
    Pompeo: “Iran's regime has taken new steps to advance its nuclear ambitions.    Once again, the regime uses its nuclear program to extort the international community and threaten regional security.    The world’s top sponsor of terrorism can never be allowed to enrich uranium at any level.”
FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
    Iranian news outlet Fars said the country has produced about 660-pounds of enriched uranium, which is just over the limit put in place by the 2015 Iran Nuclear Accord. Officials pointed out the stockpile is not enough for the country to produce a nuclear weapon.
    President Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal last year, but the agreement still remains in effect for several countries.
FILE – This photo shows a part of Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak, 150 miles
(250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. Iran acknowledged Monday, July 1, 2019, it had broken the limit set on
its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by the 2015 nuclear deal, marking its first major departure from the unraveling agreement
a year after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the accord. (Mehdi Marizad/Fars News Agency via AP, File)
    Iran previously vowed to exceed the limit unless it received relief on sanctions, which were promised under the deal.
    “…Iran has exceeded the enriched uranium limit.    We had previously announced this and we were transparent in saying what we are going to do. We are going to act according to what we have announced and we consider it our right, reserved in the nuclear deal.” — Mohammad Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister – Iran
    Iranian leaders said if the European Union does not lower sanctions on the country by this Sunday, it will further increase its enrichment levels.

7/1/2019 U.S. calls on China to honor agreements amid unrest in Hong Kong by OAN Newsroom
    The U.S. is calling on Hong Kong and China to reevaluate their relationship amid an outcry of protests in the country.    Citizens have flooded the streets, claiming proposed changes by the government will dismantle their freedoms.
    During a stop in Mongolia Monday, National Security Adviser John Bolton said Hong Kong has made many agreements across the globe and expects China to honor all of them.    Bolton said the nation has a responsibility to uphold all agreements that reflect the best interests of all countries.
    “I think our policies on Hong Kong and Taiwan are very well known,” he stated.    “In particular, with respect to Hong Kong, we expect China like every other country to adhere to its international obligations — I think that is very clear.”
    Protesters rushed the parliamentary chamber where they defaced Hong Kong’s logo, while also destructing walls and furniture.    Thousands have continue to demonstrate outside the legislature.
Protesters take part in a rally on Monday, July 1, 2019, in Hong Kong. Combative protesters tried to break
into the Hong Kong legislature Monday as a crowd of thousands prepared to start a march in that direction
on the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

7/1/2019 North Korean Media: President Trump & Kim’s meeting to advance denuclearization talks by OAN Newsroom
    North Korean state media reaffirmed denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang will continue, following President Trump’s visit with leader Kim Jong-un.
    In a statement Monday, North Korean newscasters said the Trump-Kim meeting was a “historic moment” that will push forward productive dialogue for achieving a breakthrough in denuclearization talks.    This comes after President Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to enter the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas.     For his part, President Trump also said preparations for a new round of denuclearization talks are underway.    However, he also said there is no rush to reach a deal with Pyongyang.
President Donald Trump, right, listens as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, speaks during their bilateral meeting inside the
Freedom House at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    Meanwhile, the leader of the Catholic Church is also praising President Trump’s weekend meeting with the North Korean leader.    While speaking Sunday, Pope Francis called the landmark meeting “a good example of the culture of encounter.”
    In the past, Pope Francis has said under the right conditions he would consider a trip to the secluded country to push for diplomacy between both Korea’s.    The Pope said he will continue praying for peace between both nations.
    In a tweet, President Trump reiterated the significance of his meeting with Kim.
    Trump tweet: “Leaving South Korea after a wonderful meeting with Chairman Kim Jong Un. Stood on the soil of North Korea, an important statement for all, and a great honor!” 7/2/2019 U.S. Envoy to Hong Kong speaks out on protest at legislative council by OAN Newsroom
    The U.S. consul general for Hong Kong said the U.S. was “disappointed to see violence and vandalism” during protests at the legislative council.    Kurt Tong made the comments Tuesday at an Independence Day celebration, where he also said “freedom of expression” is most effective and proper when exercised peacefully.
    The American diplomat said he believes Hong Kong has the right ideas and basic structure in “one country, two systems” to succeed and prosper as a society.
Police officers stand guard near a broken glass outside Legislative Council building in Hong Kong, Tuesday, July 2, 2019.
Hundreds of protesters swarmed into Hong Kong’s legislature Monday night, defacing portraits of lawmakers and
spray-painting pro-democracy slogans in the chamber before vacating it as riot police cleared surrounding streets
with tear gas and then moved inside. The words read "not leave, not withdraw.” (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
    In response to China urging the U.S. to stop interfering in its internal affairs, Tong asserted the U.S. has a legitimate right to voice it’s concerns.
    “We have close to 100,000 citizens living here, tens and tens of billions of dollars of investment here, 1,400 American companies, 100,000 people in Hong Kong are employed by U.S. companies, so we feel like we have a legitimate voice to express our concerns about issues of politics or governance or economic policy or the like,” he explained.    “And so we certainly don’t view that as an interference.”
    The U.S. consul general said the past several months have been a “tough time” for Hong Kong, but also expressed optimism for it’s future.

7/3/2019 Hong Kong protests and China’s tightening grip rattle business community by Iris Yuan and Vimvam Tong
Anti-extradition bill protesters wearing helmets gather outside the Legislative Council building on the
anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chaotic scenes of protesters rampaging through Hong Kong’s legislature, trashing furniture and daubing graffiti over walls have sent jitters through the business community, which worries about the impact on the city’s status as a financial hub.
    Plumes of smoke billowed among gleaming sky-scrapers early on Tuesday as police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the heart of the Chinese-ruled city, home to the offices of some of the world’s biggest companies, including global bank HSBC.
    Escalating unrest over a controversial extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, grabbed global headlines and clouded the former British colony’s outlook as a finance hub, one of the city’s main pillars of growth.
    “I think there will be damage to the reputation of Hong Kong,” said Yumi Yung, 35, who works in fintech.    “Some companies may want to leave Hong Kong, or at least not have their headquarters here.”
    Around 1,500 multinational companies make Hong Kong their Asian home because of its stability and rule of law.    Some of the biggest and most violent protests in decades could change that perception.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.    Monday was the 22nd anniversary.
    Beijing denies interfering but, for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march towards mainland control.    Many fear it would put them at the mercy of courts controlled by the Communist Party where human rights are not guaranteed.
    “If this bill is not completely scrapped, I will have no choice but to leave my home, Hong Kong,” said Steve, a British lawyer who has worked in Hong Kong for 30 years.
    Daniel Yim, a 27-year-old investment banker, said both sides needed to sit down and work things out.
    “I think the most effective way to address this will be that the government will … actually tackle this and speak to the people, and I guess, you know, both sides sit together and come up with … the appropriate solution.”
LOSING FREEDOM
    Others raised concerns about the future of human rights and the judiciary.    Many did not want to use their full names.
    “To me, the biggest worry is how Hong Kong is losing its independence bit by bit and is getting dangerously close to a country that doesn’t value human rights and that doesn’t have an independent judicial system,” said Edward, an Australian citizen who has worked in the financial sector for 10 years.
    The extradition bill, now suspended but not scrapped, has also spooked some tycoons into moving their personal wealth offshore, according to financial advisers familiar with the details.
    An Australian businesswoman who has worked in Hong Kong for 16 years lamented what she saw as Beijing’s tightening grip.
    “China is just taking away more and more freedom from Hong Kong,” she said.
    “I feel sorry for Hong Kong people, especially Hong Kong people … (here) for more freedom, a better economy, a better life, and now it’s going backwards,” the woman said.
    Such concerns came as China’s top newspaper warned on Wednesday that outbreaks of lawlessness could damage Hong Kong’s reputation and seriously hurt its economy.
    Calm has returned for now, but the events of recent weeks have set many people thinking.
    “If it had escalated, I would consider moving elsewhere,” a 44-year-old hedge fund manager said of the ransacking of the legislature.    “I employ four to five people in Hong Kong so yes, I would consider moving.”
(Additional reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

7/3/2019 Iran will increase uranium enrichment to whatever levels it needs: Rouhani
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
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran will increase its level of uranium enrichment after July 7 to whatever levels it needs beyond the 3.67% cap set in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, according to the IRIB news agency.
    If the remaining signatories of the nuclear deal with world powers do not fulfill their promises, then the Arak nuclear reactor will return to its previous activities after July 7, Rouhani said.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Catherine Evans)

7/3/2019 Iran to boost uranium enrichment level, breaching nuclear pact: Rouhani by Babak Dehghanpisheh and 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
    GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will boost its uranium enrichment after July 7 to whatever levels it needs beyond the cap set in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, defying U.S. efforts to force Tehran to renegotiate the pact.
    Iran announced this week it has stockpiled more low-enriched uranium than is permitted under the accord, a move that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump – who withdrew the United States from the deal last year – to warn Iran was “playing with fire.”
    European co-signatories said on Tuesday they were “extremely concerned” by Tehran’s apparent breach of the deal while Israel said it was preparing for possible involvement in any military confrontation between Iran and the United States.
    “Our level of enrichment will no longer be 3.67. We will put this commitment aside by whatever amount we feel like, by whatever amount is our necessity, our need.    We will take this above 3.67,” said Rouhani, according to IRIB news agency.
    Uranium refined to a fissile purity of 3.67% is deemed suitable for electricity generation and is the maximum allowed by the deal.     Enrichment to 90% yields bomb-grade material.
    He said that if the other signatories do not protect trade with Iran promised under the deal but blocked by Trump’s reimposition of tough sanctions, Iran would start to revive its Arak heavy-water reactor after July 7.
    As required by the accord, Iran said in January 2016 that it had removed the core of the reactor and filled it with cement.
    “From (July 7) onward with the Arak reactor, if you don’t operate (according to) the program and time frame of all the commitments you’ve given us, we will return the Arak reactor to its previous condition,” said Rouhani.
    “Meaning, the condition that you say is dangerous and can produce plutonium,” he said, referring to a key ingredient in a nuclear weapon.     “We will return to that unless you take action regarding all your commitments regarding Arak.”
    He kept the door open to negotiations, saying Iran would again reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium below the 300-kilogram limit set by the nuclear pact if signatories Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China honored their deal pledges.
U.S. SANCTIONS NOOSE
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated since Trump pulled Washington out of the pact in May 2018 and acted to bar all international sales of Iranian oil, the Islamic Republic’s economic lifeblood.
    Washington also accuses Iran of perpetrating explosive attacks that damaged six oil tankers in the Gulf in May and June, something Tehran denies.
    The European signatories to the accord have sought to pull the two longstanding adversaries from the verge of military conflict, fearing a mistake could spiral into a wider Middle East war endangering global security and energy supplies.
    Israel has encouraged the Trump administration to press ahead with sanctions against its regional arch-enemy Iran, predicting that Tehran will eventually renegotiate a more limiting nuclear deal as Washington has demanded.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies that Iran is in violation of the nuclear accord by amassing more low-enriched uranium, saying Iran is exercising its right to respond following the U.S. withdrawal.
    The nuclear deal lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its disputed nuclear work.
    It aimed to extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year, and Iranian compliance with the terms prior to the showdown with the Trump administration was verified by U.N. inspectors.
    Tehran has denied any intent to develop nuclear weapons.
    Iran’s main demand – in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States – is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels that prevailed before Trump left the deal and restored sanctions.
    The head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday the enemy – an allusion to Washington – was worried about the prospect of war and was focused instead on an economic conflict, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/3/2019 China criticizes Britain for ‘shameless’ comments on Hong Kong by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Riot police clear the streets outside the Legislative Council building, after protesters stormed the building
on the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China, in Hong Kong, China July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Wednesday denounced British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt as “shameless,” saying it had made a diplomatic complaint to London after he warned of consequences if China neglected commitments made when it took back Hong Kong in 1997.
    China has stepped up a war of words with Hong Kong’s former colonial ruler following mass protests there against a now suspended bill that would allow extradition to mainland China.
    “To say that the freedoms of Hong Kong residents is something Britain strived for is simply shameless,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing.
    “I would like to ask Mr. Hunt, during the British colonial era in Hong Kong, was there any democracy to speak of?    Hong Kongers didn’t even have the right to protest.”
    Only after Hong Kong’s return to China did its people got an “unprecedented” guarantee about democracy and freedom, he said.
    Britain’s responsibilities to Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration have ended, and Hong Kong is purely an internal matter for China, Geng added, repeating earlier remarks.
    The comments followed remarks by Hunt to Reuters on Monday, condemning violence on both sides and warning of consequences if China neglected commitments to allow freedoms to Hong Kong not enjoyed in mainland China, including the right to protest.
    Late on Monday, hundreds of protesters in the former British colony had besieged, and broken into, the legislature after a demonstration marking the anniversary of return to Chinese rule.
    China called the violence an “undisguised challenge” to the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled for 22 years.
    The turbulence in Hong Kong was triggered by an extradition bill opponents say will undermine Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law and give Beijing powers to prosecute activists in mainland courts, which are controlled by the Communist Party.
    Hunt, who is seeking to become Britain’s next prime minister, has made no attempt to correct his mistakes in talking about Hong Kong and has “continued to wag his tongue too freely” on the issue, Geng said.
    Had Britain’s parliament been surrounded and attacked, would authorities have stood by and done nothing, he asked.
    “Does he think that the British police’s handling of the August, 2011 riots in London was repression?” Geng asked, referring to rioting in London that year.
    “We hope that Britain, especially Mr. Hunt, does not overestimate its abilities and wantonly interfere in Hong Kong matters.    This is destined to be futile,” he said.
    China has lodged “stern representations” with Britain both in Beijing and London about Hunt’s remarks, he added.
    The two countries had been seeking to reset ties after a row over the disputed South China Sea last year, with Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua visiting London last month to oversee the start of a link between its stock exchange and that of Shanghai.
    Confrontation and lawlessness in Hong Kong could damage its reputation as an international business hub and seriously hurt its economy, China’s top newspaper, the People’s Daily, said in an editorial.
    “It will not only serve no purpose, but will also severely hinder economic and social development,” the ruling Communist Party’s official paper said, denouncing what it called artificially created division and opposition.
    Hong Kong, facing pressure from changes in the world economy and intensifying competition, could not “bear turbulence and internal friction,” it added.
    China has blamed Western countries, particularly the United States and Hong Kong’s former colonial master Britain, for offering succour to the protests.
    In an editorial, the official China Daily, an English-language newspaper Beijing often uses to send its message to the world, condemned “outside agitations.”
    “What has also been notable is the hypocrisy of some Western governments – the United States and United Kingdom most prominently – which have called for a stop to the violence, as if they have had nothing to do with it,” the paper said.
    “But, looking back at the whole protest saga, they have been deeply involved in fuelling it since its inception.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by David Stanway in SHANGHAI; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

7/3/2019 Iran Guards chief says enemy focused on economic conflict
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
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday the enemy was worried about the prospect of war and was focused instead on an economic conflict, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
    Tensions between the United States and Iran have increased since Trump pulled Washington out of a nuclear deal last year and moved to bar all international sales of Iranian oil.
    Last month the United States came as close as it has ever come to bombing Iran, when President Donald Trump aborted a retaliatory air strike minutes before impact.    Trump said he decided the strike, to punish Iran for shooting down a drone, would have killed too many people.
    “In the military sphere, we have completely closed the path for the enemy,” Major General Hossein Salami was quoted as saying.
    “In the current situation it is the enemies who are worried about the outbreak of war and this worry is apparent in their physical and tactical behavior … At the current crossroads, economic war is the main field for the enemy to confront us,” he added.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh)

7/3/2019 Rouhani: Iran could reverse uranium threat if other nations honor 2015 nuclear deal by OAN Newsroom
    In a recent statement, Iran’s president said his country could reverse course on violating the 2015 nuclear deal if other participating nations make a move to save it.
    On Wednesday, Hassan Rouhani noted Iran could halt Monday’s decision to boost uranium stockpiles if other parties “return to their obligations and commitments” under the nuclear accord.
    This comes after Germany, France and Britain urged Iran to refrain from further measures Tuesday.    Despite their warning, Rouhani said if nothing is done on the European side then the breach will continue next week.
In this photo released by the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting
in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Rouhani warned European partners in its faltering nuclear deal on Wednesday
that Tehran will increase its enrichment of uranium to “any amount that we want” beginning on Sunday, putting pressure on
them to offer a way around intense U.S. sanctions targeting the country. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
    “The fact that our enriched uranium has surpassed 300 kilograms and will continue is to protect JCPOA,” he stated.    “From July 7th, we will put aside our commitment in relation to the level of enrichment, and we will increase to any level that we wish depending on the needs and our requirements.”
    The Iranian leader added, it would only take one hour to make the decision to halt uranium enrichment.

7/5/2019 Iran threatens British shipping in retaliation for tanker seizure by Kate Holton and Parisa Hafezi
A British Royal Navy patrol vessel guards the oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, as it
sits anchored in waters of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
    LONDON/DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened on Friday to seize a British ship in retaliation for the capture of an Iranian supertanker in Gibraltar by Royal Marines.
    “If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities duty to seize a British oil tanker,” Mohsen Rezai said on Twitter.
    The Gibraltar government said the crew on board the supertanker Grace 1 were being interviewed as witnesses, not criminal suspects, in an effort to establish the nature of the cargo and its ultimate destination.
    British Royal Marines abseiled onto the ship off the coast of the British territory on Thursday and seized it.    They landed a helicopter on the moving vessel in pitch darkness.
    The move escalates a confrontation between Iran and the West just weeks after the United States called off air strikes minutes before impact, and draws Washington’s close ally into a crisis in which European powers had striven to appear neutral.
    Tehran summoned the British ambassador on Thursday to voice “its very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of its ship, a move that also eliminated doubt about the ownership of the vessel.
    Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the crude oil cargo was from Iran.    The ship’s paperwork had said the oil was from neighboring Iraq, but tracking data reviewed by Reuters suggested it had loaded at an Iranian port.
    European countries have walked a careful line since last year when the United States ignored their pleas and pulled out of a pact between Iran and world powers that gave Tehran access to global trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
    Over the past two months, Washington has sharply tightened sanctions against Tehran with the aim of halting its oil exports altogether.     The moves have largely driven Iran from mainstream markets and forced it to find unconventional ways to sell crude.
    The confrontation took on a military dimension in recent weeks, with Washington accusing Iran of attacking ships in the Gulf and Iran shooting down a U.S. drone.    President Donald Trump ordered, then canceled, retaliatory strikes.
    With nuclear diplomacy at the heart of the crisis, Iran announced this week it had amassed more fissile material than allowed under its deal, and said it would purify uranium to a higher degree than permitted from July 7.
CREW ON BOARD
    The Grace 1 was impounded in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain after sailing the long way around Africa from the Middle East to the mouth of the Mediterranean, a route that demonstrates the unusual steps Iran appears to be taking to try to keep some exports flowing.
    The Gibraltar spokesman said the 28-member crew, who have remained on board the supertanker, were mainly Indians with some Pakistanis and Ukrainians.    Police and customs officials remained on board the vessel to carry out their investigation, but the Royal Marines were no longer present.
    While the European Union has not followed the United States in imposing broad sanctions against Iran, it has had measures in place since 2011 that prohibit sales of oil to Syria.
    Gibraltar said on Thursday it had reasonable grounds to believe the Grace 1 was carrying crude oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria. It made no mention of the ownership of the vessel or the origin of its cargo.
    Shipping experts say it may have been avoiding the more direct route through the Suez Canal, where a big tanker would typically be required to unload part of its cargo into a pipeline to cross, potentially exposing it to seizure.
    If officials in Gibraltar have not fully established the nature of the cargo or the final destination, they could in the coming days ask a court for permission to hold the vessel for longer.
Graphic: oil supertanker detained in Gibraltar – https://tmsnrt.rs/2Yv07qx
(Reporting by Kate Holton; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

7/5/2019 Tehran fumes as Britain seizes Iranian oil tanker over Syria sanctions by Jonathan Saul and Parisa Hafezi
Oil supertanker Grace 1 on suspicion of being carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria
is seen near Gibraltar, Spain July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    LONDON/DUBAI (Reuters) – British Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, a dramatic step that drew Tehran’s fury and could escalate its confrontation with the West.
    The Grace 1 tanker was impounded in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain after sailing around Africa, the long route from the Middle East to the mouth of the Mediterranean.
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to voice “its very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of its ship.    The diplomatic gesture lifted any doubt over Iran’s ownership of the vessel, which flies a Panama flag and is listed as managed by a company in Singapore.
    Panama’s Maritime Authority said on Thursday that Grace 1 was no longer listed in Panama’s international boat registry as of May 29.
    U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said the British move was “excellent news.”
    “America & our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran & Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade,” Bolton said on Twitter.
    Shipping data reviewed by Reuters suggests the tanker was carrying Iranian oil loaded off the coast of Iran, although its documents say the oil is from neighboring Iraq.
    While Europe has banned oil shipments to Syria since 2011, it had never seized a tanker at sea.    Unlike the United States, Europe does not have broad sanctions against Iran.
    “This is the first time that the EU has done something so public and so aggressive.
I imagine it was also coordinated in some manner with the U.S. given that NATO member forces have been involved
,” said Matthew Oresman, a partner with law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who advises firms on sanctions.
    “This is likely to have been meant as a signal to Syria and Iran – as well as the U.S. – that Europe takes sanctions enforcement seriously and that the EU can also respond to Iranian brinkmanship related to ongoing nuclear negotiations,” he said.
    Authorities in Gibraltar made no reference to the source of the oil or the ownership of the ship when they seized it.
    But Iran’s acknowledgment that it owned the ship, and the likelihood that its cargo was also Iranian, drew a link between the incident and a new U.S. effort to halt all global sales of Iranian crude.    Iran describes that as an illegal “economic war.”
    European countries have so far tried to appear neutral in the escalating confrontation between Tehran and Washington, which saw the United States call off air strikes against Iran just minutes before impact last month, and Tehran amass stocks of enriched uranium banned under a 2015 nuclear deal.
    The Gibraltar government said it had reasonable grounds to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying crude oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria.
    “That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria,” Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said.    “With my consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation.”
    A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed Gibraltar’s move.
U.S. SANCTIONS TIGHTENED
    Spain, which challenges British ownership of Gibraltar, said the action was prompted by a U.S. request to Britain and appeared to have taken place in Spanish waters. Britain’s Foreign Office did not respond to a request for comment.
    Iran has long been supplying its allies in Syria with oil despite sanctions against Syria.    What is new are U.S. sanctions on Iran itself, imposed last year when President Donald Trump pulled out of an agreement that had guaranteed Tehran access to world trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
    Those U.S. sanctions have been tightened sharply since May, effectively forcing Iran from mainstream oil markets and making it desperate for alternative customers.    Iran has grown more reliant on its own tanker fleet to transport whatever oil it can sell and to store a growing stockpile of unsold output.
    The U.S.-Iranian confrontation has escalated in recent weeks, taking on a military dimension after Washington accused Tehran of attacking tankers in the Gulf and Iran shot down a U.S. drone.    Trump ordered air strikes but called them off at the last minute, later saying too many people would have died.
    European countries opposed Trump’s decision to exit the nuclear deal last year, and they have promised to help Iran find alternative ways to export, but with little success so far.
    Iran has said it wants to keep the nuclear deal alive but must receive promised economic benefits.    This week it announced it had accumulated more low-enriched uranium than the deal allows and from July 7 will refine uranium to a greater purity than permitted.
Graphic: Oil supertanker detained in Gibraltar – https://tmsnrt.rs/2Yv07qx
    By restricting Iran’s ability to move oil, U.S. sanctions have choked off Tehran’s Syrian allies, causing fuel shortages in government-controlled areas.    In May, Syria received its first foreign oil for six months with the arrival of two shipments, one from Iran, a source said at the time.
    Earlier this year, Reuters revealed that the Grace 1 was one of four tankers involved in shipping Iranian fuel oil to Singapore and China, violating U.S. sanctions.
    The 300,000-tonne tanker is registered as being managed by Singapore-based IShips Management Pte Ltd. Reuters was unable to establish contact with the firm for comment.
    It was documented as loading fuel oil in the Iraqi port of Basra in December, though Basra did not list it as being in port and its tracking system was switched off.    The tanker reappeared on tracking maps near Iran’s port of Bandar Assalyeh, fully loaded.
    Homayoun Falakshahi, senior analyst at London-based energy data firm Kpler, told Reuters the ship had loaded Iranian crude in mid-April from Iran’s export port of Kharg Island.
    A maritime intelligence source said the ship may have made the journey around Africa to avoid the Suez Canal, where such a large super-tanker would have had to unload its cargo and refill after passing through, exposing it to potential seizure.
(Reporting by Jonathan Saul in London and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Additional reporting by Kate Holton in London, Tom Miles in Geneva, Tom Perry in Beirut, Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore, Humeyra Pamuk and Idrees Ali in Washington, Elida Moreno in Panama City; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle, Janet Lawrence, Diane Craft and Leslie Adler)

7/6/2019 Iran to announce enrichment hike by OAN Newsroom
    Iran is set to raise it’s uranium enrichment levels.    Reports Saturday reveal the rogue regime will increase its enrichment from 3.6% to 5%.
In this photo released by the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran,
Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Rouhani warned European partners in its faltering nuclear deal on Wednesday that
Tehran will increase its enrichment of uranium to “any amount that we want” beginning on Sunday, putting pressure on them
to offer a way around intense U.S. sanctions targeting the country. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
    The hike will put the country above the limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal made with six major world powers.
    President Trump pulled out that deal, saying the country was showing no intention of abiding by the agreement.
    Earlier this week, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani teased their latest move, threatening to violate the terms of the 2015 agreement.
    “We will increase the cap to whatever level we deem is essential for us and to a level that we need, you must also know that if you do not fulfill all your obligations to us under the agreement and in the agreed time frame, then from July 7th the nuclear reactor will return to its previous activity,” Rouhani said.
    Iranian state media said, the Ayotollah regime will officially make the announcement on Sunday.

7/7/2019 Top official: Iran ready for higher uranium enrichment - Claims US, Europeans violated nuclear deal by Jon Gambrell, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TEHRAN, Iran – A top aide to Iran’s supreme leader said the Islamic Republic is ready to enrich uranium beyond the level set by Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal, just ahead of a deadline it set Sunday for Europe to offer new terms to the accord.
    A video message by Ali Akbar Velayati included him saying that “Americans directly and Europeans indirectly violated the deal,” part of Tehran’s hardening tone with Europe. European parties to the deal have yet to offer a way for Iran to avoid the sweeping economic sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump since he pulled the U.S. out of the accord a year ago, especially those targeting its crucial oil sales.
    All this comes as America has rushed thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Mideast.    Mysterious oil tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels on Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen and Iran shooting down a U.S. military drone have raised fears of a wider conflict engulfing the region.
    In the video, available Saturday on a website for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Velayati said that increasing enrichment closer to weapons- grade levels was “unanimously agreed upon by every component of the establishment.”
    “We will show reaction exponentially as much as they violate it.    We reduce our commitments as much as they reduce it,” said Velayati, Khamenei’s adviser on international affairs.    “If they go back to fulfilling their commitments, we will do so as well.”
    Under the atomic accord, Iran agreed to enrich uranium to no more than 3.67%, which is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.    Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons, but the nuclear deal sought to prevent that as a possibility by limiting enrichment and Iran’s stockpile of uranium to 661 pounds.    On Monday, Iran and United Nations inspectors acknowledged it had broken the stockpile limit.    Combining that with increasing its enrichment levels narrows the oneyear window experts believe Iran would need to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon, if it chose to do so.
    “This would be a very worrisome step that could substantially shorten the time Iran would need to produce the material needed for nuclear weapons,” said Miles Pomper, a senior fellow at the Middlebury     Institute of International Studies’ James Marin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
    It remains unclear to what level Iran will choose to boost its uranium enrichment. However, Velayati in his remarks made reference to 5% enrichment.
    “For Bushehr nuclear reactor, we need 5% of enrichment and it is a completely peaceful goal,” he said.    Bushehr, Iran’s only nuclear power plant, is now running on imported fuel from Russia that’s closely monitored by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency.
    Iran stopped producing uranium enriched above 5% in January 2014 amid negotiations for the nuclear deal.
    The U.S. said its ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, Jackie Wolcott, had requested a special meeting of the IAEA to discuss its “latest, concerning report on the Iran regime’s nuclear program.”    That meeting is planned for Wednesday.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says the Islamic Republic
is ready to begin enriching uranium beyond the level set by Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. EBRAHIM NOROOZI/AP

7/7/2019 Iran says it will enrich uranium ‘at any level’, challenging U.S. by Parisa Hafezi and Tuqa Khalid
Abbas Araqchi, Iranian deputy foreign minister for political affairs (R), Behrouz Kamalvandi,
Iran's Atomic Energy Organization spokesman (L) and Iran's government spokesman Ali Rabiei attend a
news conferenece in Tehran, Iran July 7, 2019. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Sunday it is fully prepared to enrich uranium at any level and with any amount, in further defiance of U.S. efforts to squeeze the country with sanctions and force it to renegotiate a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
    In a news conference broadcast live, senior Iranian officials said Tehran would keep reducing its commitments every 60 days unless signatories of the pact moved to protect it from U.S. sanctions.
    “In a few hours the technical process will come to an end and the enrichment beyond 3.67% will begin,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.
    “And tomorrow early in the morning, when the IAEA (U.N. nuclear watchdog) takes the sample we would have gone beyond 3.67%.”
    Under the pact, Iran can enrich uranium to 3.67% fissile material, well below the 20% it was reaching before the deal and the roughly 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon.
    Kamalvandi said Iran would enrich uranium for use in fuelling its Bushehr power plant, to the level of 5%, confirming what Reuters reported on Saturday.
    “We are fully prepared to enrich uranium at any level and with any amount,” he said.
    Iran shows no sign of caving in to pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump in a confrontation that has taken on a military dimension, with Washington blaming Tehran for attacks on oil tankers, and Iran shooting down a U.S. drone, prompting aborted U.S. air strikes.
    Long-tense relations between Tehran and Washington took a turn for the worse in May 2018 when Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal reached before he took office, and reimposed sanctions.
    Trump argues that the deal is too weak because some of its terms are not permanent, and because it does not cover non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional aspirations.
TEHRAN PRESSURES EUROPEAN POWERS
    Iran’s announcement challenging Washington is a test of European diplomacy.    The Europeans, who opposed last year’s decision by Trump to abandon the agreement, had pleaded with Iran to keep within its parameters.
    Tehran has expressed frustration over what it says is the failure of European parties to the agreement to salvage the pact by protecting Iran’s economic interests from U.S. sanctions.
    “European countries have failed to uphold their commitments and they are also responsible,” Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator, told the news conference in Tehran.
    “The doors of diplomacy are open but what matters are new initiatives which are required.”
    In a sign of heightening Western concern, French President Emmanuel Macron said he and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had agreed to seek conditions for a resumption of dialogue on the Iranian nuclear question by July 15.
    Under the 2015 deal between Iran and six powers, most international sanctions against Tehran were lifted in return for limitations on its nuclear work.
    Those restrictions were aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, to a year from roughly two to three months.
    Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, such as power generation, and not to make bombs.
    Iran’s main demand – in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States – is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels before Washington pulled out of the agreement and restored sanctions.
    Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day or less in late June, industry sources said, a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.
    Israel’s energy minister described as moderate on Sunday the announced increase of Iranian uranium enrichment but accused Tehran of breaking internationally agreed limitations on its nuclear projects and moving towards a potential bomb.
    “It means … that it is brushing off the red lines that were agreed (and) that it has begun its march, a march that is not simple, towards nuclear weaponry,” Yuval Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, told Israel’s Ynet TV.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Keith Weir and Dale Hudson)

7/7/2019 Hong Kong protesters march again, hope to explain grievances to Chinese visitors by Farah Master and Felix Tam
Anti-extradition bill protesters march to West Kowloon Express Rail Link Station at Hong Kong's
tourism district Tsim Sha Tsui, China July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of one of Hong Kong’s main tourism districts on Sunday to explain to mainland Chinese visitors their opposition to an extradition bill that has plunged the city into political turmoil.
    Protests against the now-suspended bill have drawn millions of people onto the streets of the former British colony in recent weeks in what has become the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.
    The bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, has triggered outrage across broad sections of Hong Kong amid concerns it threatens the much-cherished rule of law that underpins the city’s international financial status.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary.
    Demonstrators besieged and ransacked the legislative building in the heart of the city on Monday before they were driven back by police firing tear gas.
    The protests have received little coverage in mainland China, where censors have blocked most news of the largest demonstrations since the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
    Protesters marched through Tsim Sha Tsui, a popular shopping destination dotted with luxury shops, on Sunday to try to take their message directly to mainland Chinese tourists for the first time.
    The short march was slated to finish at the city’s high-speed rail station that connects Hong Kong to the mainland, a potentially sensitive spot after part of the facility came under Chinese jurisdiction in September in another move that raised concerns about Hong Kong’s promised autonomy.
    Lau Wing-hong, one of the protest organisers, said the rally would be peaceful and would finish after demonstrators arrived at their destination near the train station.    There were no plans to enter the station, he said.
    “It is hoped that Hong Kong people can spread how Hong Kong people can march peacefully and bring the protest information back to the mainland to mainland visitors,” Lau told Reuters.
    Police and train staff guarded every exit of the station. Travellers wheeling suitcases said they were not aware of the protests and did not know about the extradition bill.    They told Reuters they understood the government had blocked off sections of the station for security.
POLICE ON STANDBY
    Hong Kong’s MTR Corp Ltd, which runs the city’s metro, said it would shut all entrances to the West Kowloon station apart from a specific route for passengers.    Food and beverage outlets would also be closed.
    Online train tickets between Hong Kong and Shenzhen on the mainland were displayed as sold out from 2.30 p.m.-6.30 p.m. (0630 GMT-1030 GMT), coinciding with the hours of the protest.
    A Chinese tourist from Xiamen, who would only give her surname of Huang, said she had come with her family and was staying in Tsim Sha Tsui, where protesters had handed out flyers.
    “I don’t know the detail of protest, but I will respect Hong Kong people’s right to march.    It hasn’t largely affected my travelling plan,” she said.
    Broadcaster RTHK said more than 1,000 police officers would be on standby.    Police said on Sunday some roads would be closed temporarily and public transport would be diverted.
    Hong Kong’s Tourism Association has also said some travel agencies would stay away from Tsim Sha Tsui on Sunday.
    Organisers produced witty advertisements to urge people to join the march.    “Dear magicians, if you were unable to turn the cold-hearted into warm-hearted, take to the streets with us on July 7,” said one.
    The extradition bill, which has left Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam clinging to her job, would cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or travelling through the city.
    Lawyers and rights groups say China’s justice system is marked by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detention, claims that Beijing denies.    Protesters want the bill withdrawn altogether.
    Lam has offered closed-door talks to students from two universities but activists said they want the discussions to be open to the public and called for a halt to investigations of protesters.    Police began arresting protesters this week.
    Nearly 2,000 people marched in the northwestern residential district of Tuen Mun on Saturday to protest against middle-aged mainland women they accused of brashly singing and dancing to pop songs in Mandarin.
    Protesters said the singers caused noise pollution and disturbed residents.    Scuffles broke out and police used pepper spray to disperse crowds, broadcaster RTHK said.
(Additional reporting by Vimvam Tong, Twinnie Siu, Aleksander Solum, Jessie Pang and Noah Sin; Writing by Farah Master and John Ruwitch; Editing by Paul Tait)

7/8/2019 World cannot shut China out, vice president says, in jab at U.S. by Ben Blanchard
Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan delivers a speech at the opening of World Peace Forum
at Tsinghua University, in Beijing, China, July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China and the rest of the world must co-exist, Vice President Wang Qishan said on Monday, in an indirect jab at the United States, with which Beijing is trying to resolve a bitter trade war.
    Top representatives of the world’s two biggest economies are trying to resume talks this week to try and resolve their year-long trade dispute, which has seen the two countries place increasingly harsh tariffs on each other’s imports.
    The Trump administration has accused China of engaging in unfair trade practices that discriminate against U.S. firms, forced technology transfers and intellectual property rights theft.    Beijing has denied all the charges.
    “China’s development can’t shut out the rest of the world.    The world’s development can’t shut out China,” Wang told the World Peace Forum at Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University.
    He also warned against “protectionism in the name of national security,” but without mentioning the United States, and urged major powers to make greater contributions to world peace.
    China has also been angered by U.S. sanctions against tech giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] over national security concerns, and U.S. visa curbs on its students and academics.
    In his speech, Wang, who is extremely close to Chinese President Xi Jinping and rarely speaks in public, reiterated China’s commitment to opening up.
    “Large countries must assume their responsibilities and set an example, make more contributions to global peace and stability, and broaden the path of joint development,” he added.
    “Development is the key to resolving all issues,” Wang, who became vice president last year, after having led Xi’s fight to root out corruption, told an audience that included Western diplomats based in Beijing and former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.
NOT A RATIONAL ACTION
    The United States should not blame China for the problems it is facing, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told the forum later.
    “Viewing China as the enemy is not a rational action,” the foreign ministry quoted him as saying, adding that China would not put up “high walls” or “decouple itself from any country.”
    China has been nervous that the United States is seeking to sever, or at least severely curb, economic links, in what has been called a “decoupling.”
    Tariff, trade, finance and science and technology wars are “turning back the clock on history,” Le said.    “The consequences will be extremely dangerous.”
    The two sides have communicated by telephone since last month’s summit of leaders of Group of 20 major nations in Japan, at which U.S. President Donald Trump and Xi agreed to relaunch stalled talks.
    Talks broke down in May, after U.S. officials accused China of pulling back from commitments previously made in the text of an agreement negotiators said was nearly finished.
    The countries have also been at loggerheads over issues ranging from human rights to the disputed South China Sea and U.S. support of self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
    No matter how the international situation or China developed, Vice President Wang said, the country would follow the path of peace, and not seek spheres of influence or expansion.
    “If there is no peaceful, stable international environment, there will be no development to talk of.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)

7/8/2019 Iran says it has passed enrichment cap set in 2015 nuclear deal
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
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran has passed the 3.67% uranium enrichment cap set by its landmark 2015 nuclear deal and may enrich at even higher levels, the spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said on Monday according to the IRIB news agency.
    Iran said on Sunday it would shortly boost uranium enrichment above the cap, prompting a warning from U.S. President Donald Trump, who wants the pact renegotiated, that Tehran “better be careful.”
    “Twenty percent is not needed now, but if we want we will produce it.    When we’ve put aside 3.67% enrichment we have no obstacle or problem with this action,” Kamalvandi was quoted as saying, noting that options for enriching at higher levels had been discussed with the Supreme National Security Council.
    “There is the 20% option and there are options even higher than that but each in its own place.    Today if our country’s needs are one thing, we won’t pursue something else just to scare the other side a little more."
    “But they know it’s an upward trend,” he said.
    Increasing the number of centrifuges is an option for Iran’s third step in reducing its commitments to the nuclear deal, Kamalvandi said, noting that restarting IR-2 and IR-2 M centrifuges is an option.
    The remaining European signatories to the nuclear deal should act quickly to fulfill their promises because Iran will continue reducing its commitments to the deal until it achieves a result, Kamalvandi said, according to IRIB.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Catherine Evans)

7/8/2019 Jeremiah 49:35-39 New King James Version (NKJV) PROPHESY OF ELAM
35Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, I will break the]bow of Elam, The foremost of their might.
36 Against Elam I will bring the four winds From the four quarters of heaven, And scatter them toward all those winds; There shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go.
37 For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies And before those who seek their life.    I will bring disaster upon them, My fierce anger,’ says the Lord; ‘And I will send the sword after them Until I have consumed them.
38 I will set My throne in Elam, And will destroy from there the king and the princes,’ says the Lord.
39 ‘But it shall come to pass in the latter days: I will bring back the captives of Elam,’ says the Lord.”
   
    Elam in the Hebrew Bible is said to be one of the sons of Shem, the son of Noah.    It is also used, for the ancient country of Elam in what is now southern Iran, whose people the Hebrews believed to be the offspring of Elam, son of Shem.    This implies that the Elamites were considered Semites by the Hebrews.
    Elam in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 10:22, Ezra 4:9;) is said to be one of the sons of Shem, the son of Noah.    It is also used (as in Akkadian), for the ancient country of Elam in what is now southern Iran, whose people the Hebrews believed to be the offspring of Elam, son of Shem (Genesis 10:22).    This implies that the Elamites were considered Semites by the Hebrews.    Their language was not one of the Semitic languages, but is considered a linguistic isolate.
    Elam (the nation) is also mentioned in Genesis 14, describing an ancient war in the time of Abram (father of the tribe, for possibles leaders over time) not Abraham, (father of many nations) involving Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam at that time, and noted that Sarai, Princess of the tribe, who became the final as Sarah.
    The prophecies of the Book of Isaiah (11:11, 21:2, 22:6) and the Book of Jeremiah (25:25) also mention Elam.    The last part of Jeremiah 49 is an apocalyptic oracle against Elam which states that Elam will be scattered to the four winds of the earth, but "will be, in the end of days, that I will return their captivity," a prophecy self-dated to the first year of Zedekiah (597 BC).
    The Book of Jubilees may reflect ancient tradition when it mentions a son (or daughter, in some versions) of 'Elam named "Susan," whose daughter Rasuaya married Arpachshad, progenitor of another branch of Shemites.    Shushan (or Susa) was the ancient capital of the Elamite Empire. (Dan. 8:2)
  • Elam is a son of Shashak of the tribe of Benjamin in 1 Chronicles 8:24.
  • Elam is the son of Meshelemiah, a Levite of the family of Kohath in 1 Chronicles 26:3.
  • Elam is the ancestor of a family that returned with Zerubbabel in Ezra 2:1-2,7.
  • Elam is the ancestor of a family that returned from the Captivity in Ezra 2:31.    This is possibly the same man and family as in Ezra 2:1-2,7.
  • Elam is the ancestor of a family that returned with Ezra in Ezra 8:7.
  • Elam is the father of Jehiel and the grandfather of Shecaniah in Ezra 10:2.
  • Elam is one of the men who joins Nehemiah in sealing the new covenant in Nehemiah 10:14.
  • Elam is a priest who helps in the rededication of the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah 12:42.

7/8/2019 Iran makes new nuclear threats that would reverse steps in pact by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Tuqa Khalid
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
    GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran threatened on Monday to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up enrichment of uranium to 20% purity in a move away from the 2015 nuclear deal, but the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards insisted the world knows Tehran is not pursuing nuclear arms.
    The threats to ramp up enrichment, made by Tehran’s nuclear agency spokesman, would go far beyond the small steps Iran has taken in the past week to nudge stocks of fissile material just beyond limits in the pact that Washington abandoned last year.
    They would reverse the major achievements of the agreement, intended to block Iran from making a nuclear weapon, and raise serious questions about whether the accord is still viable.
    Iran omitted important details about how far it might go to returning to the status quo before the pact, when Western experts believed it could build a bomb within months.
    But Major General Hossein Salami, the head of the Revolutionary Guards, denied Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon.
    “Why do they globally sanction us about the nuclear issue when the world knows that we are not pursuing a weapon?    In reality they are sanctioning us because of knowledge,” Salami was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
    “Nuclear weapons have no place in Islam.    Islam never approves of weapons of mass destruction,” he added.
    Despite the Iranian threat to boost enrichment, the United States said its renewed sanctions against Tehran were working and warned Iranian leaders not to underestimate U.S. resolve.
    “President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran is working,” White House national security adviser John Bolton told a pro-    Israel group in Washington.    “We’re just getting started. … The president’s goal is to get a new deal that would be negotiated in the best interests of the United States.”
    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke to the same group, added a warning: “Iran should not confuse American restraint with a lack of American resolve,” reiterating Washington’s resolve to protect U.S. personnel and citizens in the Middle East.
    Nuclear diplomacy is one aspect of a wider confrontation between Washington and Tehran that has threatened to spiral into open conflict since the United States tightened sanctions from May.
    Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation (IAEA), confirmed that Tehran had enriched uranium beyond the 2015 deal’s limit of 3.67% purity, passing 4.5%, according to news agency ISNA.
    The IAEA – the U.N. nuclear watchdog – confirmed it had verified Iran’s enrichment was beyond 3.67%.
    Iran has said it will take another, third step away from the deal within 60 days. Kamalvandi said options included enriching uranium to 20% purity or beyond, and restarting IR-2 M centrifuges dismantled under the deal.
    Such threats put new pressure on European countries, which insist Iran must continue to comply with the agreement even though the United States is no longer doing so.
    French President Emmanuel Macron was sending his top diplomatic advisor to Iran on Tuesday and Wednesday to try to help defuse tensions, a presidential official said.    The White House said Trump had spoken to Macron on Monday to discuss efforts to ensure Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.
    The Iran Nuclear Deal: https://tmsnrt.rs/2YyMyq0
CENTRIFUGES
    The sanctions imposed by Washington threaten to eliminate the benefits Iran was meant to receive for agreeing to curbs on its nuclear program with world powers.    The confrontation has brought the United States and Iran close to the brink of conflict, with President Donald Trump calling off air strikes last month minutes before impact.
    Enriching uranium up to 20% purity would be a dramatic move, since that was the level Iran achieved before the deal, although back then it had a far larger stockpile than it is likely to be able to rebuild in the short term.
    It is considered an important intermediate stage on the path to obtaining the 90% pure fissile uranium needed for a bomb.
    One of the main achievements of the deal was Iran’s agreement to dismantle its advanced IR-2M centrifuges, used to purify uranium. Iran had 1,000 of them installed at its large Natanz enrichment site before the deal.    Under the deal, it is allowed to operate only up to two for testing.
    Still, the threatened measures also appear intended to be sufficiently ambiguous to hold back from fully repudiating the deal.    Kamalvandi did not specify how much uranium Iran might purify to the higher level, nor how many centrifuges it would consider restarting.        He did not mention other more advanced centrifuges, including the most advanced, the IR-8.    Iran has said all the steps it is contemplating are reversible.
‘PIRACY, PURE AND SIMPLE’
    European countries do not directly support the U.S. sanctions, but have been unable to come up with ways to allow Iran to avert them.
    In a separate standoff, Iran’s foreign minister accused Britain of “piracy” for seizing an Iranian oil tanker last week.    Britain says the ship, which was boarded by Royal Marines as it was entering the Mediterranean off Gibraltar, was bound for Syria in violation of European Union sanctions over the conflict there.
    “Iran is neither a member of the EU nor subject to any European oil embargo.    Last I checked, EU was against extraterritoriality.    UK’s unlawful seizure of a tanker with Iranian oil on behalf of #B_Team is piracy, pure and simple,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Monday, using ‘B team’ as a derisory term for the Trump administration.
    Iran says the deal allows it to respond to the U.S. breach by reducing its compliance, and it will do so every 60 days.
    Zarif also tweeted that world powers will not be able to negotiate a better deal than the 2015 nuclear deal.
    “#B_Team sold @realDonaldTrump on the folly that killing #JCPOA thru #EconomicTerrorism can get him a better deal,” Zarif wrote, referring to the deal by its acronym for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
    “As it becomes increasingly clear that there won’t be a better deal, they’re bizarrely urging Iran’s full compliance.    There’s a way out, but not with #B_Team in charge.”
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Peter Graff and David Alexander; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and James Dalgleish)

7/8/2019 Seized Iran supertanker was loaded to capacity with crude oil: Gibraltar government
Oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, is seen in waters of the British overseas territory
of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. Picture taken July 4, 2019. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Tests have shown an Iranian supertanker seized in Gibraltar last week was fully loaded with crude oil, the government of the British territory said on Monday.
    British Royal Marines boarded the ship, Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar on Thursday and seized it over accusations it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
    “Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar can now confirm, after having received the results of comprehensive laboratory testing, that … the Grace 1, which was detained in the early hours of Thursday morning, is loaded to capacity with crude oil,” the government said in a statement.
    “The results of these tests … contradict the statements of some commentators from outside the jurisdiction who had speculated that the cargo on the vessel was not crude.”
(Reporting by Kate Holton and Kylie MacLellan, Editing by William Maclean)

7/8/2019 Afghans, Taliban talk in Qatar about peace as war rages at home by Hamid Shalizi Rupam Jain and Eman Kamel
Members of Afghan delegations walk during the second day of Intra-Afghan conference for peace in Doha, Qatar July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Eman Kamel
    KABUL/DOHA (Reuters) – Wary representatives of Afghan society met Taliban officials in Qatar on Monday for a second day of talks, with bloody insurgent attacks back home casting a pall over efforts to end Afghanistan’s years of war.
    The Taliban on Sunday detonated a car bomb outside a government security compound in central Afghanistan killing 14 people and wounding 180, including scores of children.
    The attack came at the onset of a two-day meeting between Afghan citizens and the militants, meant to open the way to a peace process that should build on a hoped-for deal between the United States and the Taliban to end the longest ever U.S. war.
    “It is very hard to sit across from those men who are waging a war against innocent Afghans, but it is also a test of our commitment to peace,” said a senior Afghan official involved in the talks.
    The Taliban and U.S. officials are trying to strike a deal on a Taliban demand for the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign forces and a U.S. demand that the Taliban not let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism.
    “We think the gap between the U.S. and Taliban is narrow now.    We hope both sides will reach an agreement this month about the outstanding issues,” said Qatar’s lead mediator Mutlaq Bin Majid Al-Qahtani.
    U.S.-Taliban talks, the seventh since last year, are set to continue on Tuesday in Doha, as U.S. officials look to clinch a deal by September ahead of an expected Afghan presidential election.
    But the Taliban have refused to negotiate with the U.S.-backed Afghan government, denouncing it as a U.S puppet.
    So while the 60-member delegation of Afghan representatives in Qatar includes officials, they are not there in their government capacity.
    “I am here as an Afghan, but I am not sure if the Taliban view themselves as Afghans before anything else,” said the senior official, who spoke by telephone from Qatar but declined to be identified.
    Reuters spoke to six Afghan delegates attending the talks.
PRESERVING PROGRESS?
    The Taliban officials were welcoming in general although less willing to discuss issues like women’s right and freedoms in society, the delegates said.
    During their 1996-2001 rule, the Taliban barred women from working outside their homes, and said women could only go out in public if accompanied by a male relative.
    Afghan society has taken huge strides since the Taliban were ousted weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States, and many Afghans are nervous about preserving the progress under some sort of a power-sharing government that might be part of a deal to end the war.
    The talks, facilitated by Germany and Qatar, have touched on how Afghanistan might be organized but no conclusions have been reached.
    “The Taliban prefer Islamic Emirates style of government while we ask for a republic,” Khalid Noor, the son of a powerful politician from northern Afghanistan, Atta Mohammad Noor, told Reuters by telephone.
    Some Afghan officials fear the United States and the Taliban will strike a deal enabling the United States to get out of a war that     President Donald Trump is impatient to end, leaving government forces to battle on alone.
    Such fears are compounded by ongoing relentless violence.
    The Taliban now control and influence more territory than at any point since 2001.
    According to the United Nations, 3,804 civilians – including more than 900 children – were killed and 7,000 wounded in 2018, the deadliest year for civilians in the conflict.
    Last week, the chief U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the latest round of U.S.-Taliban talks that began on June 29 was the “most productive session” since the process got going late last year.
    Nadir Naim, an Afghan delegate and deputy chairman of the country’s High Peace Council, was hopeful that a ceasefire and deal were just around the corner.
    “We believe they are very near.    A lot of the differences are being resolved.    So, it’s just a matter of time,” said Naim.
(Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne)

7/9/2019 Hong Kong leader says extradition bill is dead, but critics unconvinced by Donny Kwok and Anne Marie Roantree
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to media over an extradition bill
in Hong Kong, China July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the extradition bill that sparked the Chinese-ruled city’s biggest crisis in decades is dead and that government work on the legislation had been a “total failure,” but critics accused her of playing with words.
    The bill, which would allow people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, sparked huge and at times violent street protests and plunged the former British colony into turmoil.
    In mid-June, Lam responded to protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets by suspending the bill, but that did not stop demonstrations that shut government offices and brought parts of the financial center to a standstill.
    Her latest attempt to restore order did not satisfy many protesters who stood by demands that she completely withdraw the bill.
    “There are still lingering doubts about the government’s sincerity or worries whether the government will restart the process in the Legislative Council,” Lam told reporters on Tuesday.
    “So, I reiterate here, there is no such plan, the bill is dead.”    The government’s work on the bill had been a “total failure,” she said.
    The bill triggered outrage across broad sections of Hong Kong society amid concerns it would threaten the much-cherished rule of law that underpins the city’s international financial status.
    Lawyers and rights groups say China’s justice system is marked by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detention, claims that Beijing denies.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy, including an independent legal system and right to protest, but in recent years there has been growing concern about the erosion of those freedoms at the hands of Beijing.
    Critics of the extradition bill fear Beijing could use it to crack down on dissent.
    University students who have been out in force during the protests denounced Lam’s comments.
    “What we want is to completely withdraw the bill.    She is playing word games,” said Chan Wai Lam William, general officer of the Student Union of Chinese University of Hong Kong.
    Demonstrators have also called for Lam to resign as Hong Kong chief executive, for an independent investigation into police actions against protesters, and for the government to abandon the description of a violent protest on June 12 as a riot.
    “It is not a simple thing for CE (chief executive) to step down, and I myself still have the passion and undertaking to service Hong Kong people,” Lam said when asked about the protesters’ demands.
    “I hope that Hong Kong society can give me and my team the opportunity and room to allow us to use our new governance style to response to people’s demand in economy and in livelihood.”
    China has called the protests an “undisguised challenge” to the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong is ruled.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, asked about Lam’s remarks, referred to the central government’s statement on June 15 supporting Hong Kong’s decision to shelve the extradition bill.    He said he had nothing further to add.
    Fernando Cheung, a pro-democracy lawmaker who has been aligned with the protesters, said Lam’s response was insufficient.
    “She still doesn’t get it.    If she doesn’t establish an independent inquiry commission, it’s the death of her administration, not just the bill.    The crisis cannot be settled without some heads rolling,” he told Reuters.
    Jimmy Sham, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, which has organized a series of protests, said Lam should meet the protesters’ demands and stop using “words to cheat the public.”
    Amnesty International also said in a statement Lam’s “refusal to acknowledge the consequences of the fatal flaws” of the extradition bill continues to “inflame the situation” in Hong Kong.    It urged her to formally withdraw the bill and called for “an independent, impartial, effective and prompt investigation” into police actions on June 12.
    Chief executives of Hong Kong are selected by a small committee of pro-establishment figures stacked in Beijing’s favor and formally appointed by China’s central government.    Lam’s resignation would require Beijing’s approval, experts say.
    Lam said the June 12 protest, which saw police fire tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds at demonstrators, had not been given a label, but reiterated any decision to prosecute would be one for the justice department.
    “Any demand that we should run an amnesty at this stage, that we will not follow up on investigations and prosecutions of offenders is not acceptable, because that bluntly goes against the rule of law in Hong Kong,” she said.
    “…My sincere plea is: Please give us an opportunity, the time, the room, to take Hong Kong out of the current impasse and try to improve the current situation.”
(Additonal reporting by Farah Master and Vimvam Tong; Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)

7/9/2019 U.S. State Department approves possible $2.2 billion arms sale to Taiwan
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
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has approved the possible sale to Taiwan of M1A2T Abrams tanks, Stinger missiles and related equipment at an estimated value of $2.2 billion, the Pentagon said on Monday, despite Chinese criticism of the deal.
    China’s foreign ministry expressed anger about the sale and urged the United States to revoke it.    The timing is especially sensitive as the Washington and Beijing are seeking to resolve a bitter trade war.
    The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement the sale of the weapons requested by Taiwan, including 108 General Dynamics Corp M1A2T Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, would not alter the basic military balance in the region.
    DSCA notified Congress on Monday of the possible arms sale, which it said could also include mounted machine guns, ammunition, Hercules armored vehicles for recovering inoperative tanks, heavy equipment transporters and related support.
    Reuters reported last month that an informal notification of the proposed sale had been sent to the U.S. Congress.
    The United States has no formal ties with self-ruled and democratic Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself.
    The United States is the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems a wayward province.    Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
    Speaking in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said U.S. arms sales to Taiwan were a serious violation of international law and a “
crude interference in China’s internal affairs, harming China’s sovereignty and security interests.”
    “China is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposed to this and has already made stern representations to the US side,” Geng told a daily news briefing.
    “Taiwan is an inseparable part of China’s territory and nobody should underestimate the Chinese government’s and people’s firm determination to defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and oppose foreign interference.”
    China urged the United States to immediately revoke the planned arms sale and end all contacts between the U.S. and Taiwan militaries to avoid further damage to Sino-U.S. ties and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, he added.
    Taiwan’s Presidential Office expressed “sincere gratitude” to the U.S. government for the arms sale.
    “Taiwan will speed up investment on defense and continue to deepen security ties with the United States and countries with similar ideas,” Chang Tun-han, a spokesman for Taiwan’s president, said in a statement.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said in March that Washington was responding positively to Taipei’s requests for new arms sales to bolster its defenses in the face of pressure from China.
    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 Taipei’s military raise its combat abilities, consolidates the Taiwan-U.S. security partnership and ensures Taiwan’s security, the ministry said last month in a statement.
(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham, Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by David Alexander, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)

7/9/2019 China’s Xi tells officials not to be lazy and ‘spend whole day eating’
FILE PHOTO - Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the Great Hall
of the People in Beijing, China June 25, 2019. Nicolas Asfouri/Pool via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese officials must not use the fight against corruption as an excuse to sit around and do nothing, idling their time away and “spending the whole day eating”, President Xi Jinping told a meeting of senior Communist Party leaders on Tuesday.
    Since Xi began his war on graft after assuming power in late 2012, the party and government have repeatedly scolded officials who think they can avoid punishment by trying to keep a low profile by not doing their jobs or making decisions.
    Xi told the meeting that it was important to “correctly handle the relationship between being clean and being responsible”, the official Xinhua news agency said.
    “You absolutely cannot view anti-corruption as an excuse to not accept responsibility or to do nothing,” Xinhua cited Xi as saying.
    “Be brave to handle heavy burdens, crack hard nuts and handle hot potatoes,” he added.
    “Don’t be muddle-headed officials who are politically apathetic and do things half-heartedly; don’t be lazy officials who spend the whole day eating and idle their time away.”
    Xi has vowed to target both “tigers” and “flies,” referring to elite officials and ordinary bureaucrats in his corruption battle.
    The campaign has led to the jailing or punishment of thousands of officials and also brought down dozens of senior party and military officials, including Zhou Yongkang, the much feared former domestic security chief.
    The anti-corruption effort has not only focused on issues like bribery and using public money to fund lavish lifestyles.    It has also taken aim at those whose political loyalty is found lacking or who express doubt in public about party policies.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/9/2019 China urges U.S. to cancel arms sale to Taiwan by OAN Newsroom
    China recently spoke out against Washington’s weapons deal with Taiwan.    During a press conference Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry urged the U.S. to cancel the $2.2 billion deal. The agreement would provide Taiwan with two tanks, missiles, and other military equipment.
    China has accused the U.S. of “crudely” violating international law, and meddling in China’s internal affairs.    Officials claimed that interference is “harming China’s sovereignty and security interests.”
FILE – The first team of Taiwan artillery women poses for the press during the annual Han Kuang exercises in Pingtung County, Southern Taiwan.
On Thursday, June 6, 2019 Taiwan confirmed that it asked to purchase more than 100 U.S. tanks, along with air defense and anti-tank
missile systems in a major potential arms sale that could worsen frictions between Washington and Beijing. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying, File
    Meanwhile, Taiwan’s military confirmed it requested assistance from the U.S.
    “This is the fourth time that the Trump government is selling arms to Taiwan, showing that the U.S. is moving towards a normalized arms-sales relationship with Taiwan.    Taiwan and the U.S. continue to consolidate the Taiwan-U.S. security partnership.    Together we will guard the democracy and freedom of the Taiwan Strait as well as the stability in the Indo-Pacific region.” — Wu Pao-Kun, director of strategic planning – Taiwan Defense Ministry
    Although the U.S. and Taiwan don’t have formal ties, the U.S. is bound by law to provide the country with the necessary means to defend itself.

7/10/2019 From Iron Lady to lame duck: Hong Kong leader’s departure seen as mere matter of time by Greg Torode and John Ruwitch
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to media over an extradition
bill in Hong Kong, China July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s apologies and explanations for a doomed extradition bill have failed to quell political tension and her departure is now seen by many in the Chinese-ruled city as merely a matter of time in a drawn-out, long goodbye.
    On Tuesday, Lam described the bill, which would have allowed people in Hong Kong, with its cherished rule of law, to be sent to mainland China for trial and pave the way for assets to be confiscated, as “dead.”
    But activists and protest groups said they could not trust her words and are increasing demands for her to officially withdraw the bill and step down.
    And they are vowing further action, after weeks of huge and at times violent street protests that have plunged the city into its worst crisis since Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.
    On Saturday, some groups will spread their message to mainland traders in a New Territories village near the city’s border with China – a step seen as a further provocation of Communist Party leaders in Beijing.
    And while Lam, a self-styled “Iron Lady,” has vowed to stay on, her latest statements have only fueled speculation that she has already offered to quit.
    When asked about whether she would honor demands that she resign just two years into her first five-year term, Lam said that it was “not a simple thing for a CE (chief executive) to step down.”
    “I myself still have the passion and undertaking to service Hong Kong people,” Lam said.
    For some analysts, Lam’s statement was a sign that she may have already tendered her resignation.    But Beijing will only let her go when the time is right.
    “It is more complex than ordinary people assume… You can’t just quit when you like and walk away when it comes to dealing with Beijing,” said political scientist and commentator Sonny Lo.
    Beijing leaders, he said, had to weigh domestic and regional risks and find a replacement – no easy task for a job widely seen as a poisoned chalice, weighing Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms and the Communist Party’s authoritarian instincts.
    Under the handover deal with Britain, Hong Kong was allowed to retain extensive freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a “one country, two systems” formula, including its independent judiciary and right to protest.
    Beijing might want Lam to at least repair some of the damage caused by the extradition bill fiasco before leaving to help any successor, but would almost certainly want her gone before Legislative Council elections in September next year, Lo said.
    Already Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp is showing signs of splits amid the fallout of Lam’s championing of the extradition bill, which sparked a broad range of criticism from within establishment circles.
    In the shorter term, some diplomats and analysts believe Beijing will not want to further dent the image of “one country, two systems” ahead of presidential elections in neighboring self-ruled Taiwan in January.
    Beijing leaders have started again touting “one country, two systems” as a model for Taiwan, which they consider a wayward province. Taiwan has rejected the offer.
    Ming Sing, an associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said he believed that Beijing was not letting Lam step down.
    “If she resigns right now, if she is compelled by Beijing to resign, that would send a very strong signal to Hong Kong and the international community that Beijing, the largest one-party state, the largest authoritarian state in the world, would back down in the face of popular pressure,” he said.
    Even so, some analysts and diplomats note Lam has already harmed the broader national security agenda of Chinese President Xi Jinping, making it harder to introduce any new security-related laws in Hong Kong and refreshing calls for democratic reforms.
    Hong Kong lawmaker Fernando Cheung told Reuters that Lam was now a lame duck who will not be able to complete her term.
    “How the government and the chief executive handled the outcry from the public also made a lot of people aware that without true democracy, there is no hope for accountable governance,” the Labour Party legislator said.    "So once the awareness is there, there is no return.”
    With protest placards declaring that “Bloody Carrie” Lam had “sold Hong Kong” and with her popularity ratings lower than any other post-handover leader, recent weeks have marked a swift reversal of fortune for a leader who took office vowing to unite the city.
    For many, her fate now echoes that of Hong Kong’s first post-handover leader, Tung Chee-hwa.    Tung offered to step down immediately after half a million people took to the streets in 2003 to protest against proposed national security laws, which were also eventually shelved.
    It would not be until nearly two years later – mid-way through his second term – that he was able to finally leave.
    “To go away is easy,” he said at the time.    “To stay is much harder.”
(Reporting By Greg Torode and John Ruwitch; Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree, Farah Master and Clare Jim; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/10/2019 Rouhani says Britain to face ‘consequences’ for seizing Iranian tanker
View of newspapers in Tehran, Iran July 10, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday Britain would face “consequences” over the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker.
    Iran has demanded the immediate release of the Grace 1, which British Royal Marines boarded off Gibraltar last week and seized on suspicion that it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
    “You (Britain) are the initiator of insecurity and you will realize the consequences later,” Rouhani said after a cabinet meeting, in remarks carried by state television.
    “Now you are so hopeless that, when one of your tankers wants to move in the region, you have to bring your frigates (to escort it) because you are scared.    Then why do you commit such acts (seizure)?    You should instead allow navigation to be safe,” Rouhani said.
    Rouhani also said Iran’s decision to increase uranium enrichment would produce fuel for power plants and serve other peaceful aims, and that it was within the framework of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
    He was speaking a day after European powers accused Iran of “pursuing activities inconsistent with its commitments” under the nuclear deal and called for an urgent meeting of the parties to the agreement.
    “You (Europeans) do not need to worry about Iran, your concern must be over the United States, which has violated this whole commitment and undermined international obligations,” Rouhani said.
    Britain, Germany, France, Russia, China and Iran are the remaining parties to the deal, which the United States abandoned last year.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

7/10/2019 Australia’s Morrison calls for more prayer and religious freedom
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House
in Canberra, Australia, March 20, 2019. AAP Image/Andrew Taylor/via REUTERS/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia needs more prayer, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a devout Christian, has said, vowing that his administration would do whatever needed to be done by way of legislation to protect religious expression, now at the center of a national debate.
    Australia has no bill of rights or explicit protections for religious freedoms, but Morrison’s conservative government is considering such measures in the wake of a high-profile rugby player’s sacking over religious posts on social media.
    “We’ll do what we must do from a legislative point of view and the law,” Morrison, who described his election victory in May as a miracle, told an annual conference of the Hillsong Church in a stadium in Sydney.
    He prayed and said religious freedom needed to be “nourished and protected” in remarks late on Tuesday to Australia’s biggest evangelical gathering.
    “There’s a lot of talk about our freedoms as Christians in this country and they should be protected,” he said.
    “Australia is a free country.    There’s nothing more fundamental than the freedom of belief, whatever that belief might be, whether you have one or you don’t.”
    In May, footballer Israel Folau was dismissed by Rugby Australia after he posted on Instagram that hell awaited “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers” and other groups.
    The ensuing scandal and calls from religious leaders for a legislative response have imparted further significance to Morrison’s outward displays of faith, which are unusual for an Australian political leader.
    More than half of Australians call themselves Christians, census data shows.    Last year, Morrison had said his government would write a Religious Discrimination Act, but political momentum for it had ebbed until Folau’s sacking.
    Morrison, a Pentecostal Christian, invited cameras to film him praying at his local church during the campaign, but did not announce his appearance at Hillsong, where participants greeted him with cheers in footage posted to YouTube on Wednesday.
    “I speak about my faith … because I want everyone in this place to feel comfortable about talking about their faith,” he said to applause.
    The nation needed more prayer, he told the audience earlier, and sought divine aid to end a withering drought.
    “Lord, we just pray for rain: That your rain will fall on this nation,” Morrison intoned.    “Lord, that you will restore those communities, and that you will see a prosperity in this nation from the rain.”
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

7/10/2019 Iran welcomes French efforts to save nuclear deal
France's top diplomat Emmanuel Bonne meets with Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council
of Iran in Tehran, Iran July 10, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran welcomes France’s efforts to save the 2015 nuclear deal, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday as French President Emmanuel Macron’s top diplomatic adviser visited Tehran for talks to help ease the crisis.
    Iran threatened on Monday to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up enrichment of uranium to 20% purity in a move away from the nuclear accord.
    Tehran has been pushing the European signatories to the accord to protect Iran from U.S. sanctions, which Washington re-imposed after leaving the pact last year.
    Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported that Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi “welcomed France’s role in reducing tension and implementing the accord.”
    “The French are part of efforts … to keep the nuclear deal alive,” Mousavi was quoted as saying during the visit by Emmanuel Bonne, Macron’s top diplomatic adviser.
(Reporting by the Dubai newsroom; Editing by Louise Heavens and Edmund Blair)

7/10/2019 China’s 2019 growth seen slowing to 6.2% as trade war weighs by Lusha Zhang and Kevin Yao
FILE PHOTO: Containers are seen at a port in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, China May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s economic growth is expected to slow to a near 30-year low of 6.2% this year, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday, despite a flurry of support measures to spur domestic demand amid a bruising trade war with the United States.
    The median forecast was unchanged from the last poll in April.
    But a stream of downbeat data in recent months and higher U.S. tariffs have fanned expectations that Beijing will need to roll out more stimulus soon to ward off a sharper slowdown that could stoke job losses.
    Second-quarter growth was seen cooling to 6.2% from a year earlier, the same as in the previous poll, from 6.4% in the first quarter.    China will post its second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) on July 15.
    Most of the 72 institutions covered in the survey expect growth will remain at 6.2% for the rest of this year, compared with expectations for a tick-up to 6.3% in the previous poll.
    Zhang Yiping, senior economist at Merchants Securities in Shenzhen, said he expected the U.S. tariff hike in May on $200 billion of Chinese goods to weigh on growth in the second half.
    But Zhang said authorities are likely to stick to more moderate policy easing, rather than resorting to more aggressive measures.
    “We expect policy this year would focus more on building a floor to underpin the economy, rather than to boost growth,” he said.
    So far, China’s stimulus measures have been more restrained than in past downturns, which analysts attribute to fears of adding to a mountain of debt left over from past credit binges.
    But the central bank governor reportedly said last month that there is “tremendous” room to adjust policy if the trade war worsens.
    The full-year forecast would be nearing the lower end of the government’s 2019 target range of 6-6.5%, and would mark the weakest pace of growth China has seen in 29 years.
    It would also spell a further deceleration from 6.6% in 2018 and 6.8% in 2017.
    Growth next year will likely cool further to 6.0%, the poll showed.
TRADE UNCERTAINTY
    Beijing has been relying on a combination of fiscal stimulus and monetary easing to weather the current slowdown, including hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending and tax cuts for companies.
    But the economy has been slow to respond, and investors fear a longer and costlier trade war between the world’s two largest economies could trigger a global recession.
    U.S. President Donald Trump told counterpart Xi Jinping late last month that he is putting threatened additional levies on hold as they agreed to get trade negotiations back on track.
    But Washington sharply raised tariffs on $200 billion of goods from China in May, which remain in force, and no timeframe was set for the talks.
    “Trade frictions would remain in the long run despite the truce reached last month.    We expect the standoff to morph into more forms such as a tech war, to put further strain on China’s economy,” Zhang added.
    Capital Economics believes China’s fiscal policy will become even more supportive, which would be most likely achieved by relaxing constraints on off-budget borrowing.
    “We now expect our estimates of the augmented fiscal deficit, which includes off-budget borrowing, to widen in the coming quarters and average 8% of GDP this year, up from 6.4% in 2018.”
    The government has announced a rise in its budget deficit to 2.8% of GDP this year from 2.6% in 2018.
MORE MEASURES EXPECTED
    Analysts in the latest Reuters poll expect the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) will ease policy further this year.
    But they do not expect it to cut its benchmark lending rate, as it repeatedly did in past downturns.
    Separately, some other China watchers have recently raised the possibility of cut in the PBOC’s benchmark or one of its short-term rates if the U.S. central bank starts easing policy as soon as this month.
    The PBOC has slashed banks’ reserve requirement ratio (RRR) six times since early 2018 to turn around soft credit growth.    It has also injected large amounts of liquidity into the financial system and guided short-term interest rates lower.
    Analysts forecast two more RRR cuts of 50 basis points each in this quarter and the last quarter.
    Economists expect the central bank to keep its benchmark rate unchanged at 4.35 percent through at least the end of 2020.
    The poll also predicted annual consumer inflation will pick up to 2.3% in 2019, quickening from 2.1% estimate in the April survey, but below the government target of around 3%.
    Data this week showed China’s producer prices stalled in June while consumer price growth reached a 15-month high as supply shortages triggered by the African swine fever outbreak and extreme weather continued to push up pork and fruit prices.
(This version of the story corrects a word in second subhead, making it: More measures expected)
(Polling by Khushboo Mittal and Anisha Sheth; Reporting by Lusha Zhang and Kevin Yao; Editing by Kim Coghill)

7/10/2019 Exclusive: West, Japan rebuke China at UN for detention of Uighurs by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: People hold signs protesting China's treatment of the Uighur people, in Vancouver,
British Columbia, Canada, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Nearly two dozen countries have called on China to halt its mass detention of ethnic Uighurs in the Xinjiang region, the first such joint move on the issue at the U.N. Human Rights Council, according to diplomats and a letter seen by Reuters.
    U.N. experts and activists say at least 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centers in the remote western region.     China describes them as training centers helping to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.
    The unprecedented letter to the president of the forum, dated July 8, was signed by the ambassadors of 22 countries.    Australia, Canada and Japan were among them, along with European countries including Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland, but not the United States which quit the forum a year ago.
    It fell short of a formal statement being read out at the Council or a resolution submitted for a vote, as sought by activists.    This was due to governments’ fears of a potential political and economic backlash from China, diplomats said.
    “It is a first collective response on Xinjiang,” a Western diplomat told Reuters on Wednesday.    “The idea of a resolution was never on the cards.”
    Another envoy said: “It’s a formal step because it will be published as an official document of the Council … It is a signal.”
    In a statement, Human Rights Watch later welcomed the letter as “important not only for Xinjiang’s population, but for people around the world who depend on the U.N.’s leading rights body to hold even the most powerful countries to account.”
“LARGE-SCALE PLACES OF DETENTION”
    The letter voices concern at reports of unlawful detention in “large-scale places of detention, as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.”
    It pointedly cites China’s obligations as a member of the 47-member state forum to maintain the highest standards.
    “We call on China to uphold its national laws and international obligations and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief in Xinjiang and across China,” the letter said.
    “We call also on China to refrain from the arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement of Uighurs, and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang.”
    The letter urges China to allow international independent experts, including U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, “meaningful access” to Xinjiang.
    Bachelet, a former president of Chile, has pushed China to grant the United Nations access to investigate reports of disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly of Muslims in Xinjiang.
    China’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said last month that he hoped Bachelet would take up an invitation to visit.    A U.N. spokeswoman said at the time that the trip, including “full access to Xinjiang,” was under discussion.
    No Western delegation was willing to take the lead and expose itself as a “ringleader” through a joint statement or resolution, diplomats said.    China’s delegation is “hopping mad” at the move and is preparing its own letter, a diplomat said.
    At the start of the three-week session, which ends on Friday, the Xinjiang vice-governor responded to international condemnation of state-run detention camps by saying that they were vocational centers which had helped “save” people from extremist influences.
    China had now effectively contained terrorism and religious extremism in Xinjiang, Vice-Governor Erkin Tuniyaz told the council in an appearance that was sharply criticized by the United States.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans)

7/11/2019 China’s top official in Hong Kong says Beijing backs city’s leader
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to media over an extradition bill
in Hong Kong, China July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s top representative in Hong Kong said on Thursday the central government in Beijing maintained its support for Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is grappling with the city’s greatest political crisis since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Millions of people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong in the past month in some of the largest and most violent demonstrations in decades to protest against a proposed extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.
    Wang Zhimin, director of the Liaison Office of the People’s Government in Hong Kong, criticized the violence that has broken out at some of the protests, including the July 1 break-in and ransacking of the territory’s legislature.
    “If we indulge crimes and breaches of the law, even whitewash, exonerate or give them support, that would be a blatant challenge to the rule of law in Hong Kong, which will eventually hurt the interest of all the Hong Kong people,” he said.
    “Hence, the central government firmly supports Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the Special Administrative Region government continue to govern effectively and actively make a difference in accordance with the law, firmly supports Hong Kong Police to do their duties in accordance with the law.”
    Wang was speaking at a pro-Beijing event in Hong Kong that was carried live on television.
    Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain in 1997 as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) with the promise of a high degree of autonomy, although many in the territory say Beijing has tightened its grip in recent years.
    Many in Hong Kong see the extradition bill as another step in increasing Beijing control over the financial hub.
    In the face of the opposition to the bill, Lam suspended it in mid-June and this week said it was “dead.”    She has declined to formally withdraw it from the legislative process, though, leaving protesters unsatisfied.
    In addition to calling for the withdrawal of the bill, demonstrators have asked for Lam to resign, for an inquiry into the use of force by the police at a June 12 protest and for detained and arrested protesters to be set free.
    Analysts say that after Lam’s handling of the turmoil over the extradition bill, her eventual departure – which will require Beijing’s blessing – is only a matter of time.
    Wang repeated a Chinese government assertion that “foreign forces” were behind the unrest, and a small number of Hong Kong people were willing to be used to create trouble.
    “We should give the SAR government time and room.    Everybody should unite and move forward, help each other out, and build Hong Kong, our common home,” Wang said.
(Reporting By Noah Sin, John Ruwitch and Donny Kwok, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree)

