From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE EAST 2020 JANUARY-FEBRUARY"

    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.
Or return to the Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D.
    Or continue to King Of The East 2020 March-April.

KING OF THE EAST 2020 JANUARY-FEBRUARY


    So as 2019 has passed do we know who the "King of the East" is?
    As Bible students, we all are aware of the allusions to the "Kings of the East" in the prophetic scenario: "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    Revelation 16:12.
       
    The spectacular rise of China on the world scene, and achievements are spectacular, indeed.    In just one generation, they have tripled their per capita income, and lifted over 300 million people out of poverty.
    Xi Jinping is still president for life and continues to push "Belt And Road Project" fits the scenerio to fulfil prophecy to go into the Middle East at the appointed time.
    He continues to push the unconditional authority of the Communist Party, and controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea, boosted its military capabilities and unveiled a vast international logistics and transportation project called the “Belt and Road” initiative that aims to connect Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, so I believe the The King of the East has made his bed and have become the major competitor for energy and other commodities.
    As to the emergence of India in the global technological culture Idid not see much of that in 2019 to dominate the next few decades in research and development centers are sprouting everywhere and are the seedbeds of the most advanced software platforms, multimedia devices, and other next-generation innovations and India's Prime Minister is still Narendra Modi.
    China and India account for one-third of the world's population.
    Although numerous commentators try to connect these kings with the 200 million horsemen of the sixth trumpet judgment, they are not related: as Rev. 16:12 only says "way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    This tells me that it could be several countries from the Kings of the East could take that journey.
    The “two hundred million” is in Rev. 9:16 are in a Trumpet Judgment, whereas the kings of the east are in a Bowl judgment.    Furthermore, . . . it was shown that the two hundred million are demons and not men.
    As to kings from the Orient, but this is not required by the text, they are kings representing nations east of the Euphrates.    Commentators particularly of the postmillennial and the historical schools have guessed at the identity of the kings of the East and as many as fifty different interpretations have been advanced.    The very number of these interpretations is their refutation.

    As to cooperation for China and the U.S. in 2019, China threatens retaliation if tariffs increase as trade war bites and China’s Xi preaches openness.    China’s 2019 growth was seen slowing to 6.2% as trade war weighs on China’s June exports, and imports fall as trade war takes heavier toll.    China lets yuan break key 7 level for first time in decade as trade war worsens.    China’s birth rate falls to lowest ever.    China lawmakers urge freeing up family planning as birth rates plunge U.S.
    Italy's PM wants to sign “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), deal to help exports championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who aims to link China by sea and land with southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, through an infrastructure network on the lines of the ancient Silk Road.    A number of European Union states have signed memorandums on the BRI with China, including Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Malta, Poland and Portugal.    If Italy signs, it would be the first members of the Group of Seven industrial powers to do so.    China Development Bank has provided over $190 billion for Belt and Road projects.
    Taiwan tells China to use peaceful means to resolve differences and Taiwan president calls for international support to defend democracy.    U.S. warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions and China’s Xi threatens Taiwan with force but also seeks peaceful ‘reunification.’    U.S., Japan, India and Philippines challenge Beijing with naval drills in the South China Sea.    And a miracle win offers Australian PM authority and government stability.    U.S. pursues sale of over $2 billion in weapons to Taiwan, which is angering China.    Premier Li says China opposes Taiwan independence.
    Afghan Taliban and the U.S. sat down to peace talks, but the Taliban talks end with no Afghan peace deal.
    U.S. sanctions are putting pressure on Iran and Iranians, and supreme leader.    Iran says it is taking initial steps to design reactor fuel, and could enrich uranium to 20 percent within four days as atomic chiefIran says it will be ready for new satellite launch.    U.S. sanctions hit Iran-backed airlines, fighters in Syria and Iranian commander threatens Israel’s destruction if it attacks, while Iran is facing the toughest economic situation in 40 years.    The president of Iran facing economic difficulty amid U.S. pressure on regime and Iran’s Rouhani says U.S. sanctions are ‘terrorist act.’    Iran’s Khamenei doubted Europe could help Tehran against U.S. sanctions.    Iran urged Palestinians to resist Trump’s pro-Israel moves.    U.S. designated elite Iranian force as terrorist organization, and Iran kept enriching uranium in despite.    Hardliners target Iran’s president as U.S. pressure grows.    Iran claims youth will witness demise of Israel and ‘American civilization.’    Iran’s Khamenei says Tehran will not abandon its missile program and will increase uranium enrichment to whatever levels it needs and will boost uranium enrichment level which will breach nuclear pact.
    Thousands march in Hong Kong against China ‘repression’ on 3/15/2019 protesters were arrested in Hong Kong over proposed China extradition law.    Hong Kong lawmakers clash over what democrats call ‘evil’ extradition bill.    Hong Kong leader presses on with extradition bill undeterred.    Huge Hong Kong protest expected in last push to scrap extradition bill    Hundreds of thousands march in Hong Kong to protest China ‘Sea of black’    Hong Kong protesters demand leader step down extradition bill    Embattled Hong Kong leader Lam suspends China extradition bill.    Black-clad, anti-extradition protesters flood streets of Hong Kong Hong Kong descends into chaos as protesters storm legislature.    In challenge to Beijing, Hong Kong activists attempt to take fight to mainland.    Anti-Chinese protests in Hong Kong turn violent.    Protesters mass in Hong Kong amid fears of growing cycle of violence.
    Trump walks away from deal with North Korea’s Kim over sanctions demand and was ending the year with new Trade deals with China as the U.S. economy is up in all items.

    Since Iran has become more of an issue during 2019 I decided to input the following again regarding Jeremiah 49:35-39 New King James Version (NKJV) PROPHESY OF ELAM to let you know what the Bible says about them and their possible future.
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)



2020 JANUARY-FEBRUARY

1/1/2020 Taiwan leader rejects China’s offer to unify under Hong Kong model
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen talks during a graduation ceremony for the Investigation Bureau
agents in New Taipei City, Taiwan, December 26 , 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang - RC2R2E9EIKIT
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday the island would not accept a “one country, two systems” political formula Beijing has suggested could be used to unify the democratic island, saying such an arrangement had failed in Hong Kong.
    China claims Taiwan as its territory, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if necessary.    Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.
    Tsai, who’s seeking re-election in a Jan. 11 vote, also vowed in a New Year’s speech to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, saying her government would build a mechanism to safeguard freedom and democracy as Beijing ramps up pressure on the island.
    Fear of China has become a major element in the campaign, boosted by months of anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong.
    “Hong Kong people have showed us that ‘one country, two systems’ is definitely not feasible,” Tsai said, referring to the political arrangement that guaranteed certain freedoms in the former British colony of Hong Kong after it was returned to China in 1997.
    “Under ‘one country, two systems’, the situation continues to deteriorate in Hong Kong.    The credibility of ‘one country, two systems’ has been sullied by the government’s abuse of power,” Tsai said.
    Hong Kong has been hit by months of anti-government protests triggered by widespread resentment of perceived efforts by Beijing to exert control of the city despite the promises of autonomy.
    Taiwan’s parliament passed an anti-infiltration law on Tuesday to combat perceived threats from China, further straining ties between Taiwan and Beijing. [nL4N295146]
    Tsai said the law will protect Taiwan’s democracy and cross-strait exchanges will not be affected amid worries that the legislation may damage business ties with China.
    China suspects Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party of pushing for the island’s formal independence, and has threatened it with war if there was any such move.
    Tsai denies seeking independence and reiterated that she would not unilaterally change the status quo with China.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by Kim Coghill)

1/1/2020 Thousands march in Hong Kong on New Year’s Day, pledge to ‘keep fighting’ by Clare Jim and Jessie PANG
Anti-government protesters attend a demonstration on New Year's Day to call for better governance
and democratic reforms in Hong Kong, China, January 1, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters began marching in Hong Kong on New Year’s Day, demanding concessions from the city’s embattled government as the civil unrest that convulsed the Chinese-ruled city for over half a year spills into 2020.
    Gathering on a grass lawn in Victoria Park under grey skies, citizens young and old, many dressed in black and some masked, carried signs such as “i>Freedom is not free” before setting off.
    “It’s hard to utter ‘Happy New Year’ because Hong Kong people are not happy,” said a man named Tung, who was walking with his two-year-old son, mother and niece.
    “Unless the five demands are achieved, and police are held accountable for their brutality, then we can’t have a real happy new year,” he added, referring to the push for concessions from the government including full democracy, an amnesty for the over 6,500 people arrested so far, and a powerful, independent investigation into police actions.
    The pro-democracy march is being organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, a group that arranged a number of marches last year that drew millions.
    Along the route, a number of newly elected pro-democracy district politicians mingled with the crowds on their first day in office, some helping collect donations to assist the movement.
    “The government has already started the oppression before the New Year began … whoever is being oppressed, we will stand with them,” said Jimmy Sham, one of the leaders of the Civil Human Rights Front.
    Thousands of Hong Kong revelers had earlier welcomed in 2020 on neon-lit promenades along the iconic skyline of Victoria Harbour, chanting the movement’s signature eight-word Chinese protest couplet — “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Time.” — for the final eight seconds before clocks struck midnight.
    A sea of protesters then surged down Nathan Road, a major boulevard, blocking all lanes in a spontaneous march breaking out within minutes of the new decade.    Some held signs reading “Let’s keep fighting together in 2020.”
    Overnight, police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons during some brief standoffs.
    China’s President Xi Jinping said in a New Year’s speech that Beijing will “resolutely safeguard the prosperity and stability” of Hong Kong under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework.
    Many people in Hong Kong are angered by Beijing’s tight grip on the city which was promised a high degree of autonomy under this framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.
    A group of 40 parliamentarians and dignitaries from 18 countries had written an open letter to Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam on New Year’s Eve, urging her to “seek genuine ways forward out of this crisis by addressing the grievances of Hong Kong people.”
    The protest movement is supported by 59% of the city’s residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.
    Demonstrations have grown increasingly violent in recent months, at times paralyzing the Asian financial center.
    Protesters have thrown petrol bombs and rocks, with police responding with tear gas, water cannon, pepper spray, rubber bullets and occasional live rounds.    There have been several injuries.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang, Clare Jim, Mari Saito, Sarah Wu, Alun John, Marius Zaharia, additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Kim Coghill)

1/1/2020 India approves third moon mission, months after landing failure
FILE PHOTO: India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III-M1 blasts off carrying Chandrayaan-2,
from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, India, July 22, 2019. REUTERS/P. Ravikumar
    BENGALURU (Reuters) – India has approved its third lunar mission months after its last one failed to successfully land on the moon, its space agency said on Wednesday, the latest effort in its ambitions to become a low-cost space power.
    The Chandrayaan-3 mission will have a lander and a rover, but not an orbiter, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K. Sivan told reporters at its headquarters in Bengaluru, according to an official telecast.
    The Chandrayaan-2 mission in September successfully deployed a lunar orbiter that relays scientific data back to earth, but was unable to place a rover on the lunar surface after a “hard” landing.
    That mission had aimed to land on the south pole of the moon, where no other lunar mission had gone before.    The region is believed to contain water as craters in the region are largely unaffected by the high temperatures of the sun.
    ISRO had hoped to confirm the presence of water in the form of ice, first detected on its mission in 2008.
    Chandrayaan-3 will have a “similar configuration” as the previous mission, Sivan said.
    Only the United States, Russia and China have landed on the moon. Beijing’s Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon last year, while Israel made an unsuccessful attempt to land its Beresheet spacecraft on the moon in April 2019.
    India’s third lunar mission will likely launch in 2020 and will cost less than its previous mission, the PTI news agency reported on Tuesday, citing Jitendra Singh, junior minister for the department of space.
    Sivan also said ISRO was making “good progress” for its human space-flight mission slated for late 2021, adding that four astronauts had been picked for training, which will be planned later this month.    The project, called Gaganyaan, would cost less than 100 billion rupees ($1.4 billion), the government said in 2018.
    India has developed a reputation for pioneering affordable satellite launches and space missions.    Its unmanned Mars mission in 2014 cost just $74 million, less than the budget of the Hollywood space blockbuster “Gravity.”
    Sivan also announced that ISRO had begun the land acquisition process for a second spaceport in the southern port city of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu state.
(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by Kim Coghill)

1/1/2020 North Korea’s leader promises ‘new strategic weapon,’ leaves room for talks by Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea
(WPK) in this undated photo released on December 31, 2019 by North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s leader plans to further develop nuclear programs and to introduce a “new strategic weapon” in the near future, state media said on Wednesday, although he signaled there was still room for dialogue with the United States.
    Kim Jong Un presided over a four-day meeting of top Workers’ Party officials this week amid rising tensions with the United States, which has not responded to his repeated calls for concessions to reopen negotiations. Washington has dismissed the deadline as artificial.
    Kim said there were no grounds for North Korea to be bound any longer by a self-declared moratorium on testing nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), according to a statement on the results of the policy meeting carried by the official KCNA news agency.
    At times smiling or striking the podium with his hand as he made remarks during the meeting, Kim accused the United States of making “gangster-like demands” and maintaining a “hostile policy,” such as by holding continued joint military drills with South Korea, adopting cutting edge weapons and imposing sanctions.
    He pledged to continue bolstering his country’s nuclear deterrent but said the “scope and depth” of that deterrent will be “properly co-ordinated depending on” the attitude of the United States.
    “The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future,” Kim said, using the initials for North Korea’s official name – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
    “We will reliably put on constant alert the powerful nuclear deterrent capable of containing the nuclear threats from the U.S. and guaranteeing our long-term security.”
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it would be “deeply disappointing” if Kim reneges on denuclearization commitments and Kim would hopefully “choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war.”
    In his latest comments on Tuesday in the United States, President Donald Trump said he had a good relationship with Kim and thought the North Korean leader would keep his word.
    “He likes me, I like him.    We get along.    He’s representing his country, I’m representing my country.    We have to do what we have to do."
    “But he did sign a contract, he did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
    Seoul’s Unification Ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs said large-scale joint military drills with the United States had been halted and it would be unhelpful for negotiations if North Korea took action to introduce what it called a new strategic weapon.
    There were no official reports as of early afternoon on Wednesday in South Korea that Kim had delivered an annual New Year’s address.
‘STRATEGIC WEAPONS’
    Kim had previously said he might have to seek a “new path” if Washington failed to meet his expectations. U.S. military commanders said Pyongyang’s actions could include test firing an ICBM alongside nuclear warhead tests. North Korea last test fired an ICBM in 2017.
    Jeffrey Lewis, a non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said it was difficult to predict North Korea’s next move.    But it might involve firing a solid-fuel ICBM and an atmospheric nuclear test, he said.
    However, Jeong Han-beom, who teaches security policy at Korea National Defense University in Seoul, said North Korea would not immediately stage such a provocative act as an ICBM or nuclear test because it could risk derailing negotiations.     Tension had been rising ahead of the year-end as North Korea conducted a series of weapons tests and waged a war of words with Trump.
    The nuclear talks have made little headway despite three meetings between Kim and Trump since 2018. Working-level talks in Stockholm in October broke down, with a North Korean chief negotiator accusing U.S. officials of sticking to their old stance.
    Kim said there will “never be denuclearization on the Korean peninsula” if Washington adheres to what he calls its hostile policy.
    We “will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK and lasting and durable peace-keeping mechanism is built,” Kim said.
    He called for North Koreans to brace for an “arduous and prolonged struggle” and foster a self-reliant economy because of a delay in the anticipated lifting of sanctions.
    “The present situation warning of long confrontation with the U.S. urgently requires us to make it a fait accompli that we have to live under the sanctions by the hostile forces in the future, too, and to strengthen the internal power from all aspects.”
    Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the party assembly results made clear Kim wants U.S. security guarantees before taking substantial action toward denuclearization.
    “And he is suggesting that he will take the bull by the horns to achieve that goal, while promoting self reliance at home and still being open to talks depending on how Trump handles ‘hostile policy,'” Yang said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Jack Kim and Sangmi Cha; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Jeff Mason in Palm Beach, Florida; Editing by Grant McCool and Neil Fullick)

1/1/2020 Iran’s supreme leader blames U.S. for violence in Iraq by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting, in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
    The leader of Iran is slamming President Trump for the violence in Iraq and has denied responsibility for the unrest.    On Wednesday, Iranian state television reported that Ayatollah Khamenei blamed the United States for the assault on the embassy in Iraq.
    Khamenei’s comments came after President Trump referenced Iran’s involvement in coordinating the violent attacks.    The leader warned anyone who threatens Iran’s “dignity or progress” risks confrontation.
    “The Americans find some excuse, attack Iraqi soil and martyr a number of people,” he said.    “I, and it is not just me, also the government and the people of Iran, strongly condemn this crime by America.”
    The rush on the embassy was allegedly sparked by U.S. air strikes in Iraq, which came after the death of an American contractor in the region.
    President Trump tweeted that Iran will be held responsible for those who lost their lives and any damage to U.S. facilities.

1/1/2020 Tear gas fired at Hong Kong New Year’s protests by Mari Saito and Marius Zaharia
Anti-government protesters attend a demonstration on New Year's Day to call for better governance
and democratic reforms in Hong Kong, China, January 1, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – A march drawing tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong on New Year’s Day spiraled into chaotic scenes as police fired several rounds of tear gas and water cannon at crowds including families before halting the event.
    The violence broke out during the largely peaceful march as masses of citizens pressed authorities for further concessions in the Chinese-ruled city.
    In the Wanchai bar district, some protesters had spray-painted graffiti and smashed cash machines in an HSBC bank branch when riot police moved in, pepper-spraying crowds in a tense face-off.    Tear gas was then fired into the crowds, making some children cry.
    The protesters, some with gas masks and clad in black, regrouped and formed their own lines as police blocked roads to prevent large crowds from completing the march as night fell.
    Organizers estimated just over one million people took part, but police said 60,000 protesters attended at the march’s peak.
    The atmosphere grew tense in several districts on Hong Kong island, as hundreds of protesters dug in, forming road blocks, setting fires and throwing a few petrol bombs.    Human chains formed down roads to help ferry supplies to people on the front lines, including umbrellas and bricks.
    Protesters have directed their ire at global banking group HSBC alleging a link between the arrest of four members of a group that raised funds to support the protesters and an earlier closure of an HSBC account linked to the group.    HSBC denies any connection.
    A bronze lion at the bank’s headquarters was daubed with red paint and scorched by a fire.
    A bank spokesman said: “We strongly condemn the acts of vandalism and damage directed at our premises repeatedly in the last few days.    We believe these are unjustified.”
    Earlier in the day, under grey clouds, citizens young and old, many dressed in black and some masked, carried signs such as “Freedom is not free” before setting off.
    “It’s hard to utter ‘Happy New Year’ because Hong Kong people are not happy,” said a man named Tung, who was walking with his two-year-old son, mother and niece.
    “Unless the five demands are achieved, and police are held accountable for their brutality, then we can’t have a real happy new year,” he added.
DEMANDS
    He was referring to the push for concessions from the government including full democracy, an amnesty for the more than 6,500 people arrested so far, and a powerful, independent investigation into police actions.
    Along the route, a number of newly elected pro-democracy district politicians mingled with the crowds on their first day in office, some helping collect donations to assist the movement.    Youths also carried “Hong Kong Independence” flags and chanted that splitting the city from Chinese rule was the “only way out.”
    “The government has already started the oppression before the New Year began … whoever is being oppressed, we will stand with them,” said Jimmy Sham, one of the leaders of the Civil Human Rights Front that organized the march.    The organizers also condemned the police decision to cancel the rally.
    Thousands of Hong Kong revelers had earlier welcomed in 2020 on neon-lit promenades along Victoria Harbour, chanting the movement’s signature slogan – “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Time” – for the final seconds before clocks struck midnight.
    China’s President Xi Jinping said in a New Year’s speech that Beijing will “resolutely safeguard the prosperity and stability” of Hong Kong under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework.
    Many people in Hong Kong are angered by Beijing’s tight grip on the city which was promised a high degree of autonomy under this framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.
    A group of 40 parliamentarians and dignitaries from 18 countries had written an open letter to Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam on New Year’s Eve, urging her to “seek genuine ways forward out of this crisis by addressing the grievances of Hong Kong people.”
    The protest movement is supported by 59% of the city’s residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.
    Demonstrations have grown increasingly violent in recent months, at times paralyzing the Asian financial center.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang, Clare Jim, Mari Saito, Sarah Wu, Alun John, Marius Zaharia, additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Kim Coghill and Angus MacSwan)

1/1/2020 U.N. secretary-general ‘deeply concerned’ North Korea said it could resume weapons tests by Michelle Nichols and Valerie Volcovici
FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a news conference
in Geneva, Switzerland December 17, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply concerned” that North Korea has indicated it could resume nuclear and missile tests, a U.N. spokesman said on Wednesday.
    “The Secretary-General very much hopes that the tests will not resume, in line with relevant Security Council resolutions.    Non-proliferation remains a fundamental pillar of global nuclear security and must be preserved,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said this week that there were no longer grounds for Pyongyang to be bound by a self-declared moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear bomb testing and that a “new strategic weapon” would be introduced in the near future.
    “Diplomatic engagement is the only pathway to sustainable peace,” Dujarric also said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump – who in 2018 became the first American leader to meet with a North Korean leader – said after Kim’s remarks that the leader had signed a denuclearization contract and Trump thought Kim was a “man of his word.”
    Trump has repeatedly pointed to the moratorium, in place since 2017, as a sign that his policy of engagement with North Korea was working.
    Kim has complained the United States had continued joint military drills with South Korea, adopted cutting-edge weapons and imposed sanctions while making “gangster-like demands.”
    Last month, Pyongyang warned Washington of a possible “Christmas gift” after Kim gave the United States until the end of the year to propose new concessions in talks over his country’s nuclear arsenal.
    North Korea experts said that Kim’s remarks – made during an hours-long plenum speech – were likely directed at his party, military, and government officials in North Korea, preparing the country for another period of economic hardship as it prepares for a long stalemate with the United States.
    “The main points, almost certainly, were not headlines about weapons development or a possible resumption of testing,” said Robert Carlin, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.
    “It means preparing the economy and the people for a long-term confrontation with the U.S.,” he said, adding that the message was “no longer working for relief of sanctions but girding to live under them.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Valerie Volcovici; additional reporting by Jeff Mason and David Brunstromm; Writing by Amanda Becker; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

1/1/2020 Indonesia rejects China’s claims over South China Sea
FILE PHOTO: Indonesia's Deputy Minister for Maritime Affairs Arif Havas Oegroseno points at the location of North Natuna Sea
on a new map of Indonesia during talks with reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia said on Wednesday it rejected China’s claims over a disputed part of the South China Sea as “having no legal basis,” after two days earlier protesting to Beijing over the presence of a Chinese coastguard vessel in its territorial waters.
    The boat trespassed into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone off the coast of the northern islands of Natuna, leading Indonesians officials to issue a “strong protest” and summon the Chinese ambassador in Jakarta.
    Speaking in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang had said China had sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and their waters and that both China and Indonesia have “normal” fishing activities there.
    In a sharp rebuke, Indonesia’s foreign ministry called in a statement on Wednesday for China to explain the “legal basis and clear borders” regarding its claims on the exclusive economic zone, as based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
    “China’s claims to the exclusive economic zone on the grounds that its fishermen have long been active there… have no legal basis and have never been recognized by the UNCLOS 1982,” the foreign ministry said.
    Jakarta also noted that the argument had been refuted during China’s legal defeat against the Philippines in 2016 over disputed South China claims at Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
    Indonesia has no claims over the Spratly Islands, which lie to the northeast of the Natuna Islands.
    The foreign ministry reiterated its stance that the country is a non-claimant state in the South China Sea and that it has no overlapping jurisdiction with China.
    However, Jakarta has repeatedly clashed with China over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands, detaining Chinese fishermen and expanding its military presence in the area.
    China claims most of the South China Sea, an important trade route which is believed to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas.
    Several Southeast Asian states dispute China’s territorial claims and are competing with China to exploit the South China Sea’s abundant hydrocarbon and fishing resources.
    Beijing has raised the ante by deploying military assets on artificial islands constructed on shoals and reefs in disputed parts of the sea.
    China’s embassy in Indonesia was not immediately reachable for comment.
(Reporting by Jakarta bureau, editing by Louise Heavens)

1/1/2020 John Bolton urges U.S. to resume military operations amid threats from North Korea by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Dec. 30, 2019, file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks
during a Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
    Former National Security Adviser John Bolton is saying the U.S. should resume all military operations in South Korea in response to recent threats from Pyongyang.
    In a Wednesday tweet, Bolton said “the U.S. should fully resume all canceled or down-sized military exercises” in the region.    He went on to suggest Congress hold hearings to determine whether U.S. troops are “truly ready to fight.”
    These remarks came after North Korean leader Kim Jung-un delivered a New Year’s address, in which he threatened to resume nuclear and ballistic missile testing.
    Earlier in the week, Bolton tweeted that the U.S. needs to do more than just “say that it’s unacceptable for North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons.”

FILE – In this Oct. 2, 2019, file photo provided Oct. 3, 2019, by the North Korean government, an underwater-launched missile lifts
off in the waters off North Korea’s eastern coastal town of Wonsan. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

1/1/2020 Nearly 400 arrested in Hong Kong’s New Year’s Day protests by OAN Newsroom
Hong Kong people participate in their annual pro-democracy march on New Year’s Day to insist their five
demands be matched by the government in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
    Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continued into the new year as police arrested nearly 400 demonstrators.    Wednesday reports said the protests started peacefully, but violence broke out after hundreds formed barricades in the streets.
    Activists then started fires and threw gas bombs at law enforcement. Human chains passed supplies to the front lines.
    Police responded to the violence by throwing tear gas in an effort to disperse the crowd.
    “Some of my officers gave warnings to these rioters not to throw hard objects, including bricks, paint bombs and also water bottles,” stated Senior Police Superintendent Jim Ng Lok-Chun.    “Some of our officers were worried about their own personal safety and two handheld tear gas grenades were used to disperse the rioters.”
    According to those behind the demonstrations, over one million people took part in the protests.    However, police have said the real number was closer to 60,000.
Hong Kong people participate in their annual pro-democracy march to insist their five demands
be matched by the government in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

1/2/2020 Hundreds arrested in Hong Kong in New Year’s Day protests: police
An anti-government protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask takes part in a demonstration during New Year's Day to call
for better governance and democratic reforms in Hong Kong, China, January 1, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police arrested about 400 people in New Year’s Day protests after what started as a peaceful pro-democracy march of tens of thousands spiraled into chaotic scenes with police firing tear gas to disperse the crowds.
    The arrests take the total to about 7,000 since protests in the city escalated in June over a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China, and will highlight the apparent absence of any progress towards ending the unrest.
    The tension on Wednesday rose after some arrests were made in the Wan Chai bar district near a branch of global banking group HSBC <0005.HK>, which has been the target of protester anger in recent weeks.
    When scuffles broke out, large numbers of black-clad protesters rushed to the scene while other protesters formed human chains to pass them various supplies including bricks, forcing police to bring in their own reinforcements.
    Police then asked organizers to call off the march early and crowds eventually dispersed as a water cannon truck and scores of police in riot gear patrolled the streets late into the evening.
    Jimmy Sham, one of the leaders of the Civil Human Rights Front that organized the march, criticized the police decision to get the crowd to disperse at such short notice and said they had arrested protesters indiscriminately.
    Police told media on Thursday they had arrested 420 people over the New Year holiday, most on New Year’s Day, with 287 of them in one sweep for illegal assembly, including a 12-year old.
    Police said they only made the arrests on Wednesday after they notified the march organizers and gave sufficient time for demonstrators to leave.    Four officers were injured during the day, they said.
    Organizers estimated that just over one million people took part in the New Year’s Day march.    Police put the number at 60,000 at its peak.
    Over the months, the protests have evolved into a broad movement pushing for full democracy in the Chinese-ruled city and an independent investigation into complaints of police brutality. Police maintain they act with restraint.
    Arrests were also made on New Year’s Eve, when protesters briefly occupied a major road on the Kowloon peninsula as crowds of thousands counted down to midnight along the Victoria harbor.
    Some protesters allege HSBC was complicit in action by the authorities against activists trying to raise money to support their campaign.    The bank denies any involvement.
(Reporting by Donny Kwok, Jessie Pang and Twinnie Siu; Writing by Marius Zaharia and Mari Saito; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/2/2020 Faster rockets, more warheads: What North Korea could gain from new weapons development by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un is seen as the newly developed intercontinental ballistic rocket
Hwasong-15's test was successfully launched, in this undated photo released by North Korea's
Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang November 30, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – If North Korea returns to long-range missile launches or other weapons tests in 2020, its military could make valuable technical advances and gain experience alongside whatever political message is sent to Washington.
    This week North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that the world would soon see his country’s “new strategic weapon” and that there was no longer reason for Pyongyang to be bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests.
    Kim’s comments were the strongest indication that the North could resume some of the major tests it had suspended more than two years ago in the run-up to summit diplomacy with the United States.
    After years of development, the weapons programs of North Korea are now advanced enough that it is hard to predict what it might test, said Jeffrey Lewis, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS).
    U.S. military officials have said they see a long-range missile launch as one of the most likely possibilities.
    Other experts said North Korea could launch a satellite, deploy the new ballistic missile submarine it says it is developing, or field new domestically produced “transporter erector launcher” (TEL) vehicles for its largest missiles.
    “Any tests or drills they run will not only allow them to develop weapons that are faster, longer-range, or more reliable, but they also give the people operating these systems more exposure to and practice using and deploying the weapons,” said Grace Liu, a research associate at CNS.
ROCKET ENGINES
    In December, North Korea said it had carried out two important tests at its Sohae satellite launch site, aimed at developing “another strategic weapon” to counter nuclear threats from the United States.
    Although North Korean state media did not say exactly what was tested or what the new weapon might be, officials in Washington and Seoul said it appeared likely the North had tested rocket engines, possibly for ICBMs.
    “They might work toward developing better liquid-propellant engines or revisit older engines that they’ve had trouble with in the past,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
    Analysts also speculated that North Korea could be developing better solid rocket motors (SRMs), which can offer some benefits like easier storage and transportation.
    SRMs would also be important for North Korea’s efforts to field an operational submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), similar to what was test-fired from a submerged barge in October.
    “Every missile they’ve flight-tested in 2019 to date has used a solid rocket motor and they’re clearly becoming more adept at casting these motors in different diameters,” Panda said.    “There are challenges associated with moving to ICBM-sized SRMs, but perhaps North Korea will demonstrate a breakthrough on that front.”
REENTRY VEHICLES AND NUCLEAR WARHEADS
    A warhead launched by an ICBM needs a protective reentry vehicle to help it survive the fiery descent through the atmosphere to hit its target.
    After the November 2017 launch of its largest ICBM to date, the Hwasong-15, state media said the test confirmed “the safety of a warhead in the atmospheric re-entry environment.”
    U.S. military officials later said North Korea had not demonstrated a survivable re-entry vehicle, though they did not discount the possibility.
    During North Korea’s last ICBM tests in 2017, its scientists may have gleaned useful data on how their reentry vehicles worked, Panda said.
    However, the tests were conducted on a “lofted trajectory” high into space, potentially limiting the usefulness of some of the data, as the missile would take a much different trajectory during a war, he added.
    A final card North Korea could play is an atmospheric test of a nuclear warhead, though many analysts say that is unlikely, as it could anger Pyongyang’s backers in Beijing and Moscow.
    But North Korea is believed to have continued producing material for nuclear weapons, and analysts said it is likely to continue stockpiling additional warheads while seeking to make them even smaller.
    Korea National Defense University’s Jeong Han-beom said North Korea could use computer simulations to develop smaller and lighter warheads without new nuclear tests.
EVADING MISSILE DEFENSES
    In 2019, North Korea conducted several tests of new short-range missiles such as the KN-23, which experts said are designed to better evade missile defenses.
    This year, North Korea could seek to develop multiple reentry vehicles for large-diameter missiles like the Hwasong-15, Panda said.
    “Adding more nuclear warheads to a single missile can better assure them of an ability to penetrate American missile defense and, if they’re worried that their warheads might have reliability issues, more warheads increases the odds that one warhead will successfully detonate,” he said.
    North Korea often seems more focused on making a splash with new weapons rather than pragmatically building more of the weapons it already has, said Markus Schiller, a missile expert based in Europe who focuses on the way North Korea has used outside help for its technology.
    “This new stuff will again be something they have procured from somewhere else, or some publicity event that our political scientists will interpret as a huge leap toward new technology,” he said.
    Schiller said one technology that could generate the buzz North Korea is looking for could be a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), which the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance defines as weapons that travel faster than Mach 5 (3,800mph/6,174kmh) and have the capability to maneuver during the entire flight.
    “Perhaps they will display a design model of a HGV, or launch a KN-23 on top of a bigger missile and have it do some maneuvering at reentry while claiming to have launched a HGV,” Schiller said.    “This way, they can save their limited resources, and play the same game they had over the past years.”
(Reporting by Josh Smith. Additional reporting by Sangmi Cha. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

1/2/2019 Iran not heading to war but not afraid of conflict: military commander
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the death anniversary
of the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A top Iranian commander said on Thursday that Iran was not moving toward a war but was not afraid of any conflict, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported after U.S. President Donald Trump said Tehran was behind anti-U.S. protests in Iraq.
    Trump accused Iran of orchestrating demonstrations at the U.S. embassy in Iraq on Tuesday and said Tehran would be held responsible.    Iran has rejected the accusation.
    “We are not leading the country to war, but we are not afraid of any war and we tell America to speak correctly with the Iranian nation.    We have the power to break them several times over and are not worried,” Revolutionary Guards Commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami was quoted by Tasnim as saying.
    Trump had said in a tweet on Tuesday that Iran would be “held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities.    They will pay a very BIG PRICE!    This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”    He later said he did not want or foresee a war with Iran.
    Iran’s Army chief Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said on Thursday his forces were ready to confront the “enemy.”
    “Our armed forces … monitor all moves, and if anyone makes the slightest mistake, they will decisively react, and if the situation heats up, we will show our abilities to the enemy,” Mousavi was quoted as saying by state broadcaster IRIB.
    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday condemned U.S. attacks on Iranian-allied militias in Iraq, blaming the United States for violence in Iran’s neighbor.
    Iran protested on Wednesday to a Swiss envoy, who represents U.S. interests in Tehran, over what it called “warmongering statements” by American officials.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Edmund Blair and Edmund Blair)

1/2/2020 U.S. sends aircraft over Korean Peninsula after threat of ‘new strategic weapon’ by OAN Newsroom
This Dec. 15, 2019, satellite image from Planet Lab Inc., that has been analyzed by experts at the
Middlebury Institute of International Studies, shows the Sohae Engine Test Stand in
Tongchang-ri, North Korea. (Planet Labs Inc, Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)
    The U.S. has sent another aircraft to fly over the Korean Peninsula following a warning about a “new strategic weapon” from the north.    South Korean media announced the move on Thursday, saying the U.S. Air Force flew an aircraft over the country at 31,000 feet.
    Reports claimed this type of U.S. reconnaissance aircraft has carried out similar operations since last week.
    The news comes amid stalled talks on denuclearization with Pyongyang.    In his New Year’s address, Kim Jong-un stated he no longer feels bound by a self-imposed restriction on nuclear weapons or missile tests.
People watch a TV screen showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program
at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
    The Pentagon has said the U.S. and its allies are keeping a close eye on North Korea.
    “Korea is one of those places in the world we’ve always maintained very high levels of readiness.    We stay shoulder to shoulder with our Republic of Korea counterparts militarily.    There’s a close bond also with the military of Japan.    The tripartite alliance, if you will, between Japan, the United States and the Republic of Korea is rock solid.” – Gen. Mark Milley, 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
    North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon since 2017, which resulted in critical sanctions from the UN.
    Despite the upset in relations, President Trump has maintained optimism about diplomacy moving forward.
FILE – In this June 12, 2018, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, right, meets with
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

1/3/2020 Pakistan government introduces bill to extend army chief’s tenure
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa arrives to attend
the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s government on Friday introduced legislation to extend the tenure of the army chief in line with a Supreme Court order that it must justify its wish to see the top commander stay on in the job for an extra three years.
    The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan approved an extension for General Qamar Javed Bajwa in August, citing a worsening national security situation in the region over its rivalry with India.
    But in a surprise ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the extension in November, ordering the government and army to produce legal provisions and arguments on the reasoning behind the move, pitting the judiciary against the government and powerful military.
    Pakistan’s military has ruled the country for about half its 72-year history and sets defense and security policy and recently has had a role in framing economic policies too.
    The army chief usually serves a three-year term.
    On Friday, the first day of a new parliamentary session, the government introduced a lower house bill to provide legal cover for Bajwa’s extension after managing to win the support of opposition parties, government officials said.
    “We are willing to support the legislation if the government follows parliamentary procedures,” said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of a main opposition party.
    The legalization is expected to be passed by next week, clearing way for Bajwa in his post until 2022.
    During Bajwa’s tenure, the opposition has accused the military of meddling in elections and politics to support Khan, while limiting civil liberties and muzzling the media.
    The military denies interfering in politics.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Editing by Rupam Jain)

1/3/2020 China calls for peaceful talks between the U.S. and North Korea by OAN Newsroom
People watch a TV screen showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, right, during
a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
    China is calling for peaceful dialogue to resume between the U.S. and North Korea.    On Thursday, Beijing’s foreign minister called for both Pyongyang and Washington to soften rhetoric against each other amid the heightening tensions.
    Earlier this week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said the country is planning to unveil a “new strategic weapon” to deter perceived threats from the U.S. Kim also said North Korea no longer needs to adhere to its suspension of nuclear weapons testing.
    Officials said North Korea’s threats will only hurt the prospect of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
    “In the current situation, increasing the tension is not conducive to dialogue and is not advisable,” stated Chinese Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang.    “We hope that the relevant parties will adhere to dialogue and consultation, meet each other halfway, actively seek ways to break the deadlock, and make practical efforts to promote the political settlement of the peninsula issue.”
In this undated photo taken during the period of Dec. 28 – Dec. 31, 2019 provided by the North Korean government, North Korean
leader Kim Jong Un attends a Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
    During a trilateral summit last month between Japan, China and South Korea, leaders made similar calls for peace.br>     However, North Korea continued to ramp up its rhetoric toward Washington.    Last month, the regime threatened to deliver a ‘Christmas gift’ to the U.S. if it didn’t meet Pyongyang’s year-end negotiation deadline.
    Despite this, President Trump has expressed confidence toward relations with Pyongyang.    On Wednesday, he said he thinks Kim will continue to hold true to his promises and stop testing nuclear weapons.
    “He likes me.    I like him.    We get along.    He’s representing his country.    I’m representing my country.    We have to do what we have to do, but he did sign a contract.    He did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization.    So we’re going to find out, but I think he’s a man of his word.” – Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States
    Although U.S. Intelligence agencies have said North Korea’s ‘Christmas gift’ would likely be a weapons test, there has been no indication of a new weapons launch heading into the new year.