7/11/2019 In challenge to Beijing, Hong Kong activists attempt to take fight to mainland by Anne Marie Roantree
Anti-extradition bill protesters shout slogans to Chinese tourists during a march to West Kowloon
Express Rail Link Station in Hong Kong, China July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s faceless protest movement is embarking on a bold new strategy that poses a direct challenge to the city’s political masters in Beijing: activists want to export their “revolution” to mainland China.
    China’s censors have gone into overdrive in the past month, blocking news of Hong Kong’s biggest and most violent protests in decades from filtering through to the mainland, where stability is the Communist Party’s overwhelming priority.
    Recent images of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas near the city’s financial district as well as chaotic scenes of demonstrators storming the legislature were beamed live to the world – except in mainland China, where they were blocked from many social media sites.
    So activists, angry and frustrated over a now-suspended extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to China for trial, want to take their fight to areas of Hong Kong popular with mainland Chinese.
    “We’re trying to export our revolution,” said Bonnie Leung of Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of recent protests that the group says have seen millions take to the streets.
    “If they (tourists from mainland) watch what Hong Kong people are doing, they make copies and bring back to China,” she added.    “We’ll all have democracy in Hong Kong and in China.”
    On Saturday, protesters will rally in Sheung Shui, a town near the Chinese border that attracts mainland shoppers.    In previous years, the area has been a battleground for Hong Kong people angry over the flood of Chinese day-trippers.
    Another protest on Sunday will take place in the suburban district of Sha Tin, which has also been the site of clashes between Hong Kong residents and mainland visitors.
    The protesters are expected to use similar tactics to those of a rally at a tourist area on Sunday, where they handed out pamphlets printed in the simplified Chinese characters used on the mainland.    They also shouted slogans in Mandarin, China’s most common dialect.
    “They hope they can make an influence, which the Chinese government is obviously very afraid of,” said a 22-year-old student from Hong Kong who runs an Instagram page called AntiELAB that aims to raise awareness about the protests and political situation in Hong Kong.
    Instagram is blocked in mainland China.
    “It’s evolving every day and that’s how it should be,” said the Britain-based student, referring to the movement where, he says, “everyone is their own leader.”
CHANGING TACK
    Under the terms of the handover from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong was allowed to retain extensive freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a “one country, two systems” formula, including an independent judiciary and right to protest.
    But for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.
    The protesters’ tactics have evolved significantly since the “Umbrella” movement demonstrations in late 2014, which paralyzed parts of the former British colony for 79 days but did not win concessions from Beijing on greater democracy.
    That failure, coupled with prosecutions of at least 100 protesters, mostly youths, had until last month discouraged many young people from going back to the streets.
    Activists are mobilizing supporters through a host of internet forums and messaging app groups, taking out ads in international newspapers and petitioning diplomats to raise awareness among world leaders.    All of it is meant to complicate Beijing’s diplomatic agenda.
    Denise Ho, a Hong Kong singer and activist banned in mainland China, urged international action in an address on Monday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. Beijing’s delegation twice interrupted her speech with points of order.
    “I think this is really something that we haven’t seen before.    It is a new age of protest,” said Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung, who along with others is on a hunger strike over the extradition bill.
    “The mainland population has to come to accept Hong Kong as having a different system.    Without that understanding and consent, the conflict between the two populations would come about eventually and then the two systems cannot be protected.”
    People rallied in cities across the world in June, including London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne, coinciding with demonstrations in the Chinese-ruled city that organizers said drew around a million people.
    The demonstrators are also erecting “Lennon Walls” across Hong Kong, including in rural and pro-Beijing districts, with supporters pasting colorful protest memos along pedestrian underpasses, footbridges, tunnels and near temples.
    One message on many walls reads: “Fight Together.”
    Many of the students were babies or toddlers when Britain returned Hong Kong to China. But they have adopted the colonial flag as a symbol of protest and even draped it over the speaker’s lectern in the legislature when they stormed it hours after city leaders toasted the 22nd anniversary of the handover.
    China has condemned the protests in Hong Kong as an “undisguised challenge” to the formula under which the city is ruled, although some observers say the protesters still have some way to go before they cross Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s “red line” of undermining Chinese sovereignty.
    “As long as they don’t strive for independence of Hong Kong with a large number of people, and push mainlanders to revolt against the Chinese Communist Party, I believe the red line is still quite far away,” said Ming Sing, an associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
(Additional reporting by Vimvam Tong, Felix Tam, John Ruwitch and Greg Torode, Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/11/2019 Follow our model for ‘happy’ Xinjiang, China tells West by Tom Miles
FILE PHOTO: Dilibair Yusuf holds a sign protesting China's treatment of Uighur people in the Xinjiang region
during a court appearance by Huawei's Financial Chief Meng Wanzhou, outside of British Columbia
Supreme Court building in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
    GENEVA (Reuters) – China said on Thursday its treatment of ethnic Muslims in “happy” and “secure” Xinjiang region was a model for other nations to follow despite a bombardment of Western criticism.
    Nearly two dozen nations at the U.N. Human Rights Council this week urged China to halt persecution of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang, where U.N. experts and activists say at least 1 million are held in detention centers.
    Chinese diplomat Jiang Duan told the council on Thursday a few hypocritical Western nations were distorting facts to smear Beijing over what it describes as vocational training centers in Xinjiang intended to combat extremism and provide new skills.
    “Actually the experience in Xinjiang in this field can be introduced to other countries,” Jiang added, saying the centers help reintegrate people indoctrinated by radicalism.
    “Now the situation in Xinjiang is stable, and the people are united, and their rights are fully respected … During the past three years, there has not been a single incident of a terrorist attack, and people in Xinjiang feel much better and much more happy and secure.”
    Xinjiang, three times the size of France, is a largely desert region in China’s northwest.
    Hundreds of people have been killed there in the past few years in violence between Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people who speak a Turkic language, and ethnic majority Han Chinese, especially in the heavily Uighur south of Xinjiang.
    China has blamed the violence on Islamist extremists and separatists, while Uighur exiles and activists point to frustration at Chinese controls on their culture and religion.
    The letter criticizing China was signed by the ambassadors of 22 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland, but not the United States which quit the U.N. body a year ago.
    They urged China to allow international independent experts, including U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, proper access to Xinjiang.
    Bachelet, a former president of Chile, has pushed China to grant the United Nations access to investigate reports of disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly of Muslims in Xinjiang.
    China’s representative said international organizations and media who visited Xinjiang had found the situation was different from its portrayal in the West, and that officials from countries behind the letter declined an invitation to visit.
    He accused Western nations of failing to show concern when Xinjiang suffered terrorist attacks, then making irresponsible assessments after the population’s lives had improved.
    “Those allegations by a small group of Western countries and NGOs cannot do away with the tremendous achievements that were made against terrorism and radicalization and cannot change the fact that Xinjiang people are leading a happy life,” he said.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

7/11/2019 Iranian boats ‘harass’ British tanker in the Gulf: U.S. officials
Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose performs a series of tight turns during exercise Marstrike 05
off the coast of Oman March 22, 2005. POA(Phot) Mick Storey/Royal Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Five boats believed to belong to Iranian Revolutionary Guards approached a British oil tanker in the Gulf on Wednesday and asked it to stop in Iranian waters close by, but withdrew after a British warship warned them, U.S. officials said.
    Britain’s Ministry of Defence had no immediate comment.
    The incident occurred almost a week after British Royal Marines boarded an Iranian tanker, Grace 1, off Gibraltar and seized it on suspicion that it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
    Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Britain would face “consequences” over the seizure of the Iranian tanker.
    Tensions between Iran and the United States and its allies have risen sharply since Washington stepped up economic sanctions against Iran and moved to bring the country’s oil exports to zero as part of a “maximum pressure” policy to make Iran halt actions that it said undermined regional security.
    Iran has responded to the sanctions by starting to breach limits put on its nuclear activities under a 2015 deal with world powers.
    Several oil tankers were attacked in waters near Iran’s southern coast in May and June, for which the United States blamed Iran.    Tehran denied any involvement.
    Last month, Iran shot down a U.S. drone near the Strait of Hormuz, prompting President Donald Trump to order retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off.
    The U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Wednesday’s incident happened as British Heritage was at the northern entrance of the Strait of Hormuz.
    “The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed it guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed,” one of the officials said.
    “It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage,” the other official said.
    The United States hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by David Milliken in London; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)

7/11/2019 Taiwan president leaves for U.S., warns of threat from ‘overseas forces’
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/File Photo
    TAOYUAN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen left for the United States on Thursday on a trip that has angered Beijing, warning democracy must be defended and the island faced threats from “overseas forces”, in a veiled reference to China.
    China, which claims self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as its own and views it as a wayward province, has called on the United States not to allow Tsai to transit there on her overseas tour.
    She is spending four nights in the United States in total, two on the way there and two on the way back on a visit to four Caribbean allies.    Tsai will go to New York on her way there, and then is expected to stop in Denver on the way back.
    Tsai’s time in the United States will be unusually long, as normally she spends just a night at a time on transit stops.
    The U.S. State Department has said there had been no change in the U.S. “one-China” policy, under which Washington officially recognizes Beijing and not Taipei, while assisting Taiwan.
    “Our democracy has not come easily, and is now facing threats and infiltration from overseas forces,” Tsai said, without naming any such force.
    “These challenges are also common challenges faced by democracies all over the world.    We will work with countries with similar ideas to ensure the stability of the democratic system.”
    Tsai, who faces re-election in January, has repeatedly called for international support to defend Taiwan’s democracy in the face of Chinese threats.
    Beijing has regularly sent military aircraft and ships to circle Taiwan on drills in the past few years.
    Tsai last went to the United States in March, stopping over in Hawaii at the end of a Pacific tour.
    Seeking to bolster Taiwan’s defenses, the United States this week approved an arms sale worth an estimated $2.2 billion for Taiwan, despite Chinese criticism of the deal.
    Taiwan has been trying to shore up its diplomatic alliances amid pressure from China, which has been whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies, especially in the Caribbean and Latin America.
    Aside from the United States, Tsai will be visiting St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Haiti.
    Taiwan now has formal ties with only 17 countries, almost all small nations in Central America and the Pacific.
(Reporting by I-Hwa Cheng; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei; Writing by Ben Blanchard)

7/11/2019 Premature exit from Afghanistan would be ‘strategic mistake’: U.S. general
U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A premature withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would be a strategic mistake, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the top military officer said on Thursday, as the United States and Taliban make progress to end the nearly 18 years of war.
    “I think pulling out prematurely would be a strategic mistake,” General Mark Milley, currently the Army’s chief of staff and nominee to head the joint chiefs of staff, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
    Milley said he believed the war would eventually be brought to an end through a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. He added that there was “some progress” in that effort.
    The United States and the Taliban are getting closer to a deal that is expected to be centered on a U.S. promise to withdraw troops in exchange for a Taliban promise not to let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism, officials say.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

7/11/2019 North Korea calls South Korea’s F-35 jet purchases ‘extremely dangerous action’ by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in
Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s acquisition of American F-35 stealth fighter jets will force North Korea to develop and test “special armaments” to destroy the new weapons, North Korea’s state media said on Thursday, citing a government researcher.
    South Korean authorities are “impudent and pitiful” for “talking loudly about reconciliation and cooperation between the north and the south” while buying more weapons from the United States, an unnamed policy research director at the Institute for American Studies of North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.
    “There is no room for doubt that the delivery of ‘F-35A’, which is also called an ‘invisible lethal weapon’, is aimed at securing military supremacy over the neighboring countries in the region and especially opening a ‘gate’ to invading the north in time of emergency on the Korean peninsula,” the statement said.
    “We, on our part, have no other choice but to develop and test the special armaments to completely destroy the lethal weapons reinforced in south Korea.”
    South Korea took delivery of its first two F-35 jets in March, with more slated to arrive this year.    It has agreed to buy a total of 40 of the advanced aircraft, the last to be delivered by 2021.
    North Korea’s latest criticism of South Korea’s military acquisition as an “extremely dangerous action which will trigger our reaction” comes as inter-Korean relations have stalled.
    South Korean leader Moon Jae-in was left on the sidelines of a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump at the inter-Korean border in June, and there have been few signs that relations have improved.
    “The south Korean authorities had better come to their senses before it is too late, shattering the preposterous illusions that an opportunity would come for improved inter-Korean relations if they follow in the footsteps of the United States,” the statement said. (Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Michael Perry)

7/12/2019 Iran calls on Britain to release seized oil tanker immediately by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Oil supertanker Grace 1 on suspicion of being carrying Iranian crude oil
to Syria is seen near Gibraltar, Spain July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran called on Britain on Friday to immediately release an oil tanker that British Royal Marines seized last week on suspicion it was breaking European sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a foreign ministry spokesman told state news agency IRNA.
    “This is a dangerous game and has consequences … the legal pretexts for the capture are not valid … the release of the tanker is in all countries’ interest,” the spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said.
    Iran has warned of reciprocal measures if the tanker is not released.
    Britain said on Thursday that three Iranian vessels tried to block a British-owned tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz, which controls the flow of Middle East oil to the world, but backed off when confronted by a Royal Navy warship.
    Iran denied that its vessels had done any such thing.
    Tension between Iran and the West has increased a week after Britain seized the tanker and London said the British Heritage, operated by oil company BP, had been approached in the strait between Iran and the Arabian peninsula.
    Mousavi accused Britain of seizing the tanker under U.S. pressure.    “Such illegal measures could increase tensions in the Persian Gulf,” he told IRNA.
    For decades, Shi’ite-led Iran and its U.S.-backed Sunni Gulf Arab rivals have been locked in proxy battles for predominance in the Middle East, from Syria to Yemen.
    Britain is among European parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, which President Donald Trump pulled out of it last year, reimposing sanctions on Tehran.
    Washington tightened sanctions from the start of May, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.
    In retaliation to Washington’s mounting pressure, Iran has decreased its commitments to the nuclear pact, in defiance of a warning by European countries.
    The United States, Iran’s longtime foe, blames Tehran for a series of attacks on shipping in the world’s most important oil artery since mid-May, accusations Tehran rejects.
    The capture of the Iranian tanker comes at a time of sharply increased U.S.-Iranian confrontation in recent weeks.    Washington has also dispatched extra troops to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
    “Foreign powers should leave the region because Iran and other regional countries are capable of securing the regional security,” Mousavi said.
    “…Iran has repeatedly expressed its readiness to hold talks with its neighbors to resolve disputes.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/12/2019 Exclusive: Singapore cautions wealth managers on aggressively courting HK business by Anshuman Daga and Sumeet Chatterjee
FILE PHOTO: People walk past office buildings at the central business district in Singapore
in this April 14, 2015 REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
    SINGAPORE/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Singapore has cautioned wealth managers against aggressively marketing their services or making other efforts to woo clients to the city state by capitalizing on rival Hong Kong’s political turmoil, people with knowledge of the matter said.
    Officials from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) made the request last month to wealth managers, including DBS and a unit of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp , the people said, declining to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter.
    The central bank told bankers it wanted to ensure wealth managers in Singapore were sensitive to the situation in Hong Kong and did not design campaigns specifically targeting business from Hong Kong, the people said.
    The move comes as Hong Kong has been thrown into turmoil by a proposed extradition bill – declared dead this week by its CEO Carrie Lam – that for the first time would have allowed China to seek extraditions from the city, sparking demonstrations that attracted at least a million protesters.
    Some tycoons in the Chinese-controlled territory have moved funds, or considered doing so, given provisions in the bill that would have allowed China to potentially freeze funds or other assets in the city.
    The unrest has also encouraged some wealth managers to choose to set up in Singapore after also considering Hong Kong, the main offshore hubs for wealth management in Asia, Reuters has reported.
    When asked for a comment for this story, MAS referred to comments last month by its managing director, Ravi Menon, that there were no signs of “any significant shift of business or funds” from Hong Kong to Singapore.
    He had said that any upheaval in Hong Kong could actually be negative for Singapore.
    It was not immediately clear how many banks had received the MAS guidance.    Private banks routinely and legally help clients to move and manage their assets in different parts of the world.
    “The message was that we shouldn’t be taking undue advantage of what’s going on in Hong Kong,” a senior banking source said on condition of anonymity.
.     “We have to act responsibly and not launch campaigns to convince clients that this is a good time for them to move their assets,” he said, adding he was not aware of any banks making a big push to get business from Hong Kong in the current climate.
    “We are getting a lot of enquiries.    What can we do if clients are looking to moving money here?    We can’t stop the flows,” the Singapore-based banking source added.
    DBS and OCBC declined to comment.
OFFSHORE MOVE
    Hong Kong and Singapore compete fiercely to be considered Asia’s premier financial center. Global private banks including Credit Suisse and UBS , as well as Asian wealth managers have their regional operations in the two hubs.
    The riches held by Hong Kong’s tycoons have until now made the city the larger private wealth base, with 853 individuals worth more than $100 million – just over double the number in Singapore, according to a 2018 report from Credit Suisse.
    Singaporean banks, including DBS and OCBC, have been rapidly expanding their businesses in Hong Kong and China over the past few years, and the Greater China region accounts for a significant portion of their revenue.
    Like their global peers, Singaporean wealth managers also have Greater China desks in Singapore dedicated to clients in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and help them open bank accounts and set up family offices or trusts.
    “The fact is that we are getting inquiries from clients in Hong Kong.    They want to know how this will impact their assets and the Hong Kong markets,” an industry executive said.
    “If they really want to move offshore, we have to help them with that,” the executive added.
(Reporting by Anshuman Daga and Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Jennifer Hughes and Himani Sarkar)

7/12/2019 South Korea calls for probe as forced labor feud with Japan deepens by Joyce Lee and Linda Sieg
Working level officials from Japan (L) and South Korea hold a meeting about Japan's recent restrictions on exports
of high-tech material to South Korea in Tokyo, Japan, July 12, 2019. Japan Pool/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – South Korea called on Friday for an international investigation of what it said were accusations by Japanese officials that it had passed some high-tech materials imported from Japan on to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions.
    The call is the latest twist in a dispute between the U.S. allies that could disrupt supplies of chips and displays from South Korea’s tech giants Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, which count Apple Inc and other smartphone makers as customers.
    Japan last week tightened restrictions on the export of three materials used in smartphone displays and chips, following frustration over what it sees as South Korea’s failure to act in response to a ruling by one of its courts last October ordering Japan’s Nippon Steel Corp to compensate former forced laborers.
    But a Japanese foreign ministry official said on Friday the curbs on exports of the materials were not retaliation in the feud over compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms.
    Referring to the export curbs, Japanese officials have cited “inadequate management” of sensitive items exported to South Korea as well as lack of consultations to exchange information on export controls.
    Complicating the matter are Japanese media reports that some quantity of one of the materials covered by the export curbs, hydrogen fluoride, was shipped to North Korea after being exported to the South.    Hydrogen fluoride can be used in chemical weapons.
    Kim You-geun, South Korea’s deputy director of national security, said South Korea has fully enforced U.N. sanctions on North Korea and international export control regimes on sensitive materials and dual-use technology.
    “We express deep regret that senior Japanese officials have been recently making irresponsible comments without presenting a clear basis for them, suggesting our government was violating export controls and not enforcing sanctions,” Kim told a briefing.
    “To halt unnecessary disputes and to determine factual basis of the Japanese government’s claims, we suggest a panel of U.N. Security Council experts or an appropriate international organization to conduct a fair investigation into any cases of four major export control violations by South Korea and Japan.”
    If an investigation found any wrongdoing by the South Korean government, it would apologize and take corrective measures immediately, Kim said.
    But if an investigation concluded that South Korea was not at fault, Japan “not only must apologize to our government but will have to immediately withdraw its retaliatory export restrictions,” Kim said.
‘NO LINK’
    Japanese officials have declined to comment directly on the media reports that South Korea had shipped some quantity of one of the materials to North Korea.
    South Korea’s industry ministry said on Wednesday it had found 156 cases of unauthorized exports of strategic goods as of March since 2015, but none involved North Korea.
    South Korean and Japanese officials were meeting in Tokyo on Friday.
    A Japanese foreign ministry official said the export curbs were not meant as retaliation in the forced-labor feud although trade minister Hiroshige Seko, in announcing the curbs, had referred to that dispute, saying South Korea’s lack of sufficient response to resolve it had seriously damaged trust between them.
    Japan is also threatening to drop South Korea from a “white list” of countries with minimum trade restrictions.
    The Japanese ministry official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the export restrictions were “necessary measures related to security.”
    The official said the government was not linking the two issues and that “logically speaking” the more stringent controls could be removed if South Korea addressed Japan’s concerns about its export control system.
    Relations between Washington’s two Asian allies have long been plagued by memories of Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the peninsula and the war, including the matter of “comfort women”, a euphemism for girls and women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
    The dispute over wartime forced labor worsened last year after a South Korean court ordered Japanese firms to compensate former conscripted laborers.
    Japan says the matter was settled by the 1965 treaty and by demanding compensation, South Korea is violating international law.
    Many Japanese resent being urged to atone for wartime deeds of seven decades ago, while many in South Korea doubt the sincerity of Japan’s past apologies.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg, Joyce Lee, Jack Kim; Editing by David Dolan, Robert Birsel)

7/12/2019 New North Korea constitution calls Kim head of state, seen as step to U.S. peace treaty by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the 4th Plenary Meeting of the
7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang in this April 10, 2019 photo released on
April 11, 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Kim Jong Un has been formally named head of state of North Korea and commander-in-chief of the military in a new constitution observers said was possibly aimed at preparing for a peace treaty with the United States.
    North Korea has also long called for a peace deal with the United States to normalize relations and end the technical state of war that has existed since the 1950-1953 Korean War concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
    The new constitution, unveiled on the Naenara state portal site on Thursday, said that Kim as chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), a top governing body created in 2016, was “the supreme representative of all the Korean people,” which means head of state, and “commander-in-chief.”
    A previous constitution simply called Kim “supreme leader” who commands the country’s “overall military force.”
    Previously, North Korea’s official head of state was the president of the titular parliament, known as the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.
    “Kim had dreamed of becoming the president of North Korea and he effectively made it come true,” said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute in Seoul.
    “He has long sought to shake off the abnormal military-first policy the country has stuck to for a long time.”
    Kim shifted his focus to the economy last year, launched nuclear talks with the United States and moved to revamp his image as a world leader via summits with South Korea, China and Russia.
    Hong Min, a senior researcher of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said the title change was also aimed at preparing for a potential peace treaty with the United States.
    “The amendment may well be a chance to establish Kim’s status as the signer of a peace treaty when it comes, while projecting the image of the country as a normal state,” Hong said.
    Washington had baulked at signing a comprehensive peace treaty before North Korea takes substantial steps toward denuclearisation, but U.S. officials have signaled they may be willing to conclude a more limited agreement to reduce tensions, open liaison offices, and move toward normalizing relations.
    Denuclearisation talks between the United States and North Korea have stalled, although fresh talks with Pyongyang are supposed to take place this month.
    North Korea has frozen nuclear bomb and long-range missile testing since 2017.    But it tested new short-range missiles after a second summit with the United States in February broke down, and U.S. officials believe it has expanded its arsenal by continuing to produce bomb fuel and missiles.
    The new constitution continued to describe North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.
    In reality Kim, a third-generation hereditary leader, rules North Korea with an iron-fist and the title change will mean little to the way he wheels power.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Michael Perry)

7/12/2019 China says Xi urged Trump to ease North Korea sanctions
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands before their bilateral meeting
during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping urged U.S. President Donald Trump to ease sanctions on North Korea during their meeting in Japan last month, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
    China has signed up for strict U.N. sanctions following North Korea’s repeated missile and nuclear tests but has also suggested sanctions could be eased to reward North Korea for good behavior.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that Xi briefed Trump on China’s position on North Korea when they met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka.
    “In the meeting with President Trump in Osaka, President Xi briefed him on China’s principled position on the peninsula issue, and pushed the U.S. side to show flexibility and meet the North Koreans half way, including easing sanctions in due course,” Geng said.
    Xi and Trump have both held talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently – Xi before the G20 summit during a trip to Pyongyang, and Trump after the summit, when he met Kim at the Demilitarised Zone along the North’s border with South Korea.
    The United States hopes to see a freeze in the North Korean nuclear program as the start of a process of denuclearisation, the State Department said on Tuesday, ahead of fresh talks with Pyongyang supposed to take place this month.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/12/2019 China’s June exports, imports fall as trade war takes heavier toll by Yawen Chen and Kevin Yao
FILE PHOTO: Workers stand at the port of Qingdao, Shandong province, China June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s exports fell in June as the United States ramped up trade pressure, while imports shrank more than expected, pointing to further weakness in the world’s second-largest economy and slackening global growth.
    The gloomy trade readings added to a string of recent downbeat economic data which have fueled expectations that Beijing needs to announce more stimulus measures soon to ward off a sharper slowdown.
    China is expected to report on Monday that growth in the second quarter was the weakest in at least 27 years.
    Other data released on Friday showed new bank loans rose to a three-month high in June as policymakers sought to keep ample funds in the financial system, though the tally was less than analysts had expected.
    “Overall, imports and exports are declining quarter by quarter, and weak foreign demand will be the biggest challenge in the second half of this year,” said Zhang Yi, chief economist at Zhonghai Shengrong Capital Management in Beijing.
    “Short-term policy stimulus should be brought forward.”
    China’s manufacturers are struggling with sluggish demand at home and abroad, and a sharp U.S. tariff hike announced in May threatens to crush already-thin profit margins.    An official June survey showed factories were shedding jobs at the fastest pace since the global crisis, a major worry for Beijing.
    June exports fell 1.3% from a year earlier, not as much as the 2% drop analysts had expected but reversing a surprise gain in May when shippers rushed to beat more U.S. tariffs, customs data showed.
    Imports fell 7.3%, a sharper drop than the 4.5% expected and following a 8.5% contraction in May, suggesting domestic demand remains tepid despite a flurry of growth measures since last year.
    That left China with a trade surplus of $50.98 billion last month, compared with a $41.66 billion surplus in May.
    “We don’t expect global growth to bottom out until next year. And while the truce reached between (presidents) Trump and Xi at the G20 late last month removes the immediate threat of further U.S. tariffs, our base case remains that trade talks will break down again before long,” Capital Economics wrote.
    Highlighting industrial weakness, China’s imports of copper, used in electrical gear from wiring to motors, plunged 27% from a year earlier. Iron ore, crude oil , coal, and soybean imports fell from a month earlier.
    “Copper demand is still weakening … for most of the sectors, especially air conditioning,” said He Tianyu, an analyst at consultancy CRU in Shanghai.    “The trade war could be one of the factors but the bigger problem is actually China’s domestic demand – this summer is weaker than last year.”
ECONOMY STILL LOSING STEAM
    So far, Beijing has relied on a combination of fiscal stimulus and monetary easing to weather the slowdown, including hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending and tax cuts for companies.
    The central bank has also slashed banks’ reserve requirements six times since early 2018, freeing up more money to lend, with more cuts expected in coming quarters.    Some analysts believe it could also trim short-term borrowing rates if the U.S. Federal Reserve eases policy later this month.
    But the economy has been slow to respond, and business confidence remains shaky, weighing on investment.    Investors fear a longer and costlier trade war between the world’s two largest economies could trigger a global recession.
    “Policy easing is still nudging up broad credit growth,” Capital Economics wrote in a note.
    “But…the pick-up in lending has been modest relative to previous loosening cycles and is unlikely to prevent economic growth from slowing further in the coming quarters,” the note said.
    Chinese banks made 1.66 trillion yuan ($241.47 billion) in new loans last month, but the figure was less than the same month last year.
    China’s economic growth is expected to slow to a near 30-year low of 6.2% this year, from 6.6% in 2018, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday.
    Growth next year will likely cool further to 6.0%, the poll showed, and some analysts say it could be even weaker if trade talks blow up again and Washington imposes more tariffs and curbs on Chinese technology companies.
AWAITING NEXT ROUND OF TALKS
    June marked the first full month of higher U.S. tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods, which Washington imposed after trade talks between the world’s largest economies broke down.
    Though the countries’ leaders agreed in late June to resume negotiations, and the U.S. said it would hold off on additional levies, existing tariffs remain in place, producing a long slow burn for the Chinese economy, according to ING.
    Some exporters which lowered prices for U.S. customers after earlier tariffs have reportedly said they cannot absorb the new, stiffer levies and still make money.
    No timeframe has been set for a new round of face-to-face trade talks, and the two sides remain at odds over significant issues, raising the risk of a longer and costlier battle that is already engulfing other economies from tiny Singapore to export powerhouse Germany.
    China’s trade surplus with the United States, a major source of friction, rose 11% in June from May to $29.92 billion.
    For the first half, the surplus with the U.S. rose around 5% to $140.48 billion from the same period a year earlier.
    China’s exports to U.S. fell 7.8% in June on-year, while its imports from America plunged 31.4%.
(Reporting by Yawen Chen, Kevin Yao, Huizhong Wu, Se Young Lee; Writing by Stealla Qiu and Tony Munroe; Editing by Kim Coghill)

7/12/2019 Saudi Arabia and Russia among 37 states backing China’s Xinjiang policy by Tom Miles
FILE PHOTO: People hold signs protesting China's treatment of the Uighur people, in
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia, Russia and 35 other states have written to the United Nations supporting China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters on Friday, in contrast to strong Western criticism.
    China has been accused of detaining a million Muslims and persecuting ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang, and 22 ambassadors signed a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council this week criticizing its policies.
    But the letter supporting China commended what it called China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.
    “Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers,” the letter said.
    The letter said security had returned to Xinjiang and the fundamental human rights of people of all ethnic groups there had been safeguarded.    It added there had been no terrorist attack there for three years and people enjoyed a stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment and security.
    As well as Saudi Arabia and Russia, the letter was signed by ambassadors from many African countries, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Belarus, Myanmar, the Philippines, Syria, Pakistan, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
    Beijing has denied any human rights violations in the region and Chinese Ambassador Xu Chen, speaking at the close of the Council’s three-week session on Friday, said China highly appreciated the support it had received from the signatories.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Frances Kerry)

7/12/2019 Iran calls on Britain to release seized oil tanker immediately by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Oil supertanker Grace 1 on suspicion of being carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria
is seen near Gibraltar, Spain July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran called on Britain on Friday to immediately release an oil tanker that British Royal Marines seized last week on suspicion it was breaking European sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a foreign ministry spokesman told state news agency IRNA.
    “This is a dangerous game and has consequences … the legal pretexts for the capture are not valid … the release of the tanker is in all countries’ interest,” the spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said.
    Iran has warned of reciprocal measures if the tanker is not released.
    Britain said on Thursday that three Iranian vessels tried to block a British-owned tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz, which controls the flow of Middle East oil to the world, but backed off when confronted by a Royal Navy warship.
    Iran denied that its vessels had done any such thing.
    Tension between Iran and the West has increased a week after Britain seized the tanker and London said the British Heritage, operated by oil company BP, had been approached in the strait between Iran and the Arabian peninsula.
    Mousavi accused Britain of seizing the tanker under U.S. pressure.    “Such illegal measures could increase tensions in the Persian Gulf,” he told IRNA.
    For decades, Shi’ite-led Iran and its U.S.-backed Sunni Gulf Arab rivals have been locked in proxy battles for predominance in the Middle East, from Syria to Yemen.
    Britain is among European parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, which President Donald Trump pulled out of it last year, reimposing sanctions on Tehran.
    Washington tightened sanctions from the start of May, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.
    In retaliation to Washington’s mounting pressure, Iran has decreased its commitments to the nuclear pact, in defiance of a warning by European countries.
    The United States, Iran’s longtime foe, blames Tehran for a series of attacks on shipping in the world’s most important oil artery since mid-May, accusations Tehran rejects.
    The capture of the Iranian tanker comes at a time of sharply increased U.S.-Iranian confrontation in recent weeks.    Washington has also dispatched extra troops to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
    “Foreign powers should leave the region because Iran and other regional countries are capable of securing the regional security,” Mousavi said.
    “…Iran has repeatedly expressed its readiness to hold talks with its neighbors to resolve disputes.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/13/2019 More acrimony in Japan-South Korea row as Tokyo lodges protest by Kiyoshi Takenaka
Working level officials from Japan (L) and South Korea hold a meeting about Japan's recent restrictions on exports
of high-tech material to South Korea in Tokyo, Japan, July 12, 2019. Japan Pool/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan and South Korea traded further acrimony on Saturday, with Tokyo accusing Seoul of mischaracterizing talks the day before that did not mend a dispute that could threaten global supplies of microchips and smartphone displays.
    Tokyo lodged a protest against Seoul, said it had broken an agreement on what the two sides would disclose from the Friday discussions on Japan’s curbs of exports to Korea of some materials used to make high-tech equipment, said a Japanese trade ministry official.
    The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) also disputed a reported remark by a Korean official, saying in a statement that South Korea had not asked Japan on Friday to withdraw the restrictions.
    Japan has tightened restrictions on the export of three materials used in high-tech equipment, officially citing what it has called “inadequate management” of sensitive items exported to South Korea, as well as a lack of consultations about export controls.
    But the dispute also appears to be rooted in a decades-old wartime disagreement.    It comes amid deep frustration in Japan over what is seen as Seoul’s failure to act in response to a South Korean court ruling ordering a Japanese company to compensate former forced laborers.
    A Korean official, as he was leaving Japan on Saturday, said the Korean side had asked Japan to withdraw the export curbs in the Friday talks, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported, without naming the official.
    In response, Jun Iwamatsu, director of METI’s trade control policy division, told a hastily arranged news conference: “We’ve checked the record of the meeting … We found no clear comment asking for the withdrawal.”
    Iwamatsu said the two sides had agreed on what they would disclose from the talks but that the Korean official went beyond the agreement.    “We believe this is something that affects our relationship of trust,” he said.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by William Mallard and Jacqueline Wong)

7/13/2019 Anti-Chinese protests in Hong Kong turn violent by OAN Newsroom
    Protesters in Hong Kong clash with police, as demonstrations continue in the Chinese territory.
    Reports Saturday said thousands rallied in a town near the border with mainland China, opposing Chinese traders who make trips into Hong Kong to buy goods to sell in Beijing.
A police officer attacks protesters holding up umbrellas in Hong Kong Saturday, July 13, 2019.
Several thousand people marched in Hong Kong on Saturday against traders from mainland China in what is
fast becoming a summer of unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
    Demonstrators chanted for the traders to go home, saying they’ve fueled inflation, driven up property prices, and dodged taxes.
    They said they aren’t against the travel and buying, but want it to be orderly and legal.
    “As you can see a lot of people are coming out with their own slogans, this protest is originated by citizens,” said protestors, Ronald Leung.    “They are really angry about the issue of cross-border traders in Sheung Shui.    It has been a problem for years but never been solved.    That’s why they have come out to express their anger.”
    The protests started peacefully, but eventually turned to clashes with police after demonstrators began throwing umbrellas and hard hats.

7/13/2019 Hong Kong protesters, police clash as demonstrations target Chinese traders by Greg Torode and Vimvam Tong
Riot police stand guard during a march at Sheung Shui, a border town in Hong Kong, China July 13, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong protesters clashed with police on Saturday in a town near the boundary with mainland China where thousands rallied against the presence of Chinese traders, seizing on another grievance following major unrest over an extradition bill.
    The demonstration in the Hong Kong territorial town of Sheung Shui, not far from the Chinese city of Shenzhen, began peacefully but devolved into skirmishes and shouting. Protesters threw umbrellas and hardhats at police, who retaliated by swinging batons and firing pepper spray.
    Later, Hong Kong police urged protesters to refrain from violence and leave the area.    By around 8:30 p.m. (1230 GMT), most had retreated as police in riot helmets and wielding large shields swept through the town to reclaim the streets.
    The protest was the latest in a series that have roiled the former British colony for more than a month, giving rise to its worst political crisis since its 1997 handover to China.
    Sometimes violent street protests have drawn in millions of people, with hundreds even storming the legislature on July 1 to oppose a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to China to face trial in courts under ruling Communist Party control.
    Critics see the bill as a threat to Hong Kong’s rule of law.    Chief Executive Carrie Lam this week said the bill was “dead” after having suspended it last month, but opponents vow to settle for nothing short of its formal withdrawal.
    Protests against the bill had largely taken place in Hong Kong’s main business district, but demonstrators have recently begun to look elsewhere to widen support by taking up narrower, more domestic issues.
    In Sheung Shui, protesters rallied to oppose small-time Chinese traders who make short trips into the territory to buy goods that they then haul back to China to sell.
    The demonstrators chanted demands in Mandarin, China’s official language, for the Chinese traders to go home. Many street-level shops were shuttered during the march.
    The traders have long been a source of anger among those in Hong Kong who say they have fueled inflation, driven up property prices, dodged taxes and diluted Sheung Shui’s identity.
    “Our lovely town has become chaos,” said Ryan Lai, 50, a resident of Sheung Shui, where so-called “parallel traders” buy bulk quantities of duty-free goods to be carried into mainland China and sold.
    “We don’t want to stop travel and buying, but please, just make it orderly and legal.    The extradition bill was the tipping point for us to come out.    We want Sheung Shui back.”
    When Britain returned Hong Kong to China 22 years ago, Chinese Communist leaders promised the city a high degree of autonomy for 50 years.    But many say China has progressively tightened its grip, putting Hong Kong’s freedoms under threat through a range of measures such as the extradition bill.
DEMOCRACY DEFICIT
    Hong Kong’s lack of full democracy was behind the recent unrest, said Jimmy Sham of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized protests against the extradition bill.
    “The government, Carrie Lam, some legislators in functional constituencies are not elected by the people, so there are many escalating actions in different districts to reflect different social issues,” he said.    “If political problems are not solved, social well-being issues will continue to emerge endlessly.”
    One protester said Saturday’s scuffles started when demonstrators charged the police after the latter came to the assistance of mainland traders who had assaulted demonstrators.
    “Some people were attacked and got injured in a stampede.    I tried to save some girls so I was also attacked by pepper spray by police.    Now I feel so bad.    The cops are dogs,” said the man, who would only give the name Ragnar.
    Protesters ripped up median barriers and fences to set up roadblocks and defenses.
    A young man was treated for a bloody head wound a few meters (yards) from where surrounded police were hitting activists armed with umbrellas.    A baton charge by police in riot gear cleared the street minutes later to free trapped officers.
    “We have no weapons and we were peaceful.    When we saw them taking photos of us in the crowd we had to react,” said another protester, surnamed Chan, who declined to give his full name.
    “We are all scared now. How can they hit us with batons?” he said, staring at a pool of blood where one of his peers was treated.
    The police public affairs office did not have an immediate comment when asked about police actions against the protesters.
    Last week nearly 2,000 people marched in the Tuen Mun residential district to protest against what they saw as the nuisance of brash singing and dancing to Mandarin pop songs by middle-aged mainland women.
    On Sunday, tens of thousands marched in one of Kowloon’s most popular tourist shopping areas, trying to persuade mainland Chinese tourists to back opposition to the extradition bill.
    “We want to raise awareness in Washington that the United States has to do more now to help Hong Kong become fully democratic,” said a resident of the nearby town of Fanling, who was one of five people in Saturday’s crowd carrying U.S. flags.
    “They are the most important power left that can stand up to China,” added the 30-year-old man, who gave his name only as David.
    Anti-extradition protesters plan another demonstration on Sunday in the town of Sha Tin, in the so-called New Territories between Hong Kong island and the border with China.
(Additional reporting by Joyce Zhou; Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/13/2019 UK to facilitate release of Iranian tanker if it gets Syria guarantees: Hunt
FILE PHOTO: Jeremy Hunt, a leadership candidate for Britain's Conservative Party, attends a
hustings event in Maidstone, Britain July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
    LONDON (Reuters) – British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt told his Iranian counterpart on Saturday that Britain would facilitate the release of the detained Grace 1 oil tanker if Tehran gave guarantees it would not go to Syria.
    The tanker was seized last week by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria.
    Iran on Saturday reiterated its call for the ship’s release.    It denies the tanker was taking oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.
    The affair has stoked tension in the Gulf, with Britain saying on Thursday that it had fended off Iranian ships that tried to block a British tanker in the area.
    Hunt said the call with Iran’s foreign minister had been constructive and Mohammad Javad Zarif had told him that Iran wanted to resolve the issue and was not seeking to escalate tensions.
    “I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One & that UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in (Gibraltar) courts,” Hunt wrote on Twitter.
    A statement on the Iranian foreign ministry website said Zarif told Hunt during the call that Britain should quickly release the tanker.
    Iran will continue its oil exports under any conditions, Zarif also told Hunt, according to the statement.
    Tehran blames the United States for arranging the seizure of the tanker.    Washington has imposed sanctions against Iran with the aim of halting Iranian oil exports.
    European countries do not have sanctions against Iran, but have had them in place against Iran’s ally Syria since 2011.
    Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo told the territory’s parliament on Friday the decision to detain the tanker, which he said was carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil, had not been taken at the request of any other country.
    “Also spoke to @FabianPicardo who is doing an excellent job co-ordinating issue and shares UK perspective on the way forward,” Hunt said.
    Gibraltan police said four crew members that had been arrested, including the vessel’s captain and chief officer, had been released on bail without charge but their investigation was ongoing.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Edmund Blair and Marie-Louise Gumuchian)

7/13/2019 Iranian foreign minister heads to New York for U.N. conference: IRNA
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
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to New York on Saturday to a United Nations conference, Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported, amid rising tension between Washington and Tehran.
    The United States and Iran are at loggerheads over Tehran’s nuclear program and Washington has blamed Iranian forces for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region, a charge Tehran denies.
    The two nations came close to conflict last month when Iran shot down a U.S. drone, prompting Washington to order retaliatory air strikes that were called off at the last minute.
    Zarif will attend a meeting of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in New York and would then travel to Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, IRNA reported.
    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in June that Washington would impose sanctions on top Iranian officials, including Zarif, a step that could have impeded any diplomatic efforts to resolve their disagreements.
    But two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday the United States had decided not to impose sanctions on Zarif for now, in a sign that Washington might be holding a door open for diplomacy.
    President Donald Trump withdrew the United States last year from a 2015 accord between Iran and world powers that had aimed to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
    Washington has ratcheted up sanctions on Iran since then, driving Iranian oil exports sharply lower.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Edmund Blair)

7/14/2019 Hong Kong protesters resume chorus of opposition to extradition bill by Donny Kwok and Felix Tam
Anti-extradition bill protesters march at Sha Tin District of East New Territories, Hong Kong, China July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Hong Kong people rallied for a second day on Sunday in an area popular with mainland Chinese shoppers, as deep-seated anger and frustration at the government’s handling of an extradition bill refuses to dissipate.
    Demonstrators marched in heat of about 32 degrees Celsius (89.6°F) in Sha Tin, a town between Hong Kong island and the border with China, as the protests sweep outwards from the heart of the financial center into surrounding neighborhoods.
    “These days there is really no trust of China, and so the protesters come out,” said Jennie Kwan, 73.
    “Didn’t they promise 50 years, no change?    And yet we’ve all seen the changes.    I myself am already 70-something years old.    What do I know about politics?    But politics comes to you.”
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees its people freedoms for 50 years that are not enjoyed in mainland China, including the liberty to protest and an independent judiciary.
    Beijing denies interfering in Hong Kong affairs, but many residents worry about what they see as an erosion of those freedoms and a relentless march toward mainland control.
    Millions have taken to the streets over the past month in some of the largest and most violent protests in decades over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.
    Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, has said the bill is “dead” but opponents say they will settle for nothing short of its formal withdrawal.
    Some protesters at Sunday’s event waved banners appealing to U.S. President Donald Trump to “Please liberate Hong Kong” and “Defend our Constitution.”
    Some marchers beat drums, while others waved British and American flags, with banners calling for independence for Hong Kong flying from makeshift flagpoles.
    Chants of “Carrie Lam go to hell,” rang through the crowd.
    The protests have fueled the former British colony’s biggest political crisis since China regained control of Hong Kong, and pose a direct challenge to authorities in Beijing.
    “I never missed a march so far since June,” said a 69-year-old man who gave only his surname, Chen, referring to the wave of protests.
    “I support the youngsters, they have done something we haven’t done.    There is nothing we can do to help them, but come out and march to show our appreciation and support.”
    Critics see the now-suspended extradition bill as a threat to the rule of law.    Protesters are also demanding that Lam step down and want an independent investigation into complaints of police brutality.
    One woman, in her mid-50s, said protesters had harassed her after she tried to defend the police, whom activists described as “dogs.”
    “It’s verbal violence,” said the woman, who gave her name only as Catherine.    “People just surrounded me and shouted rude language and that makes me feel I am living in fear.”
    On Saturday, a largely peaceful demonstration in a town close to the Chinese border turned violent as protesters hurled umbrellas and hardhats at police, who retaliated by swinging batons and firing pepper spray.
    The government condemned violence during Saturday’s protests against so-called “parallel traders” from the mainland who buy goods in bulk in Hong Kong, to carry into China for profit.
    It said that during the last 18 months it had arrested 126 mainland visitors suspected of infringing the terms of their stay by engaging in parallel trading, and barred about 5,000 mainland Chinese also suspected of involvement.
    Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of journalists joined a silent march to demand better treatment from police at protests.
(Reporting by Donny Kwok and Felix Tam; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

7/15/2019 Hong Kong leader says protesters in latest clashes can be called ‘rioters’ by Vimvam Tong and Anne Marie Roantree
Riot police try to disperse pro-democracy protesters inside a mall after a march at Sha Tin District of
East New Territories, in Hong Kong, China July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Monday protesters who clashed with police on the weekend were rioters, a legally loaded term in the city, and she supported the police in upholding the law and seeking perpetrators.
    Lam made the comments at a hospital where she visited three police officers injured in violent disturbances on Sunday between police and demonstrators angry about an extradition bill.
    Hong Kong has been rocked by large and sometimes violent street protests over the past month against the extradition bill, which many city residents see as a threat to their freedoms, plunging the former British colony into its biggest political crisis since it was handed back to China in 1997.
    “We thank the police officers for maintaining social order loyally and professionally, but they have suffered in attacks from those rioters – they can be called rioters,” she said.
    With more protests expected in coming days and weeks, her comments risk raising tension.
    Some activists have been demanding that the government avoid using the term “riot” to refer to the protests.    A conviction for rioting in the financial hub can carry a 10-year prison sentence.
    Tens of thousands of people attended Sunday’s protest which ended in chaos in a shopping mall, with scores of protesters threw umbrellas, hard-hats and plastic bottles at police who fired pepper spray and hit out with batons.
    Lam said more than 10 police were injured with six hospitalized.
    The government information office said 28 people, including police, were injured.
    Police Chief Stephen Lo said late on Sunday more than 40 people were arrested on charges including assaulting police and illegal assembly.
    Security chief John Lee said the government was concerned at an apparent escalation of violence by activists who threw bricks and iron bars.
    “We found that people who attacked the police were very organized … they are well-planned and there are plans to deliberately do damage and disrupt social stability,” Lee said as he visited the hospital with Lam.
POLICE SAFETY
    Their comments come as the city’s biggest police union is urging police chief Lo and his top brass to better protect rank-and-file staff as they brace for more violence.
    The Junior Police Officers’ Association said in a letter to police force management on Sunday it wanted guarantees that Lo and his senior managers could ensure their “safety and mental health.”
    Force chiefs should not dispatch staff to dangerous situations “unless the management has confidence in the conditions, including tactics and equipment,” the association said in the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees freedoms for 50 years that are not enjoyed in mainland China, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary.
    But many residents worry about what they see as an erosion of those freedoms and a relentless march toward mainland control. Beijing denies interfering in Hong Kong affairs.
    The extradition bill that has sparked the protests would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to China to face trial in courts controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
    Critics say that would threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law and its place as an Asian financial hub.
    Demonstrations have drawn hundreds of thousands of people into the streets since early June.
    Under pressure, Lam suspended the bill in mid-June and last week declared it “dead,” but opponents say they want to see its formal withdrawal from the legislative process.
    Protesters have recently seized upon the widespread anger over the bill to draw attention to a litany of other grievances, including the territory’s relative lack of democracy and mainland traders, blamed by Hong Kong residents for fuelling inflation.
    The protesters have also taken their campaign out of the main business and government district on Hong Kong island to other spots around the territory, including the town of Sha Tin where the protest march and clashes happened on Sunday.
    China has condemned the protests in Hong Kong as an “undisguised challenge” to the formula under which the city is ruled, and as a threat to its prosperity.
    Chinese state media has accused Western forces of instigating the unrest as a way to put pressure on the central government.
(Additional reporting by Greg Torode, Donny Kwok, Felix Tam, John Ruwitch; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

7/15/2019 China says will freeze out U.S. companies that sell arms to Taiwan by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: A military honour guard holds a Taiwanese national flag as he attending flag-raising ceremony at
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in Taipei, Taiwan March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s government and Chinese companies will cut business ties with U.S. firms selling arms to Taiwan, China’s     Foreign Ministry said on Monday, declining to give details of the sanctions in a move likely to worsen already poor ties with Washington.
    China claims self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.    China regularly calls Taiwan the most sensitive issue in its relations with the United States.
    Last week, the Pentagon said the U.S. State Department had approved the sale of the weapons requested by Taiwan, including 108 General Dynamics Corp M1A2T Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, which are manufactured by Raytheon .
    China said on Friday it would sanction U.S. companies selling weapons to Taiwan but did not elaborate.
    The latest deal involves $2.2 billion worth of tanks, missiles and related equipment for Taiwan.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the arms sales were a violation of international law and harmed China’s sovereignty and national security.China’s government and Chinese companies will not cooperate or have commercial contacts with these U.S. companies,” he told a daily news briefing.
    “I can’t reveal the details at the moment.    But believe this – Chinese people always stress standing by their word.”
    On Sunday, the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily posted an article on its WeChat account identifying U.S. companies that could be vulnerable to sanctions.
    They included Honeywell International Inc , which makes the engines for the Abrams tanks, and private jets maker Gulfstream Aerospace, which is owned by General Dynamics.    China is an important market for both Honeywell and Gulfstream.     The companies did not respond to requests for comment.
    Ties between China and the United States are already strained over a trade war, which has seen them levy tariffs on each other’s imports.
    This is not the first time China has said it would sanction U.S. companies selling weapons to Taiwan.    China has announced such steps at least twice before – in 2010 and 2015 – but it is unclear if the sanctions were ever imposed.
    U.S. defense contractors have been barred from dealings with Beijing since China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators on and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
    While its relations with Taiwan are technically unofficial, the United States is required by law to assist Taiwan in its defense and is its main supplier of arms, though France has also previously sold warships and fighter jets to Taiwan.
    China has been angered as well by the United States allowing Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to visit last week, on her way to diplomatic allies in the Caribbean.    She is due to transit the United States again at the end of her trip next week.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Liangping Gao, Yilei Sun and Stella Qiu; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/15/2019 South Korea calls Japan reports of North Korea sanctions breach ‘grave challenge’ by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a meeting with executives from South Korea's top 30
conglomerates at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, July 10, 2019. Yonhap via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Monday Japan’s reported accusations that South Korea had exported banned goods to North Korea posed a “grave challenge” amid a growing dispute over Japanese export curbs.
    Japan has tightened restrictions on the export of three materials used in high-tech equipment, citing “inadequate management” of sensitive items exported to South Korea.
    The curbs were seen as a response to a South Korean court ruling last year ordering a Japanese company to compensate South Koreans who were forced into labor during World War II.
    Japanese officials have cited “inadequate management” of sensitive items exported to South Korea as a reason behind the curbs, as well as lack of information sharing on export controls.
    Adding to tensions, Japan’s NHK and FNN broadcasters reported that hydrogen fluoride, one of the three materials covered by the curbs that can also be used in chemical weapons, had been shipped to North Korea after being exported to the South.
    South Korea has said the reports were groundless and it has been doing a better job than Japan in keeping track of illicit exports.
    North Korea was slapped with sanctions for its missile and nuclear weapons programs which it pursued for years in defiance of U.S. Security Council resolutions.
    “It is a grave challenge to our government which has not only been faithfully complying with the global export control and sanctions regime but also making utmost effort to develop inter-Korean ties and peace within the sanctions framework,” Moon said.
    The two countries held five-hour marathon talks in Tokyo on Friday but the feud only deepened, with both sides presenting conflicting accounts of each other’s demands.
    There are concerns that the row could threaten global supplies of microchips and smartphone displays, while undercutting crucial collaboration on fending off North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
    Moon called for Tokyo to end the “consumptive” dispute by jointly receiving a probe from an international organization and to withdraw the curbs via dialogue.
    “I warn that the measure will ultimately inflict greater damage on the Japanese economy, as our companies break away from their reliance on Japanese materials, parts and equipment, diversify their import sources and localize the products,” he said.
    Seoul has called the export curbs “retaliatory” and referred it to the World Trade Organization.    Japanese officials have declined to comment directly on the media reports about suspected exports to North Korea.
    Relations between Washington’s two Asian allies have long been plagued by memories of Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the peninsula and the war, including the matter of “comfort women,” a euphemism for girls and women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
    Japan says the issue of forced labor was settled by the 1965 treaty.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Jack Kim and Ju-min Park; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

7/15/2019 Japanese women are running for parliament in record numbers, but face many obstacles by Linda Sieg and Ami Miyazaki
Sakura Uchikoshi, an opposition candidate for Japan's upcoming July 21 upper house election, poses in front
of election posters in Mitsuke, Niigata, Japan, July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Linda Sieg
    NIIGATA, Japan (Reuters) – When anti-nuclear activist Junko Isogai ran for office in Japan’s northern Niigata region, it had an awkward dimension: not just stump speeches and chats with constituents, but entertaining potential backers.
    “I was asked to pour sake, make flattering conversation and act in a way men wouldn’t dislike,” Isogai, 45, a mother of two teenage girls, told Reuters.    “It was like being a bar hostess.”
    Such traditional campaign practices – heavy on face-to-face interaction and personal ties – are among many barriers women face when trying to enter Japan’s male-dominated politics, candidates and experts say.
    Other hurdles include a lack of role models, social norms discouraging women from speaking out, and the burden of an intense, full-time job in a society where women are expected to be responsible for housework, child rearing and elder care.
    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made bringing more women into the workforce a policy pillar.    But politics remains male-dominated.
    Since Abe took office in December 2012, Japan’s global ranking of women in parliament has fallen to 164th from 122nd among 193 countries.    His Liberal Democratic Party has a smaller percentage of female lawmakers than its main opposition party.
    A July 21 upper-house election will be the first national poll since passage of a gender parity law that set non-binding targets for parties to field equal numbers of male and female candidates. A record 28% of candidates are women.
    But only 15% of LDP candidates are women, compared with 45% for its main opposition, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ).
    Sakura Uchikoshi, a Tokyo-based lawyer making her first foray into politics in the rural district of Niigata, is among the opposition candidates.     Niigata has a tradition of strong female politicians, including outspoken former foreign minister Makiko Tanaka.    And it currently has three female opposition MPs.
NETWORKS AND NAMES
    Uchikoshi, who unlike many men in the party, did not rise through the ranks, suffers from an image as an outsider.    She was born in Hokkaido and pursued her career in Tokyo.
    That’s a stark contrast with her LDP rival Ichiro Tsukada, a Niigata-born incumbent whose father was also an MP.     “My lack of name recognition is the bottleneck,” Uchikoshi told Reuters in an interview before a rally.
    “Male candidates have networks and … the lack of that for rookie female candidates makes it difficult,” she said, adding she was grateful for support from the three incumbent women.
    Politicians, especially in the LDP, typically rise through the ranks from local assemblies to parliament, creating their base along the way.    That path can be tough for women, who are expected to raise families rather than shake hands.
    “Individuals have to cultivate networks themselves,” said Sophia University professor Mari Miura.    “Many women, who have to interrupt their careers for child-rearing and struggle with work-life balance, can’t afford such energy.”
    Uchikoshi’s backers hope she stands out as a fresh alternative to Tsukada, said Hiroshi Sasaki, a university professor and civic activist advising her campaign.
    Tsukada’s reputation was dented when he bragged about securing a highway project in southern Japan as an unsolicited favor for Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso.    He resigned as deputy cabinet minister over the fuss.
    “Usually, I vote for the LDP, but this time I think they are making fools of us and I’m angry,” said 63-year-old Niigata retiree Susumu, who declined to give his last name.
    Uchikoshi’s husband, a lawyer, and their teenage son are living in Tokyo for the duration of the campaign, which officially kicked off on July 4.
    “My son didn’t seem to realize I’d have to stay in Niigata,” she said.
    By contrast, experts and politicians say, men don’t tend to see family duties as a barrier to entering politics.
    “If a woman is a full-time housewife and her husband runs for office, she can take care of the home,” CDPJ leader Yukio Edano told Reuters.    “Unfortunately, the burden of child-rearing is heavier for women so the cost of running is bigger.”
    Isogai, who lost her bid for Niigata’s prefectural assembly and is supporting Uchikoshi, said she often felt guilty for leaving her teenage daughters to campaign.
    “When I saw them with a button missing, I felt sorry,” said Isogai, who moved to Niigata from Fukushima after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.    Her husband, often away for work, wasn’t used to household chores, she said.
    “When it comes to campaigning, it is overwhelmingly easier for men,” she said.
    Proponents say more female lawmakers would help Japan focus on key policies such as child care, education and welfare.
    “I’m a working mother myself and the issues of child care and elderly care are very personal,” Uchikoshi said.    “To prioritize such issues, we need more women legislators.”
(Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/15/2019 China-friendly Taiwan mayor beats Foxconn’s Gou in opposition’s presidential primary
FILE PHOTO - Terry Gou, founder and chairman of Foxconn reacts during an interview with
Reuters in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Eason Lam/File Picture
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – A China-friendly mayor in Taiwan on Monday won the opposition party’s nomination for the 2020 presidential election, beating Foxconn founder Terry Gou and issuing a direct challenge to President Tsai Ing-wen who is seeking re-election.
    The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) said Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu beat four other contenders in a national tally for its primary race, including the billionaire founder of Apple supplier Foxconn.
    The self-ruled island is set to hold its presidential election in January amid heightened tension with China, which considers Taiwan a wayward province and has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control.
    Han gained island-wide popularity after winning a mayoral election in November in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, formerly a stronghold of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
    “The past three years under the rule of Tsai Ing-wen have been too disappointing,” Han told reporters at the KMT’s headquarters in Taipei after the results.
    “DPP supporters should open their eyes and think it over.”
    The China-friendly mayor triggered controversy after meetings with several senior officials in China this year, including Wang Zhimin, director of the Liaison Office of the People’s Government in Hong Kong.
    Han has said both sides are part of “one China,” a cherished principle for Beijing, and has previously described Taiwan independence as being “more scary” than syphilis.
    Han led a seven-day phone survey of more than 15,000 people across Taiwan, winning 44.8% support, compared with Gou’s 27.7%, who came second.
    It was not immediately clear if Gou would run as an independent candidate or drop out of the campaign.
    A person familiar with Gou’s thinking told Reuters that Gou was still consulting people on the matter and had not decided his next move.
    Gou, who launched an extensive primary campaign including banners on buses and online advertisements, thanked supporters and congratulated Han.
    “I will never change my passion for the Republic of China.    I will never give up my dedication to the Republic of China,” Gou said in a statement, using Taiwan’s official name.
    Another factor that could complicate Tsai’s bid for re-election is Taipei city mayor Ko Wen-je who could join the 2020 race as an independent, a senior adviser to Tsai told Reuters.
    “There are many uncertainties ahead,” the adviser, Yao Chia-wen, said.    “If Ko runs, he would pose some threats to President Tsai.    If Gou runs, Han will take more of a hit.”
    Tsai’s administration suffered a defeat in local elections late last year amid mounting criticism over her party’s reform agenda and the rising pressure from China. [nL3N1Z81JR]
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

7/15/2015 Afghan radio station shuts down after threats by suspected Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Afghan women, clad in burqas, walk in Herat province, Afghanistan October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – A private radio station in Afghanistan has shut down after numerous threats from a suspected Taliban commander who objected to women working as presenters, officials at the radio station said on Monday.
    The incident comes as the Taliban are discussing a peace deal with the United States that could see them re-joining mainstream society, and that has brought new scrutiny of their attitudes to issues like women’s rights and the media.
    The private radio station, Samaa, has been broadcasting political, religious, social and entertainment programs in the central province of Ghazni since 2013.
    Its 13 employees, including three women presenters, broadcast in Afghanistan’s two main languages – Dari and Pashto.     The radio station’s director, Ramez Azimi, said Taliban commanders in the area had sent written warnings and telephoned in, to tell the radio station to stop employing women.
    “The Taliban also came to my house and issued a threat,” Azimi said.
    He said the threats had forced him to suspend broadcasts.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that a Taliban commander had issued the threats.
    “We are trying to find details,” said Mujahid.
    The Taliban say many people falsely identify themselves as Taliban, often in the course of private disputes.
    Several districts of Ghazni are under Taliban control.
    The militants hold sway over about half of Afghanistan and they have been intensifying their attacks despite efforts toward a peace agreement to end the 18-year war.
    The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001.
    Under their hardline interpretation of Islamic law, women were banned women from working or going to school.
    But the Taliban have recently been projecting themselves as a more moderate force.
    In a recent statement they said Islam gave women rights in areas including business and ownership, inheritance, education, work, choosing a husband, security and well-being.
    But they denounced “so-called women’s rights activists” who encouraged women to defy Afghan customs.
    The Taliban have staged numerous deadly attacks against the media and Afghanistan is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.
    The Taliban say they only target media that is biased against them.
(Reporting by Mustafa Andalib in Ghazni, Orooj Hakimi, Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/15/2019 Iran ready to talk if U.S. lifts sanctions, Pompeo skeptical by Parisa Hafezi and Bate Felix
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting with tribal leaders
in Kerbala, Iraq, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen
    DUBAI/PARIS (Reuters) – Iran is ready to hold talks with the United States if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the 2015 nuclear deal it quit last year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Sunday.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has said it is open to negotiations with Iran on a more far-reaching agreement on nuclear and security issues.
    But Iran has made any talks conditional on first being able to export as much oil as it did before the United States withdrew from the nuclear pact with world powers in May 2018.
    “We have always believed in talks … if they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere,” Rouhani said in his Sunday speech.
    In an interview with the Washington Post newspaper, Pompeo dismissed Rouhani’s idea as “the same offer that he offered to John F. Kerry and Barack Obama,” referring to the former U.S. secretary of state and president.
    “President Trump will obviously make the final decision.    But this is a path that the previous administration had gone down and it led to the (Iran nuclear deal) which this administration, President Trump and I both believe was a disaster,” Pompeo said.
    Confrontations between Washington and Tehran have escalated, culminating in an aborted plan for U.S. air strikes on Iran last month after Tehran downed a U.S. drone. Trump called off the retaliatory U.S. air strike at the last minute.
    Calling for dialogue among all to resume, France, Britain and Germany – parties to the 2015 pact – said on Sunday they were preoccupied by the escalation of tensions in the Gulf region and the risk the nuclear deal might fall apart.
    “We believe that the time has come to act responsibly and to look for ways to stop the escalation of tension and resume dialogue,” they said in a joint statement that was released by the French president’s office.
    Despite calling for talks with Iranian leaders, Trump said on Wednesday that U.S. sanctions on Iran would soon be increased “substantially
    Existing U.S. sanctions have targeted Iran’s main foreign revenue stream from crude oil exports, which Trump in May moved to try to eliminate entirely.
    In reaction, Tehran said it would scale back its commitments under the deal, under which it had agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions that had crippled its economy.
‘CONSIDER POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES’
    Defying a warning by the European parties to the pact to continue its full compliance, Tehran has amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted and has started to enrich uranium above the 3.67% permitted by the agreement.
    “The risks are such that it is necessary for all stakeholders to pause, and consider the possible consequences of their actions,” France, Britain and Germany, which have been trying to salvage the pact by shielding Tehran’s economy from sanctions, said in their statement.
    Iranian clerical rulers have said that Tehran will further decrease its commitments if Europeans fail to fulfill their promises to guarantee Iran’s interests under the deal.
    The nuclear deal aimed to extend the amount of time it would theoretically take Iran to produce enough fissile material for an atomic bomb – so-called breakout time – from several months to a minimum of one year until 2025.
    Iran denies ever having considered developing atomic weapons.
    There have been two signs in the past week that the United States may be signaling greater openness to diplomacy.
    U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday that Washington had decided for now not to sanction Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif despite Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s June 24 statement he would be blacklisted that week.
    On Sunday, U.S. officials said they had given Zarif a U.S. visa to attend a U.N. meeting this week.    Iran’s mission to the United Nations said he had arrived in New York.
    Pompeo told the Washington Post he had granted the visa but restricted Zarif’s movements while in New York, allowing him only to travel between U.N. headquarters and the Iranian mission six blocks away, and to the residence of Iran’s U.N. ambassador.
    Pompeo declined comment when asked whether he or other U.S. officials would try to speak with Zarif this week or at the U.N. General Assembly in September, the Washington Post reported.
    While accusing Zarif of exploiting U.S. freedom of the press to “spread malign propaganda,” the U.S. secretary of state told the newspaper he would accept any offer to appear on Iranian television.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Bate Felix in Paris; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)

7/15/2019 Dozens clash with police at gas price protest in Bangladesh capital
People clash with police near the Ministry of Power Energy and Mineral Resources as they protest against the
increase in natural gas price in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Dozens of people protesting against the Bangladeshi government’s sudden decision to hike gas prices by a third clashed on Sunday with police outside the energy ministry in Dhaka, protest leaders and police said.
    Last month the state-run Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission announced it would raise natural gas prices by 32.8% on average for all users from July 1, the first day of the country’s fiscal year.
    Sunday’s protest was organized by the Left Democratic Alliance (LDA), which said at least 15 of its members were injured during the confrontation with police.
    “We tried to go to the office of the energy ministry to raise our concern over the gas price rise but police prevented and scuffled with us,” said Ruhin Hossain, secretary of Bangladesh Communist Party which belongs to the LDA.
    Police said officers tried to prevent protesters from breaking through a barricade and that it was unaware of anyone being injured.
    Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said last week the price increases were necessary to sustain economic growth.
(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

7/15/2019 China threatens sanctions on U.S. over Taiwan arms sales by OAN Newsroom
    Chinese officials doubled down on their previous comments, threatening to sanction U.S. companies involved in the weapons sale to Taiwan.    China’s foreign ministry spokesman announced the move Monday, saying the U.S. arms sales violate international law, the One-China policy as well as Sino-American relations.
    “In order to protect national interests, China will sanction U.S. companies that participate in selling weapons to Taiwan,” stated Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.    “China’s government and Chinese companies will not cooperate or have commercial contacts with these U.S. companies.”
    His remarks come after the State Department approved a $2.2 billion arms sale last week, which was requested by Taiwan.    Some of the U.S. companies that could be sanctioned by China would include Honeywell, Gulfstream Aerospace, and Raytheon.
FILE – In this file photo dated Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang speaks during
a daily briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, FILE)
    This comes as tensions continue between Washington and Beijing continue to engage in tit for tat retaliatory tariffs in the ongoing trade war.
    China confirmed Sunday it held military drills off the coast of Taiwan, but both parties downplayed the exercises with Beijing describing them as routine. While the U.S. formally supports the One-China policy and has no formal ties with Taiwan, Washington is also bound by law to help the island defend itself.    However, it remains to be seen how this will further affect relations between the U.S. and China if Beijing follows through on its sanctions threat.

7/15/2019 Hong Kong leader says protesters in latest clashes can be called ‘rioters’ by Vimvam Tong and Anne Marie Roantree
Riot police try to disperse pro-democracy protesters inside a mall after a march at Sha Tin District
of East New Territories, in Hong Kong, China July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Monday protesters who clashed with police on the weekend were rioters, a legally loaded term in the city, and she supported the police in upholding the law and seeking perpetrators.
    Lam made the comments at a hospital where she visited three police officers injured in violent disturbances on Sunday between police and demonstrators angry about an extradition bill.
    Hong Kong has been rocked by large and sometimes violent street protests over the past month against the extradition bill, which many city residents see as a threat to their freedoms, plunging the former British colony into its biggest political crisis since it was handed back to China in 1997.
    “We thank the police officers for maintaining social order loyally and professionally, but they have suffered in attacks from those rioters – they can be called rioters,” she said.
    With more protests expected in coming days and weeks, her comments risk raising tension.
    Some activists have been demanding that the government avoid using the term “riot” to refer to the protests.    A conviction for rioting in the financial hub can carry a 10-year prison sentence.
    Tens of thousands of people attended Sunday’s protest which ended in chaos in a shopping mall, with scores of protesters threw umbrellas, hard-hats and plastic bottles at police who fired pepper spray and hit out with batons.
    Lam said more than 10 police were injured with six hospitalized.
    The government information office said 28 people, including police, were injured.
    Police Chief Stephen Lo said late on Sunday more than 40 people were arrested on charges including assaulting police and illegal assembly.
    Security chief John Lee said the government was concerned at an apparent escalation of violence by activists who threw bricks and iron bars.
    “We found that people who attacked the police were very organized … they are well-planned and there are plans to deliberately do damage and disrupt social stability,” Lee said as he visited the hospital with Lam.
POLICE SAFETY
    Their comments come as the city’s biggest police union is urging police chief Lo and his top brass to better protect rank-and-file staff as they brace for more violence.
    The Junior Police Officers’ Association said in a letter to police force management on Sunday it wanted guarantees that Lo and his senior managers could ensure their “safety and mental health.”
    Force chiefs should not dispatch staff to dangerous situations “unless the management has confidence in the conditions, including tactics and equipment,” the association said in the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees freedoms for 50 years that are not enjoyed in mainland China, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary.
    But many residents worry about what they see as an erosion of those freedoms and a relentless march toward mainland control. Beijing denies interfering in Hong Kong affairs.
    The extradition bill that has sparked the protests would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to China to face trial in courts controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
    Critics say that would threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law and its place as an Asian financial hub.
    Demonstrations have drawn hundreds of thousands of people into the streets since early June.
    Under pressure, Lam suspended the bill in mid-June and last week declared it “dead,” but opponents say they want to see its formal withdrawal from the legislative process.
    Protesters have recently seized upon the widespread anger over the bill to draw attention to a litany of other grievances, including the territory’s relative lack of democracy and mainland traders, blamed by Hong Kong residents for fuelling inflation.
    The protesters have also taken their campaign out of the main business and government district on Hong Kong island to other spots around the territory, including the town of Sha Tin where the protest march and clashes happened on Sunday.
    China has condemned the protests in Hong Kong as an “undisguised challenge” to the formula under which the city is ruled, and as a threat to its prosperity.
    Chinese state media has accused Western forces of instigating the unrest as a way to put pressure on the central government.
(Additional reporting by Greg Torode, Donny Kwok, Felix Tam, John Ruwitch; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

7/15/2019 U.N. concerned by U.S. curbs on Iranian foreign minister while in New York by Michelle Nichols
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/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations told the United States it is concerned by tight travel restrictions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during his visit to New York this week, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Monday.
    Zarif arrived in New York on Sunday after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on the visit amid heightened tensions between the two countries.    But Zarif is only allowed to travel between the United Nations, the Iranian U.N. mission, the Iranian U.N. ambassador’s residence and New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, a U.S. State Department official said.
    Late last month Washington threatened to blacklist Zarif, a move that could impede any U.S. effort to use diplomacy to resolve disagreements with Tehran.    However, sources have told Reuters that Washington had decided to hold off for now.
    Longtime U.S.-Iran strains have worsened since U.S. President Donald Trump last year quit a 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
    Haq told reporters that the U.N. secretariat is “in close contact with the permanent missions of the United States and Iran to the U.N. and has conveyed its concerns to the host country.”
    U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, said no U.S. government officials would meet with Zarif.
    “There is no back channel currently going on between the United States and anybody in the Iranian regime.    Everything that’s being said is being said by the president and the secretary of state publicly,” Hook told Fox News Channel.
    The United States had restricted Zarif’s travel “in a manner that is fully consistent” with its obligations under a 1947 agreement with the United Nations, the U.S. State Department official said.
    The official accused Zarif of using U.S. freedoms “to spread malign propaganda” and said Zarif “is a mouthpiece of an autocracy that suppresses free speech.”
    Despite the travel restrictions, Zarif did interviews on Monday with Britain’s BBC and U.S. network NBC at the residence of the Iranian U.N. ambassador on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
    Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that all of Zarif’s meetings, interviews and speeches would be done at the United Nations, the Iranian U.N. mission or the Iranian U.N. ambassador’s residence.
    “Putting restrictions on his presence in some streets in New York will certainly not effect his work schedule,” he said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.
    Zarif is due to attend a ministerial meeting at the United Nations on sustainable development goals, which aim to tackle issues including conflict, hunger, equality and climate change by 2030.
    Iranian diplomats, like the envoys of North Korea, Syria and Cuba, are already confined to a radius of 25 miles from Columbus Circle in Midtown Manhattan.
    Under the 1947 U.N. “headquarters agreement,” the United States is generally required to allow access to the United Nations for foreign diplomats.    But Washington says it can deny visas for “security, terrorism, and foreign policy” reasons.
    In April 2014, the United States would not grant a visa to Iran’s chosen U.N. ambassador, Hamid Abutalebi, because of his links to the 1979-1981 Tehran hostage crisis when radical students seized the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.    Abutalebi said he acted only as a translator.
    Iran complained to a U.N. committee, but ultimately ended up appointing a new ambassador in early 2015.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Mohammad Zargham; editing by Grant McCool)

7/16/2019 Pompeo hopes U.S., North Korea can be ‘more creative’ in nuclear talks by Makini Brice and David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stand at the demarcation line in the
demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he hoped both North Korea and the United States could “be a little more creative” when the two sides restart talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
    Speaking in a radio interview on “The Sean Hannity Show,” Pompeo did not say when the negotiations would resume.    At the end of June he had said it would likely happen “sometime in July … probably in the next two or three weeks.”
    President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month.    During the meeting, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to cross into North Korea, and he said the pair agreed to restart working-level talks.
    Trump and Kim have met three times and held two summits over the nuclear issue.    The talks in Hanoi in February collapsed without agreement, as the United States insisted North Korea completely denuclearize and North Korea pushed for relief from sanctions.
    “I hope the North Koreans will come to the table with ideas that they didn’t have the first time,” Pompeo said in Monday’s radio interview.    “We hope we can be a little more creative too.”
    However, Pompeo added: “The president’s mission hasn’t changed: to fully and finally denuclearize North Korea in a way that we can verify.    That’s the mission set for these negotiations.”
    While Trump’s latest meeting with Kim demonstrated a rapport between the two, policy analysts say the two sides appear no closer to narrowing their differences.    They have yet even to agree a common definition of denuclearization, which North Korea has taken to include the U.S. nuclear umbrella protecting Japan and South Korea.
    Washington has demanded that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons unilaterally, and U.S. officials have said U.S. policy continues to be to maintain sanctions on North Korea until it gives up its nuclear weapons.
    Ahead of February’s failed summit in Hanoi, U.S. officials had raised the possibility that while sanctions would remain, they might be willing to take interim steps such as boosting humanitarian aid or opening liaison offices.
    But at the summit they rejected North Korea’s offer to dismantle its reactor complex at Yongbyon in exchange for wide-ranging sanctions relief, and the steps Washington has so far offered have fallen far short of North Korean expectations.
    Pompeo’s latest remarks come after Chinese President Xi Jinping urged Trump to show flexibility in dealing with Pyongyang and to ease sanctions on the country “in due course.”
    China, North Korea’s neighbor and main ally, signed up for U.N. sanctions after the North Koreans performed repeated nuclear and missile tests, but has suggested they could be reduced in return for denuclearization steps.
    South Korean officials have expressed uncertainty that the talks between the United States and North Korea can take place this month.
    On Sunday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted unnamed diplomatic sources as saying that the United States had proposed to North Korea that working-level talks be held this week and was awaiting a response.
    North Korea has frozen missile and nuclear bomb testing since 2017, but U.S. officials believe Pyongyang has continued to expand its arsenal by producing bomb fuel and missiles.
    The State Department said last week it would hope to see a complete freeze in the North Korean nuclear program as the start of a process of denuclearization.
(Story was refiled to delete extraneous word in paragraph five)
(Reporting by Makini Brice and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney and Leslie Adler)

7/16/2019 Hong Kong justice secretary due in Beijing on Wednesday amid protests
FILE PHOTO: Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng attends a ceremony to mark the beginning of the
legal year in Hong Kong, China January 8, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo
    HONG KONG,+ (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s secretary for justice, Teresa Cheng, will travel to Beijing on Wednesday, the city government said, as protests in the Asian financial center against an extradition bill she had supported showed no sign of easing.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said the controversial bill “is dead,” but protesters say nothing short of a full withdrawal will do and have called for officials, including Lam and Cheng, to step down.
    The extradition bill would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, sparking fears over Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law.
(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree and Donny Kwok; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/16/2019 Iranian lawmakers call on Europe to fulfill nuclear deal promises by OAN Newsroom
    Iran is threatening to reduce its commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal if European signatories fail to fulfill their part of the accord.    The statement made by Iranian lawmakers followed a meeting in Brussels, where European leaders discussed ways to push for Tehran and Washington start a dialogue.
    Iran has denied any possibility of negotiations with Washington, and said its Europe’s responsibility to protect Tehran from the U.S. sanctions.
    “It was clear for us from the start that America would leave – that’s why we told our European counterparts that if America leaves, we will hold you responsible. Right now, Europe is obligated towards us on this matter and has to solve this problem.    If it doesn’t, we have no obligation and we will do our own thing.” –Qolamreza Tajgardoun, member of parliament – Iran.
Malta’s Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela talks with his British counterpart Jeremy Hunt
during an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, July 15, 2019. (REUTERS/Photo)
    The Ayatollah regime has already lifted limits on the country’s uranium enrichment after the U.S. imposed economically crippling sanctions.
    The EU leaders said Iran’s non-compliance with Obama-era deal would not be that significant, and decided to focus on diplomatic efforts to save the 2015 deal.