1/3/2020 U.S. says ‘terminated’ top Iran general to thwart attack on Americans by Ahmed Rasheed, Ahmed Aboulenein and Idrees Ali
Iranian cleric Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami delivers a sermon during Friday prayers against the assassination of the
Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis
who were killed in an air strike in Baghdad airport, in Tehran, Iran January 3, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS.
    BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran promised vengeance after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad on Friday killed Qassem Soleimani, Tehran’s most prominent military commander and the architect of its growing influence in the Middle East.
    Soleimani, a 62-year-old general who headed the overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guards, was regarded as the second most powerful figure after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    The overnight attack, authorized by U.S. President Donald Trump, was a major escalation in a “shadow war” in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and American allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia.
    A senior Trump administration official said the general had been planning imminent attacks on U.S. personnel across the Middle East.    Democratic critics said the order by the Republican president was reckless and that he had raised the risk of more violence in a dangerous region.
    “Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
    “We took action last night to stop a war.    We did not take action to start a war.”
    Trump said the United States was not seeking regime change in Iran, but that Tehran must end what he called its aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters.
    A top U.S. general cautioned that the plot by Soleimani could still happen despite his death. U.S. officials said Washington was sending nearly 3,000 more troops to the Middle East, joining roughly 750 sent to Kuwait this week.
    The attack, which also killed a top Iraqi militia commander and adviser to Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, divided Iraqi opinion.
    Many condemned the attacks, seeing Soleimani as a hero for his role in defeating the Islamic State militant group.    Others voiced approval, saying Soleimani and Muhandis had backed the use of force against unarmed anti-government protesters last year and established militias that demonstrators blame for many of Iraq’s social and economic woes.
    However, many Iraqis criticized Washington for killing the men on Iraqi soil and possibly plunging Iraq into another war.
    There had already been a sharp increase in U.S.-Iranian hostilities last week when pro-Iranian militia attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad following a deadly U.S. air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.
    Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said with Friday’s attack Washington had breached Iraq’s sovereignty and violated a deal for keeping U.S. troops there.
INTELLIGENCE OPERATION
    Two Iraqi security sources said the attack followed an intelligence operation in which inside sources recruited by the CIA revealed the timing of Soleimani’s arrival in Baghdad and his convoy leaving the airport.
    Khamenei said harsh revenge awaited the “criminals” who killed Soleimani and his death would redouble resistance against the United States and Israel.    He called for three days of national mourning.
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the attack was an act of “international terrorism” and Iran would take legal action to hold Washington to account.
    U.S. officials said Soleimani was killed in a drone strike. Iran said he died in an attack by U.S. helicopters.
    Israel put its army on high alert and U.S. allies in Europe including Britain, France and Germany voiced concerns.    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “maximum restraint.”    Iran’s top Arab foe, Saudi Arabia, urged restraint.     Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo on a phone call that the killing “grossly violates international law” and would lead to serious consequences for regional peace and stability, according to a ministry statement.
    The U.S. embassy in Baghdad urged American citizens to leave Iraq immediately, and dozens of U.S. citizens working for foreign oil companies in the southern city of Basra left.    The evacuations would not affect output and exports, Iraqi officials said.
    Oil prices jumped more than $3 a barrel over concern about disruption to Middle East supplies.
‘STICK OF DYNAMITE’
    Chas Freeman, a retired U.S. ambassador, said he could think of no other example of the United States openly killing a senior foreign government official during peacetime. “This is unprecedented,” Freeman said.
    Former Vice President Joe Biden, a contender among Democrats seeking to run against Trump in November, said Trump had “tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.”
    After being briefed by U.S. officials in Washington, House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, questioned why Trump chose to act against Soleimani now, when previous administrations decided such a step would increase the risks in the region.
    “If the administration has a broader strategy, they have yet to articulate it,” Schiff told reporters.
    As chief of the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards foreign arm, Soleimani had a main role in fighting in Syria and Iraq.
    Over two decades he was at the forefront of projecting Iran’s military influence across the Middle East and survived several assassination attempts by Western, Israeli and Arab agencies, acquiring celebrity status at home and abroad.
‘SORRY FOR OUR LOSS’
    President Hassan Rouhani said the killing would stiffen Iran’s resistance to the United States.
    In the capital Tehran, hundreds of demonstrators marched toward Khamenei’s compound to convey their condolences.
    “I am not a pro-regime person but I liked Soleimani. He was brave and he loved Iran, I am very sorry for our loss,” said housewife Mina Khosrozadeh in Tehran.
    In Soleimani’s home town, Kerman, people wearing black gathered in front of his father’s house, weeping as they listened to a recitation from the Koran.
    “Heroes never die.    It cannot be true.    Qassem Soleimani will always be alive,” said Mohammad Reza Seraj, a teacher.
    Soleimani became head of the Quds Force in 1998, after which he strengthened Iran’s ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria’s government and Shi’ite militia groups in Iraq.
    The slain commander’s force, along with battle-hardened paramilitary proxies in the region, has ample means to respond.
    In September, U.S. officials blamed Iran for a missile and drone attack on oil plants of energy giant Saudi Aramco.    Washington has also blamed Tehran for raids on Gulf shipping.
    Iran has denied responsibility for the strikes and accused Washington of warmongering by reimposing crippling sanctions on Iran’s main export, oil, in order to force Tehran to renegotiate a deal to freeze its nuclear activities.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Ahmed Aboulenein; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali, Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert, Mary Milliken and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Parisa Hafezi and Michael Georgy in Dubai, Maha El Dahan in Baghdad, Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem, Polina Ivanova in Moscow, Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Writing by Samia Nakhoul, Frances Kerry, Daniel Wallis; Editing by William Maclean/Giles Elgood and Grant McCool)

1/3/2020 Iranian foreign minister condemns U.S. killing of Gen. Soleimani by OAN Newsroom
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
during their talks in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
    Iran’s foreign minister said any response to the U.S. airstrike, which killed a top revolutionary guard general, would be out Tehran’s control.    During a Friday interview, Javad Zarif said the government has a right to respond anytime, anywhere, and would not be involved in America’s smear campaigns or blackmailing.
    He added America’s actions should make U.S. citizens feel unsafe and suggested America will regret attacking their military officials.
    “Americans made a big mistake, the response to which will certainly be out of the hands of the Islamic Republic,” stated Zarif.    “They took an action of which they will see the consequences without us taking any measures.”
    The foreign minister also called the airstrike an “obvious terror attack” and declared the act “cowardly.”
FILE – In this Sept. 18, 2016, file photo provided by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Revolutionary
Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File)
    This came after the leader of an Iranian resistance movement called Soleimani’s death an “irreparable blow” to the regime.    Maryam Rajavi said following the general’s death, the possibility of overthrowing the ruling regime is now “in reach.”
    Rajavi currently serves as the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.    The leader noted Soleimani was responsible for “numerous deaths” of both Americans and Iranians.    She called him “one of the most vicious criminals of Iran’s history.”
    She also praised the death of the leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces, who was also killed in the airstrike.
Supporters of Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, demonstrate in Paris,
Friday Feb.8, 2019 as Iran marks the 40th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
    Despite these remarks, President Trump has made it clear that the airstrike was not undertaken as an act of war and that his administration does not seek a regime change in Iran.
    “We took action last night to stop a war, we did not take action to start a war.    I have deep respect for the Iranian people.    We do not seek a regime change.    However, the Iranian regime’s aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors, must end now.” – Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States

1/4/2020 To skirt police restrictions, some Indian protesters take a page from Hong Kong and beyond by Devjyot Ghoshal and Chandini Monnappa
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators display a placard during a flash protest against a new
citizenship law, in Hyderabad, India, January 1, 2020. REUTERS/Ranadheer Bakkannagari
    NEW DELHI/BENGALURU (Reuters) – Before midnight on New Year’s Eve, a call to action was sent on a private WhatsApp group – within the hour, dozens gathered in the center of the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, many holding banners to protest a controversial new citizenship law.
    Police quickly dispersed the group and briefly detained six people, but for Syed Faheem – who formed the WhatsApp group – it marked another successful flash protest, inspired by tactics used by protesters in Hong Kong.
    Faheem, a software consultant, is one of a growing group of opponents to the new law who have begun to borrow tactics used in protests from Hong Kong to Paris, to protest legislation that critics say discriminates against Muslims.
    In Hyderabad, some protesters say it is impossible to secure police permission to hold demonstrations, forcing them to adopt new tactics to show dissent.
    “The objective is to get 30 minutes at one spot. Some people support us, others come and argue with us,” said Faheem, who has organized regular flash protests through WhatsApp messages that are amplified via social media.
    The location of the protests, which change daily, are posted just an hour or two in advance, with the exact spots shared just minutes ahead of time.
    Hyderabad’s police chief Anjani Kumar told Reuters people are being permitted to gather in areas such as sports grounds, or indoor auditoriums to protest, but added: “We’ve not given permission for any rally or procession because that affects traffic.”
‘BE WATER’
    In Hong Kong, where anti-government demonstrations have raged on for months, protesters adopted a “be water” strategy, inspired by martial arts legend Bruce Lee, popping up in different locations almost daily to catch authorities flat-footed.
    Sharjeel Imam, who helped organize a New Delhi sit-in protest against the new law that has run for weeks, said he plans to adopt the flash mob strategy to keep the agitation going.
    In Hyderabad, the idea to copy Hong Kong’s play-book came as protestors sought ways to run a long-term campaign that police would find hard to curb, two members from Faheem’s group said.
    “Hong Kong has been pivotal….It was very inspiring,” said a 30-year-old IT professional, who declined to be identified.
    After police restricted protests in another southern city, students at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore took inspiration from 2015 protests in Paris where shoes were put on display – in place of canceled protests – to support action against climate change.    Students also borrowed ideas from the 1975 protests against the imposition of an emergency in India.
    “Police weren’t letting us place placards with any messages, so we copied what the press did in 1975 and left blank placards with ‘Concerned Citizens of IIM-Bangalore’ written on them,” a student involved in the protest said.
    “Generations later, when they ask us what we did when they came for the Muslims, I at least want to be able to say – ‘We tried',” she said.
(Reporting by Devjyot Goshal in New Delhi and Chandini Monnappa in Bengaluru; Editing by Euan Rocha & Kim Coghill)

1/4/2020 Thousands gather in Baghdad to mourn Soleimani, others killed in U.S. air strike
FILE PHOTO: Iranian demonstrators react during a protest against the killing of the Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head
of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport,
in front of United Nations office in Tehran, Iran January 3, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Thousands of mourners gathered in Baghdad on Saturday ahead of a funeral procession for Iran’s slain military commander Qassem Soleimani, Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and others killed in a U.S. air strike in Iraq.
    Friday’s attack on Baghdad airport, authorized by U.S. President Donald Trump, was a major escalation in a “shadow war” in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and American allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia.
    Soleimani was Tehran’s most prominent military commander and the architect of its growing influence in the Middle East.    Muhandis was the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella body of paramilitary groups.
    The PMF are planning an elaborate funeral procession for both men and the others who died, starting in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, moving towards the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala and ending in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf.
    Mourners started gathering in Baghdad’s streets in the morning ahead of the start of the procession, waving Iraqi and militia flags in a somber atmosphere.
    Earlier on Saturday, Iraq’s PMF had said further air strikes near camp Taji had killed six people and critically wounded three when they hit a convoy of medics.
    But both the Iraqi military and the PMF itself later denied any air strikes had taken place in the area.
    The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State also said it did not conduct any recent attacks near the camp north of Baghdad.
    “FACT: the coalition … did not conduct airstrikes near Camp Taji (north of Baghdad) in recent days,” a coalition spokesman said on Twitter.
    U.S.-Iranian hostilities have been playing out in Iraq since last week when pro-Iranian militia attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad following a deadly U.S. air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.
    Friday’s attack divided Iraqi opinion.
    Many condemned the strikes, seeing Soleimani as a hero for his role in defeating the Islamic State militant group.    Others voiced approval, saying Soleimani and Muhandis had backed the use of force against unarmed anti-government protesters last year and established militias that demonstrators blame for many of Iraq’s social and economic woes.
    Many Iraqis criticized Washington for killing the men on Iraqi soil and possibly plunging Iraq into another war.
(Reporting By Ahmed Aboulenein; Additional reporting by Nayera Abdallah in Cairo; Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Kim Coghill, Himani Sarkar and Toby Chopra)

1/4/2020 U.S. ‘self-defense’ argument for killing Soleimani meets skepticism by Andrew Chung
Iranian guards hold a picture of the late Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, during a protest against the killing of Soleimani,
head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport,
in front of United Nation office in Tehran, Iran January 3, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Nazanin Tabatabaee via REUTERS
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Friday justified its killing of a top Iranian general as an act of self-defense, trying to deflect accusations that it violated international law and concerns raised by legal experts and a senior U.N. rights investigator.
    Qassem Soleimani, the 62-year-old commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in the U.S. air strike in Baghdad overnight.    The attack, ordered by President Donald Trump, sent tensions between the United States and Iran soaring, with Iranian officials promising revenge.
    As Republican and Democratic lawmakers sparred over the wisdom of the attack, some legal experts questioned whether Trump had the legal authority to target Soleimani on Iraqi soil without the permission of Iraq’s government, and whether it was legal under international and U.S. law.
    Iraq’s prime minister said Washington had with the attack violated a deal for keeping U.S. troops in his country, and several Iraqi political factions united in a call for American troops to be expelled.
    The U.N. Charter generally prohibits the use of force against other states but there is an exception if a state gives consent to the use of force on its territory.    Legal experts said the absence of consent from Iraq makes it difficult for the United States to justify the killing.
    Yale Law School professor Oona Hathaway, an international law expert, said on Twitter that the available facts “do not seem to support” the assertion that the strike was an act of self-defense, and concluded it was “legally tenuous under both domestic and international law.”
    The Pentagon said targeting Soleimani was aimed at deterring “future Iranian attack plans,” while Trump said the Iranian general was targeted because he was planning “imminent and sinister” attacks on U.S. diplomats and military personnel.
    Robert Chesney, a national security law expert at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, said the administration’s best argument on the U.N. Charter issue is self defense.    “If you accept that this guy was planning operations to kill Americans, that provides the authority to respond,” he said.
    Scott Anderson, a former legal adviser to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, said Trump’s justification so far under international law is questionable, but he could try to argue that the Iraqi government was either unwilling or unable to deal with the threat posed by Soleimani, giving the United States the right to act without Iraq’s consent.
    Article 51 of the U.N. Charter covers an individual or collective right to self-defense against armed attack.    The United States used the article to justify taking action in Syria against Islamic State militants in 2014.
    U.S. forces in Iraq had been fighting Islamic State, and about 5,000 troops remain, most of them in an advisory capacity.
    A strategic framework agreement signed in 2008 between Washington and Baghdad called for close defense cooperation to deter threats to Iraqi “sovereignty, security and territorial integrity,” but prohibited the United States from using Iraq as a launching point for attacks on other countries.
    Under historic norms of international law, a country can defend itself preemptively if it acts out of necessity and responds proportionally to the threat.
    Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, questioned whether the attack met this threshold.
    The targeting of Soleimani “appears far more retaliatory for past acts than anticipatory for imminent self-defense,” she said.    “Lawful justifications for such killings are very narrowly defined and it is hard to imagine how any of these can apply to these killings.”
    Democratic lawmakers called on Trump to provide details about the imminent threat that he said Soleimani represented.
    “I believe there was a threat, but the question of how imminent is still one I want answered,” Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Reuters.
    Other critics raised questions about Trump’s authority to kill Soleimani under U.S. law, and whether he should have acted without first notifying Congress.
    Legal experts noted that recent U.S. presidents from both parties have taken an expansive view of their unilateral ability to preemptively engage in force, including through targeted killings, a view bolstered by executive branch lawyers in successive administrations.
    In the case of Soleimani, the administration’s self-defense arguments may hinge on disclosing specific knowledge of his imminent plans to attack Americans.
    Self-defense could allow the administration to act without having to first notify Congress or act under a prior congressional authorization for the use of military force, Chesney said.
    Democratic lawmakers did not defend Soleimani, who U.S. officials have said is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, but they called on Trump to consult with Congress going forward.
    “This administration, like all others, has the right to act in self-defense,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst who worked in Iraq focusing on Iranian-backed militias.    “But the administration must come to Congress immediately and consult.”
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols, Susan Cornwell, Michael Georgy, Ahmed Rasheed and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
[IT SURE SOUNDS LIKE THE DEMOCRATS OF THE U.S. ARE FOR THE IRANIANS OVER AMERICA.    VOTE FOR TRUMP AND EVERY REPUBLICAN AND SAVE OUR COUNTRY FROM THESE PROGRESSIVE LIBERAL SOCIALISTS.].