7/17/2019 Vietnam, China embroiled in South China Sea standoff by James Pearson and Khanh Vu
FILE PHOTO: Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (2nd L, front) and Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh (2nd R, front) speaks with sailors of
Coast Guard Force on field via video call during their visit to Coast Guard Command in Hanoi, Vietnam July 11, 2019. Thong Nhat/VNA via REUTERS.
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnamese and Chinese ships have been embroiled in a weeks-long standoff near an offshore oil block in disputed waters of the South China Sea, which fall within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, two Washington-based think-tanks said on Wednesday.
    China’s U-shaped “nine-dash line” marks a vast expanse of the South China Sea that it claims, including large swathes of Vietnam’s continental shelf where it has awarded oil concessions.
    The Haiyang Dizhi 8, a ship operated by the China Geological Survey, on Monday completed a 12-day survey of waters near the disputed Spratly Islands, according to separate reports by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS).
    One of the oil blocks it surveyed is licensed by Vietnam to Spanish energy firm Repsol , which was forced last year and in 2017 to cease operations in Vietnamese waters because of pressure from China.
    As the Haiyang Dizhi 8 conducted its survey, nine Vietnamese vessels closely followed it.    The Chinese ship was escorted by three China Coast Guard vessels, according to data from Winward Maritime, compiled by C4ADS.
    In a separate incident days earlier, the China Coast Guard ship Haijing 35111 maneuvered in what CSIS described as a “threatening manner” toward Vietnamese vessels servicing a Japanese-owned oil rig, the Hakuryu-5, leased by Russian state oil firm Rosneft in Vietnam’s Block 06.1, 370 km (230 miles) southeast of Vietnam.
    That block is within the area outlined by China’s “nine-dash line.”    A series of dashes on Chinese maps, the line is not continuous, making China’s claims often ambiguous.
    Last year, Reuters exclusively reported that Rosneft Vietnam BV, a unit of Rosneft, was concerned that its drilling in Block 06.1 would upset China.
    “On July 2 the vessels were leaving the Hakuryu-5 when the 35111 maneuvered between them at high speed, passing within 100 meters of each ship and less than half a nautical mile from the rig,” CSIS said in its report.
    It was not clear on Wednesday if any Chinese ships were still challenging the Rosneft rig.
    In 2014, tension between Vietnam and China rose to its highest levels in decades when a Chinese oil rig started drilling in Vietnamese waters.    The incident triggered boat rammings by both sides and anti-China riots in Vietnam.
‘READY TO FIGHT’
    In response to reports of this month’s standoff, which first emerged on social media, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on July 12 that China’s position on the South China Sea was “clear and consistent
    “China resolutely safeguards its sovereignty in the South China Sea and maritime rights, and at the same time upholds controlling disputes with relevant countries via negotiations and consultations,” Geng said, without elaborating.
    On Tuesday, Vietnam’s foreign ministry released a statement in response to unspecified “recent developments” in the South China Sea.
    “Without Vietnam’s permission, all actions undertaken by foreign parties in Vietnamese waters have no legal effect, and constitute encroachments in Vietnamese waters, and violations of international law,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said.
    Neither statements confirmed or elaborated on the standoff.
    Neither Rosneft nor Repsol immediately responded to an emailed request from Reuters for comment.
    In a new statement on Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng acknowledged that there had been an incident with Vietnam.
    “We hope the Vietnam side can earnestly respect China’s sovereignty, rights, and jurisdiction over the relevant waters, and not take any actions that could complicate the situation,” Geng told a regular news conference.
    On July 11, as China was conducting its survey of the blocks, Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, visited the headquarters of the Vietnam Coast Guard in Hanoi.
    State media did not mention the incident, but showed Phuc speaking to sailors on board vessels via a video link.
    Phuc told the sailors to “stay vigilant and ready to fight” and to be aware of “unpredictable developments,” the Vietnam Coast Guard said in a statement on its website.
    On the same day, Vietnam’s national assembly chairwoman, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, met her Chinese counterpart, Li Zhanshu, in Beijing, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.
    The two officials agreed to “jointly safeguard peace and stability at sea,” Xinhua said.
(Reporting by James Pearson and Khanh Vu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/17/2019 Suu Kyi’s bid to reform charter sparks rival protests in Myanmar by Thu Thu Aung and Zaw Naing Oo
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi attends the ASEAN-China Summit in Singapore November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
    YANGON (Reuters) – Hundreds of people demonstrated in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, on Wednesday in support of proposed constitutional amendments that would reduce the power of the military.
    A separate protest against the reforms was planned for later in the day.
    Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party is pushing for change despite objections from military lawmakers, who hold a veto over amendments.
    The demonstrators, led by activists not aligned to the party, wore red headbands printed with the words “Amend the 2008 Constitution.”
    “The current government is trying to move forward, but they can’t because of the 2008 constitution,” said protest organizer Pyae Phyo Zaw, who also called for elected leaders to be given oversight of the security forces.
    After decades of military rule, Nobel laureate Suu Kyi took the reins in 2016 after an electoral landslide, but is forced to share power with the generals.
    Under the constitution drafted by the former junta, the military chief nominates a quarter of lawmakers and the ministers of defense, home affairs and border affairs.
    It also blocks Suu Kyi from becoming president, with a prohibition on presidential candidates with foreign spouses or children.    Suu Kyi had two sons with her late husband, Michael Aris, a British academic.
    A flyer for Wednesday’s separate counter protest called on “those who love their race and religion” to turn out to help preserve that clause.
    A nationalist movement led by Buddhist monks is critical of Suu Kyi and casts the military as protector of the Buddhist-majority nation.
    A report containing thousands of amendments proposed by various political parties was submitted on Monday for debate at the parliament in the capital, Naypyitaw, but has not been made public.
    Nay Phone Latt, an NLD lawmaker in Yangon’s regional parliament, told Reuters one of the party’s key proposals was to set a timeline for the gradual reduction of military seats in parliament, beginning with a move from 25% to 15% in 2021.
    The NLD holds most seats in parliament, but the military lawmakers mean it lacks the 75% majority needed to amend the constitution.
    “We need military men’s support, so it depends on the stance of the military,” Nay Phone Latt said.    “But we hope that it can be accepted by the military as it would reduce bit by bit over time.”
    Kyaw Khine Win, another demonstrator, said he rallied in favor of amending the charter because it was written to bar Suu Kyi from leading the country and imposed “forcefully.”
    “We want a country which is commanded by the people,” he said.
(Writing by Simon Lewis; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/17/2019 ‘You must be stupid’: Duterte says he won’t be tried by international court
FILE PHOTO: President Rodrigo Duterte speaks after his arrival, from a visit in Israel and Jordan at Davao International airport in Davao City in southern Philippines, September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr./File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared he will never be tried by an international court for mass killings in his war on drugs, and vowed no let up in a crackdown that he said he was winning and would see through “to the very end.”
    In a television interview with a celebrity pastor, the firebrand leader said the Philippine justice system was working fine, so it would be “stupid” to imagine he would let an international court put him on trial.
    “I will only face, be tried or face a trial, in a Philippine court. Presided by a Filipino judge.    Prosecuted by a Filipino … I will not answer a Caucasian, asking questions, white man there.    You must be stupid,” he said late on Tuesday.
    “I am a Filipino.    We have our courts here… Shit.    You have to bring me somewhere else?    I would not like that.    I have my country.    It’s working.    I know it’s working.    Justice is working here.”
    His opponents argue otherwise and say police are killing with impunity, and that with an approval rating of about 80 percent, a super-majority in Congress and presidential appointees heading courts, commissions and investigative bodies, there is little chance of Duterte being impeached or prosecuted at home.
    Duterte, 74, has previously said he was so committed to his war on drugs that he was prepared to be tried for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, or rot in jail there.
    However, within weeks of an ICC prosecutor announcing in February 2018 that a preliminary examination was being conducted into the killings, Duterte ordered police not to cooperate, and then unilaterally canceled the Philippines’ ICC membership. The ICC examination continues, despite his withdrawal.
    His latest show of defiance comes days after the U.N. Human Rights Council approved a resolution to hold an investigation into the killings, responding to a call from 11 U.N. experts concerned about a “staggering” amount of deaths.
    The Philippine government has rejected the resolution as meddling by biased Western states, and denies activists’ allegations that police are executing thousands of drug users and peddlers.
    Duterte said he was making gains in his anti-narcotics campaign, with less drugs on the streets.
    He said suspects should choose to “drop the drugs or drop dead,” but suggested that was merely an expression, not an instruction to kill.
    “Whether they like it or not, I will continue what I started to the very end,” he said.
(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/17/2019 U.S. diplomat arrives in South Korea to discuss trade dispute with Japan by OAN Newsroom
    The Trump administration is not getting involved with the trade dispute between South Korea and Japan.    That’s according to David Stilwell, a senior U.S. diplomat for East Asian policy.
    Stilwell visited South Korea’s foreign ministry Wednesday to meet with officials about Japan’s decision to restrict high-tech exports to Seoul.    Following the meeting, Stilwell encouraged both sides to “sit down and find a positive way out of this situation.”
David Stilwell, center left, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, speaks as
South Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Yoon Soon-gu, center right, listens after a meeting with South Korean
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha at the foreign ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon. Pool)
    Some experts are warning the global economy could be negatively impacted if the dispute worsens.
    “If South Korea’s semiconductor factories are forced to shut down, prices of the relevant products will spike, and if production cannot keep up with demand, it will eventually affect Japan, China and the United States, which I’m afraid will bring chaos to the whole international market.” –Noh Hwauk, chairman – Semiconductor Industry Association.
    South Korea is calling on Japan to end the import restrictions, while officials develop a plan to make Seoul’s supply chain more independent.

7/17/2019 From Iraq to Yemen, drones raise U.S. alarm over Iranian plans by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Phil Stewart
An Iranian Shahed 171 drone dropping a bomb as part of a military exercise in the Gulf, in Iran,
in this undated handout photo. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    GENEVA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The increased use of drones by Iran and its allies for surveillance and attacks across the Middle East is raising alarms in Washington.
    The United States believes that Iran-linked militia in Iraq have recently increased their surveillance of American troops and bases in the country by using off-the-shelf, commercially available drones, U.S. officials say.
    The disclosure comes at a time of heightened tensions with Iran and underscores the many ways in which Tehran and the forces it backs are increasingly relying on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in places like Yemen, Syria, the Strait of Hormuz and Iraq.
    Beyond surveillance, Iranian drones can drop munitions and even carry out “a kamikaze flight where they load it up with explosives and fly it into something,” according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthis have significantly increased their UAV attacks in recent months, bombing airports and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, a main rival of Iran.
    Last month, Iran came close to war with the United States after the Islamic Republic’s unprecedented shoot-down of a U.S. drone with a surface-to-air missile, a move that nearly triggered retaliatory strikes by U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Trump withdrew from a major 2015 nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions to cut off Iran’s oil exports and pressure the Islamic Republic to negotiate over its ballistic missile program and regional policy.
    The increased use of drones by Iran or its regional allies is a strategy aimed at pushing back and defending against pressure from the United States and foes like Saudi Arabia and Israel, current and former security officials and analysts say.
    Iran now flies two or three drones over Gulf waters every day, the first U.S. official estimated, making it a core part of Tehran’s effort to monitor the Strait of Hormuz, through which one fifth of the world’s oil consumption flows.
    The United States and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of carrying out attacks against six oil tankers near the Strait in the past two months, a claim Tehran has denied.
    The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to quantify the extent to which surveillance near U.S. forces has increased in Iraq or to specify which militia were carrying it out.
    “We have seen an uptick in drone activity in Iraq near our bases and facilities,” the first official said.    “Certainly the drones that we have seen are more of the commercial off-the-shelf variant.    So they’re obviously a deniable type UAV-activity in Iraq.”
    A second official said the recent increase in surveillance was worrying but acknowledged Iran-linked militia in Iraq had a history of keeping tabs on Americans.
    Reuters has previously reported that the United States has indirectly sent warnings to Iran, saying any attack against U.S. forces by proxy organizations in Iraq will be viewed by Washington as an attack by Iran itself.
    In recent weeks, mortars and rockets have been fired at bases in Iraq where U.S. forces are located but no American troops have been injured.    U.S. officials did not link those attacks to the increased surveillance.
    Attempts to reach the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs and the Revolutionary Guards, who are most closely linked to militant groups in Iraq, for comment were unsuccessful.
    Iraqi militia groups linked to Iran began using drones in 2014 and 2015 in battles to retake territory from Islamic State, according to militia members and Iraqi security officials.
    These groups received training on the use of drones from members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah, two Iraqi security officials with knowledge of militia activities said.
    “Key militia groups have the ability to launch aerial attacks using drones.    Will they target American interests?    That hasn’t happened yet,” said one Iraqi security official.    “They used Katyusha [rockets] and mortars in very restricted attacks against American interests in Iraq to send a message rather than trying to inflict damage.    Using explosive-laden drones is very possible once we have a worsening situation between Tehran and Washington.”
HOW SOPHISTICATED ARE IRAN’S DRONES?
    In March, Iran boasted about a complex military exercise involving 50 drones.    In a slickly edited video aired on state TV, waves of drones streak across a clear blue sky, bombing buildings on an island in the Gulf.
    The show of force was intended to highlight Iran’s locally developed UAV program, which it has been building up for several years.
    Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, however, cautioned that some of Iran’s claims were “best viewed through the prism of domestic messaging.”    “That Iran has a growing capability in UAVs isn’t debatable.    What is an open question is the actual levels of technology it often employs,” Barrie said, adding that Israel had the most advanced program in the region.
    American technology may have been used to enhance the Iranian drone program: an advanced U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel reconnaissance drone went down in eastern Iran in 2011, and Revolutionary Guards commanders say they were able to reverse engineer it, a claim which some security officials and analysts dispute.
    “They’ve really come up with some aircraft which are looking increasingly sophisticated in terms of their ability to carry guided weapons and carry out long range surveillance missions,” said Jeremy Binnie, Middle East and Africa editor for Jane’s Defense Weekly.
    U.S. forces have shot down Iranian-made drones in 2017 in Syria, after deeming them a threat to both U.S.-backed forces and their advisers.
EXPORTING DRONE TECHNOLOGY
    Iran has passed on its drones and technical expertise to regional allies, current and former security officials and analysts say.
    The Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah advise the Houthis on the use of drones and operate video uplinks from Tehran and Beirut to beam in technical expertise when needed, an official from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said.
    Iran has denied any role in the conflict in Yemen.
    U.N. experts say the Houthis now have drones that can drop bigger bombs further away and more accurately than before.    In May, drones hit two oil pumping stations hundreds of kilometers inside Saudi territory.
    “Either the drones that attacked the pipelines were launched from inside Saudi territory or the Houthis just significantly upped their capability with satellite technology and were provided with the capability to extend the distance,” said Brett Velicovich, a drone expert and U.S. Army veteran, about the May attack.
    A commander of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia closely linked to Iran, using the nickname Abu Abdullah, told Reuters in 2014 that Iran had provided training for operating drones, which were mostly used to target Islamic State positions.
    He said at the time that they had also used the drones to carry out surveillance on American military positions in Iraq and in the conflict in Syria, where Kataib Hezbollah fought in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
    Iraqi militia groups have now acquired enough expertise to modify drones for attacks, two Iraqi security officials with knowledge of the militia activities said.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Tuqa Khalid in Dubai, Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Giles Elgood)

7/17/2019 Iran’s Zarif says U.S. travel curbs on Iranian diplomats ‘inhuman’ by Michelle Nichols
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif takes take part in a High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
at United Nations headquarters in New York, U.S., July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday that tight U.S. travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats and their families living in New York are “basically inhuman.”
    The diplomats are subject to the same rules imposed by the United States on Zarif, who arrived on Sunday amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
    They may only travel between the United Nations, the Iranian U.N. mission, the Iranian U.N. ambassador’s residence and John F. Kennedy airport.    There is also a carve-out for the six blocks surrounding Queensboro Plaza in Long Island City in the borough of Queens, though it was not immediately clear why.
    “It is certainly not a friendly action.    It puts the members of the mission and their families under basically inhuman conditions.    But for me it’s fine because I don’t have any work anywhere other than the three buildings,” Zarif told reporters at the United Nations.
    Before the new rules, Iranian diplomats – like envoys of North Korea, Syria and Cuba – were already confined to a radius of 25 miles (40 km) from Columbus Circle in Midtown Manhattan.    According to the U.N. Blue Book, which lists diplomats of each mission to the world body, there are 13 Iranian diplomats in New York.
    The United Nations said on Monday it had told the United States it was concerned by the new tight travel restrictions.    A U.S. State Department official said the United States had acted “in a manner that is fully consistent” with its obligations under a 1947 agreement with the United Nations.
    Longtime U.S.-Iran strains have worsened since U.S. President Donald Trump last year quit a 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. Trump has imposed more sanctions on Iran.
    In response, Tehran has cut some of its nuclear commitments under the deal.
    “The United States is engaged in economic war against Iran,” Zarif told reporters, shortly before he addressed a U.N. meeting on global goals to tackle issues including conflict, hunger, equality and climate change by 2030.    “It targets ordinary civilians, it amounts to terrorism.”
    When asked what steps need to be taken to de-escalate tensions between Washington and Tehran, Zarif said: “That has to stop.    Once it stops, then other things can follow.”
    Zarif said that he has had “no contact with anybody in the American government” while in New York.
    He also questioned efforts by France, Britain and Germany – parties to the 2015 nuclear pact – to try to salvage the deal.
    “Unfortunately they’re not prepared to pay anything.    They’re not prepared to invest for their security and at the end of the day they’re allowing the United States to set the agenda,” Zarif said.
    “I don’t know whether that’s in the interests of the Europeans,” he added.
    Fears of direct U.S.-Iranian conflict have risen since May with several attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, Iran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, and a plan for U.S. air strikes on Iran last month that President Donald Trump called off at the last minute.
    “It is a very dangerous situation.    There are a lot of naval vessels in the Persian Gulf where they shouldn’t be,” Zarif said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Susan Thomas and Jonathan Oatis)

7/17/2019 U.S. unsure about circumstances of tanker towed to Iran
FILE PHOTO: A British Royal Navy patrol vessel guards the oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of
carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, as it sits anchored in waters of the British overseas territory of
historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
    DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. officials say they are unsure whether an oil tanker towed into Iranian waters was seized by Iran or rescued after facing mechanical faults as Tehran asserts, creating a mystery at sea at a time of high tension in the Gulf.
    The MT Riah disappeared from ship tracking maps when its transponder was switched off in the Strait of Hormuz on July 14.    Its last position was off the coast of the Iranian island of Qeshm in the strait.
    Iran says it towed a vessel into its waters from the strait after the ship issued a distress call.    Although Tehran did not name the vessel, the Riah is the only ship whose recorded movements appear likely to match that description.
    A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it appeared that the tanker was in Iranian territorial waters, but it was not clear whether that was because Iran had seized it or rescued it.
    The mystery comes at a time when Washington has called for greater security for ships in the Gulf.
    Iran has threatened to retaliate for the British seizure of an Iranian oil tanker accused of violating sanctions on Syria.    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has branded the British action “piracy.”
    The United States has also blamed Iran for attacks on tankers in the Gulf since May, which Tehran denies.
    Shipping experts say U.S. sanctions on Iran intended to halt its oil exports have led to a rise in unusual tanker movements away from shipping lanes, with Iran seeking covert ways to export its oil.    Increasingly, ships are switching off location transponders, transferring oil at sea and concealing their routes.    Iran has also become more dependent on a fleet of ageing ships, and some have had to be towed for emergency repairs.
    Adding to the riddle of the missing ship was difficulty establishing who owns it, which no country or company has so far publicly claimed.    Initial reports described it as Emirati.    However, an Emirati official told Reuters the tanker was neither owned nor operated by the UAE.
    The tanker’s registered manager is Prime Tankers in the UAE.    That company told Reuters it had sold the tanker to another UAE-based company, Mouj al-Bahar.    An employee at Mouj al-Bahar told Reuters that the firm did not own it but had been managing the vessel up to two months ago, and that it was now under the management of a company called KRB Petrochem.    Reuters could not reach KRB Petrochem for comment.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Parisa Hafezi, Ghaida Ghantous and Alex Cornwell; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/17/219 From ‘Asia’s finest’ to ‘black dogs’: Hong Kong police under pressure by Greg Torode and Anne Marie Roantree
FILE PHOTO: Riot police ask anti-extradition bill protesters to leave in front of public housing after a march at
Sha Tin District of East New Territories, Hong Kong, China July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s vaunted police force is facing a crisis of confidence and leadership amid the city’s worsening political tensions, according to serving and retired officers, politicians and security analysts.
    The force is struggling to cope amid haphazard decision-making, worsening morale and anger among rank-and-file officers that they are taking the public heat for government unpopularity, they warned.
    “The lower ranks are feeling lost and confused,” said one retired officer who remains in close touch with former colleagues.    “There is clearly a lack of leadership at key moments, and a sense that there is not enough support from the government and that is having an impact on commanders.”
    A police statement to Reuters did not respond directly to questions about morale and concerns among officers, but said “violent protests seriously undermine the rule of law.”
    “The police, with the mission of upholding the law of Hong Kong, would definitely stand at the forefront to maintain public safety and order,” the statement said.
    As the street-level face of the government during protests, police say they are easy targets for public rage, but protesters say they have used excessive force at times and their surveillance tactics are heavy-handed.
    Britain handed the global financial hub back to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees that its wide freedoms and autonomy, including the right to protest, would be maintained.
    Huge street protests last month against a bill to allow people to be sent for trial in mainland China have evolved into almost daily demonstrations.
    Though the city’s government insists the bill is now effectively dead, activists continue to demand that it is formally scrapped, and are also calling for independent inquiries into police actions, democratic reforms and the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
RUNNING SKIRMISHES
    Two initially peaceful protests at the weekend degenerated into running skirmishes between baton-wielding riot police and activists, one in a suburban shopping mall crowded with Sunday shoppers.
    The fights followed larger outbreaks of violence between police and protesters in central Hong Kong last month, with police forcing back activists with tear gas, rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds.
    Thousands surrounded the police’s headquarters a few days later, trapping senior force brass and junior officers inside the building for several hours.
    Another senior serving officer said the fact that there was no apparent end in sight to Hong Kong’s political tensions was further fuelling uncertainty across the 30,000-strong force.
    “We are in uncharted waters….no one knows where this is going,” he said.
    A police union covering some 20,000 junior officers wrote to force chiefs this week to seek fresh guarantees their safety and mental health would be protected.    Officers should not be deployed to dangerous situations unless management had “confidence in the conditions, including tactics and equipment,” the letter said.
    Beyond a small core of activists who are increasingly prepared to fight police with umbrellas, hard hats and street furniture, some officers are expressing shock at the verbal abuse they are facing during even small, peaceful gatherings.
    In recent days, Reuters witnesses have seen groups of police routinely sworn at and cursed by commuters, with some calling them “black dogs”    Others have chased away plainclothes officers taking photographs.
    A Wikipedia page on the force was apparently hacked this week, with the phrase “black dogs” inserted.
    It marks a swift change, with Hong Kong police long priding themselves on being “Asia’s finest” given the city’s international reputation for public safety and order, and strong working relationships with foreign police agencies.
    After battling leftist rioting in the 1960s and institutionalized corruption in the 1970s, force chiefs worked hard to improve training and boost its reputation for professionalism.
WORSENING TENSIONS
    Veteran Democratic Party lawmaker James To said he was deeply concerned at the worsening tensions between the police and the public.
    To said he was aware that many police felt angry they were “shouldering the blame” for the incompetence of the government.    He was worried too that public anger towards law enforcers had reached a level never before seen in the city.
    “This a very worrying turn of events and if the government cannot solve things politically, then they should give clear guidance to the police,” said To.
    Steve Vickers, a former commander of the Royal Hong Kong Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau who now runs a risk consultancy, said it was critical that force morale be sustained and improved “so that they can have confidence that they will not be ‘thrown under a bus’ by Carrie Lam’s administration should they take necessary firmer action.”
    He said the government should allow the police to use tear-gas more freely so they can disperse violent groups more safely than using baton charges.    “Batons and hand-to-hand fighting always results in serious injury,” he said.
    Lam’s office did not immediately respond to Reuters’ questions.
    If tensions continued to worsen and Hong Kong police struggled to maintain order, some foreign security analysts believed Beijing could be tempted to deploy the mainland’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police to Hong Kong.
    While neither governments had any appetite to deploy locally-based Chinese People’s Liberation Army troops, the PAP could be an interim measure, they said.
    The PAP is a dedicated anti-riot force that is now under the sole command of the China’s Central Military Commission and has units based across the border from Hong Kong in Shenzhen, according to Chinese media reports.
    The Chinese Defence Ministry did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.
    To, the lawmaker, said he believed deploying the PAP would still be a too-dramatic move and would not be acceptable to either the Hong Kong police or the public.
(Reporting By Greg Torode and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Alex Richardson)

7/17/2019 India aims to expel all illegal migrants, interior minister says by Zeba Siddiqui
FILE PHOTO - People wait to check their names on the draft list at the National Register of Citizens (NRC)
centre at a village in Nagaon district, Assam state, India, July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India will identify and deport illegal immigrants from across the country, the interior minister said on Wednesday, stepping up a campaign that critics say could stoke religious tension and further alienate minority Muslims.
    An exercise to identify alien immigrants from Muslim-majority Bangladesh has been going on in the northeastern state of Assam for years, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government has taken it up in earnest.
    The campaign was a key issue in this year’s general election, won by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party.
    Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament the government would not limit its efforts to Assam, but would come down hard on illegal immigrants anywhere.
    “Illegal immigrants living on every inch of this country will be deported according to the law,” Shah told the upper house of parliament.
    Shah, seen as a Hindu nationalist hardliner and a possible future replacement for Modi in the top job, called illegal migrants “termites” eating into Assam’s resources during the election campaign.
    Critics accuse Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of a deep-seated bias against minority Muslims and say the campaign against illegal migrants is aimed at Muslims, and threatens to further marginalize the community.
    The BJP denies the accusation and says it is opposed to the appeasement of any group.
    While reinforcing measures against migrants slipping into the country, the government is trying to bring in a law that would simplify the process of getting Indian citizenship for immigrants from religious minorities persecuted in neighboring Muslim countries, including Pakistan.
    People in Assam are scrambling to prove their citizenship as part of an exercise to prepare a Supreme Court-ordered registry of citizens in the state.    The list is due to be released on July 31.
    A draft of the list released in July last year identified four million of the state’s roughly 31 million people as illegal residents, including many Hindus.
    But rights groups have warned that many residents, largely poor Muslims, are at risk of becoming stateless under the process.
    Other states in the northeast have launched similar exercises to identify people without Indian citizenship.
    Mizoram state passed legislation in March to create separate registers for “residents” and “non-residents,” and the neighboring state of Nagaland is working on a similar register.
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in NEW DELHI; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

7/18/2019 Hong Kong’s protesters dig in for long summer of discontent by Anne Marie Roantree and Felix Tam
FILE PHOTO: Anti-extradition bill protesters set up barriers as they face riot police after a march at
Sha Tin District of East New Territories, Hong Kong, China July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s extradition bill demonstrations have mutated into a much bigger and more complex animal, ripping open old wounds and expanding a political fight as the city battens down for a summer of protests.
    The demonstrations pop up almost daily, often with little notice, as activists spread word of their cause with handwritten notes on so-called Lennon Walls across the territory and through Telegram and other messaging apps.
    What started as an angry response to a now-suspended extradition bill now includes demands for greater democracy, the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and even keeping mainland tourists out of Hong Kong.
    “I’m afraid there will be more confrontation further down the road,” said Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung, who has tried to mediate between activists and police.
    “The protests will continue,” he added.    “I would expect sizeable protests on and off continuously throughout the summer.”
    On Wednesday, organizers of a “silver-haired” march said 9,000 mostly elderly people, some in wheelchairs, took to the streets in support of younger protesters.    Police put the number at 1,500 at its peak.
    “The whole turmoil is caused by the missteps of government,” said Margaret Yu, 59, a retired accountant.    “As an elderly person, at least, I have to stand out and voice out how unjust our government is.”
    Wednesday’s rally was the latest in a series that have rocked the Asian financial center for more than two months, plunging the city into turmoil and posing the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
    Lam has said the extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, is “dead.” But opponents say nothing short of officially withdrawing it will do.
    They fear the bill would leave Hong Kong people at the mercy of Chinese courts, where human rights are not guaranteed, and have voiced concerns over the city’s much-cherished rule of law.
    In addition to Lam’s ouster, protesters are demanding the word “riot” be withdrawn from the government’s description of demonstrations, the unconditional release of those arrested and an independent investigation into complaints of excessive force by police.
PIPELINE OF PROTESTS
    The next big protest is scheduled for Sunday, with demonstrators marching from Victoria Park near the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay to the Court of Final Appeal in Central.
    Other protests are planned over coming weekends in areas including Mong Kok, a gritty working-class district across the harbor from the financial center, as well as in Tseung Kwan O and Sham Shui Po, one of Hong Kong’s poorest areas.
    “Protesting in locales such as Mong Kok … only adds to the threat of violence, given the population density and the presence of triad societies,” said Steve Vickers, a risk consultant and a former commander of the Royal Hong Kong Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau.
    Triad gangs, he said, “may act as agitators for either side, or simply take actions to protect their own interests.”
    Under the terms of the handover from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong was allowed to retain extensive freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a “one country, two systems” formula, including an independent judiciary and right to protest.
    But for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.
    Deep-seated anger with the government has seen scores of smaller groups protest in the streets and sparked grassroots initiatives such as crowdfunding drives and newspaper ad campaigns.
FILLING THE STREETS
    Millions have taken to the streets since June in Hong Kong’s largest and most violent protests in decades, with police firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse activists, and protesters storming and ransacking the Legislative Council.
    The protesters have adopted a “be water” strategy, inspired by a maxim of the city’s home-grown martial arts legend, Bruce Lee, that encourages them to be flexible or formless.
    Some activists say it’s a very different approach from that of the democracy demonstrations in 2014, when protesters occupied major roads in the city for 79 days.
    “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in the streets, we shall fight in all districts of Hong Kong, we shall bring the fight from local arenas to international fronts, whatever the costs may be. We shall never surrender,” the Students’ Unions of Higher Institutions in Hong Kong said in a statement.
    The movement’s fluidity makes it difficult to police, taking a toll on officers who have fought pitched battles with protesters and leading to a crisis of confidence on the force.
    The protests have at times paralyzed parts of the financial district, shut government offices and disrupted business operations across the city.
    Hong Kong retailers warned that July and August sales could drop by double digits from a year earlier because of the unrest, while tourism numbers and hotel occupancy rates are slumping.
    Activists have seized on support for the protests to bolster the democratic opposition’s prospects in the November elections, with the hope it can recapture its veto bloc from pro-establishment rivals.
    “There are obviously political forces which would like to maintain enthusiasm among protesters.    This is the driving force for some people to mobilize and motivate protesters,” said veteran pollster Robert Chung.
    Lawmaker Regina Ip, in a letter to the South China Morning Post on Monday, said the protests were likely to continue in all 18 districts until the polls in late November.
    Others are digging in for a longer stretch.
    “What we’re experiencing is an infinity war,” said Joshua Wong, who was one of the leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy protests.    “I am still optimistic.”
(Additional reporting by Vimvam Tong and Greg Torode; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/18/219 U.S. sanctions on Myanmar military leaders inadequate, U.N. investigator says
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Myanmar Yanghee Lee speaks during a
news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Sanctions imposed this week by the United States on Myanmar’s military leaders over human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims do not go far enough, U.N. special rapporteur Yanghee Lee said on Thursday.
    The United States banned Myanmar military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, three other senior commanders and their families from entering the United States in the strongest steps yet taken by Washington in response to the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
    But Lee said a travel ban was not enough and called for freezing the assets of the commanders.
    “(The ban) does not go far enough and it should go further, and the parameters of those sanctions should go further too,” she told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
    “They were never going to travel to the U.S… let’s be realistic.”
    Lee said the sanctions – which covered Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy Soe Win, and brigadier generals Than Oo and Aung Aung – should also be extended to two more military leaders identified in a U.N. investigators report in 2018.
    The report, compiled by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, had called for the six generals to be tried for genocide.
    Lee said reports from Myanmar in recent weeks suggested that human rights violations and abuses committed by the army and insurgents against civilian populations may be getting worse.
    Last month, Lee had said the army may be committing gross human rights violations under cover of a mobile phone blackout in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states.
    On Thursday, Lee said the blackout had left many villages unprepared for severe monsoon floods in the area.
    It has also hampered disaster relief and humanitarian responses to the floods, she added.
    “The question is, did the Myanmar government impose the ban to inflict more harm on the people of Rakhine?
    A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, according to U.N. figures.
    U.N. investigators have said Myanmar’s operation included mass killings, gang rapes and arson and was executed with “genocidal intent.”    Myanmar denies the charge.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/18/2019 War on numbers: Philippines targets drug killing data by Matthew Tostevin and Neil Jerome Morales
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a plenary session during the
34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    MANILA (Reuters) – Facing a U.N. human rights investigation into its bloody war on drugs, the Philippines presented a new death toll on Thursday to counter much higher numbers given by critics.
    But rights groups accused the government of using partial data to mislead and said that even the official figure of more than 5,500 police killings in drug operations was far too high and there must be accountability for every death.
    President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has challenged activists’ death tolls of the three-year-old drug war that rise as high as 27,000.
    Under the banner of #TheRealNumbersPH, officials told a news conference that 5,526 “drug personalities” had died in anti-drug operations between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2019.    That was below a previous police figure of more than 6,700 dead.
    “The Real Numbers are the validated figures,” Marie Rafael, a presidency official, told reporters.
    The drug war faces new scrutiny since the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution a week ago to investigate the killings.    The government rejects accusations of systematic abuses including executions, planted evidence and falsified reports.
    Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. human rights chief, said last month that even the official number would be “a matter of most serious concern for any country.”
    “Getting the real figure is very difficult,” said Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch.
    “Outside the police, there’s no one entity doing the tracking.    There are NGOs that are trying but they can only do it based on media reports.”
    Some of the higher estimates are based on a 2017 official report on “Key Accomplishments” of Duterte’s administration that included 16,355 “homicide cases under investigation” on the same page as the nearly 4,000 dead in police operations at that time.
    Then, last year, the Supreme Court asked the government to explain more than 20,000 deaths during the drug war.
    “I just say at least 20,000 dead,” said Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files, a non-profit fact-checking group.    “All we have done is to debunk the government figures with their own figures.”
MISSING DEAD
    The presidency’s Rafael said that official data no longer included “homicide cases under investigation” because those weren’t necessarily related to the drug war.
    That is where critics say suspicious killings could appear – including any carried out by police outside regular operations or by vigilantes with alleged police links.
    One who will not be counted was 23-year-old Jaybee Castor, whose family wept over his coffin on Thursday.
    Abducted by masked men in June, he was found dead north of Manila this month with seven sachets of methamphetamine and a sign that read “I am an addict and a thief. Do not tolerate me.”
    Rafael acknowledged that the official drug war numbers would also not include 3-year-old Myca Ulpina, shot dead last month during a drug raid.    Police have said four officers will face charges over that killing.
    The Philippine officials did not have figures for the number of other non-suspects killed in the drug war.
    They said that the number of killings was small relative to the arrest of more than 193,000 “drug personalities” since the drug war began.
    But the rate of successful prosecution of drug cases is low – less than 53 percent in 2017, according to Department of Justice data. The rate for all cases was over 72 percent.
    Putting too much emphasis on disagreement over the figures could be a distraction, said human rights researcher Conde.
    “Ultimately we think this is an attempt to cover up the killings and the complicity of the killings,” he said.    “We’re no longer debating with them whether it’s 6,000 or 27,000.    We’re now focused on accountability rather than deaths.”
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/18/2019 Explainer: Japan’s Abe faces headache from U.S. plan for Mideast maritime coalition by Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference at the final day of the
G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces a tough diplomatic challenge from an expected U.S. request to send its navy to join a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen.
    Japanese officials will attend a briefing in Washington on the proposal, a government spokesman said on Thursday, and it could be on the agenda when U.S. national security adviser John Bolton visits Tokyo next week, domestic media said.
    A decision to join such a coalition would likely inflame a divide in Japanese public opinion over sending troops abroad.    Japan’s military has not fought overseas since World War Two.
    Abe’s coalition is expected to win a solid majority in an upper house election on Sunday but ruling bloc lawmakers have avoided discussing the possible maritime mission during the campaign.
    “Until the election is over, they can’t touch such a touchy subject,” said a source familiar with the government’s stance.
    Below is an explanation of why this issue is contentious and what Japan’s options are.
JAPAN’S STAKE IN THE REGION
    Japan is the world’s fourth-biggest oil buyer and 86% of its oil supplies last year passed through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping route linking Middle East oil producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond.
    Last month, a tanker operated by a Japanese shipping company was attacked in the Gulf of Oman and the United States blamed Iran.    Tehran denied the allegation.
    Abe is also keen to maintain and strengthen the U.S.-Japan security alliance, the pillar of its defense policies.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the pact as unfair and rejecting a U.S. request to join a maritime coalition could exacerbate that dissatisfaction.
    “Japan has to do something to protect our own vessels,” said a former Japanese senior diplomat.    “We cannot keep asking others to do it.”
    Japan, however, also has friendly ties with Iran and might be reluctant to damage those ties by joining a military mission, especially when Trump’s critics blame him for escalating tensions.    Abe made an unsuccessful bid to ease tensions in the region when he met Iranian leaders in Tehran last month.
WHY IS THIS POLITICALLY CONTENTIOUS?
    Japan in 2015 enacted legislation that could let its troops fight overseas for the first time since its defeat in World War Two, a milestone in Abe’s push to loosen the limits of the pacifist constitution on the military.
    The legislation allows Japan to go to the defense of a friendly country under attack if it constitutes an “existential threat” to Japan.    If the government decides the situation could lead to an armed attack on Japan, it can offer logistical support to multi-national forces.
    Enactment of the laws, which Abe said were needed to meet new security challenges, triggered huge protests from opponents who said it violated the constitution and could ensnare Japan in U.S.-led conflicts.    A move to send the navy to take part in a U.S.-led operation would almost certainly revive that debate.
JAPAN’S OPTIONS
    Experts have pointed to four legal frameworks that could be used to justify a decision to send Japanese warships and planes to join the maritime mission.
    The most likely option, they said, would be for Japan to take part based on an existing Anti-Piracy Law for anti-piracy and escort missions, as long as attackers are considered non-state actors.    Japan currently takes part in a multilateral mission off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.
    Or Japan could exercise its right of collective self-defense, or aiding an ally under attack, based on the 2015 laws, but the legal hurdle is higher.
    The defense minister could dispatch naval vessels or planes as a maritime security operation to protect Japanese ships and goods bound for Japan.    In principle, other countries’ vessels would not be protected.
    Japan could also enact special, one-off legislation, but that would be a time-consuming process.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/18/2019 U.S. demands Iran free seized ship, vows to protect Gulf oil lifeline by Parisa Hafezi and Alexander Cornwell
The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday demanded Iran immediately release a vessel it seized in the Gulf and a U.S. military commander in the region said the United States would work “aggressively” to ensure free passage of vessels through the vital waterway.
    Responding to an announcement by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that they had seized a foreign ship smuggling fuel, the U.S. State Department insisted Iran had to free the ship and its crew and stop harassing vessels in and around the Strait of Hormuz.
    The United States blames Iran for a series of attacks on shipping since mid-May in the world’s most important oil artery, accusations Tehran rejects but that have raised fears the long-time foes could stumble into war.
    Iran played down the seizure of the ship, which it said was a small vessel that was smuggling oil.
    “The United States strongly condemns the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with safe passage in and around the Strait of Hormuz,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email to Reuters.
    “Iran must cease this illicit activity and release the reportedly seized crew and vessel immediately.”
    Iranian state TV aired footage of a vessel called “RIAH.”
    The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters days ago.
    “We do this (inspecting ships) every day.    These are people who smuggle our oil,” Iran’s Press TV quoted Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying, adding that “it was a small ship used to smuggle one million liters – not one million barrels – of crude oil.”
    The Guards said the impounded ship was in the area of Larak Island in the Gulf and had 12 foreign crew.    Britain said the tanker was not British-flagged.
    Oil prices jumped after news of the seizure amid rising tensions between Tehran and the West over the safety of shipping in the Strait of     Hormuz, a vital gateway for energy exports.    However they later fell on weakness in U.S. equities markets and an expectation that crude output would rise in the Gulf of Mexico following last week’s hurricane in the region.
    Reuters reported on Wednesday that shipping companies were hiring unarmed security guards for voyages through the Gulf as an extra safeguard.
SHIPPING LANES
    Since mid-May, attacks on tankers near Hormuz have unsettled crucial shipping lanes that link Middle Eastern oil producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond.
    Iran denies involvement but has threatened to respond robustly to U.S. sanctions that have followed President Donald Trump’s abandonment of a 2015 treaty in which Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions.
    Iran, which has some of the world’s cheapest fuel prices due to heavy state subsidies and the fall of its currency, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling by land to neighboring countries and by sea to Gulf Arab states.
    President Hassan Rouhani urged Europe to step up its efforts to salvage the pact in a phone call with French counterpart Emanuel Macron.    Russia, another party to the pact, also said Europe should be clearer in its position on the agreement.
    Describing Tehran’s recent nuclear pronouncements as “unacceptable,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said other parties to the deal expected Tehran to uphold its side of the accord.
    But Tehran says it will continue to reduce compliance with the accord until it is allowed to resume normal oil sales and has demanded that European parties to the deal rein in Washington.
SEEKING SUPPORT
    The United States says it wants to increase pressure on Iran to renegotiate the accord, discuss its ballistic missile program and modify its behavior in the Gulf, where Washington is allied to several Arab states opposed to Iran.
    Iran’s clerical rulers have ruled out renegotiating the nuclear deal or holding talks on its missile program, which it says is purely defensive.
    U.S. Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie meanwhile said Washington was talking to several countries about ensuring freedom of navigation in the Gulf and would work “aggressively” to find a solution to enable free passage.
    He was speaking in Riyadh at a news conference with General Prince Fahd bin Turki, commander of a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen.
    Washington has beefed up its military presence and the U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, says Gulf Arab states have stepped up patrols.
    Revolutionary Guards commander-in-chief Hossein Salami said Iran had adopted a defensive strategy but warned that “if our enemies make any mistakes …. our strategy can become an offensive one,” Iranian media reported.
    A top Pentagon official said the United States is not aiming to set up a military coalition against Iran with its new security initiative in the Gulf, but simply “shining a flashlight” in the region to deter attacks on commercial ships.
    Under a plan detailed on July 9, the United States would provide coordinating ships and lead surveillance efforts while participants in the coalition patrolled nearby waters and escorted commercial vessels with their nation’s flags.
    The United States also imposed new sanctions on Thursday on five people and seven entities in connection to Iran’s nuclear program and non-proliferation matters, the Treasury Department said.
    Tension in the Strait of Hormuz: https://tmsnrt.rs/32tzK6J
(Additional reporting by Tuqa Khalid in Dubai, Jonathan Saul in London; writing by William Maclean and Alistair Bell; editing by Jon Boyle, Angus MacSwan and Cynthia Osterman)

7/18/2019 12 killed, scores wounded in Afghanistan Taliban car bombing
An Afghan police officer keeps watch near the site of a suicide car bomb blast in
Kandahar, Afghanistan July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Sameem NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    KABUL (Reuters) – Twelve people were killed and more than 80 wounded when Taliban fighters detonated two car bombs at a gate outside police headquarters in the Afghan city of Kandahar on Thursday, police and medical officials and the Taliban said.
    After the blasts, militant gunman opened fire from nearby positions and members of the security forces were battling them, said Tadeen Khan, the southern city’s chief of police.
    The attackers targeted the police force’s counter-narcotics wing, Khan said.
    Eyewitnesses said that following the first explosion, three back-to-back explosions were heard and the gunfight was still going on.
    Police cordoned off the area as passers-by fled.
    Those killed were both policemen and civilians, said Bahir Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor, giving the death toll.
    A doctor on duty in Kandahar provincial hospital said 83 wounded people had been taken to the hospital, most of them civilians.
    The Taliban said in a statement their fighters had detonated car bombs and clashes were continuing as some fighters had entered the police offices.
    Kandahar was the former seat of the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until they were ousted by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001.
    The militants have fought on and while U.S. officials and Taliban militants have been discussing a peace deal since late last year to end the war, the violence has not abated.
    At least 20 Afghan forces members were killed in a Taliban ambush in Abkamari district in western Badghis province on Wednesday.
    The Taliban also killed an Afghan commander on Wednesday in central Afghanistan.    Mateen Mujtaba, who headed an army division in Ghazni province, was conducting a security check in Qarabagh district when an Afghan soldier started shooting.
    Officials said the soldier was an infiltrator of the hardline Islamist group.
(Reporting by Sarwar Amani in Kandhar, Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Writing by Rupam Jain,; Editing by Robert Birsel and Frances Kerry)

7/18/2019 U.S. amphibious group patrols Arabian Sea as Iran tensions simmer by Aziz El Yaakoubi
USS Boxer (LHD-4) ship sails in the Arabian Sea off Oman July 17, 2019. Picture taken July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
    ABOARD USS BOXER, Arabian Sea (Reuters) – At a thumbs-up sign from a sailor, a U.S. Harrier fighter jet takes off from the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Arabian Sea as an oil tanker passes, a nautical mile away.
    The patrol is “standard” but the situation – growing tension between the United States and Iran – is not.
    Soon after the roar of the Harrier fades, two combat helicopters and two unmistakable Osprey aircraft with their tiltable rotors land back on the flight deck.
    “We want to make sure that we assure allies in the region and to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce,” says Colonel Fridrik Fridrikson, commanding officer of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
    Attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, which the United States blames on Iran, have unsettled crucial shipping lanes that link Middle Eastern oil producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond.
    Iran denies involvement, but has threatened to respond robustly to U.S. sanctions that have followed President Donald Trump’s abandonment of a major 2015 treaty, in which Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions.
    The United States has beefed up its military presence and is asking allies to help protect the strategic waters off Iran and Yemen.    The U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, says Gulf Arab states have stepped up patrols.
    Captain Jason Burns, commander of the Boxer, flagship of the Amphibious Ready Group, said it had left San Diego in May on a Middle East mission planned a year ago, related to “our usual partnerships with our allies in the region.”
    On Thursday, the amphibious group sailed through the Gulf of Oman and transited the Strait of Hormuz where helicopters flew over the convoy to ensure a safe passage.
    The group includes the USS John P. Murtha, the USS Harpers Ferry and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has around 4,500 sailors and Marines.
    On the Boxer, officers stand on a viewing gallery known as Vulture’s Row, using binoculars to follow a traditional Arab dhow sailing by and report its movements.
    In the hangar bay below, Marines test machine guns.    Three hovercraft, each loaded with three Light Armoured Vehicles, stand ready to launch, with trucks, Humvees and other gear lined up behind.
    Daily training spans the ship’s main roles, “whether it’s aviation, ground combat or combat support,” says Brigadier General Matthew Trollinger, commander of the Fifth Fleet’s Naval Amphibious Force 51.
    Burns insists the deployment is nothing unusual: “We do our standard presence operations and provide stability to the region, as the Navy has done since World War Two.”
(Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous/Kevin Liffey/William Maclean)

7/18/2019 Exclusive: IEA revising oil demand growth forecast down on slowing economy by Nidhi Verma
FILE PHOTO: A pump jack operates in the Permian Basin oil production area near Wink, Texas U.S.
August 22, 2018. Picture taken August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The International Energy Agency (IEA) is reducing its 2019 oil demand forecast due to a slowing global economy amid a U.S.-China trade spat, its executive director said on Thursday.
    The IEA is revising its 2019 global oil demand growth forecast to 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) and may cut it again if the global economy and especially China shows further weakness, Fatih Birol said.
    Last year, the IEA predicted that 2019 oil demand would grow by 1.5 million bpd but had cut the growth forecast to 1.2 million bpd in June this year.
    “China is experiencing its slowest economic growth in the last three decades, so are some of the advanced economies … if the global economy performs even poorer than we assume, then we may even look at our numbers once again in the next months to come,” Birol told Reuters in an interview.
    He said oil demand was hit by a trade war between the United States and China at a time when markets are awash with oil, due to rising U.S. shale production.
    U.S. oil output was expected to grow by 1.8 million bpd in 2019, which would be slower than the 2.2 million bpd increase recorded in 2018, Birol said, adding “these volumes will come into a market where demand growth is coming down.”
    He said the IEA was concerned by rising Middle East tensions, particularly around the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping route linking Gulf oil producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and elsewhere.
    Washington has said Iran was behind attacks on tankers near the Strait in May and June, a charge Tehran denies.
    “We are keeping a close eye on what is happening there.    And if something happens we are ready to act quickly and decisively,” he said, after reports that Iran had seized a foreign tanker smuggling fuel in the Gulf.
    About 20 million bpd of oil, or about a third of the oil traded globally, passed through the Strait, Birol said.
    Key oil producers are looking for alternative routes.    Iraq plans to export more oil to Turkey’s port of Ceyhan and build new pipelines to deliver oil to ports in Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
    “In the very short-term, the effect of those options are not very huge.    We should think of options and work on them. They will not bring a major change in the current markets but will be helpful in the medium and longer term,” Birol said.
    He said oil prices at around $65 a barrel priced in tensions relating to Iran, Libya and Venezuela, as well as concerns about the U.S.-Chinese trade row.
    But he said he did not expect a big jump in prices because there was “a lot of oil and this is mainly thanks to the shale revolution in the United States.”
(Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Edmund Blair)

7/19/2019 Iran rejects Trump report that U.S. Navy downed ‘provocative’ drone by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. sailor walks on the flight deck of USS Boxer (LHD-4) in the Arabian Sea off Oman
July 16, 2019. Picture taken July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Friday denied President Donald Trump’s assertion that the U.S. Navy has destroyed one of its drones, saying all of its unmanned planes were safe, but there was no sign of a major Gulf escalation despite fears both sides could blunder into war.
    In the latest episode to test nerves around the strategic waterway, Trump said on Thursday the drone had flown to within 1,000 yards (914 meters) of the U.S. warship Boxer in a “provocative and hostile action” and had ignored several calls to stand down.
    Iran dismissed the report.
    “All drones belonging to Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz … returned safely to their bases after their mission of identification and control,” Abolfazl Shekarchi, a senior armed forces spokesman, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
    “And there is no report of any operational response by USS Boxer.”
    A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the drone on Thursday was brought down through electronic jamming.
CAUTION FROM BOTH SIDES
    Gulf tensions are high, with fears the United States and its longtime foe Iran could stumble into war. But despite tough talk on both sides, Washington and Tehran have shown restraint.
    The United States has blamed Iran for a series of attacks since mid-May on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil artery. Tehran rejects the allegations.
    Iran in June shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone in the Gulf with a surface-to-air missile, saying the drone was in its airspace.    Washington says it was in international skies.
    The increased use of drones by Iran and its allies for surveillance and attacks across the Middle East is raising alarms in Washington.
    “We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else.    I am worried that USS Boxer has shot down their own UAS [Unmanned     Aerial System] by mistake!,” said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Twitter, referring to a U.S. warship in the strategic waterway.
    Relations between the United States and Iran have worsened since last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 a nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran. Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work long seen by the West as a cover for developing atomic bombs in return for the lifting of sanctions.
    The United States has reimposed sanctions to throttle Iran’s oil trade and says it wants to increase pressure on Tehran to renegotiate the accord, discuss its ballistic missile program and modify its policies in the Middle East, where Washington is allied to several Arab states opposed to Iran.
    Iranian oil exports have dropped nearly ten fold to around 0.3 million bpd in June from regular levels of 2.8 million bpd in early 2018.
    The United States is struggling to win its allies’ support for an initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes because of fears it will increase tension with Iran, six sources familiar with the matter said.
    Washington proposed on July 9 boosting efforts to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen where it blames Iran and its proxies for tanker attacks.    Iran denies the charges.
    But with Washington’s allies reluctant to commit new weaponry or fighting forces, a senior Pentagon official told Reuters that the United States’ aim was not to set up a military coalition but to shine a “flashlight” in the region to deter attacks on commercial shipping.
    For more details, please click on Tanker attacks near oil chokepoint https://tmsnrt.rs/2FESiH4
(Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by William Maclean)

7/19/2019 Gibraltar extends detention of Iranian tanker to August 15: Gibraltar Chronicle
FILE PHOTO: A British Royal Navy patrol vessel guards the oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria,
as it sits anchored in waters of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
    LONDON (Reuters) – Gibraltar’s supreme court has granted a 30-day extension to allow authorities to detain the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 until Aug. 15, the Gibraltar Chronicle said.
    The paper said Gibraltar’s Attorney General, Michael Llamas, had confirmed the decision.
    The tanker was seized earlier this month by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Stephen Addison)

7/19/2019 For some Chinese Muslims, fleeing doesn’t end trouble by Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Olzhas Auyezov
FILE PHOTO: Sairagul Sauytbai, an ethnic Kazakh who fled China last year after working in a so-called re-education camp
for ethnic minorities, speaks during an interview in Trelleborg, Sweden, July 3, 2019. REUTERS/Mikael Nilsson
    TRELLEBORG, Sweden/ALMATY (Reuters) – Sairagul Sauytbai, an ethnic Kazakh who fled China last year after working in a so-called vocational training center for ethnic minorities, wanted to tell others about the beatings and torture she said she had seen there.
    But in neighboring Kazakhstan, where she arrived to seek refuge, she was accused of crossing the border illegally, stripped naked, and told by state security agents to keep quiet about Beijing’s “de-radicalization drive,” in which it has put hundreds of thousands of people in camps akin to prisons, Sauytbai and her lawyer told Reuters.
    The plight of Sairagul and others who have fled China’s western Xinjiang region because of the camps highlights the difficulties they face in neighboring countries that have close ties with Beijing, and explains why many remain silent about their experiences.
    Human rights groups say China has detained up to a million people in camps set up throughout Xinjiang, a region where Muslim Uighurs are the biggest ethnic group and where ethnic tensions have in the past resulted in violence.
    Former camp inmates have described them as prisons and told Reuters that people could be held there for months, being indoctrinated in Communist ideology.    Beijing says the camps are “vocational training centers” designed to help prevent terrorism and extremism.
STRIPPED AND THREATENED
    Sauytbai, 42, worked as a kindergarten principal in Xinjiang’s Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture when she was suddenly forcibly recruited in November 2017 to teach Chinese language and culture, as well as Communist Party doctrine, to inmates of a camp.
    Sauytbai’s husband and two children had already moved to Kazakhstan, but her passport had been confiscated, preventing her joining them.    When she got to the camp, she was appalled by the treatment of inmates, and saw beatings and torture.
    “I know many of them,” she said.    “There are people ranging from ordinary shepherds to writers and social activists. There are people who have committed no crime.”
    Four months later, the authorities sent Sauytbai back home, where she was sacked from her kindergarten job. Fearing that she would soon be sent to a camp as an inmate, she sneaked into Kazakhstan illegally through Khorgos, a duty-free trade zone on the border.
    Sauytbai was soon detained in Kazakhstan and tried, but a court ruled against sending her back to China and gave her a suspended sentence.
    She then applied for asylum, but a state commission turned her down, saying it had not found sufficient evidence of persecution.    Last month, she and her family left for Sweden, where she has applied for residence.
    Speaking to Reuters in the Swedish town of Trelleborg, Sauytbai said Kazakh security agents had warned her against criticizing China.
    “After I came to Kazakhstan, having witnessed it all, I wanted to tell the whole world about it,” she said.    “But the National Security Committee and my (former) lawyer Abzal Kuspan kept my mouth shut.”
    Kuspan confirmed he had advised her not to talk about the Chinese camps to avoid jeopardizing her court case and her asylum request: “Our first concern was making sure she was not handed over to China.”
    He said he was aware that Sauytbai had come under pressure, especially immediately after her detention in Kazakhstan.
    “She was kept in some building, she was stripped naked,” he said.
    Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee did not reply to questions from Reuters about Sauytbai’s allegations.    China’s foreign ministry said that “the facts of Sairagul Sauytbai’s credit fraud and illegal border crossing crimes are clear and they must be punished severely.”
    Sauytbai’s family have told Kazakh media that they had an outstanding bank loan in China which they had planned to repay by selling their house – until she had to flee.
    The Chinese ministry also said that the “training centers strictly comply with the constitutional and legal principles and requirements for respecting and protecting human rights, and fully ensure that trainees’ human dignity is not infringed upon.”    The Xinjiang government did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
SENT BACK TO CHINA
    Xinjiang ethnic Kyrgyz market trader Aishan Memetrasul, 55, says he thought he had reached safety when he managed to get out of a camp by asking to see a badly ill relative.
    He crossed the border of neighboring Kyrgyzstan, another central Asian republic, and applied to be naturalized on the basis of his Kyrgyz ethnicity – which local law allows.
    But the Kyrgyz authorities told him that he would need a document that he could only obtain in China.    They sent him back, and he ended up back in the camp for another six weeks.
    He got out of the camp a second time on the pretext of going to Kyrgyzstan to fetch his elderly mother.    Now in Kyrgyzstan, he has sought the government’s help to obtain the release of his numerous relatives who still live in Xinjiang.
    “The (Kyrgyz) government has not given us any answer,” Memetrasul told Reuters in an interview in Bishkek.
    Asked for comment on the camps, a Kyrgyz foreign ministry spokesman said it was keeping an eye on the matter and would use diplomatic channels to discuss any issues with Beijing.
(Additional reporting by Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek and Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

7/19/2019 Iran says it seized British tanker, denies U.S. brought down drone by Parisa Hafezi and Steve Holland
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
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Friday they have captured a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz while Tehran and Washington disagreed about a U.S. assertion that its Navy had downed an Iranian drone nearby, further increasing tensions in the Gulf region.
    Britain said it was urgently seeking information about the Stena Impero tanker, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf.
    The Revolutionary Guards seized the vessel at the request of the maritime authorities in the Iranian province of Hormozgan for “not following international maritime regulations,” state television cited an IRGC statement as saying.
    A second oil tanker, the British-operated, Liberian-flagged Mesdar, turned sharply north toward Iran’s coast on Friday afternoon after passing westward through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf, according to Refinitiv tracking data.
    The turn took place at about 1600 GMT, the data showed, about 40 minutes after a similar course shift by the Stena Impero.
    Relations between Iran and the West have been increasingly strained in recent months over security in the Gulf, U.S. sanctions on Iran and Tehran’s nuclear program.
    Incidents in the Gulf have increased international concern that both sides could blunder into a war in the strategic waterway, which is vital to world oil supplies.
    Iran shot down a U.S. drone in the Gulf in June and British naval forces seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria.
    Iran and the United States were at odds on Friday over a U.S. assertion that its Navy had shot down an Iranian drone on Thursday in the Strait of Hormuz because it had come too close to a U.S. warship.
WE SHOT IT DOWN
    U.S. President Trump said there was no doubt the USS Boxer warship had destroyed an Iranian drone but Tehran showed video footage that it said disproved the incident even happened.
    “No doubt about it, no.    We shot it down,” Trump said.
    Speaking about Iran, he said the United States hopes “for their sake they don’t do anything foolish.    If they do they will pay a price like nobody has ever paid a price.”
    Trump announced on Thursday that the Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, had destroyed an Iranian drone because it had flown to within 1,000 yards (914 meters) of the ship in a “provocative and hostile action.”    A U.S. official said the drone was brought down by electronic jamming.
    But Iran said all of its drones were accounted for.
    “All drones belonging to Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz … returned safely to their bases after their mission of identification and control,” Abolfazl Shekarchi, a senior Iranian armed forces spokesman, was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying.
    He said there was no report of any “operational response” by the USS Boxer and Iran’s state television broadcast a video showing aerial views of ships that it said disproved the U.S. assertion.
    The television station said the footage, which came from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and the timing notations indicated the pilotless aircraft was still filming after Washington said it had been downed.
    The episode is the latest test of nerves around the Strait of Hormuz, a major chokepoint for oil tankers.    Oil prices rose on Friday because of the tension.
    Relations between Washington and Tehran worsened last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.    Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work, long seen by the West as a cover for developing atomic bombs, in return for lifting sanctions.    But sanctions have been imposed again, badly hurting Iran’s economy.
    Trump said he would talk to Britain about the report of the British tanker being seized in the Gulf.
FALTERING DIPLOMACY
    The United States has blamed Iran for a series of attacks since mid-May on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz.    Tehran rejects the allegations.
    The United States has reimposed economic sanctions to throttle Iran’s oil trade and pressure Tehran to renegotiate the accord, discuss its ballistic missiles and modify its regional policies.
    Tehran on Thursday signaled a willingness to engage in diplomacy with a modest offer on its nuclear work – ratification of a document prescribing more intrusive nuclear inspections if Washington abandoned its sanctions.
    But a senior Trump administration official dismissed the offer by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
    Zarif appeared to have no decision-making ability and that Washington “would not consider anything from him serious,” the official said.
    Asked whom the United States would need to hear from in order to have negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program, the official said: “I would say the supreme leader or the president.”
    Trump remained open to negotiations with Iran without preconditions on its nuclear program and will maintain a tough economic sanctions regime on Tehran in the meantime, the official said.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday the United States needed Iran to “come to the table” for negotiations.
    Pompeo, speaking at a counter-terrorism summit in Buenos Aires, also repeated an offer from Trump for talks without preconditions.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Bill Trott)

7/20/2019 Iran says tanker ‘ignored distress call,’ taken to Bandar Abbas port by Babak Dehghanpisheh
Undated handout photograph shows the Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk, at an
undisclosed location, obtained by Reuters on July 19, 2019. Stena Bulk/via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran has taken a British-flagged oil tanker seized in the Strait of Hormuz to a nearby port, where the vessel and its crew will remain while an accident it was involved in is investigated, Iran’s Fars news agency said on Saturday.
    The Stena Impero was in collision with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored, the agency quoted the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province, Allahmorad Afifipour, as saying.
    With the seizure inflaming already fraught relations between Iran and the West, Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said he was worried that Tehran’s action had put it on a “dangerous path.”
    Afifipour said the vessel had been taken under the guidance of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards to Bander Abbas port, situated on Iran’s southern coast and facing the strait.
GRAPHIC: Map of tanker’s route – https://tmsnrt.rs/2O646ZX
    “All its 23 crew members will remain on the ship until the probe is over,” he was quoted as saying.    They comprised 18 Indians and five others of other nationalities, he said.
    Operator Stena Bulk said on Friday the tanker had been “in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations,” but was no longer under the crew’s control and could not be contacted.    It had no further comment early on Saturday.
    Hunt said on Saturday that Britain would ensure the safety of its shipping, and that there were signs that Iran “may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior after Gibraltar’s legal detention of oil bound for Syria.”
    The British navy seized Iran’s Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
    Hunt reiterated that the response to the Stena Impero’s seizure would be “considered but robust.”    He had said on Friday that Britain was however “not looking at military options.    We are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation.”
BLUNDERING TOWARDS WAR?
    The vessel had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf, through which a fifth of the world’s oil supplies pass.
    U.S. President Donald Trump said he would talk to Britain about Friday’s seizure, which drove oil prices up above $62 a barrel.
    The United States has blamed Iran for a series of attacks since mid-May on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz.    Tehran rejects the allegations.
    Washington also said it had this week downed an Iranian drone near where the Stena Impero was seized.
    Iran on Friday denied that assertion, and its Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, quoted in Venezuela on Saturday by news agency IRNA, accused Washington of creating worldwide “instability, pressure on people and increased extremism and terrorism.”
    The United States is sending military personnel and resources to Saudi Arabia for the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and international concerns is growing that Washington and Tehran could blunder into a war in the strategic waterway.
    Bilateral relations worsened last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.
    Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work, long seen by the West as a cover for developing atomic bombs, in return for lifting sanctions.    But sanctions have been imposed again, badly hurting Iran’s economy.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; editing by John Stonestreet)

7/20/2019 Britain says Iran seizes two oil tankers in Gulf, Iran says captured one by Kate Holton and Parisa Hafezi
Undated handout photograph shows the Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk, at an undisclosed location, obtained
by Reuters on July 19, 2019. Stena Bulk/Handout/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
    LONDON/DUBAI (Reuters) – Britain said Iran seized two oil tankers in the Gulf on Friday and told Tehran to return the vessels or face consequences in the latest confrontation to ratchet up tension along a vital international oil shipping route.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they had captured the British-flagged Stena Impero, announcing the move two weeks after the British navy seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar.
    Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said the second vessel, the British-operated Mesdar, had not been seized.    It said the ship had been allowed to continue its course after being given a warning over safety and environmental issues.
    The Stena Impero and Mesdar changed direction sharply within 40 minutes of each other shortly after entering the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, taking up a course toward Iran, Refinitiv tracking data showed.
GRAPHIC: Map of tanker’s route – https://tmsnrt.rs/2O646ZX
    The data later showed Mesdar changing direction again, heading westward back into the Gulf.
    “These seizures are unacceptable.    It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region,” British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said.
    Hunt later said, in comments reported by Sky News, that there would be consequences if Iran did not return control of the ships but said Britain was not considering military options.
    U.S. President Donald Trump said he would talk to Britain about the issue, speaking after a war of words earlier on Friday about whether the United States had shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz.
    Already strained relations between Iran and the West have become increasingly fraught since the British navy seized Iran’s Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.
    Oil prices gained on Friday after the latest spike in tensions along the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s oil supplies pass.
MARITIME RULES
    Iran’s Guards, an elite force under the command of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said they seized the Stena Impero at the request of Iranian authorities for “not following international maritime regulations,” state television reported.
    Northern Marine Management, which is owned by Stena AB, confirmed the Stena Impero was heading toward Iran.
    Norbulk, the manager of the tanker Mesdar, said the vessel had been boarded by armed personnel but was later allowed to continue its voyage.    It said the crew were safe and well.
    Iran had said it would retaliate against the seizure in Gibraltar.    Just days later, three Iranian vessels tried to block a British-owned tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz but they backed off when confronted by a British navy ship.     The Mesdar made its shift toward Iran at about 1600 GMT.
    “We received reports that the British Stena Impero oil tanker was causing incidents and, therefore, we asked the military to direct it to Bandar Abbas port for the necessary probes,” Allahmorad Afifipour, head of Hormozgan’s maritime authority, told Tasnim news agency.
‘IGNORED WARNINGS’
    Tasnim, which cited military sources as saying the Mesdar had not been seized, said the Stena Impero had been causing pollution by dumping oil residue.
    An Iranian military source said the Stena Impero “had turned off its tracker and ignored several warnings by the Guards before being captured,” the official IRNA news agency reported.
    State television said the Stena Impero was taken to a coastal area and turned over to the authorities to take the necessary legal steps, the television added.
    Supreme Leader Khamenei said on Tuesday Iran would respond to Britain’s “piracy” over the seizure of the Iran’s Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar.
    Tehran has repeatedly called for the ship’s release, denies the allegation that the tanker was taking oil to Syria in violation of sanctions and says Gibraltar and Britain seized the vessel on the orders of Washington.
    Tensions between the United States and Iran have been steadily rising since Washington withdrew last year from a global pact aimed at reining in Tehran’s nuclear program and imposed sanctions that seek to shutdown Iranian oil exports.
    Iran has said it would not halt its oil exports, the government’s main source of revenue.
    Behnam Ben Taleblu, an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Tehran’s action suggested U.S. sanctions “are working and that negotiations with America or world powers will need to happen.”
    Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, called on all those involved in Friday’s shipping incident to seek a swift resolution to the incident that threatened the safety of seafarers.
    “Freedom of navigation is vital for global trade and we encourage all nations to uphold this fundamental principle of maritime law,” he said.
(Reporting by Kate Holton and Jonathan Saul in London and Reuters staff in Dubai; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/20/2019 Iran says it seized British tanker, denies U.S. brought down drone by Parisa Hafezi and Steve Holland
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
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran said it had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday but denied Washington’s assertion that the U.S. Navy had downed an Iranian drone nearby this week, as tensions in the Gulf region rose again.
    Britain said it was urgently seeking information about the Stena Impero tanker, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf.
    The tanker’s operator, Stena Bulk, said in a statement the ship was no longer under the crew’s control and could not be contacted.     “We will respond in a way that is considered but robust and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters.
    Hunt said Britain was “not looking at military options, we are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation.”
    Stena Bulk said the ship was “in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations.”
    “There are 23 seafarers onboard of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality,” said Erik Hanell, president and chief executive of Stena Bulk.    He said there had been no reported injuries.
    The Revolutionary Guards did not capture a second tanker – the British-operated, Liberian-flagged ship Mesdar – in the Gulf, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, quoting regional military sources.
    The Mesdar had turned sharply north toward Iran’s coast on Friday afternoon but then changed course again and headed westward away from Iran, according to Refinitiv tracking data.
    Relations between Washington and Tehran worsened last year when U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.    Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work, long seen by the West as a cover for developing atomic bombs, in return for lifting sanctions.    But sanctions have been imposed again, badly hurting Iran’s economy.
    Trump said he would talk to Britain about Friday’s seizure, which drove oil prices up above $62 a barrel.
    The United States has blamed Iran for a series of attacks since mid-May on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz.    Tehran rejects the allegations.
    The incidents have increased international concern that both sides could blunder into a war in the strategic waterway, which is vital to world oil supplies.
GRAPHIC: Map of tanker’s route – https://tmsnrt.rs/2O646ZX
Tanker attacks near oil chokepoint – https://tmsnrt.rs/2FESiH4
DRONES
    Iran shot down a U.S. drone in the Gulf in June and British naval forces seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria.
    The U.S. military said on Friday that unarmed surveillance aircraft were in international airspace, monitoring the Strait of Hormuz and had been in contact with U.S. ships in the area.
    “We have patrol aircraft operating in international airspace monitoring the situation within the Strait of Hormuz,” said Lieutenant Colonel Earl Brown, a U.S. Central Command spokesman.
    A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said about 500 U.S. military personnel would be deployed to Saudi Arabia, part of an increase in troops to the Middle East announced by the Pentagon last month.
    Iran refuted a U.S. assertion that it shot down an Iranian drone on Thursday in the Strait of Hormuz because it had come too close to a U.S. warship.
    Trump said on Thursday that the U.S. Navy warship Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, had destroyed an Iranian drone because it had flown to within 1,000 yards (914 meters) of the ship in a “provocative and hostile action.”    A U.S. official said the drone was brought down by electronic jamming.
    “No doubt about it, no. We shot it down,” Trump said.
    He said the United States hopes “for their sake they don’t do anything foolish.    If they do they will pay a price like nobody has ever paid a price.”
    But Iran said all of its drones were accounted for.
    “All drones belonging to Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz … returned safely to their bases after their mission of identification and control,” Abolfazl Shekarchi, a senior Iranian armed forces spokesman, was quoted by Tasnim as saying.
    He said there was no report of any “operational response” by the Boxer and Iran’s state television broadcast a video showing aerial views of ships that it said disproved the U.S. claim.
    The television station said the footage, which came from the Revolutionary Guards, and the timing notations indicated the pilotless aircraft was still filming after Washington said it had been downed.
    U.S. officials briefed members of the Washington diplomatic corps on Friday about a multinational maritime security initiative being developed to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf.
    A senior Pentagon told Reuters earlier this week the United States was not aiming to set up a military coalition against Iran but simply “shining a flashlight” in the region to deter attacks on commercial ships.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Reuters staff in Dubai and Kate Holton and Jonathan Saul in London; writing by Alistair Bell; editing by Grant McCool, Cynthia Osterman and Sonya Hepinstall)

7/20/2019 Trump offers to help ease tension in Japan-South Korea dispute
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while participating in an Apollo 11 50th anniversary commemoration event
in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis??
    WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday offered to help ease tensions in the political and economic dispute between Japan and South Korea, which threatens global supplies of memory chips and smartphones.
    Lingering tension, particularly over the issue of compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese occupiers during World War Two, took a turn for the worse this month when Japan restricted exports of high-tech materials to South Korea.
    The United States has been hesitant to publicly wade into the feud between its two biggest allies in Asia.    Trump said South Korean President Moon Jae-in had asked him if he could get involved.
    “He tells me that they have a lot of friction going on now with respect to trade, primarily with respect to trade.    And Japan has some things that South Korea wants, and he asked me to get involved,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
    “So maybe if they would both want me to, I’ll be.    It’s like a full-time job getting involved with Japan and South Korea.    But I like both leaders.”
    South Korea’s presidential Blue House spokeswoman, Ko Min-jung, said in a statement on Saturday that Moon had asked Trump for help at their Seoul summit on June 30.
    Ko said Moon talked to Trump in an effort to diplomatically solve the issue as Japanese media, at the time, constantly reported the possibility of economic retaliation against South Korea.
    David Stilwell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia policy, said in Seoul on Wednesday that he took the situation seriously but did not elaborate on what steps Washington might take and said it was fundamentally up to South Korea and Japan to resolve their differences.
    Japan has denied that the dispute over compensation is behind the export curbs, even though one of its ministers cited broken trust with South Korea over the labor dispute in announcing the restrictions.
    Instead, Japan has cited “inadequate management” of sensitive items exported to South Korea, with Japanese media reporting some items ended up in North Korea.
    South Korea has denied that.
    The export curbs could hurt global technology companies.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional Reporting by Heekyong Yang in Seoul; writing by Doina Chiacu, Editing by G Crosse, Jonathan Oatis and Nick Macfie)

7/20/2019 Iran reveals new footage of seized British tanker by OAN Newsroombr
    Iranian state television airs new footage of the British-flagged tanker seized by Tehran near the Strait of Hormuz.
A British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero which was seized by the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on Friday is
photographed in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, Saturday, July 20, 2019. (Tasnim News Agency/via AP)
    Local reports Saturday, the tanker is docked near Iranian ports in the strait, and was taken in response to Britain’s impounding of an Iranian tanker earlier this month.
    A spokesman for Iranian leadership said the response was allowed by international law, and confronts what they call the “illegitimate economic war” on the nation.
    Authorities claim the British tanker hit a fishing vessel, prompting them to detain the ship.
    “Things have begun to stagnate a little,” U.S. ambassador of the European Union, Gordon Sondlan said.    “They’ve begun to reach impasses on a number of fronts and I think, changing of the guard if you will, will be healthy for the relationship.    And we will be able to start on a clean sheet of paper.”
    Sondland added, he is excited to see the first woman as president of the European commission.