1/4/2020 Inside the plot by Iran’s Soleimani to attack U.S. forces in Iraq by Reuters staff
FILE PHOTO: Iranian demonstrators chant slogans during a protest against the killing of the Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani,
head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport,
in front of United Nations office in Tehran, Iran January 3, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Nazanin Tabatabaee via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – In mid-October, Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani met with his Iraqi Shi’ite militia allies at a villa on the banks of the Tigris River, looking across at the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad.     The Revolutionary Guards commander instructed his top ally in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and other powerful militia leaders to step up attacks on U.S. targets in the country using sophisticated new weapons provided by Iran, two militia commanders and two security sources briefed on the gathering told Reuters.
    The strategy session, which has not been previously reported, came as mass protests against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq were gaining momentum, putting the Islamic Republic in an unwelcome spotlight.    Soleimani’s plans to attack U.S. forces aimed to provoke a military response that would redirect that rising anger toward the United States, according to the sources briefed on the gathering, Iraqi Shi’ite politicians and government officials close to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
    Soleimani’s efforts ended up provoking the U.S. attack on Friday that killed him and Muhandis, marking a major escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran.    The two men died in air strikes on their convoy at a Baghdad airport as they headed to the capital, dealing a major blow to the Islamic Republic and the Iraqi paramilitary groups it supports.
    Interviews with the Iraqi security sources and Shi’ite militia commanders offer a rare glimpse of how Soleimani operated in Iraq, which he once told a Reuters reporter he knew like the back of his hand.
    Two weeks before the October meeting, Soleimani ordered Iranian Revolutionary Guards to move more sophisticated weapons – such as Katyusha rockets and shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down helicopters – to Iraq through two border crossings, the militia commanders and Iraqi security sources told Reuters.
    At the Baghdad villa, Soleimani told the assembled commanders to form a new militia group of low-profile paramilitaries – unknown to the United States – who could carry out rocket attacks on Americans housed at Iraqi military bases.    He ordered Kataib Hezbollah – a force founded by Muhandis and trained in Iran – to direct the new plan, said the militia sources briefed on the meetings.
    Soleimani told them such a group “would be difficult to detect by the Americans,” one of the militia sources told Reuters.
    Before the attacks, the U.S. intelligence community had reason to believe that Soleimani was involved in “late stage” planning to strike Americans in multiple countries, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, U.S. officials told Reuters Friday on condition of anonymity. One senior U.S. official said Soleimani had supplied advanced weaponry to Kataib Hezbollah.
    White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters on Friday that Soleimani had just come from Damascus, “where he was planning attacks on American soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors and against our diplomats.”
    An official at the headquarters of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards declined to comment.    A spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry was not available for comment.
PICKING U.S. TARGETS WITH DRONES
    The United States has grown increasingly concerned about Iran’s influence over the ruling elite in Iraq, which has been beset for months by protesters who accuse the government of enriching itself and serving the interests of foreign powers, especially Iran, as Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs or basic services.
    Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was instrumental in expanding Iran’s military influence in the Middle East as the operative who handles clandestine operations outside Iran.    The 62-year-old general was regarded as the second-most powerful figure in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    Muhandis, a former Iraqi lawmaker, oversaw Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella grouping of paramilitary forces mostly consisting of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias that was formally integrated into Iraq’s armed forces.
    Muhandis, like Soleimani, had long been on the radar of the United States, which had declared Muhandis a terrorist.    In 2007, a Kuwaiti court sentenced him to death in absentia for his involvement in the 1983 U.S. and French embassy bombings in Kuwait.
    Soleimani picked Kataib Hezbollah to lead the attacks on U.S. forces in the region because it had the capability to use drones to scout targets for Katyusha rocket attacks, one of the militia commanders told Reuters.    Among the weapons that Soleimani’s forces supplied to its Iraqi militia allies last fall was a drone Iran had developed that could elude radar systems, the militia commanders said.
    Kataib Hezbollah used the drones to gather aerial footage of locations where U.S. troops were deployed, according to two Iraqi security officials who monitor the movements of militias.
    On December 11, a senior U.S. military official said attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq were increasing and becoming more sophisticated, pushing all sides closer to an uncontrollable escalation.
    His warning came two days after four Katyusha rockets struck a base near Baghdad international airport, wounding five members of Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service.    No group claimed responsibility for the attack but a U.S. military official said intelligence and forensic analyses of the rockets and launchers pointed to Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia groups, notably Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
    On Dec. 27 more than 30 rockets were fired at an Iraqi military base near the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk.    The attack killed a U.S. civilian contractor and wounded four American and two Iraq servicemen.
    Washington accused Kataib Hezbollah of carrying out the attack, an allegation it denied.    The United States then launched air strikes two days later against the militia, killing at least 25 militia fighters and wounding 55.
    The attacks sparked two days of violent protests by supporters of Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary groups who stormed the U.S.     Embassy’s perimeter and hurled rocks, prompting Washington to dispatch extra troops to the region and threaten reprisals against Tehran.
    On Thursday – the day before the attack that killed Soleimani – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned that the United States might have to take preemptive action to protect American lives from expected attacks by Iran-backed militias.     “The game has changed,” he said.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

1/4/2020 Profiles of Taiwan’s presidential candidates
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen visits the 6th Army Command, ahead
of Lunar New Year, in Taoyuan, Taiwan January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan votes in presidential and parliamentary elections next Saturday, with three candidates standing for the position of president, including current leader Tsai Ing-wen who is up for re-election at the end of her first four-year term.
    Here are profiles of the three presidential candidates.
TSAI ING-WEN
    Tsai, 63, became Taiwan’s first female president in 2016 following massive protests over a proposed trade pact with China that had been championed by the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou from the Kuomintang party, which favors close ties with China.
    Growing up in a well-off family in Taipei, Tsai graduated with a degree in law from the island’s top university before going first to Cornell and then the London School of Economics where she got her doctorate in trade law.
    After a career in academia, Tsai was part of the team negotiating Taiwan’s entry into the World Trade Organization and then joined the China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council, which she ended up running from 2000 to 2004.
    Tsai joined the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which favors Taiwan’s formal independence, in 2004, and briefly served as a vice premier from 2006-2007.
    Tsai, an animal lover who frequently posts pictures of herself with cats and dogs on her social media pages, first stood for president in 2012, but lost to Ma who won a second term in office.
    Since taking office China has heaped pressure on Tsai, fearing she is pushing Taiwan toward formal independence.    Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, and has vowed to defend the island’s democracy and liberties.
    Tsai says a vote for her is a vote against Taiwan becoming “a second Hong Kong” and being forced to accept a union with China under a “one country, two systems” principle.    Tsai has repeatedly said Taiwan faces a life and death threat to its existence and democratic way of life from China.
HAN KUO-YU
    Han, 62, is the mayor of the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, and is the candidate for the Kuomintang, which once ruled mainland China before it was forced to flee to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of the Chinese civil war.
    Han went to a military academy and then studied English literature at Taipei’s prestigious Soochow University.
    In 1992, Han won election to parliament, but later dropped out of politics before re-appearing in 2017 to run for the chairmanship of the Kuomintang – which he lost – though the following year he became the party’s Kaohsiung mayoral candidate.
    With a strong social media presence, Han unexpectedly won the election in a city which had traditionally been a DPP stronghold, promising to boost the economy in a city hard hit by factories moving to produce in far cheaper China.
    Han has been combative on the campaign trail, not afraid to directly denounce media he doesn’t like and accusing Tsai of being a covert supporter of Taiwan independence for refusing to call Taiwan by its Republic of China name.    Tsai says this is nonsense.
    Han has promised to repair ties with China, though he has also rejected “one country, two systems,” and says he supports the passage of a refugee law to help protesters who have fled Hong Kong for Taiwan.
JAMES SOONG
    Soong, 77, is a former senior Kuomintang politician now chairman of his own organization, the small People First Party.    This is the fifth time he has stood for president or vice president.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Michael Perry)

1/4/2020 China replaces head of Hong Kong liaison office amid ongoing protests by Keith Zhai
FILE PHOTO: Communist Party Secretary of Shanxi province Luo Huining attends a session of his province on the second day of the 19th
National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter - RC16EEA2D5F0
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China has replaced the head of its Hong Kong Liaison Office, the most senior mainland political official based in the Chinese-controlled territory, following more than six months of often-violent anti-government protests in the city.
    China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said on its website late on Saturday that Wang Zhimin, who had held the post since 2017, had been replaced by 65-year-old Luo Huining, who until November was the top official of China’s ruling Communist Party in the northern province of Shanxi.
    Reuters reported exclusively in November that Beijing was considering potential replacements for Wang, in a sign of dissatisfaction with the Liaison Office’s handling of the crisis, the worst since the city reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Saturday’s statement gave no other details on the change.
    Luo, a loyalist of President Xi Jinping, has not previously held any Hong Kong-related position and is at the age when top Chinese officials typically retire.    In Shanxi, he had been tasked with cleaning up a graft-ridden, coal-rich region where corruption was once likened to cancer.
    The Liaison Office, which reports to China’s State Council, serves as the platform for Beijing to project its influence in the city, and has come in for criticism in Hong Kong and mainland China for misjudging the situation in the city.
    Wang is the shortest serving Liaison office director since 1997.
    Writing in the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily in 2017, Luo said Shanxi province had been ardently following instructions from Xi to clean up the mess there.
    “All the province’s people have deeply felt that the all-out efforts to enforce party discipline have been like spring rain washing away the smog,” Luo wrote.
    Before moving to Shanxi, Luo had been the top party official in the western province of Qinghai.
    “Shanxi has gone from being a victim of a regression in its political environment to being a beneficiary of all-out efforts to enforce party discipline,” he wrote in 2017.
STAUNCH SUPPORT
    Mass protests erupted in June in Hong Kong over an extradition bill that would have allowed individuals to be sent for trial to the mainland, where justice is controlled by the Communist Party.
    Though the bill was withdrawn, protests have continued over a broad perception that Beijing is meddling improperly in city affairs and complaints of police brutality.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said in a statement on Saturday that the Liaison Office would continue under Luo’s leadership to work with the Hong Kong government for the “positive development” of the relationship between the mainland and Hong Kong.
    She added that Luo’s predecessor had provided “staunch support” to the Hong Kong government’s efforts to curb violence and uphold the rule of law during the unrest of recent months.
(Reporting by Keith Zhai in Singapore and Vincent Lee in Beijing; additional reporting by Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong; Writing by Engen Tham, Tony Munroe and Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Toby Chopra and Gareth Jones)

1/4/2020 Tens of thousands march in southern India to protest citizenship law by Vinod Babu and Manoj Kumar
Demonstrators hold placards and flags as they attend a protest rally against
a new citizenship law, in Hyderabad, India, January 4, 2020. REUTERS/Vinod Babu
    HYDERABAD/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Over one hundred thousand protesters, many carrying the Indian tricolour flag, took part in a peaceful march in the southern city of Hyderabad on Saturday, chanting slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new citizenship law.
    The protest, dubbed the ‘Million March’, was organized by an umbrella group of Muslim and civil society organizations. More than 40 percent of Hyderabad’s estimated population of nearly 7 million are Muslims.
    Demonstrators were still pouring into the protest site late on Saturday afternoon, according to a Reuters witness, despite police saying no march would be allowed and that permission had only been granted for a 1,000-person gathering.
    The Indian government has faced weeks of acrimonious and, at times, violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed by Modi’s government in December.
    The Hyderabad protesters held placards with slogans including “Withdraw CAA immediately,” and “India’s only religion in Secularism.”
    The Reuters witness said the protest remained peaceful, and estimated that more than one hundred thousand people were in attendance.
    The new law eases the path for non-Muslim minorities from the neighboring Muslim-majority nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain Indian citizenship.    But, if combined with a proposed national register of citizens, critics of the CAA fear it will discriminate against minority Muslims in India and chip away at India’s secular constitution.
    Modi’s government maintains the new law is necessary to help minorities facing persecution in Muslim-majority nations, and it has called the pan-India protests politically motivated.
    At least 25 people have been killed in protest-related clashes with police since early December.
    Elsewhere, protests against the CAA also went ahead in several other Indian cities on Saturday with hundreds turning out for protests in cities in the southern state of Karnataka.
    Hundreds of men and women gathered at a rally in the tech hub of Bengaluru, with some accusing Modi’s government of trying to divide India along communal lines, to distract from a sharp domestic economic slowdown and job losses.
(Reporting by Vinod Babu in Hyderabad and Manoj Kumar in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Devjyot Goshal in New Delhi; Writing by Euan Rocha; editing by James Drummond)

1/5/2020 Iran condemns Trump as ‘terrorist in a suit’ after attack threat by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks following the U.S. Military airstrike against Iranian General
Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq, in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., January 3, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran condemned Donald Trump on Sunday as a “terrorist in a suit” after the U.S. president threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites hard if Tehran attacks Americans or U.S. assets in retaliation for the killing of military commander Qassem Soleimani.
    “Like ISIS, Like Hitler, Like Genghis!    They all hate cultures.    Trump is a terrorist in a suit.    He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat ‘the Great Iranian Nation & Culture’,” Information and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi tweeted.
    Soleimani, Iran’s pre-eminent military commander, was killed on Friday in a U.S. drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport, an attack that has taken long-running hostilities between Washington and Tehran into uncharted territory and raised the specter of wider conflict in the Middle East.
    Soleimani was the architect of Tehran’s overseas clandestine and military operations as head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.
    Giving no indication of seeking to defuse tensions after the strike he ordered, Trump issued a stern threat to the Islamic Republic.
    In a series of tweets on Saturday he said Iran “is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets” to avenge Soleimani’s death.
    Trump said the United States has “targeted 52 Iranian sites” and that some were “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”
    He said the 52 targets represented the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran after being seized at the U.S. Embassy in 1979 during the country’s Islamic Revolution.
    Iran’s army chief, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, was quoted by state television on Sunday as saying the United States lacked the courage for military confrontation with Iran.
    “In a potential conflict in the future, which I don’t think they (Americans) have the courage to carry out, there it will become clear where the numbers five and two will belong,” he said.
    Trump said on Friday Soleimani had been plotting “imminent and sinister” attacks on U.S. diplomats and military personnel. Democratic critics said the Republican president’s action was reckless and risked more bloodshed in a dangerous region. FEAR OF WAR WITH SUPERPOWER
    While many Iranians have rallied in to show grief over the death of Soleimani, regarded as the country’s second most powerful figure after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, others worry that his death might push the country to war with a superpower.
    On Friday, Khamenei promised harsh revenge and declared three days of mourning.
    Soleimani’s body was flown to the city of Ahvaz in southwest Iran.    IRIB posted a video clip of a casket wrapped in an Iranian flag being unloaded from a plane as a military band played.
    Thousands of mourners dressed in black marched through the streets of Ahvaz beating their chests in live footage aired on state TV.
IRAQI ANGER
    British foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday he had spoken to Iraq’s prime minister and president to urge efforts to relieve tensions in the region following the U.S. strike.
    Raab, who described Soleimani as a “regional menace” and said he was sympathetic to the situation the United States found itself in, said he also planned to speak to Iran’s foreign minister.
    “There is a route through which allows Iran to come in from out of the international cold,” he told Sky News.    “We need to contain the nefarious actions of Iran but we also need to de-escalate and stabilize the situation.”
    Friday’s U.S. air strike also killed Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
    Iraq’s parliament was set to convene an extraordinary session on Sunday where lawmakers told Reuters they would push for a vote on a resolution requiring the government to request the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
    “There is no need for the presence of American forces after defeating Daesh (Islamic State),” said Ammar al-Shibli, a Shi’ite lawmaker and member of parliament’s legal committee.
    Despite decades of enmity between Iran and the United States, Iran-backed militia and U.S. troops fought side by side during Iraq’s 2014-2017 war against Islamic State militants.
    Around 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, most of them in an advisory capacity.
    The militia were incorporated into government forces under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces which Muhandis led.
    Many Iraqis, including opponents of Soleimani, have expressed anger at Washington for killing the two men on Iraqi soil and possibly dragging their country into another conflict.
    On Saturday evening, a rocket fell inside Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone near the U.S. embassy, another hit the nearby Jadriya neighborhood and two more were fired at the Balad air base north of the city.    No one was killed, the Iraqi military said.
    The U.S. strike followed a spike in U.S.-Iranian hostilities in Iraq since last week when pro-Iranian militias attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad after a deadly U.S. air raid on Kataib Hezbollah, a militia founded by Muhandis.    Washington accused the group of an attack on an Iraqi military base that killed an American contractor.
(Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/5/2020 Iran names new commander of Quds Force following Soleimani’s death by OAN Newsroom
In this May 24, 2017 photo, Gen. Esmail Ghaani speaks in a meeting at the shrine of the late revolutionary
founder Ayatollah Khomeini just outside Tehran, Iran. (Hossein Zohrevand/Tasnim News Agency via AP)
    Iran has officially named the successor of General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. led airstrike earlier this week.    Iranian Commander Esmail Ghaani assumed leadership of the Quds Force this week, hours after Soleimani’s death.
    Iranian state media said Ghaani threatened to take revenge on the United States.
    “Be patient, and you will see the bodies of Americans all over the Middle East,” he said.
    Iran’s supreme leader said the program of the Quds Force will remain unchanged as the commander settles into his new position.    Reports said Ghaani is one of the top deputies in the country’s forces.

Protesters demonstrate outside the US Embassy in London, Sunday Jan. 5, 2020, after the US killed the head of Tehran’s elite Quds Force
and Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, right in photo, in a drone strike at Baghdad’s international airport. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)
    Following Soleimani’s death, Iran asked the United Nations to condemn the United States. On Saturday, officials sent letters to the UN Security Council, claiming the airstrike was an act of terrorism that should not be tolerated.
    Other UN ambassadors have also condemned the attack, saying the action will only make tensions worse.
    “The great power of the United States (was) used to kill somebody the way gangs do it,” stated Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari.    “This is why the Syrian Arab Republic condemns, in the strongest terms, the U.S. criminal aggression.”
    A red flag, which represents what the country is calling “wrongful bloodshed,” was put up in Iran on Saturday as a sign of revenge.    Since Soleimani’s death, many Iranians have vowed to avenge him.

1/5/2020 Iran to exit 2015 nuclear deal, ramps up threats against U.S. by OAN Newsroom
Supporters of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wave flags and placards that say “we vow revenge,”
ahead of the leader’s televised speech in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020 following
the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
    On Sunday, Iran’s Ayatollah regime said it will no longer abide by the terms of 2015 nuclear deal.    The Foreign Ministry of Iran announced Tehran will take unspecified new steps to boost its nuclear research and development program.
    Officials didn’t provide additional details on their further steps.    This came after a U.S. airstrike in Iraq last week, which resulted in the death of Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani.
    The Ayatollah regime also escalated confrontational rhetoric by calling President Trump a “terrorist in a suit.”
    “We recognize this as an act of state terrorism,” stated spokesman Abbas Mousavi.    “We have declared this, and we had to declare that any consequences of this action will be on account of those who committed it, especially the terrorist government of the U.S.
Mourners step over a U.S. flags with pictures of President Trump while waiting for the funeral of Iran’s
top general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq
known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
    Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah has threatened attacks against U.S. forces and citizens all across the Middle East.    On Saturday, an Iranian senior commander identified 35 U.S. targets that the country is considering attacking.    This list included Tel Aviv and American ships in the Strait of Hormuz.
    “The Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West, a large number of American destroyers and warships cross there,” stated Gen. Gholamali Abuhamzeh.    “Vital American targets in the region have been identified by Iran since long time ago…some 35 U.S. targets in the region as well as Tel Aviv are within our reach.”
    He said Iran reserves the right to take revenge against the U.S. for killing General Soleimani.
Protesters demonstrate over the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, Saturday Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    President Trump reiterated his stance on Twitter, saying that the U.S. will “fully strike backz” if attacked.
    He earlier touted America’s military strength and said his administration will not hesitate to send “some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way.”