7/20/2019 Thousands in pro-police rally as Hong Kong braces for another mass protest by Alun John and Vimvam Tong
Pro-government supporters attend a rally to call for an end to violence, after a wave of protests against an extradition
bill triggered clashes between police and activists, in Hong Kong, China July 20, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tens of thousands gathered in Hong Kong on Saturday to voice support for the police and call for an end to violence, after a wave of protests against an extradition bill triggered clashes between police and activists and plunged the city into crisis.
    The rally, called “Safeguard Hong Kong,” comes a day ahead of another mass protest planned against the government and its handling of the now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial.
    Police have called for calm ahead of Sunday’s protest, where security is expected to be tight.    Authorities have removed metal barriers – which activists have used to block roads during previous demonstrations – from areas around the march route.
    “We are experiencing the most serious revolution after Hong Kong’s handover,” said former Legislative Council president, Jasper Tsang.    We are also experiencing the most serious challenge for “One Country, Two Systems,” he added, referring to the system under which Hong Kong is governed since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, has apologized for the turmoil the extradition bill has caused and declared it “dead,” although opponents say nothing short of its full withdrawal will do.
    Demonstrators, mostly middle-aged or older and dressed in white, braved heavy rain and thunderstorms to gather at the city’s Tamar Park, next to the Legislative Council which protesters stormed and raided on July 1 – the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule.
    Some waved Chinese flags as others chanted “Hong Kong Cheer Up” and “Support Hong Kong Police.”
    A fleet of around 12 fishing boats circled Victoria Harbor next to the rally with banners draped over the side of the vessels that read “Put away the combat, fight for Hong Kong” and “Cherish Hong Kong, we’re all in the same boat.”
    “Violence is intolerant.    We are distressed about our home and we should absolutely stand out to support Hong Kong police, to maintain stability and rule of law in society,” said Tsol Pui, 85, president of Hong Kong Veterans’ Home.
    Echoing that sentiment, Tang King Shing, Hong Kong’s former Commissioner of Police, said: “Police, we support you.    You should not have suffered from the disaster made by those thugs… We Hong Kong people come out to safeguard Hong Kong.”     Organizers said 316,000 attended the rally. Police put the number at 103,000 at the peak.
VIOLENCE
    Last weekend two initially peaceful protests degenerated into running skirmishes between baton-wielding riot police and activists, resulting in scores of injuries and more than 40 arrests.
    Those fights followed larger outbreaks of violence in central Hong Kong last month, when police forced back activists with tear gas, rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds.
    Activists and human rights groups have called for an independent investigation into what they describe as excessive use of force by police.
    The protesters are also demanding the word “riot” be withdrawn from the government’s description of demonstrations and the unconditional release of those arrested.
    What started as protests over the extradition bill have now morphed into demands for greater democracy, the resignation of leader Lam, and even curbing the number of mainland Chinese tourists to Hong Kong.
    Under the terms of the handover from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong was allowed to retain extensive freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a “one country, two systems” formula, including an independent judiciary and right to protest.
    But for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.
    Other anti-government protests are planned over coming weekends in areas including Mong Kok, a gritty working-class district across the harbor from the financial center, and in Tseung Kwan O and Sham Shui Po, one of the city’s poorest areas.
    Opponents of the extradition bill fear it would leave Hong Kong people at the mercy of Chinese courts, where human rights are not guaranteed, and have voiced concerns over the city’s much-cherished rule of law.
(Additional reporting By Kevin Liu and Felix Tam, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Gareth Jones and Stephen Powell)

7/20/2019 U.S.-South Korean military exercise to proceed: top South Korean official by Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: South Korean army soldiers stand guard during a U.S.-South Korea joint river-crossing exercise near the
demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Yeoncheon, South Korea, April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    ASPEN, Colo. (Reuters) – A top South Korean official on Saturday said a U.S.-South Korean military exercise would go ahead as planned next month, denying Pyongyang’s charges that holding it would breach an agreement made between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
    “The nature of the exercise is not offensive … and is for strengthening the alliance,” Choi Jong-kun, the secretary for peace planning to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told the Aspen Institute’s annual strategic forum.
    Later, speaking with Reuters, Choi said next month’s exercise would largely involve computer simulations and not troops in the field.
    The spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Trump had reaffirmed in a meeting with Kim last month that joint exercises would be halted adding that the U.S. decision to proceed with them was “clearly a breach” of the leaders’ agreements made at a summit in Singapore last year.
    The spokesman said proceeding with war games was jeopardizing Pyongyang’s resumption of nuclear talks with the United States.    The ministry said Washington’s pattern of “unilaterally reneging on its commitments” was leading Pyongyang to its commitment to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected the North Korean charges earlier this week.
    Speaking to the Aspen conference, Choi said that the United States would have consulted with his government had Trump agreed to suspend U.S.-South Korean war games during his talks last month with Kim on the border last month.
    “As far as I know, President Trump did not promise the cancellation of this upcoming military exercise,” said Choi.    “If he had done that … we would have been consulted and organized it and used it very strategically.”
    He noted that the United States and South Korea had suspended a large-scale exercise and canceled a second following the Singapore summit in June 2018 at which Trump sought to persuade Kim to end the development of nuclear weapons and eliminate his arsenal.
    A second Trump-Kim summit in February failed to make any headway.    The following month, the U.S. and South Korean militaries announced they were scaling back major war games – which Pyongyang long has denounced as preparations for war – and would hold smaller-scale exercises.
    Even so, Choi said, the preparedness of the U.S. and South Korean military to operate together had not been waned.
    “For the record, military interoperability has never been compromised,” he said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay, editing by G Crosse)

7/21/2019 Britain calls ship seizure ‘hostile act’ as Iran releases video of capture by Babak Dehghanpisheh and William Schomberg
Undated photograph shows the Mesdar, a British-operated oil tanker in Fawley, Britain
obtained by Reuters on July 19, 2019. JOHN PITCHER/via REUTERS
    GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Saturday denounced Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf as a “hostile act” and rejected Tehran’s explanation that it seized the vessel because it had been involved in an accident.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards posted a video online showing speedboats pulling alongside the Stena Impero tanker, its name clearly visible.    Troops wearing ski masks and carrying machine guns rappelled to its deck from a helicopter, the same tactics used by British Royal Marines to seize an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar two weeks ago.
    Friday’s action in the global oil trade’s most important waterway has been viewed in the West as a major escalation after three months of confrontation that has already taken Iran and the United States to the brink of war.
    It follows threats from Tehran to retaliate for Britain’s July 4 seizure of the Iranian tanker Grace 1, accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
    British Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt called the incident a “hostile act.”    Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had expressed “extreme disappointment” by phone to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.    Britain also summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires in London.
    A spokesman for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier-General Ramezan Sharif, said Tehran had seized the ship in the Strait of Hormuz despite the “resistance and interference” of a British warship which had been escorting it.    No British warship was visible in the video posted by the Guards.
    Iran’s Fars news agency said the Guards had taken control of the Stena Impero on Friday after it collided with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored.
    The vessel, carrying no cargo, was taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.    It will remain there with its 23 crew – 18 of them Indians – while the accident is investigated, Iranian news agencies quoted the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province, Allahmorad Afifipour, as saying.
    In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Britain said the tanker was approached by Iranian forces when it was in Omani territorial waters exercising its lawful right of passage, and the action “constitutes illegal interference.”
    “Current tensions are extremely concerning, and our priority is to de-escalate.    We do not seek confrontation with Iran,” the letter said.    “But it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to threaten shipping going about its legitimate business through internationally recognized transit corridors.”
OIL PRICES UP
    Zarif told Hunt that the ship must go through a legal process before it can be released, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported.
    The strait, between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, is the sole outlet for exports of most Middle Eastern oil, and the seizure sent oil prices sharply higher.    The United States, which tightened sanctions against Iran in May with the aim of halting its oil exports altogether, has been warning for months of an Iranian threat to shipping in the strait.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he also discussed the situation with Hunt, his British counterpart.
    “We talked about what they’ve seen, what they know, and how they’re beginning to think about how they will respond,” Pompeo said in an interview with the Washington Examiner that was published on Saturday by the State Department.    “Iran is in a place today that they have taken themselves.”
    Another oil tanker, the Mesdar, was also boarded by Iranian personnel on Friday and temporarily forced to divert toward Iran, but later was allowed to continue on its route through the strait.    On Saturday Algeria’s APS news agency said the Mesdar was owned by Algeria’s state oil company Sonatrach.
    France, Germany and the European Union joined Britain in condemning the seizure.
    The three big European countries are signatories to a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that Washington undermined by quitting last year, setting Iran’s already fragile relations with the West on a downward spiral.
    Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work in return for lifting sanctions.    The European countries opposed the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the agreement last year, but have so far failed to fulfill promises to Iran of providing alternative means for it to access world trade.
EXTREME DISAPPOINTMENT
    “Just spoke to … Zarif and expressed extreme disappointment that having assured me last Saturday Iran wanted to de-escalate situation, they have behaved in the opposite way,” Hunt wrote on Twitter.    “This has to be about actions not words if we are to find a way through.”
    Earlier he said London’s reaction would be “considered but robust” and it would ensure the safety of its shipping.
    On Friday, Hunt said the solution would be found via diplomacy and London was “not looking at military options.”    Britain’s government said it had advised British shipping to stay out of the Hormuz area for an interim period.
    During the past three months of escalation, the United States and Iran come as close as ever to direct armed conflict.    In June, Tehran shot down a U.S. drone and President Donald Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off just minutes before were to have been carried out.
    The vessel had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait.
    The United States has blamed Iran for a series of attacks on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz.    Tehran has rejected the allegations.    Washington also said it had this week downed an Iranian drone near where the Stena Impero was seized.
    The United States is sending military personnel and resources to Saudi Arabia for the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt, John Irish in Paris, Stephen Addison in London, Michelle Nichols in New York, and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by John Stonestreet, Peter Graff and Will Dunham)

7/21/2019 U.S. adviser Bolton travels to Japan, South Korea amid trade disputez
FILE PHOTO: U.S. national security adviser John Bolton looks on as U.S. President Donald Trump and
first lady Melania Trump acknowledge former astronauts and their family members during an Apollo 11 moon landing
50th anniversary commemoration in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    (Reuters) – U.S. national security adviser John Bolton departed on Saturday for a trip to Japan and South Korea as the two countries are in the middle of a trade dispute.
    A White House National Security Council spokesman said on Twitter that Bolton planned to “continue conversations with critical allies and friends.”
    President Donald Trump on Friday offered his help to ease tensions in the political and economic dispute between the United States’ two biggest allies in Asia, which threatens global supplies of memory chips and smartphones.
    Lingering tensions, particularly over the issue of compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese occupiers during World War Two, worsened this month when Japan restricted exports of high-tech materials to South Korea.
    Japan has denied that the dispute over compensation is behind the export curbs, even though one of its ministers cited broken trust with Seoul over the labor dispute in announcing the restrictions.
    The export curbs could hurt global technology companies.
    Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that South Korean President Moon Jae-in had asked him if he could get involved.
    A spokeswoman for Moon confirmed Moon had asked Trump for help at their summit in Seoul on June 30.
    During his trip, Bolton is also likely to seek support for a U.S. initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East shipping lanes, which has been greeted warily by allies reluctant to raise tensions with Iran, which Washington blames for attacks on tankers.
    Japanese media has said the issue could be on the agenda when Bolton visits Japan, where any military commitment abroad would risk inflaming a divide in public opinion in a country whose armed forces have not fought overseas since World War Two.
    A South Korean official said last week Washington had yet to make any official request to Seoul on the issue.
    The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford, said this month Washington hoped to enlist allies in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, where Washington blames Iran and Iran-aligned fighters for attacks.
    But with allies reluctant to commit new weaponry or fighting forces, a senior Pentagon official told Reuters on Thursday the aim was not to set up a military coalition but to shine a “flashlight” in the region to deter attacks on commercial shipping.
    Kathryn Wheelbarger, who briefed NATO allies in the past week on the U.S. proposal, said it was less operational and more geared toward increasing surveillance capabilities.
    Japan is the world’s fourth-biggest oil buyer and 86% of its oil supplies last year passed through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping route linking Middle East oil producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond.
    Japan’s position is complicated by the fact that it has maintained friendly ties with Iran which it would be reluctant to damage.    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an unsuccessful bid to ease tensions in the region when he met Iranian leaders in Tehran last month.
(Reporting by Christopher Bing; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Daniel Wallis and G Crosse)

7/21/2019 Iran warns UK against escalating tensions, says crew of seized ship safe by Parisa Hafezi
A helicopter hovers over British-flagged tanker Stena Impero near the strait of Hormuz July 19, 2019,
in this still image taken from video. Pool via WANA/Reuters TV via REUTRS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Sunday urged Britain to contain “domestic political forces” intent on escalating tensions between the two countries following Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker.
    Britain has called Iran’s capture of the Stena Impero in the Gulf on Friday a “hostile act” and rejected Tehran’s explanation that it seized the vessel because it had been involved in an accident.
    The “UK government should contain those domestic political forces who want to escalate existing tension between Iran and the UK well beyond the issue of ships.    This is quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region,” Iran’s envoy to Britain Hamid Baeidinejad said on Twitter.
    “Iran however is firm and ready for different scenarios,” he said.
    A day earlier British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said Tehran’s actions showed “worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior after Gibraltar’s legal detention of oil bound for Syria.”
    The crew of the tanker seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are all safe, the head of the Ports and Maritime Organisation in Hormozgan Province told state TV on Sunday.
    “All 23 crew members aboard the ship are safe and in good health in Bandar Abbas port,” Allahmorad Afifipour said.
(graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2O646ZX)
SANCTIONS
    Afifipour said the seized tanker “risked maritime safety” in the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s annual oil consumption passes.
    “We are required by regulations to investigate the issue … the duration of the investigation depends on the level of cooperation by the involved parties,” said Afifipour.
    The seizure has heightened tension between Iran and Britain, which is a party to Iran’s 2015 multinational nuclear deal.    The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Saturday that London was planning to target Iran with sanctions in the aftermath of the tanker seizure.
    In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Britain said the tanker was approached by Iranian forces in Omani territorial waters where it was exercising its lawful right of passage, and that the action “constitutes illegal interference.”
    Stena Bulk, the vessel’s Sweden-based owners, said it is preparing a formal request to visit the crew, who are from India, Latvia, the Philippines and Russia.    India has called on Iran to release the 18 Indian crew members.
    Tehran for weeks has vowed to retaliate for the seizure by Royal Marines of the tanker Grace 1 carrying Iranian oil near Gibraltar on July 4 which was suspected of violating sanctions on Syria.
    “The Revolutionary Guards responded to Britain’s hijacking of the Iranian tanker,” parliament speaker Ali Larijani told a parliament session aired live on state radio.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear agreement with Iran last year and reimposed and tightened sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors.
WAIVERS
    Waivers allowing eight countries to keep buying Iranian oil – China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey – expired on May 2.
    Iran has repeated threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it cannot export its oil because of the sanctions but cannot legally do so as part of the waterway is in Oman’s territorial waters.
    Oman has urged Iran to release the Stena Impero, calling on all parties to exercise restraint and resolve differences diplomatically, state broadcaster Oman TV News reported on Sunday.
    Ships using the Strait also pass through Iranian waters, which are under the responsibility of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Navy.
    “Iran is displaying its power without entering a military confrontation.    This is the result of America’s mounting pressure on Iran,” said an Iranian official, who asked not to be identified.
(Additional reporting by Asma Sharif and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Jason Neely)

7/21/2019 Britain calls ship seizure ‘hostile act’ as Iran releases video of capture by Babak Dehghanpisheh and William Schomberg
Undated photograph shows the Mesdar, a British-operated oil tanker in Fawley, Britain
obtained by Reuters on July 19, 2019. JOHN PITCHER/via REUTERS
    GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Saturday denounced Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf as a “hostile act” and rejected Tehran’s explanation that it seized the vessel because it had been involved in an accident.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards posted a video online showing speedboats pulling alongside the Stena Impero tanker, its name clearly visible.    Troops wearing ski masks and carrying machine guns rappelled to its deck from a helicopter, the same tactics used by British Royal Marines to seize an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar two weeks ago.
    Friday’s action in the global oil trade’s most important waterway has been viewed in the West as a major escalation after three months of confrontation that has already taken Iran and the United States to the brink of war.
    It follows threats from Tehran to retaliate for Britain’s July 4 seizure of the Iranian tanker Grace 1, accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
    British Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt called the incident a “hostile act.”    Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had expressed “extreme disappointment” by phone to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.    Britain also summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires in London.
    A spokesman for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier-General Ramezan Sharif, said Tehran had seized the ship in the Strait of Hormuz despite the “resistance and interference” of a British warship which had been escorting it.    No British warship was visible in the video posted by the Guards.
    Iran’s Fars news agency said the Guards had taken control of the Stena Impero on Friday after it collided with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored.
    The vessel, carrying no cargo, was taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.    It will remain there with its 23 crew – 18 of them Indians – while the accident is investigated, Iranian news agencies quoted the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province, Allahmorad Afifipour, as saying.
    In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Britain said the tanker was approached by Iranian forces when it was in Omani territorial waters exercising its lawful right of passage, and the action “constitutes illegal interference.”
    “Current tensions are extremely concerning, and our priority is to de-escalate.    We do not seek confrontation with Iran,” the letter said.    “But it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to threaten shipping going about its legitimate business through internationally recognized transit corridors.”
OIL PRICES UP
    Zarif told Hunt that the ship must go through a legal process before it can be released, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported.
    The strait, between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, is the sole outlet for exports of most Middle Eastern oil, and the seizure sent oil prices sharply higher.    The United States, which tightened sanctions against Iran in May with the aim of halting its oil exports altogether, has been warning for months of an Iranian threat to shipping in the strait.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he also discussed the situation with Hunt, his British counterpart.
    “We talked about what they’ve seen, what they know, and how they’re beginning to think about how they will respond,” Pompeo said in an interview with the Washington Examiner that was published on Saturday by the State Department.    "Iran is in a place today that they have taken themselves.”
    Another oil tanker, the Mesdar, was also boarded by Iranian personnel on Friday and temporarily forced to divert toward Iran, but later was allowed to continue on its route through the strait.    On Saturday Algeria’s APS news agency said the Mesdar was owned by Algeria’s state oil company Sonatrach.
    France, Germany and the European Union joined Britain in condemning the seizure.
    The three big European countries are signatories to a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that Washington undermined by quitting last year, setting Iran’s already fragile relations with the West on a downward spiral.
    Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work in return for lifting sanctions.    The European countries opposed the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the agreement last year, but have so far failed to fulfill promises to Iran of providing alternative means for it to access world trade.
EXTREME DISAPPOINTMENT
    “Just spoke to … Zarif and expressed extreme disappointment that having assured me last Saturday Iran wanted to de-escalate situation, they have behaved in the opposite way,” Hunt wrote on Twitter.    “This has to be about actions not words if we are to find a way through.”
    Earlier he said London’s reaction would be “considered but robust” and it would ensure the safety of its shipping.
    On Friday, Hunt said the solution would be found via diplomacy and London was “not looking at military options.”    Britain’s government said it had advised British shipping to stay out of the Hormuz area for an interim period.
    During the past three months of escalation, the United States and Iran come as close as ever to direct armed conflict. In June, Tehran shot down a U.S. drone and President Donald Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off just minutes before were to have been carried out.
    The vessel had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait.
    The United States has blamed Iran for a series of attacks on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz.    Tehran has rejected the allegations.    Washington also said it had this week downed an Iranian drone near where the Stena Impero was seized.
    The United States is sending military personnel and resources to Saudi Arabia for the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt, John Irish in Paris, Stephen Addison in London, Michelle Nichols in New York, and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by John Stonestreet, Peter Graff and Will Dunham)

7/21/22019 Hong Kong on security alert as thousands march in fresh wave of protests by Donny Kwok and Felix Tam
Anti-extradition demonstrators march to call for democratic reforms, in Hong Kong, China July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tens of thousands marched in sweltering heat in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong on Sunday as anti-government protests show no signs of let-up, with anger over an extradition bill morphing into a fresh front against what many see as an erosion of freedoms.
    Millions have rallied over the past two months in an unprecedented show of force against Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, triggering the worst social turmoil to rock the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule 22 years ago.
    Protesters marched in temperatures of around 31 degrees Celsius (87.8°F) from Victoria Park in the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay to Wan Chai, just one metro stop away, after police shortened the route, citing safety concerns.
    Rally organizers lost their appeal to have the march route end at the Court of Final Appeal in Central district, close to where police in June fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse activists.
    “I think many people will just march on towards Central,” said pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo.     “The police are terribly worried, I understand, about possible scuffles, clashes … violence around the government and legislative complexes and the police headquarters.”
    Authorities used massive blue and white water barriers to barricade government and police headquarters, while global bank HSBC, in a rare move, pulled down large metal barriers on the street level of its gleaming skyscraper building.
    While most of the rallies have passed off peacefully, some have erupted into violence late at night when more radical protesters have clashed with police.
    In images beamed live to the world in recent weeks, protesters besieged police headquarters and on July 1 – the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule – stormed and ransacked the city’s legislature.
KILL BILL” CALL
    The latest protest comes a day after tens of thousands gathered to voice support for the police force, who some have accused of using excessive force against activists, and call for an end to the violence.
    While some at Sunday’s march are calling for universal suffrage, a key demand is for the now-shelved extradition bill, which would have allowed people to be sent to China for trial, to be fully withdrawn.
    Other demands include charges against protesters to be dropped and for an independent commission of inquiry into complaints of excessive use of force by police.
    “I came back to Hong Kong this summer because of the protests,” said Mandy Ko, 27, who is originally from Hong Kong and now lives in Australia.
    “My spirit is still with Hong Kong people.”
    Last weekend, two initially peaceful protests degenerated into running skirmishes between baton-wielding police and activists, resulting in scores of injuries and more than 40 arrests.
    Lam has apologized for the turmoil the extradition bill has caused and declared it “dead.”    Opponents of the bill, which they fear could be used to silence dissent, say nothing short of its withdrawal will do.
    Under the terms of the handover from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong was allowed to retain extensive freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a “one country, two systems” formula, including an independent judiciary and right to protest.
    But for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.
    The protests have at times paralyzed parts of the financial district, shut government offices and disrupted business operations across the city.    Officials have also warned about the impact of the unrest on the economy.
    A commentary published in the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper on Sunday said: “If violence continues, it will inevitably deal a greater blow to Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”
    China has condemned the violent protests as an “undisguised challenge” to the one country, two systems formula.
    Police late on Friday seized a cache of explosives and weapons in an industrial building in the New Territories district of Tsuen Wan.    Three people were arrested in connection with the seizure, which police described as the largest ever of its kind in Hong Kong.
    They said it was unclear if the explosives were related to the protest.
(Reporting by Donny Kwok and Felix Tam in HONG KONG; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/21/2019 U.S. to press Pakistan PM on Afghan peace, terrorism crackdown by Doina Chiacu
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
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is likely to press Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for help on ending the war in Afghanistan and fighting militants when the two leaders meet at the White House on Monday amid their countries’ strained relations.
    Last year, Trump cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of offering “nothing but lies and deceit” while giving safe haven to terrorists, a charge angrily rejected by Islamabad.
    Khan, who arrived in Washington on Saturday, is expected to try to mend fences and attract much-needed U.S. investment, hoping the arrest last week of a militant leader with a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head will lead to a warmer reception.
    “The purpose of the visit is to press for concrete cooperation from Pakistan to advance the Afghanistan peace process and to encourage Pakistan to deepen and sustain its recent effort to crackdown on militants and terrorists within its territory,” a senior U.S. administration official said.
    The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States wants to make clear to Pakistan that it is open to repairing relations if Pakistan changes how it handles “terrorists and militants.”
    In Afghanistan, the official said, the peace process is at a critical point and Washington wants Pakistan “to pressure the Taliban into a permanent ceasefire and participation in inter-Afghan negotiations that would include the Afghan government.”
    Trump wants to end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s cooperation will be essential to any deal to end the war and ensure the country does not become a base for militant groups like Islamic State.
    Khan’s visit follows the arrest on Wednesday of Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of a four-day militant attack on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, news that Trump welcomed on Twitter.
    However, Pakistan has yet to release Shakil Afridi, the jailed doctor believed to have helped the CIA hunt down Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
    The imprisonment of Dr. Shakil Afridi has long been a source of tension between Pakistan and the United States.    Washington continues to call for his immediate release, the U.S. official told reporters on Friday.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Saad Sayeed and Mehr Nadeem in Islamabad; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

7/21/2019 Chinese companies looking to buy U.S. farm products: Xinhua
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
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Some Chinese companies are seeking new purchases of U.S. agricultural products, China’s official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday, citing authorities, as Beijing and Washington look for ways to end a protracted trade war.
    U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at last month’s G20 summit in Osaka to restart trade talks that stalled in May.
    Trump said at the time he would not impose new tariffs and U.S. officials said China agreed to make agricultural purchases.    But Trump said on July 11 that China was not living up to promises to buy U.S. farm goods.
    Chinese businesses have made inquiries with U.S. exporters to buy crops and agricultural products and applied for the lifting of tariffs, Xinhua said, citing Chinese authorities.
    China’s Customs Tariff Commission will arrange for experts to appraise the Chinese companies’ tariff exclusion applications, Xinhua said.
    “Relevant Chinese departments expressed hope that the United States would meet China halfway, and earnestly implement the United States’ relevant promises,” the news agency said, without elaborating.
    The world’s two largest economies have been embroiled in a tariff battle since July 2018, as the United States presses China to address what it sees as decades of unfair and illegal trading practices.
    China has countered that any trade deal needs to be fair and equitable, leaving the two sides apparently still far from an agreement to end the back-and-forth that has rocked global supply chains and upended financial markets.
    Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of China’s nationalist Global Times newspaper, tweeted in English earlier on Sunday that Chinese importers have started arrangements for purchasing U.S. agricultural products, and suggested that the United States and China could soon resume in-person trade talks.
    “This is a prominent part from [the] Chinese side as the two countries have signaled goodwill to each other recently.    It also indicates China-U.S. trade consultations will restart soon,” Hu said.
    Trump said on Friday that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had a very good talk with his Chinese counterpart the day before.    He has also touted U.S. economic performance, and said China is “not doing very well.”
    China has confirmed that Vice Premier Liu He and Commerce Minister Zhong Shan spoke by phone on Thursday with Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer regarding “further consultations, as well as the implementation of presidential consensus reached in Osaka.”
    China made its biggest purchase of U.S. sorghum since April earlier this month, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data issued on Thursday.
    China, which is the world’s top soybean importer, also canceled purchases of 9,853 metric tons of U.S. soy this month, according to Thursday’s USDA data.    It was China’s first weekly net cancellation of soybeans since April.
(Reporting by Michael Martina, editing by Louise Heavens)

7/22/2019 Hong Kong police criticized over failure to stop attacks on protesters by James Pomfret and Donny Kwok
Men in white T-shirts and carrying poles are seen in Yuen Long after attacking anti-extradition bill
demonstrators at a train station in Hong Kong, China, July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police faced criticism on Monday for an apparent failure to protect anti-government protesters and passersby from attack by what opposition politicians suspected were gang members at a train station on the weekend.
    The attack on Sunday came during a night of escalating violence that opened new fronts in Hong Kong’s widening political crisis over an extradition bill, that could see people sent to China for trial.
    Protesters had earlier on Sunday surrounded China’s main representative office in the city and defaced walls and signs and clashed with police.
    The city’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, condemned the attack on China’s main office in the city, the Central Government Liaison Office, saying it was a “challenge” to national sovereignty.
    She condemned violent behavior of any kind and said she had been shocked by the clashes at the station, adding police would investigate fully.
    “Violence will only breed more violence,” Lam said while flanked by senior city officials.
    Some politicians and activists have linked Hong Kong’s shadowy network of triad criminal gangs to political intimidation and violence in recent years, sometimes against pro-democracy activists and critics of Beijing.
    On Sunday night, scores of men in white T-shirts, some armed with clubs, flooded into the rural Yuen Long station, and stormed a train, attacking passengers with pipes, poles and other objects, according to video footage.
    Witnesses, including Democratic lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, said the men appeared to target black-shirted passengers who had been at an anti-government march.
    Lawmaker Lam, who was wounded in the face and hospitalized, said the police ignored calls he made, pleading with them to intervene to prevent bloodshed.
    “They deliberately turned a blind eye to these attacks by triads on regular citizens,” he told Reuters, saying the floors of the station were streaked with blood.
    “I won’t speculate on why they didn’t help immediately,” he said.
‘NOT A NORMAL CONFRONTATION’
    Forty-five people were injured in the violence at the station, with one in critical condition, according to hospital authorities.
    Hong Kong’s police chief Stephen Lo, asked about concern police had been slow to respond to the clash at the station, said there had been a need to “redeploy manpower from other districts.”
    Police stations nearby had closed given the risk of unrest, and a patrol on the scene needed to wait for reinforcements, he said.
    “We will pursue at all costs to bring the offenders to justice,” he told reporters, while pledging to restore public confidence in the police force.
    Asked by a reporter if police had colluded with triads at the station, Lo said the force had no links to triads.
    Witnesses saw groups of men in white with poles and bamboo staves at a nearby village but police later found no weapons and allowed the men to leave without making any arrests.
    “We can’t say you have a problem because you are dressed in white and we have to arrest you,” said Yau Nai-keung, an assistant police commander in the area.
    “We will treat them fairly no matter which camp they are in,” Yau said.
    Some banks and shops in the area closed early on Monday amid fears of more trouble.
    Hong Kong’s anti-triad police units in 2014 investigated the role of triad gangs attacking protesters during the pro-democracy demonstrations that shut down parts of the city for 79 days that year.
    Alvin Yeung, a barrister and lawmaker with the pro-democracy Civic Party, said he was sure the men were from gangs.
    “I hope that the police will not deceive themselves,” Yeung said.    “It is a triad fight, and not a normal confrontation.”
RUBBER BULLETS
    Hong Kong has been rocked by a series of sometimes violent protests for more than two months in its most serious crisis since Britain handed the Asian financial hub back to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Under the terms of the handover, Hong Kong was allowed to retain extensive freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a “one country, two systems” formula, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest.
    Many city residents fear that the proposed extradition law, which would allow people to be extradited to mainland China for trial, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party, would undermine Hong Kong’s judicial independence.
    The city’s Beijing-backed government, responding the scale of the protests, postponed it and later said it was “dead” but the protesters are demanding its full withdrawal, and calling on city leader Lam to resign – something she has declined to do.
    They are also demanding independent inquiries into the use of the police against protesters.    Some are also demanding full democracy – anathema to Beijing’s party leadership.
    On Sunday, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse activists after thousands had ringed Beijing’s Liaison Office.
    The police said in statement that protesters hurled bricks, smoke grenades and petrol bombs during the unrest that came after hundreds of thousands marched through the city streets.
    The Chinese government, including office director Wang Zhimin, condemned the turmoil, which included spray-painting and hurling eggs at walls and a national emblem at the office, saying the behavior challenged the “authority and dignity” of the Chinese government.
    A foreign ministry spokesman said such acts tested Beijing’s limits.br>     “Some radical protestor behavior violated our bottom line of ‘one country, two systems.’    We cannot tolerate that,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
    The unrest in Hong Kong marks the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
(Additional reporting by Felix Tam, Vimvam Tong, Greg Torode, Jessie Pang, Clare Jim, Alun John in Hong Kong; Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

7/22/2019 Britain weighs response to Iran Gulf crisis with few good options by Parisa Hafezi and Peter Graff
Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk, is seen at Bandar Abbas port,
in this undated handout photo. Iran, ISNA/WANA Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Britain was weighing its next moves in the Gulf tanker crisis on Sunday, with few good options apparent as a recording emerged showing that the Iranian military defied a British warship when it boarded and seized a ship three days ago.
    Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said she would chair a meeting of Britain’s COBR emergency response committee on Monday morning to discuss the crisis.
    Little clue has been given by Britain on how it plans to respond after Iranian Revolutionary Guards rappelled from helicopters and seized the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday in apparent retaliation for the British capture of an Iranian tanker two weeks earlier.
    Footage obtained by Reuters from an Iranian news agency on Sunday showed the tanker docked in an Iranian port — with Iran’s flag now hoisted atop.
    The British government is expected to announce its next steps in a speech to parliament on Monday.    But experts on the region say there are few obvious steps London can take at a time when the United States has already imposed the maximum possible economic sanctions, banning all Iranian oil exports worldwide.
    “We rant and rave and we shout at the ambassador and we hope it all goes away,” said Tim Ripley, a British defense expert who writes about the Gulf for Jane’s Defence Weekly.
    “I don’t see at this point in time us being able to offer a concession that can resolve the crisis.    Providing security and escort for future ships is a different matter.”
    A day after calling the Iranian action a “hostile act,” top British officials kept comparatively quiet on Sunday, making clear that they had yet to settle on a response.
    “We are going to be looking at a series of options,” junior defense minister Tobias Ellwood told Sky News.    “We will be speaking with our colleagues, our international allies, to see what can actually be done."
    “Our first and most important responsibility is to make sure we get a solution to the issue to do with the current ship, make sure other British-flagged ships are safe to operate in these waters and then look at the wider picture.”
GRAPHIC: Iran seizes British-flagged oil tanker – https://tmsnrt.rs/2O646ZX
MONTHS OF CONFRONTATION
    The Iranian capture of the ship in the global oil trade’s most important waterway was the latest escalation in three months of spiraling confrontation with the West that began when new, tighter U.S. sanctions took effect at the start of May.
    Washington imposed the sanctions after President Donald Trump pulled out of a deal signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, which had provided Iran access to world trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
    European countries including Britain have been caught in the middle.    They disagreed with the U.S. decision to quit the nuclear deal but have so far failed to offer Iran another way to receive the deal’s promised economic benefits.
    Britain was thrust more directly into the confrontation on July 4, when its Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar.    Britain accused it of violating sanctions on Syria, prompting repeated Iranian threats of retaliation.
    While Iran’s official line is that its capture of the Stena Impero was because of safety issues, it has done little to hide that the move was retaliatory.    The tactics it used — with masked troops rappelling from helicopters — matched those the British had used two weeks before.
    Parliament speaker Ali Larijani spelled it out more clearly on Sunday, telling a parliament session: “The Revolutionary Guards responded to Britain’s hijacking of the Iranian tanker.”     Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, blamed Washington and Trump’s hawkish national security adviser John Bolton for luring Britain into conflict.
    “Having failed to lure @realDonaldTrump into War of the Century … @AmbJohnBolton is turning his venom against the UK in hopes of dragging it into a quagmire,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.    “Only prudence and foresight can thwart such ploys.”
RADIO MESSAGES
    In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Britain said the Stena Impero was approached by Iranian forces in Omani territorial waters, where it was exercising its lawful right of passage, and that the action “constitutes illegal interference.”
    Britain’s warship in the Gulf, the HMS Montrose, contacted an Iranian patrol vessel in an effort to ward off a boarding of the Stena Impero, according to radio messages provided to Reuters by maritime security firm Dryad Global.
    “Please confirm that you are not intending to violate international law by unlawfully attempting to board,” the Montrose said in the radio message.
    The Iranian patrol boat is heard instructing the Stena Impero to alter course.    Responding to the Montrose, it says it intends to “inspect the ship for security purposes.”
    Defense expert Ripley noted that Iran’s choice of target appeared to have been calibrated to test Britain’s response without provoking a bigger crisis.
    Unlike the Iranian tanker seized a fortnight earlier, which was carrying a valuable cargo of 2 million barrels of oil, the Stena Impero was on its way to the Gulf and empty at the time it was seized. The 23 crew are mainly Indians and include no British citizens, the presence of which might have led to calls in London to take more drastic action, Ripley said.
    He added that Iran is likely to view any British response through the wider prism of its conflict with the United States.
    “If the Americans are going to continue to enforce this embargo, there’s no incentive for the Iranians not to take more tankers.    What have they got to lose?” said Ripley.
    An Iranian official who asked not to be identified made a similar point.
    “Iran is displaying its power without entering a military confrontation,” the official said.    “This is the result of America’s mounting pressure on Iran.”
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London, Asma Sharif, Lisa Barrington and Tuqa Khalid in Dubai; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Peter Graff; Editing by David Goodman)

7/22/2019 China says U.S. criticism over South China Sea is slander
FILE PHOTO - U.S. national security adviser John Bolton looks on as U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump
acknowledge former astronauts and their family members during an Apollo 11 moon landing 50th anniversary commemoration
in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Remarks by U.S. officials on China’s role in the South China Sea are slanderous, its foreign ministry said on Monday, after the United States voiced concern over reports of Chinese interference with oil and gas activities in the disputed waters.
    China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested, all or in part, by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
    On Saturday, the U.S. State Department said China’s repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states threatened regional energy security and undermined the free and open Indo-Pacific energy market.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s hawkish national security adviser John Bolton also said on Twitter that China’s coercive behavior towards its Southeast Asian neighbors was counterproductive and threatened regional peace and stability, echoing earlier comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
    In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said such comments by Bolton and Pompeo were baseless, adding that the United States and other “external forces” were stirring up trouble in the South China Sea.
    “This is slander against Chinese and Southeast Asian countries’ efforts to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea and properly manage differences,” Geng told a news briefing on Monday.    “Countries and people in the region will not believe their words.”
    He added, “We urge the United States to stop such irresponsible behavior and respect the efforts of China and ASEAN countries to resolve differences through dialogue and work for peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
    U.S.-based think tanks have reported that Chinese and Vietnamese vessels have engaged in a standoff for several weeks near an oil block in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.
    Vietnam, which for years has been embroiled in a dispute with China over the potentially energy-rich region, on Friday accused a Chinese oil survey vessel and its escorts of violating its sovereignty and demanded that China remove the ships from Vietnamese waters.
    The busy waterway of the South China Sea is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship.
    The two countries have repeatedly traded barbs over what Washington calls Beijing’s militarisation of the waters by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs.
    China says the United States is to blame for tension by repeatedly sending warships close to Chinese-held islands, and that China’s sovereignty in the area is irrefutable.
    ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
(Reporting by Catherine Cadell; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

7/22/2019 Hong Kong leader says ‘attack’ on China rep office a challenge to national sovereignty
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam holds a news conference in Hong Kong, China July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s leader on Monday strongly condemned some anti-government protesters for an “attack” on China’s main representative office in the city.
    On Sunday police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse activists after they had fled China’s Liaison Office, its main representative branch in the city, after defacing some walls and a national emblem.
    Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said the targeting of the office was a “challenge” to national sovereignty, condemning violent behavior of any kind.
    She also described as “shocking” an apparent attack by organized triad criminal gangs on ordinary citizens and protesters at a train station on Sunday, saying authorities would investigate fully.
(Reporting by Donny Kwok, James Pomfret; Editing by Kim Coghill)

7/22/2019 Cannabis among top priorities for new Thai government
FILE PHOTO: Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives for a photo session with the
new government cabinet in Bangkok, Thailand July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Developing a medical cannabis industry is among top policy priorities for Thailand’s new government, according to a document released before the formal announcement.
    Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former junta leader who heads a civilian government following March elections, is due to set out the policies for debate in the national assembly on Thursday. The policy document was released on Sunday.
    Developing the medical cannabis industry was a key demand of the Bhumjaithai party, one of the biggest parties in Prayuth’s 19-party coalition.
    “The study and technological development of marijuana, hemp, and other medicinal herbs should be sped up for the medical industry to create economic opportunity and income for the people,” the policy document said.
    Thailand, which had a tradition of using cannabis to relieve pain and fatigue, legalized marijuana for medical use and research last year.
    Bhumjaithai party leader Anutin Charnvirakul, now a deputy prime minister and health minister, said his goal was to enable all Thais to grow marijuana to make money.
    Anutin told local media it was important to remove hemp with a high level of cannabidiol (CBD) from the list of banned drugs for cultivation and then to free up hospitals to prescribe drugs containing the chemical compound.
    Among other urgent government priorities were addressing drought, labor and economic problems.
    Also on the list was a study to amend a new constitution that critics say preserves the hold of the military indefinitely.    This study had been a demand of another coalition partner, the Democrat Party.
    However, any constitutional changes would require the support of the Senate – which is entirely made up of appointees of the previous junta.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Michael Perry)

7/22/2019 Japan’s Abe says will make every effort to reduce tension with Iran by Elaine Lies and Linda Sieg
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is also leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), puts a rosette on the name of a
candidate who is expected to win the upper house election, at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan wants to make every effort to reduce tension between the United States and Iran before responding to an expected U.S. request to send its navy to guard strategic waters off Iran, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday.
    Japanese media have said a U.S. proposal to boost surveillance of Middle East oil shipping lanes off Iran and Yemen, where the United States says Iran and its proxies have carried out tanker attacks, could be on the agenda during this week’s visit by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton.
    Abe said that before making a decision on joining the United States, Japan would like to fulfill what it sees as a unique role it has to play in reducing tension.
    “We have a long tradition of friendship with Iran and I’ve met with its president any number of times, as well as other leaders,” Abe told a news conference a day after his coalition’s victory in an election for parliament’s upper house.
    “Before we make any decisions on what to do, Japan would like to make every effort to reduce tensions between Iran and the United States.”
    Japan needed to gather information on what the United States is thinking and what it hoped to accomplish, Abe said, adding that the two allies remained in close contact.
    Bolton, who heads to South Korea after Japan, met Japanese national security adviser Shotaro Yachi and Foreign Minister Taro Kono and later described his talks with Kono as “useful.”
    “We had a very productive discussion, we talked about a very wide range of issues,” Bolton told reporters.
    During his news conference, Abe also called for debate on revising Japan’s post-war, pacifist constitution, saying Sunday’s election result showed it was what voters wanted.
    Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition won a solid majority, but together with like-minded allies, fell short of the two-thirds “super majority” needed to begin amending a constitution that has not been changed since it was adopted after Japan’s World War Two defeat.
    Abe has long sought to revise the constitution’s pacifist Article 9 to further legitimize the military, but public opinion is divided.
    He is expected to try to win backing from members of the second-largest opposition party, the Democratic Party for the People.
    “The judgment of the people was that debate should take place,” Abe said.    “I want to have serious debate that goes beyond the boundaries of ruling versus opposition parties.”
    The solid showing of Abe’s bloc means he has avoided becoming a lame duck in the final two years of his third three-year term as party leader and is on track to become Japan’s longest-serving premier if he stays in his post until November.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

7/22/2019 Britain calls for European naval mission to counter Iran’s ‘piracy’ by Kylie MacLellan and Michael Georgy
FILE PHOTO - The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    LONDON/DUBAI (Reuters) – Britain called on Monday for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, days after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in what London described as an act of “state piracy” in the strategic waterway.
    Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt outlined the plans to parliament after a meeting of COBR, the government’s emergency committee, which discussed London’s response to Friday’s capture of the Stena Impero tanker by Iranian commandos at sea.
    “Under international law, Iran had no right to obstruct the ship’s passage – let alone board her.    It was therefore an act of state piracy,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told parliament.
    “We will now seek to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to support safe passage of both crew and cargo in this vital region,” Hunt said.
    The British announcement signals a potential shift from Washington’s major European allies who so far have been cool to U.S. requests that they beef up their military presence in the Gulf, for fear of feeding the confrontation there.
    It is unclear how much influence Britain may have in Europe given it is about to have a new prime minister, widely expected to be Boris Johnson, who takes over a country divided over Brexit, its planned departure from the European Union.
    Hunt made a point of saying that the maritime protection proposal would not involve contributing European military power to back Washington’s hardline stance against Iran.
    The proposed new maritime protection mission “will not be part of the U.S. maximum pressure policy on Iran because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement,” he said.
    In Nicaragua, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the British tanker of endangering shipping by turning off its signal for longer than permitted and by “passing through the wrong channel.”
    Zarif said Iran’s actions were not in retaliation for the British capture of an Iranian tanker two weeks earlier in Gibraltar and he warned the West against “starting a conflict,” saying Tehran was not seeking confrontation.
    “Starting a conflict is easy, ending it would be impossible,” Zarif told reporters after meeting his Nicaraguan counterpart.    “It’s important for everybody to realize, it’s important for Boris Johnson to understand, that Iran does not seek confrontation.”br>     Iran seizes tanker: https://tmsnrt.rs/2O646ZX
U.S. TARGETS CHINESE COMPANY
    Washington’s major European allies Britain, France and Germany all opposed U.S. President Donald Trump decision last year to abandon an international agreement that gave Iran access to trade in return for accepting curbs on its nuclear program.
    In the latest element of the U.S. pressure campaign, the United States said it had sanctioned China’s state-run energy company Zhuhai Zhenrong Co Ltd for allegedly violating restrictions imposed on Iran’s oil sector, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
    The Europeans have tried to stay neutral as tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington.    But Britain was plunged directly into the crisis on July 4 when it seized an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
    Iran repeatedly threatened to retaliate, culminating with its seizure of the Stena Impero on Friday using the same tactics – commandos rappelling to the deck from helicopters – that British Royal Marines had used aboard Iran’s own ship.
    The United States has an aircraft carrier strike group in the Gulf and a navy that is far more powerful than those of all its European allies combined.    But it has made a point in recent weeks of saying it cannot protect shipping on its own.
    Asked about the capture of the British ship, Pompeo said: “The responsibility … falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships.”
    Almost a fifth of the oil consumed globally passes through the Strait of Hormuz.
IRAN SAYS IT HAS ARRESTED SPIES
    In a separate development that could generate more tensions, Iran said it had arrested 17 spies working for the CIA and sentenced some of them to death, an announcement Trump called “totally false.”
    Iranian state television published images it said showed CIA officers who had been in touch with the suspected spies.    The Ministry of Intelligence said the 17 spies had been arrested in the 12 months to March 2019.
    Such announcements are not unusual in Iran and are often made for domestic consumption, although the timing suggests the possibility of an intention to link it to the Gulf crisis.
    Trump later told reporters it was getting harder for him to want to make a deal with Iran.
    Trump has said the 2015 nuclear deal reached by his predecessor Barack Obama is too weak and new sanctions are needed to force Iran to renegotiate it.    Tehran has said it cannot negotiate unless Washington lifts sanctions and abides by the agreement.
    Tensions have risen since May, when the United States closed sanctions loopholes to try to halt all Iranian oil exports.    Since then Washington has accused Tehran of attacking ships and Iran has breached limits in the deal.
(Reporting by bureaux in Dubai, London, Washington Managua; Writing by Michael Georgy, Peter Graff and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Jon Boyle and Will Dunham)

7/22/2019 Trump says China’s Xi has acted responsibly on Hong Kong protests
FILE PHOTO - Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the session 3 on women's workforce participation, future of work,
and ageing societies at the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, 2019. Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he believed Chinese President Xi Jinping has acted “very responsibly” with the protests in Hong Kong over an extradition bill that could see people from the territory sent to China for trial.
    “We’re working on trade deals right now.    We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House before an unrelated meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
    Hong Kong has been hit by a series of sometimes violent protests for over two months – its most serious crisis since the city was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 but with democratic freedoms under a “one country, two systems” formula.
    “I know that that’s a very important situation for President Xi,” Trump said, adding that “China could stop them if they wanted.”
    “I think that President Xi of China has acted responsibly, very responsibly.”    Trump told reporters.    “I hope that President Xi will do the right thing.”
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; writing by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; editing by Grant McCool)

7/23/2019 China tells U.S. to remove ‘black hands’ from Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: Anti-extradition demonstrators run from tear gas after a march of to call for
democratic reforms, in Hong Kong, China July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China accused U.S. officials on Tuesday of being behind violent protests in Hong Kong and advised them to remove their “black hands” from the territory.
    Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the comment at a news briefing in Beijing, when asked about the Hong Kong protests.
    Escalating violence in the city over the weekend opened new fronts in its crisis over an extradition bill that could see people from the territory sent to China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts.
(Reporting by Catherine Cadell; Writing by Michael Martina)

7/23/2019 North Korea’s Kim inspects new submarine, signals possible ballistic missile development by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a submarine factory in an undisclosed location, North Korea, in this
undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 23, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected a large newly built submarine, state news agency KCNA reported on Tuesday, potentially signaling continued development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program.
    Kim inspected the operational and tactical data and combat weapon systems of the submarine that was built under “his special attention,” and will be operational in the waters off the east coast, KCNA said.
    KCNA said the submarine’s operational deployment was near.
    “The operational capacity of a submarine is an important component in national defense of our country bounded on its east and west by sea,” Kim said.
    KCNA did not describe the submarine’s weapon systems or say where and when the inspection took place.
    North Korea has a large submarine fleet but only one known experimental submarine capable of carrying a ballistic missile.
    Analysts said that based on the apparent size of the new submarine it appears designed to eventually carry missiles.
    “We can clearly see that it is a massive submarine – much larger than the existing one that’s been well known since 2014,” said Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the U.S.-based Federation of American Scientists.
    “What I find significant about the political messaging here is that this is the first time since a February 2018 military parade that he has inspected a military system clearly designed to carry and deliver nuclear weapons.”
    “I take that as an ominous signal that we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s end-of-year deadline for the implementation of a change in U.S. policy with the utmost seriousness.”
    A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said they were monitoring developments but could not confirm if the submarine was designed to carry missiles.
    Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said Kim likely also wanted to reassure North Koreans of his commitment to national defense at a time when he is focusing more on the economy.
    “Announcing his inspection of the new submarine is also to build internal solidarity, to dispel people’s concerns about national security, reassure them, and boost military morale,” he said.
SUBMARINE DEVELOPMENT
    Kim has declared a moratorium on testing ICBMs and nuclear weapons while engaging in denuclearization talks with the United States and South Korea.
    The North’s submarine report comes amid another delay in dialogue between the United States and North Korea after Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed at a meeting at the Panmunjom Korean border on June 30 to working-level nuclear talks.
    Trump said such talks could come in the following two to three weeks.    His national security advisor, John Bolton, arrives in South Korea on Tuesday to meet security officials.
    A summit between Trump and Kim, in Vietnam in February, broke down after they failed to narrow differences between a U.S. demand for North Korea’s denuclearization and a North Korean demand for sanctions relief.
    In April, Kim said he would wait until the end of the year for the United States to be more flexible.
    North Korea maintains one of the world’s largest submarine fleets, but many vessels are aging and there are doubts over how many are operational, according to the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
    Most of North Korea’s fleet consists of small coastal submarines, but in recent years it has made rapid progress in the SLBM program, NTI said in a report released late last year.
    In 2016, after a few years of development, North Korea successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine, while pursuing an intercontinental ballistic missile program (ICBM).
    During the submarine inspection Kim was accompanied by Kim Jong Sik, an official who played a major role in North Korea’s missile program.
    Another official on the tour was Jang Chang Ha, president of the Academy of the National Defence Science, which the U.S. Treasury has said is in charge of the secretive country’s research and development of its advanced weapons systems, “including missiles and probably nuclear weapons.”
    H.I. Sutton, a naval analyst who studies submarines, said judging by the initial photos the hull could be based on old Romeo Class submarines, which were originally acquired from China in the 1970s before North Korea began producing them domestically.
    North Korea is believed to have about 20 Romeo submarines in its fleet, the newest of which was built in the mid 1990s, according to NTI.
    Sutton told Reuters that the North Koreans appeared to have raised the deck on a Romeo-type design, possibly even modifying an existing Romeo to make a submarine larger than previous indigenous designs.
    “I’d bet that this is indeed a missile submarine,” he said.
    U.S.-based monitoring group 38 North said in June 2018 that North Korea appeared to be continuing submarine construction at its Sinpo Shipyard of possibly another Sinpo-class ballistic missile submarine, based on commercial satellite imagery.
    “This, to my eye, is the submarine that the U.S. intelligence community has been calling the Sinpo-C, a successor to North Korea’s only known ballistic missile submarine,” Panda said.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith; Editing by Jack Kim, Paul Tait, Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore)

7/23/2019 Iran observes all U.S. ships in Gulf region: Iran navy chief
FILE PHOTO: Fleet replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn (T-AO 198) steams out to sea after a vertical replenishment with
amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), Arabian Sea off Oman, July 19, 2019.Justin D. Rankin/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran observes all U.S. ships in the Gulf region and has an archive of images of their daily movements, the head of Iran’s navy, Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, said on Tuesday, according to the Young Journalists Club news site.
    Iran and the United States came to the brink of war last month after the Islamic Republic shot down a U.S. drone, nearly prompting a retaliatory attack which U.S. President Donald Trump called off at the last minute.
    Tensions have also spiked between Iran and Britain after the Islamic Republic seized a British-flagged tanker last Friday because it had collided with a fishing vessel, according to Iranian officials.
    British Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar in early July, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.
    “We observe all enemy ships, particularly (those of) America, point-by-point from their origin until the moment they enter the region,” Khanzadi said, noting that images were recorded using Iranian drones.
    “We have complete images and a large archive of the daily and moment-by-moment traffic of the coalition forces and America.”
    Iran will hold joint naval exercises with allied countries for the first time by the end of the Iranian calendar year, which is in March 2020, Khanzadi said.
    He did not specify which countries might take part in the exercise.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Gareth Jones)

7/23/2019 U.S. sanctions Chinese oil buyer over alleged Iran violations
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside
an Iranian flag in the Gulf July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has sanctioned Chinese state-run energy company Zhuhai Zhenrong Co Ltd for allegedly violating restrictions imposed on Iran’s oil sector, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a speech on Monday.
    “We’ve said that we will sanction any sanctionable behavior, and we mean it,” Pompeo said in a speech in Florida in which he announced the move.
    It comes amid increased tensions between Iran and the West as well as between the United States and China, which have been engaged in a major trade war.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has stepped up its sanctions against Iran after breaking from a nuclear pact brokered between Tehran and other Western nations under the previous administration of President Barack Obama.
    In a later statement, Pompeo said Zhuhai Zhenrong “knowingly engaged in a significant transaction for the purchase or acquisition of crude oil from Iran” after the expiration of a U.S. sanctions waiver covering China on May 2.
    He said the sanctions blocked all property and interests in property of Zhuhai Zhenrong in the United States and barred its chief executive, Youmin Li, from entry into the country.
    “Any entity considering evading our sanctions should take notice of this action today,” Pompeo said.    “It underscores our commitment to enforcement and to holding the Iranian regime accountable.”
    China’s embassy in Washington rejected the U.S. stance.
    “China firmly opposes the U.S. imposition of unilateral sanctions and so-called ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ on China and other countries invoking its domestic law,” a spokesperson said by email.
    “We urge the U.S. to immediately correct its wrongdoing and earnestly respect other parties’ legal rights and interests.”    Zhuhai Zhenrong, which specializes mainly in buying Iranian oil and is based in Beijing, was previously sanctioned in 2012 by the Obama administration over its dealings with Iran.
    The company became a subsidiary of Macau-based, state-controlled conglomerate Nam Kwong Group in a merger mandated by Beijing in late 2015.    https://reut.rs/2GoN2rN
    In a brief statement on its website on Tuesday, Nam Kwong said Zhuhai Zhenrong had been “officially spun off” since Sept. 30, 2018.    Nam Kwong had “no equity ties, or any business or legal relations” with the oil trader, it said.
    A Nam Kwong spokesman declined to comment further.
    Analysts at ClearView Energy Partners said Zhuhai Zhenrong is largely disconnected from the Chinese financial system, which would limit the “contagion” of the sanctions to other entities and banking systems.    But they said Washington’s move was another shot across the bow to demonstrate the Trump administration’s stance on Iran.
    “We see the shot as being aimed just at China, but also at other potential buyers,” such as Turkey and possibly Russia, which could serve as a middleman for brokering oil from Iran to other countries, ClearView said.
    The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers.
    Last month, the U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, said Washington would sanction any country that continued to import Iranian oil and warned that it would look at reports of Iranian crude going to China.
    According to data from government and trade sources, Asia’s crude oil imports from Iran fell in May to the lowest in at least five years after China and India wound down purchases amid U.S. sanctions, while Japan and South Korea halted imports.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Timothy Gardner in Washington, and by Chen Aizhu in Singapore; writing by Susan Heavey; editing by Tom Brown, Simon Cameron-Moore and Richard Pullin)

7/23/2019 Afghanistan seeks clarification on Trump talk of wiping it out
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan
in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan called on Tuesday for an explanation of comments by U.S. President Donald Trump in which he said he could win the Afghan war in just 10 days by wiping out Afghanistan but did not want to kill 10 million people.
    Trump’s remarks followed a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on Monday during which Trump voiced optimism that Pakistan could help broker a political settlement to end the nearly 18-year-old war in Afghanistan.
    The comment about wiping out Afghanistan prompted a stiff response from its presidential palace, which has been excluded from talks between the United States and the Taliban and which accuses Pakistan of supporting the insurgency.
    “The Afghan nation has not and will never allow any foreign power to determine its fate,” the presidential palace said in a statement.
    “While the Afghan government supports the U.S. efforts for ensuring peace in Afghanistan, the government underscores that foreign heads of state cannot determine Afghanistan’s fate in absence of the Afghan leadership,” it said.
    It called for clarification of Trump’s statement.
    During his comments in Washington, Trump said that Pakistan was helping the United States “extricate” itself from Afghanistan, where the United States was acting as a “policeman” rather than fighting a war.
    If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week.    I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Trump told reporters at the White House where he was hosting a visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
    I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth.    It would be gone,” he said.
    It would be over in — literally, in 10 days.    And I don’t want to do — I don’t want to go that route.”
    Trump’s comments could further complicate efforts to reach a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
    U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who travels to Kabul on Tuesday to continue meetings, said on Twitter that Trump had reiterated the need for a negotiated peace.
    “There is no reasonable military solution to the war in Afghanistan, and that peace must be achieved through a political settlement,” Khalilzad said.
. (Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)
[To Afghanistan and Taliban, Trump is telling you look what he did to ISIS in Syria in a short time and he is saying that he could do the same to you, but he is hoping that you come to the peace table and offer to make your country stable again by making peace within your nation and have the lifestyle you want to live in, so make your decision on your destiny.].

7/23/2019 Trump touches off storm in India with Kashmir mediation offer by Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump (R) holds a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi never asked U.S. President Donald Trump to help mediate with Pakistan their dispute over the Kashmir region, the government said on Tuesday, after Trump’s comments set off a storm of criticism.
    Trump told reporters on Monday that Modi had asked him, during a meeting in Japan last month, if he would like to be a mediator on Kashmir, which is at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan.
    Trump was speaking at the White House just before he sat down for talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan who welcomed the U.S. effort to intercede, saying he would carry the hopes of more than a billion people in the region.
    But the comments triggered a political storm in India which has long bristled at any suggestion of third-party involvement in tackling Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region that it considers as an integral part of the country.
    The divided Himalayan region is claimed by both Hindu-majority India and Islamic Pakistan and the nuclear-armed neighbors have gone to war two times over the territory since independence in 1947.
    Pakistan has long pressed for the implementation of decades-old U.N. resolutions calling for a ballot for the region to decide its future.    India says the United Nations has no role in Kashmir, where separatist militants have been battling Indian forces for years.
.     Trump’s comments risked further straining political ties with India which are already under pressure over trade.
    Foreign Minister Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, who was part of the Indian delegation at the G20 meeting in Japan where Trump and Modi met, told agitated lawmakers that Modi did not seek any help from Trump over Kashmir.
    “The U.S. president made certain remarks to the effect he was ready to mediate if requested by India and Pakistan.    I categorically assure the house that no such request has been made by the prime minister, I repeat, no such request was made,” he told parliament.
    Tension between India and Pakistan has been high since an attack on an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in February claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group prompted India to send warplanes into Pakistan.
    Pakistan retaliated by ordering its jets into India’s side of Kashmir the following day, raising the prospect of a wider conflict.
    Jaishankar said there could be no third-party involvement in India’s problems with Pakistan.
    “I also reiterate that it has been India’s position that all outstanding issues are discussed only bilaterally.    I further underline any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross-border terrorism.”
    Pakistan denies Indian accusations that it gives material help to the militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir for nearly three decades, but says it gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.
‘PRAYERS’
    Soon after Trump’s remarks, the U.S. State Department said in a post on Twitter that it supported any dialogue between India and Pakistan but that Kashmir was a matter for the two countries.
    “While Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump administration welcomes Pakistan and India sitting down and the United States stands ready to assist,” it said.
    The Democratic chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, spoke to the Indian ambassador to say there was no change in the U.S. position on Kashmir, the committee said on Twitter.
    “Engel reiterated his support for the longstanding U.S. position on the Kashmir dispute, saying he supported dialogue between India & Pakistan, but the dialogue’s pace & scope can only be determined by India & Pakistan.”
    He also said that Pakistan must “dismantle the terrorist infrastructure” for any meaningful dialogue with India.
    Pakistan’s Khan and Kashmiri separatists welcomed U.S. intervention.
    “I can tell you right now Mr President you will have the prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate and resolve this issue,” Khan said.
    Kashmir separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said he would support any effort to end the conflict in the region in which tens of thousands have been killed, and the people of Kashmir would welcome Trump’s intervention.
    Trump and Khan also discussed ways to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.    The United States sees Pakistan’s cooperation as crucial to any deal to ensure the country does not become a base for militant groups like Islamic State.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/23/2019 First Russian-Chinese air patrol in Asia-Pacific draws shots from South Korea by Andrew Osborn and Joyce Lee
A Russian A-50 military aircraft flies near the disputed islands called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea,
in this handout picture taken by Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint Staff Office of the
Defense Ministry of Japan July 23, 2019. Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan/HANDOUT via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) – Russia carried out what it said was its first long-range joint air patrol in the Asia-Pacific region with China on Tuesday, a mission that triggered hundreds of warning shots, according to South Korean officials, and a strong protest from Japan.
    The flight by two Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers and two Chinese H-6 bombers, backed up by a Russian A-50 early warning plane and its Chinese counterpart, a KJ-2000, marks a notable ramping-up of military cooperation between Beijing and Moscow.
    That is something likely to worry politicians from Washington to Tokyo and could complicate relations and raise tension in a region that has for years been overshadowed by hostility between the United States and North Korea.
    While troops and naval ships from Russia and China have taken part in joint war games before, they have not, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defence, conducted such air patrols in the Asia-Pacific region together until Tuesday.
    “The joint patrol was carried out with the aim of deepening Russian-Chinese relations within our all-encompassing partnership, of further increasing cooperation between our armed forces, and of perfecting their capabilities to carry out joint actions, and of strengthening global strategic security,” the ministry said in a statement.
    Seoul and Tokyo, who both scrambled jets to intercept the Russo-Chinese mission, accused Russia and China of violating their airspaces, an allegation Moscow and Beijing denied.
    South Korean warplanes fired hundreds of warning shots towards the Russian A-50 military aircraft, defense officials in Seoul said, saying it was the first time a Russian military aircraft had violated South Korean airspace.
    Moscow denied all of those assertions.
    Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former colonel in the Russian army, predicted Russian-Chinese joint air patrols would soon be common in the region.
    “Such patrols will become a regular feature under a new agreement soon to be signed between Moscow and Beijing,” Trenin said on Twitter.    “Russo-Chinese entente grows thicker.”
    Lieutenant-General Sergei Kobylash, commander of Russia’s Long-Range Aviation, said in televised comments that the Russian planes had been airborne for 11 hours and covered around 9,000 km (5592 miles).
    Foreign fighter jets had escorted them on 11 separate occasions, he added.
    The South Korean defense ministry said the Russian and Chinese bombers had entered the Korea Air Defence Identification Zone (KADIZ) together early on Tuesday.
    The separate Russian A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft later twice violated South Korean airspace over Dokdo – an island that is controlled by Seoul and claimed by both South Korea and Japan, which calls it Takeshima – just after 9 a.m. (midnight GMT Monday), according to the South Korean military.
DIPLOMATIC PROTESTS
    Russia’s Defence Ministry said it did not recognize South Korea’s KADIZ, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the area was not territorial airspace and that all countries enjoyed freedom of movement in it.
    South Korean fighters did not fire any warning shots toward Russia’s two bombers, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement, which made no mention of any A-50 aircraft.
    It accused the two South Korean F-16 fighter planes of carrying out “unprofessional maneuvers,” of crossing the path of the Russian bombers, and of not communicating with them.
    If the Russian pilots had felt any threat to their safety, their response would have been swift, it added.
    Russia has handed South Korea’s military attache in Moscow a note protesting what it called “the illegal and dangerous actions” of Seoul’s pilots, Kobylash said.
    A South Korean defense ministry spokesman did not directly address the Russian accusation of reckless behavior.
    South Korea’s top security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, lodged a strong objection with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, asking the council to assess the incident and take appropriate action, South Korea’s presidential office said.
    “We take a very grave view of this situation and, if it is repeated, we will take even stronger action,” Chung said, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
    South Korea’s Foreign Ministry summoned Russian Deputy Chief of Mission Maxim Volkov and Chinese Ambassador Qiu Guohong to lodge a stern protest and strongly urge them to prevent a recurrence, said ministry spokesman Kim In-chul.
    Separately, Japan, which said it had also scrambled fighter aircraft to intercept the Russian and Chinese planes, lodged a complaint with both South Korea and Russia over the incident, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
    Tokyo criticized South Korea for taking action against a Russian plane over what Japan says is its airspace.
    “In light of Japan’s stance regarding sovereignty over Takeshima, the fact that the South Korean military aircraft carried out warning shots is totally unacceptable and extremely regrettable,” Suga told reporters.
    The South Korean jets loosed about 360 rounds of ammunition during the incident, an official at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
    “The South Korean military took tactical action including dropping flares and firing warning shots,” the South Korean Defence Ministry said.
    A South Korean defense official told Reuters a Russian A50 plane left South Korean airspace but then entered it again about 20 minutes later, prompting the South Koreans to fire more warning shots.
(Additional reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul, by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Makiko Yamazaki and Tim Kelly in Tokyo, Cate Cadell in Beijing, and Maria Kiselyova and Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Editing by Paul Tait, Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

7/23/2019 Pakistan Prime Minister Khan says he will try to persuade Taliban to meet Afghan government
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan
in Washington, U.S., July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said he would try meet with the Taliban in an effort to persuade the group to meet with the Afghan government, as the United States seeks to end the nearly 18-year old war.
    “I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government,” Khan said during an appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.
    Khan said a Taliban delegation had wanted to meet him a few months back but he did not because of opposition from the Afghan government.
    The United States and the Taliban are getting closer to a deal that is expected to be centered on a U.S. pledge to withdraw troops in exchange for a Taliban promise not to let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism, officials say.
    However, the Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government, denouncing it as a U.S puppet, but in an effort to foster Afghan reconciliation, a 60-strong delegation of citizens met the Taliban for two days of talks in Qatar from Sunday.
    Pakistan’s role in the peace negotiations is a delicate one.
    Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, a charge Pakistan denies, saying it has suffered heavily from the fighting.
    The United States has also pressed Islamabad to do more to curb militant groups based in its territory.
    Even as talks continue, the Taliban and the government have continued fighting.
    Afghan government forces mistakenly killed seven civilians, including children, in an attack on militants south of the capital, a provincial official said on Monday, the latest victims of a war undiminished by peace talks.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Idrees Ali; Editing by Susan Thomas)

7/23/2019 Exclusive: Britain wins early European support for Hormuz naval mission by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – France, Italy and Denmark gave initial support for a British plan for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, proposed after Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker, three senior EU diplomats said on Tuesday.
    The cautious backing at a meeting of EU envoys in Brussels contrasts sharply with the lukewarm response shown by European allies to a similar American call first voiced at NATO in late June, when countries feared they could make U.S.-Iranian tensions worse.
    “Britain’s request, rather than Washington’s, makes it easier for Europeans to rally round this,” one senior EU diplomat said.    “Freedom of navigation is essential, this is separate from the U.S. campaign of maximum pressure on Iran.”
    Britain tested the idea to senior EU diplomats at a meeting in Brussels, saying it would not involve the European Union, NATO or the United States directly, the diplomats said.
    It was the first formal European meeting since British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt outlined the plans to parliament on Monday to protect the Strait, through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes.
    Britain raised the plan after Friday’s capture of the Stena Impero tanker by Iranian commandos at sea.
    British foreign ministry and defense officials have also discussed a possible mission, which would likely involve not just ships but aircraft too, directly with their Italian, Spanish, French and German counterparts.
    A senior German diplomat in Berlin said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was in close contact with his British and French counterparts, Hunt and Jean-Yves Le Drian, to “contribute to the security” of the Gulf including on maritime security.
    The Netherlands is also assessing the British proposal, while a Spanish official said Madrid has held talks with London and was studying the idea.
    Iran has rejected the proposal and says foreign powers should leave securing shipping lanes to Tehran and others in the region.    Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq export most of their crude via the Strait.
    Despite an American push to protect the vital shipping lane, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the United States paid for a route it did not use it as much as in the past.
    “We don’t need it.    We’ve become an exporter,” he said at an event in Washington, referring to the United States’ rising energy exports.    “We’re the ones that policed it.    We never get reimbursed,” he said, suggesting it was up to China and Japan to do more.
    Given Britain’s plans to quit the EU, the mission will strive to be a looser coalition than that of the bloc’s anti-piracy naval mission, Atalanta, off the coast of Somalia and could also involve non-EU countries such as Norway.
    China has a military base in Djibouti, although there has been no discussion to involve Beijing, diplomats said.
    Britain aims to have further meetings with EU capitals including Stockholm, the diplomats said, while at the EU meeting in Brussels, Poland and Germany also showed interest.
    The mission could be run by a joint Franco-British command, one of the envoys said.    Britain has a naval base in Oman, while France has one in the United Arab Emirates.
    Any mission would still need parliamentary approval in some EU countries, diplomats said.
COALITION OF THE WILLING?
    Last Friday’s capture of the Stena Impero appears to have given Europeans new impetus.    The European Union recently had informal discussions about an EU mission to patrol the strategic waters off Iran and Oman.
    Any future mission would patrol waters, lead surveillance efforts and escort commercial vessels and coordinate with naval vessels in the area.    Any force would need to work with the United States, the world’s dominant military power.
    “There are still questions: to what extent should we draw on American help?    We would need to talk to them,” one envoy said.
    A U.S. request for an international mission to protect shipping, aired at a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels on June 27, was resisted by France and Germany. They worried that the U.S.-led military alliance would be dragged into a possible confrontation with Iran.
    Britain, France and Germany, with support from the rest of the EU, are trying to save the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and major powers, under which Tehran undertook to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
    Tension has mounted since Trump quit the pact last year and reimposed sanctions on Iran, crippling its economy, in an attempt to negotiate a new, broader deal with Tehran.
    The Europeans, who will discuss the state of the nuclear deal on Sunday in Vienna, along with China and Russia, reject the U.S. approach.
(Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Belen Carreno in Madrid and Alexandra Alper in Washington; Editing by Alison Williams and Frances Kerry)

7/23/2019 Iran observes all U.S. ships in Gulf region: Iran navy chief
FILE PHOTO: Fleet replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn (T-AO 198) steams out to sea after a vertical replenishment with amphibious
assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), Arabian Sea off Oman, July 19, 2019.Justin D. Rankin/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran observes all U.S. ships in the Gulf region and has an archive of images of their daily movements, the head of Iran’s navy, Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, said on Tuesday, according to the Young Journalists Club news site.
    Iran and the United States came to the brink of war last month after the Islamic Republic shot down a U.S. drone, nearly prompting a retaliatory attack which U.S. President Donald Trump called off at the last minute.
    Tensions have also spiked between Iran and Britain after the Islamic Republic seized a British-flagged tanker last Friday because it had collided with a fishing vessel, according to Iranian officials.
    British Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar in early July, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.
    “We observe all enemy ships, particularly (those of) America, point-by-point from their origin until the moment they enter the region,” Khanzadi said, noting that images were recorded using Iranian drones.
    “We have complete images and a large archive of the daily and moment-by-moment traffic of the coalition forces and America.”
    Iran will hold joint naval exercises with allied countries for the first time by the end of the Iranian calendar year, which is in March 2020, Khanzadi said.
    He did not specify which countries might take part in the exercise.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Gareth Jones)

7/23/2019 Japan scrambles fighters to intercept Russian and Chinese planes
A Russian TU-95 bomber flies over East China Sea in this handout picture taken by Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint
Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan July 23, 2019. Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan/HANDOUT via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s military scrambled fighter aircraft to intercept Russian and Chinese planes, it said on Tuesday, including an observation jet at which South Korean forces fired warning shots after it entered airspace over an island claimed by both Seoul and Tokyo.
    Japan, like South Korea, identified two Chinese H-6 bombers and two Russian TU-95 bombers flying over the strait between the countries.
    In addition, there was a Russian A-50 observation plane at which South Korea had fired warning shots after it passed close to the island it controls, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
    Japan regularly scrambles fighters to intercept Chinese and Russian aircraft that fly close to its territory, with 999 such intercepts in the twelve months that ended on March 31.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

7/24/2019 China warns of war in case of move toward Taiwan independence by Michael Martina
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds flags of Taiwan and the United States in support of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during an
stop-over after her visit to Latin America in Burlingame, California, U.S., January 14, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China warned on Wednesday that it was ready for war if there was any move toward Taiwan’s independence, accusing the United States of undermining global stability and denouncing its arms sales to the self-ruled island.
    The Pentagon said this month the U.S. State Department had approved sales of weapons requested by Taiwan, including tanks and Stinger missiles estimated to be worth $2.2 billion.
    China responded by saying it would impose sanctions on U.S. firms involved in any deals.
    Defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a news briefing on a defense white paper, the first like it in several years to outline the military’s strategic concerns, that China would make its greatest effort for peaceful reunification with Taiwan.
    “However, we must firmly point out that seeking Taiwan independence is a dead end,” Wu said.
    “If there are people who dare to try to split Taiwan from the country, China’s military will be ready to go to war to firmly safeguard national sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity,” he said.
    The United States is the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems a wayward province.    Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
    The United States has no formal ties with democratic Taiwan, but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself.
    The Chinese ministry said the United States had “provoked intensified competition among major countries, significantly increased its defense expenditure … and undermined global strategic stability.”
‘MALICIOUS ACTS’
    Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said later in a statement that Beijing’s “provocative behavior … seriously violated the peace principle in international laws and relations, challenging regional safety and order
    “We urge Beijing authorities to renounce irrational, malicious acts such as the use of force, and to improve cross-strait relations and handle issues including Hong Kong rationally, so that it can be a responsible regional member,” it said.
    In Beijing, asked how China’s military would handle escalating protest violence in Hong Kong’s widening crisis over a controversial extradition bill, Wu referred only to the territory’s garrison law, which he said “already has a clear stipulation.”
    That law states that the Hong Kong government can request the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison’s assistance to maintain public order.
    But legal scholars say it is a very high threshold, and some retired security officials say any involvement by PLA units in Hong Kong security would shatter the “one country, two systems” formula under which the former British colony returned to China in 1997.
    Wu also said reports of a secret pact with Cambodia granting China’s armed forces exclusive access to part of the Southeast Asian nation’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand were “not in accordance with the facts.”
    “China and Cambodia have in the past carried out positive exchanges and cooperation on military drills, personnel training and logistics,” he said.    “This kind of cooperation does not target any third party.”
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

7/24/2019 Iran is ready to negotiate but not if negotiations mean surrender: Iran president
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
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran is ready for “just” negotiations but not if they mean surrender, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, without saying what talks he had in mind.
    Rouhani seemed to be referring to possible negotiations with the United States.    U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year but has said he is willing to hold talks with the Islamic Republic.
    “As long as I have the responsibility for the executive duties of the country, we are completely ready for just, legal and honest negotiations to solve the problems,” Rouhani said, according to his official website.
    “But at the same time we are not ready to sit at the table of surrender under the name of negotiations.”
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Gareth Jones)

7/24/2019 Stena Bulk says spoke to seized tanker’s crew, all are safe and well
FILE PHOTO: Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk, is seen at Bandar Abbas port,
July 21, 2019. Picture taken July 21, 2019. Iran, Mizan News Agency/WANA Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – All 23 crew on a British-flagged tanker seized last week by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz are safe and well, the vessel’s Swedish operator Stena Bulk said on Wednesday after speaking to them.
    Iran said on Saturday it had seized the Stena Impero because it had collided with a fishing boat.    Stena Bulk has said it has received no evidence of such a collision.
    “We had direct contact with the crew on board the vessel last night by telephone and they’re all okay and in good health and they’re getting good cooperation with the Iranians on board,” the firm’s spokesman Pat Adamson said.
    Its CEO Erik Hanell said he hoped Tuesday’s contact was “a first sign that we will soon see more positive progress from the Iranian authorities.”
    Britain described the seizure as piracy and called on Monday for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait, a strategic waterway for oil transportation.
    Adamson said the next step for the operator would be to try and get somebody on board to check up on the crew, but that he had no timeline for when the crew might be repatriated.
    “We haven’t had any direct response from the Iranian authorities about visiting the vessel as yet but we hope we will have that soon,” he said.
    “All the appropriate governments and embassies are supporting and helping us.”
(Reporting by Esha Vaish in Stockholm; editing by John Stonestreet)

7/24/2019 Japan-South Korea tussle over disputed islands spreads to Olympics, again
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows a part of the group of islets known in South Korea as Dokdo and
in Japan as Takeshima in the Sea of Japan October 20, 2007. REUTERS/Yuri Maltsev/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – A war of words over ownership of a group of tiny islands in the sea between Japan and South Korea spilled over to the Olympics again as Tokyo on Wednesday criticized Seoul’s complaint over the labeling of a map of Japan on the Tokyo Games’ website.
    The neighbors are already at loggerheads over Japan’s export curbs on high-tech materials bound for South Korea, as well as the issue of compensation of South Koreans forced to work for Japanese companies during World War Two.
    Japan’s top government spokesman said South Korea had lodged a formal complaint that he called absolutely unacceptable, in view of the government’s stance that the islands, which it calls Takeshima, belong to Japan.
    Seoul also objects to the labeling of the sea between the neighbors solely as the Sea of Japan, preferring its own designation, the East Sea.
    “We communicated (to South Korea) that their position is absolutely unacceptable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference, adding that the state of relations was “very severe.”
    South Korea’s foreign ministry did not have an immediate comment.
    The two nations had a similar altercation at the winter Olympics, held in South Korea’s county of Pyeongchang last year.
    Ahead of that event, Japan protested at the inclusion of the islands, called Dokdo in South Korea, on a flag depicting a unified Korean peninsula.
    Athletes from North and South Korea marched together under the flag of white and pale blue at the opening ceremony.
    The islands were at the center of a more serious clash on Tuesday, when both South Korea and Japan responded to what they saw as a violation of their air space near the islands by Russian and Chinese military planes.
    Seoul, which controls the islands, fired hundreds of warning shots, and both countries scrambled jets to intercept the Russo-Chinese mission.
    Ties between Japan and South Korea have often been fraught over their shared history, stemming from Japan’s often brutal colonization of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Clarence Fernandez)

7/24/2019 Satellite images show Myanmar’s ‘minimal preparations’ for Rohingya return: think-tank
FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugee children play with a swing at Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar,
Bangladesh, November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo
    YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar has made “minimal” preparations for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees sheltering in neighboring Bangladesh, according to an Australian think-tank, despite the country saying it is ready to start repatriation.
    More than 700,000 Rohingya were forced to flee northern Rakhine state in western Myanmar during a 2017 military-led crackdown the United     Nations has said included mass killings and gang-rapes executed with “genocidal intent.”    Almost 400 Rohingya villages were burned to the ground during the violence.
    While authorities have promised to resettle the refugees, analysis of satellite imagery shows “no sign of reconstruction” in the overwhelming majority of their former settlements while, in some areas, destruction of residential buildings has continued, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said in a report released late on Tuesday.
    “The continued destruction of residential areas across 2018 and 2019 – clearly identifiable through our longitudinal satellite analysis – raises serious questions about the willingness of the Myanmar government to facilitate a safe and dignified repatriation process,” Nathan Ruser, one of the researchers at ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre, said in a statement.
    Spokesmen for the Myanmar government did not answer calls seeking comment. Kyaw Swar Tun, deputy director of the Rakhine General Administration Department, declined to comment.
    Myanmar has repeatedly said it is ready to take back refugees, blaming Bangladesh for failed efforts to kick-start returns.
    A report by the disaster management unit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) – a 10 nation regional body that includes Myanmar – had praised the country’s efforts to ensure “smooth and orderly” returns.
    The AHA Centre report, leaked to media in June, predicted that half a million refugees would come back within two years.
    Human rights groups said the assessment glossed over atrocities and ignored ongoing conflict in the region.    The U.N. has said conditions in Rakhine are not yet conducive for returns.
Government troops in the northern part of the state are now battling insurgents belonging to the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group seeking greater autonomy for the region that recruits from the mostly Buddhist majority.
    ASPI’s report described a pattern of “securitization” in the region since 2017, with six facilities suspected to be military bases built on top of former Rohingya settlements.
    A Reuters investigation in December 2018 found authorities have built houses for Buddhists in former Rohingya areas.    A resettlement map drafted by the government revealed that refugees, rather than returning to their original villages, would be herded into several dozen Rohingya-only settlements.
    In early July, the Indian government handed over 250 prefabricated houses in several villages in northern Rakhine to Hindu families displaced by the violence.    None of the homes were for Rohingya.
    “Hindus and Rakhine people lost their houses and we also lost ours,” Zuyarman, a Rohingya villager in Maungdaw township, told Reuters at the time.    “We Rohingya wish that we would have houses like them.”
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

7/24/2019 Four killed in attacks in Thailand as anger burns by Surapan Boonthanom and Panu Wongcha-um
Security investigate the checkpoint that was attacked by insurgents at Pattani,
southern Thailand, July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Surpan Bonthanom
    YALA/BANGKOK (Reuters) – Insurgents have killed four security personnel in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south, the regional security force said on Wednesday, amid anger over allegations that a rebel suspect was tortured into a coma.
    Two soldiers and two armed civilian volunteers were killed in the bombing and shooting attack at a checkpoint in Pattani province late on Tuesday, security force spokesman Pramote Prom-in told Reuters.
    He rejected any link between the attack and the questioning of Abdullah Isamusa, 32, who was taken to an army camp from his home on Saturday and found unconscious with fluid on the brain a day later.    Isamusa remains in hospital.
    “We have exerted more pressure on insurgent groups, blocking their access to villages to recruit more people.    Without that access they’re resorting to the same barbaric ways,” Pramote said.
    It was the deadliest attack in the largely ethnic Malay region since January. As with most such attacks, there was no claim of responsibility.
    Anger in the south has surged over allegations that Isamusa was abused and left with brain injuries.    An umbrella rebel group and civil society groups condemned the interrogation while many in the region voiced fury on social media.
    “We strongly condemn this inhumane act of cowardice, the severe violation of human rights and gross negligence during the interrogation process,” said Abu Hafez Al-Hakim of the MARA Patani umbrella body of insurgent groups, which has been in peace talks.
    Security force spokesman Pramote rejected accusations of abuse and said an independent investigation was taking place into the interrogation.
    The insurgency in predominantly Buddhist Thailand’s provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat has claimed the lives of nearly 7,000 people since 2004, according to monitoring group Deep South Watch group. Peace talks have largely stalled.
Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat were part of an independent Malay Muslim sultanate before Thailand annexed them in 1909.    Some rebel groups want an independent state.
(Additional reporting Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Nick Macfie)

7/24/2019 Afghan police pull back from isolated outposts as losses mount by Hamid Shalizi
FILE PHOTO: Afghan policemen inspect vehicles at a checkpoint in Helmand province, Afghanistan, February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Abdul Malik/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s badly stretched police are taking heavy casualties as attempts build to set up peace talks with Taliban militants, prompting a move to pull back from vulnerable outposts across the country.
    U.S. advisers have for years pushed commanders to abandon isolated checkpoints that serve little purpose beyond showing a presence but which act as a magnet for attacks by mobile Taliban fighters, increasingly armed with night-vision equipment.
    Following a change at the top of the interior ministry last year, officials say 6,452 police outposts and checkpoints all over Afghanistan are being assessed as part of efforts to reduce losses and cut the rate of desertion by police who feel abandoned by their commanders.
    Abdul Moqim Abdulrahimzai, director general of operations and plans at the interior ministry, said more than 210 police outposts and checkpoints had been closed in 17 provinces and another 200 had been identified for closure.
    “These remote outposts did not contribute to security and were setting ducks, a soft target for the Taliban to pick on them,” Abdulrahimzai said.
    “…Those areas will not be abandoned but will remain under our close surveillance and we will respond to security threats when needed,” he said.
    Fawad Aman, deputy spokesman for the Defence Ministry, said the government was also planning to merge several small, remote army outposts into larger bases.
    The government no longer issues detailed casualty figures but officials say around half of the tens of thousands of losses suffered over the years were at isolated checkpoints.
    Over the last three years, the 200 outposts identified for closure suffered 5,000 attacks that killed 2,260 police and wounded 3,601, according to an interior ministry document seen by Reuters.
    At just one outpost in a remote area of the southern province of Helmand, more than 300 police were killed during dozens of insurgent attacks in the same period.
    President Ashraf Ghani said last year 28,000 police and soldiers had been killed since 2015, with U.S. commanders warning that such losses are unsustainable.    U.S. officers estimate that forces operating mainly from checkpoints suffer around double the level of casualties as forces on maneuver.
    The issue has gained renewed importance as the Taliban negotiate with the United States over a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as a first step toward opening full peace talks with the Afghan government.
    At the same time, apparently aiming to strengthen their negotiating position, the Taliban have stepped up attacks on security forces, which have been heavily dependent on U.S. air support and intelligence.
    A mixture of institutional inertia, lack of training and a fear of being seen to abandon ground to the Taliban has helped keep hundreds of ineffective checkpoints open, observers say.
    Some police commanders also use highway checkpoints to levy illegal tolls from motorists and Abdulrahimzai said a number of checkpoints along the highway connecting the capital Kabul to the strategic southern province of Kandahar had been removed because the police extorted money from truck drivers.
    As the pullback continues however, officials must persuade the public that it means more than just abandoning ground to the Taliban.
    “Since the checkpoints have been removed, the Taliban usually come on the road and stop cars for inspection,” said Mohammad Aref, a taxi driver who travels the Kabul-Kandahar highway every day.
    “At least the checkpoints gave us a sense of security.    Now there is none.”
(Editing by James Mackenzie and Nick Macfie)

7/24/2019 Top Khamenei aide says no talks with U.S. under any circumstances by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Nafisa Eltahir
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during ceremony attended by
Iranian clerics in Tehran, Iran, July 16, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) – The top military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Tehran would not negotiate with the United States under any circumstances, an apparent hardening of its position as the Gulf tanker crisis escalates.
    The Swedish operator of a British-flagged oil tanker seized by Iran in the Gulf last week said it had been able to speak to crew members and all 23 of them were safe.
    “We had direct contact with the crew on board the vessel last night by telephone and they’re all okay and in good health and they’re getting good cooperation with the Iranians on board,” Stena Bulk spokesman Pat Adamson said.
    The company said it had no evidence that the ship had been involved in a collision, one of the reasons Iran has cited for sending commandos to capture it last Friday.
    The tough remarks by Khamenei’s aide, Hossein Dehghan, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards whose views are seen as reflecting those of Khamenei, appeared to take a firm line in response to Western proposals to beef up security in the Strait of Hormuz in the wake of the seizure of the ship.
    Dehghan said Iran would take action if the status of the strait were altered, and that no country would be allowed to ship oil through it unless all countries can.
    His remarks were reported by Al Jazeera television which did not supply direct quotes of an interview with him.    He singled out the United     Arab Emirates for criticism, saying it had become a base for attacks on Iran, and repeated earlier Iranian threats to attack all U.S. targets in the region in the event of war.
VOLATILE TIME
    Dehghan’s remarks appear to shift the Iranian position on talks with the United States.    In the past Tehran has said talks are possible although Washington must lift all sanctions first and return to the nuclear deal it abandoned last year.
    The Trump administration says the purpose of its sanctions is to force Iran to the negotiating table, and it is open to talks, but Iran must make the first move.
    Earlier on Wednesday, Iran’s pragmatist president, Hassan Rouhani, who has drawn fire from hardline clerical leaders for reaching the nuclear pact with world powers in 2015, said Iran was ready for “just negotiations” but not if they mean surrender.
    Britain has called for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the world’s most important oil artery after Iran seized the Stena Impero last week.    The United States is trying to rally support for a global coalition to secure Gulf waters, although allies have been reluctant to join a U.S.-led mission for fear of escalating confrontation.
    France, Italy and Denmark gave initial support to the British plan.    A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said Berlin was talking to Britain and France about the idea.
    The Trump administration abandoned the nuclear deal last year arguing that it was too weak because it did not cover non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s missile program and its regional behavior.    Dehghan repeated Iranian assertions that its missile program is non-negotiable.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/25/2019 Nuclear talks in doubt as North Korea tests missiles, envoy cancels trip by Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee
FILE PHOTO: South Korean people watch a live TV broadcast on a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
and U.S. President Donald Trump at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarised zone separating
the two Koreas, in Seoul, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea test-fired two new short-range missiles on Thursday, South Korean officials said, the first such launch since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to revive stalled denuclearization talks last month.
    South Korea’s Defence Ministry urged the North to stop acts that are unhelpful to easing tension, saying the tests posed a military threat.
    It was not immediately clear if the missiles used ballistic technology which would be a breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions targeting North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.
    North Korea launched the missiles from the east coast city of Wonsan with one flying about 430 km (267 miles) and the other 690 km (428 miles) over the sea.    They both reached an altitude of 50 km (30 miles), an official at South Korea’s Defence Ministry said.
(Graphic: Distance missiles flew – https://tmsnrt.rs/2ybKNnc)
(Graphic: Missile test chart – https://tmsnrt.rs/2LtaM2I)
    Some analysts said the North appears to have retested missiles it fired in May, but two South Korean military officials said the missiles appeared to be a new design.
    The launch casts new doubt on efforts to restart denuclearization talks after Trump and Kim met at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas at the end of June.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had been expected to meet on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian security forum in Bangkok next week.
    But a diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday that Ri had canceled his trip.
    The White House, Pentagon and U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    South Korea had detected signs prior to the launch and was conducting detailed analysis with the United States, the presidential Blue House said in a statement.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test had no immediate impact on Japan’s security, according to Kyodo News.
    U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has taken a hard line toward North Korea, made no mention of the launches in a tweet on Thursday after a visit to South Korea.    He said he had “productive meetings” on regional security.
    South Korea’s nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, had phone calls with his U.S. counterpart, Stephen Biegun, and his Japanese counterpart, Kenji Kanasugi, to share their assessment, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing that Beijing had noted the launch, calling for North Korea and the United States to reopen negotiations “as early as possible.”
‘CLEAR MESSAGE’
    After Trump and Kim met last month, the United States and North Korea vowed to hold a new round of working-level talks soon, but Pyongyang has since sharply criticized upcoming joint military drills by U.S. and South Korean troops.
    North Korea’s Foreign Ministry accused Washington this month of breaking a promise by holding military exercises with South Korea.    On Tuesday, Kim inspected a large, newly built submarine from which ballistic missiles could be launched.
    “By firing missiles, taking issue with military drills and showing a new submarine, the North is sending one clear message: there might be no working-level talks if the United States doesn’t present a more flexible stance,” said Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean nuclear envoy.
    Kim Dong-yup, a former navy officer who now teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said the weapons tested on Thursday appeared to be the same as the ones tested in May, which were less of a challenge than long-range missiles but “enough to subtly pressure” Washington.
    But the South Korean military believes they may be new, because they traveled further.    In May, the projectiles flew only 420 km (260 miles) and 270 km (168 miles) though they reached the same altitude of about 50 km (30 miles).
    “We’re very cautious because it’s difficult to extend the range within such a short time,” said one military official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
    Nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States stalled after a second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February broke down.
    Trump has repeatedly lauded the North’s freeze in weapons testing as he is keen for a big foreign policy win as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee, Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, and Huizhong Wu in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/25/2019 U.S. warship sails through Taiwan Strait, stirs tensions with China by Idrees Ali and Huizhong Wu
U.S. Navy sailors muster on the deck of the USS Antietam (CG-54) from the George Washington Battle Group before sailing to the
Philippines at Hong Kong Victoria Harbor November 12, 2013. A U.S. aircraft carrier set sail for the Philippines on Tuesday to
accelerate relief efforts after a typhoon killed an estimated 10,000 people in one coastal city alone, with fears the toll
could rise sharply as rescuers reach more isolated towns. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)
    BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China expressed “deep concerns” on Thursday over a U.S. Navy warship sailing through the Taiwan Strait, a day after Beijing warned that it was ready for war if Taiwan moved toward independence.
    Taiwan is among a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which include a 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.
    A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman in Beijing said China had “expressed deep concerns to the U.S. side” over its latest action in the strait separating China from Taiwan.
    “The Taiwan question is the most sensitive and important issue between China and the U.S.,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing.
    “We urge the U.S. to abide by the One China principle and the three joint communiques, to be prudent and act appropriately with regards to Taiwan so that it doesn’t harm China-U.S. relations and the peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait’s region.”
    China claims self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.
    On Wednesday, China warned that it is ready for war if there was any move toward Taiwan’s independence, accusing the United States of undermining global stability and denouncing its arms sales to the self-ruled island.
    The warship sent to the 112-mile-wide (180-km) Taiwan Strait was identified as the Antietam.
    “The (ship’s) 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 on Wednesday.    “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he added.
    The voyage risks further raising tensions with China but will likely be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.
    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.
    Taiwan’s defense ministry said the U.S. ship had sailed north through the Taiwan Strait in its freedom-of-navigation voyage and Taiwan had monitored the mission.
    “Taiwan makes no compromise on its freedom, democracy and sovereignty,” President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters in Taipei, when asked to comment on the U.S. warship’s passage through the strait.
    “The responsibility for cross-strait and regional stability lies with every party. China has the responsibility, and we will undertake ours, too,” Tsai said.
    China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over Taiwan, which it considers a wayward province of “one China” and sacred Chinese territory.
    On Wednesday, Chinese Defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a news briefing on a defense white paper, the first like it in several years to outline the military’s strategic concerns, that China would make its greatest effort for peaceful reunification with Taiwan.
    “If there are people who dare to try to split Taiwan from the country, China’s military will be ready to go to war to firmly safeguard national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity,” he said.
    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.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI; Editing by Leslie Adler, Robert Birsel & Simon Cameron-Moore)

7/25/2019 Three bombs kill 15 in Afghan capital as U.S. general visits by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
Hospital employees transport a wounded woman after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Three bombs rocked the Afghan capital of Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 15 people, officials said, as the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff was meeting top U.S. and NATO officials in the city.
    Eight employees of the ministry of mines and petroleum were killed and 27 wounded in an attack on their bus, ministry officials said in a statement.    Five women and a child were among the dead.
    Minutes after the blast, a suicide bomber blew himself up a few meters away, killing at least seven people and wounding 20.
    “First a magnetic bomb pasted to a minibus exploded, then a suicide bomber blew himself near the bus attack site and the third blast happened when a car was blown up by unknown militants,” said Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman of the interior ministry in Kabul.
    “The death toll could rise from all the three blasts,” he said.
    The Taliban, fighting to restore strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster at the hands of U.S.-led troops, claimed responsibility for the car bomb alone.
    Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said nine foreign forces were killed and two vehicles destroyed, but government officials did not confirm the Taliban claim.
    Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Marine General Joseph Dunford also met U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading talks with Taliban militants to end the 18-year-long war.
    The United States is trying to negotiate a deal that would see foreign forces pull out of Afghanistan in return for security guarantees by Taliban militants, including a pledge that the country will not become a safe haven for terror groups.
    Afghan security experts said the insurgents were increasing attacks to gain greater leverage in the peace talks.    The eighth round is expected to begin this month in Qatar.
    The Taliban also clashed with Afghan forces in northern province of Takhar to secure control over checkpoints and capture several districts.    Both sides said that they have inflicted heavy damage on their opponents.
    In the eastern province of Nangarhar, a roadside bomb hit a wedding party on Thursday.    Six women and three children were killed in the blast in Khogyani district, the provincial governor’s office said in a statement.
    No group has claimed responsibility for that attack.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Kabul, Ahmad Sultan in Jalalabad, Sardar Razmal in Kunduz, Writing by Rupam Jain,; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

7/25/2019 Pakistan opposition parties hold protest rallies against PM Khan by Gul Yousufzai
Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, addresses supporters during a countrywide protest called
"Black Day" against the government of prime minister Imran Khan, in Quetta, Pakistan July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed
    QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan’s main opposition parties held protest rallies in cities across the country on Thursday, accusing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government of ruining the economy and seeking to intimidate and silence its opponents.
    The so-called “Black Day” protests, a year after Khan’s PTI party swept to power following a bitterly contested election, come amid mounting economic problems for Pakistan and a political climate that has grown increasingly angry.
    Surging prices of fuel and everyday staples, a plunging currency that has lost a quarter of its value since the election and allegations of media censorship and stifling opposition voices has fueled the protests.
    “Every day in the presence of Imran Khan is a black day,” Maryam Nawaz, leader of the PML-N party that was ousted from power in last year’s election told a crowd of thousands of supporters in a football stadium in the western city of Quetta.
    She accused Khan of accepting “dictation” from U.S. President Donald Trump during his visit to Washington and proposed a march on the capital Islamabad but did not name a date.
    In Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, thousands of supporters of the PPP, Pakistan’s other main opposition party, gathered to hear party leader Bilawal Bhutto, son of the murdered former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
    Banners reading “PTI brought price hikes, PTI brought joblessness, PTI brought economic terrorism” hung over the main stage.    There were similar protests in other cities including Lahore and Peshawar.
    Khan’s government came to power with Pakistan already nearing a balance of payments crisis, and this month agreed a $6 billion bailout with the International Monetary Fund that came with tough austerity conditions including more taxes and an agreement to let the rupee currency fall sharply.
    It has dismissed the opposition protests and blamed the economic turmoil on massive corruption and economic mismanagement by previous governments, accusing their leaders of shifting millions of dollars out of the country illegally.
PML-N founder and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz’ father, is currently serving a 7-year sentence on corruption charges.    His successor, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, has also been arrested on corruption charges. He denies wrongdoing.
    The arrests have fed the anger of opposition parties, who say the government has manipulated the justice system to crush its adversaries.
    Earlier this month, PML-N officials produced video evidence they said showed the judge responsible for sentencing Nawaz Sharif had been blackmailed into convicting him.    The judge, who said the PML-N had also attempted to blackmail him, has since been sacked from the court that decided the Nawaz case.
(Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in KARACHI; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/26/2019 Flags of inconvenience: noose tightens around Iranian shipping by Jonathan Saul, Parisa Hafezi and Marianna Parraga
FILE PHOTO: A Panama flag flies on the stern of the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 as it sits anchored after it was seized
earlier this month by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory on suspicion of violating
sanctions against Syria, in the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain July 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo
    LONDON/DUBAI/PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – Somewhere on its journey from the waters off Iran, around Africa’s southern tip and into the Mediterranean, the Grace 1 oil tanker lost the flag under which it sailed and ceased to be registered to Panama.    Iran later claimed it as its own.
    The ship carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian crude was seized by British Royal Marines off Gibraltar, raising tensions in the Gulf where Iran detained a UK-flagged ship in retaliation.
    Grace 1 remains impounded, not because of its flag but because it was suspected of taking oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions, an allegation that Iran denies.
    Yet Panama’s move on May 29 to strike it from its register mid-voyage was part of a global squeeze on Iranian shipping.
    Nations that register vessels under so-called “flags of convenience” allowing them to sail legally have de-listed dozens of tankers owned by Iran in recent months, tightening the economic noose around it.
    In the biggest cull, Panama, the world’s most important flag state, removed 59 tankers linked to Iran and Syria earlier this year, a decision welcomed by the United States which wants to cut off Tehran’s vital oil exports.
    Panama and some other key flag states are looking more closely at the thousands of ships on their registers to ensure they comply with U.S. sanctions that were re-imposed against Iran last year and tightened further since.
    A Reuters analysis of shipping registry data shows that Panama has de-listed around 55 Iranian tankers since January, Togo has de-listed at least three and Sierra Leone one.
    That represents the majority of its operational fleet of tankers, the lifeblood of the oil-dominated economy, although Iran may have re-registered some ships under new flag states.
    When a vessel loses its flag, it typically loses insurance cover if it does not immediately find an alternative, and may be barred from calling at ports. Flags of convenience also provide a layer of cover for a vessel’s ultimate owner.
    International registries charge fees to ship owners to use their flags and offer tax incentives to attract business. Iran said it still had plenty of options.
    “There are so many shipping companies that we can use. In spite of U.S. pressure, many friendly countries are happy to help us and have offered to help us regarding this issue,” said an Iranian shipping official, when asked about tankers being de-listed.
    Some nations have expressed caution, however. The world’s third biggest shipping registry, Liberia, said its database automatically identified vessels with Iranian ownership or other connections to the country.
    “Thus, any potential request to register a vessel with Iranian connection triggers an alert and gets carefully vetted by the Registry’s compliance and management personnel,” the registry said.
    Liberia said it was working closely with U.S. authorities to prevent what it called “malign activity” in maritime trade.
IRANIAN FLAG
    In many cases Iran has re-listed ships under its own flag, complicating efforts to move oil and other goods to and from the dwindling number of countries willing to do business with it.
    Some shipping specialists said the Iranian flag was problematic because individuals working for the registry in Iran could be designated under U.S. sanctions, and so present a risk for anyone dealing with vessels listed by them.
    “Most insurance companies or banks will not be able to deal with the Iranian flag as it is in effect dealing with the Iranian state,” said Mike Salthouse, deputy global director with ship insurer the North of England P&I.
    Customs officials may also sit up and take notice.
    “One of the problems with an Iranian-flagged ship is that there is a 50 percent chance that a customs officer will undertake a search, which means the cargo will be delayed,” said a U.N. sanctions investigator, who declined to be named.    “These all add to the costs.”
    A former U.S. diplomat said Washington was often in contact with Panama and other flag states to keep vessel registries “clean.”
    “We are continuing to disrupt the Qods Force’s illicit shipments of oil, which benefit terrorist groups like Hezbollah as well as the Assad regime (in Syria),” said a spokesman at the U.S. State Department.
    Qods Force refers to an elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that is in charge of the Guards’ overseas operations, and Hezbollah is an Iran-backed, heavily armed Shi’ite Muslim group that forms part of Lebanon’s coalition government.
    “Nearly 80 tankers involved in sanctionable activity have been denied the flags they need to sail,” the spokesman added.
FALSE FLAGS
    De-flagging Iranian ships is just one way the international community can squeeze Iran.
    U.S. sanctions on oil exports aim to reduce Iran’s sales to zero.    Iran has vowed to continue exporting.
    In the first three weeks of June Iran exported around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), a fraction of the 2.5 million bpd that Iran shipped before President Donald Trump’s exit in May last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers
.
    Egypt could also complicate life for Tehran if it denies passage to tankers heading to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal.    The alternative route around Africa, taken by Grace 1 before its seizure, is far longer.
    Refinitiv shipping data showed the Masal, an Iranian-flagged oil tanker, anchored in the Suez Canal’s waiting zone on July 6.    It stayed there until July 12, when it began to sail south.    It exited the Red Sea on July 17 and docked at Larak Island, Iran on July 23.
    Two Egyptian intelligence sources told Reuters that the tanker was halted in the Red Sea in July by authorities “without anyone knowing the reason.”
    A second senior Iranian government official involved in shipping declined to comment when asked about the Masal.
    The Suez Canal Authority’s spokesman said Egypt did not bar vessels from crossing the canal except in times of war, in accordance with the Constantinople Convention.    He declined to comment further.
    Britain tightened the screw when it seized the Grace 1 supertanker on July 4, accusing it of violating sanctions against Syria.
    Two Iranian-flagged ships have been stranded for weeks at Brazilian ports due to a lack of fuel, which state-run oil firm Petrobras refuses to sell them due to U.S. sanctions.    Two more Iranian ships in Brazil could also be left without enough fuel to sail home.
    A recent incident off Pakistan’s coast last month points to the lengths Iran has gone to in order to keep trading.
    The Iranian cargo carrier Hayan left from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on June 3 and set sail for Karachi on Pakistan’s coast, according to ship tracking data from maritime risk analysts Windward.
    On June 7, it changed its name to Mehri II and its flag to that of Samoa, the data showed, as it made its way toward Karachi port.
    Six days later, the vessel conducted a ship-to-ship transfer of its unknown cargo further up Pakistan’s coast.
    The ship then returned home, changing its flag back to Iran and its name back to Hayan.
    Imran Ul Haq, spokesman for the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, said they had no information, when asked about the Iranian ship’s activity.
    Iran has frequently used ship-to-ship transfers to move oil and oil products since U.S. sanctions were reimposed.
    Shipping data also show that a separate Iranian-owned cargo ship, the Ya Haydar, has been sailing around the Gulf and reporting its flag as that of Samoa.
    Samoa denies allowing Iran to register any ships under its flag.
    “The said vessels Hayan or Ya Haydar are not, and have never been listed, nor registered on the Samoa’s registry of vessels,” said Anastacia Amoa-Stowers of the Maritime department at Samoa’s Ministry of Works, Transport & Infrastructure.
    “Given there are currently no Iranian ships listed on Samoa’s registry, there is no action to de-list a vessel.Additionally, there has never been any Iranian ships listed on Samoa’s vessel registry – previously and at present.”
    Amoa-Stowers said Samoa was a closed registry, meaning that any foreign vessel flying its flag was doing so illegally.
    The second senior Iranian government official involved in shipping declined to comment when asked about the two vessels.
    A spokeswoman with the International Maritime Organization said the UN’s shipping agency had received information from Samoa which has been circulated to member states.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi, Edward McAllister in Dakar, Alphonso Toweh in Monrovia, John Zodzi in Lome, Praveen Menon in Wellington, Yousef Saba and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; Editing by Mike Collett-White)
[As you see above the first three weeks of June Iran exported around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), a fraction of the 2.5 million bpd that Iran shipped before President Donald Trump’s exit in May last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.    So at $56 per barrel minus $30 to produce it leaves $26 profit per barrel times 300,000/day equals $7,800,000 per day, verses $26 times 2.5 million bpd equals $65,000,000, so they are losing $57.2 million per day.

7/26/2019 Fire and fury: With missile launch, North Korea shows ire at neighbor by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin
A view of North Korea's missile launch on Thursday, in this undated picture released by
North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 26, 2019. KCNA/via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s blistering criticism of South Korea as he oversaw his latest missile launch this week sparked new questions over the South’s role in mediating a nuclear deal between the North and the United States, analysts said.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been one of the most vocal proponents of engagement with the North, using last year’s Winter Olympics to host its delegations and then meeting Kim at summits filled with feel-good imagery, smiles, and hand-holding.
    But Moon has been unable to convince Washington to ease sanctions and allow economic cooperation between the neighbors, nor has he persuaded Kim to take major steps toward giving up his nuclear weapons.
    On Friday, North Korea called the previous day’s missile launches a warning to South Korean “warmongers” to stop importing weapons and holding joint military drills, with Kim explicitly urging Moon not to ignore them.
    Kim may be impatient with what he sees as South Korea overpromising and underdelivering, said Jenny Town, a managing editor at 38 North, a U.S.-based project that studies North Korea.
    “The North Koreans have made several statements challenging Moon to move forward, but obviously the situation has left Seoul unable to do so,” she said.
    For his part, Moon said there had been “a lot of progress so far in inter-Korean relations and North Korea-U.S. relations, but we still have a long way to go.”
    “I think the biggest challenge is national unity,” he added, in comments to a group of Buddhist leaders in Seoul.
    North Korea’s growing frustration with its neighbor culminated in the missile tests as a protest against the South’s acquisition of new weapons, such as U.S. F-35 stealth fighters, and its participation in military drills with the United States.
    Kim’s comments showed how skeptical North Korea has become regarding the South’s usefulness in talks with the United States, said Shin Beom-chul of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
    “To them, the South Korean government is only a nuisance,” he said.    “So the message is either ‘Persuade the United States,’ or ‘Stay out of it.'
    Overseeing Thursday’s launches, Kim Jong Un said the new missiles had to be developed to neutralize the weapons being acquired by South Korea and turn them into “scrap iron.”
    South Korea’s acquisition of American F-35 stealth fighter jets, the first of which arrived in March, would force its neighbor to develop and test “special armaments” to destroy the aircraft, the North had warned in mid-July.
    While Moon has faced some domestic concern that national security could be affected by his North Korean pacts, from a no-fly zone to fewer guard posts and landmines along the heavily fortified border, he has also pushed ahead with plans to modernize and invest in the South’s already large military.
    In January the defense ministry unveiled a plan to boost military spending for the next five years by an additional 270.7 trillion won ($228 billion).
    Still, some observers believe Kim Jong Un is leaving space for engagement by focusing on South Korea’s military.
    “The state media report shows the North was still willing to maintain inter-Korean ties, as they mostly targeted the military forces, not the whole government,” said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute in Seoul.
    An official at Moon’s office said it would not comment on the state media report but the government remained committed to working to revive momentum for nuclear talks.
    Poor relations have also prompted a show of reluctance by Pyongyang in accepting 50,000 tons of rice South Korea offered as food aid to its impoverished neighbor.
    A South Korean official said the government discussed the plan with the World Food Programme, but Pyongyang had recently showed a “negative” attitude, citing the joint military drills.
    Attempts to discuss two South Korean sailors detained by the North have also gone unanswered, the official added.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

7/26/2019 Chinese official urged Hong Kong villagers to drive off protesters before violence at train station by James Pomfret, Greg Torode and David Lague
A front view of the village of Nam Pin Wai, where groups of suspected attackers at the Yuen Long train station
were surrounded by police, in Hong Kong, China July 23, 2019. REUTERS/James Pomfret
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – A week before suspected triad gang members attacked protesters and commuters at a rural Hong Kong train station last Sunday, an official from China’s representative office urged local residents to drive away any activists.
    Li Jiyi, the director of the Central Government Liaison’s local district office made the appeal at a community banquet for hundreds of villagers in Hong Kong’s rural New Territories.
    In a previously unreported recording from the July 11 event obtained by Reuters, Li addresses the large crowd about the escalating protests that have plunged Hong Kong into its worst political crisis since it returned to Chinese from British rule in 1997.
    Li chastises the protesters, appealing to the assembled residents to protect their towns in Yuen Long district and to chase anti-government activists away.
    “We won’t allow them to come to Yuen Long to cause trouble,” he said, to a burst of applause.
    “Even though there are a group of protesters trained to throw bricks and iron bars, we still have a group of Yuen Long residents with the persistence and courage to maintain social peace and protect our home.”
    Repeatedly, Li spoke of the need for harmony and unity between the traditional villages and the government, “especially when there is wind and rain in Hong Kong.”
    The banquet was attended by a Hong Kong government district officer, Enoch Yuen, and many of the city’s rural leaders.
    Responding to Reuters’ questions to Yuen, a spokesman for the Yuen Long district office said it had no comment on the remarks of other speakers.
    “District offices would relay local information and concerns gathered to other departments, as appropriate,” he added.
    Last Sunday, after anti-government protesters marched in central Hong Kong and defaced China’s Liaison Office, over 100 men swarmed through Yuen Long train station, attacking black-clad protesters, passers-by, journalists and a lawmaker with pipes, clubs and lampstands.
    When some protesters retaliated, the beatings escalated as men and women were hit repeatedly on their heads and bodies by the masked men, who wore white shirts.
    Video footage showed victims fleeing the mayhem amid screams, and floors of the train station streaked with blood.    Forty-five people were injured, one critically.
    China’s Liaison Office did not immediately respond to Reuters questions about Li’s speech, and Li could not be reached for comment.
    Johnny Mak, a veteran Democratic Alliance district councilor in Yuen Long who witnessed the train station bloodshed, said he believed Li’s remarks had been an explicit call to arms against protesters.
    “If he didn’t say this, the violence wouldn’t have happened, and the triads wouldn’t have beaten people,” he told Reuters in his office close to the station.
    Ching Chan-ming, the head of the Shap Pat Heung rural committee which hosted the banquet that night, said he thought Li’s speech was positive and held no malicious intent.
    “How could he (Li) make such an appeal like that?,” Ching told Reuters.    “I don’t think it was a mobilization call.    His main message is that he hopes Hong Kong can remain stable and prosperous.”
TRIADS
    The protesters are demanding Hong Kong’s leader scrap a controversial extradition law that many fear will extend China’s reach into the city.
    The government’s refusal to do so – it has agreed only to suspend the bill so far – have led to two months of sometimes violent demonstrations across the city.
    Beyond the extradition bill, many activists are demanding independent inquiries into the use of police force against them, and far-reaching democratic reforms – anathema to Beijing’s leaders.
    China’s Foreign Ministry Office in Hong Kong said earlier this week that “the recent extreme and violent acts in Hong Kong have seriously undermined the foundation of the rule of law … and trampled on the red line of “One Country, Two Systems” which underpins Beijing’s control of Hong Kong.
    Two senior police sources told Reuters some of the men who attacked the protesters had triad backgrounds including from the powerful Wo Shing Wo, Hong Kong’s oldest triad society, and the 14K, another large, well-known triad.
    Police spokespeople didn’t respond to Reuters questions about triad involvement or any aspect of their operation that night.
    While Hong Kong’s triads – ancient secret societies that morphed into mafia-style underworld operations – no longer hold the high profile of previous decades they remain entrenched in some grittier districts and in rural areas, according to police.
    Police told reporters in 2014 during the so-called “Occupy” democracy protests, that hundreds of triad members were suspected of mounting operations to infiltrate, beat and harass those in the movement.    Several dozen people were arrested at the time.
NO POLICE IN SIGHT
    Within hours of Sunday’s violence, police bosses battled criticism they had failed to protect the public given delays getting to the scene.
    Police commissioner Stephen Lo said there had been a need to “redeploy manpower from other districts.”
    Democratic Party district councilor Zachary Wong said Li’s message was having an impact in the days leading up to Sunday’s violence and he had received repeated calls from associates a day earlier saying something was brewing.
    Wong said he called local police on Saturday, and then again on Sunday at 7pm when he heard of men gathering in a Yuen Long park.
    “Some people called me and said, ‘We’re really scared, please do something,” Wong told Reuters.
    Both Mak and Wong said they were told by police they were aware of the situation and were handling it.
    During this time, pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was filmed laughing and shaking hands with some of the men in white shirts near the park.    Giving them the ‘thumbs up’ sign, he said: “You are my heroes.”    The men laughed and cheered in response.
    Ho later told reporters he had no knowledge of or involvement in the violence, but was merely reaching out to his constituents.
    Ho was not immediately available at his office and could not be reached on his mobile telephone.
    Several hours later, when the most violent assaults took place at the train station, there were still no police present to prevent the bloodshed.
    “It doesn’t make sense that for many hours, there wasn’t a single police car in sight,” said Mak.
    Two senior police officers involved in controlling demonstrations and a senior government security official told Reuters privately they were incensed at public perceptions the police somehow acted in concert with triads at Yuen Long.
    After the attacks in Yuen Long train station, some of the assailants fled to the traditional walled village of Nam Pin Wai nearby.
    There, riot police and other officers surrounded and questioned scores of men in white shirts for several hours, live media coverage showed.
    Sometime after 4 a.m., the men in white began to leave. No arrests were made at the time, although a dozen men have since been arrested, police said in a statement.
    A police commander told reporters at the scene that no arrests were made as the police could not prove the men were the assailants, and no weapons were found.
    Public anger over the incident has built in the days since, and tens of thousands of people are expected to march through Yuen Long on Saturday.
    A rare open letter signed by a group of civil servants criticized authorities’ handling of the violence.
    “The police’s lack of response on July 21 had made people suspect the government colluded with triads,” wrote a group of 235 civil servants from 44 government departments, including the police force.
    “This had not only caused citizens to lose confidence in the police, but also made civil servants suspect that the government departments are not aimed to serve citizens faithfully.”
    At a news conference, Police Commissioner Lo denied any collusion between his force and triads but acknowledged the need to restore public confidence.
(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang, Felix Tam and Vimvam Tong; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

7/26/2019 ‘We can’t hide anything’ say Cambodians at alleged China base by Prak Chan Thul
Sailors stand guard near petrol boats at the Cambodian Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
    REAM, Cambodia (Reuters) – Trying to rebut a report of a secret deal to give China access to a naval base, Cambodia’s defense ministry took reporters to see the torpid jetty and outbuildings on Friday.
    The United States has also voiced concern that the Ream naval base in southern Cambodia could host forces from China, the closest foreign ally of long-serving authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
    “You journalists.    Open your eyes and noses.    Today we show you everything,” said defense ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat.    “We can’t hide anything … because there are satellites.”
    The Wall Street Journal said on Sunday that China had reached a secret deal with Cambodia this year to let it place forces at Ream.    The report cited U.S. and allied officials.
    Cambodia denied any such agreement and said hosting foreign forces would be against Cambodia’s constitution.
    At Ream, a half dozen gray-painted Cambodian navy patrol boats were moored by the jetty.    Sailors in military fatigues stood to attention as the press bus passed.    Reporters were not allowed to get off.
    The defense ministry pointed out that there was no sign of a Chinese presence or of any construction.
    Reporters were also taken to a building where a sign proclaimed: “This building was given by the people of the United State of America an expression of friendship and cooperation.”    Inside were U.S.-donated speed boats with guns.
    The United States expressed concern to Cambodia over plans for Ream after its offer to pay for renovations at the facility was turned down by the Cambodian government in June.
    “This causes us to wonder if the Cambodian leadership’s plans for Ream Naval Base include the possible hosting of foreign military assets and personnel,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg said in a statement.
    Chhum Socheat said the building in question would be handed to the Cambodian navy, not to the Chinese.
    Giving China access to facilities in Cambodia would boost its ability to assert contested territorial claims in the South China Sea, challenging U.S. allies in Southeast Asia.
    The U.S. embassy said it was also monitoring media reports about the potential use of a resort by China.
    Some 70 km (40 miles) northwest of Ream, a Chinese company is building a runway at the Dara Sakor resort that is capable of taking some of the world’s biggest planes to serve what for now consists of a rundown casino and a golf course.
    China has poured billions of dollars of aid into Cambodia while private Chinese money has gone into real estate developments, factories and casinos.
    The town of Sihanoukville, some 10 km (6 miles) from Ream, has been transformed by Chinese investment and the arrival of tens of thousands of Chinese workers and visitors.
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/26/2019 Protesters calling for ‘free Hong Kong’ converge on airport by Felix Tam and Clare Jim
Protesters and members of the aviation industry stage a protest against the recent violence
in Yuen Long, at Hong Kong airport, China July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – More than 1,000 protesters calling for democracy and some chanting “free Hong Kong” converged on the Chinese-ruled city’s airport on Friday as Singapore advised its travelers to avoid protest areas in the territory.
    Hong Kong airport authorities said operations wouldn’t be affected, but advised passengers to arrive early given the risk of disruption.
    The former British colony, which returned to China in 1997, is embroiled in its worst political crisis for decades after two months of increasingly violent protests that have posed one of the gravest populist challenges to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
    The demonstrations, mushrooming up almost daily, saw the defacement of China’s main representative office last weekend, triggering warnings from Beijing this was an attack on China’s sovereignty.
    More protests are expected on Saturday with demonstrators outraged at an attack on Sunday at a train station by armed men who police sources say included some with triad backgrounds. Some 45 people were wounded.
    Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula, guaranteeing its freedoms, including the freedom to protest not enjoyed on the mainland, for at least 50 years.
    What started as an angry response to a now-suspended extradition bill, which would have allowed defendants to be sent to the mainland for trial, now includes demands for greater democracy and the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam.
    Some protesters, dressed in helmets and seated on the ground of the arrivals hall, held up signs calling on the government to withdraw the extradition bill completely, while chants of “Free Hong Kong” reverberated around the building.
    The crowds swelled to fill almost half the arrivals hall.
    “The world has been watching us in the past few weeks,” said Jeremy Tam, a former pilot and lawmaker who helped organize the protest with other aviation sector employees.
    “We simply believe that the airport is the most direct way for all tourists to explain what is happening in Hong Kong.”
    An impromptu “tourist information” booth was set up by the protesters, with pictures and captions detailing the allegations of police brutality and the Yuen Long train station attack.
    Some condemned the failure of police to protect citizens and protesters despite a flood of emergency calls.
    “I think Hong Kong is a clean and safe city.    The protest hasn’t changed my idea of Hong Kong,” said Sebastian Vanneste, 22, a tourist from New Zealand.
    “I didn’t know about the police brutality… As a tourist, I respect Hong Kong people’s freedom of speech and assembly.”
    Around 15,000 people including tourists and pilots, flight attendants and other aviation workers signed a petition urging the government to prosecute the attackers.
    An application for a protest on Saturday in Yuen Long was rejected by police, but a sizeable turnout is still expected amid fears of clashes between triads and activists flaring up.
    Singapore urged its citizens in a travel advisory to avoid parts of Hong Kong where protests may be taking place, noting the airport demonstration.
    “You should take all necessary precautions to ensure your personal safety,” it read.    “Protests which are meant to be peaceful may still have the potential to turn violent with little or no notice.”
    The Flight Attendants’ Union for Hong Kong’s main carrier Cathay Pacific <0293.HK> had earlier urged its members to “stand up for our human rights and be connected with the rest of the HongKongers” on its Facebook page.
    “United Hong Kong Stands!” it added.
    An investment banker at a U.S. bank told Reuters he had rescheduled his flight from Hong Kong to Beijing to another day, over concerns flights could be grounded.
(Additional reporting by Julie Zhu and Clare Jim in Hong Kong, Cate Cadell and John Geddie in Singapore; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/26/2019 Top U.S. general cautiously optimistic about Afghan peace push
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford arrives to hold a
classified briefing on Iran, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan,
for members of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The top U.S. general said on Friday he was cautiously optimistic about efforts to reach a negotiated end to the nearly 18-year-old war in Afghanistan, in remarks that followed talks in Kabul with Afghanistan’s president and the top U.S. negotiator.
    “We’re all cautiously optimistic, in the sense that Ambassador Khalilzad is now doing something we haven’t seen in the entire time that we’ve been deployed to Afghanistan,” Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
    Dunford was referring to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy negotiating with Taliban insurgents, who he said was engaged in a “fairly robust dialogue now between the Taliban.”
    Washington is seeking to negotiate a deal under which foreign forces would pull out of Afghanistan in return for security guarantees by the Taliban, including a pledge that the country will not become a safe haven for terror groups.
    Dunford said there were several factors coming together that gave reason to believe that there might be a window of opportunity now for inter-Afghan dialogue and reconciliation.
    “There’s a higher degree of positive statements coming out of Islamabad about reconciliation than we have seen.    There is good momentum in Doha right now with follow-on schedules for inter-Afghan dialogue,” Dunford said.
    Dunford made the remarks to a small group of reporters in Baghdad after visiting Kabul on Wednesday and Thursday.
    About 14,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces and to carry out counter-terrorism operations.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

7/27/2019 Police fire tear gas in clash with Hong Kong protesters over banned march by Marius Zaharia and Donny Kwok
Demonstrators march during a protest against the Yuen Long attacks in
Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong, China July 27, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas during clashes in a rural Hong Kong town on Saturday as several thousand activists gathered to protest an attack by suspected triad gang members on protesters and commuters at a train station last weekend.
    Police, widely criticized for failing to better protect the public from the attack by club-wielding men in Yuen Long, had refused to allow the march in the town on safety grounds.
    But protesters pushed ahead and what began as a peaceful action by several thousand in sweltering afternoon heat soon grew increasingly tense with stand-offs between police and protesters in several locations.
    Rocks and bottles were thrown at police by protesters, who were also building barricades out of street furniture.    Police responded in at least one location with tear gas.
    “They failed the public,” a protester called Kevin, in a red T-shirt, said of the police earlier in the afternoon, as he stood outside the police station, gripping its gates.
    “They deliberately let the triads beat up protesters to get revenge on us … We’re here to teach them a lesson,” he said, as he shouted an obscenity at the police.
    Last Sunday, about 100 white-shirted men stormed the Yuen Long mass-transit station hours after protesters marched through central Hong Kong and defaced China’s Liaison Office – the main symbol of Beijing’s authority over the former British colony.
    The men attacked black-clad protesters returning from Hong Kong island, passers-by, journalists and lawmakers with pipes and clubs, leaving 45 people injured.
    Reuters reported on Friday that a Liaison Office official had days earlier urged village chiefs to drive away any activists from the town.
    The Yuen Long attack and the vandalism at the Liaison Office marked new fronts in a protest movement that has intensified over the last two months.
PROTESTS INTENSIFY
    The protests, considered the most direct challenge to the authority of China’s President Xi Jinping, mushroomed on Friday as thousands of activists thronged the arrivals halls of Hong Kong international airport.
    The protesters, initially demanding the scrapping of a bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland courts for trial, are now also seeking independent inquiries into police use of force, the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and full democratic reform – anathema to Beijing’s Communist Party leadership.
    The crisis is exposing fissures in Lam’s administration, with police chiefs and rank-and-file officers enraged at an apology over last weekend’s attacks by her chief secretary on Friday, apparently made without consultation.
    The official, Matthew Cheung, said the government would not shirk its responsibility “and the police’s handling fell short of residents’ expectations.”
    Britain handed Hong Kong to China in 1997 amid guarantees that its core freedoms and autonomy, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary, would be protected under a “one country, two systems” formula.
    Many fear those rights are under threat as Beijing’s reach extends into the city.
    Activists told Reuters they feared Saturday’s protest could turn violent, given anger among the protesters over last Sunday’s violence and a determination among some to challenge villagers they believe are close to triad groups in the area.
    “We are hoping for a peaceful night,” said Neil, masked, in his mid-20s, standing next to a friend who was strapping on a hard hat.
    “We want Yuen Long to be safe and peaceful.    But there still might be trouble so we have to be prepared.”
    Several banks in the area did not open on Saturday and many businesses were shuttered.
(Reporting By Donny Kwok, James Pomfret, Greg Torode and Marius Zaharia; Writing by Jennifer Hughes and Greg Torode; Editing by Robert Birsel and Richard Pullin)

7/27/2019 China’s Iran oil imports plunge as U.S. sanctions bite
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
    BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China’s crude oil imports from Iran sank almost 60% in June from a year earlier, Chinese customs data showed on Saturday, following the end of a waiver on U.S. sanctions at the start of May.
    Crude shipment from Iran were 855,638 tonnes last month, or 208,205 barrels per day (bpd), data from the General Administration of Customs showed.    That compared with 254,016 bpd in May.
    According to Refinitiv Oil Research assessments, a total of 670,000 tonnes, or about 163,000 bpd, of Iranian crude oil was discharged in June at Tianjin in north China and Jinzhou in the northeast.
    Refinitiv Oil Research also showed another 430,000 tonnes of Iranian crude oil was discharged in July at Jinzhou and Huizhou in south China.
    All the discharged vessels are operated by National Iranian Tanker Company.
    It’s not clear who owns the cargoes nor if any buyer has been arranged.    State oil firms have since May stopped taking Iranian crude oil, due to concerns about U.S. sanctions.
    Jinzhou, Tianjin and Huizhou are all where Chinese oil firms operate refineries and commercial storage tanks. They are also the sites where China’s government emergency stocks are held.
    For the first six months of the year, China’s imports of Iranian crude oil tumbled 30% on a year earlier to 11.03 million tonnes, or 447,327 bpd.
    Saudi Arabia overtook Russia to become the country’s top supplier in June with 7.72 million tonnes, or 1.88 million bpd, up 84.1% from a year earlier and compared with 1.11 million bpd in May.
    Arrivals from Russia reached 7.15 million tonnes, or 1.74 million bpd, up 45.5% from a year earlier and compared with 6.36 million bpd in May.
    For the first six months, imports from Russia came in at 37.69 million tonnes, or 1.53 million bpd, up 15.2% on the year.
    Imports of U.S crude came in at 769,094 tonnes, versus 786,637 tonnes in May.    Imports for the January-June period tumbled 76.2% from year-ago levels to 2.12 million tonnes or 515,722 bpd, amid the U.S-China trade dispute.
    Beijing has not raised tariffs on U.S. oil despite raising duties on U.S. LNG and coal.
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu in SINGAPORE and Muyu Xu in BEIJING; Editing by Mark Potter)

7/27/2019 China June rare earth magnet exports to U.S. fall 3.9% from May
FILE PHOTO: Samples of rare earth minerals from left: Cerium oxide, Bastnaesite, Neodymium oxide and Lanthanum carbonate
at Molycorp's Mountain Pass Rare Earth facility in Mountain Pass, California June 29, 2015. REUTERS/David Becker
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s exports of rare earth magnets to the United States fell 3.9% in June from the previous month, customs data showed on Saturday, as concerns persist that Beijing will curb supply of rare earth products as part of its trade war with Washington.
    The latest data came after U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday told the Pentagon to find better ways to procure samarium-cobalt rare earth permanent magnets, used in specialty motors, warning that the country’s defense would suffer without adequate stockpiles.
    China is the world’s dominant producer of rare earth magnets, which are widely used in medical devices and consumer electronics as well as defense, although Trump in August 2018 signed a policy bill banning their purchase from China for military use in the 2019 fiscal year.
    China’s exports to the United States of permanent rare earth magnets, or rare earth material that will be turned into permanent magnets, came in at 414,100 kg, or around 414 tonnes last month, the data from the General Administration of Customs showed.
    That was down 3.9% from 431 tonnes in May, which was the highest monthly total since at least 2016, and up 1.45% year-on-year.
    David Merriman, manager of battery and electric vehicle materials at consultancy Roskill, said before the customs numbers came out the U.S. Department of Defense’s purchases of rare earth permanent magnets are “relatively minor” when compared to imports for electronic, automotive and other applications.
    In terms of samarium-cobalt magnets, “the interesting trend has been the spikes in (U.S.) imports from the Philippines and Malaysia, suggesting a move to greater imports from Japanese-owned manufacturers,” he added, noting that Japan’s Shin-Etsu <4063.T> has samarium-cobalt production facilities in both those Southeast Asian countries.
(Reporting by Tom Daly and Shivani Singh; Editing by Mark Potter)

7/27/2019 China’s industrial profits fall in June, add to fears of slowdown
FILE PHOTO: A woman works at a workshop manufacturing plastic woven materials for packaging
products in Suqian, Jiangsu province, China July 13, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Profits earned by China’s industrial firms contracted in June after a brief gain the previous month, fuelling concern that a slowdown in manufacturing from a bruising trade war will drag on economic growth.
    China’s industrial profits have been softening since the second half of 2018 as the economy slowed and the U.S.-China trade dispute escalated, with many industrial firms putting off business decisions and scaling back manufacturing investment.
    Economic growth in the second quarter slowed to a near 30-year low.
    Industrial profits fell 3.1% in June from a year earlier to 601.9 billion yuan ($87.5 billion), according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Saturday, following a 1.1% gain in May.
    In the first six months, industrial firms earned profits of 2.98 trillion yuan, down 2.4% from a year earlier, compared with a 2.3% drop in January-May.
    The drop in first-half profits was driven by declining profits in the auto, oil processing and steel sectors, Zhu Hong of the statistics bureau said in a statement accompanying the data.
    Producer price inflation, one gauge of industrial profitability, eased to zero in June from a year earlier, rekindling worries about deflation, which could prompt authorities to launch more aggressive stimulus measures.
    U.S. and Chinese negotiators will meet on Tuesday for the first time since their presidents, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, agreed in late June to revive talks in a bid to end the year-long trade war.
    The governments of the world’s largest economies have levied billions of dollars of tariffs on each other’s imports, disrupting global supply chains and shaking financial markets in the dispute over how China does business with the rest of the world.
    June marked the first full month of higher U.S. tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods, which the United States imposed after trade talks broke down.    Both exports and imports fell.
DIVERGING FORTUNES
    Saturday’s data showed that profits from the construction material and machinery industries helped cushion the fall in overall profits in the first half, likely due to higher government spending on infrastructure, which has supported some companies, such as railway equipment makers, miners and metal producers.
    Sany Heavy Industry Co Ltd said this month that it expected first-half profits to jump 91.8%-106.6% from a year earlier.
    However, earnings for telecommunications and electronic equipment manufacturers, which are more vulnerable to U.S. tariffs than other product classes, declined 7.9% in Jan-June.
    The most-actively traded iron ore contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange rose 16.4% in June, weighing on profits in the steel sector.
    Profits at China’s state-owned industrial firms were down 8.7% on an annual basis for the first six months, according to the statistics bureau.
    Liabilities of industrial firms rose 5.6% year-on-year as of the end of June versus a 5.3% increase by end-May.
    Private sector profits rose 6.0% in Jan-June, slowing from 6.6% in the first five months.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo)

7/28/2019 Protesters mass in Hong Kong amid fears of growing cycle of violence by Donny Kwok and Sijia Jiang
Pro-democracy protesters march to protest against police violence during previous marches,
in central Hong Kong, China July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong authorities stepped up security around China’s main representative office on Sunday as several protests broke out, with anger among the crowds simmering over what many see as an increasing cycle of violence against them.
    Protests over the past two months spearheaded by pro-democracy activists against a proposed bill that would allow people to be extradited from the city to stand trial in courts in mainland China have grown increasingly violent.
    A march on Saturday against a violent assault the previous weekend, by suspected triad gang members, ended in violent turmoil as riot police waded in to disperse crowds.
    On Sunday, a gathering in a park in the city’s central business district began spilling onto into surrounding roads and black-clad protesters set off in several directions, clogging up major thoroughfares.
    Thousands of people headed east, toward the shopping district of Causeway Bay, while another large contingent headed west, toward the Chinese government’s representative office, known as the Central Government Liaison Office.
    There, hundreds of riot police blocked activists from advancing toward the building, which had been heavily fortified with water-filled plastic barricades.    A clear plastic shield had been erected around a national emblem above its front doors.
    The office has become a focus for the anger of protesters alarmed by what many see as Beijing’s increasing control despite guarantees of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula, struck when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Last Sunday, protesters took police by surprise with a swoop on the Liaison Office, scrawling graffiti and throwing paint bombs at walls, the national emblem and a plaque.
    Chinese officials described the vandalism as a “challenge” to the central government’s sovereignty which would not be tolerated.
    “Everyone knows very well that the current Hong Kong government has been controlled by some outside forces, like those in the Liaison Office,” said an activist surnamed Chan.
    “Now Hong Kong doesn’t even have basic freedom of assembly. We have come here to make a symbolic expression.”
    China denies interfering in Hong Kong and has warned that the violent protests over the proposed legislation allowing extraditions to mainland China were an “undisguised challenge” to the formula under which it is ruled.
‘STOP VIOLENCE’
    Many of the marchers on Sunday’s chanted slogans against the police such as “Black police.    Shameful.”    Some held up banners saying: “We rise as one, we fight as one,” and “Stop violence.”
    Many protesters wore helmets.    Some wore body armor and gas masks and carried make-shift shields and sticks.
    “I have been to every protest and I never wear a mask,” said Phong Luk, who came to the protest wearing a Spider-Man suit to match one that his 6-year son wore.
    “I’m doing nothing wrong.    It is those in power that are wrong … At this point, there is nothing to be done except for Carrie Lam to step down, because she obviously cannot rule.”
    The protests have brought the most serious political crisis to Hong Kong since it returned to China.
    What began as a movement to oppose the extradition law that would have allowed people to be sent to China for trial, has taken on broader demands including the resignation of Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam, calls for full democracy and an independent inquiry into what some say has been excessive police force against protesters.
    The protests are also one of the most direct challenges to the authority of China’s President Xi Jinping.
    The protests appeared to be getting more organized, as well as more violent.    On Sunday, activists said they hoped to stretch the police by splitting up their marches.
    “The police usually surround us and we have nowhere to go.    So we adjust our strategy this time.    This is much more fluid and flexible,” said protester Edward Ng.
    On Saturday, riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets, sponge grenades to clear the crowds.    Police also stormed the same train station where the suspected gang members attacked protesters the previous week.
(Reporting by Vimvam Tong, Felix Tam, Donny Kwok, Sijia Jiang; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/28/2019 Iran intends to restart activities at Arak heavy water nuclear reactor: ISNA news agency
The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, told lawmakers on Sunday that Iran will restart activities at the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor, the ISNA news agency reported.
ISNA cited a member of parliament who attended the meeting.    Heavy water can be employed in reactors to produce plutonium, a fuel used in nuclear warheads.
    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.
    The remaining signatories have tried to hold the nuclear deal together, an increasingly difficult task as tensions between Washington and Tehran have soared in recent weeks.
    Later on Sunday, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China will meet Iran in Vienna to discuss how to save the accord in an extraordinary meeting.
    On July 3, President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would increase its uranium enrichment levels and start to revive its Arak heavy-water reactor after July 7 if the nations in the nuclear pact did not protect trade with Iran promised under the deal but blocked by the U.S. sanctions.
    The reduction of commitments can be reversed, Iranian officials have said, if the remaining signatories to the deal uphold their promises.
    Western powers have said Iran’s nuclear ambitions must be curbed due to their concerns that Tehran intends to build nuclear weapons. Tehran denies this.
    The meeting on Sunday of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal’s formal name, will be chaired by the EU foreign policy service’s Secretary General Helga Schmid.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

7/28/2019 North Korea releases detained Russian fishing boat: Russian embassy
Russian fishing boat Xianghailin-8, which was detained on July 17 by border guards, is docked in the
port of Wonsan, North Korea, July 26, 2019. Russian Embassy in the DPRK/Handout via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has released a Russian fishing boat held after being accused of violating entry regulations, the Russian embassy in North Korea said on Sunday, in an incident that prompted a Russian warning of a freezing of talks on fisheries cooperation.
    North Korea detained the 15 Russian and two South Korean crew members of the fishing boat on July 17 for violating entry rules, according to the embassy. Russia said the boat did not breach any law.
    The two South Korean men were also freed, the embassy said in a Facebook post.
    Russia’s RIA news agency had earlier cited Russia’s fisheries agency Rosrybolovstvo as saying shipping data showed North Korea’s action had been illegal and the fishing boat had not entered its waters.
    Russia would not hold any talks on fisheries cooperation with North Korea – which cover fishing quotas for North Korean fisherman in Russia’s far east – until the matter was satisfactorily resolved, RIA cited the agency as saying.
    South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, confirmed the release of the boat and the two South Koreans.
    The ministry said it considered the release positive from a humanitarian standpoint.    The Russian trawler arrived in a South Korean port on Sunday afternoon, the ministry said in a statement.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin; Writing by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/28/2019 China rejects U.S. lawmaker’s comments on HK protests, human rights
U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) speaks during the introduction of the Climate Action Now Act
on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China said it strongly opposes what it calls “erroneous” claims made by Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on     Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel, who criticized China’s Communist Party over its position on protests in Hong Kong.
    Engel said in a statement on Friday that he was “deeply concerned” by reports of police brutality in Hong Kong and criticized Beijing’s “increasingly harsh responses and propagandic depictions” of the protesters.
    China’s Foreign Ministry Office in Hong Kong responded on Sunday with a sharply-worded statement, saying it “urges foreign politicians to stop sending the wrong signals over this violent behaviour
    “What are the qualifications of American politicians to criticise Hong Kong’s human rights, freedoms and the rule of law?” it said.
    It’s the latest in a series of sharp rebukes by China aimed at U.S. and UK politicians who have criticized Hong Kong authorities’ responses to the protests, as well as Beijing’s growing influence in the independently governed city.
    The Hong Kong protests, which have surged again in recent days, were initially against an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China, but have since broadened into calls for wider democratic reforms.
    Protesters are also seeking independent inquiries into police use of force and are calling for the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
    China recently said it believes U.S. officials were behind the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and asked the United States to “withdraw their black hands.”
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Sam Holmes)

7/28/2019 Afghan VP candidate injured as Kabul blast kills two, wounds 25 by Hamid Shalizi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
A member of Afghan security forces loads a machine gun near the site of a
powerful blast in Kabul, Afghanistan July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – A powerful explosion hit central Kabul on Sunday, wounding Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate on the first day of official campaigning for a presidential election and killing at least two others, officials said.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came before an expected resumption of peace talks between Taliban insurgents and U.S. diplomats in coming days.
    Two civilians were killed and at least 25 more were injured in the blast on a road near the private Ghalib University, Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.
    Immediately after the blast, gunmen stormed a nearby building belonging to vice presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh’s Afghan Green Trend Party.    Saleh was wounded by shrapnel before being evacuated from the office.
    Photographs shared by a government official showed Saleh sitting in a garden with blood stains on his right arm, surrounded by security guards.
    Afghan soldiers battled gunmen in a four-storey building near the blast site for over six hours, Rahimi said, adding over 40 civilians had been rescued and all attackers killed.    It was unclear how many died in that shootout.
    The violence underscored the risks facing the presidential election, which is scheduled for Sept. 28 but has already been delayed twice this year.
    It follows chaotic parliamentary elections in October last year which were marred by violence and accusations of widespread fraud as well as serious organizational problems.
    Full results of the October parliamentary election were only released in May, almost seven months after the ballot.
TALIBAN OPPONENT
    Saleh, a former Afghan spy chief turned politician, is an uncompromising opponent of the Taliban and other hardline Islamist groups.    He led the country’s National Directorate of Security until 2010.
    Ghani, Saleh and more than a dozen other Afghan politicians, including Hanif Atmar, another former intelligence chief, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former warlord in the anti-Soviet Mujahideen, launched their two-month presidential election campaign on Sunday.
    The elections have become closely intertwined with the peace process although the Taliban’s refusal to talk to the Afghan government, which it considers an illegitimate foreign-imposed puppet, has left Ghani sidelined from the talks so far.
    Ghani said in a tweet: “My brother, true son of the Afghan soil and first VP candidate of my electoral team, Amrullah Saleh, has survived a complex attack by enemies of the state.    We are relieved and thank the almighty that the attack has failed.”
    Saleh, a former close associate of slain anti-Soviet Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who commands strong support among Afghanistan’s minority ethnic Tajiks, was not immediately available for comment.
    No militant group has claimed responsibility but both the Taliban and Islamic State fighters have carried out attacks in recent weeks in Kabul.
    Neighboring Pakistan, which is frequently accused by the Afghan government of sheltering the Taliban, condemned the attack on Saleh’s office.    Pakistan says its influence over the Taliban has waned over the years.
    “Pakistan fully supports the democratic process in Afghanistan.    We stand with our Afghan brothers and sisters in their efforts to restore complete peace in the country through an inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process,” the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said in a statement.
    The Taliban oppose the election and in the past have attacked polling sites and warned civilians against taking part in polls funded by Western powers.
    Last week, Kabul was hit by three consecutive bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State and the Taliban, killing 11 people and injuring more than 40.
(Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Dale Hudson, Raissa Kasolowsky and Deepa Babington)

7/28/2019 Protesters clash in Hong Kong as cycle of violence intensifies by James Pomfret and Simon Gardner
Pro-democracy protesters march to protest against police violence during previous marches,
in central Hong Kong, China July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police clashed with thousands of protesters on Sunday, as they sought to defend China’s main representative office from crowds seething over what many see as an increasing cycle of violence against them.
    Protests over the past two months spearheaded by anti-government activists against a proposed bill that would allow people to be extradited from the city to stand trial in courts in mainland China have grown increasingly violent.
    A march on Saturday against an assault the previous weekend by suspected triad gang members ended in violent turmoil as riot police waded in to disperse crowds.
    On Sunday, a peaceful gathering in a park in the city’s central business district rapidly morphed into a march, as tens of thousands of black-clad protesters set off in several directions, clogging up major thoroughfares.
    Thousands of people headed east, toward the shopping district of Causeway Bay, while another large contingent headed west, toward the Chinese government’s representative office, known as the Central Government Liaison Office.
    There, hundreds of riot police blocked activists from advancing toward the building, which had been heavily fortified with barricades after it was surrounded and defaced a week earlier. A clear plastic shield had been erected around a national emblem above its front doors.
    As the crowds surged, hundreds of riot police with shields advanced, firing rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets and sponge grenades – a crowd-control weapon – at protesters, sending clouds of acrid, burning smoke through the streets.
    Some protesters were on their knees choking as ambulances raced to take away the injured.
    The mostly young activists in hard hats, gas masks and body armor dug in, dismantling street signs and fences which they used to form makeshift barricades to slow police advances.
    Many hit metallic surfaces with sticks to create an ominous drum beat that echoed down the streets.
AGE OF REVOLUTION
    China’s Liaison Office, a potent symbol of Beijing’s rule over the city since Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, has become a target for growing ranks of increasingly emboldened youngsters, angry at China’s tightening grip on the city’s freedoms.
    Under a “one country, two systems” formula instituted as part of China’s sovereignty, the city was promised wide-ranging freedoms denied citizens in mainland China.
    “We call this Hong Kong’s age of revolution,” said a masked protester who called himself K Lee.    “This movement has been sparked by China’s refusal to respect Hong Kong’s freedoms, and the failure of authorities to listen to the people’s voice.”
    After multiple weekends of unrest, the protests have continued to draw large and apparently growing ranks of protesters in increasingly violent stand-offs.
    Protesters responded to police with bricks, eggs and sling shots, as well as home-made gas canisters and paint balls.
    Last Sunday, protesters took police by surprise with a swoop on the Liaison Office, scrawling graffiti and throwing paint bombs at walls, the national emblem and a plaque. Chinese officials described the vandalism as an attack on China’s sovereignty that would not be tolerated.
    “I have no words for Xi Jinping, he is very arrogant in his belief in communism,” said a university student who called herself Miss Ho, referring to the Chinese president.    “He is taking away our freedom, and that is something we cannot bear.”
    China denies interfering in Hong Kong and has warned that the violent protests over the proposed legislation allowing extraditions to mainland China were an “undisguised challenge” to the formula under which it is ruled.
‘STOP VIOLENCE’
    Many of the marchers on Sunday chanted slogans against the police.    Some held banners reading: “We rise as one, we fight as one” and “Stop violence.”
    The protests have brought the most serious political crisis to Hong Kong since it returned to China, and have posed an increasingly delicate national security headache for China’s Xi at a time of trade tensions with the United States and a slowing Chinese economy.
    What began as a movement to oppose the extradition law has taken on broader demands.    They include the resignation of Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam, calls for full democracy and an independent inquiry into what some say has been excessive police force against protesters.
    Lam has so far refused to accede to any of the demands.
    The protesters appeared to be getting more organized and willing to use violence to achieve their aims.    On Sunday, activists said they hoped to stretch the police by splitting their marches.
    “The police usually surround us and we have nowhere to go.    So we adjust our strategy this time.    This is much more fluid and flexible,” protester Edward Ng said.
    As riot police advanced at the end of the night from several fronts, the protesters, hemmed in and unable to see a way out, began streaming down into the Sheung Wan underground metro station.
    The black-clad protesters clambered onto and filled a passenger train, chanting “Free Hong Kong.    Age of Revolution,” in an orderly retreat. Many changed out of their black shirts, then changed trains, and vanished into the night.
(Additional reporting by Felix Tam and Sijia Jiang; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Robert Birsel, Janet Lawrence and Dale Hudson)

7/28/2019 Iran says meeting with parties to nuclear deal ‘constructive’ by Kirsti Knolle
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) – An emergency meeting with parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal was constructive but there are unresolved issues and Tehran will continue to reduce its nuclear commitments if Europeans fail to salvage the pact, Iranian official Abbas Araqchi said on Sunday.
    “The atmosphere was constructive. Discussions were good.    I cannot say that we resolved everything, I can say there are lots of commitments,” Araqchi, the senior Iranian nuclear negotiator, told reporters after the meeting in Vienna.
    Parties to the agreement – Britain, Germany and France plus Russia and China – met Iranian officials for talks called in response to an escalation in tensions between Iran and the West that included confrontations at sea and Tehran’s breaches of the nuclear accord.
    “As we have said, we will continue to reduce our commitments to the deal until Europeans secure Iran’s interests under the deal,” Araqchi said.
    The parties have been trying to salvage the pact since the United States withdrew from it in May 2018 and re-imposed and toughened sanctions on Iran, crippling an already weak economy.
    The Europeans say further breaches of the agreement by Iran would escalate confrontation at a time when Tehran and Washington are at risk of a miscalculation that could lead to war.
    However, their efforts to protect trade with Iran against the U.S. sanctions have yielded nothing concrete so far. Earlier this month, Tehran followed through on its threat to increase its nuclear activities in breach of the agreement.
    Iran has said it will withdrew from the pact unless the Europeans find ways to shield its economy from the U.S. sanctions.
    “All our steps taken so far are reversible if other parties to the deal fulfill their commitments,” an Iranian diplomat told Reuters ahead of the meeting.
    In response to the sanctions, Iran said in May it would decrease its commitments under the nuclear pact. Under the deal, most international sanctions against Tehran were lifted in 2016, in exchange for limitations on its nuclear work.
    So far, Iran has breached the limit of its enriched uranium stockpile as well as enriching uranium beyond a 3.67% purity limit set by its deal with major powers, defying a warning by Europeans to stick to the deal despite U.S. sanctions.
    The U.N. nuclear watchdog, policing the deal, has confirmed the measures announced by Tehran.
SANCTIONS
    Fu Cong, director general of the Department of Arms Control of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, who lead the Chinese delegation, said: “All sides have expressed their commitment to safeguard the JCPOA (nuclear deal) and to continue to implement the JCPOA in a balanced manner."
    “All sides have expressed their strong opposition against the U.S. unilateral imposition of sanctions.”
    The meeting came after Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards seized a British-flagged oil tanker on July 19, two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar which it said was violating sanctions on Syria.
    Araqchi said Britain’s seizure of the Iranian tanker was a violation of the nuclear pact.
    “The countries who are part of (the nuclear deal) shouldn’t create obstacles for the export of Iranian oil,” Araqchi said.
    Britain has called for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital international oil shipping route.    An Iranian government spokesman said on Sunday such a mission would send a “hostile message
    Britain said on Sunday Royal Navy destroyer HMS Duncan had arrived in the Gulf to join a British frigate escorting British-flagged ships through the Strait.
    The seizure of the British tanker in the world’s most important waterway for the oil trade has deepened a crisis between Iran and the West.    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Britain’s seizure of the Iranian oil tanker was illegal and would be detrimental for Britain.
    After meeting Iranian officials in Tehran, Oman’s Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah said all parties should maintain contact to avoid more incidents in the Strait.
    Iran has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the waterway if the United States tries to strangle its economy with sanctions on its vital oil exports.
    Several oil tankers were attacked in waters near Iran’s southern coast in May and June, for which the United States blamed Iran. Tehran denied any involvement.
    Iran in June shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone in the Gulf, which Tehran said had violated its air space.    Washington said the drone was in international skies.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Lisa Barrington in Dubai and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva, Writing by Parisa Hafezi,; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

7/28/2019 Rohingya tell Myanmar they refuse to return without recognition by Ruma Paul
FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees carry bricks to a construction site at the Balukhali camp
in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh refuse to return to Myanmar unless they are recognized as an ethnic group in their home country, leaders told visiting Myanmar officials on Sunday as fresh repatriation talks started.
    A campaign by Myanmar’s military in response to insurgent attacks in 2017 drove 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh’s southeastern border district of Cox’s Bazar, where they live in squalid camps, fearing further persecution if they return.
    U.N. investigators have said Myanmar’s operation included mass killings, gang rapes and arson and was executed with “genocidal intent.”    Myanmar denies the charge.
    This is the second time Myanmar officials have visited the camps in Cox’s Bazar in an effort to convince Rohingya refugees to kick-start the repatriation process.    In October, Rohingya rejected an offer to go back to their homeland when a Myanmar delegation held talks with leaders of the group.
    The Myanmar delegation, led by permanent foreign secretary Myint Thu, held talks with 35 Rohingya leaders in Cox’s Bazar on Saturday and Sunday amid tightened security in the camps.
    Rohingya leaders said they wanted Myanmar to recognize them as an ethnic group with the right to Myanmar citizenship before they return.
    “We told them we won’t return unless we are recognized as Rohingya in Myanmar,” Dil Mohammed, one of the Rohingya leaders who joined the talks, told Reuters by telephone.
    He also said they will not return to Myanmar unless demands for justice, international protection and the ability to go back to their original villages and lands are met.
    “We want citizenship, we want all our rights.    We don’t trust them.    We will return only if international protection is in place,” he said.
    “We will return to our own land … (we) don’t want to end up living in camps.”
    In November, a formal move to start the repatriation process stalled as no Rohingya agreed to return to Myanmar.
    The U.N. refugee agency and aid groups are also doubtful about the plan as they fear for the safety of Rohingya in Myanmar.
    “We are ready to begin the repatriation anytime.    It is up to Myanmar to create a conducive environment to allow the Rohingya to return to their homeland,” said Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner.
    With the repatriation plan largely stalled, Bangladesh has been considering relocating Rohingya refugees to an island in the Bay of Bengal, but some have expressed concern this could lead to a new crisis given the island is vulnerable to cyclones.
    Myanmar has made “minimal” preparations for the return of Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh, an Australian think-tank said.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Dale Hudson)

7/28/2019 Afghan president launches re-election bid amid worsening security by Hamid Shalizi
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani speaks during the first day of the presidential
election campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani launched his re-election campaign on Sunday, promising to start peace talks with the Taliban after decades of war and to transform his nation into a trade hub.
    The 70-year-old, U.S.-trained former World Bank official came to power in 2014 after winning a bitterly disputed election marred by accusations of cheating.
    He is widely expected to win again.
    Having taken office as most foreign troops were leaving, with a much-reduced NATO alliance mission focused mainly on training local forces, his government has struggled to combat a growing Taliban insurgency.
    Tens of thousands of soldiers, police and civilians have been killed in the last five years, leaving Afghans weary of endless violence and widespread corruption in public life.
    Underlining the threat, a powerful blast hit Kabul on Sunday evening, killing one person and wounding a dozen more.
    Ghani’s vice-presidential running mate Amrullah Saleh was injured.
    Earlier, as campaigning began for the Sept. 28 vote, Ghani had told a crowd: “Peace is coming and talks will definitely begin.    We want to end this bloodshed."
    “Why I am running again is because I want to turn Afghanistan into a regional hub for trade and a center of civilization,” he added, pledging that Afghanistan would eventually shake off its dependence on foreign aid.
    The election has become inextricably linked with the peace process, which has grabbed headlines for months but is yet to produce a major breakthrough.
TRUMP WANTS OUT
    With U.S. President Donald Trump making little secret of his desire to end America’s military involvement in Afghanistan entirely, U.S. officials have been talking with the Taliban about a timetable for withdrawal, in exchange for security guarantees.
    But Ghani himself has remained sidelined by the insurgents’ refusal to talk to a government they consider a foreign-appointed “puppet” regime.
    A Taliban spokesman in Doha, Sohail Shaheen, said an election would only deepen Afghanistan’s problems.
    There are doubts too over the logistics for an election already repeatedly postponed, with major technical and organizational hurdles still to be overcome in just two months.
    Last year’s chaotic parliamentary elections underlined how difficult it will be to organize the much more important presidential election, with violence intensifying in recent weeks in the capital Kabul as well as in the provinces.
    Other candidates include Ghani’s partner in government, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Soviet-trained former intelligence chief Hanif Atmar and onetime warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
    Ghani’s electoral rivals accuse him of clinging to power past the normal end of his mandate in May and suspect he may try to stay in office until a peace deal with the Taliban is agreed.
    Despite the security problems, many Afghans appreciate Ghani’s anti-corruption policies, opening of economic corridors with regional powers, and appointing of young and educated Afghans in top government positions.
(Additional reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

7/29/2019 Beijing reiterates support for Hong Kong’s Lam, police by Michael Martina and Anne Marie Roantree
Police officers line up during a protest against what the activists see as excessive police force against protesters during
previous demonstrations, near China's Liaison Office, Hong Kong, China July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) – China reiterated on Monday its support for Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, and its police, and called on Hong Kong people to oppose violence following another weekend of clashes between protesters and police in the city.
    Hong Kong bore the scars on Monday of its eighth straight weekend of violent protests, with hard hats, umbrellas and water bottles littering some central streets.
    Millions have taken part in street protests against a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to China to face trial in Communist Party-controlled courts.
    The protests have at times paralysed parts of the financial district, shut government offices and disrupted business operations across the city.    Officials have also warned about the impact of the unrest on Hong Kong’s economy.
    Beijing has stood by the city’s pro-Beijing leader Lam, and the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, which has cabinet-level authority over the former British colony, reiterated that support at a news conference in Beijing on Monday.
    “The central government firmly supports Carrie Lam leading the Hong Kong government’s administration according to law, firmly supports the Hong Kong police strictly enforcing rule of law,” Yang Guang, a spokesman for the office, told a news conference.
    The most important thing was for Hong Kong to handle the unrest according to the law, Yang said, blaming irresponsible figures in the West for stirring up the trouble in a bid to contain China’s development.
    Such efforts would fail, he said.
    Asked under what conditions the People’s Liberation Army could intervene, Yang referred as other officials have done, to Hong Kong’s mini constitution, known as the Basic Law, which states that the Hong Kong government can ask the PLA garrison in the city to help maintain order.
    Legal scholars have described that as a high threshold.
    Yang said Hong Kong’s government and society needed to come up with more effective ways to help young people address concerns over housing, employment and other issues, although officials did not announce any specific measures to address the unrest.
    The past weekend saw more clashes between protesters and police, who again fired rubber bullets and tear gas as the demonstrations grow increasingly violent.
    Police sought to defend China’s main representative office in Hong Kong from protesters on Sunday for the second consecutive weekend, with the building near the heart of the city fortified with barricades.
    Police said they had arrested at least 49 people over Sunday’s protests for offences including unauthorised assembly and possession of offensive weapons.
PESSIMISTIC
    The protests are the most serious political crisis in Hong Kong since it returned to China 22 years ago.
    They also pose the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
    Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that promised wide-ranging freedoms denied to citizens in mainland China.
    Many fear Beijing is increasingly chipping away at those freedoms.
    What began as a movement to oppose the extradition law has taken on broader demands.    They include the resignation of Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam, calls for full democracy and an independent inquiry into what some say has been excessive force used by police against protesters.
    Lam has refused to accede to any of the demands.
    The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said on Monday that, according to a recent survey, international businesses were pessimistic about the short-term prospects for the city due to escalating violence and political deadlock.
    Respondents reported a deepening perception within their companies and among overseas customers that Hong Kong had become less safe and a riskier place in which to conduct business, it said.
    A series of protests are planned over coming weeks and the outlook is increasingly uncertain.
    Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung, who has tried to mediate between activists and police, told Reuters Lam needed to heed demands to withdraw the extradition bill and set up an independent commission, among other requests.
    “Short of that, we would only be spiralling down towards even more violence, death, a curfew and even PLA interference,” Cheung said.
(Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree and Sijia Jiang; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

7/29/2019 Death toll from attack on Afghan VP candidate’s office rises to 20 by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
Afghan boys walk at the site of Sunday's attack in Kabul, Afghanistan July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – The death toll from a suicide attack on the Kabul office of Amrullah Saleh, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate in September elections, reached 20 with at least 50 wounded, officials said on Monday as cleanup operations began.
    Saleh, a former intelligence chief and security adviser who is running for vice president with Ghani, was slightly wounded in Sunday’s attack on the office of his Green Trends party in central Kabul.
    No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, which came at the start of official campaigning for presidential elections scheduled for Sept. 28.
    Zalmay Khalilzad, the veteran Afghan-American diplomat who is leading the U.S. side in peace negotiations with the Taliban, condemned Sunday’s attack and said the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
    “The attack on Amrullah Saleh’s political party offices was grotesque and a clear act of terrorism,” he said on Twitter.
    Already delayed twice this year, the elections are likely to prove a severe organisational and security test for Ghani’s government, which came to power in 2014 following a bitterly fought campaign and a poll marred by accusations of widespread fraud.
    Sunday’s attack added to an anxious mood in Kabul, where there is concern over chaotic election preparations and uncertainty about the future of U.S. military support for the Afghan government.
    U.S. diplomats have been talking with the Taliban for months to agree a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees.    The talks are expected to resume early next month amid increasing expectations that the two sides are close to an agreement.
    Ghani declared on Sunday that peace was coming but he has so far been excluded from the talks because of the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with a government it considers a foreign-appointed “puppet” regime.
    The attack in central Kabul – a virtual fortress of concrete blast walls, razor wire and police checkpoints – underlined how difficult it will be to maintain security during the election campaign, with government control slipping across the country.
    A suicide bomber in a car packed with explosives blew himself up at a security checkpoint near Saleh’s headquarters late on Sunday, opening the way for three gunmen to force their way into a four-storey office building.
    More than 150 civilians were rescued during a six-hour operation, Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.
    The casualties included four members of the security forces and 16 civilians who were killed and 43 civilians and seven security personnel who were wounded.
    Security has been deteriorating across Afghanistan, with the Taliban and Islamic State fighters mounting near-daily attacks on Afghan forces, government employees and civilians.
(Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Kim Coghill and Paul Tait)