    This photo provided by the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force personnel load 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division
equipment on C-17 Globemaster aircraft bound for the U.S. Central Command area of operations from
Fort Bragg, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (Spc. Justin Stafford/U.S. Army via AP)

1/5/2020 Iran says no limits on enrichment, stepping further from 2015 deal: TV by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran announced on Sunday it would abandon limitations on enriching uranium, taking a further step back from commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, but it would continue to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
    Iran had been expected to announce its latest stance on the deal this weekend.    But its announcement coincided with a major escalation of hostilities with Washington following the U.S. killing of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike on Friday in Baghdad.
    State television said Iran would not respect any limits set down in the pact on the country’s nuclear work: whether the limit on its number of uranium enrichment centrifuges to its enrichment capacity, the level to which uranium could be enriched, the amount of stockpiled enriched uranium or Iran’s nuclear Research and Development activities.
    “Iran will continue its nuclear enrichment with no restrictions …. and based on its technical needs,” a government statement cited by television said.
    Iran has steadily overstepped the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities in response to the United States’ withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and Washington’s reimposition of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s oil trade.
    Under the nuclear deal, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions.
    Relations between Tehran and Washington sharply deteriorated after President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the deal.    Iran has criticized European powers for failing to salvage the pact by shielding its economy from U.S. sanctions.
    Sunday’s statement said Tehran can quickly reverse its steps if U.S. sanctions are removed.
    “This step is within JCPOA (deal) & all 5 steps are reversible upon EFFECTIVE implementation of reciprocal obligations,” tweeted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif referencing the acronym that stands for the deal’s official name, “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
    A European Diplomat, who declined to be named, said the “deal is all but dead,” but said that Europe would do everything possible to slow proliferation and “try and save what can be saved.”
    Mark Fitzpatrick, associate fellow and nuclear non-proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Iran’s latest step left room for diplomacy.
    “They are not saying how far they will push the enrichment or the number of centrifuges they’ll operate,” Fitzpatrick told Reuters.    “I think they have reserved a lot of room for negotiation and for taking further steps if they need to.”
‘MAXIMUM PRESSURE’
    Washington says the “maximum pressure” campaign it started after withdrawing from the nuclear agreement will force Iran to negotiate a more sweeping deal, covering its ballistic missile program and its role in Middle Eastern conflicts.    Iran says it will not negotiate a new deal.
    Tehran has rejected Western assertions that it has sought to develop nuclear weapons.
    Iran has already breached many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities, including on the purity to which it enriches uranium, its stock of enriched uranium, which models of centrifuge it enriches uranium with and where it enriches uranium.
    It has, however, not gone far over the purity allowed – the deal sets a limit of 3.67% and Iran has stayed around 4.5% in recent months, well below the 20% it reached before the deal and the roughly 90% that is weapons-grade.
    The deal as a whole was designed to increase the time Iran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it wanted one.

1/5/2020 Thousands protest in Pakistan over U.S. killing of Iranian commander by Syed Raza Hassan and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
Pakistani Shi'ite Muslims carry flags and signs to protest the death of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a airstrike
near Baghdad, as they march on a road leading towards the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan January 5, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
    KARACHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Protestors clashed with police in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi on Sunday, as thousands of demonstrators attempted to march toward the U.S. consulate to protest the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.
    Soleimani, a powerful Iranian military commander and the architect of Iran’s spreading military influence in the Middle East, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq on Friday.
    In Karachi, thousands of Shi’ite protestors, including women and children, carrying images of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as of Soleimani, marched and chanted slogans of “Death to America,” and “Death to Israel.”
    The protest was organized by a diverse group of Shi’ite Muslim organizations.
    Pakistani security forces blocked the road leading to the U.S. consulate in Karachi using shipping containers.    However, some protestors attempted to push through the security cordon and climb over the containers, leading to scuffles with security forces.
    Police were able to push protestors back and prevent them from getting beyond the barricades.    Following a brief period of tension on Sunday evening, the demonstration was called off.
    Iran, with a Shi’ite Muslim majority, enjoys a large support base in Pakistan, its neighbor to the east.    Though Pakistan is a Sunni Muslim-majority country, it has a fairly large Shi’ite population.
    “Pakistan should not in any way allow its soil to be used against Iran,” a senior cleric, Shahanshah Naqvi, said while addressing the protest rally.
    A smaller rally was also held in the capital, Islamabad, where protestors burnt U.S. and Israeli flags.
    It dispersed without any violence.
    Earlier, the spokesperson of Pakistan’s Army told local media the country would not allow its soil to be used against anyone, referring to speculation about an imminent military standoff between the United States and Iran.
    He quoted Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Army chief as saying they wanted a peaceful resolution to all disputes.
(Reporting by Syed Hassan in Karachi and Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Editing by Euan Rocha and Frances Kerry)

1/6/2020 In Hong Kong’s tranquil borderlands, two systems co-exist by Sharon Tam
Andrew Kwok returns home from fishing to his farmhouse in Lok Ma Chau village in Hong Kong, China,
October 29, 2019. Shenzhen's high rise building can be seen in the distance. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – More than two decades after Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, a long border fence still threads between mainland China and the city today.
    The varied landscapes and lives of residents wedged in these borderlands speak of two different systems that have co-existed on one another’s doorstep.
(Click https://reut.rs/2ZCU2tm to see a picture package of these borderlands.)
    Far from the marches and salvos of tear gas and petrol bombs over the past half-year of anti-government protests that have convulsed Hong Kong, the residents in this border realm have borne witness to both rapid urbanization as China booms, as well as the preservation of a slower pace of life.
    About 30km (20 miles) long, this boundary meanders between fish ponds, farmland, sleepy traditional villages and grassy hills on the Hong Kong side, with the gleaming skyscrapers of China’s high-tech city of Shenzhen on the other.
    Shenzhen, once itself the bucolic backwater, has risen into China’s giddy vision of a digital, high-tech future.
    Mr. Lam, now in his 80s, lives in a house without mobile phone reception, where he farms and catches crabs.    A narrow sliver of water separates him from mainland China.
    He recalls living in a wooden cabin along the ‘Shenzhen river’ with his family 70 years ago.    There were only “old and broken” sheds on the far shore back then, he says, gazing into the distance.
    “Of course, the mainland is much more advanced than before. Everything is good, even the streets are beautiful.”
    Over past decades of political upheaval in Communist China, waves of mainlanders flooded across the border into Hong Kong, seeking peace and a better life.    Mr. Lam still remembers the flashlights of the British-run police piercing the dark as they chased illegal immigrants making a dash for freedom.
    Andrew Kwok, an old fish farmer living in the area, recalls those who drowned making the perilous crossing.
    “There were a lot of them, hundreds of dead bodies in the river,” he said.
    The flickering, lonely torches have now been replaced by a vibrant mega-city with a million flashing lights.
    The living quality for people on both sides may have converged, but a gulf remains.    For these two peoples, it remains a struggle to reconcile shifting eras, values and dreams.
    Merrin Ke, 23, grew up in Shenzhen but got her master’s degree from Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University.    She had flitted easily between both sides up until recently, when she moved to Shanghai.
    “I think the situation in Hong Kong is quite sensitive now, which is easy for people to have conflicts due to different political stands.    That’s why I’ve decided to leave Hong Kong to work and get away from the intense environment.”
    Even though the protests in Hong Kong show no sign of abating, Ke remains optimistic unity will overcome division.
    “Hong Kong people used to come to have fun in Shenzhen and people from mainland China also liked to visit Hong Kong.    But now such things are becoming less and less."
    “I still hope everyone can put differences aside, and it’s not enough for just one side to do this.    It requires the joint efforts of both sides.”
(Reporting by Sharon Tam and Kim Kyung Hoon; additional reporting by Tyrone Siu; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

1/5/2020 Students, youth wing of pro-ruling party outfit clash in India’s capital by Aftab Ahmed
Police in riot gear stand guard inside the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) after
clashes between students in New Delhi, India, January 5, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Clashes broke out late on Sunday between students of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), who were protesting against a fee hike, and youth wing members of a group closely tied to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), injuring over a dozen people, witnesses and officials said.
    Sahiba Mazid, who spoke by telephone from inside one of the university hostels, said many men wearing masks and carrying batons had entered the hostel.
    JNU students on social media blamed members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the youth wing of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the ideological parent of India’s ruling BJP.    It denied they had instigated clashes and said they were first attacked by the left-leaning students.
    The ABVP members contacted by Reuters at the site did not belong to JNU.
    JNU, one of India’s most prestigious universities, has a history of left-wing activism.    Many there have also in recent years protested against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, accusing them of curbing free speech.
    “Horrifying images from JNU — the place I know & remember was one for fierce debates & opinions but never violence.    I unequivocally condemn the events of today,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Twitter.
    Protests against a fee hike began in November when hundreds of students marched from the campus seeking its cancellation, saying it would make education unaffordable.
    “This is a desperate attempt by forces of anarchy … to shore up their shrinking political footprint,” said the BJP in a tweet about Sunday’s violence.
(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Writing by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Euan Rocha and David Evans)

1/5/2020 Dozens arrested after Hong Kong protest taking aim at Chinese traders by Clare Jim and Mari Saito
Riot police pour water on the face of an anti-government protester who was pepper sprayed while getting detained after an
anti-parallel trading protest at Sheung Shui, a border town in Hong Kong, China, January 5, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Scuffles erupted between police and protesters in Hong Kong on Sunday, with dozens of arrests made, after thousands marched near the border, shouting pro-democracy slogans and venting their anger at mainland Chinese traders.
    The demonstrators in Sheung Shui took aim at so-called “parallel traders” from China who buy vast amounts of duty free goods in Hong Kong and take them back to the mainland to sell at a profit.
    Locals say it pushes up prices, overcrowds neighborhoods and adds to growing tensions between Hong Kong residents and mainland Chinese.
    “The mainland Chinese come here, block the streets with their bags … rents have gone up and it has made things more expensive for Hong Kongers,” said Jasmin, a 19-year old student dressed all in black, who only gave her first name.
    “I want the government to know that too many of them are coming over here.”
    The marchers, including families with children, shouted slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times!” and “Patriots use China-made products, don’t parallel trade!
    Organizers estimated 10,000 people took part in the march, while police estimated a crowd of 2,500 at its peak.
    After the march ended, protesters dressed in black and wearing face masks remained in the area despite calls from organizers to disperse immediately.    At one point, riot police stormed through, hitting protesters with batons and using pepper spray.    It was unclear what triggered their intervention.
    A few dozen people were arrested. They were seen sitting on the ground and leaning against a wall while police took down their details and were later escorted into two white buses.
    Many shops in the area were closed.
    Earlier in the day, in a separated incident, police fired tear gas to disperse a group of protesters hurling petrol bombs over the fence of the Sheung Shui police station before the march, damaging one police vehicle.
    Sunday’s protests follow a march in central Hong Kong of at least tens of thousands on New Year’s Day and an escalation in clashes with the police over the festive period.
    Anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong escalated in June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill, but have since developed into a broader movement, with demands including universal suffrage and an independent inquiry against alleged police brutality.
    The police maintain they have acted with restraint.
    Many people in Hong Kong are angered by Beijing’s tight grip on the city which was promised a high degree of autonomy under this framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.
    The protest movement is supported by 59% of the city’s residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.
    In a Saturday statement, China’s ministry of human resources and social security said the head of its Hong Kong Liaison Office, the most senior mainland political official based in the Chinese-controlled territory, had been replaced.
    Wang Zhimin, who had held the post since 2017, had been replaced by Luo Huining, who until November was the top communist party official in the northern province of Shanxi.
    Reuters reported exclusively in November that Beijing was considering potential replacements for Wang, in a sign of dissatisfaction with the Liaison Office’s handling of the crisis.
(Reporting by Clare Jim, Mari Saito, Twinnie Siu; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle)

1/6/2020 Huge crowds in Iran for commander’s funeral, daughter warns U.S. of ‘dark day’ by by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Jeff Mason
Iranian people attend a funeral procession for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite
Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in an air strike at
Baghdad airport, in Tehran, Iran January 6, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Iranians thronged the streets of Tehran on Monday for the funeral of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani who was killed in a U.S. air strike last week and his daughter said his death would bring a “dark day” for the United States.
    “Crazy Trump, don’t think that everything is over with my father’s martyrdom,” Zeinab Soleimani said in her address broadcast on state television after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered Friday’s strike that killed the top Iranian general.
    Iran has promised to avenge the killing of Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s drive to extend its influence across the region and a national hero among many Iranians, even many of those who did not consider themselves devoted supporters of the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers.
    The scale of the crowds in Tehran shown on television mirrored the masses that gathered in 1989 for the funeral of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
    In response to Iran’s warnings, Trump has threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites, including cultural targets, if Tehran attacks Americans or U.S. assets, deepening a crisis that has heightened fears of a major Middle East conflagration.
    The coffins of the Iranian general and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was also killed in Friday’s attack on Baghdad airport, were passed across the heads of mourners massed in central Tehran, many of them chanting “Death to America.”
    One of the Islamic Republic’s major regional goals, namely to drive U.S. forces out of neighboring Iraq, came a step closer on Sunday when the Iraqi parliament backed a recommendation by the prime minister for all foreign troops to be ordered out.
    “Despite the internal and external difficulties that we might face, it remains best for Iraq on principle and practically,” said Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned in November amid anti-government protests.
    Iraq’s rival Shi’ite leaders, including ones opposed to Iranian influence, have united since Friday’s attack in calling for the expulsion of U.S. troops.
    Esmail Qaani, the new head of the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards’ unit in charge of activities abroad, said Iran would continue Soleimani’s path and said “the only compensation for us would be to remove America from the region.”
ALLIES AT FUNERAL
    Prayers at Soleimani’s funeral in Tehran, which will later move to his southern home city of Kerman, were led by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.    Soleimani was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran behind Khamenei.
    The funeral was attended by some of Iran’s allies in the region, including Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Palestinian group Hamas who said: “I declare that the martyred commander Soleimani is a martyr of Jerusalem.”
    Adding to tensions, Iran said it was taking another step back from commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, a pact from which the United States withdrew in 2018.
    Washington has since imposed tough sanctions on Iran, describing its policy as “maximum pressure” and saying it wanted to drive down Iranian oil exports – the main source of government revenues – to zero.
    Talking to reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Washington from Florida on Sunday, Trump stood by his remarks to include cultural sites on his list of potential targets, despite drawing criticism from U.S. politicians.
    “They’re allowed to kill our people.    They’re allowed to torture and maim our people.    They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people.    And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way,” Trump said.
    Democratic critics of the Republican president have said Trump was reckless in authorizing the strike, and some said his comments about targeting cultural sites amounted to threats to commit war crimes.    Many asked why Soleimani, long seen as a threat by U.S. authorities, had to be killed now.
    Republicans in the U.S. Congress have generally backed Trump’s move.
    Trump also threatened sanctions against Iraq and said that if U.S. troops were required to leave the country, Iraq’s government would have to pay Washington for the cost of a “very extraordinarily expensive” air base there.
    He said if Iraq asked U.S. forces to leave on an unfriendly basis, “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever.    It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
(Reporting by Reuters reporters in Dubai Newsroom; Jeff Mason in Washington; Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Michael Perry)

1/6/2020 Taiwan election is make or break for fleeing Hong Kong protesters by Felice Wu and Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Kuomintang party's presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu attend
his election rally in Tainan, Taiwan, January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – A small but growing number of Hong Kong protesters who fled to Taiwan for safety over the past few months fear an opposition victory in the island’s election this week will put them in peril and force them to leave.
    The mostly young men and women who came to Taiwan after taking part in increasingly violent protests in support of democracy in Hong Kong have no legal way to gain permanent asylum, but President Tsai Ing-wen’s broadly sympathetic government has allowed about 60 of them to temporarily extend their stay.
    Some of those protesters fear that support will vanish if the Jan. 11 election is won by Han Kuo-yu, the presidential candidate for Taiwan’s Kuomintang opposition party, which favors close ties with China.
    “If Han Kuo-yu is elected, I will buy a flight ticket and flee to another country right away,” a protestor in his early 30s who asked only to be identified as Jero told Reuters.
    Jero said he flew to Taiwan on a tourist visa days after he took part in the storming of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council on July 1 fearing he could be charged with rioting, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.
    He now lives in a small studio in Taipei funded by a network of local activists supporting the protesters.
    The issue of Hong Kong has played a large role in Taiwan’s election campaign.    Tsai has vowed to defend the island’s sovereignty and has rejected China’s suggestion of a “one country, two systems” political formula, saying it has failed in Hong Kong.
    Han, who says he wants to forge strong ties with Beijing and met with Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam and senior Chinese officials last year, has accused Tsai of using the Hong Kong protests to whip up fears of China for electoral gain.
    Both Tsai and Han have voiced support for Hong Kong protesters.    But the prospect of a Han presidency is more concerning to the protesters.
    “Hong Kong people are fighting against the Chinese Communist Party, but how could we convince ourselves that the Kuomintang is also against the Communist Party?” said a protester called Roger, whose tourist visa has been extended twice since his arrival in Taiwan in July.
    Jacob Lin, a Taipei-based lawyer who is part of a team that has been offering legal assistance to protesters seeking residency in Taiwan since mid-summer, said many protesters are worried about a change of political control.
    “If the ruling party is replaced, the treatment for protesters may be quite different,” he said, referring to Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
    Responding to protesters’ concerns about a Han victory, Han spokeswoman Anne Wang urged Hong Kong protesters not to be used by the DPP for electoral gain.
    “I hope they have a true understanding of Mr. Han’s insistence on the value of democracy and freedom,” she said.    “He’s solely against provocation, conflict and war, but he’s in full support of Hong Kong’s democracy and freedom.”
    Hong Kong’s Security Bureau told Reuters in a statement that those accused of breaking the law in the city will have an open and fair trial, and any accusation of politically motivated prosecutions are “unfounded.”
‘PROTECTIVE UMBRELLA’
    Taiwan’s government has helped close to 60 protesters who are seeking shelter on the island for “political” reasons since the protests started about six months ago, a senior government official with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.     The official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Taiwan has been offering “assistance on an individual basis” to protesters, discreetly allowing them to extend tourist visas multiple times or facilitating applications for student or work visas.     Taiwan’s government will not deport those who had made it there, the official said.     “If we don’t help Hong Kong when they are in trouble, who is going to help Taiwan when we are in trouble?” he said.
    Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement that it will “appropriately handle individual cases” in accordance with existing laws, without elaborating.
    Tired of waiting around, some are taking direct action to help the protesters restart their lives in Taiwan.
    Hong Kong-based rights lawyer Daniel Wong is leading an initiative to set up at least 10 companies from a laundry service to a restaurant in Taiwan to give protesters much-needed residency via work visas.
    Wong said the plan, dubbed “project protective umbrella,” will be funded by a group of anonymous supporters in Taiwan and Hong Kong, many of whom are lawyers, doctors and other professionals.
    “We are going to help our own kids,” he said.    “Hong Kong people are not refugees.”
    Huang Chun-sheng, a pastor at a Presbyterian Church in Taipei which has received more than 100 protesters said he will set up a foundation for Hong Kongers in Taiwan to coordinate funding support for those needing shelters.
    He said a few of those protesters had since returned to Hong Kong in the belief that they would likely not be charged there.
    Shopping for daily necessities in Taipei, a protester in her 20s who identified herself as Tiffany sounded caution on the coming vote, and urged Taiwanese to vote for Tsai, who she says can protect the island’s freedoms.
    “I hope to study and find a job in Taiwan,” she said.    “I hope Taiwanese can cherish the votes in their hands.”
(Reporting by Felice Wu and Yimou Lee in Taipei; Additional reporting by James Pomfret in Hong Kong; Editing by Bill Rigby)

1/6/2020 Top Iranian official threatens to destroy Israel, target U.S. generals if strikes continue by OAN Newsroom
In this photo provided by U.S. Department of Defense, the Army’s AH-64 Apache helicopter from 1st Battalion,
227th Aviation Regiment, 34th Combat Aviation Brigade, conducts overflights of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq,
Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. The helicopters launched flares as a show of presence while providing additional security
and deterrence against protesters. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Khalil Jenkins, CJTF-OIR Public Affairs via AP)
    Another top Iranian official is threatening to destroy Israel if the U.S. carries out more strikes against the Ayatollah regime.    While speaking Sunday, the secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council vowed to annihilate Haifa, Tel Aviv as well as other cities in Israel.
    Secretary Mohsen Rezaei claimed this would happen if the U.S. strikes Iran again.    This comes as President Trump said the U.S. has identified 52 potential targets that will be hit if Iran continues its threats.    However, the Iranian secretary said his country could target top U.S. military officials.
    Iranian Secretary Rezaei had this to say:
    “The U.S. has put its soldiers and commander on the edge of the blade of resistance.    Where would you want to stay?    In Iraq?    In Syria?    In the region?    Mr. Trump should be sure that life for American soldiers will be bitter and more embarrassing, and they will be kicked out of the region embarrassingly.”
Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, is pictured speaking to the media. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
    The Pentagon has redeployed additional forces to Iran’s borders that are now on stand-by to prevent any further attacks.