7/29/2019 Britain tells Iran: release ship to ‘come out of the dark’ by Andrew MacAskill
A satellite image of the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas reveals the presence of the seized British oil tanker,
the Stena Impero on July 22, 2019. Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Britain told Iran on Monday that if it wants to “come out of the dark” it must follow international rules and release a British-flagged oil tanker seized by its forces in the Gulf.
    Iranian commandos seized the Stena Impero near the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important waterway for oil shipments, on July 19.     That was two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
    “If the Iranians want to come of the dark and be accepted as a responsible member of the intentional community they need to adhere to rules-based system of the international community,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News.
    “You cannot go about detaining unlawfully foreign vessels.”
    Tehran is angered by renewed sanctions imposed by the United States and what it sees as the failure of Britain and European powers to protect it from the fallout of Washington’s withdrawal from a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers.
    Under the 2015 deal, international sanctions on Iran were relaxed in exchange for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.
    Britain last week started sending a warship to accompany all British-flagged vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, a change in policy announced on Thursday after the government previously said it did not have resources to do so.
    The Defence Ministry said on Sunday that a second warship, the HMS Duncan, had arrived in the Gulf to support the passage of British-flagged ships through the strait, joining the HMS Montrose.
    Raab made his comments on Monday as Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards published footage purportedly showing the Guards warning off a British warship during the seizure of the Stena Impero.
    The video, published by the semi-official Tasnim news agency, contains footage of the capture of the tanker, showing Guards abseiling onto the deck from a helicopter, with the audio recording superimposed.
    Press TV, Iran’s state-run English language news channel, identified the British warship mentioned in the exchange as the Montrose.
    “You are required not to interfere in these issues,” the Guards’ navy representative says.
    “This is British warship foxtrot two three six.    I am in the vicinity of an internationally recognized strait with a merchant vessel in my vicinity conducting transit passage,” a voice with a British accent replies.
    “Don’t put your life in danger,” the Guards navy representative says.
NOT ‘SOME KIND OF BARTER’
    In another interview on Monday, with BBC radio, Raab said that the two seizures of ships were not equivalent.
    “Grace 1 was intercepted because it was in breach of sanctions and heading with oil for Syria and that was the intelligence,” he said, referring to the Iranian ship seized by Britain.
    “We were absolutely lawful entitled to detain it in the way we did.    The Stena Impero was unlawfully detained.    This is not about some kind of barter.    This is about the international law and the rules of the international legal system being upheld and that is what we will insist on.”
    Iran has said it did not capture the Stena Impero in retaliation for the Grace 1 seizure.
    Raab was asked if he hoped for U.S. support for a British-proposed European naval task force to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.    He said he wanted to see a European-led approach but it would be important to have the initiative have U.S. support to make it “viable and effective.”
    The Iranian video aired on Monday also contains an exchange between the Guards and the same British warship during a stand-off in mid-July involving the British Heritage oil tanker, according to Tasnim.
    Aerial video footage of the warship, recorded by an Iranian drone, is shown during the second round of exchanges, Tasnim reported.
    Three Iranian vessels attempted to block the passage of the British Heritage through the Strait of Hormuz but withdrew after warnings from a British warship, the British government said on July 11.
(Story corrected to add missing word out in quote in first paragraph)
(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Angus MacSwan)

7/30/2019 Trump wants forces reduced in Afghanistan by next U.S. election: Pompeo by Lesley Wroughton and Rupam Jain
FILE PHOTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks from a helicopter to return to his plane at the end of
an unannounced visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, June 25, 2019. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/ KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump wants combat forces reduced in Afghanistan by the next U.S. presidential election, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday, in comments that underlined the growing pressure from Washington to cut troop numbers there.
    Trump’s South Asia strategy, unveiled in August 2017, called for an open-ended deployment of U.S. forces with the goal of compelling the Taliban to negotiate peace with the Kabul government to end nearly 18 years of war.
.     However, Pompeo’s comments underscored a shift that has apparently taken place since talks with the Taliban opened last year.
    “That’s my directive from the president of the United States,” Pompeo told The Economic Club of Washington D.C. when asked whether he expects the United States to reduce troops in Afghanistan before the next election in November 2020.
    “He’s been unambiguous: end the endless wars, draw down, reduce.    It won’t just be us,” he said, referring to Trump’s directive.    “We hope that overall the need for combat forces in the region is reduced.”
    The disclosure of a timeline will add to speculation that Trump is prepared to strike any deal with the Taliban that will allow for at least partial U.S. withdrawal before American voters go to the polls, irrespective of the concerns of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
    “Now suddenly adhering to the date suited to Trump’s election date has become more important than the meticulous task of bringing peace to Afghanistan,” said a senior Afghan official who is also a close aide to President Ashraf Ghani.
    “The American haste to pull out foreign troops has only provided more leverage to the Taliban.    Afghan forces will be soon abandoned to fight the war alone,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
    Pompeo’s comments come at a delicate moment, as Afghanistan prepares for a presidential election of its own in September and the United States prepares to engage in another round talks with the insurgents.
    Disclosing Trump’s goal of withdrawing forces could weaken the U.S. negotiating position if the Taliban believe Trump wants to get out, no matter what.
    On Friday, the State Department said Pompeo and Ghani agreed in a telephone call to “accelerate efforts” to end the war, and that the United States remained committed to a “conditions-based” drawdown of troops.
    Pompeo said he was optimistic about the negotiations with the Taliban to end the nearly 18-year-old war.
    Washington wants a deal under which foreign forces would pull out in return for security guarantees by the Taliban, in particular a pledge that the country will not become a safe haven for terror groups.
    “We want them to take their country back, and we want to reduce what is, for us, tens of billions of dollars a year in expenditures,” Pompeo said.
    More than 20,000 U.S. and other NATO coalition troops are in Afghanistan as part of a mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces, which remain heavily dependent on U.S. air support, and to carry out counterterrorism operations.
INTRA-AFGHAN TALKS
    While U.S. diplomats say the peace process must be “Afghan owned and led,” senior Afghan officials and Western diplomats said the timetable being imposed by the White House to get U.S. troops out risked overshadowing the wider aim of peace among Afghans.
    “Ensuring that the Afghan government and the Taliban hold direct talks has clearly slipped below the radar, the main aim is to cut a deal with the Taliban before Afghan elections in September,” said one European diplomat in Kabul.
    While the Taliban have held meetings with Afghan politicians and civil society representatives, they have refused to deal with the Afghan government, which they deride as a U.S. “puppet.”
    Some U.S. allies fear that once a timetable for a U.S. pullout is announced, the Afghan government will have little leverage over the militants in their talks about how to run the country.
    Zalmay Khalilzad, the veteran Afghan-American diplomat leading negotiations for Washington, expects Ghani to appoint a team of politicians, civil society members and women rights’ activists to meet Taliban leaders, a second European diplomat said.
    But those so-called intra-Afghan talks will only come after the United States has struck and announced its troop withdrawal plan with the Taliban.
    “The bargaining power to protect democracy and basic freedom will be surrendered once the pullout is announced,” the second diplomat said.
    Officials at the NATO’s Resolute Support in Kabul said they were working on a drawdown plan while maintaining support for Afghan forces in their fight against the militants.
    “There is a massive churning, some bases could be vacated and some could be merged together but security and counter-terrorism operations are not being compromised,” said a senior NATO officer.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Robert Birsel)

7/30/2019 Hong Kong protesters disrupt train services, cause commuter chaos by Vimvam Tong and Felix Tam
Anti-extradition bill demonstrators wearing helmets are seen inside a Mass Transit Railway (MTR)
train in Hong Kong, China July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters blocked train services during the morning rush hour on Tuesday, causing commuter chaos in the latest anti-government campaign to roil the former British colony.
    What started three months ago as rallies against an extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial, has evolved into a wider backlash against the city’s government and its political masters in Beijing.
    Protests have occurred almost daily, sometimes with little notice, disrupting business, piling pressure on the city’s beleaguered government and stretching its police force, which some have accused of using excessive force.
    Activists blocked train doors, playing havoc with services and forcing hundreds of people to stream out of railway stations in search of alternative transport.
    “We don’t know how long we are going to stay here, we don’t have a leader, as you can see this is a mass movement now,” said Sharon, a 21-year-old masked protester who declined to give her full name.
    “It’s not our intention to inconvenience people, but we have to make the authorities understand why we protest.    We will continue with this as long as needed.”
    Others chanted, “Liberate Hong Kong,” and “Revolution of our time.”
    By mid-morning, commuters were crammed into stations across the city, waiting to board trains that were badly delayed, with no service on some lines.
    Rail operator MTR Corp urged people to seek other transport.
    Transport Secretary Frank Chan called on protesters to stop targeting a rail network that provides transport to five million people a day, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
    Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997, is embroiled in its worst political crisis for decades after two months of increasingly violent protests that have posed one of the gravest populist challenges to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
‘INCONVENIENT AND ANNOYING’
    China on Monday reiterated its support for Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, and its police and urged Hong Kong people to oppose violence.
    Lam’s popularity has dropped to a record low, according to a survey by the independent Public Opinion Research Institute released on Tuesday.
    The survey, conducted between July 17 and July 19, showed Lam scored a rating of 30.1, down from 33.4 at the beginning of the month. Her approval rate stands at 21%, while her disapproval rate is 70%.
    Over the last few years, many people in Hong Kong have become concerned about the whittling away of the city’s freedoms, guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula established when it returned to China in 1997.
    China denies interfering and has warned that the protests are an “undisguised challenge” to the formula under which the city is ruled, and risked damaging its economy.
    The mass transit protest follows a demonstration at the Chinese-ruled city’s international airport on Friday and violent protests at the weekend when activists clashed with police who fired rubber bullets, tear gas and sponge grenades – a crowd-control weapon.
    Some scuffles broke out between commuters and protesters, who gradually began to disperse, while more police were deployed in stations, where they stopped protesters to search their bags.
    Commuters grew increasingly frustrated over the disruption, and shops, including bakeries and convenience stores, had also begun to close.
    “It’s so inconvenient and annoying, really.    I am in hurry to work, to make a living.    Will you give away your salary to me?” said a 64-year-old man surnamed Liu.
    Others were more supportive, refusing to blame the protesters.
    “This non-cooperation movement is caused by Carrie Lam.    She doesn’t cooperate with the people of Hong Kong or respond to their demands,” Jason Lo, 31, told Reuters as he waited for a train.
(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee, Vimvam Tong and Felix Tam; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Farah Master; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)

7/30/2019 Iran’s Zarif calls on Trump to reject hawkish allies’ thirst for war
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/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister called on Tuesday on U.S. President Donald Trump to reject his hawkish allies’ thirst for war, adding that Iranians had outlasted every aggressor for millennia.
    “For millennia, Iranians have outlasted every aggressor … @realDonaldTrump: reject #B_Team’s fake history & its thirst for #ForeverWar.    Diplomacy=prudence; never weakness,” Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.
    Zarif has in the past said that a so-called “B-team” including Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, an ardent Iran hawk, and conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could goad Trump into a conflict with Tehran.
    Trump himself tweeted on Monday: “Just remember, the Iranians never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/30/2019 China says most people in Xinjiang camps have ‘returned to society’ by Michael Martina
A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in
Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Most people sent to mass detention centers in China’s Xinjiang region have “returned to society,” a senior official from the region said on Tuesday, but he declined to give an estimate of for many have been held in recent years.
    U.N. experts and activists say at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs, and members of other largely Muslim minority groups, have been detained in camps in the western region.
    China describes the camps as vocational training centers to help stamp out religious extremism and teach new work skills.
    Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz, asked at a briefing in Beijing for an account of how many people had been put in the facilities, said the number was “dynamic,” and that most had “successfully achieved employment.”
    “Currently, most people who have received training have already returned to society, returned home,” Tuniaz said.
    A transcript of the briefing emailed to reporters had been edited to read “most have already graduated,” using the word for students who finish a course or graduate from high school.
    “Individual countries and news media have ulterior motives, have inverted right and wrong, and slandered and smeared (China)” over the centers, he said.
    China has not issued any detailed figures for how many people have been sent to the camps and authorities limit access for independent investigators.
    Researchers have made estimates through various methods such as analyzing government procurement documents and satellite imagery of the facilities.
    Foreign journalists have reported personal accounts of some former internees, and photographed sprawling prison-like facilities surrounded by razor wire and watch towers.
    As Western countries have mounted more strident criticism of the camps, China has not backed down on what it says is a highly successful de-radicalization program in a region that has been plagued with intermittent ethnic violence.
    Officials have arranged highly choreographed visits for journalists and diplomats to some of the facilities, where the government says the rights of the “trainees” are fully guaranteed.
    It has also suggested that fewer people would be sent through the centers over time.
    The government rejects any suggestion that it abuses religious and human rights.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this month called China’s treatment of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang the “stain of the century,” and the Trump administration has been weighing sanctions against Chinese officials over their policies there.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/31/2019 Sign of the times: China’s capital orders Arabic, Muslim symbols taken down by Huizhong Wu
The Arabic script on the signboard of a halal food store is seen covered, at Niujie area in
Beijing, China, July 19, 2019. Picture taken July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer u000d
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Authorities in the Chinese capital have ordered halal restaurants and food stalls to remove Arabic script and symbols associated with Islam from their signs, part of an expanding national effort to “Sinicize” its Muslim population.
    Employees at 11 restaurants and shops in Beijing selling halal products and visited by Reuters in recent days said officials had told them to remove images associated with Islam, such as the crescent moon and the word “halal” written in Arabic, from signs.
    Government workers from various offices told one manager of a Beijing noodle shop to cover up the “halal” in Arabic on his shop’s sign, and then watched him do it.
    “They said this is foreign culture and you should use more Chinese culture,” said the manager, who, like all restaurant owners and employees who spoke to Reuters, declined to give his name due to the sensitivity of the issue.
    The campaign against Arabic script and Islamic images marks a new phase of a drive that has gained momentum since 2016, aimed at ensuring religions conform with mainstream Chinese culture.
    The campaign has included the removal of Middle Eastern-style domes on many mosques around the country in favor of Chinese-style pagodas.
    China, home to 20 million Muslims, officially guarantees freedom of religion, but the government has campaigned to bring the faithful into line with Communist Party ideology.
    It’s not just Muslims who have come under scrutiny.    Authorities have shut down many underground Christian churches, and torn down crosses of some churches deemed illegal by the government.
    But Muslims have come in for particular attention since a riot in 2009 between mostly Muslim Uighur people and majority Han Chinese in the far western region of Xinjiang, home to the Uighur minority.
    Spasms of ethnic violence followed, and some Uighurs, chafing at government controls, carried out knife and crude bomb attacks in public areas and against the police and other authorities.
    In response, China launched what it described as a crackdown on terrorism in Xinjiang.
    Now, it is facing intense criticism from Western nations and rights groups over its policies, in particular mass detentions and surveillance of Uighurs and other Muslims there.
    The government says its actions in Xinjiang are necessary to stamp out religious extremism.    Officials have warned about creeping Islamisation, and have extended tighter controls over other Muslim minorities.
‘NEW NORMAL’
    Analysts say the ruling Communist Party is concerned that foreign influences can make religious groups difficult to control.
Arabic is seen as a foreign language and knowledge of it is now seen as something outside of the control of the state,” said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Washington who studies Xinjiang.
    “It is also seen as connected to international forms of piety, or in the eyes of state authorities, religious extremism.    They want Islam in China to operate primarily through Chinese language,” he said.
    Kelly Hammond, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas who studies Muslims of the Hui minority in China, said the measures were part of a “drive to create a new normal.”
    Beijing is home to at least 1,000 halal shops and restaurants, according to the Meituan Dianping food delivery app, spread across the city’s historic Muslim quarter as well as in other neighborhoods.
    It was not clear if every such restaurant in Beijing has been told to cover Arabic script and Muslim symbols.    One manager at a restaurant still displaying Arabic said he’d been ordered to remove it but was waiting for his new signs.
    Several bigger shops visited by Reuters replaced their signs with the Chinese term for halal – “qing zhen” – while others merely covered up the Arabic and Islamic imagery with tape or stickers.
    The Beijing government’s Committee on Ethnicity and Religious affairs declined to comment, saying the order regarding halal restaurants was a national directive.
    The National Ethnic Affairs Commission did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
    While most shopkeepers interviewed by Reuters said they did not mind replacing their signs, some said it confused their customers and an employee at a halal butcher shop accused authorities of “erasing” Muslim culture.
    “They are always talking about national unity, they’re always talking about China being international.    Is this national unity?
(Reporting by Huizhong Wu; Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Se Young Lee and Tony Munroe)

7/31/2019 North Korea tests more missiles despite efforts at diplomatic solutions by Josh Smith and 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) – North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles early on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, only days after it launched two similar missiles intended to pressure South Korea and the United States to stop upcoming military drills.
    The firings follow launches on July 25, North Korea’s first missile tests since leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met on June 30 and agreed to revive stalled denuclearization talks.
    The series of missile tests raises the stakes for U.S. and South Korean diplomats criss-crossing the region this week in the hope of restarting talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
    “North Korea’s actions do not help ease military tensions, nor do they help keep the momentum for talks that are under way,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters in Seoul before leaving for a Southeast Asian security forum in Bangkok.
    Kang urged North Korea to halt the missile launches.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top U.S. North Korea negotiator were also headed to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in the Thai capital, where Pompeo said he was holding out hope that U.S. officials could meet North Korean counterparts.
    Trump and Pompeo both played down last week’s launches and Pompeo has continued to express hope for a diplomatic way forward with North Korea.
    The latest launch comes ahead of newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s first official visit to Seoul, which the Pentagon said on Tuesday was scheduled as part of a tour through Asia in August.
    U.S. military forces in South Korea were aware of Wednesday’s launch, a spokesman said.
(For a graphic on ‘North Korea launches missiles’ click https://tmsnrt.rs/2ybKNnc)
(For a graphic on ‘North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests’ click https://tmsnrt.rs/2LtaM2I)
NEW MISSILES
    Wednesday’s launches were from the Wonsan area on North Korea’s east coast, from which last week’s missiles had been fired, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.    It said it was monitoring in case of more launches.
    The JCS said later the North had fired ballistic missiles that flew about 250 km (155 miles) and appeared to be similar to those of last week.
    The missiles, dubbed the KN-23, are designed to evade missile defense systems by being easier to hide, launch, and maneuver in flight, experts said.
    Kim described the two KN-23s launched last week as having a “low-altitude gliding and leaping flight” pattern that would make them hard to intercept.
    Analysts said the range and altitude of Wednesday’s flights could indicate a demonstration or test of those capabilities.
    South Korean defense minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a defense forum in Seoul that stopping a missile like the KN-23 would be difficult, although South Korea’s missile defense systems would be able to detect and intercept them.
    South Korea’s defense ministry also told lawmakers in Seoul it had concluded that a new submarine the North showcased last week was capable of carrying up to three ballistic missiles.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there was no impact from Wednesday’s launch on Japan’s security.
    “We will continue to closely cooperate with the United States and others,” Abe told reporters.
    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan would still seek a summit with North Korea, without conditions, despite the latest launch.
‘BARGAINING CHIP’
    Trump and Kim met on June 30 in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas but Pyongyang has since accused Washington of breaking a promise by planning to hold joint military exercises with South Korea next month and warned the drills could derail talks.
    Later on Wednesday, state news agency KCNA repeated calls for the United States and South Korea to end their “hostile” joint drills, but did not mention the missile launches.
    “It is a prerequisite for improving the inter-Korean relations and ensuring peace on the Korean peninsula to call an overall and permanent halt to anti-North war drills, the root cause of confrontation and war,” it said in a commentary.
    Moves by the United States and South Korea to rename the approaching exercises were simply double-dealing that proved “confrontational maniacs remain unchanged in their black-hearted intention to stifle” North Korea by force, it added.
    A top South Korean official said last month the drills would mainly involve computer simulations.
    North Korea has also warned of a possible end to its freeze on nuclear and long-range missile tests that has been in place since 2017, which Trump has repeatedly upheld as evidence of the success of his engagement with Kim.
    Henri Feron, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, said the United States and South Korea may need to consider a temporary suspension of the drills, or propose other measures to reduce tensions.
    “I do think there is a high risk that talks will end altogether if Washington and Seoul continue to ignore North Korea’s concern with the exercises,” he said.
    A summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February collapsed after they failed to reconcile differences between Washington’s demands for Pyongyang’s complete denuclearization and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.
    Trump says he has a good relationship with Kim and Pompeo said on Monday he hoped working-level talks could occur soon.
    Pompeo told reporters traveling with him to Asia on Tuesday he did not know when this would happen but hoped U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and his new counterpart could meet soon.
    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho canceled a planned visit to the ASEAN forum in Bangkok but Pompeo said the Americans were still open to a meeting.
    Harry Kazianis, of Washington’s Center for the National Interest think tank, said the latest launches were a clear attempt by North Korea to put pressure on Washington.
    Other analysts have said North Korea will be emboldened to press more aggressively for U.S. concessions by Trump’s apparent eagerness to hold up his engagement with Pyongyang as a foreign policy success ahead of his 2020 re-election bid.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in SEOUL, Eric Beech and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Chris Gallagher in TOKYO; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

7/31/2019 Hong Kong charges 44 protesters with rioting, grants bail by Vimvam Tong and Lukas Job
Protesters gather outside the Eastern Courts to support the arrested anti-extradition bill protesters who face
rioting charges, as the typhoon Wipha approaches in Hong Kong, China July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – More than 40 people appeared in a Hong Kong court on Wednesday charged with rioting for their role in a recent protest that turned violent when thousands of activists clashed with police near Beijing’s main representative office in the city.
    A wave of protests that began in late April have plunged the former British colony into its biggest political crisis since its return to Chinese rule in 1997, but this is the first time that the authorities in the financial hub have resorted to using the rioting charge.
    The 44 charged had been arrested after a peaceful gathering on Sunday in a park in the city’s central business district rapidly morphed into running battles between thousands of black-clad demonstrators and police, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
    The use of the anti-riot law could infuriate activists who have been demanding that the government avoid using the term “riot” to refer to the demonstrations.    Under Hong Kong law, rioting is defined as an unlawful assembly of three or more people where any person “commits a breach of the peace,” and a conviction can carry a 10-year prison sentence.
    Most of the defendants were released on bail of HK$1,000 (US$128).    The court also imposed a curfew from midnight to 6 am on most of them, and many were ordered to remain in Hong Kong.
    Those charged included 13 students, seven clerks, a pilot from the city’s main airline, Cathay Pacific, teachers, nurses, workers and salesmen.    All were released on bail and are due back in court on Sept. 25.
    “The Chinese government just wants to scare people not to go out and protest again,” another supporter named Syrus, 19, said outside the court.    “It will deter some of us.”
    Hundreds of people surrounded a police station late on Tuesday after the 44 activists were charged, and on Wednesday morning, hundreds gathered outside the court house, chanting “revolution of our time” and “liberate Hong Kong.”
    Even with a typhoon approaching the city and rain lashing down, many of them, huddled beneath umbrellas, stayed on to show solidarity.
    “I’m not scared to protest.    This whole thing today is just making me more angry,” said Gartner, a 21-year-old protester outside the court who declined to give his full name.
FIREWORKS FIRED INTO CROWD
    The protests were triggered by an extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland for trial but they have now evolved into a broader backlash against the city’s government and its political masters in Beijing.
    Besides calling for the extradition bill to be scrapped, rather than its suspension so far, protesters have also demanded the resignation of city leader Carrie Lam, an independent inquiry into the police’s handling of the crisis and the unconditional release of all those arrested.
    Since mid-June the protests have escalated and become more frequent, at times shutting government offices, blocking roads and disrupting business as some of the demonstrations degenerated into violent clashes between activists and police.
    At a demonstration outside Tin Shui Wai police station in the early hours of Wednesday, the occupants of a passing car fired fireworks into the crowd, injuring six people, police said.    There were no immediate arrests, but police issued a statement that “strongly condemned” the attack.
    China’s Liaison Office, a potent symbol of Beijing’s rule over the city since Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, has become a target for growing ranks of increasingly emboldened youngsters, angry at China’s tightening grip on the city’s freedoms.
    Under a “one country, two systems” formula adopted as part of China’s sovereignty, the city was promised wide-ranging freedoms denied citizens in mainland China.
    Many fear the central government in Beijing is chipping away at those freedoms.
    Edward Leung, one of the leaders of a movement advocating Hong Kong’s independence from China, was jailed in June last year for six years for rioting and assaulting police during a protest in a 2016.    In an open letter sent from prison earlier this week, Leung urged protesters not to be “controlled by hatred” in these dangerous times, and to remain rational and alert.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Liu, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

7/31/2019 Afghanistan highway blast kills at least 35 on bus, wounds 27 by Storay Karimi Jalil Rezaee
Afghan men receive treatment at a hospital after a bus was hit by a roadside bomb in
Herat province, western Afghanistan July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad
    HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) – A roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Wednesday killed at least 35 people traveling on a bus, including children, and injured 27, officials said.
    Security has been deteriorating across Afghanistan this year, with the Taliban and Islamic State fighters mounting near-daily attacks on Afghan forces, government employees and civilians.
    The blast on the main road linking the provincial capitals of Herat and Kandahar happened in the Ab Khorma area of Farah province, said provincial police spokesman Mohibullah Mohib.
    “The bomb was freshly planted by the Taliban insurgents to target Afghan and foreign security forces,” he said, adding most of the dead or injured were women and children.
    No militant group claimed responsibility.
    Farah is on the border of Iran.
    A Taliban official denied responsibility and said their fighters were not responsible for planting landmines in the area.
    “The blast has not been conducted by the Taliban, we are investigating the incident,” said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
    The blast comes ahead of the resumption of peace talks between U.S. officials and Taliban representatives, who are hoping to strike a deal on a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees by the Taliban.
    But despite the talks, violence has been relentless.
    Government and aid officials say the number of people being killed and maimed is rising because of new explosives planted by the Taliban, who now control more territory than at any point since their ouster nearly 18 years ago.
    According to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), more than 1,415 civilians were killed or injured by landmines and leftover ordnance in Afghanistan last year.
‘INDISCRIMINATE’
    A senior official at UNMAS in Kabul said initial reports suggested a bomb with a pressure plate was used in the bus blast in Farah.
    “These are used by the anti-government groups to target convoys or control population movement.    They are indiscriminate and currently inflict hundreds of civilian casualties,” said Mohammad Wakil Jamshidi, deputy program manager at UNMAS.
    “As peace negotiations continue, there is scope for the removal of these devices and other explosive ordnance to generate peace-building dividends,” he said.
    In eastern Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan, clashes between the Taliban and Afghan forces on Wednesday caused civilian casualties.
    Sohrab Qaderi, a member of Nangarhar’s provincial council, said Afghan special forces conducted operations in the Gandumak area, which is under Taliban control.
    “Two Taliban fighters and five civilians were killed,” said Qaderi.
    At least 3,812 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of 2019 in the war with a big increase in the number of casualties caused by government and foreign forces, the United Nations said in a report published on Tuesday.
    Afghan and foreign forces said civilians are hurt or killed during ground raids or air strikes as insurgents use them as human shields.
(Additional reporting Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Rupam Jain in Kabul, Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel)

7/31/2019 U.S. set to push security strategy as Chinese maneuvers rattle region by Martin Petty
FILE PHOTO: A Rosneft Vietnam employee looks on at the Lan Tay gas platform in the South China Sea
off the coast of Vung Tau, Vietnam April 29, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – Recent incidents involving Chinese ships in Southeast Asian waters are testing regional faith in Beijing’s sincerity about maritime peace, and aiding a renewed U.S. push to build alliances with countries unnerved by China’s assertiveness.
    Chinese maneuvering in energy-rich stretches of the South China Sea, including a standoff in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone, will figure on Friday when top diplomats of Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN attend a security gathering with world powers.
    Among those is a United States that has laid out an “Indo-Pacific Strategy” challenging Chinese maritime hegemony and seeking stronger ties with nations pushing back against Beijing.
    Vietnam has done just that, demanding earlier this month that China remove a survey ship and escorts from its waters near an offshore oil block.
    Within hours, the U.S. State Department rebuked China for “bullying behavior” and “provocative and destabilizing activity.”
    “The U.S. role is undeniable and very important and they need to put more pressure on China,” said Hai Hong Nguyen, a research fellow at Queensland University of Technology in Australia.
    “The international community needs to do that too. All the claimants need to internationalize it.”
    Vietnam’s call to rally the international community was a departure from its usual cautious responses to China, which seeks to settle rows bilaterally.
    Vietnam also appears to have tacit support from Russia, whose state oil firm Rosneft, is operating an oil block within what China says is its historic jurisdiction.
    Two days after a Chinese coastguard ship was tracked near the oil block on July 16, in what U.S. thinktank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) called a “threatening manner,” the Vietnamese arm of Russia’s Sputnik state news agency said President Vladimir Putin sent a personal message of gratitude to Rosneft Vietnam for developing the block.
    Russia will be among the 27 countries at Friday’s ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Bangkok.
    Also present will be foreign ministers of Japan, the United States, China and Australia, plus those of the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, which have recently been impacted by Chinese vessels, including the coastguard and a fishing militia.
    The Philippine foreign minister on Wednesday confirmed a diplomatic protest to China over Chinese vessels surrounding the tiny Philippine-held Thitu island.
‘GRAY ZONE TACTICS’
    The same Chinese Haijing 35111 coast guard ship that showed up near Rosneft’s operation off Vietnam was also tracked near an oil rig on Malaysia’s continental shelf during May, according to the AMTI thinktank.
    Meanwhile in June, a Chinese fishing boat sank a Filipino vessel, leaving 22 crew stranded near the Reed Bank, the site of gas deposits inside the Philippine EEZ.    China said it was an accident.
    On Monday, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that five Chinese warships passed through Manila’s 12-mile territorial sea this month without notifying the government, calling that “a failure to observe protocol or common courtesy.”
    According to South China Sea expert Carl Thayer, the recent increase in Chinese assertiveness is no coincidence, but a response to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, and an increase in flyovers by U.S. bombers and U.S. navy patrols in the South China Sea, through which $3.4 trillion of goods pass annually.
    Thayer suggested China was actively preventing Southeast Asian neighbors from developing offshore energy reserves without its participation, and discouraging foreign partnerships.
    “China’s use of gray zone tactics will inevitably cause regional states to take countermeasures and push back,” he wrote.    “This carries the risk that confrontations at sea will escalate.”
    Defending Beijing’s position, China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua, said on Tuesday that China was committed to international law and “working very hard” with ASEAN to create a maritime code of conduct within three years.
    “No matter how strong China may become, China will never seek hegemony or never establish spheres of influence,” he said.
    China’s one key ally is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who despises the United States, and whose foreign policy was praised by China’s Global Times newspaper last week as “peaceful, cooperative and restrained.”
    But Duterte’s U.S.-allied defense top brass appear uncomfortable with the position and surveys show Filipinos vastly favor the United States over China.
    According to Manila-based author and analyst Richard Heydarian, Duterte is increasingly isolated in defending China.
    “From the very front lines, Hong Kong and Taiwan all the way to the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and definitely Vietnam – you’re seeing a robust pushback by a lot of smaller countries,” he said.
    “Definitely, Washington has that strategic room for maneuver,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Khanh Vu in HANOI and Matthew Tostevin in BANGKOK; Editing by Michael Perry)

7/31/2019 Hong Kong economy takes a hit as protests deter shoppers, tourists by OAN Newsroom
    Business in Hong Kong remains sluggish as protests continue to plague the streets for the eighth consecutive week.    In a blog post written over the weekend, Hong Kong Finance Secretary Paul Chan warned the unemployment rate is likely to rise as social unrest continues to grip the city.
    According to reports, many shoppers and tourists are choosing to stay home due to fear of the violent protests.    Many local shop owners have reported an overwhelming decline of sales, while some have chosen to close their shops entirely.
    “It’s had a big impact.    There’s no point in opening with no business.    Trade is down to less than 20-percent really.    Since the protests began in mid-June, our business has fallen by 30 to 40-percent. That’s a serious hit.” — Shop Owner, Hong Kong
    This comes as Hong Kong continues to suffer the city’s biggest drop in trade the past three-years.
A bleeding man is taken away by policemen after attacked by protesters outside Kwai Chung police station in
Hong Kong, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Protesters clashed with police again in Hong Kong on Tuesday night after
reports that some of their detained colleagues would be charged with the relatively serious charge of rioting. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

7/31/2019 U.S. believes Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza is dead: official by Mark Hosenball
FILE PHOTO: A photograph circulated by the U.S. State Department’s Twitter account to announce a $1 million USD reward for al Qaeda
key leader Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, is seen March 1, 2019. State Department/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – The United States believes that Hamza bin Laden, a son of slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and himself a notable figure in the militant group, is dead, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.
    The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, provided no further details, including when Hamza died or where.
    President Donald Trump earlier on Wednesday declined to comment after NBC News first reported the U.S. assessment.
    Asked if he had intelligence that bin Laden’s son had been killed, Trump told reporters: “I don’t want to comment on it.”
    Separately, the White House declined comment on whether any announcement was imminent.
    Hamza, believed to be about 30 years old, was at his father’s side in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and spent time with him in Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan pushed much of al Qaeda’s senior leadership there, according to the Brookings Institution.
    Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces who raided his compound in Pakistan in 2011.    Hamza was thought to be under house arrest in Iran at the time, and documents recovered from the compound indicated that aides had been trying to reunite him with his father.
    The New York Times reported that the United States had a role in the operation that led to Hamza’s death, which it said took place in the past two years.    Reuters could not immediately verify those details.
    Still, the U.S. government’s conclusion appears to be a recent one.    In February, the State Department said it was offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading “to the identification or location in any country” of Hamza, calling him a key al Qaeda leader.
    Introduced by al Qaeda’s chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in an audio message in 2015, Hamza provided a younger voice for the group whose aging leaders have struggled to inspire militants around the world galvanized by Islamic State, according to analysts.
    Hamza has called for acts of terrorism in Western capitals and threatened to take revenge against the United States for his father’s killing, the U.S. State Department said in 2017 when it designated him as a global terrorist.
    He also threatened to target Americans abroad and urged tribal groups in Saudi Arabia to unite with Yemen’s al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to fight against Saudi Arabia, it said.
    In March, Saudi Arabia announced it had stripped Hamza bin Laden of his citizenship, saying the decision was made by a royal order in November 2018.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; writing by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Howard Goller, Alistair Bell, Phil Stewart and G Crosse)

7/31/2019 Iran supreme leader: People’s will prevail in Bahrain after protests
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during ceremony attended by
Iranian clerics in Tehran, Iran, July 16, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday the will of the people would prevail in Bahrain after protests there following the execution of two Shi’ite Muslim Bahraini activists over the weekend.
    Bahrain accuses mainly Shi’ite Iran of stoking militancy in the kingdom, which Tehran denies. Bahrain, a strategic island where the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based, has a Shi’ite Muslim majority population but is ruled by a Sunni Muslim royal family.
    “Oppression and force will not remain and the choice and will of justice-seeking people will ultimately be victorious,” Khamenei wrote in a message posted on his official Arabic-language Twitter account, along with a picture of the two activists who were killed.
    The protests marked the most significant unrest in more than two years in Bahrain since authorities executed three Shi’ite men convicted of killing three policemen in a bomb attack.
    Bahrain is the only one of the Gulf Arab monarchies to have experienced serious unrest during the Arab Spring pro-democracy demonstrations that swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/31/2019 Afghanistan names team to talk to Taliban, expecting swift U.S. deal to leave by Rupam Jain and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at
Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Afghan government named a team on Wednesday to negotiate directly with the Taliban, in the expectation that Washington was on the cusp of agreeing to withdraw troops after 18 years of war, meeting the insurgents’ precondition for talks with Kabul.
    The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, tweeted that he was on his way to negotiation venue Qatar, ready to close a deal to end the war that began in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
    “I’m off to Doha, with a stop in Islamabad.    In Doha, if the Taliban do their part, we will do ours, and conclude the agreement we have been working on,” Khalilzad said.
    Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for Taliban’s political office in Doha said: “We have completed consultations with our leaders regarding the talks with the U.S, now we are ready and waiting for him (Khalilzad) to restart the talks.”
    Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran American diplomat, was appointed last year to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban, who now control more territory than at any point since the United States bombed them out of power in 2001.
    They have said they will not talk with the Afghan government about the future of the country until Washington agrees to withdraw its troops.
    Khalilzad has been in Kabul, where he met President Ashraf Ghani, top security officials, senior opposition leaders, diplomats and civil society members to discuss the peace process before striking a deal with the Taliban.
    “Wrapping up my most productive visit to Afghanistan since I took this job as Special Rep. The U.S. and Afghanistan have agreed on next steps,” he said on Twitter.
    Two sources with knowledge of the talks said they could conclude with an agreement on the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees by the Taliban.
    Afghanistan’s ministry of peace appointed a 15-member delegation on Wednesday to negotiate with the Taliban.    An official at the ministry said Norway could be the venue for intra-Afghan talks.
    About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are now in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.    Some U.S. forces carry out counter-terrorism operations.    President Donald Trump has announced his aim to end the war.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said some senior members of its negotiating team were traveling to the Indonesian capital Jakarta, and talks with U.S. officials would resume after they returned to Doha.    “I can’t say when the talks with the United States will start,” he said.
FEARS
    Many Afghans fear a U.S. troop withdrawal announcement will weaken their bargaining power with the hardline Islamist group, which aims to re-establish an Islamic emirate to replace an elected government it dismisses as puppets of foreign forces.
    Women’s rights groups in particular worry about the fate of women and girls in the event of a return of the Taliban, who banned girls’ education and imposed severe restrictions on women’s rights to work outside the home.
    Last week the Taliban said talks with the Afghan government would come only after a deal had been struck with the United States on the departure of its forces.
    At the peak of the conflict nearly a decade ago, the United States had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan leading a 130,000-strong international force to prevent the Taliban from returning to power.    More than 3,400 foreign troops died there, including more than 2,300 Americans.
    The United Nations has tallied the deaths of more than 33,000 civilians in the war since 2009, including 1,300 in the first six months of this year.    Tens of thousands of members of the Afghan security forces and an unknown number of insurgents have also died in the conflict.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain and Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Editing by Robert Birsel, Clarence Fernandez and Peter Graff)

8/1/2019 Conciliatory tone as top diplomats from United States and China meet by Cate Cadell and Patpicha Tanakasempipat
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo poses with his ASEAN counterparts for a family photo during the
ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi met face-to-face for the first time this year on Thursday and Wang said they discussed ways to promote China-U.S. ties despite “recent disturbances.”
    The words contrasted with the scorn Chinese officials have heaped on Pompeo recently, with U.S.-Chinese ties souring on multiple fronts, from a trade war to U.S. sanctions on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to Taiwan and the South China Sea.
    “There may be at various times issues and problems between China and the United States, but no matter how many problems it is important for both sides to sit down and have face-to-face discussions,” Wang said after the meeting of roughly 30 minutes.
    Both officials are in the Thai capital of Bangkok for security meetings with countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping, on the front line of rivalry between the United States and an increasingly muscular China.
    After the meeting, Pompeo said on Twitter that he had an in-depth exchange of views with Wang on U.S.-China relations, North Korea and other topics.
    “When it advances U.S. interests, we are ready to cooperate with China,” he said.
    At the start of a meeting with Southeast Asian counterparts, Pompeo said the United States never asked countries in the region to choose sides, though he did mention commitment to national sovereignty, the rule of law and human rights, touchy points with China.
    Neither mentioned the South China Sea, where the United States has increasingly pressured China over its sweeping maritime claims and where recent Chinese confrontations with Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam have increased tension.
    Wang said Pompeo made clear that Washington did not aim to contain China’s development and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the one-China policy regarding Taiwan.
    He said China welcomed Washington’s willingness to resume talks with North Korea on denuclearization and was willing to create favorable conditions to help restart the talks.
    Analysts said the apparently conciliatory tone at the meeting could be aimed at avoiding stoking conflict with U.S. President Donald Trump.
    “They don’t want Pompeo to report back to Trump that China is using the South China issue as a bargaining tool in the bigger China-U.S. game,” said Eduardo Araral, an expert on water policy at the National University of Singapore.
    “So they probably try to dial down the tension in their rhetoric.”
    U.S. and Chinese negotiators ended a brief round of trade talks in Shanghai on Wednesday with little sign of progress and agreed to meet again in September, prolonging an uneasy truce in a year-long trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

8/1/2019 Rouhani says ‘childish’ of U.S. to sanction Iran foreign minister Zarif
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attend a meeting
with Muslim leaders and scholars in Hyderabad, India, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused the United States of “childish behavior” and acting out of fear on Thursday after Washington imposed sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister amid rising tensions between the two countries.
    The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, blocking any property or interests he has in the United States. But Zarif said he had none.
    “They (Americans) are resorting to childish behavior… They were claiming every day ‘We want to talk, with no preconditions’ …and then they sanction the foreign minister,” Rouhani said in remarks carried live on state television.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers last year and ramped up sanctions to put pressure on Iran’s economy.
    In recent months bilateral relations have worsened significantly after attacks on tankers in the Gulf that the United States blames on Iran, a charge denied by Tehran, and Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone.
    “A country which believes it’s powerful and a world superpower is afraid of our foreign minister’s interviews,” Rouhani said in an apparent reference to numerous interviews Zarif gave to U.S. media when he visited New York for a United Nations meeting in July.
    “When Dr Zarif gives an interview in New York, … they (Americans) say Iran’s foreign minister is misleading our public opinion,” Rouhani said.    “What happened to your claims of liberty, freedom of expression and democracy?
    “The pillars of the White House are made to tremble by the words and the logic of a knowledgeable and self-sacrificing man and diplomat,” Rouhani said.
    Zarif lived in the United States from the age of 17 as a student of international relations in San Francisco and Denver, and subsequently as a diplomat at the United Nations in New York, where he was Iranian ambassador from 2002 to 2007.
(Corrects month in paragraph 6)
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

8/1/2019 Taiwan rebukes China for tourism ban amid rising tension
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during her visit in Port-au-Prince, Haiti July 13, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s president rebuked China on Thursday over its decision to ban individual travel permits for Chinese visitors to the self-ruled island, saying the move aimed to manipulate presidential elections in January.
    China cited the state of ties with what it considers a wayward province for the travel ban, which came into force on Thursday.    The loss of Chinese visitors will be a blow for Taiwan, which saw robust economic growth in the second quarter partly thanks to a spurt in mainland travelers.
    “Using tourists as political tools would only create antipathy in Taiwanese people,” President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters in the presidential palace in Taipei, criticizing what she called a major strategic mistake.
    “Tourism shouldn’t be politicized,” she said, adding that past experience had shown China manipulated politics by clamping down on tourist numbers ahead of elections.
    A spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry said history would show which side was making the mistake.
    “Saying this is a mistake, I think that history will demonstrate who was on the correct side and who made a mistake,” Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing when Reuters sought comment on Tsai’s remark.
    Taiwan’s relations with China are precarious. Beijing has long viewed Tsai with caution since she became Taiwan’s president in 2016, suspecting that she is pushing for the island’s formal independence.
    China has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control, if necessary.
    However, Tsai faces an uphill battle in January’s election, amid criticism over her party’s reform agenda and as China ratchets up diplomatic and military pressure.
    “(Tsai’s) Democratic Progressive Party is continually pushing activities to promote Taiwan’s independence and inciting hostility toward the mainland, seriously undermining the conditions for mainland travelers to visit the island,” said Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
    “I believe compatriots on both sides of the strait hope relations will return to a correct track of peaceful development, allowing travel by mainland residents to Taiwan to return to normal as soon as possible,” Ma was cited as saying by mainland state television.
    Tsai said China had triggered regional tension with military drills this week near Taiwan, describing them as intimidation ahead of the election.
    “The Chinese military threat is targeting all Taiwanese and impacting peace, stability and safety in the region,” she said.
    The exercises came days after Beijing reiterated it was ready to fight if there was any move toward independence for Taiwan.
    Taiwan is among a number of flashpoints in U.S.-China ties, which also include a trade war between the two countries and China’s increasingly muscular military role in the South China Sea, where the United States also runs freedom-of-navigation patrols.    Last week, a U.S. warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait, angering China.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Martin Pollard and Ryan Woo in BEIJING; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Neil Fullick)

8/1/2019 China says Vietnam ‘maritime problems’ should not impinge on bilateral ties
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends the ASEAN-China ministerial meeting in Bangkok, Thailand July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – China’s top diplomat Wang Yi said maritime problems involving Vietnam should not interfere with bilateral relations, according to a report released by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
    Tensions between Vietnam and China have risen over a weeks-long standoff between ships near an offshore oil block in the South China Sea.
China released the statement following a meeting between Wang and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh on Thursday in Bangkok.    Wang said China-Vietnam relations continued to develop and the two sides will “properly control and manage the situation at sea.”
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/1/2019 China’s army garrison in Hong Kong releases video with ‘anti-riot’ scenes by James Pomfret and Greg Torode
Protesters gather outside the Eastern Courts to support the arrested anti-extradition bill protesters who face
rioting charges, as the typhoon Wipha approaches in Hong Kong, China July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – As Hong Kong’s political crisis simmers amidst heated protests, China’s People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong released a video showing footage of “anti-riot” exercises and its top brass warned violence is “absolutely impermissible.”
    The three-minute video posted on the Hong Kong garrison’s official Weibo social media account late on Wednesday included footage of troops firing guns and rockets, and of light tanks, attack helicopters and missile launchers.
    The PLA has remained in barracks since protests started in April, leaving Hong Kong’s police force to deal with the massive and often violent protests in the Asian financial hub.
    On Wednesday, 44 people were charged with rioting, the first time authorities have resorted to using the rioting charge.
    In one sequence in the PLA video, titled “anti-riot drill footage,” ranks of troops advance with shields and truncheons on protesters, firing rifles into the air.    Tear gas and water cannons rained down on protesters, as armored personnel carriers with battering rams raced forward, and troops laid barbed wire coils on the ground.
    “All consequences are at your own risk,” one soldier shouted in Cantonese, the main Chinese dialect in Hong Kong, during the video clip.
    A red flag with the words “Warning.    Stop charging or we use force” was also held aloft, similar to what Hong Kong police have long used during protests.
    At the end of the clip, several protesters with their hands cuffed can be seen being taken away.
    Hong Kong has been plunged into its biggest political crisis since the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997 with a wave of protests against a now suspended extradition bill which would see people sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party controlled courts.
    The protests which started in April have now transformed into broader demands including the resignation of Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam, and calls for a “free Hong Kong.”
    As tensions continue to rise, clashes between protesters and police have become increasingly violent.
    Chinese authorities have strongly condemned the violence, and issued reminders that Hong Kong authorities can request the assistance of the PLA Hong Kong garrison if necessary.
    Diplomats and foreign security analysts are watching the situation closely, but believe there’s little appetite in Beijing for the PLA to be deployed on the streets of Hong Kong.
    The role of the PLA in Hong Kong has long been one of the most sensitive elements of the city’s handover to China.
    “We believe that the Hong Kong garrison of the People’s Liberation Army will continue to become a stabilizing pillar for Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing when asked about the video.
    Amid growing speculation troops could be unleashed to quell violence, police chiefs have insisted their forces are capable of maintaining order.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule with a guarantee of its freedoms, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary not enjoyed on the mainland, for at least 50 years.
    Under its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, defense and foreign affairs are managed by Communist Party leaders in Beijing.
    Chen Daoxiang, the commander of the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison said on Wednesday the violent protests in Hong Kong are “absolutely impermissible” according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.
    Speaking at a reception to mark the 92nd anniversary of the PLA, Chen said the protests were “putting the bottom line of the 'one country, two systems' principle to the test.”
    He added the PLA would “resolutely safeguard” the country’s sovereignty and security, as well as Hong Kong’s stability.
    In July, Reuters reported that Chen had assured a Pentagon official that Chinese troops will not interfere in the city’s affairs despite the political upheaval.
(Reporting by James Pomfret, Greg Torode and Vimvam Tong; Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry)

8/1/2019 Channeling Trump, Cambodia says U.S. officials can ‘pack up and leave’
A man holds a Cambodian flag opposite the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – U.S. embassy officials in Cambodia can leave if they do not like it there, a Cambodian government spokesman said on Thursday, following criticism by U.S. diplomats that the Southeast Asian nation’s 2018 election was deeply flawed.
    Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CCP) won all 125 parliamentary seats in the election last year that rights groups said was neither free nor fair following the dissolution of the main opposition party.
    In a Facebook post on Tuesday marking a year since the vote, the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, said the election had “failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people.”
    U.S. officials should not make such “barbaric comments,” government spokesman Phay Siphan said in response.
    “Although we are friends, if these officials don’t like Cambodia, they should pack up and leave.    Let me be clear: We don’t welcome you,” Siphan told a regular news conference on Thursday.
    Siphan said he was referring to a Twitter posting last month by U.S. President Donald Trump telling four ethnic minority Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to the “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
    “We have the same right to speak as President Donald Trump.    It’s simple.    If you don’t like it here, leave,” Siphan said.
    A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy declined to comment.
    Tuesday’s Facebook post said the 2018 election excluded the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved by the supreme court in 2017.
    It also banned 118 of the CNRP’s elected officials from politics for five years.
    The party’s leader, Kem Sokha, was released from prison in 2018 after spending more than a year in jail on treason charges.
    He has been under house arrest in Phnom Penh since last September following a government-led crackdown against its critics.
    Cambodia has for years faced criticism for human rights violations and has increasingly turned toward its main ally, China, for diplomatic and financial support.
    Its military ties with China have drawn increased scrutiny after concerns expressed by the United States and a media report, denied by Hun Sen, of a secret deal to allow Chinese forces to use a naval base in the country.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by James Pearson)

8/1/2019 China bans historical TV dramas ahead of important anniversary
A Chinese flag flutters in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s television regulator has banned “entertainment-driven” historical dramas, it said in a notice on Thursday, the latest clampdown on media in a sensitive year for the ruling Communist Party.
    The regulator said the ban also applied to so-called idol dramas, which are centered around a celebrity, and it instead called on broadcasters to air patriotic content in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, on Oct. 1.
    Censorship of media and entertainment content in China has become tighter under President Xi Jinping, and has intensified this year, with authorities delaying approval for at least three major films that were expected this summer.
    The regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said television channels should broadcast programs from a list of 86 that focus “on different historical aspects that show the great struggle of the Chinese nation as its people have stood up and become richer and stronger.”
    The Beijing Daily, a newspaper backed by the Communist Party, in January criticized five popular historical dramas including “Empresses in the Palace” for having a “negative effect” on society.    Many such dramas involve palace intrigues and scheming by the main characters.
    Idol dramas, a format also popular in Japan and South Korea, have also been criticized by state media as overly materialistic and for being a negative influence on society.
(Reporting by Huizhong Wu, Pei Li and Roxanne Liu; Editing by Tony Munroe)

8/1/2019 North Korean state media releases still images of multi-launch rocket system by OAN Newsroom
    According to North Korean state media, leader Kim Jong-un attended Wednesday’s test firing of a new multi-rocket launcher system.    On Thursday, Pyongyang released video and still-images of the test through its state-run news agency.    The launch is North Korea’s second weapons test in less than a week.
    The state news agency said Kim was pleased with the launch, and expects the system to serve a primary role in North Korea’s land combat operations moving forward.
People watch a TV showing an image of North Korea’s a multiple rocket launch during a news program at the
Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. North Korea said Thursday leader Kim Jong Un
supervised the first test firing of a new multiple rocket launcher system that could potentially enhance its
ability to strike targets in South Korea and U.S. military bases there. The signs read: “Ballistic missiles.” (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
    “The officials, scientists and technicians were filled with great pride and excitement for having developed and making the first test-fire of the new-type guided ordnance rocket, which will play a main role in ground military operations,” stated the North Korean on-air reporter.
    Experts warn the rockets may pose a substantial threat to regional security, particularly to South Korea.    Shortly after the test on Wednesday, South Korean officials said they held an emergency meeting at the Blue House to discuss if they will respond to the launch.

8/1/2019 Secretary Pompeo: U.S. working with China ‘on many fronts’ by OAN Newsroom
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said trade talks with China are wrapping up for now, and the U.S. has been “candid” in its approach.    He appeared in Bangkok Thursday, where he said both countries are working to ensure a successful relationship.
    Both sides reportedly agreed the latest round of talks were “constructive” in the first face-to-face meeting since last month.    China’s minister of commerce said the talks were “honest, efficient and constructive.”    The official also said they discussed China’s ability to buy American agricultural products.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a meeting with foreign ministers of the Lower Mekong countries, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand,
and Vietnam on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bangkok, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019.(Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)
    “While we are here, we were wrapping up a set of trade negotiations…the United States was wrapping up a set of trade negotiations in China,” stated Pompeo.    “We are working with them on many fronts, but we were also very candid about the places we are hoping China will behave in ways that they are not behaving today.”
    Talks between the two nations are expected to resume in September.    Meanwhile, a recent Wall Street Journal report suggested the slow progress could be a belief by Beijing that not hurrying will produce better trade terms.

8/1/2019 Britain tells Iran: there will be no tanker swap
Dominic Raab is seen at the Foreign and Commonwealth building after being appointed as the Foreign Secretary
by Britain's new Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, Britain, July 24, 2019. Dan Kitwood/Pool via REUTERS
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Britain on Thursday ruled out exchanging an Iranian tanker detained by Gibraltar for a British-flagged tanker seized by Iran in the Gulf.
    “We are not going to barter: if people or nations have detained UK-flagged illegally then the rule of law and rule of international law must be upheld,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said while on a trip to Bangkok.
    “We are not going to barter a ship that was detained legally with a ship that was detained illegally: that’s not the way that Iran will come in from the cold,” he said.    “So I am afraid some kind of barter or haggle or linkage is not on the table.”
    Tensions have spiked between Iran and Britain since after Iranian commandos seized a British-flagged tanker last month.        That came after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge. Editing by Andrew MacAskill)

8/2/2019 Thousands of Hong Kong civil servants rally, wave of protests planned by Felix Tam and Greg Torode
Civil servants attend a rally to support the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, China August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of Hong Kong civil servants rallied on Friday night to support protesters and urge authorities to rebuild confidence in the government as escalating protests rock the Asian financial hub.
    The rally is the first time government employees have promoted a demonstration in Hong Kong.    The civil servants assembled peacefully with protesters in the heart of the business district, many in black masks to hide their identity.
    “I think the government should respond to the demands, instead of pushing the police to the frontline as a shield,” said Kathy Yip, a 26-year-old government worker.
    Police said they had arrested eight people, including a leading pro-independence leader, after seizing weapons and suspected bomb-making material in a raid.
    A wave of protests is planned across Hong Kong this weekend, along with a mass strike on Monday across sectors such as transport, schools and corporates that could bring the city to a standstill.
    The protests in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, pose one of the gravest populist challenges to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
    The protests against a now suspended extradition bill, which would have seen people sent for trial in mainland courts controlled by the Communist Party, widened to demand greater democracy and the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam.
    Under Chinese rule Hong Kong has been allowed to retain extensive freedoms, such as an independent judiciary, but many residents see the extradition bill as the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.    "At present the people of Hong Kong are already on the verge of collapse,” a group of civil servants said in an open letter to Lam.
    “Hong Kong has always been well behaved and enjoys a high degree of freedom.    It is a pity that we have seen extreme oppression…
    It asked Lam to respond positively to five public demands: complete withdrawal of the extradition bill; a halt to descriptions of the protests as ‘rioting’; a waiver of charges against those arrested; an independent inquiry and resumption of political reform.
    The city’s 180,000 civil servants must remain politically neutral, the government said on Thursday.
    “At this difficult moment, government colleagues have to stay united and work together to uphold the core values of the civil service,” it said in a statement.
MORE PROTESTS PLANNED
    Hundreds of medical workers also demonstrated on Friday to protest against the government’s handling of situation. Large-scale protests are planned for the weekend in Mong Kok, Tseung Kwan O and Western districts.
    Clashes between protesters and police have become increasingly violent.    Police have been criticized for excessive use of force and failing to protect protesters from attacks by what opposition politicians suspected to be criminal gangs.
    In a warning to protesters, China’s People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong on Wednesday released a video of “anti-riot” exercises and its top brass warned violence was “absolutely impermissible.”
    The PLA has remained in barracks since protests started in April, leaving Hong Kong’s police force to deal with protests.
    Police said seven men and a woman, aged between 24 and 31, were arrested on Friday after a raid on a building in the New Territories district of Sha Tin, where police seized weapons and suspected petrol bombs.    Making or possessing explosives illegally can carry a sentence of up to 14 years in jail.
    The police may arrest more people as the investigations unfold, police officer Li Kwai Wah said, adding, “Recently we are very worried about the escalating violence.”
    Andy Chan, a founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party that was banned last September, was among those arrested. His arrest prompted about 100 protesters to surround a police station to demand his release, television footage showed.
    On Wednesday, 44 people were charged in a Hong Kong court with rioting over a recent protest near Beijing’s main representative office in the heart of the city.
    The escalating protests, which have shut government offices, blocked roads and disrupted business, is taking a toll of the city’s economy and scaring off tourists.
(Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree, Felix Tam, Vimvam Tong and Donny Kwok; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)

8/2/2019 North Korea increases pressure with latest missile launches by Josh Smith
People watch a TV showing a file picture of a North Korean missile for a news report on North Korea firing
short-range ballistic missiles, in Seoul, South Korea, August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired missiles for the third time in eight days on Friday, a series of launches that analysts say are designed to improve military capabilities and pressure the United States and South Korea as they seek to restart denuclearization talks.
    U.S. officials, who have been hoping to revive the stalled talks with North Korea, played down the launches.    The North has been testing missiles despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s June 30 meeting with its leader Kim Jong Un, where they agreed to revive the talks.
    The diplomatic process may have some bumps but conversations with North Korea are “going on even as we speak,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Bangkok, where he is attending a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
    South Korea’s government said the latest projectiles fired by the North appeared to be new short-range ballistic missiles.
    They flew 220 km (135 miles) and reached an altitude of 25 km (15 miles), the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in Seoul said.
    A U.S. official said U.S. intelligence had detected at least one projectile, and possibly more, that did not pose a threat to North America.    U.S. officials said initial information indicated they were similar to two other short-range missile tests by Pyongyang since last week.
    North Korean state media said Kim oversaw the firing of what they described as a new large-caliber, multiple-launch guided rocket system on Wednesday.    He also observed the launch of a short-range ballistic missile last week.
    The launches appear intended to put pressure on South Korea and the United States to stop planned military exercises later this month and offer other concessions.
    Kim’s government was assiduously improving military capabilities as well as signaling negotiating demands with the tests, said Leif-Eric Easley, an international relations expert at Seoul’s Ewha University.
    “The aim is not only to increase Pyongyang’s ability to coerce its neighbors, another goal is to normalize North Korea’s sanctions-violating tests as if they were as legitimate as South Korea’s defensive exercises.”
‘NO PROBLEM’
    Trump was asked at the White House before he set off for a campaign trip to Ohio if he thought Kim was testing him and said the launches did not violate the North Korean leader’s promises.
    Trump also said they were short-range missiles.    “We never made an agreement on that.    I have no problem,” he said.
    While Trump says he never made an agreement on short-range missiles, the 15-member United Nations Security Council unanimously demanded in 2006 that North Korea suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and “re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching.”
    The U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors in New York on Thursday to discuss the latest missile launches.     Foreign ministers attending ASEAN’s East Asia summit of 18 nations expressed concern that the North’s missile tests were having a negative impact on dialogue, a Thai foreign ministry official said.
    After the meeting, representatives of Britain, France and Germany urged North Korea to engage in meaningful talks with the United States and said international sanctions need to be fully enforced until Pyongyang has dismantled its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
    Pompeo said the U.N. sanctions remained fully in place.
    “We’re working with countries all across the world, many in this region, doing great work to enforce those,” he said.
    Pompeo also said he was disappointed his North Korean counterpart had canceled a planned trip to the ASEAN meet.
    “I think it would’ve given us an opportunity to have another set of conversations,” he said.    “I hope it won’t be too long before I have a chance to do that.”
    Nuclear envoys from the United States, South Korea and Japan met on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting on Friday, where they were expected to discuss the North’s latest tests and ways to restart working-level talks between the United States and North Korea.
    No immediate impact was seen on Japan’s security after the North’s latest launch, Japan’s defense ministry said.
    Andrei Lankov, director of Korea Risk Group, a think tank, said the latest missile tests do not mean Pyongyang was no longer interested in talks with the United States.
    “On the contrary, the choice of the short-range missile is a sign that, for the time being, Pyongyang remains serious about making a deal with the U.S.,” he wrote in a report for NK News, a website that monitors North Korea.
(Reporting by Josh Smith in SEOUL, Hyonhee Shin and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in BANGKOK, David Brunnstrom, Phil Stewart, Alexandra Alper and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, Michelle Nichols in NEW YORK, and Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

8/2/2019 Bombs hit Bangkok during major security meeting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat
Security officers stand at the site of a small explosion at a BTS train station
in Bangkok, Thailand, August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Six small bomb blasts wounded at least four people in Bangkok on Friday, as the Thai capital hosted a Southeast Asian security meeting with top diplomats from the United States, China and other world powers.
    Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered an investigation into the bombs, a blow to Thailand’s image during the high profile event and barely two weeks after his former military junta transformed into a civilian government.
    The first small explosions were heard during rush hour, just before 9 a.m. (0200 GMT), at two sites in central Bangkok. Further blasts hit a government complex hosting several ministries in the north of the city.
    Four people were wounded, the Erawan Medical Center said.
    Three of those hurt were women cleaning the street when what police called a “ping-pong bomb” went off.    Pictures on local websites showed them looking dazed and getting treatment from medics.
    The other casualty was near the 77-storey King Power Mahanakhon building, one of the tallest in Bangkok.    Police Colonel Kamtorn Uicharoen told Reuters a total of six bombs exploded.    One was recovered before it blew up.
    “My ears were ringing.    The sound was so loud,” said motorcycle taxi driver Chokechai Prasongsan, 48.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
    “I would like to condemn those causing the situation which destroys peace and damages the country’s image,” Thailand’s prime minister Prayuth said on Twitter.
    In a message to the public, Prayuth said: “A group of ill-intended people have recently incited violence while the government is propelling the country forward.”
    He did not identify the group, but urged Thais to cooperate with security forces.
    None of Friday blasts were very close to the regional security meeting venue.    China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are attending the forum.
    Bangkok was last hit by a series of small bomb blasts in 2017.    One man, a junta opponent, was jailed for planting a bomb that wounded 21 people at a hospital.
    The city’s worst bombing was in 2015 when 20 people were killed in an attack for which two Chinese ethnic Uighur men were arrested.
    A low level insurgency in the largely Malay Muslim provinces of Thailand’s far south has left nearly 7,000 people dead since 2004, but violence largely been confined to that region.
BOMBS RATTLE CITY
    Bangkok is currently hosting a regional security meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their counterparts from world powers including the United States, China and Russia.
    Thai foreign ministry official Arthayudh Srisamoot said the blasts had no impact at the summit.    Two fake bombs were discovered nearby on Thursday and police said two people had been arrested in connection with planting them.
    The bombs rattled the Thai capital, ranked the world’s most visited city by Mastercard last year.    The busy Sala Daeng metro station was shut temporarily over a false alarm.
    “It has created a climate of terror and in turn it will pile more pressure on the new government and end their honeymoon period,” said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University.
    Prayuth, who first took power in a 2014 coup, has headed a civilian cabinet since mid-July following an election in March that his opponents said was managed to ensure the generals kept power.    The most senior cabinet members all served in the junta.
    Prayuth nonetheless won strong support from the United States on Friday, with Pompeo telling an event in Bangkok: “We commend our Thai friends for returning to the democratic fold.”
(Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Michael Perry and Richard Borsuk)

8/2/2019 Pompeo jabs at China’s ‘bad behavior’, defends U.S. tariffs by Patpicha Tanakasempipat
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a speech at Siam Society in Bangkok, Thailand, August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday decried “decades of bad behavior” from China that have hampered free trade, laying out a case at a Southeast Asian forum for Washington’s escalating trade war with Beijing.
    Pompeo’s statements came after President Donald Trump on Thursday announced he would slap a 10% tariff on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports starting Sept. 1, abruptly ending a truce in year-long trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.
    “We want free and fair trade, not trade that undermines competition,” Pompeo told a regional youth leadership program in the Thai capital Bangkok, where he is attending a wider meeting of Southeast Asian nations with world powers.
    U.S. criticism of China has been a running theme at the Bangkok forum.
    “For decades, China has taken advantage of trade … It’s time for that to stop.    President Trump said we’re gonna fix this.    And to fix it requires determination, and that’s what you saw this morning,” Pompeo said on Friday.
    Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told reporters separately in Bangkok that the new tariffs were not a correct or constructive way to resolve the trade dispute between the two countries.
    Asked about the global economic disruption resulting from the U.S.-China row, Pompeo responded: “There have been negative implications from decades of bad behavior from China.”
    The proposed new tariffs on Chinese goods could further disrupt global supply chains.    U.S. and Chinese negotiators ended a brief round of trade talks in Shanghai on Wednesday with little sign of progress and agreed to meet again in September.
    Global stocks took another beating on Friday with investors piling into safe-haven assets.
    Pompeo – who had assured Southeast Asian partners a day earlier that Washington would not force them to choose sides between the United States and China – used his speech on Friday to portray U.S. investment as a more benign option.
    “Our investments don’t serve a government, and our investment here don’t serve a political party, or frankly a country’s imperial ambitions,” he said.
    “We don’t fund bridges to close gaps of loyalty,” he said, adding later: “Ask yourself this, who really encourages self-sufficiency and not dependence, investors who are working to meet your consumers’ needs, or those who entrap you in debt?
    His comments appeared to be a jab at China’s mammoth Belt and Road Initiative, which is aimed at boosting economic and trade ties and building a modern version of the Silk Road to link China with Asia, Europe and beyond through large-scale infrastructure projects.
    It has, however, run into opposition in some countries over fears that opaque financing arrangements lead to unsustainable debt and that it is more about promoting Chinese influence than bringing development.
    U.S.-China relations have been fraught on issues ranging from trade, U.S. sanctions on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, Taiwan and the busy South China Sea waterway.
    Pompeo and Wang at first struck a conciliatory tone when they met face-to-face in Bangkok on Thursday for the first time this year.
    However, Pompeo soon renewed criticism, referring to Chinese “coercion” of neighbors in maritime confrontations in the disputed South China Sea and said Beijing’s upstream dam-building on the Mekong River was harming countries in Southeast Asia that depend on the waterway.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Sam Holmes, Tom Hogue & Shri Navaratnam)

8/2/2019 China warns of retaliation after Trump threatens fresh tariffs by Andrea Shalal, Alexandra Alper and Huizhong Wu
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping pose for a photo ahead of their
bilateral meeting during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China on Friday said it would not be blackmailed and warned of retaliation after U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to slap a 10% tariff on $300 billion of Chinese imports from next month, sharply escalating a trade row between the world’s biggest economies.
    Trump stunned financial markets on Thursday by saying he plans to levy the additional duties from Sept. 1, marking an abrupt end to a truce in a year-long trade war that has slowed global growth and disrupted supply chains.
    Beijing would not give an inch under pressure from Washington, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
    “If America does pass these tariffs then China will have to take the necessary countermeasures to protect the country’s core and fundamental interests,” Hua told a news briefing in Beijing.
    “We won’t accept any maximum pressure, intimidation or blackmail.    On the major issues of principle we won’t give an inch,” she said, adding that China hoped the United States would “give up its illusions” and return to negotiations based on mutual respect and equality.
    Trump also threatened to further raise tariffs if Chinese President Xi Jinping fails to move more quickly to strike a trade deal.
    The newly threatened duties, which Trump announced in a series of tweets after his top trade negotiators briefed him on a lack of progress in talks in Shanghai this week, would extend tariffs to nearly all Chinese goods that the United States imports.
    The president later said if trade discussions failed to progress he could raise tariffs further – even beyond the 25 percent levy he has already imposed on $250 billion of imports from China.
    Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told reporters on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Nations event in Thailand that additional tariffs were “definitely not a constructive way to resolve economic and trade frictions.”
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was also in Bangkok, decried “decades of bad behavior” by China on trade and said Trump had the determination to fix it.
    The news hit financial markets hard. On Friday, Asian and European stocks took a battering and safe-haven assets such as the yen, gold and government bonds jumped as investors rushed for cover. [MKTS/GLOB]
    Retail associations in the United States predicted a spike in consumer prices, hitting consumer stocks on Thursday on Wall Street, where Target Corp tumbled 4.2%, Macy’s Inc fell 6% and Nordstrom Inc was down 6.2%.
    Asked about the impact on financial markets, Trump told reporters: “I’m not concerned about that at all.”
    Moody’s said the new tariffs would weigh on the global economy at a time when growth is already slowing in the United States, China and the euro zone.
    The tariffs may also force the Federal Reserve to again cut interest rates to protect the U.S. economy from trade-policy risks, experts said.
CHINESE RETALIATION?
    One Chinese official told Reuters it was not the first time Trump had “flip-flopped,” and that though the time between the talks being declared constructive and Trump’s threat of new tariffs was short, officials in Beijing were already prepared.
    “Discussion followed by a fight has become the normal pattern,” the official said.
    Possible retaliatory measures by China could include tariffs, a ban on the export of rare earths that are used in everything from military equipment to consumer electronics, and penalties against U.S. companies in China, analysts say.
    So far, Beijing has refrained from slapping tariffs on U.S. crude oil and big aircraft, after cumulatively imposing additional retaliatory tariffs of up to 25% on about $110 billion of U.S. goods since the trade war broke out last year.
    China is also drafting a list of “unreliable entities” – foreign firms that have harmed Chinese interests.    U.S. delivery giant FedEx is under investigation by China.
    “China will deliver each retaliation methodically, and deliberately, one by one,” ING economist Iris Pang wrote in a note.
    “We believe China’s strategy in this trade war escalation will be to slow down the pace of negotiation and tit-for-tat retaliation.    This could lengthen the process of retaliation until the upcoming U.S. presidential election,” Pang said.
FRUSTRATED
    U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin briefed Trump earlier this week on their first face-to-face meeting with Chinese officials since Trump met Xi at the G20 summit at the end of June and agreed to a ceasefire in the trade war.
    “When my people came home, they said, ‘We’re talking. We have another meeting in early September.’    I said, ‘That’s fine, but until such time as there’s a deal, we’ll be taxing them,” Trump told reporters.
    A source familiar with the matter said Trump grew frustrated and composed the tweets shortly after Lighthizer and Mnuchin told him China made no significant movement on its position.
    Previous negotiations collapsed in May, when U.S. officials accused China of backing away from earlier commitments.
    American business groups in China expressed disquiet over the latest round of U.S. tariffs.    The U.S.-China Business Council said on Friday it was concerned the action “will drive the Chinese from the negotiating table, reducing hope raised by a second round of talks that ended this week in Shanghai
    “We are particularly concerned about increased regulatory scrutiny, delays in licenses and approvals, and discrimination against U.S. companies in government procurement tenders,” said the U.S.-China Business Council’s President Craig Allen in an e-mail.
    Ker Gibbs, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, said that as market access in China “remains unnecessarily restricted,” the United States should continue its dialogue with Beijing, and “also work with like-minded countries to persuade China that fair and reciprocal trade and investment benefits all.”
CROPS AND DRUGS
    Trump said Beijing had failed to fulfil promises to stop sales of the synthetic opioid fentanyl to the United States, which U.S. officials say was to blame for most of more than 28,000 synthetic opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States in 2017.
    He also said Beijing had not followed through on a goodwill pledge to buy more U.S. agricultural products.
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday confirmed a small private sale to China of 68,000 tonnes of soybeans in the week ended July 25.
    The United States also has yet to ease restrictions on U.S. companies’ sales to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which Trump had pledged as a goodwill gesture to Xi after meeting at the G20 in Osaka.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Alexandra Alper, Steve Holland, David Lawder, Tim Ahmann, Susan Heavey, Makini Brice, Nandita Bose and Jonathan Landay in Washington; and Huizhong Wu, Xu Jing, Stella Qiu, Se Young Lee, and Min Zhang in Beijing; and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Writing by Ryan Woo and Michael Martina; Editing by Grant McCool, Shri Navaratnam and Alex Richardson)

8/2/2019 North Korea’s Kim Jong Un inspected new rocket system again: KCNA
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) at
Far East Federal University on Russky Island in Vladivostok, Russia, April 25, 2019. Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un again on Friday inspected the test firing of a “newly-developed large-caliber multiple launch guided rocket system,” North Korean state media reported early on Saturday.
    The test firing came days after the North’s first test firing of the new rocket system on Wednesday.
    The South Korean military said on Friday that North Korea fired at least two short-range projectiles into east sea before dawn.
(Reporting by Joori Roh, editing by G Crosse)

8/3/2019 Protesters march in Hong Kong as rival rally supports police by Anne Marie Roantree and Vimvam Tong
Pro-government supporter attends a rally to support the police and call for an end
to violence in Hong Kong, China August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of mostly black-clad activists set off on a protest march in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok district on Saturday, as the Chinese-controlled city braced for another weekend of anti-government demonstrations.
    Protests against a proposed bill allowing people to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China have escalated since June, growing increasingly violent, with police accused of excessive force and failing to protect protesters from suspected gang attacks.
    Mong Kok, which includes gritty working class sections and is also a popular shopping destination, was the scene of some of the most violent clashes during pro-democracy protests in 2014.
    Many of Saturday’s demonstrators wore yellow or white hard hats, and the crowds chanted “age of revolution!” and “Hongkongers, add oil!” – a popular exhortation in Cantonese.
    “I’m a little worried about whether the police force might use violent ways on the demonstrators because the route of the demonstration is a little bit narrow, and if we want to leave it might be difficult to get away from the police,” said a 20-year-old university student named Ivan.
    “I think this entire movement will continue until at least the end of 2019,” he said.
    Hundreds of marchers held posters with an illustration of protesters in hard hats tending to a young child, with the words “protect the future.”
    The crowd was mostly young, but also included families and many older people.    Some young couples held hands.
    “We are here because we want to stick up for Hong Kong.    We don’t need an evil law to take over Hong Kong,” said a woman surnamed Yau who was joined by family members including her 11-year-old daughter.
    As the marchers gathered at the starting point, one passed around pre-paid subway cards to young groups, while others gave out chicken wings and McDonalds food. When the march started, volunteers handed out hard hats, face masks and water bottles.
    Most of the shops in the upscale Langham Place shopping mall had pulled down their shutters by late afternoon, and many street-facing businesses along the march route had closed.
POLICE SUPPORTERS
    Across the harbor, on Hong Kong island, thousands of police supporters, mostly wearing white, gathered for a separate rally amid a carnival-like atmosphere in Victoria Park.
    Many waved Hong Kong and Chinese flags and the crowd shouted slogans in support of the police.    Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was greeted with strong applause.
    “We are the real Hong Kong people who are not the same as those black-shirted thugs.    We don’t need a so-called ‘HK revolution’, we only need to do our best, which is enough,” he told the crowd.
    Sylvia Lam, 61, who described herself as a housewife, said she had turned up at the pro-police rally to oppose violence.
    “I feel extremely uncomfortable when every time I watch TV, the scenes are so radical,” she said.
    “Young people should stop and think, don’t become someone’s political tools, be rational please,” she said.
MORE PROTESTS PLANNED
    Further anti-government protests were scheduled for Sunday, with activists calling for a mass strike on Monday.
    On Friday evening in central Hong Kong, thousands of civil servants defied a warning from authorities to remain politically neutral and joined anti-government protests for the first time since they started two months ago.
    In Washington on Friday, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers called on the Trump administration to halt future sales of munitions and crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong’s police force, which has been accused of using excessive force against protesters.
    Under Chinese rule, Hong Kong has been allowed to retain extensive freedoms, such as an independent judiciary, but many residents see the extradition bill as the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.
    The protests are the most serious political crisis in Hong Kong since it returned to China 22 years ago.
    They also pose the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he took office in 2012 and come as Xi grapples with an escalating trade war with the United States and a slowing economy in a politically sensitive year.    On Oct. 1, China will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.
(Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree, Sumeet Chatterjee, Vimvam Tong, Donny Kwok, Twinnie Siu and Marius Zaharia; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Michael Perry)

8/3/2019 Iran to further reduce commitments to nuclear deal: foreign minister
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks to the media during the Ministerial Meeting of the
Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Coordinating Bureau in Caracas, Venezuela July 20, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran will take another step to reduce its compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday without elaborating, according to parliamentary news agency ICANA.
    Iran has repeatedly said it will reduce its commitment to the nuclear accord in stages and may even withdrew from the pact altogether unless the remaining signatories find ways to shield its economy from U.S. sanctions.    Washington pulled out of the deal last year.
    “The third step in reducing commitments to (the nuclear deal) will be implemented in the current situation,” he said.
    “We have said that if (the deal) is not completely implemented by others then we will also implement it in the same incomplete manner.     And of course all of our actions have been within the framework of (the deal).”
    Last month, Iran threatened to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up enrichment of uranium to 20% purity in a move away from the nuclear deal.
    Iranian officials have said that all of Tehran’s moves in reducing its commitments to the nuclear deal are reversible as long as the remaining signatories uphold their commitments.
    Fears of a Middle East war with global repercussions have risen since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew last year from the 2015 deal and revived a panoply of sanctions meant to push Tehran into wider security concessions.
    The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Zarif himself, blocking any property or interests he has in the United States, although Zarif said he had none.
    He added at a charity event on Friday night that he is proud to be sanctioned by America for defending the rights of Iranian people, the IRIB news agency reported.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Tom Hogue and Hugh Lawson)

8/3/2019 Beijing says progress on China-Australia ties ‘unsatisfactory’
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attend the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ East Asia Summit Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The progress of repairing China-Australia ties, strained over Canberra’s concerns about Chinese influence in its domestic affairs, has been “unsatisfactory,” said China’s top diplomat after meeting his Australian counterpart.
    “During our diplomatic and strategic dialogue in Beijing last November, we agreed to calibrate and relaunch China-Australia relations, but the process of improving our ties has not been satisfactory,” said State Councillor Wang Yi after the Bangkok meeting on the sidelines of a regional security forum.
    Beijing says it never interferes in the internal affairs of another country.
    Wang said he hoped China’s relations with Australia could be back on track as soon as possible, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.
    Both countries have no historical grievances and fundamental conflicts of interests and their interests are highly complementary, said Wang.
    China is Australia’s major trading partner and while there are difficulties in bilateral ties, Australia is willing to strengthen dialogue and communication with China on the basis of mutual respect, the statement cited Payne as saying.
    Australia has banned Chinese telecommunications equipment-maker Huawei from supplying its 5G mobile networks over security concerns and is seeking to counter China’s emerging influence in the South Pacific islands.
    Australia will make its own decisions and won’t discriminate against any particular country or company, Payne was quoted as saying in regard to the Huawei issue.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Michael Perry)

8/3/2019 Lawmakers urge U.S. to block sales of crowd-control gear to Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: Police officers fire tear gas at demonstrators during a protest against the Yuen Long
attacks in Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong, China July 27, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Friday urged the Trump Administration to suspend future sales of munitions and crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong police which has been accused of using excessive force against anti-government protesters.     A Hong Kong democracy activist, Joshua Wong, this week tweeted pictures of teargas shells and rubber bullets he said were used by police against protesters.
    Representatives Christopher Smith and James McGovern, chairs of a congressional human rights commission, made their request in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
    “We ask that you suspend future sales of munitions and crowd and riot control equipment to the Hong Kong Police Force and publicly announce that the U.S. will not contribute to the internal repression of peaceful protest in Hong Kong,” they wrote.
    They also urged the secretaries to push back “against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments’ efforts to characterize the demonstrations as ‘riots’ and to blame the U.S. for political instability which they alone created.”
    The State Department and the Commerce Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    “All these weapons are imported from the United States.    Given the innumerable proof of police brutality in recent protests, all countries should call a halt to the sale of arms to the notorious Hong Kong Police,” Wong said on Twitter.
    Thousands of civil servants joined in the anti-government protests in Hong Kong on Friday for the first time since they started two months ago, defying a warning from the authorities to remain politically neutral.
    Protests against a proposed bill that would allow people to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China have grown increasingly violent, with police accused of excessive use of force and failing to protect protesters from suspected gang attacks.
    The human rights commission is composed of more than 40 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.    Smith is Republican and McGovern a Democrat.
(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech; Editing by Sandra Maler)

8/3/2019 Tehran threatens to take third step away from 2015 deal by OAN Newsroom
    Iran claims its ready to take another step away from the conditions set in the 2015 nuclear deal.
The Iranian flag waves outside of the UN building that hosts the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA,
office inside in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, July 10, 2019. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure
campaign against Iran is at a crossroads. His administration is trying to decide whether to risk stoking international
tensions even more by ending one of the last remaining components of the 2015 nuclear deal. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced Saturday the country will take it’s third step, to reduce compliance with the deal, but didn’t elaborate on what the actions would be.    Zarif claims the move was in response to the pact not being implemented by “others.”
    The first phase saw the nation exceeding its stockpile of enriched uranium, while the second step involved exceeding uranium enrichment levels beyond the 3.67% threshold.    Last month, Tehran threatened to increase its uranium enrichment to 20%.
    Officials also said the country would restart work at a heavy water facility, which could lead to the production of enriched plutonium.

8/3/2019 Thousands flee disputed Kashmir region after alert; India says it killed militants by Fayaz Bukhari and Alasdair Pal
Indian tourists load their luggage onto a passenger vehicle as they prepare to leave Srinagar August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    SRINAGAR/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Thousands of Indian tourists, pilgrims and workers began leaving the disputed region of Kashmir after a local government alert over possible militant attacks, and India said it killed at least five militants who were trying to attack its forces.
    Indian security officials said on Friday they had found evidence of attacks planned by what they said were Pakistani military-backed militants on a major Hindu pilgrimage in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
    A local government order effectively called off the pilgrimage, asking the pilgrims and tourists to return home.
    Srinagar-based Indian defense spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said on Saturday that there had been a number of attempts by Pakistan-based militants to disturb peace in the Kashmir region and target the pilgrims.
    Around five to seven militants were killed when they tried to attack Indian troops near an area known as the Keran sector, Kalia said, adding that arms and ammunition were recovered in the operation.
    “Security forces will continue to respond to all nefarious activities,” Kalia said.
    A spokesperson for the Pakistani army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    A senior local government official in Kashmir said the local government advisory had caused panic and led to the departure of “thousands” of tourists, pilgrims and laborers.
    The official did not give a specific number, but he said most of the 20,000 Hindu pilgrims and Indian tourists and the more than 200,000 laborers were leaving the region.
    Kashmir, claimed by both India and mostly Muslim Pakistan, has long been a flashpoint between the two countries.    Tensions flared after a vehicle laden with explosives rammed into an Indian police convoy on Feb. 14, killing 40 paramilitary policemen, and leading to aerial clashes between the two countries.
TOURISTS FLEE
    The Indian advisory was issued after the local government in Kashmir said a mine with Pakistani ordinance markings was among caches of ammunition retrieved following intelligence reports of likely attacks on routes used by devout Hindus who trek to the region’s holy Amarnath cave every year.
    “The advisory has led to panic among people and the visitors here. Kashmir has seen worst times but we as government officials don’t know what is happening?,” said a second local government official in Kashmir.
    In a mood of anxiety, people sought to stock up on essentials and there were long queues outside petrol pumps, ATMs and medical shops in Srinagar city, the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir state.
    More than 6,000 passengers left Srinagar by air on Saturday, the Airports Authority of India said in a statement.
    Still, around 60 international tourists arrived in Kashmir on Saturday, one of the local government officials said.
    The Indian advisory had cautioned tourists in general, but did not give any specific advice to foreign nationals.
    Britain and Germany issued advisories on Saturday to their citizens discouraging them from traveling to Jammu & Kashmir.
‘PARADISE ON EARTH’
    India accuses Pakistan of funding armed militants, as well as separatist groups in India’s portion of the region that are considered non-violent by international observers.
    Islamabad denies the Indian accusation, saying it provides only diplomatic and moral support to the separatist movement.
    On Saturday, Pakistan also accused India of using illegal cluster bombs in the Kashmir region during shelling along the contested border.    India denied those accusations.
    The Indian advisory was a disappointment for pilgrims and tourists.
    Kashmir touts itself as a “Paradise on Earth.”    Dal Lake – a favorite destination centuries ago for Mughal emperors escaping the summer heat of India’s plains – and its famous houseboats, mountains and glaciers are major attractions.
    Prabakar Iyer, 45, had traveled to Srinagar from the southern Indian city of Bengaluru on Thursday with his family for a 10-day holiday, but they left on Friday night.
    “I was staying in a houseboat on Dal Lake when the advisory was issued.    I fail to understand why we are being asked to leave. Everything is normal here,” he said.
    Laborer Manjit Singh, a carpenter from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh who has been working in Kashmir for the last nine years, also left.
    “I am not afraid but the government advisory has created panic and my family wants me back … I will return if the situation improves,” he said.
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinigar and Alasdair Pal in Islamabad; Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi; Writing by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Tom Hogue and Frances Kerry)

8/3/2019 U.S. Defense Secretary says he favors placing missiles in Asia by Idrees Ali
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper meets with Egypt's Defense Minister General Mohamed Zaki
at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday that he was in favor of placing ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia relatively soon, a day after the United States withdrew from a landmark arms control treaty.
    Esper’s comments are likely to raise concern about an arms race and could add to an already tense relationship with China.
    “Yeah, I would like to,” Esper said, when asked whether he was considering placing such missiles in Asia.
    “I would prefer months … but these things tend to take longer than you expect,” he told reporters traveling with him to Sydney when asked about a timeline for when the missiles could be deployed.
    The United States formally left the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia on Friday after determining Moscow was violating the treaty, an accusation that the Kremlin has denied.
    On Friday, senior U.S. officials said that any deployment of such weaponry would be years away.
    Within the next few weeks, the United States is expected to test a ground-launched cruise missile, and in November, the Pentagon will aim to test an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
    Both would be tests of conventional weapons – and not nuclear.
    The 1987 pact banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 310 to 3,400 miles (500-5,500 km).
    U.S. officials have been warning for years that the United States was being put at a disadvantage by China’s development of increasingly sophisticated land-based missile forces, which the Pentagon could not match due to the U.S. treaty with Russia.
    The United States has so far relied on other capabilities as a counterbalance to China, like missiles fired from U.S. ships or aircraft.    But advocates for a U.S. land-based missile response say that is the best way to deter Chinese use of its muscular land-based missile forces.
    “I don’t see an arms race happening, I do see us taking proactive measures to develop a capability that we need for both the European theater and certainly this theater,” Esper said, referring to the Asia-Pacific region.
    While no decisions have been made, the United States could theoretically put easier-to-hide, road-mobile conventional missiles in places like Guam.
    Esper did not say where in Asia he was considering placing missiles, but he is expected to meet senior regional leaders during his visit to Asia.
ASIA TRIP
    In a sign of the importance Asia – and countering China – has for the Pentagon, Esper is visiting the region just two months after his predecessor made a similar trip.
    In Australia, Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will take part in talks with their Australian counterparts.
    The meetings come amid heightened Western concern about Chinese influence in the Pacific.
    In addition to China, the talks and much of Esper’s trip, are likely to be dominated by discussion on what the departure of the U.S. from the INF treaty means for Asia and recent missile tests by North Korea.
    U.S. President Donald Trump sought on Friday to play down North Korea’s three tests in eight days of short-range missiles, saying they did not break any agreement he had with Kim Jong Un.
    Asian allies will also have questions for Esper on a U.S.-led maritime force in the Strait of Hormuz.
    Washington in June first proposed some sort of multinational effort open to all allies and partners to bolster maritime security in the Gulf after accusing Iran of attacking oil tankers around the Strait of Hormuz, a critical maritime chokepoint.
    On Thursday, Japan said it would not send warships to join the U.S-led coalition but it may send patrol aircraft.
    “I think we’ll have some announcements coming out soon in the coming days, where you’ll see countries begin to sign up,” Esper said, referring to contributions from other countries on the maritime initiative.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Tom Hogue and Hugh Lawson)

8/3/2019 Beijing says progress on China-Australia ties ‘unsatisfactory’
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attend the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ East Asia Summit Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The progress of repairing China-Australia ties, strained over Canberra’s concerns about Chinese influence in its domestic affairs, has been “unsatisfactory,” said China’s top diplomat after meeting his Australian counterpart.
    “During our diplomatic and strategic dialogue in Beijing last November, we agreed to calibrate and relaunch China-Australia relations, but the process of improving our ties has not been satisfactory,” said State Councillor Wang Yi after the Bangkok meeting on the sidelines of a regional security forum.
    Beijing says it never interferes in the internal affairs of another country.
    Wang said he hoped China’s relations with Australia could be back on track as soon as possible, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.
    Both countries have no historical grievances and fundamental conflicts of interests and their interests are highly complementary, said Wang.
    China is Australia’s major trading partner and while there are difficulties in bilateral ties, Australia is willing to strengthen dialogue and communication with China on the basis of mutual respect, the statement cited Payne as saying.
    Australia has banned Chinese telecommunications equipment-maker Huawei from supplying its 5G mobile networks over security concerns and is seeking to counter China’s emerging influence in the South Pacific islands.
    Australia will make its own decisions and won’t discriminate against any particular country or company, Payne was quoted as saying in regard to the Huawei issue.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Michael Perry)

8/3/2019 Report: Pres. Trump wants all troops out of Afghanistan by OAN newsroom
    New reports claim President Trump is looking to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, by the 2020 election.    Current and former defense officials confirmed the report this week.
U.S. soldiers attend a training session for the Afghan army in Herat, Afghanistan, on Feb. 2. (Jalil Rezayee/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
    Defense Hawks have pushed back against a full withdrawal in the next 15 months, saying they want some troops to remain to continue the fight against ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
    Reports earlier this week said the Trump administration is planning on reducing the number of troops in country by up to 9,000, down from the 14,000 currently stationed there.
    The Pentagon said there has been no official withdraw order yet.

8/4/2019 Thousands resume Hong Kong protests, China media warns Beijing won’t ‘sit idly by’ by Twinnie Siu and Felix Tam
Anti-extradition bill protesters march at Tseung Kwan O residential district in Hong Kong, China, August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters took to Hong Kong’s streets on Sunday, a day after violent clashes between anti-government protesters and police, and as China’s official news agency warned Beijing will not let the situation in the Asian financial hub continue.
    The Chinese-controlled city has been rocked by months of protests against a proposed bill to allow people to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China and a general strike aimed at bringing the city to a halt is planned for Monday.
    Police said in a statement early on Sunday that they had arrested more than 20 people for offences overnight including unlawful assembly and assault.
    On Saturday police fired multiple tear gas rounds in confrontations with black-clad activists in the city’s Kowloon area.    On Sunday thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully in the town of Tseung Kwan O in the New Territories brandishing colorful banners and leaflets.
    Dressed in black the protesters cheered as they called for a mass strike across Hong Kong on Monday.
    “We’re trying to tell the government to (withdraw) the extradition bill and to police to stop the investigations and the violence,” said Gabriel Lee, a 21-year-old technology student.
    Lee said what made him most angry was that the government was not responding to any of the protesters’ demands or examining the police violence.
    By Sunday evening, some protesters had blocked roads in the area, removing railings from the kerbside and setting up barricades.
    In the island’s Western district, thousands of people gathered to rally in a park to urge authorities to listen to public demands.
    What started as an angry response to the now suspended extradition bill, has expanded to demands for greater democracy and the resignation of leader Carrie Lam.
    “Even if Carrie Lam resigns, its still not resolved.    It’s all about the Communist Party, the Chinese government,” said Angie, a 24 year old working for a non-government organization in the city.
    Protesters on Saturday set fires in the streets, outside a police station and in rubbish bins, and blocked the entrance to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, cutting a major artery linking Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula.
    Major shops in the popular tourist and commercial area Nathan Road, normally packed on a Saturday, were shuttered including 7-11 convenience stores, jewelry chain Chow Tai Fook <1929.HK> and watch brands Rolex and Tudor.
    The protests have become the most serious political crisis in Hong Kong since it returned to Chinese rule 22 years ago after being governed by Britain.
    Thousands of civil servants joined in the anti-government protests on Friday for the first time since they started in June, defying a warning from authorities to remain politically neutral. [L4N24Y3BF]
PROTEST TACTICS
    The protests have adapted rapidly since the start of June with the movement spreading from the city’s Admiralty area, where the legislative council is located, across to the whole city for the first time.
    Previous protests have also targeted mainland visitors to try and make them understand the situation in the special administrative region.
    Young people have mostly been at the forefront of the protests, infuriated with broader problems including sky-high living costs and what they see as an unfair housing policy skewed toward the rich.
    However, the demonstrations have seen people of all ages, including families and the elderly take part.
    The protests mark the biggest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he took office in 2012.
    China’s official news agency Xinhua wrote on Sunday that the “central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue.    We firmly believe that Hong Kong will be able to overcome the difficulties and challenges ahead."
    Hong Kong has been allowed to retain extensive freedoms, such as an independent judiciary but many residents see the extradition bill as the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.
    Months of demonstrations are taking a growing toll on the city’s economy, as local shoppers and tourists avoid parts of one of the world’s most famous shopping destinations.
    Matthew Wang, a 22-year-old marketing executive for a multinational corporation, said that the government was “encouraging people to become more radical to affect decision making because they are not addressing any of the demands.”
(Reporting by Clare Jim, Marius Zaharia, Tony Monroe, Felix Tam, Twinnie Siu; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry and Kenneth Maxwell)

8/4/2019 U.S. says China destabilizing Indo-Pacific: Pentagon chief by Idrees Ali and Colin Packham
U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper speaks next to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a joint news conference
with their Australia counterparts in Sydney, Australia, August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – The United States says China is destabilizing the Indo-Pacific, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday, charging Beijing with predatory economics, intellectual property theft and “weaponizing the global commons.”
    The comments by Esper on his first overseas trip as U.S. defense secretary threaten to inflame already heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing as they wage an escalating trade war.
    China’s increasing assertiveness, especially in the energy-rich South China Sea, has raised concerns within the region and the United States is challenging Chinese maritime hegemony and seeking stronger ties with nations pushing back against Beijing.
    “We firmly believe no one nation can or should dominate the Indo-Pacific and we are working alongside our allies and partners to address the region’s pressing security needs," Esper told reporters in Sydney.
    “We also stand firmly against a disturbing pattern of aggressive behavior, destabilizing behavior from China.    This includes weaponizing the global commons, using predatory economics and debt for sovereignty deals, and promoting state-sponsored theft of other nations’ intellectual property.”    China has unnerved the region and angered the United States by installing military equipment and other facilities on artificial islands it has made in the disputed South China Sea.
    China claims large parts of the South China Sea through which roughly $3.4 trillion in shipping passes each year.    Countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam contest the territorial claims.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday decried “decades of bad behavior” from China that have hampered free trade, laying out a case at a Southeast Asian forum in Bangkok for Washington’s trade war with Beijing.
    U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday slapped 10% tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese imports, stunning financial markets and ending a month-long trade war truce. China vowed on Friday to fight back.     The United States and its Western allies worry that China is using foreign aid to secure greater influence over small Pacific countries which control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.
    Australia, traditionally the major power in the South Pacific, has promised up to A$3 billion ($2.04 billion) in grants and cheap loans to counter what Washington describes as China’s “payday loan diplomacy.”
    “Cooperation with us and our Australian friends bring mutual benefits, not zeros, deals where one side wins and other risks losing,” said Pompeo in a thinly veiled criticism of China’s aid.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

8/4/2019 Iran seizes Iraqi oil tanker smuggling fuel in Gulf: TV by Parisa Hafezi and Maher Chmaytelli
A screen grab from video footage from Iran's state-run English language Press TV showing, according to the source, a foreign
oil tanker smuggling fuel in the Gulf, taken from a video broadcasted on August 4, 2019. Press TV/Reuters TV via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized an Iraqi oil tanker in the Gulf which they said was smuggling fuel and detained seven crewmen, Iran’s state media reported on Sunday, in a show of power amid heightened tension with the West.
    The vessel was intercepted near Iran’s Farsi Island in the Gulf, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said.    The elite Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has a navy base on Farsi Island which is located north of the Strait of Hormuz.
    “The IRGC’s naval forces have seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf that was smuggling fuel for some Arab countries,” the Guards commander Ramezan Zirahi told state TV.
    The state news agency IRNA, quoting the Guards, said it was an Iraqi ship that was seized on Wednesday night in the Gulf.
    Zirahi said it was carrying 700,000 liters of fuel, without elaborating on the nationalities of the detained crewmen.
    “The boats of the IRGC navy were patrolling the area to control traffic and detect illicit trade when they seized the tanker,” Fars quoted Zirahi as saying, adding that the seizure was in coordination with Iran’s judicial authorities.
    Iran, which has some of the world’s cheapest fuel prices due to heavy state subsidies and the fall of its currency, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling by land to neighboring countries and by sea to Gulf Arab states.
    “The tanker was transferred to the Bushehr port, where its fuel was handed over to the authorities,” Zirahi told TV.
    A spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said they had no information to confirm the media reports.
    Iran’s English-language Press TV aired a video that it said “shows the process through which the IRGC have halted the ship and taken it into custody.”    “The ship was seized in Iranian territorial waters and had been transporting diesel fuel,” it added.
    Another oil tanker, the Panama-flagged MT Riah, was captured by the elite force last month for allegedly smuggling fuel.
    Tensions have risen between Iran and the West since last year when the United States pulled out of an international agreement which curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions on Iran.
    Fuelling fears of a Middle East war with global repercussions, the Guards seized British tanker Stena Impero near the Strait of Hormuz in July urged marine violations, two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
MARITIME SECURITY
    Angered by intensified U.S. sanctions designed to strangle its vital oil trade and the failure of Britain and European parties to the agreement to salvage the pact, Tehran has decreased its commitments to the nuclear deal.
    Iran also has threatened to block all exports through the Strait, if countries heed U.S. calls to stop buying Iranian oil.    One-fifth of global oil consumption passes through the Strait from Middle East crude producers to major markets.
    “The Persian Gulf is like a tinderbox and explosion of a firecracker can lead to a huge disaster,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Guards commander Brigadier General Ahmadreza Pourdastan as saying on Sunday.
    “All countries which have interests in the region absolutely are not willing to see a new regional crisis.”
    After several attacks in May and June on oil tankers – blamed by Washington on Tehran, which denied responsibility – Trump has been trying to forge a military coalition to secure Gulf waters, though European allies have been loath to join for fear of provoking open conflict.
    European parties to the deal – Britain, France and Germany – have instead appealed for diplomatic moves to defuse the crisis and have been trying to salvage the pact by exploring ways to shield Iran’s economy from U.S. sanctions.
    Tehran has called on them to accelerate their efforts or it will further decrease its commitments to the agreement.
    Britain said on July 25 it had started sending a warship to accompany all British-flagged vessels through the Strait.
    Iran has repeatedly said it will not allow any disturbance in shipping in the key oil transport waterway, claiming responsibility for the security of the Strait.
    In an apparent bid to calm tensions in the Gulf, Shi’ite-dominated Iran has called for improving relations with its regional Sunni rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
    Last month, Iran and the UAE revived maritime security talks in Tehran that had been off since 2013.    Iranian media reported on Sunday that Iranian and Qatari coast guards will meet to “improve maritime and border cooperation.”
(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Alexandra Hudson and Catherine Evans)

8/4/2019 Pakistan calls for Trump mediation on Kashmir as region remains tense by Alasdair Pal and Fayaz Bukhari
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan
in Washington, U.S., July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert
    ISLAMABAD/SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir have the potential to blow up into a regional crisis and it is the right time for U.S. President Donald Trump to mediate, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Sunday.
    Khan’s comments come a day after Pakistan accused India of using illegal cluster bombs, killing two civilians and wounding 11, in the disputed Kashmir region.    India denied it had used such weapons.
    “President Trump offered to mediate on Kashmir.    This is the time to do so as situation deteriorates there and along the LOC (line of control) with new aggressive actions being taken by Indian occupation forces,” Khan said on Twitter, referring to the heavily militarized de facto border that divides the two parts of Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
    “This has the potential to blow up into a regional crisis,” Khan said.
    India’s foreign affairs ministry and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Khan’s remarks.
    In July, Trump told reporters that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him during a meeting in Japan if he would like to be a mediator on Kashmir.    India denied Modi ever asked for any mediation.
    India has long rejected any suggestion of third-party involvement in tackling Kashmir and, reacting to Trump’s offer last month, said it would deal with Pakistan only bilaterally.
    Trump last week reiterated his offer, saying he would intervene if asked, and “it’s really up to Prime Minister Modi.”
    Muslim-majority Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan, has long been a bone of contention between the two.
    Tensions flared after a vehicle laden with explosives rammed into an Indian police convoy on Feb. 14, killing 40 paramilitary police, and leading to aerial clashes between the two nations.
    India accuses Pakistan of funding armed militants, as well as separatist groups in India’s portion of the region.    Islamabad denies the Indian accusation, saying it provides only diplomatic and moral support to a separatist movement.
KASHMIR TENSE
    Tensions have escalated particularly since Friday, when local Indian officials in Kashmir issued an alert over possible militant attacks by Pakistan-based groups.    Pakistan has rejected those assertions, but thousands of Indian tourists, pilgrims and workers left the region in panic.
    Pakistan on Saturday also rejected India’s claims that it had killed at least five Pakistan-based militants who tried to attack its forces near the border.
    On Sunday, Kashmir remained on high alert with Indian para-military forces deployed across major towns.    One senior local official said a curfew was likely next week.
    However, the city police chief in Srinagar, the state’s main city, told Reuters he had no knowledge of a curfew.
    Hospitals were on alert, with staff told not to leave the city without permission, officials said.
    The local government said on Friday it had intelligence about militant attacks and called off a major Hindu pilgrimage, asking pilgrims and tourists to return home.
    Kashmir touts itself as a “Paradise on Earth,” with its Dal Lake, famous houseboats and mountains among major attractions.
    Britain and Germany have in advisories discouraged their citizens from visiting, but around 160 foreign tourists arrived on Saturday, one official said. Some were not worried.
    “Why should we be scared? It is a nice place and people are very helpful,” said Molly, a Swiss tourist.
    Nevertheless, tourism is bound to suffer as tensions rise.
    “All of a sudden tourists left … I have no work for the last two days.    We are up for bad times,” said Abdul Rashid Shah, 53, a boatman at the Dal Lake.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Fayaz Bukhari; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Swati Bhat; Editing by Aditya Kalra, Jane Merriman and Alexandra Hudson)

8/5/2019 Hong Kong police fire tear gas as strikes paralyze city by Donny Kwok and Clare Jim
A man stands in front of a shop, with a notice on its shutters announcing it is closed for the day due to
traffic disruptions, during a general strike in Hong Kong, China August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police fired tear gas at protesters on Monday as a general strike plunged the Asian financial hub into fresh chaos, paralyzing transport and bringing the city to an unprecedented standstill for much of the morning.
    As some train and bus services resumed, tens of thousands of demonstrators fanned out across several districts, where protests again degenerated into running clashes with riot police.
    Speaking to the media for the first time in two weeks, Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam warned again that the protests were pushing the city to the edge of an “extremely dangerous situation” and represented a challenge to China’s sovereignty.
    Lam remained defiant as she rejected calls from protesters demanding her resignation, saying the government would be resolute in maintaining law and order.
    She warned that the protests were putting the former British colony on a path of no return and had hurt its economy.
    “They claim they want a revolution and to restore Hong Kong.    These actions have far exceeded their original political demands,” said a stern-faced Lam, flanked by senior members of her administration.
    “These illegal acts that challenge our country’s sovereignty, and jeopardize ‘one country two systems’, will destroy the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong,” she said, referring to the territory’s administrative system since 1997, when it was handed back to China.
    Lam warned that the protests were pushing “the city we all love and many of us helped to build, to the verge of a very dangerous situation.”
    The protests pose the greatest political challenge to the government of the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule and represent the biggest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
    Some demonstrators accused Lam of again fuelling the crisis by ignoring public sentiment, however, and pledged to continue their movement.
    It was “totally a waste of time” to hear her speak, said Jay Leung, 20, a university student.
    “I don’t think the government is doing anything to heal society,” he added.    “They provide no solution to solve the political problem brought on by themselves.”
    Russell, 38, who works in the tourism industry said, “Nothing, she said nothing.    I didn’t hear anything positive, she just made it worse.”
COMMUTER CHAOS
    Within hours of the comments, protesters hurled umbrellas and other items at police in the residential district of Wong Tai Sin, where officers responded with pepper spray.    Police also fired tear gas in Tin Shui Wai district, as tension flared.
    The Chinese-controlled city has been rocked by months of protests that began against an extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial and have since evolved into a broader backlash against the government.
    Commuters struggled to get to work in the rush hour before Lam spoke, with many rail and bus services suspended by activists who blocked trains from leaving stations, some by sitting in doorways, in the latest anti-government campaign.
    Long lines of traffic snaked across Hong Kong island into the heart of the business center and hundreds of people were stranded at the airport, where more than 200 flights were canceled.
    The Airport Express train service was temporarily suspended.
    “(The government) are making police the scapegoat and creating a situation that is becoming unbearable for everyone who lives here.    So that’s one of the reasons we have joined the strike,” said Mark Schmidt, 49, a restaurant manager who closed his business on Monday.     “Losing a bit of money now is not such a problem,(compared) with losing everything that the freedom of Hong Kong used to stand for,” he added.
    Lam’s speech focused mainly on the violence at recent protests, which have galvanized people to join rallies by civil servants, teachers, lawyers and religious groups, among others. SHOPS SHUTTERED
    In an upmarket shopping mall in Sha Tin, scores of shops were shuttered, including clothing retailer H&M as well as luxury brands Chanel and Dior.     Protesters in the shopping center chanted, “Strike! Support to the end.”     Many stores in the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay were closed as well as businesses close to the protests.     Members of the Hong Kong Disneyland Cast Members Union went on strike, as did many lifeguards, forcing authorities to close some beaches and swimming pools.
    Demonstrators besieged police stations over the weekend in flash mob-style actions, spray-painting walls with graffiti and breaking windows.    More than 40 people were arrested.
    Police, who some have accused of using excessive force on protesters, said the violence was escalating rapidly and the situation was spiraling out of control.
    Authorities said 420 people have been arrested over the protests since June 9, while police have fired 1,000 rounds of tear gas and about 160 rubber bullets.
    The government has refused to accede to any of the protesters’ main demands, which include a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill and an independent inquiry into government handling of the crisis.
    With tourist numbers falling and hotel occupancy rates slumping, the protests are piling pressure on a struggling economy.
    IHS Markit’s July Purchasing Managers’ Index for Hong Kong showed private sector business activity dropped to its lowest level in a decade, weighed down by the protests and the Sino-U.S. trade war.
    Raymond Yeung, chief China economist at ANZ, said Hong Kong now faces the double whammy of protests and the escalating trade war.
    “I would not be surprised if we see a technical recession – two consecutive quarters of contraction.    That is highly probable now,” he said.
    The benchmark Hang Seng Index closed down 2.9 percent, its lowest level since January.
(Reporting by Clare Jim, Donny Kwok, James Pomfret, Noah Sin, Twinnie Siu, Vimvam Tam, Kevin Liu, Lukas Job, Felix Tam; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

8/5/2019 Australia won’t host U.S. missiles, prime minister says
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint press conference at the
Istana Presidential Palace in Singapore, 07 June 2019. Wallace Woon/Pool via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – U.S. intermediate-range missiles will not be deployed in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, after the United States revealed ambitions to site missiles in the Asia-Pacific region.
    Officials from both governments held talks in Sydney over the weekend that ended with a joint statement in which the two allies pledged to strengthen opposition to Chinese activities in Asia-Pacific, as both sides have become increasingly concerned about China’s spreading influence.
    During the talks, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke of hopes to deploy missiles in the Asia-Pacific region in coming months following Washington’s withdrawal from a landmark arms control treaty last week.
    Esper’s comments prompted speculation that Australia had been asked to host the missiles, but Morrison denied that any request had been made and said Australia would decline if it was asked in the future.
    “It’s not been asked to us, not being considered, not been put to us.    I think I the rule a line under that,” Morrison told reporters in Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland.
    A recent increase in tensions between Washington and Beijing, both over trade and rights of navigation in both the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, has put Australia in an awkward spot, as the United States is its biggest ally, while China is its biggest export market.
    Beijing last week described Australian efforts to improve the bilateral relationship as “unsatisfactory.”
    Australia worries China is using foreign aid to secure greater influence over small Pacific countries which control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.
    Australia, traditionally the major power in the South Pacific, has promised up to A$3 billion ($2.03 billion) in grants and cheap loans to counter what Washington describes as China’s “payday loan diplomacy.”
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/5/2019 Zarif says Iran will act over ‘maritime offences’ in Gulf
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a news conference in Tehran, Iran
August 5, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS.
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will no longer turn a blind eye to “maritime offenses” in the Gulf, its foreign minister said on Monday, a day after it seized an Iraqi oil tanker there that it accused of smuggling fuel.
    Revolutionary Guards seized the tanker and its seven crew near Iran’s Farsi Island north of the Strait of Hormuz, state media reported, in show of power amid heightened tension with the West that minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed U.S. authorities for fomenting.
    “Iran used to forgo some maritime offenses in … (the) Gulf but will never close (its) eyes anymore,” Zarif told a news conference.
    He criticized U.S. sanctions imposed on him on Wednesday, saying Washington had closed the door to diplomacy over Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump exited last year.
    “Sanctioning a foreign minister means failure in talks,” Zarif said.
    If other countries heed U.S. calls to stop buying Iranian oil, Tehran has threatened to block all exports via the Strait, though which a fifth of global oil traffic passes.
    Zarif said European powers still party to the nuclear deal should accelerate efforts to salvage it, though Iran would leave the pact if necessary.
    Oil tanker traffic through Hormuz and other strategic waterways has become a focus for the standoff between Washington and Tehran, into which Britain has also been dragged.
    Fueling fears of a Middle East war with global repercussions, the Guards seized British tanker Stena Impero near the Strait of Hormuz in July for alleged marine violations, two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
    Zarif called the UK seizure “piracy” and said the Gulf’s security was Iran’s responsibility.
    “(The) UK government has been complicit in the U.S. economic terrorism against Iran,” he said.
    In June, Iran downed a U.S. drone near the Strait, prompting preparations for a U.S. retaliatory air strike that Trump called off at the last minute.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Tuqa Khalid; Editing by John Stonestreet)

8/5/2019 India scraps special status for Kashmir amid crackdown by Aditya Kalra and Sanjeev Miglani
India's Home Minister Amit Shah greets the media upon his arrival at the parliament in New Delhi, India, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India on Monday revoked the special status of Kashmir in a bid to fully integrate its only Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country, the most far-reaching political move on the troubled Himalayan territory in nearly seven decades.
    Interior Minister Amit Shah told parliament the federal government would scrap Article 370, a constitutional provision that grants a measure of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir including the right to make its own laws.
    “The entire constitution will be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir state,” Shah said to loud protests from opposition lawmakers who were against the repeal.
    The government also lifted a ban on property purchases by people from outside Jammu and Kashmir, opening the way for Indians to invest and settle there like any other part of India, a measure likely to provoke a backlash in the territory.
    Tens of thousands of people have died in an armed revolt that erupted against Indian rule in 1989, with hundreds of thousands of Indian troops deployed to quell it.
    The move is likely to increase tensions with Pakistan, which has claims to Kashmir and demands that India give the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination.
    The divided Himalayan region is claimed by both Hindu-majority India and Muslim Pakistan and the nuclear-armed neighbors have gone to war twice over the territory since independence in 1947.
    “Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy,” said Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
    “It will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent,” she added.
    The constitutional provisions revoked on Monday were introduced decades ago and included reserved government jobs and college placements for residents, in an effort to keep the state from being overrun by people from the rest of India.
    The scrapping of special status for Kashmir is likely to trigger a slew of political and legal battles, said Happymon Jacob, a professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
    “Politically, it’s advantage BJP,” Jacob said, referring to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has long advocated ending Kashmir’s special status.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his associates had pushed for radical political changes in Jammu and Kashmir even before he won a re-election in May, arguing the old laws had hindered its integration with the rest of India.
    Ram Madhav, general secretary of the ruling BJP, referred to the government’s actions as a “glorious day” and celebrations were planned across the country.
BROADER CRACKDOWN
    The government also said it would split the state into two federal territories – Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh – Shah said, adding that the decision reflected the prevailing internal security situation.
    India’s federal government announced the changes hours after a security crackdown began in Kashmir.
    Telephone and internet services remained suspended and movement of public in the main Sringar city has been restricted since midnight.     Some regional leaders were put under house arrest around midnight.
    In Pakistani-controlled areas of the region, there was anger at India, but also at Islamabad for not preventing the move.
    “We reject and condemn this decision. Kashmiris will never accept it,” said Iqbal Awan, a 51-year-old migrant from Indian Kashmir, as he prepared to join a protest in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir.
    Tension had risen in Kashmir since Friday, when Indian officials issued an alert over possible militant attacks by Pakistan-based groups.    Pakistan has rejected those assertions, but thousands of alarmed Indian tourists, pilgrims and workers streamed out of the region over the weekend.
(Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Sanjeev Miglani; Additional reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Zeba Siddiqui in New Delhi and Tariq Naqash in Muzaffarabad; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

8/5/2019 U.S. seeks to renew Pacific islands security pact to foil China by Colin Packham and Jonathan Barrett
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo and Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine
take their seats for a news conference after their meetings in Kolonia, Federated States of Micronesia August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday negotiations have begun with three Pacific island nations to renew a national security agreement that would help Washington counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
    Under the terms of the deal, known as the Compact of Free Association, the U.S. military have exclusive access to airspace and territorial waters of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.    In exchange, the small islands receive financial assistance.
    “Today, I am here to confirm the United States will help you protect your sovereignty, your security, your right to live in freedom and peace,” Pompeo told reporters in Pohnpei State, one of four members of the Federated States of Micronesia.
    “I’m pleased to announce the United States has begun negotiations on extending our compacts…. they sustain democracy in the face of Chinese efforts to redraw the Pacific.”
    Pompeo, who is the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Micronesia, spoke after meeting the leaders of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.
    The three tiny Pacific nations have gained greater strategic significance in recent years due a push by China into the region.    During a visit to Sydney on Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper described China’s actions as both “aggressive” and “destabilizing.”
    Laying the foundations for negotiations, U.S. President Donald Trump in May hosted the leaders of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau – a rare state visit for such small countries.
    The agreement is due to expire in 2024, and any lapse could have created a potential opening for China.
    “Federated States of Micronesia form part of the second island chain that China sees as a way of containing their strategic ambitions,” said Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands program at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney think tank.
    “The relationship is a critical one, but China is increasing its pursuit of the region.”
    China has become the region’s biggest bilateral lender during the past decade, although U.S. allies including Japan, Australia and New Zealand have retained – and in some instances recently increased – their already significant aid programs to Pacific island economies.
    Reuters analysis of budget documents shows that most of China’s concessionary loans have flowed to those Pacific island economies with which it has strong diplomatic ties, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu.
    Countries that have retained ties to Taiwan – like Palau, Kiribati and Solomon Islands – have limited Chinese investment.
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/5/2019 China lets yuan break key 7 level for first time in decade as trade war worsens by Andrew Galbraith and Winni Zhou
A U.S. dollar banknote featuring American founding father Benjamin Franklin and a China's yuan banknote featuring late Chinese chairman
Mao Zedong are seen among U.S. and Chinese flags in this illustration picture taken May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Illustration
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China let the yuan breach the key 7-per-dollar level on Monday for the first time in more than a decade, in a sign Beijing might be willing to tolerate more currency weakness that could further inflame a trade conflict with the United States.
    The sharp 1.4% drop in the yuan comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump stunned financial markets by vowing to impose 10% tariffs on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports from Sept. 1, abruptly breaking a brief ceasefire in a bruising trade war that has disrupted global supply chains and slowed growth.
    Some analysts said the yuan move could unleash a dangerous new front in the trade hostilities – a currency war.
    The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) provided the early impetus for yuan bears by setting a daily rate for the currency at its weakest level in eight months.
    Capital Economics Senior China Economist Julian Evans-Pritchard said the PBOC had probably been holding back against allowing a weaker yuan to avoid derailing trade negotiations with the United States.
    “The fact that they have now stopped defending 7.00 against the dollar suggests that they have all but abandoned hopes for a trade deal with the U.S.,” he said.
    The PBOC gave few clues about its intentions.
    In a statement on Monday, the central bank linked the yuan’s weakness to the fallout from the trade war, but said it would not change its currency policy and that two-way fluctuations in the yuan’s value are normal.
    Under the influence of factors including unilateralism, protectionist trade measures, and expectations of tariffs against China, the yuan has depreciated against the dollar today, breaking through 7 yuan per dollar,” the PBOC said.
    The central bank set the yuan’s daily midpoint at 6.9225 per dollar before the market open, its weakest level since Dec. 3, 2018.
    “Today’s fixing was the last line in the sand,” said Ken Cheung, senior Asian FX strategist at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong.
    “The PBOC has fully given the green light to yuan depreciation.”
    The onshore yuan finished the domestic session at 7.0352 per dollar, its weakest level since March 2008.    Monday marked the first time the yuan had breached the 7-per-dollar level since May 9, 2008.
    With the escalating trade war giving Beijing fewer reasons to maintain yuan stability, analysts said they expect the currency to continue to weaken.
    “In the short-term, the yuan’s strength would be largely determined by the domestic economy.    If third-quarter economic growth stabilizes, the yuan could stabilize around 7.2 or 7.3 level,” said Zhang Yi, chief economist at Zhonghai Shengrong Capital Management in Beijing.
    The yuan’s weakness against the dollar was not confined to the onshore market.    The offshore yuan also slumped, hitting a record low against the dollar of 7.1094 before rebounding to 7.0815 by 0834 GMT.
YUAN AS TRADE WEAPON?
    Monday’s slump past the 7-per-dollar level could further intensify the economic conflict between the United States and China.    Trump has long been critical of Beijing for manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage, and further yuan weakness could draw Washington’s wrath.
    Capital Economics’ Evans-Pritchard believes Trump is likely to be angered by the PBOC’s explicit linking of Monday’s yuan weakness to the renewed tariff threat.
    Indeed, the flare-up in trade tensions has renewed global financial market concerns over how much China will allow the yuan to weaken to offset heavier pressure on its exporters.
    “It appears the Chinese authorities no longer see the need to limit the tools at their disposal and that the currency is now also considered part of the arsenal to be drawn upon,” Rob Carnell, chief economist and head of research, Asia Pacific at ING, said in a note.
    Analysts have previously said that authorities will keep depreciation in check due to concerns about potential capital outflows.
    Despite slowing economic growth over the past year amid the intensifying trade war, China has not seen a rush of capital flight, thanks to capital controls put in place during the last economic downturn and growing foreign inflows into Chinese stocks and bonds.
    In 2015, China stunned global financial markets by devaluing the yuan 2% as its economy slowed.    It burned through $1 trillion in foreign exchange reserves to steady it.
    Shares were also battered on Monday, with plummeting Hong Kong equities weighing on the overall market, said Gerry Alfonso, director at Shenwan Hongyuan Securities Co.
HONG KONG DRAGS
    Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index <.HSI> dived 2.9% to close at its lowest level since January as the city faced major disruptions, with a general strike paralyzing parts of the Asian financial center.
    The yuan weakness added to the pressure.    Chinese companies listed in the city have their earnings and assets denominated in yuan but share prices quoted in Hong Kong dollars .
    “Yuan depreciation has a greater impact on the Hong Kong market than A-shares,” said Patrick Yiu, managing director at Hong Kong-based CASH Asset Management.
    The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index <.SSEC> lost 1.62% for its weakest close since Feb. 22, and the blue-chip index dropped 1.91%.
    Airlines were particularly hard-hit, pulling a transport sub-index down 2.72%.
    Highlighting the widening impact of the trade tensions, agricultural commodities’ prices surged after a report that China had asked state-owned firms to halt imports of U.S. agricultural products.
    China soymeal futures rose more than 2% and Dalian iron ore futures dropped, hitting their weakest level since July, while London copper slumped to its lowest in over two years.
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith and Winni Zhou in SHANGHAI and Noah Sin in HONG KONG; Additional reporting by Luoyan Liu in SHANGHAI and Stella Qiu in BEIJING; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

8/5/2019 China plans to drop all duties at Shanghai Free Trade Zone: sources by Keith Zhai
FILE PHOTO: Containers are seen at the Yangshan Deep Water Port, part of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone,
in Shanghai, China, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China is planning a pilot project to drop all duties and ease procedures at its Shanghai Free Trade Zone, three people familiar with the matter said, as Beijing looks to position itself as a leader in promoting free trade amid its grinding trade war with Washington.
    The plan, which could be announced as soon as this year, was discussed during Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Shanghai in late July, and leaders plan to discuss it further at their annual gathering in the seaside resort town of Beidaihe this month, one of the people said.
    Whether or not U.S. products and companies would be included in the project remains under discussion, the person said.
    The sources declined to be named given the sensitivity of the matter.     An official at the Shanghai free trade zone declined to comment, and China’s state planner, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
    Under the plan, if implemented, foreign firms would not be charged customs duties for goods transiting or stored in the zone, would be able to store merchandise temporarily without customs clearance and benefit from simplified customs procedures.
    Currently, duties are still imposed by customs at the Shanghai FTZ.
    If successful, the plan could be rolled out to China’s other roughly one-dozen Free Trade Zones (FTZs), according to the people.
    The Shanghai FTZ, China’s first, was founded in 2013 with the aim of easing international trade, including making cross-border money flows more flexible.
    During his visit to the Shanghai in late July, Chinese Premier Li vowed greater efforts in to further reform and open China’s economy, urging the Free Trade Zone to align with “advanced international levels,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
    Critics have expressed doubt that the FTZs will produce tangible outcomes in resolving complaints from foreign businesses in China that they face an uneven playing field.
    The zone attracted attention from overseas businesses and was hailed as one of China’s boldest reforms in decades when it was first launched, although a lack of specific policy details since then has dulled some of that enthusiasm.
    China has announced various measures over the past year to improve market access as it looks to deflect criticism of its treatment of foreign companies.
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/5/2019 Iran Foreign Minister: Tehran will not negotiate with economic terrorists by OAN Newsroom
    Iran’s foreign minister said his nation will no longer tolerate “maritime offenses” in the Persian Gulf.    Mohammad Javad Zarif made the statement during a news conference Monday, just one day after Iran seized an Iraqi oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz for allegedly smuggling fuel.
    The foreign minister also criticized U.S. sanctions against Iran by calling them “economic terrorism.”    He said Tehran will not negotiate with economic terrorists.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at a press conference in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019.
Zarif lambasted the recent U.S. sanctions against him, calling the move a “failure” for diplomacy.    He told
reporters on Monday that “imposing sanctions against a foreign minister means failure” for any efforts at negotiations. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    Zarif went on to say sanctions placed against him personally last week signaled a “defeat in dialogue and diplomacy.”
    “So, they’re not interested in diplomacy, we have not received any serious offer of diplomacy,” he stated.    “The United States only wants to impose its will on the Iranian people, and that will never happen.”
    The foreign minister warned if other countries follow a U.S. call to stop buying Iranian oil then it will block all exports coming through the Strait of Hormuz.    This warning also comes amid threats Tehran is ready to take the next step to put the Islamic Republic on the path toward nuclear weapons.
[That is hilarious that Iran's leaders are calling the U.S. economic terrorist and are stupid to believe that the world is going to believe that, and I doubt that the Iranian people that they are suffering from their acrtions believe that too.].

8/5/2019 Iran says it will further breach nuclear deal in one month unless Europeans act by Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran told European powers on Monday it would further reduce compliance with its 2015 nuclear deal in about a month’s time if they were still failing to protect it from crippling U.S. sanctions, reimposed after Washington exited the deal.
    European signatories to the deal have so far been helpless to prevent U.S. President Donald Trump trying to force Iran to accept stricter limits to its nuclear activity and regional behavior by strangling its vital oil trade.
    Iran has threatened to block all energy exports out of the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of global oil traffic passes, if it is unable to sell oil as promised by the 2015 deal in exchange for curbing its uranium enrichment program.
    “With the continuation of the inaction of the Europeans in carrying out their commitments (to the nuclear deal) … Iran will take a third step (in reducing commitments) in approximately one month,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
    Iran had increased its stockpile of heavy water above 130 tonnes and its reserve of enriched uranium above 300 kilograms, Kamalvandi told IRIB news agency.
    The deal – designed to forestall Iran making high-enriched uranium suitable for nuclear bombs in short order – permitted a maximum reserve of 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium.    It also set a cap of 130 tonnes of heavy water, which in large quantities can yield plutonium, an alternative atom bomb fuel.
    “What is certain is that by putting aside or suspending our commitments we will increase the speed of our nuclear activities,” said Kamalvandi.
    He did not specify what Iran’s next step would be, but Tehran warned last month it could reactivate centrifuge machines and ramp up enrichment of uranium to 20% fissile purity.
    The deal set an enrichment ceiling of 3.67%, the level deemed as appropriate for electricity generation and far below the 90% of weapons grade, though 20% would mark a big advance significantly reducing the time needed to yield bomb material.
    It has long denied seeking a nuclear bomb but appears to be cranking up enrichment levels gradually as leverage to push the nuclear deal’s remaining parties to do more to save it.
    All Iran’s steps, he said, were reversible if Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China eventually brought it protection from Washington’s sanctions squeeze.
WAR FEARS
    Fears of a Middle East war with global repercussions have risen since Trump withdrew in May 2018 from the nuclear deal embraced by predecessor Barack Obama and revived a panoply of sanctions meant to force Tehran into wider security concessions.
    Oil tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz has become the focus for the increasingly tense U.S.-Iranian standoff and the Trump administration has beefed up its military presence in the Gulf since May.
    On Monday, Iran declared that it ran security in the strait and would no longer tolerate “maritime offences” there, a day after the Islamic Republic said it had seized a second oil tanker near the strategic waterway that it accused of smuggling fuel.
    On Sunday, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps diverted the Iraqi tanker to its shores and detained its seven crew, state media reported.    Guards commander Ramezan Zirahi was quoted as saying it was carrying 700,000 liters of fuel.
    “Iran used to forgo some maritime offences in … (the) Gulf but will never close (its) eyes anymore,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a televised news conference in Tehran.
    “Iran is responsible for the security and safety of the Strait of Hormuz and the region.”
    Zarif also criticized U.S. sanctions imposed on him on Wednesday, saying Washington had slammed the door to any diplomacy to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal.
    Strains between Washington and Tehran have sharpened since the spring.    In June, Iran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone triggered preparations for a U.S. retaliatory air strike that Trump called off at the last minute.
    “Iran will leave its nuclear deal with the powers if necessary,” Zarif said.    Iran has so far rejected calls by the Trump administration to negotiate a new deal.
    He also labeled as “piracy” the seizure by Britain in July of an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, that London accused of violating European Union sanctions on Iran ally Syria.
    Two weeks later, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a British tanker, Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz for alleged marine violations.
    “Britain has been complicit in the U.S. economic terrorism against Iran,” Zarif said.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by David Holmes)

8/6/2019 ‘We will make them pay’: North Korea launches missiles, condemns U.S.-South Korea drills by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee
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) – North Korea fired missiles into the sea off its east coast for the fourth time in less than two weeks, South Korea said on Tuesday, as Pyongyang warned that hostile moves against it “have reached the danger line.”
    The North, criticizing the U.S.-South Korean drills and their use of high-tech weapons, has fired a series of missiles and rockets since its leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed at a June 30 meeting to revive stalled denuclearization talks.
    North Korea has said it is committed to diplomacy and it will wait until the end of the year for the United States to soften its policy of sanctions and political pressure over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
    But if Washington and Seoul disregard North Korea’s repeated warnings, “we will make them pay (a) heavy price,” a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement released through state news agency KCNA.
    Trump has played down the tests by saying they did not break any agreement he had with Kim but the talks have yet to resume.    Analysts believe the tests are designed both to improve North Korean military capabilities and to pressure Washington to offer more concessions.
    “Part of what’s happening now is that North Korea is expressing frustrations with a general lack of progress on inter-Korean agenda while increasing leverage in U.S.-North Korea negotiations by demonstrating how its programs could and will continue to advance,” said Jenny Town, managing editor at 38 North, a website that tracks North Korea.
MULTIPLE MISSILE LAUNCHES
    South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles were fired from near Kwail on North Korea’s west coast, about 125 km (80 miles) southwest of Pyongyang, in South Hwanghae province early on Tuesday.    They were the fourth set of launches since July 25.
    The missiles flew about 450 km (280 miles) and reached an altitude of 37 km (23 miles), the JCS said. U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies deemed they had similar flight characteristics to the short-range ballistic missiles launched by North Korea on July 25, it said.
    Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University, said the latest launch area was significant because the flight path of 450 km meant that all of South Korea was in range of such missiles.
    “It becomes difficult to detect the origin of the launch in advance because it is capable of launching a missile from most anywhere in North Korea, targeting all of South Korea,” he said.
    South Korea’s defense ministry said on Tuesday the missile launch went against the spirit of easing tension on the Korean peninsula.
    A United Nations report said on Monday Pyongyang has continued to enhance its nuclear and missile programs and used cyberattacks to take in $2 billion to fund the development.
    The missile tests represent military advances, as well as help Kim strengthen his bargaining power with the United States, said Van Jackson, a former Pentagon official focused on Korea.
    “Kim believes he doesn’t need to compromise to get what he wants, doesn’t need to conduct serious negotiations at the working level because he has recourse to Trump, and doesn’t need to restrain any of his missile testing or actions abroad as long as he doesn’t test an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Jackson said.
‘DO US HARM’
    The launches on July 25 were the first since Trump and Kim met at the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas on June 30.    What was agreed at that meeting is now under scrutiny.
    The North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said that the North remained committed to resolving issues through dialogue, but that the United States and South Korea’s joint military drills violate a pledge made by Trump to Kim.
    Pyongyang “will be compelled to seek a new road as we have already indicated” if South Korea and the United States continue with hostile military moves, he said.
    The arrival of new, U.S.-made F-35A stealth fighters in South Korea, the visit of a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine to a South Korean port, and U.S. tests of ballistic missiles are among the steps that have forced North Korea to continue its own weapons development, the spokesman said.
    “The U.S. and South Korean authorities remain outwardly talkative about dialogue,” he said.    “But when they sit back, they sharpen a sword to do us harm.”
    South Korean media reported that U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises had started on Monday.    A senior South Korean official said previously the drills would mainly involve computer simulations.
    A JCS spokesman told a regular news briefing on Monday the allies were preparing for a joint exercise in the second half of the year but would not confirm the name of the drill or whether it had already started.
    The testing of short-range missiles by North Korea is banned by a 2006 United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that North Korea suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program.
    Japan’s defense ministry said it did not see any imminent threat to Japanese security from the latest projectile launch by North Korea.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON and Chris Gallagher in TOKYO; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

8/6/2019 China calls on U.S. politicians to stop colluding with Hong Kong separatists
Members of a group opposing the anti-government protesters retreat after clashing with people attending a demonstration in support
of the city-wide strike and to call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong, China, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese foreign ministry’s commissioner in Hong Kong said on Tuesday the city belongs to China and that it will firmly respond to any action that harms China’s sovereignty.
    The foreign ministry’s commissioner, responding to comments by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said U.S. politicians should immediately stop colluding with separatists in the city.
    Hong Kong has been hit by weeks of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law that would have allowed suspects to be tried in mainland courts.    The protests have grown into a broader backlash against the city’s government and its political masters in Beijing.
(Reporting by Huizhong Wu; Editing by Paul Tait)

8/6/2019 War with Iran is the mother of all wars: Iran president
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
    GENEVA (Reuters) – War with Iran is the mother of all wars, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday in a speech broadcast live on state TV, warning once again that shipping might not be safe in the Strait of Hormuz oil waterway.
    Tensions have risen between Iran and the West since last year when the United States pulled out of an international agreement which curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions on Iran.
    “Peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said at the Foreign Ministry in a speech which also praised Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after the United States imposed sanctions on him on July 31.
    If the United States wants to have negotiations with Iran then it must lift all sanctions, Rouhani said, noting that Iran must be allowed to export oil.
    Fueling fears of a Middle East war with global repercussions, the Guards seized British tanker Stena Impero near the Strait of Hormuz in July for alleged marine violations, two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
    “A strait for a strait.    It can’t be that the Strait of Hormuz is free for you and the Strait of Gibraltar is not free for us,” Rouhani said.
    Approximately one-fifth of the world’s oil traffic passes through the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
    On Sunday, the Guards seized an Iraqi oil tanker in the Gulf which they said was smuggling fuel and detained seven crewmen, Iran’s state media reported.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alison Williams)

8/6/2019 Philippines’ Duterte plans China visit to discuss South China Sea ruling
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his fourth State of the Nation Address at the
Philippine Congress in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will soon meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to discuss a 2016 arbitration case over the South China Sea, his spokesman said on Tuesday, as domestic pressure grows on the firebrand leader to stand up to Beijing.
    Despite his huge popularity and polls consistently delivering an approval rating of 80 percent and over, the same surveys have shown Filipinos have little trust of China and want their government to stand up to perceived maritime bullying.
    Among the most contentious issues is Duterte’s decision to set aside a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague to curry favor with Beijing, in exchange for vague pledges of billion-dollar investment packages that largely have yet to materialize.
    That ruling made clear numerous Philippines maritime entitlements under international law and effectively invalidated China’s controversial nine-dash line claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.
    Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said he had asked Duterte whose idea it was to hold fresh talks with Xi.
    “Remember that I said before that there will be a time when I will invoke that arbitral ruling?,” Panelo told a regular briefing, quoting Duterte.
    “‘This is the time.    That’s why I am going there’ – that’s what he said,” Panelo added.
    He did not give a date for Duterte’s trip to China but said it was likely before the end of this month.
    The trip would come at a time when China is receiving international pushback over the conduct of coastguard and fishing militia in disputed areas of the South China Sea, including from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who last week blasted Beijing for “decades of bad behavior,” in trade and at sea.
    Although Duterte, who is known for scolding Western leaders, has stood by China and defended his policy of rapprochement and non-confrontation, his defense officials have spoken out.
    Two diplomatic protests have been filed, the first over what the Philippines said was a recent “swarming” of more than 100 Chinese fishing boats near a tiny Philippine-occupied island.
    The other was about an unannounced passage in July of five Chinese warships through the Philippines’ 12-mile territorial sea, which Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said was “a failure to observe protocol or common courtesy.”
    A Social Weather Stations poll published last month showed most Filipinos wanted the government to assert its claim to disputed islands in Spratlys and arrest Chinese fishermen caught destroying marine resources.
    Panelo also said Duterte was interested in furthering discussions about jointly exploring “60-40” for offshore energy reserves inside the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
(Reporting by Martin Petty and Karen Lema; editing by Darren Schuettler)

8/6/2019 Vietnam police disperse protest at Chinese embassy over South China Sea standoff by James Pearson
Anti-China protesters hold placards during a demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnamese police on Tuesday broke up a brief protest outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi against Beijing’s maritime survey of an offshore block in the southeast Asian nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a Reuters witness said.
    Vietnamese and Chinese ships have been in a weeks-long standoff near the oil block, the latest confrontation in waters that are a potential global flashpoint as the United States challenges China’s sweeping maritime claims.
    Protests in the authoritarian and Communist-ruled Southeast Asian country are rare, and police dispersed the short-lived demonstration of about 10 activists of the “No-U” group within minutes.
    “We are doing this in front of the Chinese embassy to show our anger to the world,” Le Hoang, one of the protesters, told Reuters.
    Vietnam accuses Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts of illegal activities in the country’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and has demanded that China withdraw all its ships.
    Last week, a Vietnamese fishermen’s group urged the government to take stronger measures to remove the ships, saying they were disrupting fishing activities.
    “I really hope that Vietnam will launch a lawsuit in the international court against China’s violations and its illegal nine-dash line,” Hoang added.
    The “No-U” group takes its name from the U-shaped “nine-dash line” marking China’s claims in a vast expanse of the South China Sea, including large swathes of Vietnam’s continental shelf, where it has awarded oil concessions.
    The Haiyang Dizhi 8, operated by the China Geological Survey, and several Chinese Coast Guard ships were still in Vietnam’s EEZ as recently as Monday, the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) said, using data from maritime analytics company Winward.
    Last week, Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh warned about an increasingly complicated situation at sea, during a visit to Vietnam’s main strategic naval base in the central port city of Cam Ranh, state media said.
    Meeting China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Bangkok last week, Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said the two sides needed to maintain peace and stability and better manage maritime disputes, Vietnam said in a statement.
    On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Chinese “coercion” in the disputed South China Sea, while Wang Yi said maritime problems involving Vietnam should not interfere with two-way ties.
(Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

8/6/2019 China warns of countermeasures if U.S. puts missiles on its ‘doorstep’ by Michael Martina
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and Chinese flags are seen before Defense Secretary James Mattis welcomes Chinese Minister of National
Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China threatened countermeasures on Tuesday if the United States deploys intermediate-range, ground-based missiles in Asia and warned U.S. allies of repercussions if they allow such weapons on their territory.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday he was in favour of placing ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in the region soon, possibly within months.
    Washington formally pulled out last week from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a 1987 pact with the former Soviet Union that banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,000 km (310 to 3,400 miles).
    U.S. officials had accused Russia of not complying with the treaty but the withdrawal also allows the Pentagon to develop new weapons to counter China, which boasts an increasingly sophisticated land-based missile force.    Beijing was not a party to the deal and refused to join.
    Fu Cong, director general of the arms control department at China’s foreign ministry, said Beijing “will not stand idly by” and watch the United States base missiles in Asia.
    “If the U.S. deploys missiles in this part of the world, at the doorstep of China, China will be forced to take countermeasures,” Fu told reporters.
    “I urge our neighbours to exercise prudence and not to allow the U.S. deployment of intermediate-range missiles on their territory,” Fu said.
    He specifically mentioned Japan, South Korea, and Australia, warning it would not serve their national security interests.
    Fu did not specify how China would respond but said “everything will be on the table” if U.S. allies made allowances for the missiles.
    He also reiterated that China had no interest in taking part in any trilateral talks with the United States and Russia to come to new terms on such weapons, arguing that most of China’s missiles could not reach the U.S. heartland.
    “Given the huge gap between the nuclear arsenals of China and that of the U.S. and the Russian Federation, I don’t think it is reasonable or even fair to expect China to participate in an arms reduction negotiation at this stage,” Fu said.
    Esper and other Trump administration officials have accused China of aggressive behaviour that is destabilising the Indo-Pacific region.    The war of words over missile deployment in Asia has raised concerns about an arms race in the region.
    The United States is expected to test a ground-launched cruise missile in the next few weeks.    The Pentagon will also aim to test an intermediate-range ballistic missile in November.
    However, unrestrained by the treaty, China has already been deploying intermediate-range missiles in massive numbers and has installed military equipment on artificial islands it has made in the disputed and energy-rich South China Sea.
    China’s People’s Liberation Army has used sustained budget increases to build an arsenal of advanced missiles, many of which are designed to attack the aircraft carriers and bases that form the backbone of U.S. military dominance in the region and protect its allies.
    China is also making rapid strides in developing so-called hypersonic missiles, which can manoeuvre sharply and travel at five times the speed of sound, or faster.
    The United States has limited defences against such missiles, according to Pentagon officials, and is scrambling for new weapons and strategies to counter them.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Stephen Coates and Paul Tait)

8/6/2019 Defense Secretary Esper: U.S. will not overreact to North Korea missile launches by OAN Newsroom
    North Korea fired missiles into the sea off its east coast for the fourth time in less than two weeks.    It’s latest launch of short-range ballistic missiles was conducted Tuesday in response to military exercises between Washington and Seoul.
    Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon is taking the launches seriously, and will continue to monitor them.
    “I think the key is to keep the door open for diplomacy,” he stated.    “The president had a good meeting last month or so with (Supreme Leader) Kim Jong-un and we’re not going to over react to these, but we monitor them, we watch them closely and we’re cognizant of what’s happening.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper briefs the media at a press conference following annual bilateral
ministerial talks in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
    President Trump first met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June 2018 in an effort to end its nuclear weapons program. During the meeting, the two sides signed a vague agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
    The two met again in February in Vietnam, but did not reach a formal agreement.    A third summit was held in June at the Demilitarized Zone, but no agreement was reached one again.
    President Trump said North Korea’s tests of short range missiles are not in violation of an agreement signed at their first summit.    However, North Korea is reportedly threatening to carry out more weapons tests.    They are claiming the U.S. broke its promise by conducting military drills with South Korea.
    Esper is visiting Japan and South Korea this week, and will discuss the missile launches with his counterparts in both countries.
    “My message in both Seoul and Tokyo will likely be: look, we have really big challenges, the near term threat, challenge if you will, North Korea,” said the defense secretary.    “In the longer term, bigger one of China, we should focus on these two things, so I would ask them to both resolve this issue quickly and let’s really focus on North Korea and China.”
    Talks between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled.    Meanwhile, analysts say Pyongyang’s weapons tests are meant to improve its military capabilities and pressure Washington to offer more concessions.

8/6/2019 China threatens countermeasures if U.S. deploys missiles in Indo-Pacific by OAN Newsroom
    China is threatening countermeasures against the U.S. if Washington deploys intermediate-range missiles in Asia.    In a statement Tuesday, a top Chinese military official said Beijing would “not stand idly by” if the U.S. goes forward with its plan to deploy the weaponry in the Indo-Pacific.
    This comes in response to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said he hopes to see the missiles placed in Asia after Washington withdrew from an arms control treaty last week.    The Chinese official also said there would be repercussions against any U.S. ally who allows the missiles in the region.
Director of the foreign ministry’s Arms Control Department, Fu Cong speaks during a press conference at the
Ministry of Foreign Affair building in Beijing, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Christopher Bodeen)
    “China will not stand idly by and will be forced to take countermeasures should the U.S. deploy intermediate range ground-based missiles in this part of the world,” stated Fu Cong, Director General of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Arms Control Department.
    This comes as Pentagon chief Esper also said the U.S. is pledged to strengthen opposition to Chinese activities in the Asia-Pacific region.

8/6/2019 Shinzo Abe: Biggest issue between Japan and South Korea is trust by OAN Newsroom
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the biggest issue between South Korea and Tokyo is a lack of mutual trust.
    While speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Abe accused Seoul of not keeping its promises and regularly violating trade agreements between the two nations.
    The prime minister’s comments come less than a week after Japan removed South Korea from its list of trusted trading partners.    As a countermeasure, South Korea is considering revoking its military information pact with Tokyo.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference in Hiroshima, western Japan Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.
Prime Minister Abe says the biggest problem between his country and South Korea is a loss of trust resulting from the wartime
labor dispute, which Japan initially linked to the export control measures against South Korea but stayed away after
Seoul accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade as retaliation.(Juntaro Yokoyama/Kyodo News via AP)
    “The biggest problem is the question of trust and whether to keep the promises between nations,” explained Prime Minister Abe.    "South Korea has unilaterally committed acts that violate the Japan-Korea claims agreement, breaking international laws that have become the basis for normalizing diplomatic relations.”
    Japanese officials said their decision to remove South Korea from its preferred trading list was not made to harm ties, but as a measure of national security.

8/6/2019 China issues harsh warning against protesters in Hong Kong by OAN Newsroom
    Chinese officials issued a sharp warning to protesters in Hong Kong amid ongoing anti-government demonstrations.    On Tuesday, a government spokesperson said demonstrators should not underestimate the strength of the Chinese government.
    This comes just a day after activists participated in a widespread civil disobedience campaign by blocking public transportation routes across the city.    The spokesperson also vowed to punish all Hong Kong citizens who have broken the law during the protests.
    “I would like to warn all these criminals: don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness, don’t ever underestimate the powerful force of justice in Hong Kong society to safeguard the rule of law and maintain peace and order,” stated Yang Guang, spokesperson for Hong Kong and Macao Affairs.
    The Chinese spokesperson went on to claim all attempts to have Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam resign are doomed to fail.    The protests have gone on for nine consecutive weeks.
In this Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, photo, protesters wearing black shirt, right, fight with a group of men
wielding wooden poles on a street during the anti-extradition bill protest at a neighborhood in Hong Kong.
China warned Tuesday, Aug. 6 that it will be “only a matter of time” before it punishes those behind two months of
pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that have increasingly devolved into violent clashes with law enforcement. (AP Photo)

8/6/2019 China warns Hong Kong protesters not to ‘play with fire’ by Cate Cadell
A demonstrator throws a traffic cone at a group of people opposing the anti-government protesters, during a demonstration in
support of the city-wide strike and to call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong, China, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Protesters in Hong Kong must not “play with fire” and mistake Beijing’s restraint for weakness, China said on Tuesday in its sharpest rebuke yet of the “criminals” behind demonstrations in the city whom it vowed to bring to justice.
    Hong Kong has suffered weeks of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law, which would have allowed suspects to be tried in mainland courts.
    But the protests have swelled into a broader backlash against the government of the Asian financial hub, fueled by many residents’ fear of eroding freedoms under the increasingly tight control of the Communist Party in Beijing.
    “I would like to warn all of the criminals: don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness,” the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a document issued during a briefing in Beijing.
    A small group of violent radicals were at the forefront of the protests, with “some kind-hearted citizens who have been misguided and coerced to join,” according to the document attributed to two officials, Yang Guang and Xu Luying.
    It said anti-China forces were the “behind-the-scenes masterminds” who had “openly and brazenly emboldened” the protesters.
    “We would like to make clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: those who play with fire will perish by it,” the office said.
    “At the end of the day, they will eventually be punished.”
    China has been quick to label U.S. officials as “black hands” instigating unrest in Hong Kong in an attempt to contain China’s development, but it has not provided any concrete evidence.
    A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Friday urged the Trump administration to suspend future sales of munitions and crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong police, which have been accused of using excessive force.
    Police on Monday fired tear gas at protesters in the former British colony after a general strike hit transport and the city’s Beijing-backed leader, chief executive Carrie Lam, warned its prosperity was at risk.
    The protests surpassed earlier shows of dissent in scale and intensity, seemingly stoked by Lam’s refusal once again to meet any of the protesters’ demands, including for her resignation and independent inquiries into police use of force.
    The protests are the greatest political threat to Hong Kong’s government since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and one of the biggest popular challenges to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
‘CIVILIZED POWER’
    China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Hong Kong has remained in barracks since the protests started in April, leaving Hong Kong’s police force to deal with the massive demonstrations.
    Last week, the PLA garrison there issued a video showing “anti-riot” exercises, and its top brass warned violence is “absolutely impermissible.”
    Diplomats and foreign security analysts are watching the situation closely, but believe there’s little appetite in Beijing for the PLA to be deployed on the streets of Hong Kong.
    So far, the central government and the PLA have said only that there are clear provisions in law covering the prospect of the force’s intervention in the city.
    During the briefing, Yang called the PLA “a strong force that defends every inch of its sacred territory,” and said the central government would not allow any “turbulence” beyond the control of the Hong Kong government to threaten national unity or security.
    “The PLA is a force of power but also a civilized power,” Yang said.
    “As long as it has the strong support of the central government and the Chinese people, the Hong Kong government and police are fully capable of punishing those criminal activities and restoring public order and stability,” he said.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

8/6/2019 Taliban threaten Afghan election, hail progress on pact with U.S. by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Robert Birsel
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani attend a rally during the first day of the
presidential election campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Afghan Taliban on Tuesday denounced a presidential vote due next month as a sham and threatened to attack election rallies even as the militants and the United States reported significant progress on a deal to end America’s longest war.
    The pact will be centered on a U.S. commitment to withdraw troops in exchange for a Taliban promise the country will not be used to plot terrorist attacks, both sides say.
    A Taliban commitment to talk peace with the U.S.-backed government of Afghanistan will likely be part of the agreement, but many government officials fear their war with the Taliban will not end if U.S. troops leave.
    The Taliban, fighting to rid the country of foreign forces and create an Islamic state, called for a boycott of the election scheduled for Sept. 28.
    Foreign powers should focus efforts on the deal with the United States on “ending the occupation,” they said.
    “This election process is nothing more than a ploy,” the Taliban said in a statement.
    President Ashraf Ghani is widely expected to win a second term and has insisted the vote must go ahead as scheduled.
    The U.S.-trained former World Bank official came to power in 2014 after winning an election marred by fraud accusations.
    The Taliban said their fighters would block the vote and warned of attacks: “Stay away from gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets,” the militants said.
    Ghani’s office said the people had the right to choose their leader and the government was ready to hold a transparent vote.
    “They should show peace through their actions and not threaten people,” the office said of the Taliban.
    The government is not involved in the peace talks because the Taliban refuse to deal with them, labeling them a U.S. puppet.
PROGRESS ON PACT
    Ghani’s running mate, who last week survived a militant suicide attack on his Kabul office, condemned the Taliban as “sham Afghans” acting at the behest of old rival Pakistan.
    “They are created and backed to suppress a nation, bring about a medieval system in the name of religion to feed the greedy beast of Pakistani establishment,” Amrullah Saleh said on Twitter.
    Saleh, a former intelligence chief, is a fierce critic of Pakistan, which many Afghans accuse of backing the Taliban.    Pakistan denies that.
    Rights group Amnesty international condemned the Taliban threat, saying they were claiming to pursue peace but threatening to carry out war crimes by attacking election rallies.
    About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counter-terrorism operations. President Donald Trump has announced his aim to end the war.
    Both the U.S. peace envoy leading talks with the Taliban, and the Taliban reported progress in their talks in Qatar, where technical teams were discussing mechanisms on Tuesday.
    The militants control more territory than at any point since the United States bombed them out of power in 2001, and there has been no let-up in the violence.
    Five people were killed and seven were wounded in a bomb attack on a government vehicle in Kabul on Tuesday, authorities said.
    U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter late on Monday, there had been excellent progress and the Taliban were equally enthusiastic, saying they expected an outcome within days.
    “Extraordinary progress,” said Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban political office in Qatar.
    Khalilzad was in India on Tuesday and Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar traveled to Uzbekistan for a three-day visit, Shaheen said.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Cawthorne)

8/7/2019 North Korea’s Kim says missile launches are warning to U.S., South Korea over drill: KCNA by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin
A man watches a TV showing a file picture for a news report on North Korea firing two
unidentified projectiles, in Seoul, South Korea, August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country’s latest launch of tactical guided missiles was a warning to the United States and South Korea over their joint military drills that began this week, state media KCNA reported on Wednesday.
    Tuesday’s missile launch, the North’s fourth in less than two weeks, came amid stalled denuclearization talks with Washington and U.S.-South Korea military exercises, although Washington and Seoul played down the tests.
    Kim said the latest missile test was “an occasion to send an adequate warning to the joint military drill now underway by the U.S. and South Korean authorities”, according to KCNA.
    The “new-type tactical guided missiles,” launched from the western area of North Korea, flew across the peninsula over the capital and the central inland region to “precisely hit the targeted islet” in the sea off the North’s east coast, KCNA said.    Its report confirmed the South Korean military’s analysis of their trajectories on Tuesday.
    The launches “clearly verified the reliability, security and actual war capacity” of the weapon, KCNA said, echoing analysts who said the launches showed North Korea’s confidence in its missile technology.
    The United States and South Korea kicked off their largely computer-simulated Dong Maeng – or “alliance” – exercises this week as an alternative to previous large-scale annual drills that were halted to expedite denuclearization talks.
    North Korea decries such exercises as a rehearsal for war aimed at toppling its leadership.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, on his first tour of Asia, said during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo that North Korea remained of great concern.
    Esper said on Tuesday the United States won’t overreact to the missile tests.
    Lee Sang-min, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry that handles inter-Korean ties, urged the North to stop the tests and explore confidence-building measures such as returning to a joint military committee.
    Leif-Eric Easley, who teaches international security at Ewha University in Seoul, said South Korea and the United States had reduced and refocused their joint military exercises to allow space for diplomacy with North Korea.
    “But Pyongyang shows no appreciation for this, keeping its own exercise schedule unchanged, conducting provocative weapons tests, and dialling up its rhetoric,” he said.
    Denuclearization talks are yet to resume after being stalled since a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim broke down in February.    The two leaders agreed to revive them during their impromptu meeting at the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas in June.
    U.S. national security adviser John Bolton highlighted on Tuesday Kim’s pledge to Trump not to resume tests of intercontinental-range missiles that threaten the United States.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in TOKYO; Editing by Sandra Maler and Paul Tait)

8/7/2019 Hong Kong facing worst crisis since handover: senior China official by Farah Master and James Pomfret
Lawyers and workers in Hong Kong's legal sector gather outside the Department of Justice
during a protest in Hong Kong, China August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong is facing its worst crisis since it returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office said on Wednesday, as more anti-government protests rocked the Asian financial hub.
    “Hong Kong’s crisis … has continued for 60 days, and is getting worse and worse,” Zhang Xiaoming, one of the most senior Chinese officials overseeing Hong Kong affairs, said during a meeting in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.
    “Violent activities are intensifying and the impact on society is spreading wider.    It can be said that Hong Kong is now facing the most severe situation since its handover,” he said.
    Hong Kong has faced months of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law and which have evolved into a direct challenge to the government of embattled leader Carrie Lam and calls for full democracy.
    Hong Kong’s protests, which continued on Wednesday, pose a major challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping who is grappling with a trade war with the United States and a slowing economy.
    Zhang held a forum on Wednesday to discuss the political crisis in Hong Kong which included Hong Kong delegates to China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress and China’s main consultative body, the CPPCC.    No opposition democratic figures or protest representatives were invited.
    Speaking after the meeting, several attendees said Zhang cited speeches by former Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1984 and 1987 in which he said if “turmoil” occurs in Hong Kong, “the central government must intervene.”
    No specific mention, however, was made of deploying the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has a garrison in Hong Kong, to quell the unrest, with Zhang cited as saying Beijing remained confident in the Hong Kong government and local police.
    Elsie Leung, a former justice secretary, said she felt that even if the PLA were deployed it would not conflict with Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” by which it has been governed since 1997.    “One country, two systems would continue,” she said.
    In China’s sharpest rebuke yet of the protesters, the government warned them on Tuesday not to “play with fire” and called on Hong Kong citizens to protect their homeland.
    The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily, showed a video on its official Twitter feed of thousands of police officers taking part in an anti-riot training drill in Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.
    The protests have drawn millions onto the streets in opposition to an extradition bill that would see suspects tried in mainland courts controlled by the Communist Party. Many feared it would undermine Hong Kong’s independent judiciary and was another step toward full mainland control of Hong Kong.
    Several thousand Hong Kong lawyers dressed in black, marched in silence on Wednesday to call on the government to safeguard the independence of the city’s department of justice.
    The city’s lawyers fear the justice department’s prosecutions of arrested protesters are taking on an increasingly political slant with over 500 arrests, many charged with rioting, an offense that carries a 10-year jail term.
    A female lawyer who declined to be named said she was marching “to make sure the government knows that within the legal sector, we will not allow judicial independence to be compromised by politics or pressure from the Chinese government.”
    A group of unidentified government prosecutors published an open letter last week accusing Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng of putting politics above legal principles.
    “All we want is justice and all we want is consistency,” said prominent lawyer Kevin Yam, who also protested.    “We don’t want to see thugs get away while the best of our youth get prosecuted.    We uphold the rule of law and we ask for justice.”
    Protesters are demanding a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent inquiry into the crisis, an investigation into what they say is excessive use of force by police, and for Lam to step down.
    A brazen attack by an armed mob on protesters at a train station in Yuen Long on the night of July 21 that left 45 people injured, has so far seen 23 people arrested for the relatively light charge of unlawful assembly.    Protesters say police were slow to protect them.
    Police fired tear gas in Sham Shui Po late on Tuesday, as protesters gathered outside a police station to demand the release of Keith Fong, a student union leader from Baptist University, who they say was unlawfully arrested by several plain-clothes police for buying laser pointers on the grounds that he possessed offensive weapons.
    Protesters have sometimes aimed lasers, which are widely available in shops, at police during recent clashes.
(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree, Greg Torode, Donny Kwok, Noah Sin and Sijia Jiang; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait)

8/7/2019 Taliban claim bomb attack on Afghan police; 14 killed, 145 hurt
Members of Afghan security forces keep watch at the site of a car bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide car-bomb attack on a police station in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Wednesday which the government said killed 14 people and wounded 145.
    There has been no let-up in violence in Afghanistan even though the Taliban and the United States appear close to a historic pact for U.S. troops to withdraw in exchange for a Taliban promise the country would not be used as a base from which to plot attacks by extremists.
    The blast, in the west of the city during the morning rush hour, sent a huge cloud of grey smoke billowing into the sky.
    The Taliban said a “recruitment center” had been attacked by one of their suicide bombers.
    “A large number of soldiers and police were killed or wounded,” the Taliban said in a statement.
    Deputy Interior Minister Khoshal Sadat later told a news conference 14 people had been killed and 145 wounded.    Four of the dead were policemen and the rest civilians, while 92 of the wounded were civilians, he said.
    The bomb went off when the vehicle carrying the device was stopped at a checkpoint outside the police station, said interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.
    Women and children were among the casualties, the health ministry said.
    Pictures from the scene showed extensive damage with facades blown off buildings and a jumble of rubble and vehicles strewn through the area.
    “Again a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul targets a civilian area that resulted in harming of so many innocents,” Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said on Twitter.
    “Continued Taliban attacks indicate that they have no commitment to peace,” Sediqqi later told the news conference.
    The blast came a day after the Taliban called for a boycott of a Sept. 28 presidential election and threatened to attack election rallies.
    Separately, security forces conducted raids on two Islamic State militant hideouts in Kabul overnight and killed two militants and seized a large quantity of explosives and bomb-making equipment, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said.
    Three members of the security forces were also killed, an agency spokesman said.
    Both the U.S. peace envoy leading talks with the Taliban, and the Taliban reported significant progress this week in their talks in Qatar aimed at ending America’s longest war.
    The militants control more territory than at any point since the United States bombed them out of power in 2001 and many government officials fear their war with the Taliban will not end if U.S. troops leave.
    About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counter-terrorism operations.
    President Donald Trump has announced his aim to end the war.
(Reporting by Orooj Hakimi, Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

8/7/2019 Chinese official says Hong Kong facing biggest crisis since 1997
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators gather as Hong Kong police fire tear gas in Hardcourt Road,
Admiralty, in Hong Kong, China, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong is facing its biggest crisis since it returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office said on Wednesday.
    Zhang Xiaoming, one of the most senior Chinese officials overseeing Hong Kong affairs, made the comments during a meeting in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.
    Zhang was holding a forum that included Hong Kong delegates to China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress and China’s main consultative body, the CPPCC, to discuss the political crisis in the territory.
    Hong Kong has faced months of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law, which would have allowed suspects to be tried in mainland courts.
    But the protests have broadened into a backlash against the government of the Asian financial hub, fueled by many residents’ fears of eroding freedoms under the tightening control of China’s Communist Party leaders in Beijing.
(Reporting by James Pomfret, Clare Jim, Sijia Jiang, Felix Tam; Editing by Sam Holmes)

8/7/2019 14 killed, 145 wounded in Kabul bomb blast by OAN Newsroom
    A suicide car bombing in Afghanistan has left more than a dozen people dead and over 140 injured.    A Taliban bomber reportedly carried out the deadly attack Wednesday outside a police station in Western Kabul.
    This is the fifth major attack in the Afghan capital in recent weeks, and it comes less than 24-hours after another bombing left at least two people dead.
A wounded man is carried to an ambulance after an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.
A suicide car bomber targeted the police headquarters in a minority Shiite neighborhood in western Kabul on Wednesday,
setting off a huge explosion that wounded dozens of people, Afghan officials said. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
    “The death toll from today’s (Wednesday, August 7, 2019) incident has reached to 14 martyred, 145 wounded,” stated Khoshal Sadat, Deputy Interior Minister of Afghanistan.    “Ninety-two wounded victims are civilians and the rest are from the national police.”
    The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in an open statement, and said they targeted a recruitment center for security forces.
    The attack comes ahead of another round of U.S.-Taliban talks this week in Qatar.