1/6/2020 Iran supporters, anti-government protesters clash across Iraq in wake of Soleimani killing by OAN Newsroom
Protesters chant anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration against the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen.
Qassem Soleimani, close to United States’ consulate in Istanbul, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
    Violent clashes broke out across Iraq in the wake of the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.    According to Iraqi authorities Sunday, violent mobs of supporters clashed with anti-government protesters in the cities of Basra and Nassiriya.
    At least one protester was killed and dozens were wounded in this latest outbreak of violence.    Iraqi anti-government protesters are demanding to reduce the role of Iran in the nation’s domestic affairs, while pro-Iranian mobs are seeking to remove U.S. troops from the country.
    Security experts are warning of a rising threat to the U.S. presence in Iraq.
    “The Iranians will try to get the U.S. out of Iraq in the next year and I think they’ll be successful…that will leave Iraq free for the Iranians to exercise influence for decades to come,” stated Jon Alterman, director of Middle East program – Center for Strategic and International Studies.    “They want to fight in a way where we might not know it is the Iranians.”
    Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have labeled the U.S. presence in the country an “occupation” and have vowed to ramp up the fight.

1/6/2020 Japan to send troops to Middle East amid heightened tensions by OAN Newsroom
Iraqi security forces escort mourners during the funeral of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander
of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
    According to Japan’s prime minister, the country is planning to deploy troops to the Middle East to protect its assets in the Persian Gulf.    During a news conference Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he’s making the decision because he’s “deeply worried” about the heightened tensions in the region.
    This comes as relations between the U.S. and Iran are quickly reaching a boiling point, following the death of Iranian commander Aasem Soleimani last week.
    Prime Minister Abe clarified the move is meant to protect Japanese shipping vessels and urged all parties involved in the spat to solve things with diplomacy.
File – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a bilateral meeting with China’s Premier Li Keqiang
on the sidelines of the trilateral leaders’ meeting between China, South Korea and Japan in Chengdu,
southwest China’s Sichuan province Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019. (Wang Zhao/Pool Photo via AP)
    “Tensions are rising in the Middle East and I am deeply worried about the situation,” said the Japanese leader.    “Further escalation should be avoided and I call on all parties concerned to exhaust all diplomatic efforts to ease tensions.”
    Japan announced last month it will be sending a warship and patrol planes to the region, where it sources nearly 90 percent of its crude oil imports.

1/6/2020 ‘Never threaten the Iranian nation,’ Rouhani warns Trump as crowds mourn commander by Parisa Hafezi and Jeff Mason
Iranian people attend a funeral procession for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force,
and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport,
in Tehran, Iran January 6, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wept in grief with hundreds of thousands of mourners thronging Tehran’s streets on Monday for the funeral of military commander Qassem Soleimani, killed by a U.S. drone on U.S. President Donald Trump’s orders.
    The coffins of General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who also died in Friday’s attack in Baghdad, were draped in their national flags and passed from hand to hand over the heads of mourners in central Tehran.
    Responding to Trump’s threats to hit 52 Iranian sites if Tehran retaliates for the drone strike, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani pointedly wrote on Twitter: “Never threaten the Iranian nation.”    And Soleimani’s successor vowed to expel U.S. forces from the Middle East in revenge.
    Khamenei, 80, led prayers at the funeral, pausing as his voice cracked with emotion.    Soleimani, 62, was a national hero in Iran, even to many who do not consider themselves supporters of Iran’s clerical rulers.
    Aerial footage showed people, many clad in black, packing thoroughfares and side streets in the Iranian capital, chanting “Death to America!” – a show of national unity after anti-government protests in November in which many demonstrators were killed.
    The crowd, which state media said numbered in the millions, recalled the masses of people that gathered in 1989 for the funeral of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.    Soleimani, architect of Iran’s drive to extend its influence across the Middle East, was widely seen as Iran’s second most powerful figure behind Khamenei.
    His killing of Soleimani has prompted concern around the world that a broader regional conflict could flare.
    Trump on Saturday vowed to strike 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites, if Iran retaliates with attacks on Americans or U.S. assets, and stood by his threat on Sunday, though American officials sought to downplay his reference to cultural targets.    The 52 figure, Trump noted, matched the number of U.S. Embassy hostages held for 444 days after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
    Rouhani, regarded as a moderate, responded to Trump on Twitter.
    “Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290.    #IR655,” Rouhani wrote, referring to the 1988 shooting down of an Iranian airline by a U.S. warship in which 290 were killed.
    Trump also took to Twitter to reiterate the White House stance that “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon” but gave no other details.
‘ACTIONS WILL BE TAKEN’
    General Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s successor as commander of the Quds Force, the elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards charged with overseas operations, promised to “continue martyr Soleimani’s cause as firmly as before with the help of God, and in return for his martyrdom we aim to rid the region of America.”
    “God the Almighty has promised to take martyr Soleimani’s revenge,” he told state television.    “Certainly, actions will be taken.”
    Other political and military leaders have made similar, unspecific threats.    Iran, which lies at the mouth of the key Gulf oil shipping route, has a range of proxy forces in the region through which it could act.
    Iran’s demand for U.S. forces to withdraw from the region gained traction on Sunday when Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.
    Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad on Monday that both nations needed to implement the resolution, the premier’s office said in a statement.    It did not give a timeline.
    The United States has about 5,000 troops in Iraq.
    Soleimani built a network of proxy militia that formed a crescent of influence – and a direct challenge to the United States and its regional allies led by Saudi Arabia – stretching from Lebanon through Syria and Iraq to Iran.    Outside the crescent, Iran nurtured allied Palestinian and Yemeni groups.
    He notably mobilized Shi’ite Muslim militia forces in Iraq that helped to crush Islamic State, the Sunni militant group that had seized control of swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014.
    Washington, however, blames Soleimani for attacks on U.S. forces and their allies.
    The funeral moves to Soleimani’s southern home city of Kerman on Tuesday.    Zeinab Soleimani, his daughter, told mourners in Tehran that the United States would face a “dark day” for her father’s death, adding, “Crazy Trump, don’t think that everything is over with my father’s martyrdom.”
NUCLEAR DEAL
    Iran stoked tensions on Sunday by dropping all limitations on its uranium enrichment, another step back from commitments under a landmark deal with major powers in 2015 to curtail its nuclear program that Trump abandoned in 2018.
    In response, European signatories may launch a dispute resolution process against Iran this week that could lead to a renewal of the United Nations sanctions that were lifted as part of the deal, European diplomats said on Monday. [L8N29B3O7]
    Diplomats said France, Britain and Germany could make a decision ahead of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Friday that would assess whether there were any ways to salvage the deal.
    After quitting the deal, the United States imposed new sanctions on Iran, saying it wanted to halt Iranian oil exports, the main source of government revenues.    Iran’s economy has been in freefall as the currency has plunged.
    Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Monday that he was still confident he could renegotiate a new nuclear agreement “if Iran wants to start behaving like a normal country.”
    Tehran has said Washington must return to the existing nuclear pact and lift sanctions before any talks can take place.
    The United States advised American citizens in Israel and the Palestinian territories to be vigilant, citing the risk of rocket fire amid heightened tensions.    As a U.S. ally against Iran, Israel is concerned about possible rocket attacks from Gaza, ruled by Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamists, or major Iran proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.
    Democratic critics of Trump have said the Republican president was reckless in authorizing the strike, with some saying his threat to hit cultural sites amounted to a vow to commit war crimes.    Trump also threatened sanctions against Iraq and said Baghdad would have to pay Washington for an air base in Iraq if U.S. troops were required to leave.
(Reporting by Reuters reporters in Dubai Newsroom, Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason in Washington, Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad, Robin Emmott in Brussels and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Edmund Blair and Will Dunham; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell)

1/6/2020 China eyes increased ties with Kiribati, site of space tracking station
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau sign documents during a ceremony
at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China January 6, 2020. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Monday it hoped to expand newly restored ties with the Pacific state of Kiribati, site of a strategic but mothballed Chinese space tracking station, in comments that may further stoke U.S. anxiety about Beijing’s growing influence.
    A senior Chinese diplomat said Beijing was “open” to all sorts of projects in Kiribati, an ex-British colony made up mainly of atolls in the central Pacific, in waters dominated by the United States and its allies since World War Two.
    Speaking to reporters after Chinese President Xi Jinping met Kiribati’s President Taneti Maamau in Beijing, the diplomat, Lu Kang, did not respond directly to a question about whether Beijing planned to reopen the space tracking station.
    “A lot of ideas, a lot of initiatives for joint ventures are still on the way,” said Lu, who heads the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs.
    “So long as any ideas that could benefit both sides, especially both peoples on both sides, definitely China is open to these kind of ideas,” he said, without elaborating.
    China’s space program is overseen by the military, which has so far declined to comment on the Kiribati facility.
    China and Kiribati restored diplomatic ties last year after the Pacific state cut them with Taiwan.    China considers Taiwan merely a Chinese province, with no right to state-to-state relations, and refuses to maintain diplomatic ties with countries that recognize Taipei.
    Kiribati had established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2003, prompting the break with Beijing.
    Up until then, China had operated a space tracking station in Kiribati, which played a role in tracking China’s first manned space flight and is in a part of the world where the United States tests missiles and other military hardware.
    A former Taiwanese ambassador to Kiribati, Abraham Chu, told Taiwan’s Central News Agency last year that China had never fully removed the tracking station in Kiribati and that it “could come back at any time.”
    The Solomon Islands, another Pacific state, also switched to Beijing from Taipei last year, in a process watched with concern by Washington, which is wary of China’s growing global clout.
    Taiwan now has formal relations with just 15 countries, mostly small and poor nations in Latin America and the Pacific, including Nauru, Tuvalu and Palau.    China has signaled it is coming for the rest of Taiwan’s allies.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossely; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/7/2020 Iranian commander’s body in hometown, U.S. denies quitting Iraq by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Ahmed Aboulenein
Iranian people attend a funeral procession and burial for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani,
head of the elite Quds Force, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, at his hometown
in Kerman, Iran January 7, 2020. Mehdi Bolourian/Fars News Agency/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The body of a top Iranian military commander killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq last week reached his hometown for burial on Tuesday as the U.S. defense secretary denied reports that the U.S. military was preparing to withdraw from Iraqi territory.
    The death of Qassem Soleimani, who built up Tehran’s network of proxy forces across the region, has prompted mass mourning in Iran and led to renewed Iranian threats to drive U.S. troops from Iraq, where Tehran has vied with Washington for influence.
    U.S. and Iranian warnings of new strikes and retaliation have stoked concerns about a broader Middle East conflict and led to calls in the U.S. Congress for legislation to stop U.S. President Donald Trump going to war with Iran.
    “We will take revenge, a hard and definitive revenge,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Hossein Salami told tens of thousands of mourners in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman, many of them chanting “Death to America” and waving the Iranian flag.
    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and top military commanders have said Iranian retaliation for the U.S. action would match the scale of Soleimani’s killing but that it would be at a time and place of Tehran’s choosing.
    “The martyr Qassem Soleimani is more dangerous to the enemy than Qassem Soleimani,” Salami said, after the general’s body ended a tour of Iraqi and Iranian cities following his death on Friday that clogged streets with mourners.
    Reuters and other media reported on Monday that the U.S. military had sent a letter to Iraqi officials informing them that American troops would be repositioned in preparation to leave, drawing a swift denial from the Pentagon.
    “There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters. “I don’t know what that letter is.”
    U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter was a “poorly worded” draft document meant only to underscore increased movement by U.S. forces.
    The letter, addressed to the Iraqi Defence Ministry’s Combined Joint Operations and confirmed as authentic by an Iraqi military source, had caused confusion about the future of the roughly 5,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, where there has been a U.S. military presence since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.
    Iran’s long-repeated demand for U.S. forces to withdraw had gained traction on Sunday when Iraq’s parliament, dominated by lawmakers representing Muslim Shi’ite groups, passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.
    Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad on Monday that both sides needed to work together to implement the parliamentary resolution, the premier’s office said, without giving a timeframe.
REPOSITIONING
    The letter, signed by a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer, had referred to “repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement.”
    Tensions between Iran and the United States have been ratcheting higher since Washington withdrew in 2018 from a nuclear deal between Tehran and other world powers.    The United States has since imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran.
    Iran said on Sunday it was dropping all limitations on uranium enrichment, its latest step back from commitments under the deal.
    The U.S. administration has denied a visa to allow Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday, a U.S. official said.
    “The United States will get the decisive, definite answer for its arrogance at the time and place when it will feel the most pain,” Zarif said in a speech on regional developments that was broadcast on state television.
    The French foreign minister said European powers, which have been trying to salvage the nuclear deal, would decide in coming days whether to launch a dispute resolution process that could lead to a reinstatement of U.N. sanctions on Iran.
    Trump’s U.S. political rivals have challenged the Republican president’s decision to order the killing of Soleimani and its timing.    Trump’s administration said Soleimani was planning new attacks on U.S. interests.
    U.S. general Milley said the threat from Soleimani was imminent.    “We would have been culpably negligent to the American people had we not made the decision we made,” he said.
    Trump has promised strikes on 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites, if Iran retaliates for Soleimani’s death with attacks on Americans or U.S. assets, although U.S. officials sought to downplay his reference to cultural targets.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Phil Stewart in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Catherine Evans)

1/7/2020 U.S. denies Iran’s Zarif a visa to attend U.N.: U.S. official
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference, a day ahead of the first meeting of the
new Syrian Constitutional Committee at the Untied Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has denied a visa to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that would have allowed him to attend a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday, a U.S. official said.
    Monday’s comments by the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, came as tensions escalate between the two countries after the United States killed Iran’s most prominent military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad on Friday.
    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.
    The U.S. State Department declined immediate comment. Iran’s mission to the United Nations said: “We have seen the media reports, but we have not received any official communication from either the U.S. or the U.N. regarding Foreign Minister Zarif’s visa.”
    U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric declined to comment on the U.S. denial of a visa for Zarif.
    Zarif wanted to attend a meeting of the Security Council on Thursday on the topic of upholding the U.N. Charter.    The meeting and Zarif’s travel had been planned before the latest flare-up in tensions between Washington and Tehran.
    The Security Council meeting would have given Zarif a global spotlight to publicly criticize the United States for killing Soleimani.
    Iran’s U.N. envoy, Majid Takht Ravanchi, has described the killing of Soleimani as “an obvious example of State terrorism and, as a criminal act, constitutes a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including, in particular … the Charter of the United Nations.”
    Zarif last traveled to New York in September for the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations – after the United States sanctioned him for implementing “the reckless agenda of Iran’s Supreme Leader.”
    The sanctions block any property or interests Zarif has in the United States, but he said he had none.
    Zarif also attended U.N. meetings in April and July.    During his July visit, Washington imposed tight travel restrictions on Zarif and diplomats at Iran’s mission to the United Nations, confining them to a small section of New York City.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke with U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier on Monday.    State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement the pair discussed events in the Middle East and that Pompeo “expressed his appreciation” for Guterres’ diplomatic efforts.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting and writing by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Peter Cooney)

1/7/2020 Hong Kong leader vows to work closely with Beijing’s new envoy by Sharon Tam
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, China January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she would work closely with Beijing’s top official in the Asian financial hub to get it back on “the right path” after more than six months of pro-democracy protests.
    The appointment of a new head of the Chinese government’s most important office in Hong Kong, Luo Huining, was unexpectedly announced at the weekend in a sign of Beijing’s frustration with the latter’s handling of the crisis.
    The Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region reports to China’s State Council or cabinet, and is the main platform for Beijing to project its influence in the city.
    “I would work closely with director Luo in the coming future, committing to ‘one country, two systems’, and the Basic Law, for Hong Kong to … return to the right path,” Lam said in her first news conference of the year, referring to the city’s mini-constitution and system of governance.
    Luo on Monday, in his first remarks since taking office, used the same language, saying he hoped the city would return to the right path.
    In November, Reuters reported exclusively that Beijing was considering replacing the former liaison office chief, Wang Zhimin, who had come under criticism for failing to anticipate public opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
    Lam did not mention the protests in her opening remarks, which focused on health risks related an outbreak of a respiratory virus in the city of Wuhan in China. Authorities have identified 21 cases in Hong Kong, of which seven have been released from hospital.
    Clashes between police and protesters have intensified over the year-end holiday following an early-December lull in violence after an overwhelming win by the pro-democracy camp in city district council elections yielded no government concessions.
    Anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong have evolved over the months into a broad pro-democracy campaign with demands for universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into complaints of police brutality.
    The police maintain they have acted with restraint.
    Many people in Hong Kong are angered by what they see as Beijing ever-tightening grip on the city which was promised a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.
    The protest movement is supported by 59% of city residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute and 57% of them wanted Lam to resign.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

1/7/2020 South Korea’s Moon cites ‘desperate need’ for ways to improve ties with North by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: South Korea's President Moon Jae-in speaks at the 8th trilateral leaders' meeting between China, South Korea
and Japan in Chengdu, in southwest China's Sichuan province December 24, 2019. Wang Zhao/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – There is a “desperate need” for practical ways to improve ties with North Korea, the South’s President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday, adding that he was ready to meet with the reclusive leader in Pyongyang repeatedly if necessary.
    Moon, sidelined from his leading role in the diplomatic effort with North Korea in 2018, said he regretted the past year’s lack of progress in negotiations.
    In an annual New Year’s speech in Seoul, Moon called for new talks with Kim Jong Un, and vowed to keep up work to facilitate U.S.-North Korea communication.
    “In a time of deadlock in U.S.-North Korea talks – and where we are even concerned about a step backward in inter-Korean relations – we are in desperate need of practical ways to improve inter-Korean cooperation,” he said.
    He also said he would continue to push for restarting the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tours to Mt. Kumgang, and mentioned border cooperation without elaborating.    He added the joint 2032 Olympics bid would be a unifying event, as would completing the inter-Korean railroad.
    “We want to make an era where separation is no longer a roadblock for peace and prosperity for South and North Korea,” he said.
    North Korea has been unresponsive to other recent overtures from Seoul, and cooperation projects between the neighbors have stalled in the face of international sanctions that bar most business with the North.
    Pyongyang has expressed frustration at what it calls Washington’s lack of flexibility, while U.S. officials say it must take more concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs before sanctions are eased.
    “The momentum for U.S.-North Korea talks must continue,” Moon said.    “Provocations and threats are not helpful for anyone.”
    Over the New Year, Kim said he planned to further develop nuclear programs and introduce a “new strategic weapon” in the near future, though he signaled there was still room for dialogue with the United States.
    Security and prosperity on the Korean peninsula are dependent on resolving international tensions, but the two Koreas could achieve progress through cooperation, Moon said.
    “I suggest South and North Korea put our heads together,” he said.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Gerry Doyle)

1/7/2020 Indonesia mobilizes fishermen in stand-off with China by Stanley Widianto
FILE PHOTO: Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (C) along with Military Chief Gatot Nurmantyo (L)
and Air Force Commander Agus Supriatna walk past fighter jets and weapons during a military exercise
on Natuna Island, Riau Islands province, Indonesia October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia will mobilize fishermen to join warships in the South China Sea to help defend against Chinese vessels, the government said on Monday, as the biggest stand-off with China for years escalated off Southeast Asia’s largest country.
    In an unusually strong statement, President Joko Widodo told reporters: “There is no negotiation when it comes to our sovereignty.”
    The stand-off since last month in the northern Natuna islands, where a Chinese coastguard vessel has accompanied Chinese fishing vessels, has soured the generally friendly relationship between Jakarta and Beijing.
    Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, told reporters that around 120 fishermen from the island of Java would be sent to the Natuna islands, some 1,000 km (600 miles) to the north.
    “We want to mobilize our fishermen from the north coast and maybe in turn from other areas to operate by fishing there and other things,” Mahfud said.
    Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, said last week it was sending more warships to the area.    Six Indonesian ships were there now and four more were on the way, Imam Hidayat, the head of the Maritime Security Agency’s sea operations sub-directorate, told Reuters.
    China claims much of the South China Sea, a global trade route with rich fishing grounds and energy reserves, as its own based on what it says its historic activity.    But Southeast Asian countries – and the United States and much of the world – say such claims have no legal basis.
    On Tuesday Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing has “opened diplomatic channels” with Indonesia since the latest incident, and said “both countries shoulder responsibility for maintaining regional peace and stability.”
    Speaking in Beijing last week, Geng said China had sovereignty over the Spratly islands and their waters and that both China and Indonesia have “normal” fishing activities there. He did not specifically mention the Natuna islands, which are southwest of the Spratlys.
    Indonesian vessels often confront Chinese fishermen off the Natuna islands, but the presence of the Chinese coastguard vessel has marked an escalation this year over which Indonesia summoned the Chinese ambassador.
    Last year, China engaged in a prolonged maritime stand-off in Vietnam’s extended economic zone and jangled nerves with its naval presence off the Philippines and Malaysia.
    The last peak in tensions between Indonesia and China over the South China Sea was in 2016, when a Chinese coastguard vessel rammed a Chinese fishing boat to free it after it had been intercepted for illegal fishing by Indonesian authorities.
(Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Alex Richardson)

1/7/2020 Six dead in deadliest day of Indian citizenship law protests by Aftab Ahmed, Devjyot Ghoshal and Saurabh Sharma
Men try to extinguish a burning car after demonstrators set it on fire during a protest against
a new citizenship law, in New Delhi, India, December 20, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    NEW DELHI/LUCKNOW (Reuters) – Six people died and dozens were injured on Friday as Indian police clashed with thousands of protesters who again took to the streets in several parts of the country to oppose a new law they say discriminates against Muslims.
    There were standoffs at police barricades in half a dozen towns in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, which has long been a tinderbox of communal tensions between majority Hindus and minority Muslims.
    At least six people died and 32 were injured in clashes between police and stone-throwing protesters, Uttar Pradesh police chief O.P. Singh told Reuters, making Friday the single deadliest day of the protests so far.
    Singh said that none of the deaths on Friday were due to police shooting, and 144 people were arrested.    With the latest fatalities, the total number of deaths during the nationwide demonstrations, now in their second week, stands at 13.
    The backlash against the law pushed through parliament by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Dec. 11 marks the strongest show of dissent since he was first elected in 2014.
    The legislation makes it easier for people from non-Muslim minorities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who settled in India prior to 2015 to obtain Indian citizenship.
    Critics say the exclusion of Muslims is discriminatory and that the award of citizenship based on religion undermines the constitution.
    In New Delhi’s Daryaganj area, a commercial thoroughfare in the capital with many banks, shops and cafes, police fired a water cannon to disperse crowds of some 6,000 protesters, an official said.
    Police detained 34 people in the area, said Adil Amaan, a lawyer who tried unsuccessfully to negotiate their release.
    A Reuters witness saw a smouldering car that had been torched outside the Daryaganj police station, and shoes strewn across a street as dozens of policemen in riot gear kept watch.
    “Please call my mother, please call my mother,” one injured protester lying on a pavement begged, as police surrounded him.
    Authorities were unable to immediately confirm the number of people injured in the clash in Daryaganj.
‘WE WILL NOT BACK DOWN’
    The protests in New Delhi had grown throughout the day, initially starting at the historic Jama Masjid mosque, where chants of “Remove Modi” filled the air after Friday prayers that drew thousands of worshippers.
    Protesters marched toward the center of the capital where authorities had shut some train stations and suspended the internet in some areas to stop people from gathering.
    Police and paramilitary were deployed outside Jama Masjid, where several people carried India’s flag and copies of the constitution, which states that India is a secular republic.
    “We will fight till this law is rolled back. We will not back down,” said Shamim Qureishi, 42, outside the mosque.
    In north-eastern Delhi, tens of thousands gathered in three different places to protest against the law, despite curbs on such assemblies, but later dispersed peacefully, police said.
    Crowds pelted stones at police in Ferozabad, Muzzafarnagar and Ghaziabad among other cities in Uttar Pradesh and police fired tear gas in the city of Kanpur to scatter protesters.
    Singh, the state police chief, said that violence had been reported in 13 districts.
    Authorities said they shut the internet in parts of Uttar Pradesh state to prevent publication of inflammatory material.    News channel NDTV broadcast images of a torched police van and officers chasing protesters throwing stones and wielding sticks.
‘WE WANT JUSTICE’
    From college students and academics to artists and opposition party workers, thousands of people have come out to protest against a law that many believe is part of an unspoken government agenda to divide India along communal lines.
    Muslims make up 14% of India’s population.
    On the street below Jama Masjid, Muslims were joined by people of other faiths, including a large number of Dalits, the community that ranks at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy.
    Several thousand also gathered for a peaceful protest on the main boulevard cutting through Jamia Milia Islamia university in southern Delhi that has been the site of violent clashes with police in the last two weeks.
    Groups of women and children, protected by human chains of young men, stood clapping and shouting slogans.
    “We want justice,” some of them said, condemning police action against Jamia students and the citizenship law.
    “Hindus, Muslims, everyone is against this law.    This is the power of unity,” said 55-year old Mahroof Ahmed Khan, a resident, as he walked through the demonstration.
    Aside from targeting Modi, protesters also vented their fury at Amit Shah, the interior minister who tabled the bill.
(Additional reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Derek Francis in Bengaluru; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani and Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, William Maclean)

1/7/2020 At least 56 killed in stampede at general’s funeral, as Iran vows revenge on U.S. by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Ahmed Aboulenein
Iranian people attend a funeral procession and burial for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of
the elite Quds Force, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, at his hometown in
Kerman, Iran January 7, 2020. Mehdi Bolourian/Fars News Agency/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least 56 people were killed in a stampede as tens of thousands of mourners packed streets for the funeral of a slain Iranian military commander in his hometown on Tuesday, forcing his burial to be delayed by several hours, state media said.
    General Qassem Soleimani’s burial began in the early evening in the southeastern Iranian city of Kerman, four days after his killing in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq that plunged the region into a new crisis and raised fears of broader conflict.
    “A few minutes ago his body was transferred to the martyrs section of Kerman cemetery,” the semi-official news agency ISNA reported, adding that Soleimani’s interment had begun.
    Soleimani, who commanded the elite Quds Force, was responsible for building up Tehran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East.    He was a pivotal figure in orchestrating Iran’s long-standing campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Iraq.
    A senior Iranian official said Tehran was considering several scenarios to avenge his death. Other senior figures have said the Islamic Republic would match the scale of the killing when it responds, but that it would choose the time and place.
    Tuesday’s stampede broke out amid the crush of mourners, killing 56 people, state television said, raising the toll from 50 previously.    More than 210 people were injured, an emergency services official told the semi-official Fars news agency.
    “Today because of the heavy congestion of the crowd unfortunately a number of our fellow citizens who were mourning were injured and a number were killed,” emergency medical services chief Pirhossein Kolivand told state television.
    Soleimani was a national hero to many Iranians, whether supporters of the clerical leadership or not, but viewed as a dangerous villain by Western governments opposed to Iran’s arc of influence running across the Levant and into the Gulf region.
    Iran’s opponents say its proxies have fueled conflicts, killing and displacing people in Iraq, Syria and beyond.    Tehran says any operations abroad are at the request of governments and that it offers “advisory support.”
    Soleimani’s body had been taken to Iraqi and Iranian cities before arriving in Kerman for burial.
    In each place, huge numbers of people filled thoroughfares, chanting “Death to America” and weeping with emotion. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wept as he led prayers in Tehran.
    The U.S. defense secretary denied reports Washington was preparing to withdraw troops from Iraq, where Iran has vied with Washington for the upper hand since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
    About 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, where there has been a U.S. military presence since Saddam Hussein’s fall.
    Some members of the 29-nation NATO alliance said they were moving some of their personnel that have been training Iraqi security forces out of the country as a precaution amid fears of a regional conflagration.
‘DEFINITIVE REVENGE’
    “We will take revenge, a hard and definitive revenge,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Hossein Salami, told the throngs in Kerman before the stampede.
    Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said 13 “revenge scenarios” were being considered, Fars news agency reported.    Even the weakest option would prove “a historic nightmare for the Americans,” he said.
    Iran, whose coastline runs along a Gulf oil shipping route that includes the narrow Strait of Hormuz, has allied forces across the Middle East through which it can act.    Representatives from those groups, including the Palestinian Islamist Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, attended funeral events in Tehran.
    Despite its strident rhetoric, analysts say Iran will want to avoid any conventional military conflict with superior U.S. forces and is likely to focus on asymmetric strikes, such as sabotage or other military action via proxies.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to target 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliates for Soleimani’s killing.
FRICTION
    Iraq’s parliament, dominated by lawmakers representing Shi’ite Muslim groups who have been united by the killing of Soleimani alongside an Iraqi Shi’ite militia leader, passed a resolution on Sunday calling for all foreign troops to leave.
    Caretaker Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad the resolution must be implemented.
    Friction between Iran and the United States has risen since Trump withdrew in 2018 from a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, approved by his predecessor Barack Obama, and reimposed sanctions on Tehran slashing its vital oil exports.
    The Islamic Republic said on Sunday it was dropping all limitations on its enrichment of uranium, its latest step back from commitments to the 2015 deal.
    Trump’s U.S. political rivals have challenged his decision to order the killing of Soleimani and questioned its timing in a U.S. election year.    His administration said Soleimani was planning new attacks on U.S. interests, without giving evidence.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again defended the decision at a Washington news conference on Tuesday, saying attacks allegedly planned by Soleimani “were going to lead, potentially, to the death of many more Americans.”
    Pompeo also held Soleimani responsible for a Dec. 27 rocket attack in Iraq in which a U.S. civilian contractor was killed.
    Trump administration officials will provide a classified briefing on developments in Iraq and Iran on Tuesday at 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT) for congressional leaders and Republican and Democratic leaders of the intelligence committees, House of Representatives aides said. Administration officials will provide another briefing for U.S. senators on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad, Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Phil Stewart in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alex Richardson)
[REMIND ME TO NEVER GO TO IRANIAN FUNERALS SINCE THEY ARE SO DEADLY TO THOSE STILL ALIVE AND IT WAS NOT WORTH IT FOR FREE FOOD EVEN IF YOU ARE STARVING TO DEATH.].

1/7/2020 India court orders execution of convicts for 2012 deadly rape on Jan. 22
FILE PHOTO: A protester lights candles during a candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary
of the Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi December 16, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Four men sentenced to death for the gang rape and murder of a woman on a New Delhi bus in an attack that sent shockwaves across the world will be hanged on Jan. 22, an Indian court ruled on Tuesday.
    The four men were convicted in 2013 of the rape, torture and murder of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a case that triggered large protests in India.
    The attack prompted India to enact tough new laws against sexual violence, including the death penalty for rape in some cases, but implementation has been poor and the attacks have shown no signs of let-up.
    In 2017, India’s Supreme Court had upheld death sentences against the four men.    In the last two years, the top court has dismissed review pleas filed by the convicts, paving the way for the execution.
    The order to hang the four convicts on Jan. 22 came after the parents of the victim asked the court to seek death warrants against the four men.
    “We have fought the legal battle with a lot of patience for more than seven years.    Now, I finally get justice,” the mother of the victim, who cannot be named under Indian law, told reporters after the order of the court.
    Despite tough laws against sexual violence, a woman is raped every 20 minutes on average in India.
    Lengthy trials, often a result of fewer courts and judges, tend to delay convictions, leaving poor, disillusioned victims with little money and patience to pursue the case.
    A 23-year-old rape victim, who was set on fire by a gang of men, which included her alleged rapists, died in a New Delhi hospital last month, prompting protests.
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty and Neha Dasgupta; Editing by Mayank Bhardwaj, William Maclean)

1/7/2020 Hong Kong leader vows to work closely with Beijing’s new envoy by Sharon Tam
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, China January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she would work closely with Beijing’s top official in the Asian financial hub to get it back on “the right path” after more than six months of pro-democracy protests.
    The appointment of a new head of the Chinese government’s most important office in Hong Kong, Luo Huining, was unexpectedly announced at the weekend in a sign of Beijing’s frustration with the latter’s handling of the crisis.
    The Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region reports to China’s State Council or Cabinet, and is the main platform for Beijing to project its influence in the city.
    “I would work closely with director Luo in the coming future, committing to ‘one country, two systems’, and the Basic Law, for Hong Kong to … return to the right path,” Lam said in her first news conference of the year, referring to the city’s mini-constitution and system of governance.
    Luo on Monday, in his first remarks since taking office, used the same language, saying he hoped the city would return to the right path.
    At a news briefing in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States had noted Luo’s appointment and language about the “right path” and added:
    “The right path … is for the Chinese Communist Party to honor its commitment made to Hong Kong … that guarantees the territory’s independent rule of law and freedom that the Chinese living on the mainland, unfortunately, do not enjoy.”
    In November, Reuters reported exclusively that Beijing was considering replacing the former liaison office chief, Wang Zhimin, who had come under criticism for failing to anticipate public opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
    Lam did not mention the protests in her opening remarks, which focused on health risks related an outbreak of a respiratory virus in the city of Wuhan in China. Authorities have identified 21 cases in Hong Kong, of which seven have been released from hospital.
    Clashes between police and protesters have intensified over the year-end holiday following an early-December lull in violence after an overwhelming win by the pro-democracy camp in city district council elections yielded no government concessions.
    Anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong have evolved over the months into a broad pro-democracy campaign with demands for universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into complaints of police brutality.
    The police maintain they have acted with restraint.
    Many people in Hong Kong are angered by what they see as Beijing ever-tightening its grip on the city which was promised a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.
    The protest movement is supported by 59% of city residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute and 57% of them wanted Lam to resign.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Jonathan Oatis)

1/7/2020 Reports: Ayatollah regime giving away free meals to draw crowds at Soleimani’s funeral by OAN Newsroom
Coffins of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others who were killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike, are carried on a
truck surrounded by mourners during a funeral procession, in the city of Kerman, Iran,
Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. A stampede erupted on Tuesday at a funeral procession. (AP Photo)
    Iran’s Ayatollah regime is giving away free meals to convince people to attend funeral events for late General Qasem Soleimani.    According to Iranian state media Tuesday, regime officials prepared 40,000 portions of warm food for attendees of Soleimani’s funeral ceremonies.
    Iranian dissidents say the regime is working to draw tens of thousands of people to convince the world Soleimani was a popular leader in Iran.    This effort led to dangerous overcrowding at his funeral ceremony in the city of Kerman Tuesday.
    At least 32 people died and 190 others were injured in the stampede.
    “We can’t really say how may people really loved him. Don’t forget, in the past few days, the government shut down the schools, universities, the entire country is shut down.    So if I’m a student, I remember when I was in Iran, if there was any ceremony my teacher would come say ‘all of you tomorrow will come, cross your name.” –Jiyar Gol, political observer
    Many Iranians on social media are comparing the commemorations for Soleimani to the funerals of leaders of the Third Reich and Soviet Union.