8/7/2019 Despite missile tests, Pompeo hopeful North Korea talks will resume in weeks by David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives for the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ East Asia
Summit Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday he was hopeful denuclearization talks would resume between North Korea and the United States soon, in spite of repeated North Korean missile tests and the lengthening delay in restarting the talks.
    “We are hopeful that in the coming weeks we will get back to the negotiating table,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.    “We are planning for negotiations in a couple of weeks and we anticipate the two teams getting back together.”
    President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed at a June 30 meeting to resume talks between working-level officials stalled since a failed summit in Hanoi in February. Since then, North Korea has conducted a series of short-range missiles tests.
    Pompeo has suggested several times since the Trump-Kim meeting that talks were imminent, first saying on June 30 they would probably take place in two or three weeks.
    But the mood has soured, with North Korea warning that plans for U.S.-South Korea military exercises this month could derail dialogue.
    North Korea has repeatedly tested short-range ballistic missiles and warned of a possible end to its freeze of nuclear and long-range missile tests in place since 2017.    Trump has repeatedly held up that freeze as evidence of the success of more than a year of engagement with Kim.
    On Wednesday, North Korea state media said Kim had said the launch of tactical guided missiles on Tuesday was a warning to the United States and South Korea over their joint military drills, which began this week.
    Trump and his administration have sought to play down the launches, saying they do not violate a pledge by Kim to not resume nuclear and long-range tests.
    “We watched the actions they are taking, the actions that are taking place inside North Korea,” Pompeo said.    “And we are mindful that when we came in there was nuclear testing taking place."
    “That has not occurred,” Pompeo said.    “There are not long-range missiles being fired.    Those are both good things.”
    “Now the task is for us to deliver on what the two leaders agreed to back in June of last year in Singapore,” Pompeo added, referring to the first summit between Kim and Trump.
    In Singapore, Kim pledged to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and the two sides agreed to forge a new era of relations.    Trump also pledged a suspension of major military exercises with South Korea.
    There have been few concrete results since, with the Hanoi summit collapsing over a failure to narrow differences over U.S. demands for North Korea to give up all of its nuclear weapons and Pyongyang’s demands for relief from punishing sanctions.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

8/8/2019 More Hong Kong protests planned as U.S. raises travel warning by Farah Master
People watch the dots of laser pointers move across the facade of the Hong Kong Space Museum during
a flashmob staged to denounce the authorities' claim that laser pointers were offensive weapons in
Hong Kong, China August 7, 2019. Picture taken with a slow shutter. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The United States raised its travel warning for Hong Kong, urging increased caution by visitors to the Chinese territory in the face of what it described as civil unrest after months of sometimes violent street protests.
    The protests in the Asian financial hub began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law and have evolved into a direct challenge to the city’s government and calls for full democracy.
    “The protests and confrontations have spilled over into neighborhoods other than those where the police have permitted marches or rallies,” said the advisory, posted on the website of the U.S. state department on Wednesday.
    “These demonstrations, which can take place with little or no notice, are likely to continue,” it added.    The advisory was raised to level two on a four-point scale.
    Australia also warned its travelers in an updated advisory.
    The protests pose a grave popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.    Xi is also grappling with a debilitating trade war with the United States and a slowing economy.
    China’s Foreign Ministry lodged stern representations with the United States, urging U.S. officials to stop sending wrong signals to the “violent separatists” in Hong Kong.
    The protests have left Hong Kong facing its worst crisis since it returned to China from British rule in 1997, the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office said.
    More protests are planned in several districts across the city this weekend, starting on Friday, with demonstrators also planning a three-day rally at the city’s international airport.
    Police warned activists to protest peacefully and said they had detained three more people, raising the number arrested to nearly 600 since protests began in June, the youngest aged 13.
    Protesters want the city’s embattled leader Carrie Lam to categorically withdraw the extradition bill, and an independent inquiry into the government and the police handling of the controversy.
    Lam, who says the bill is dead but has not withdrawn it, visited some districts on Wednesday to speak with residents and inspect a police station recently targeted by protesters.
    The government would put forward measures to improve people’s livelihoods, she said in a statement after the visit.
FURTHER DEMONSTRATIONS
    Young people are at the forefront of the protests, worried about China encroaching on Hong Kong’s freedoms.    The city is already battling problems such as sky-high living costs and what people see as an unfair housing policy favoring the wealthy.
    The normally efficient and orderly city has seen its transport network besieged and shut down by demonstrators, while protests have shut big-brand stores and popular shopping malls.
    Three masked activists, who did not give their names, held a news conference on Thursday, their second this week and broadcast on domestic television channels, to criticize what they called arbitrary arrests and police use of tear gas.
    “The continuation of such attempts at spreading fear and suppressing the freedom of press will eventually backfire on the government itself,” one activist told the Citizens’ Press Conference, a platform protesters are using to voice concerns over the situation in Hong Kong.
    “The ultimate victim of these tactics will be the police force’s crumbling public image,” said the activist, who spoke in English.
    The comments came after plainclothes police arrested a student leader from Baptist University, Keith Fong, on the grounds that laser pointers he bought were offensive weapons.
    On Wednesday night, hundreds of protesters held a rally and shined lasers on the dome of the city’s Space Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui, demanding Fong be released, and mocking the police’s description of the pointers as “laser guns.”
    Several thousand Hong Kong lawyers, dressed in black, marched in silence on Wednesday to call on the government to safeguard the independence of the city’s department of justice.
    They fear the justice department’s prosecutions of arrested protesters are taking on an increasingly political slant. Many of those arrested have been charged with rioting, which carries a 10-year jail term.
    Protesters have started to use increasingly diverse tactics to evade capture, shifting quickly from place to place and using online platforms such as Telegram to direct thousands of people.
    They also circulated brightly-colored pamphlets online ahead of the airport demonstrations, aiming to help tourists understand events, in which they vowed never to surrender.
    “Dear travelers, please forgive us for the ‘unexpected Hong Kong’.    You’re arrived in a broken, torn-apart city, not the one you have once pictured. Yet the city you imagined is exactly what we are fighting for,” the pamphlets said.
(Reporting by Farah Master, Felix Tam, Anne Marie Roantree and Twinnie Siu; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

8/8/2019 Move over Chanel: North Korea’s ‘raccoon eye makers’ get state push by Minwoo Park
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju visit a cosmetics factory in this undated photo released
by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on October 28, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea is encouraging its beauty-conscious middle class women to choose domestic cosmetics over foreign brands in an effort to boost self-reliance as international sanctions deepen.
    Promoting home-grown beauty has been a political strategy since the days of state founder Kim Il Sung, but has become more focused under his foreign-educated grandson, Kim Jong Un.
    The international popularity in recent years of South Korea’s K-beauty trend – innovative cosmetic products with natural ingredients such as ginseng and snail slime – has added momentum, say defectors who fled the North and experts who study the isolated state.
    But North Korea’s push has yet to translate to a winning formula, marred by quality issues and constraints in obtaining foreign ingredients due to sanctions over its nuclear program.
    Leader Kim Jong Un was once dismissive of domestic beauty products.
    “Foreign eye liners or mascaras stay on even after get into water, but domestic products make raccoon eyes even with just a yawn,” Kim said during his visit to a Pyongyang cosmetics factory in 2015, according to the Japan-based Choson Sinbo newspaper.
    But Kim has since visited cosmetics factories several times with his wife to promote the products.
    Earlier this year, North Korea’s state-run television KRT aired a video about Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory showing a woman replacing Chanel products with domestic products instead.
    “Lots of foreign customers living in the state visit our shop. Sheet mask, lipstick and cleansing products are best sellers,” Yang Su Jong, a sales assistant at Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory, told Reuters on a rare visit to the capital last year.
    Chanel, in response to Reuters’ questions, said it did not export products to North Korea and any items on sale there were likely counterfeits or diverted products.
FIRST LADY AND GIRL BAND
    North Korea has long regulated its citizens’ appearance.    Hair dyeing, blue jeans and clothes with writing in English were banned under Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, as the reclusive country tried to keep western influences out.
    But that has changed since Kim came to power in 2011 and began making public appearances with first lady Ri Sol Ju, a former member of a pop orchestra.
    Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, said the young first lady’s short haircut and colorful suits appealed to a desire for self-expression within the constraints of North Korea’s society.
    “There was no role for the first lady in Kim Jong Il’s era,” Nam said.    “But the Kim Jong Un era gave rise to first lady Ri Sol Ju, who furthered the regime’s interest in cosmetics.”
    Kang Na-ra is one North Korean defector who said she used to buy South Korean cosmetics at private markets known as jangmadang that are the backbone of the North’s informal market economy.
    “I really wanted to copy K-pop idol’s make-up style when I was in the North,” she said.
    Today women are encouraged to follow style trends set by the first lady or the ‘Moranbong’ band, Pyongyang’s all-female answer to K-pop.
    “North Korea is such a tightly controlled society and a style we can follow is very limited.    Ri Sol Ju or Moranbong band members are our only allowable role models,” said the 21-year-old Kang who fled to the South in 2014 and now runs a YouTube channel sharing tips on beauty and North Korean culture.
NEW MARKET AND LIMITS
    Pyongyang Cosmetic Factory shipped its first batch of Unhasu brand cosmetics to a new boutique in Moscow in May, Russian media reported. ‘Korean Care’, another Russian cosmetics shop selling South Korean products online, started importing North Korean beauty products directly from Pyongyang last year.
    The company, which targets Russian women and has over 10,000 customers, said the selling point for North Korean products was their natural ingredients and minimal preservatives.
    “I am a fan of all kind of new cosmetics, and it was especially interesting because it’s North Korean,” said Margarita Kiselyova, 45, a Russian customer who bought aloe vera moisturizer and anti-ageing cream.    “Overall, I am satisfied with the quality.”
    However, Nam, the Korea University expert, and leading South Korean cosmetics firm Amorepacific tested 64 North Korean products and found quality issues in seven of them, including traces of potential harmful ingredients methylparabens, propylparabens, and talc.
    Amorepacific told Reuters it did not have further details of the tests.
    Pyongyang Cosmetic Factory says its Unhasu line has received quality assurance certification from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) but Reuters could not independently verify those claims.
    “Developing new cosmetics products requires supplies of new materials and substances from overseas, but current U.N. sanctions prohibit the North from importing chemicals, which makes product development difficult,” Nam said.
    Most North Koreans still prefer higher priced South Korean products especially for gifts, said Kang Mi-jin, an economics expert who regularly speaks with North Koreans for Daily NK, a news website run by defectors.
    “Even if it’s hard to get, people try to buy South Korean cosmetics for their fiancés as a wedding gift, since it is regarded as the best and symbol of wealth,” Kang Mi-jin said.
(Reporting by Minwoo Park; Additional reporting by Yijin Kim in SEOUL, Thomas Suen in PYONGYANG, Sarah White in PARIS, Anna Rzhevkina in MOSCOW; Editing by Jack Kim and Lincoln Feast.)

8/8/2019 Hong Kong facing worst crisis since handover: senior China official by Farah Master and James Pomfret
Lawyers and workers in Hong Kong's legal sector gather outside the Department of Justice
during a protest in Hong Kong, China August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong is facing its worst crisis since it returned to China from British rule in 1997, the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office said on Wednesday amid more anti-government protests in the Asian financial hub.
    “Hong Kong’s crisis … has continued for 60 days, and is getting worse and worse,” Zhang Xiaoming, one of the most senior Chinese officials overseeing Hong Kong affairs, said during a meeting in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.
    “Violent activities are intensifying and the impact on society is spreading wider.    It can be said that Hong Kong is now facing the most severe situation since its handover,” he said.
    Hong Kong has seen months of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law and which have evolved into a direct challenge to the government of embattled leader Carrie Lam and calls for full democracy.
    Hong Kong’s protests pose a major challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping who is grappling with a trade war with the United States and a slowing economy.
    Zhang held a forum on Wednesday to discuss the political crisis in Hong Kong which included Hong Kong delegates to China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress and China’s main consultative body, the CPPCC.    No opposition democratic figures or protest representatives were invited.
    Speaking after the meeting, several attendees said Zhang cited speeches by former Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1984 and 1987 in which he said if “turmoil” occurs in Hong Kong, “the central government must intervene.”
    No specific mention, however, was made of deploying the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has a garrison in Hong Kong, to quell the unrest, with Zhang cited as saying Beijing remained confident in the Hong Kong government and local police.     “We note with concern the Chinese government’s statements,” a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said, without citing which of the comments Washington considered problematic.
    “We urge Beijing to adhere to its commitments in the Sino-British Joint Declaration to allow Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy,” the spokeswoman said.    "We urge all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.”
    Elsie Leung, a former justice secretary, said she felt that even if the PLA were deployed it would not conflict with Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” by which it has been governed since 1997.    "One country, two systems would continue,” she said.
    In China’s sharpest rebuke yet of the protesters, the government warned them on Tuesday not to “play with fire” and called on Hong Kong citizens to protect their homeland.
    The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily, showed a video on its official Twitter feed of thousands of police officers taking part in an anti-riot training drill in Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.
    The protests have drawn millions onto the streets in opposition to an extradition bill that would see suspects tried in mainland courts controlled by the Communist Party.    Many feared it would undermine Hong Kong’s independent judiciary and was another step towards full mainland control of Hong Kong.
    Several thousand Hong Kong lawyers dressed in black, marched in silence on Wednesday to call on the government to safeguard the independence of the city’s department of justice.
    The city’s lawyers fear the justice department’s prosecutions of arrested protesters are taking on an increasingly political slant with over 500 arrests, many charged with rioting, an offence that carries a 10-year jail term.
    A female lawyer who declined to be named said she was marching “to make sure the government knows that within the legal sector, we will not allow judicial independence to be compromised by politics or pressure from the Chinese government.”
    A group of unidentified government prosecutors published an open letter last week accusing Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng of putting politics above legal principles.
    “All we want is justice and all we want is consistency,” said prominent lawyer Kevin Yam, who also protested.    “We don’t want to see thugs get away while the best of our youth get prosecuted.    We uphold the rule of law and we ask for justice.”
    Protesters are demanding a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent inquiry into the crisis, an investigation into what they say is excessive use of force by police, and for Hong Kong leader Lam to step down.
    A brazen attack by an armed mob on protesters at a train station in Yuen Long on the night of July 21 that left 45 people injured, has so far seen 23 people arrested for the relatively light charge of unlawful assembly.    Protesters say police were slow to protect them.
    Police fired tear gas in Sham Shui Po late on Tuesday, as protesters gathered outside a police station to demand the release of Keith Fong, a student union leader from Baptist University, who they say was unlawfully arrested by several plain-clothes police for buying laser pointers on the grounds that he possessed offensive weapons.
    Protesters have sometimes aimed lasers, which are widely available in shops, at police during recent clashes.
(Reporting by Farah Master, James Pomfret, Anne Marie Roantree, Greg Torode, Donny Kwok, Noah Sin and Sijia Jiang; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Michael Perry, Paul Tait and Grant McCool)

8/8/2019 Pakistan opposition leader Maryam Nawaz arrested: spokeswoman by Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former leader of Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N)
speaks during a news conference in Lahore, Pakistan July 24, 2019. Picture taken July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan opposition leader Maryam Nawaz was arrested on Thursday by the country’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB), a spokeswoman for her party said.
    “Maryam Nawaz has been arrested,” Marriyum Aurangzeb, a spokeswoman for Nawaz’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) party told Reuters.    “NAB arrested her from Lahore and we haven’t been given any reason or grounds for her arrest.”
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad, editing by Alasdair Pal)

8/8/2019 China continued Iran oil imports in July in teeth of U.S. sanctions: analysts
Workers are seen near pumpjacks at a China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) oil field in
Bayingol, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    SINGAPORE/BEIJING (Reuters) – China imported Iranian crude oil in July for the second month since a U.S. sanctions waiver ended, according to research from three data firms, with one estimate showing some oil entered tanks holding the country’s strategic reserves.
    According to the firms, which track tanker movements, between 4.4 million and 11 million barrels of Iranian crude were discharged into China last month, or 142,000 to 360,000 barrels per day (bpd).    The upper end of that range would mean July imports still added up to close to half of their year-earlier level despite sanctions.
    The imports are continuing at a precarious moment in U.S.-China relations: The flow is hampering U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to choke off oil exports vital to Iran through sanctions, just as tensions rise in the festering U.S.-China trade dispute that has cast a pall over the global economy.
    Senior Trump administration officials estimate that 50-70% of Iran’s oil exports are flowing to China, while roughly 30% go to Syria.
    China is typically Iran’s largest oil customer and contests Washington’s sanctions.    But June imports of around 210,000 bpd were the lowest in nearly a decade and 60% below their year-ago level, according to customs data, as some Chinese refiners, concerned about the sanctions, refrained from dealing with Iran.
    The General Administration of Chinese Customs is scheduled to release details of July imports by origin in the last week of August.
    Neither the National Development & Reform Commission, the state planner that oversees the country’s state oil reserves, nor the national customs bureau responded to Reuters’ requests for comment.
GRAPHIC: China crude oil imports from Iran – https://tmsnrt.rs/2MIW2Md
GRAPHIC: Asia’s Iran oil imports 2016-2019 – http://tmsnrt.rs/2cNidjY
JINZHOU RESERVES DOUBLED
    Similar to June imports, it’s unclear how much of the July shipments has been sold to buyers or stored in bonded storage tanks and yet to clear customs. Some 20 million barrels of Iranian oil appeared stranded at the northeastern port of Dalian after moved into bonded tanks since late last year.
    While the customs department does not disclose details of port entries, oil analytics firms track where tankers arrive.
    According to research by data provider Refinitiv, July saw five vessels operated by the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) discharge 958,000 tonnes of Iranian crude into Chinese port Jinzhou in the northeast, Huizhou in the south and Tianjin in the north.
    NITC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Jinzhou, Tianjin and Huizhou are locations for refineries and commercial storage owned by Chinese state oil firms China Petrochemical Corp (Sinopec Group) and China National Petroleum Company (CNPC).    Some of the country’s tanks holding Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) – kept by many countries as stockpiles for emergency situations – are also located in these cities.
    Asked if it was among buyers of Iranian oil, Sinopec declined comment.    CNPC did not respond to a request for comment.
    In a report dated July 29, London-based energy data firm Kpler said inventories at the Jinzhou underground SPR rose to 6 million barrels from 3.2 million in mid-June “as a result of Iranian crude flows…The increase is fully the result of Iranian barrels discharged into the facility.”
    The firm estimated 360,000 bpd of Iranian crude had been delivered to China last month.
    Vortexa, another London-based energy market intelligence firm, pegged the July deliveries into China at 4.4 million barrels and identified similar port destinations.
‘DESTABILIZING ACTIVITIES’
    Asked if U.S. sanctions apply in the case of Beijing storing Iranian oil in SPR facilities, a State Department official told Reuters Washington does not preview sanctions activities as it seeks to force Tehran to accept stricter limits on its nuclear activity and policy in the Gulf.
    “But we will continue to look for ways to impose costs on Iran in an effort to convince the Iranian regime that its campaign of destabilizing activities will entail significant costs,” said the spokesman.
    In July, Washington sanctioned state-run Chinese oil trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Co for allegedly violating restrictions imposed on Iran’s oil sector.
    Elizabeth Rosenberg, an expert on sanctions with Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think-tank, said if oil changes hands and even if it is then put in storage, the buyer would then be violating sanctions.
    China has repeatedly criticized the unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran and opposed Washington’s “long-arm” jurisdictions.
    “Strictly speaking, from the perspective of international law, China or other countries don’t have an obligation to obey unilateral sanctions from the U.S.,” said Zha Daojiong, Peking University professor of International Political Economy.
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu, Shu Zhang and Florence Tan in SINGAPORE, Muyu Xu in BEIJING, Timothy Gardner and Jeff Mason in WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in DUBAI; Editing by Florence Tan and Kenneth Maxwell)

8/9/2019 Economic downturn to hit Hong Kong like a ‘tsunami’, city’s leader warns by Noah Sin and Clare Jim
Anti-extradition bill protesters hold up placards for arriving travellers during a protest at the arrival hall
of Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China August 9, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s protests could hit the economy like a tsunami, the city’s leader said on Friday, pledging daring economic reforms in response, even as activists geared up for marches through the sweltering weekend.
    Flanked by business leaders, embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam, told reporters that businesses in the Asian financial hub were “very worried” about the economic fallout, after meeting 33 business representatives and senior officials.
    “We have had two months of political dispute,” she said.    “This is not a cyclical downturn.    Moreover, this downturn is coming very quickly.    Some people have described it as coming like a tsunami…the economic recovery will take a long time.”
    What started as an angry response to a now-suspended measure for criminal suspects to be extradited for trial in mainland Chinese courts has grown to plunge the city into its biggest crisis since its 1997 return to Chinese rule from Britain.
    More nebulous demands now include calls for greater democracy, Lam’s resignation, and even keeping out mainland tourists.
    The increasingly violent protests also pose one of the gravest populist challenges yet to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, coming with the city caught in the crossfire of an escalating trade war between China and the United States.
    Dozens of companies have warned of faltering earnings, amid daily warnings this week from city officials that the protests were hurting residents’ livelihoods and that Hong Kong could be headed for recession.
    Lam said the city’s Executive Council would next week resume meetings suspended in mid-June to prepare a policy response that would consider “daring measures.”
    “For Hong Kong’s society to recover the foundation is the same (as that of the economy),” she said.    “We must stop the widespread violence.”
    She urged landlords to ease rents on hard-pressed retailers, but said she would give no ground on demands for an inquiry into police behavior at demonstrations.
    “I disagree with (establishing) an independent inquiry that targets police work,” she said.    “I don’t think we should just sort of make concessions in order to silence the violent protesters.”
    Another warning came from China’s aviation regulator, which issued a safety alert to Cathay Pacific Airways <0293.HK> demanding that the carrier suspend personnel involved in protests.
‘BROKEN CITY’
    Young people have been at the forefront of the protests, worried about China encroaching on Hong Kong’s freedoms but also concerned with issues such as sky-high living costs and what many see as an unfair housing policy favoring the wealthy.
    Soaring property prices have pushed up rents and had a knock-on effect on prices of goods and services.    Last year, Oxfam said the city’s income inequality was at its highest in more than four decades.
    Hong Kong’s powerful property developers spoke out for the first time on Friday, urging calm in a statement signed by 17 companies, including CK Asset Holdings Ltd <1113.HK>, founded by property tycoon Li Ka-shing, the city’s richest man.
    Young people formed the bulk of a crowd of about 1,000 activists who occupied the airport arrivals hall, handing out anti-government leaflets and waving banners in a dozen languages in a bid to raise awareness among visitors.
    “Dear travelers,” read one leaflet in English. “Please forgive us for the ‘unexpected’ Hong Kong…you’ve arrived in a broken, torn-apart city, not the one you have once pictured.    Yet for this Hong Kong, we fight.”
    Protesters sang “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical “Les Miserables” and chanted: “Democracy now” and “Hong Kongers, add oil!” — a popular exhortation in Cantonese.
    There was no visible police presence.
    “It will be a peaceful protest as long as the police do not show up,” one protester, Charlotte Lam, 16, told Reuters.
    “We have made stickers, banners in over 16 languages, ranging from Japanese to Spanish.    We want to spread our message internationally.    We are not rioters, we are a group of Hong Kong people fighting for human rights and freedom.”
OLD COP ON THE BEAT
    Larger marches are planned across Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories over the weekend, where protesters could see a shift in police tactics.
    Hong Kong has recalled from retirement a police commander who oversaw the response to pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 to help deal with the latest protests, suggesting a lack of confidence in the current leadership.
    Former deputy police commissioner Alan Lau Yip-shing will handle large public events, including activities to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1, the government said in a statement.
    The escalating violence has already prompted travel warnings from countries such as the United States and Australia, although the airport demonstration did not provoke complaints.
    “I don’t really know what to think about the protest,” said a woman from New Zealand who gave only her first name, Joyce.
    “Right now I just hope it won’t delay my flight.    But at the same time, as long as you’re making a point without making too much trouble, it’s OK.”
(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree, Noah Sin, Donny Kwok, Clare Jim, Felix Tam, Lukas Job and Farah Master; Writing by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Clarence Fernandez)

8/9/2019 U.S. defense secretary visits South Korea as region faces myriad challenges by Idrees Ali
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo inspect a guard of honor during a
welcoming ceremony at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, August 9, 2019. Jeon Heon-Kyun/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with senior South Korean leaders on Friday amid a series of regional challenges ranging from a bitter trade row between Seoul and Tokyo to the cost of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
    Esper, on his first international trip since being confirmed as defense secretary, arrived in South Korea on Thursday evening against the backdrop of an escalating trade feud between two of Washington’s main Asian allies.
    While the trade issue, which threatens regional intelligence sharing, came up in his meetings in Seoul, Esper reiterated the importance of the South Korean-U.S. alliance and said the allies would continue to coordinate on North Korea.
    In his opening remarks of the meeting with Esper, South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said Japan’s export restrictions against     South Korea are “causing adverse effects on South Korea-Japan relations and security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.”
    South Korea has said it was exploring all options in its trade dispute with Japan, including scrapping an intelligence sharing pact.
    The accord, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), facilitates three-way intelligence gathering with Washington, which is crucial in fending off North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.    The deal is automatically renewed annually on Aug. 24.
    Relations between South Korea and Japan are at their worst in decades, with the trade row rooted in a long-running dispute over compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms during World War Two.
    Esper arrived in Seoul a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said South Korea agreed to “pay a lot more” to shoulder the costs required for the upkeep of 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea and that talks are under way to discuss the issue.
    But a spokesman for South Korea’s foreign ministry told reporters on Thursday the negotiations had not yet begun.
    On Friday, a ministry official said Esper did not mention the costs during his meeting with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, according to Yonhap News Agency.
    Yonhap also said Esper asked South Korea to send troops to join a U.S.-led maritime force in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran.
    South Korea’s defense ministry denied the report, saying Esper only said he would expect cooperation from the international community to ensure freedom of navigation in the strait.
    Esper’s trip comes after North Korea recently carried out a series of missile tests and with de-nuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea stalled.
    “At a time when the security environment is so severe, it is very meaningful to discuss the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and the South Korea-U.S. alliance,” Jeong said.
    Noting that South Korea and the United States are working together to denuclearize North Korea, Jeong praised “President Trump’s amazing imagination that transcends conventions” for bringing about his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Korean border in June.
.     On Tuesday, Esper said the United States would not overreact to the short-range missile launches by North Korea and would keep the door open to talks with Pyongyang.    He also added that, despite complaints by North Korea, there was no plan to alter future joint military drills with Seoul.
    Esper’s visit comes as South Korean President Moon Jae-in tapped a seasoned diplomat as the new ambassador to Washington.
    South Korea is Esper’s last stop on a trip that has included visits to Australia, Japan and Mongolia.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

8/9/2019 President Trump receives Letter from Kim Jong-un, hints at another meeting by OAN Newsroom
    As North Korea continues to ratchet up tensions with continued missile tests, President Trump mentioned that Kim Jong-un sent him a “beautiful letter.”    He made the comment while speaking to reporters outside the White House Friday.
    The president hinted the two could meet in the future for continued denuclearization talks, and also noted that Kim told him he was unhappy about joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean troops.
    “He wasn’t happy with the war games…and as you know, I’ve never liked it either, I’ve never been a fan.    You know why?    I don’t like paying for it.    We should be reimbursed for it, and I’ve told that to South Korea…” — President Trump
FILE – In this undated file photo provided on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader
Kim Jong Un, center, speaks while inspecting a newly built submarine. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
    This comes after the president said he was confident talks would restart soon, following his meeting with Kim in the Korean Demilitarized Zone back in June.
    North Korea has conducted several missile launches in recent weeks, but the president has downplayed the tests by insisting Kim doesn’t want to hurt their relationship.

8/9/2019 Defense Secretary Esper meets with South Korean officials by OAN Newsroom
    Defense Secretary Mark Esper traveled to Seoul to meet with his South Korean counterpart. Esper met with South Korea’s defense minister Friday to discuss security in the Korean Peninsula as well as denuclearization.
    Esper also promised to coordinate with the East Asian country on issues regarding North Korea.    This comes days after the defense secretary said the U.S. will not overreact to North Korea’s recent missile tests.
    During the meeting, South Korean officials also brought up Japan’s recent export restrictions, which reportedly puts a strain on security cooperation between all three allies.
    Before departing, Esper also met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss diplomatic efforts to deter aggression.

8/9/2019 Iran says any external military presence in Gulf ‘source of insecurity’
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a news conference in
Tehran, Iran August 5, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter on Friday that any military presence in the Gulf from outside the region would be a “source of insecurity” for Iran, and Tehran would act to safeguard its security.
    Washington is lobbying international partners to join a maritime security coalition at a time of heightened tensions with Iran.    Tehran earlier on Friday warned against any presence of its arch-foe Israel in the planned coalition.
    “(The) Persian Gulf is a vital lifeline and thus nat’l security priority for Iran, which has long ensured maritime security,” Zarif said in his tweet.
    “Mindful of this reality, any extra-regional presence is by definition (a) source of insecurity … Iran won’t hesitate to safeguard its security,” Zarif said.
    Britain said on Monday it was joining the United States in the maritime security mission in the Gulf to protect vessels after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker.
    Traffic in the Strait, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes, has become the focus of a standoff between Iran and the United States after President Donald Trump quit a 2015 nuclear pact and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
    Iran says the responsibility of securing these waters lies with Tehran and other countries in the region.
    The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which support U.S. policy against Iran, have called on the international community to safeguard maritime trade and security of global oil supplies.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

8/10/2019 Hong Kong hit by another weekend of protests by Clare Jim and Kevin Liu
Anti-extradition bill demonstrators attend a protest at the arrival hall of
Hong Kong Airport, China, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong began another volatile weekend on Saturday, with anti-government protests taking place across the city, including one at the international airport for a second day.
    Increasingly violent protests have plunged Hong Kong into its most serious political crisis for decades, posing a serious challenge to the central government in Beijing.
    Protesters arrived back at Hong Kong’s airport, a day after a peaceful gathering there of about 1,000 activists.
Neither protest disrupted flights.<    br>     Hundreds of activists occupied the arrivals hall on Saturday, some of them sitting on the floor drawing protest posters, while others politely greeted arriving passengers.
    In the morning, in two separate protests, small groups of elderly Hong Kongers and families marched near the financial center’s business district.    Both marches were peaceful.
    About a thousand protesters also gathered later in the day in Tai Po, a town in the north of the territory.
    Leung Wai Man, a housewife in her 60s, said she had been motivated to march in Tai Po because she was angry about what she saw as the violent response by police at some protests.
    “We are very angry about the police arresting our teenagers,” she said.    She said she was worried about escalating violence, but added that “the protesters were just trying to protect themselves against police violence.”
    Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said on Friday the economy was being undermined by the protests, which began in June.
    China, meanwhile, demanded that the city’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways <0293.HK> suspend staff involved in the demonstrations.    One of its pilots was arrested last week.
    Huarong International, the investment arm in Hong Kong of China Huarong Asset Management Co <2799.HK>, has instructed staff not to fly Cathay Pacific if there are other options, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters and confirmed by a source at the company.
    Lam’s warning about the economy and China’s targeting of a key Hong Kong business mark a toughening stance by authorities as they grapple with Hong Kong’s deepest crisis in decades.
    Young people have been at the forefront of the protests, worried about the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong by China but also concerned with issues such as wealth disparities in the city.
    However, older people and parents have also been appearing at the protests.
    “There are clashes in the recent protests and many parents are worried,” said Fion Yim, 35, representative of the organizing committee for what was billed as the family protest.
    “The freedom to protect our children is very important.    We hope to provide a safer place for parents and their kids to participate in rallies, and to voice their concerns.”
    The protests began after Hong Kong’s government tried introducing an extradition bill that would have allowed defendants to be sent to mainland China for trial.
    The bill has been suspended, but protesters have stepped up their demands and are now calling for greater democracy and Lam’s resignation.
    The protests have been condemned by the central government in Beijing.    China has also accused foreign powers of fueling the unrest.
    Hong Kong was guaranteed freedoms not granted in mainland China, including an independent judiciary, under a “one country, two systems” formula, when Britain handed it back to China in 1997.
    On Friday, the U.S. State department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, said that Chinese media reports about a U.S. diplomat who met with Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders “have gone from irresponsible to dangerous” and must stop.
    Ortagus earlier called China a “thuggish regime” for disclosing photographs and personal details of the diplomat.
    More protests are planned for Sunday, including one in Sham Shui Po, a working class neighborhood that has been the scene of violent confrontations between activists and police.
(Reporting by Julie Zhu, Yoyo Chow, Kevin Liu and Clare Jim; Writing by Philip McClellan; Editing by Joseph Radford & Kim Coghill)

8/10/2019 North Korea fires two short-range missiles in show of force, more can come – South Korea by Ju-min Park
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) at
Far East Federal University on Russky Island in Vladivostok, Russia, April 25, 2019. Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range missiles on Saturday, South Korea said, in a “show of force” against U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.
    More missile launches are highly probable, as the North Korean military is conducting its own summer drills, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
    The launch came a few hours after U.S. President Donald Trump said he had received a “very beautiful letter” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
    North Korea has fired a series of missiles and rockets since Kim and Trump agreed at a June 30 meeting to revive stalled denuclearization talks.
    A U.S. official said that at least one projectile was launched and that it appeared to be similar to previous short-range missiles fired by Pyongyang.
    Two missiles flew about 400 km (250 miles) at a height of around 48 km, according to the South Korean military.
    Trump played down the recent North Korean weapons launches when he spoke to reporters earlier on Friday, saying: “I say it again: There have been no nuclear tests.    The missile tests have all been short-range.    No ballistic missile tests.    No long-range missiles.”
    North Korea’s state media has yet to confirm the launch, but in a commentary on Saturday it blamed the South for “building up arms against dialogue.”
    “All the facts prove that the South Korean authorities are hell-bent on arms buildup against their dialogue partner,” the state-run KCNA news agency said.
    “(South Korea is) the arch-criminal escalating tension in the Korean peninsula and the wrecker of its peace and stability.”
South Korea called for Pyongyang to stop such launches.
    The launches on Saturday were apparently testing capabilities of a new short-range missile Pyongyang is developing, South Korea’s presidential office said.
    “Because of concerns that North Korea’s series of launches can raise military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, ministers called for     North Korea to stop it,” the Blue House said, citing a meeting of South Korea’s top security officials.
NOT HAPPY
    Kim has said the weapons tests were a response to U.S.-South Korean military drills being held this month.
    Trump said Kim had written in his letter that he was “not happy” about the war games and missile tests. He added he could have another meeting with Kim.
    The United States and South Korea have kicked off largely computer-simulated exercises as an alternative to previous large-scale annual drills that were halted to expedite denuclearization talks.
    North Korea decries such exercises as a rehearsal for war aimed at toppling its leadership.
    The projectiles were fired at dawn on Saturday from an area around the northeastern city of Hamhung, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
    Large solid-fuel rocket engines for North Korea’s ballistic missile program are most likely being produced at a factory complex in Hamhung, monitoring group 38 North said last year. Hamhung also has a testing site for those engines.
    Kim Dong-yup, a former naval officer who teaches at Seoul’s Kyungnam University, said the weapons tested on Saturday could be related to the completion of North Korea’s new rocket artillery system that required multiple launches of the same kind.
    Japan’s ministry of defense said the projectiles did not pose an immediate security threat.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Mari Saito in Tokyo; Editing by G Crosse, Sandra Maler, Kim Coghill and Joseph Radford)

8/10/2019 Iran’s Khamenei urges haj pilgrims to oppose U.S. Israeli-Palestinian plan
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during ceremony attended by Iranian clerics
in Tehran, Iran, July 16, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday condemned a U.S. blueprint to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and called on haj pilgrims to oppose it, Iranian state media reported.
    “The trick called ‘Deal of the Century’, which is being pushed by an oppressive America and its traitorous companions, is a crime against human society, and not just the Palestinian people,” state television quoted Khamenei as saying in a message to Muslim pilgrims performing the annual haj in Saudi Arabia
.
    “We call upon everyone to take an active part in defeating this deceit by the enemy,” Khamenei said.
    The message was read at a rally held by Iranian pilgrims, state television reported.
    Saudi officials have asked Muslims to focus on rituals of worship and warned against politicizing the rite amid regional wars and heightened tension between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim Iran.
    The White House has yet to unveil U.S. President Donald Trump’s full Middle East peace plan that aims to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and is led by Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
    Unlike his predecessors, Trump has not endorsed the Palestinian demand for statehood or the long-standing “two-state-solution” envisioned in previous negotiations that saw the goal as Israel and Palestine existing side by side in peace.
    Kushner has so far presented a $50-billion economic revival plan for the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon that is dependent on Israel and the Palestinians reaching a political settlement to their decades-old conflict
.
    The Palestinian leadership has broken off diplomatic ties with the White House, accusing Trump’s administration of bias toward Israel.    Washington has not said when it will present the full peace plan.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
[Well mister Ayatollah Ali Khamenei it will not be you to make the full peace plan to suceed unless Satan makes you do it and you would fit the character in the Bible on Daniel 9:27 to a tee if you did.].

8/10/2019 India’s Kashmir clampdown pushes some in Pakistan to discuss rejoining militants by Saad Sayeed and Abu Arqam Naqash
FILE PHOTO: Indian security forces personnel stand guard next to concertina wire laid across a road during restrictions
after the government scrapped special status for Kashmir, in Srinagar August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail/File Photo
    MUZAFFARABAD/CHAKOTHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Three decades ago, Ali Mohamad says he made a trip into Indian-controlled Kashmir to join a small armed militant group.    Now he works in a shop on the Pakistani side of the region, but he hasn’t given up thoughts of returning to the conflict.
    After the Indian government clamped down on Kashmir this week, Ali has again been thinking of going back.
    “I have not left, we are all watching,” he said, adding that he believes all Kashmiris will take up arms when needed.
    “I fought for my rights. When someone crushes you then what else can you do?” said Ali, 53, who was born in Indian-controlled Kashmir and then moved to the Pakistani side.
    Seeking to tighten its grip on the region, India this week withdrew special rights for Jammu and Kashmir state.    It has cut off almost all communications, prohibited assemblies of more than four people and detained hundreds of political and separatist leaders.
    The constitutional change will mean that non-residents will be able to buy property, get government jobs and take college places in the state, to the fury of arch-rival Pakistan, which claims the region as its own and accuses India of trying to change the demographics of its only Muslim-majority state.
    It has also angered many on both sides of Kashmir who see India as imposing its will on the region without giving the people a chance of self-determination.
    Ali is not alone in wondering whether he might rejoin the armed struggle.
    In the 1990s, Tanveer-ul-Islam was one of the top commanders of Tehreek-Ul-Mujahideen, a group resisting Indian rule that was banned as a terrorist organization by New Delhi in February.
    He and many other militants renounced violence decades ago, but said some veterans of the Kashmir conflict had been outraged by India’s decision.
    “If the situation continues it might compel us to take up arms again.    It is not just me, there are many others.”
    If the views of Ali and Tanveer are representative of a fraction of the people in Kashmir, it could create a worsening threat of armed attacks for India.
    To be sure, the majority of the refugees from Indian-controlled Kashmir whom Reuters spoke to in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, said they didn’t support an armed struggle, with some saying it just ended up hurting ordinary Kashmiris.    Instead, they wanted to see stronger action against India by Pakistan and the international community.
HISTORIC CONFLICT
    Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and engaged in an aerial clash in February after a militant group based in Pakistan claimed responsibility for an attack on an Indian military convoy.
    India has long accused Pakistan of funding and harboring the groups.    Islamabad denies this, saying it provides only diplomatic and moral support to non-violent separatists on the Indian side.
    In the small town of Chakothi, three kilometers (2 miles)from the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Indian and Pakistan-controlled     Kashmir, Zeeshan Sadiq said families are beginning to rebuild underground shelters.     Indian shells hit the area in February.
    “The neighbors also came to stay in here as their bunkers were in disrepair,” Sadiq said, crouched in a claustrophobic reinforced concrete room under his home.
    “Now everyone here is rebuilding them.”
    Last week, Pakistan accused India of using illegal cluster bombs, killing two civilians and wounding 11. India has denied using such weapons.    Exchange of fire between the two countries has intensified in the past few years along the LoC.
    The blackout has made communication across the border impossible, residents said.
    Trader Ajaz Ahmad Meer’s wife and two daughters were visiting Srinagar, the capital of Indian-held Kashmir, when New Delhi cut telephone and internet services.
    “I have not heard from them for five days,” he said.
    “I spoke to my seven-year-old daughter the night before communication got cut off.    She said ‘papa we are troubled here’ and since then I have heard nothing.”
(Reporting by Saad Sayeed and Abu Arqam Naqash; Editing by Alasdair Pal, Martin Howell & Kim Coghill)

8/10/2019 Chinese reports on U.S. diplomat in Hong Kong ‘have gone from irresponsible to dangerous’: State Department by David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: Protesters react after tear gas was fired by the police during a demonstration in support of the city-wide strike and to
call for democratic reforms outside Central Government Complex in Hong Kong, China, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Official Chinese media reports about a U.S. diplomat who met with student leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement “have gone from irresponsible to dangerous” and must stop, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Friday.
    “Chinese authorities know full well, our accredited consular personnel are just doing their jobs, just like diplomats from every other country,” Ortagus added in a tweet.
    She did not elaborate on the nature of the reports, but said: “This must stop.”
    On Thursday, Ortagus called China a “thuggish regime” for disclosing photographs and personal details of the diplomat, identified by a Hong Kong newspaper as Julie Eadeh of the U.S. consulate’s political section.
    “I don’t think that leaking an American diplomat’s private information, pictures, names of their children — I don’t think that is a formal protest … That is not how a responsible nation would behave,” she told a briefing.
    The Hong Kong office of China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday asked the United States to explain reports in Communist Party-controlled media that U.S. diplomats were in contact with student leaders of protests that have convulsed Hong Kong for nine weeks.
    The denunciations from the State Department are unusually sharp and have come as tensions between Washington and Beijing surge over an expanding trade war and military rivalry in the western Pacific, among other disputes.
    The Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao published a photograph it said showed Eadeh talking with student leaders in the lobby of a luxury hotel.    It appeared under the headline “Foreign Forces Intervene.”
    The State Department has not identified the diplomat and has not elaborated on what kinds of private information or children’s details were disclosed.
    In subsequent tweets on Friday, Ortagus said “foreign diplomats in the United States, including Chinese ones, enjoy open access to all elements of American politics, civil society, academia, and business.”
    “China has a long record of broken commitments; it’s their duty under the Vienna Conventions, to which China is a party, to treat our diplomats and consular officers with due respect and take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on their person, freedom or dignity,” she said.
    China has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States, of fomenting the demonstrations in Hong Kong.
    Earlier on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was not ready to make a deal with China and even called a September round of trade talks into question, reviving concerns in financial markets that the bilateral dispute is unlikely to end anytime soon.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Eric Beech; Editing by Sandra Maler)

8/10/2019 Hong Kong police fire tear gas as protesters hit and run by Clare Jim and Marius Zaharia
An anti-extradition bill protester reacts after tear gas was fire by the police during a
demonstration in Tai Wai in Hong Kong, China, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters on Saturday – sending tourists fleeing weeping in Kowloon – only for demonstrators to regroup and gather elsewhere during another tense, hot and restive weekend.
    Weeks of increasingly violent protests have plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis for decades, posing a serious challenge to China’s central government in Beijing.
    On Saturday activists rallied across the city, with thousands occupying the airport arrivals hall for a second day, while elsewhere police displayed a new willingness to quickly and forcibly clear them from the streets.
    That became a cat-and-mouse chase with demonstrators late into the summer night.
    Tear gas was used without much warning shortly after several hundred activists who had marched through Tai Po, in the north of the territory, had barricaded an intersection in the Tai Wai neighborhood around nightfall.
    They dispersed, as noxious smoke also filled the train station there, bringing train passengers to tears.
    Then demonstrators popped up again in Kowloon, a large urban district on the mainland side of Hong Kong’s harbor, only for police to fire another volley of gas from Tsim Sha Tsui police station, sending nearby tourists running with welling tears.
    Several other exchanges followed, with protesters, wearing helmets and masks, mostly withdrawing when police fired gas or advanced with shields and truncheons, exhausting authorities and leaving the weeks-long stand-off little closer to resolution.
    Luxury shops were caught up in the protests, with some shoppers even taking pictures of riot police, while other bystanders – at one stage hundreds – jeered the officers.
    “If the government thinks we’ll give up and not come out anymore they’re wrong,” said student Chris Wong, 20, at Tai Po.
    “Carrie Lam is now spreading lies and blaming us for destroying Hong Kong’s economy.    But she’s the one who is destroying Hong Kong,” he said.    “We’ll continue to fight…but we’re also going to be smart and wear them down.”
    Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, said on Friday the economy – already buffeted by China’s slowing economy and the U.S.-China trade war – was being undermined by the protests, which began in June.
    A government spokesman described the day’s demonstrations as “illegal activities” that have “been significantly affecting people’s daily lives.”
    Demonstrators, most of them young, appeared only to be digging in.    Late on Saturday they flashed laser pointers at riot police and lifted bricks and scavenged building materials to barricade roads in Kowloon.
CATHAY CRACKDOWN
    China, meanwhile, has also targeted the city’s corporate giants, demanding flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways <0293.HK> suspend staff involved in the demonstrations – a move which also brought pressure on the airline from mainland businesses.
    The airline told staff on Saturday it would bar any “overly radical” employees from crewing flights to the mainland and said it had removed a pilot who was arrested at protests last week from active duty.
    Neither warning – one aimed at residents and the other at a business emblematic of the city – deterred demonstrators.
    Leung Wai Man, a housewife in her 60s, said she had been motivated to march in Tai Po because she was angry about what she saw as the violent response by police at some protests.
    “We are very angry about the police over arresting our teenagers,” she said.    She said she was worried about escalating violence, but added that “the protesters were just trying to protect themselves against police violence.”
    More demonstrations are planned on Sunday, including at the working class district of Sham Shui Po, the scene of violent confrontations between activists and police, prompting authorities to plan shutting many public buildings there.
YOUNG AND OLD
    The protests began after Hong Kong’s government tried introducing an extradition bill that would have allowed defendants to be sent to mainland China for trial.
    The bill has been suspended, but protesters have stepped up their demands and are now calling for greater democracy and Lam’s resignation.
    Young people have been at the forefront, worried about the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, while also concerned with issues such as wealth disparities in the city.
    Thousands of mostly young activists filled the airport’s arrivals hall for a second day, some sitting and shouting slogans, while others drew protest posters and greeted arriving passengers.
    Older people have also been appearing.    Earlier on Saturday, in two separate protests, small groups of elderly Hong Kongers and families marched near the financial center’s business district.    Both marches and the airport protests were peaceful.
    “We hope to provide a safer place for parents and their kids to participate in rallies, and to voice their concerns,” said Fion Yim, 35, representative of the organizing committee for what was billed as the family protest.
GLOBAL PRESSURE
    The protests have been condemned by the central government in Beijing, which has accused foreign powers of fuelling unrest.
    Hong Kong was guaranteed freedoms not granted in mainland China, including an independent judiciary, under a “one country, two systems” formula, when Britain handed it back to China in 1997.
    Britain’s foreign minister Dominic Raab on Friday emphasized the right to peaceful protest in a phone call with Lam, prompting a rebuke from China. [nL4N256065]
(Reporting by Julie Zhu, Yoyo Chow, James Pomfret, Tom Peter, Clare Jim, Stella Qiu and Twinnie Siu; Writing by Philip McClellan and Tom Westbrook; Editing by Peter Graff and Stephen Powell)

8/10/2019 Some signs of normality return to Kashmir, but India’s clampdown still strict by Fayaz Bukhari, Devjyot Ghoshal and Zeba Siddiqui
Kashmiri residents throw stones towards Indian security forces during restrictions after the scrapping of the
special constitutional status for Kashmir by the government, in Srinagar, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    SRINAGAR (Reuters) – For the first time in six days, India eased travel restrictions in some parts of Srinagar on Saturday, and people flooded the streets of Kashmir’s summer capital to buy provisions ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha on Monday.
    But with public mobile, landline telephone and internet connections still severed by the authorities in most of the Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir state, many people were still struggling to make contact with relatives to plan the holiday.
    And some homeowners and city workers were left to clean up Srinagar’s streets on Saturday, a day after police used tear gas and fired pellets to control a protest after Friday prayers over India’s withdrawal of special rights for the Muslim-majority state.
    Seeking to tighten its grip on the region also claimed by neighboring Pakistan, New Delhi on Monday scrapped the state’s right to frame its own laws and allowed non-residents to buy property there.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government also locked down the revolt-torn region, cutting off communications, detaining more than 500 political leaders and activists, and putting a ‘virtual curfew’ into force with numerous police and army roadblocks stopping movement by many residents.
    Regional leaders had warned of a backlash in the region, where militants have been fighting Indian rule for nearly 30 years, leading to the deaths of more than 50,000 people.
PROTEST GRAFFITI
    Signs of Friday’s protest – the largest since India’s clampdown – were visible in the Soura area of Srinagar on Saturday.
    Large rocks, wooden platforms, poles and boulders blocked the main street, and shops were shut.    Protest graffiti, including calls for “Azad” – the Urdu word for freedom – were visible.
    Reuters reported at least 10,000 people were involved in Friday’s protest, based on an estimate provided by a police source and backed up by two eyewitnesses.    Another official source on Saturday gave Reuters the same estimate.
    In a tweeted statement on Saturday, the spokeswoman for India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, Vasudha Gupta, said that the estimate of 10,000 was “completely fabricated & incorrect.”
    There had been a few “stray protests” in the area but “none involved a crowd of more than 20 ppl,” she said.
    Reuters was unable to reach Gupta for further comment.
    Video footage carried by international news channels, the BBC and Al Jazeera and available online, appeared to show very large crowds protesting in Srinagar on Friday.
    In the Bemina area of western Srinagar, around a dozen residents told Reuters that security forces had thrown stones and bricks at homes and cars in retaliation for the protests, breaking windows as a result.
    The Indian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the alleged incident.    Reuters was not able to independently verify the residents’ claims.
    “Why is India doing this to us?” said an elderly man, Mohammed Sultan, whose truck that he used to transport goods and earn a daily wage was damaged.    Pointing to his two young grandsons, he said: “How do I do my work and feed these people now?
    Another woman screamed: “Is this how Modi is going to bring development to us?
QUEUEING FOR HOURS
    Many people sought out the few policemen who have been provided with mobile phones.    At a crossroads in Srinagar’s Nowhatta area, a police official said around 78 people had used his phone on Saturday to contact relatives outside Kashmir.
    Inside a second-floor meeting room at Srinagar’s district administration office, more than 100 people crowded around two mobile phones to make calls outside the valley.
    An official there, who declined to be named, said 354 people had registered their names to use the phones.
    Babli, who only gave one name, rushed there to try to call her son and daughter, both in Delhi, whom she had not been able to speak to since the blackout began on Sunday night.
    “My serial number is 309, I do not know when I will be able to talk to them,” she said.
COMMUNICATIONS BLACKOUT CRITICIZED
    Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and even some top opposition leaders have welcomed the decision to absorb Kashmir fully into India, and it has brought him support across the country.
    The BJP has long campaigned for abrogating Kashmir’s special privileges in the constitution, which it sees as an appeasement to Muslims and a hindrance to its own development.
    International rights groups, including Amnesty International, have urged the Indian government to end the communications blackout.
    The Editors Guild of India on Saturday issued a statement saying it was impossible for journalists to cover developments in Kashmir without internet access.    “Media transparency has and always should be India’s strength, not fear,” it said.
    Congress member of parliament Rahul Gandhi on Saturday called on the government to respond to reports of violence in Kashmir and provide more information about the situation on the ground.
    Arch-rival Pakistan, which lays claims to Kashmir, has downgraded diplomatic ties with India and suspended trade in anger at its latest move.    Pakistan said on Saturday it had canceled a bus linking Lahore with Delhi, the last remaining public transport link between the neighbors.
    Russia on Saturday said the administrative changes in the region were carried out within India’s constitutional framework, according to Reuters partner ANI.
    But Pakistan said on Saturday that it has gained China’s support to take a motion to the United Nations Security Council condemning the Indian decision to change the status of Jammu and Kashmir.
(Additional reporting by Promit Mukherjee in Mumbai and Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Editing by Martin Howell and Stephen Powell)

8/10/2019 Pakistan says will move to U.N. Security Council with China’s support over Kashmir by Syed Raza Hassan
FILE PHOTO: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi listens during a news conference at the
Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood/File Photo
    KARACHI (Reuters) – Pakistan says it will move the United Nations Security Council with China’s support with a motion to condemn India for its decision to strip its portion of the Kashmir region of special status.
    “I have shared with China that the Pakistan government has decided to take this issue to U.N. Security Council.    We will be needing China’s help there,” Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference on Saturday.
    “China has assured full support to Pakistan.”
    Qureshi said he planned to approach Indonesia and Poland, both non-permanent members of the 15-strong Security Council, for their support.
(Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi, editing by Alasdair Pal)
   
[Jammu and Kashmir is a state in India, located in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, and a part of the larger region of Kashmir, which has been the subject of dispute between India, Pakistan, and China since 1947.    The underlying region of this state was the southern and eastern part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, whose western districts, now known as Azad Kashmir, and northern territories, now known as Gilgit-Baltistan, are administered by Pakistan.    The Aksai Chin region in the east, bordering Tibet, has been under Chinese control since 1962.    On 5 August 2019, the Government of India repealed the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution.    The Parliament of India also passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, which will reorganise the state into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.    The new union territories are planned to come into effect on 31 October 2019.]

8/11/2019 Hong Kong police fire tear gas at anti-government protesters
Anti-extradition bill protesters set up a roadblock near Sham Shui Po Police Station in Hong Kong, China, August 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police fired tear gas at demonstrators in the working class district of Sham Shui Po on Sunday, as yet another day of protest marches turned into a confrontation between police and activists.
    Ten straight weekends of increasingly violent protests have plunged Hong Kong into its most serious political crisis in decades, posing a challenge to the central government in Beijing.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; editing by Darren Schuettler)

8/11/2019 Hong Kong police fire tear gas at protesters as confrontation looms by Anne Marie Roantree and Marius Zaharia
Anti-extradition bill protesters attend a demonstration in Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China, August 11, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police fired tear gas at protesters on Sunday as a tenth straight weekend of anti-government demonstrations intensified amid an increasingly aggressive response from the police and Beijing.
    Riot police fired volleys of tear gas at crowds of mostly young protesters outside a police station in the working class district of Sham Shui Po.    In nearby Cheung Sha Wan, protesters threw objects at police who fired back with tear gas.
    The action followed a day of marches by demonstrators of all ages as increasingly violent protests since June have plunged Hong Kong into its most serious crisis in decades, and pose a challenge to the central government in Beijing.
    Chants of “Liberate Hong Kong” had earlier echoed through the streets when more than a thousand black-shirted protesters marched, some with their pets, amid a carnival atmosphere.
    “We have lived in Hong Kong all our lives and this is the hardest time because the government is not listening to the citizens,” said a 63-year-old man surnamed Leung, who was accompanied by his 93-year-old father in a wheelchair.
    “All citizens need to stay together.    We will always support the children.”    Residents, some cheering, came outside to see them march past.    Drivers honked their horns and leaned out of car windows, giving the protesters a thumbs up.
    Police have shown a growing willingness to quickly clear protesters from the streets – also firing tear gas on Saturday evening – while China has begun applying pressure to the city’s corporate giants, including flag carrier Cathay Pacific.
‘NOW OR NEVER’
    On Sunday, protesters had gathered outside Sham Shui Po police station when the police began firing tear gas, but the activists stood their ground.
    The protest movement, which began in response to a now-suspended law that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China, still seems to enjoy broad support.
    Thousands of activists also occupied the airport arrivals hall for a third day, while others turned out earlier at a downtown park.
    Their demands have grown to include greater democracy and the resignation of the city’s leader, Carrie Lam.
    “At the beginning, in June, I didn’t take it very seriously,” said Jason Liu, a 29-year-old arborist who joined a protest in Victoria Park near the city center.
    “But after these two months I really feel it is now or never for us, because in 20 years we won’t be able to do anything anymore,” he said.    “Our main target is obviously the government.    They didn’t respond to any of our requests.”
TOUGHENING STANCE
    Hong Kong was guaranteed freedoms not granted in mainland China, including an independent judiciary, under a “one country, two systems” formula, when Britain handed it back to China in 1997.
    Hong Kong’s government has said the protests were pushing the city to an extremely dangerous edge, while China has said the city faces its biggest crisis since the handover.
    Police made 16 arrests on Saturday, when tear gas was used with little warning to disperse crowds.    Authorities have arrested more than 600 people since the rallies began in June.
    Beijing also opened a new front on Friday by demanding that the city’s flagship carrier, corporate giant Cathay Pacific Airways <0293.HK>, suspend staff involved in the demonstrations, with the airline later mostly agreeing to do so.
    China has shown strong support for the city’s police force with state news agency Xinhua reporting Sunday that 245 representatives from     Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations met in the North Point area to show their support for police.
    It has seemingly done little to weaken protesters’ resolve or to erode their support among ordinary Hong Kongers.
    “I don’t care if it’s legal or illegal,” said university student Polly, 18 at Sham Shui Po.    “We have so many people on our side.”
‘SOME OF US WILL NEVER BACK DOWN’
    Young people have been at the forefront, worried about the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, while also concerned with issues such as wealth disparities in the city.
    Residents of all ages joined in protests on Sunday.
    “The most frustrating thing is that we didn’t ask for more, we only asked to keep what we had,” said one man, 49, who gave his name as Jeremy and said he worked in the insurance industry.
    “I don’t know what’s going to happen next, when school starts, or when Christmas comes but they need to know that some of us will never back down and this is how we raise our children as well.”
(Reporting by James Pomfret, Anne Marie Roantree, Marius Zaharia, Vimvam Tong, Greg Torode, Donny Kwok, Simon Gardner and Brenda Goh; Writing by Farah Master and Tom Westbrook; Editing by Kim Coghill and Darren Schuettler)

8/11/2019 Hong Kong police fire tear gas at anti-government protesters
Anti-extradition bill protesters set up a roadblock near Sham Shui Po Police Station in Hong Kong, China, August 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police fired tear gas at demonstrators in the working class district of Sham Shui Po on Sunday, as yet another day of protest marches turned into a confrontation between police and activists.
    Ten straight weekends of increasingly violent protests have plunged Hong Kong into its most serious political crisis in decades, posing a challenge to the central government in Beijing.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; editing by Darren Schuettler)

8/12/2019 Pakistan dedicates Eid to Kashmir after India strips region of special status by Sheree Sardar
Men attend Eid al-Adha prayers outside a mosque along a street in Karachi, Pakistan August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – People gathered in mosques across Pakistan on Monday to offer special prayers for Eid al-Adha, the second of Islam’s two major religious festivals.
    The government has called for the festival to be observed in a “simple manner” this year, to express solidarity with Kashmiris living on the Indian side of the divided region.
    On August 5, India dropped a constitutional provision that had allowed its only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, to make its own laws, and also broke up the state into two federally administered territories.
    The changes are the most sweeping in the nearly 30 years that India has been battling a revolt in its portion of Kashmir, parts of which are claimed by Pakistan and China.
    Pakistan expelled India’s ambassador and suspended trade in anger at New Delhi’s latest move.
    On Monday Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi traveled to Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, to offer Eid prayers at a mosque there.
    “(I) have come here to express Pakistan’s solidarity with you,” Qureshi told worshippers.
    In the southern city of Karachi, prayers were dedicated to Kashmiris in India.
    “We are together with our Kashmiri brothers,” said resident Mohammad Adnan.    “We share their pain and grief.    Today, special prayers were offered for them inside the mosque.”
    Eid al-Adha or the “festival of sacrifice” is celebrated each year on the 10th day of the 12th and last month of the lunar Islamic calendar.
    As many as 10 million animals worth up to $3 billion are sacrificed during the festival, the Pakistan Tanners’ Association says.
(Reporting by Sheree Sardar, Editing by Alasdair Pal and Clarence Fernandez)

8/12/2019 Hong Kong airport grinds to a halt as protests swell
Police demonstrate a water cannon equipped vehicle at the compound of the Police Tactical Unit
in Hong Kong, China August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s airport canceled all flights on Monday, with authorities blaming demonstrators for the disruption of one of the world’s busiest terminals, a dramatic escalation of anti-government protests that have roiled the Asian financial hub.
    At the same time a Chinese official in Beijing warned signs of “terrorism” were emerging.    China’s People’s Armed Police also assembled in the neighboring city of Shenzhen for exercises, the state-backed Global Times newspaper said.
    Both moves lift the stakes sharply after a weekend of skirmishes between police and activists, in which both sides appeared to boost their resolve with new tactics.
    Some of the 5,000 activists occupying the airport’s arrivals hall for a fourth day went to the departure area and caused disruptions, Hong Kong police told a news conference, but declined to say if they would move to clear the demonstrators.
    Traffic to and from the airport was severely affected.
    “Airport operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been seriously disrupted … all flights have been canceled,” the city’s airport authority said in a statement.
    “All passengers are advised to leave the terminal buildings as soon as possible.”
    Roads to the airport were congested and car parks were full, the authority said.
    The increasingly violent protests have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi Jinping with one of his biggest popular challenges since he came to power in 2012.
    Monday’s cancellation came as China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office said the city had reached a critical juncture and after police had made a show of demonstrating a powerful water cannon.
    The protests began in opposition to a bill allowing extradition to the mainland but have widened to highlight other grievances, drawing broad support.
    Over the weekend, as demonstrators threw up barricades across the city, police shot volleys of tear gas into crowded underground train stations for the first time, and fired bean-bag rounds at close range.
    Scores of protesters were arrested, sometimes after being beaten with batons and bloodied by police.    Police have arrested more than 600 people since the unrest began more than two months ago.
    Tear gas was fired at the blackshirted crowds in districts on Hong Kong island, Kowloon and the New Territories, with one young female medic hospitalized after being shot in the right eye, triggering a protest by medical workers.
    “Hong Kong’s protesters have been frequently using extremely dangerous tools to attack the police in recent days, constituting serious crimes with sprouts of terrorism emerging,” said Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office spokesman Yang Guang.
    “Hong Kong has come to a critical juncture.    All those who care about Hong Kong’s future, must firmly come out and say no to all violent behavior, say no to all violent people.”
AIRPORT SIT-IN
    At the airport, thousands of activists have occupied the arrivals hall for days.
    Wearing black, the mostly young protesters have chanted slogans “No rioters, only tyranny!” and “Liberate Hong Kong!” while politely approaching travelers with flyers describing their demands and explaining the unrest.
    The airport is the world’s busiest air cargo port and the 8th busiest by passenger traffic, says the Airports Council International (ACI), a global association.
    Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997.
    They are demanding the resignation of the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, and an independent investigation into the handling of the protests.
    Authorities have called the citywide demonstrations illegal and dangerous, while highlighting their impact on the already-faltering economy and residents’ daily lives.
    Beijing says criminals and agitators are stirring violence, encouraged by “interfering” foreign powers, including Britain.
    China is also putting pressure on big companies, such as Cathay Pacific Airways <0293.HK>, whose shares tumbled to close to a 10-year low on Monday, after it was told to suspend staff engaged in illegal protests.
BE WATER OR FACE WATER
    Monday’s escalation came after police put the water cannon through its paces, showing it had enough strength to force dummy targets back at distances of 30 to 40 meters (33 to 44 yards), but drawing a rebuke from rights group Amnesty International.
    “Water cannons are not a toy for the Hong Kong police to deploy as a sign of strength,” Man-kei Tam, the group’s Hong Kong director, said in a statement.
    “These are powerful weapons that are inherently indiscriminate and have the potential of causing serious injury and even death.”
    As police have dialed up their aggression, protesters have sought to channel a Bruce Lee maxim: “Be water,” employing a flash-mob strategy to frustrate authorities and stretch their resources.
(Writing by Farah Master and Tom Westbrook; Editing by James Pomfret and Clarence Fernandez)

8/12/2019 Hong Kong airport grinds to halt; China likens protests to terrorism by Clare Jim and Greg Torode
Anti-extradition bill protesters rally at the departure hall of Hong Kong airport in Hong Kong, China August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s airport halted flights on Monday, blaming demonstrators for the disruption, while China said the anti-government protests that have swept the city over the past two months had begun to show “sprouts of terrorism
    The airport authority said it was working with airlines to resume flights from 6 a.m. on Tuesday, but the developments raised the stakes sharply after a weekend of skirmishes during which both activists and police toughened their stances.
    The precise trigger for the airport’s closure was not clear, since protesters occupying the arrivals hall for four days have been peaceful.    Most of them had left shortly after midnight, but around 50 remained, discussing their next move.
    “This is about our freedom,” a 24-year-old protester wearing a mask, who gave his name only as Yu, told Reuters during the evening.    “Why should we leave?
    Some Hong Kong legal experts say official descriptions of some protesters’ actions as terrorism could lead to the use of extensive anti-terror laws and powers against them.
    China’s People’s Armed Police also assembled in the neighboring city of Shenzhen for exercises, the state-backed Global Times newspaper said.    The Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper said on the Twitter-like Weibo that the force can handle incidents including riots or terrorist attacks.
    Hong Kongers responded by taking to the streets again.
    Crowds picketed a police station, singing hymns.    Hundreds of people returned to a subway station, where police had hit activists with batons, to protest against heavy-handed tactics.
    The increasingly violent demonstrations have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi Jinping with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012.
    “Hong Kong has come to a critical juncture,” said Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office spokesman Yang Guang in Beijing.
    “Protesters have been frequently using extremely dangerous tools to attack the police in recent days, constituting serious crimes with sprouts of terrorism emerging.”
    The protests began in opposition to a bill allowing extraditions to the mainland for trial in Communist-controlled courts, but have widened to highlight other grievances, winning broad support.
    Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997.
GROUNDED
    Hong Kong is the world’s busiest air cargo port and the 8th busiest by passenger traffic, handling 73 million passengers a year.    The airport has been filled with anti-government protesters for four days.
    The mostly young black-clad protesters have chanted slogans such as “No rioters, only tyranny!” and “Liberate Hong Kong!” while approaching travelers with flyers describing their demands and explaining the unrest.
    U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said they were “bravely standing up to the Chinese Communist Party,” and that a violent crackdown would be completely unacceptable.
    The activists at the airport have been polite and passengers mostly unperturbed.    “I was expecting something, given all the news,” one arrival, Gurinda Singh, told Reuters.    “I’m just pleased my plane arrived and the protests here seem peaceful.”
    Some activists moved to the departure area and caused disruptions, police told a news conference as the cancellations were announced.
    Earlier in the day, police declined to say if they would move to clear the demonstrators.    There was no visible police presence in either the departure or arrivals area.
    “Airport operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been seriously disrupted as a result of the public assembly at the airport today,” the city’s airport authority said in a statement, without elaborating.
    About 190 flights were affected, Chinese aviation data firm VariFlight said, though planes already en route to Hong Kong were allowed to land.
    Malaysia Airlines said it would be cancelling its flights between Malaysia and Hong Kong until Tuesday afternoon.
RESTIVE WEEKEND
    Demonstrators threw up barricades across Hong Kong at the weekend, as police fired tear gas into crowded underground train stations as well as rubber bullets and pepper pellets at close range.
    In response, protesters have sought to channel a Bruce Lee maxim: “Be water,” employing a flash-mob strategy to frustrate authorities and stretch their resources.
    Still, scores of protesters were arrested, sometimes after being beaten with batons and bloodied by police.
    One young female medic was hospitalized after being hit by a pellet round in the right eye. Demonstrators were also angered by the use of undercover police, dressed as protesters.
    Hundreds of people returned on Monday to the scene of some of the clashes to protest against the use of force.
    China has used the threat of terrorism to justify tough measures in its regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, which have been criticized by rights groups and Western governments.    It warned them off on Monday as well.
    “Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong and Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.
    China has also put pressure on big companies, such as Cathay Pacific Airways <0293.HK>, whose shares tumbled to a 10-year low on Monday after it was told to suspend staff engaged in illegal protests.
(Reporting by Greg Torode, Clare Jim, Vimvam Tong, Felix Tam, Noah Sin, Brenda Goh, Twinnie Siu, James Pomfret, Farah Master, Anne Marie Roantree and Donny Kwok in Hong Kong. Additional reporting by Tony Munroe in Beijing; Writing by Tom Westbrook; Editing by James Pomfret and Mark Heinrich)

8/12/2019 U.S. turning Gulf region into ‘tinderbox’: Iran’s Zarif
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a news conference in Tehran, Iran
August 5, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States on Monday of turning the Gulf region into a “matchbox ready to ignite,” according to Al Jazeera television.
    Oil tanker traffic passing through the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz has become the focus of a U.S.-Iranian standoff since Washington pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions to strangle Tehran’s oil exports.
    After explosions that damaged six tankers in May and June and Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in July, the United States launched a maritime security mission in the Gulf, joined by Britain, to protect merchant vessels.
    Zarif, in interview remarks cited by Qatar-based Al Jazeera, said the Strait “is narrow, it will become less safe as foreign (navy) vessels increase their presence in it.”
    “The region has become a matchbox ready to ignite because America and its allies are flooding it with weapons,” he said.
    Zarif, who arrived on Sunday in Doha, met on Monday with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani for talks to convey that message, Iranian state-run media reported.
    Qatar, which hosts one of the biggest U.S. military bases in the Middle East, is trying not to be drawn into the escalating conflict between Washington and Tehran.
    Iraq, which maintains good relations with both Washington and Tehran, cautioned on Monday that the deployment of Western forces was fueling regional tension.
    “The states of the Gulf can together secure the transit of ships,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim said on Twitter.    “Iraq is seeking to reduce tension in our region through calm negotiations…The presence of Western forces in the region will increase tension,” he said.
    Last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the British tanker, Stena Impero near the Strait for alleged marine violations, two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.
    The tanker dispute has tangled Britain in the diplomatic dispute between the EU’s big powers – which want to preserve the Iran nuclear deal – and the United States which has pushed for a tougher policy on Iran.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/12/2019 Indian authorities lock down Kashmir’s major city on Eid holiday by Zeba Siddiqui and Fayaz Bukhari
Kashmiri men wait before Eid-al-Adha prayers during restrictions after the scrapping of the special constitutional
status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Indian security forces kept disputed Kashmir’s biggest city of Srinagar largely locked down on Monday, the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, to prevent any major protests against a decision that scrapped the Himalayan region’s special rights.
    Frustration is growing in Muslim-majority Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan, over India’s move last week to curtail autonomy for the state of Jammu and Kashmir, including a bar on non-residents buying property.
    Hundreds of people shouting anti-India slogans spilled on to the streets following prayers in the neighborhood of Soura, the site of a big demonstration on Friday, but authorities largely sealed off the area and kept the protest localized.
    “We want freedom, we are neither a part of India, nor Pakistan,” said Asifa, an 18-year-old woman who was among those protesting after prayers at the shrine of Jinab Sahib in Soura.
    “Modi is lying to his people that the removal of special status of Kashmir is good for us,” she said.    “We will resist it till our last breath.”
    The voices of protesters chanting anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans grew louder as the sound of helicopters swelled overhead, among at least three of the aircraft that hovered over Srinagar to keep vigil.
    Eyewitnesses reported sporadic incidents of stone throwing of security forces on Sunday and Monday morning.
    “There have been some isolated incidents of stone-pelting,” the Home Ministry said in a statement, but added they were of an “insignificant level.”
    It said police dispersed the protesters and only one or two individuals suffered major injuries.    It provided no further detail.    The authorities say there have been no bullets fired by security forces.
    India scraps special status for Kashmir: https://tmsnrt.rs/2ML9IWS
SOME MAJOR MOSQUES CLOSED
    Reuters reporters were among the many people stopped at roadblocks and kept from entering parts of the city on Sunday.
    “In Srinagar, keeping in view the possibility of terrorists, militants and mischievous elements trying to disturb public order and peace, reasonable restrictions were imposed on large gatherings in sensitive areas,” the Home Ministry said.
    People still gathered in mosques in large numbers in Kashmir on Monday, it added.    However, in Srinagar, several major mosques and religious sites, including the famous Jamia Masjid mosque with a capacity of more than 30,000, were closed, and worshippers were encouraged to attend prayers in smaller mosques near where they lived.
    “There are some mosques which are not open, that is because it is the vi