1/8/2020 Avenging general’s killing, Iran strikes at U.S. troops in Iraq, Trump weighs response by Ahmed Aboulenein and Phil Stewart
Iranian people attend a funeral procession and burial for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of
the elite Quds Force, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, at his hometown
in Kerman, Iran January 7, 2020. Mehdi Bolourian/Fars News Agency/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian forces fired missiles at military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday in retaliation for the U.S. killing of an Iranian general, raising the stakes in its conflict with Washington amid concern of a wider war in the Middle East.
    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addressing a gathering of Iranians chanting “Death to America,” said the attacks were a “slap on the face” of the United States and U.S. troops should leave the region.
    Tehran’s foreign minister said Iran took “proportionate measures” in self-defense and did not seek to escalate the confrontation.
    The next move appeared to lie with Washington.
    U.S. President Donald Trump, who ordered the drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Friday, gave an initial response on Twitter: “All is well!.”
    Casualties and damage from the missile attacks were being assessed and Trump said he would make a statement on Wednesday.
    Trump, who was impeached last month and faces an election this year, at the weekend threatened to target 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s killing.
CASUALTY TOLL DISPUTED
    Iranian state television said Iran had fired 15 ballistic missiles from its territory at U.S. targets in its neighbor Iraq.    The bases targeted were al-Asad air base and another facility in Erbil, the Pentagon said.
    One source said early indications were of no U.S. casualties, while other U.S. officials declined to comment.
    Iranian television said 80 “American terrorists” had been killed and U.S. helicopters and military equipment damaged.    It provided no evidence of how it obtained that information.
    Germany, Denmark, Norway and Poland said none of their troops in Iraq were hurt.    Britain, which also has personnel in Iraq, condemned the Iranian action. Iraq said its forces did not suffer casualties.
    More than 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq along with the other foreign forces in a coalition that has trained and backed Iraqi forces against the threat of Islamic State militants.
    “As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said.
    In Tehran, Khamenei said in a televised speech: “Military action like this is not sufficient.    What is important is ending the corrupting presence of America in the region."
    “This region will not accept the presence of America,” he said, renewing Tehran’s long-standing demand for Washington to withdraw its forces.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the strikes “concluded” Tehran’s response to the killing of Soleimani, who had been responsible for building up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East and who was buried in his hometown Kerman on Monday after days of national mourning.
    “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he wrote on Twitter.
    Iranian television reported an official in the supreme leader’s office as saying the missile attacks were the “weakest” of several retaliation scenarios.    It quoted another source saying Iran had lined up 100 other potential targets.
WAY OUT?
    If the U.S. military was spared casualties and Iran takes no further measures to retaliate for Soleimani’s killing, there might be an opportunity for Washington and Tehran to seek a way out of their increasingly violent confrontation.
    Analysts have said that despite its strident rhetoric, Iran will want to avoid any conventional military conflict with superior U.S. forces.    In the past, they say it has focused on asymmetric strikes, such as sabotage or other military action via proxies.
    U.S. officials said Soleimani was killed because of intelligence indicating forces under his command planned attacks on U.S. targets in the region.    They have not provided evidence.
    Before Soleimani was buried his body was taken on a tour of cities in Iraq and Iran, drawing huge crowds.    A stampede at his funeral on Tuesday killed at least 56 people.
    An hour after the Iranian missile attack, state television showed footage of the burial, where hundreds of people started chanting “God is greatest” when the strikes were announced over loudspeakers.
    “His revenge was taken and now he can rest in peace,” Iranian television said.    Graphic: Iran fires missiles at U.S bases in Iraq: https://graphics.reuters.com/IRQ-SECURITY/0100B4VF2PF/IRAQ-SECURITY.jpg
    Friction between Iran and the United States rose after Trump withdrew in 2018 from a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, approved by his predecessor Barack Obama, and reimposed sanctions on Tehran slashing its vital oil exports.
    Khamenei, in his speech on Wednesday, ruled out any resumption of talks with Washington on the 2015 deal.
    Trump’s U.S. political rivals have challenged his decision to order Soleimani’s killing and questioned its timing in a U.S. election year.
    Democrats in the U.S. Congress and some of the party’s presidential contenders warned about the escalating conflict.
    “We must ensure the safety of our service members, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence.    America & world cannot afford war,” U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Twitter.
    In an apparently unrelated incident, a Ukrainian airliner with more than 160 people on board crashed on Wednesday soon after taking off from Tehran, killing all on board.    The Ukrainian embassy said the cause was engine failure.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad, Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Phil Stewart, Steve Holland and Eric Beech in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Robin Emmott in Brussels, Writing by Edmund Blair and Angus MacSwan, Editing by Janet Lawrence)

1/8/2020 Ukrainian airliner crashes after take-off in Iran, killing all 176 aboard
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 with the registration UR-PSR,
taxis at Berlin Tegel airport, Germany October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Jan Seba
    DUBAI/KIEV (Reuters) – A Ukrainian airliner burst into flames shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard in a crash that an initial report blamed on engine failure.
    Debris and smoldering engine parts were strewn across a field around 10 km (six miles) from Imam Khomeini airport as rescue workers with face masks retrieved bodies of the victims.
    Ukraine’s embassy in Iran, citing preliminary information, said the Boeing 737 suffered engine failure and the crash was not caused by “terrorism.”
    Carrier Ukraine International Airlines said it was doing everything possible to confirm the cause, and the investigation would also involve Boeing and Ukrainian and Iranian authorities.    It was the Kiev-based airline’s first fatal accident.
    Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said all on board had died.    “My sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of all passengers and crew,” he said in a statement.
    “The fire is so heavy that we cannot do any rescue … we have 22 ambulances, four bus ambulances and a helicopter at the site,” Pirhossein Koulivand, head of Iran’s emergency services, told Iranian state television.
    Ukraine’s prime minister and Iranian state TV said 167 passengers and nine crew were on board.    Iranian TV said 32 of those on board were foreigners.
    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said the victims included 82 from Iran, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, three Germans and three Britons.    Most passengers were in transit, the airline said.
    Iranian media quoted a local aviation official as saying the pilot did not declare an emergency.
    Iranian TV said the crash was due to unspecified technical problems.    State broadcaster IRIB said on its website that one of the plane’s two black boxes – the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder – had been found.
GRAPHIC: Tehran plane crash – https://graphics.reuters.com/IRAN-CRASH/0100B4VH2PJ/Iran-air-crash.jpg
GOOD SAFETY RECORD
    The plane that crashed was a three-year-old Boeing 737-800NG en route to Kiev, air tracking service FlightRadar24 said.
    “The last scheduled maintenance of the aircraft took place on 06 January, 2020,” the airline said.
    A spokesman for the manufacturer said it was gathering more information.
    The 737-800 is one of the world’s most-flown models with a good safety record and does not have the software feature implicated in crashes of the 737 MAX.    Boeing grounded its 737 MAX fleet in March after two crashes that killed 346 people.
    The 737-800’s twin engines are made by CFM International, a U.S.-French venture co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran.
    Modern aircraft are designed and certified to cope with an engine failure shortly after take-off and to fly for extended periods on one engine.    However, an uncontained engine failure releasing shrapnel can cause damage to other aircraft systems.
    Under international rules overseen by the United Nations, Iran is responsible for leading the crash investigation.
    Ukraine would be involved and the United States would usually be accredited as the country where the jet was designed and built.    France, where the engine maker CFM has half its activities, may also be involved.
    With relations between Washington and Tehran mired in crisis, there was no immediate word on whether the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board would be involved in the investigation.
    The NTSB usually invites Boeing to give technical advice in such investigations.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Dubai newsroom, Matthias Williams in Kiev, Tim Hepher in Paris; Writing by John Stonestreet; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Simon Cameron-Moore and Giles Elgood)

1/8/2020 Outgunned, Iran invests in means to indirectly confront superpower enemy by Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: A display featuring missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is
seen at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran September 27, 2017. Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s launching of more than a dozen missiles at American-led forces in Iraq on Wednesday came after years of preparing for a confrontation with its superpower foe, whose forces are vastly larger and more advanced.
    The Gulf country has more than 500,000 active-duty personnel, including 125,000 members of its elite Revolutionary Guards, according to a report last year by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.    But international sanctions and restrictions on arms imports have made it hard for Iran to develop or buy more sophisticated weaponry.
    To compensate for the imbalance, Iran has developed “asymmetrical” responses – ballistic missiles, deadly drones and a web of militia allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, among other things – with the aim of being able to inflict pain while avoiding the traditional battlefield.
    “From a conventional military perspective they would get absolutely hammered,” said a British former military commander who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.    “Their conventional military is very, very sparse and quite old and quite out of date.    They’ve spent all their money on asymmetric attack capabilities.    In that regard they’re very well prepared.”
    Until Wednesday, the strategy had deterred a direct conflict with the U.S. as tensions spiked since Washington quit a multi-lateral nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.
    Gulf rival Saudi Arabia recently witnessed the damage that missile and drone assaults can cause, after a strike on its oil facilities last year briefly halved production and knocked out 5% of global crude supply.    Riyadh and Washington blamed Iran for the attack, a charge Tehran denied.
    Iran has built the largest stockpile of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.    Some are based on the older, widely used “Scud” designs, with a range of at least 750km (466 miles).    Others, based on the North Korean No Dong, can reach up to 2,000km, within reach of Israel or southeast Europe, according to a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report last year.
    The Revolutionary Guards fields a fleet of missile-armed speedboats and midget submarines it can deploy against U.S. military ships or commercial tankers to disrupt the flow of oil in Gulf waters, where Washington says Tehran attacked six tankers last year.
    “If you look at ships, tanks, jet fighters, Iran looks very weak.    But if you’re looking at anti-ship missiles, ballistic missiles, UAVs and things like that then it looks a lot more capable,” said Jeremy Binnie, Middle East and Africa editor for Jane’s Defense Weekly.
    Iran’s fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be used for surveillance or armed with explosives, according to military experts.
    “Iran in the Persian Gulf doesn’t really need to have big ships, not necessarily frigates and destroyers.    Speedboats, gun boats, missile boats can do the job,” said Hossein Aryan, a military analyst who served 18 years in Iran’s navy before and after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
    Major-General Qassem Soleimani, whose killing in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad last week sparked the Iranian retaliation on Wednesday, was the head of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force. The group handled clandestine operations outside Iran, working closely with allied military forces and militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
    Iran’s leaders have promised harsh reprisals over the death of Soleimani, who was a national hero to many Iranians but considered a dangerous villain by Western governments.
    He was buried in Iran on Tuesday after tens of thousands mourned him in a ceremony led by Iran’s supreme leader.
    U.S. officials have said Soleimani was killed because intelligence indicated forces under his command planned attacks on U.S. targets in the region, although they have provided no evidence.
    Democrats in the U.S. Congress and some of the party’s presidential contenders warned that the escalating conflict could spark a wider war in the Middle East.
    Lebanon’s Hezbollah, along with a handful of the Iraqi militias closely allied with Iran, have already pledged to take revenge against American forces for Soleimani’s death.
    More than 5,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq along with other foreign forces as part of a coalition that has trained and supported Iraqi security forces against the threat of Islamic State militants.
    American troops are also stationed at bases in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which hosts Al-Udeid air base, the largest U.S. military facility in the region. Bahrain is headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous, Michael Georgy and Gerry Doyle)
[Iran Mullahs launched a dozen missiles at American-led forces in Iraq to appease their inhabitants with their fake news and no casualties occurred and Trump had no reason to respond since they did not kill any Americans, so the Iranian leader can tell their population that they did something regarding Trump's killing of the terrorist Soleimoni, who was in Iraq to kill Americans.].

1/8/2020 Tens of thousands strike in India as slowdown hits jobs by Manoj Kumar
Activists of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) are detained during an anti-government protest rally, organised as
part of a nationwide strike by various trade unions in Guwahati, India, January 8, 2020. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of workers affiliated to trade unions led a strike in parts of India on Wednesday, disrupting transport and banking services in a protest against privatization and the growing impact of an economic slowdown on jobs.
    More than 10 national trade unions affiliated to left-wing parties, including the main opposition Congress, have called for a nationwide protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s labor reforms.    Those include the privatization of state run companies Air India and oil major BPCL , as well as a merger of public-sector banks.
    In the eastern state of West Bengal, workers disrupted train services in Kolkata and other towns while shops and banks were shut at various places.
    Buses, taxis and auto rickshaws stayed off the road in West Bengal, Kerala and some other states though the national capital Delhi and the financial hub Mumbai remained largely unaffected.
    C.H. Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees’ Association, said the proposed merger of 10 state banks into four banks would affect jobs and could hit the recovery of bad loans amounting to near $140 billion.
    “Modi government’s policies have led to a severe economic slowdown and have created bad loans for banks,” Venkatachalam told Reuters by phone, adding the government should take steps to help boost consumer demand by offering incentives to workers.
    The government has warned its employees that participation in the strike in any form would lead to deduction of wages and “appropriate disciplinary action”
    Asia’s third largest economy is facing its worst slowdown in decades, and the government on Tuesday forecast 5% growth for the current financial year, the slowest pace in 11 years, blamed on weakening demand and private investment.
    In a tweet, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the policies of the Modi government have created “catastrophic unemployment” and weakened state-run companies.
    Thousands of people have lost jobs in the manufacturing and the construction sector and debt-ridden companies have cut their investment plans.
    The unemployment rate rose to 7.7% in December from 7% a year earlier, data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, a Mumbai-based think tank, showed.
    The government is likely to cut spending for the current fiscal year by as much as 2 trillion rupees ($27.87 billion) as it faces one of the biggest tax shortfalls in recent years, mainly due to economic slowdown.
(Additional reporting by Nupur Anand in Mumbai and Subrata Nag Chaudhury in Kolkata; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

1/8/2020 250M workers strike in India to protest ‘unfair’ employment policies by OAN Newsroom
Trade union members shout slogans during a general strike called by various trade unions, in New Delhi, India,
Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. Trade unions have called for a country-wide strike Wednesday to protest against what
they call the “anti-workers and anti-people” policies of the government. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
    250 million people took to the streets on Wednesday, while labor unions in India called for a strike from all of their workers.    The strike was meant to highlight the 13 demands made by the central trade unions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
    Workers have said their demands were not met with enough respect from the government. So far, 10 major unions and several smaller groups have joined together to protest, with some promising to continue until the requests are met.
    “Today, the whole of India is observing a shutdown.    All the banks of the country are shut.    This is against the Central (federal government) privatization and anti-employee policies.    We want to show them that if you walk, taking the employees with you, only then will you be able to run this country.    Otherwise, we will keep on protesting and come out on the streets.” — Rajbir Singh, protester India
    Among the demands are requests for pensions, social security and, most importantly, an increase in minimum wage, which is currently only about $135 per month.
    The unions have called for four strikes since Modi’s election in 2014.
Trade union members shout slogans during a general strike called by various trade unions in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, Jan.8, 2020.
Trade unions have called for a country-wide strike Wednesday to protest against what they call the
anti-workers and anti-people” policies of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

1/8/2020 Indonesia’s president visits island in waters disputed by China
Indonesian President Joko Widodo visits a military base in Natuna, near the South China Sea, Indonesia,
January 8, 2020. Laily Rachev/Courtesy of Indonesian Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – President Joko Widodo visited an island in waters disputed by China on Wednesday to assert Indonesia’s sovereignty amid a standoff between Indonesian and Chinese vessels.
    The confrontation began in mid-December when a Chinese coast guard vessel and fishing boats, entered waters in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, off the coast of the northern Natuna islands, prompting Jakarta to summon Beijing’s ambassador.
    Widodo told reporters on Natuna Besar island that the disputed waters belong solely to Indonesia.
    “We have a district here, a regent, and a governor here,” he said.    “There are no more debates. De facto, de jure, Natuna is Indonesia.”
    Widodo also met with fishermen on the island.    Earlier this week, Indonesia deployed more ships and fighter jets to patrol the surrounding waters.    Nursyawal Embun, the director of sea operations at the Maritime Security Agency, said as of Wednesday morning that two Chinese coast guard vessels remained, while 10 Indonesian ships were on patrol.
    China has not claimed the Natuna islands themselves, but says it has nearby fishing rights within a self-proclaimed Nine-Dash Line that includes most of the South China Sea – a claim that is not recognized internationally.
    In 2017, Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea, as part of a push back against China’s maritime territorial ambitions.
    The dispute has soured Indonesia’s generally friendly relationship with China, its biggest trading partner and a major investor in Southeast Asia’s largest country.
    In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Luhut Pandjaitan, coordinating minister for maritime resources and investment, said that both Beijing and Jakarta will forge ahead with diplomatic discussions.
    “What’s the point of war?    Nothing.    Wars are the last step to a failing diplomatic process,” Pandjaitan said.
    China claims most of the South China Sea, a global trade route with rich fishing grounds and energy reserves, based on what it says is its historic activity.    But Southeast Asian countries, supported by the United States and much of the rest of the world, say such claims have no legal basis.
    On Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing and Jakarta are in contact through diplomatic channels.    “We wish to, with Indonesia, continue to appropriately deal with differences and uphold peace and stability in bilateral relations and the region,” Geng said.
    The last peak in tensions between Indonesia and China over the South China Sea was in 2016.    At the time, Widodo held a meeting with several of his ministers on board a naval ship in a show of support.
(The story refiles to edit to refer to Chinese foreign ministry spokesman as Geng is second to last par)
(Reporting by Fransiska Nangoy, Wilda Asmarini and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/8/2020 Taiwan to vote in shadow of China pressure, Hong Kong protests by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee
Supporters of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen attend a campaign ahead of the
presidential election in Changhua,Taiwan, January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan votes on Saturday in an election overshadowed by renewed Chinese efforts to get the island to accept their rule, and as Taiwan nervously watches Hong Kong protests, worried they may be next if China ever succeeds in bringing them under its control.
    Taiwan has been a democratic success story since holding its first direct presidential election in 1996, the culmination of decades of struggle against authoritarian rule and martial law under the Kuomintang, which ruled China until forced to flee to Taiwan in 1949 after loosing a civil war with the Communists.
    President Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party is seeking a second term, and is being challenged by the Kuomintang’s Han Kuo-yu, who favors close ties with Beijing and says this is the only way to ensure Taiwan’s security and prosperity.
    The issue of China has taken front and center in the campaign, especially after President Xi Jinping warned last year they could attack Taiwan, though said he’d prefer a peaceful “one country, two systems” formula to get control of the island.
    Both Tsai and Han have rejected “one country, two systems,” though the DPP has painted a vote for the Kuomintang as effectively a vote for that model. Han has angrily denied this.
    On Monday, Tsai’s team released a slick new campaign video comparing Taiwan’s freedoms with the struggle in Hong Kong, interspersed with images of Xi and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
    “A few hundred miles from here, many young people are using their blood and tears to defend freedom,” Tsai wrote on Facebook in introducing the video.
    The idea of imposing a “one country, two systems” model of a high degree of autonomy much like China offers the former British colony of Hong Kong has never been popular in Taiwan.
    It is even less so now after months of anti-government protests in the former British colony.    The protesters have widespread public sympathy in Taiwan, and both the DPP and Kuomintang have pledged to help those who flee to the island.
    Han has complained of “dirty tricks” being used to smear him as a puppet for China, especially revelations in Australian media from a self-proclaimed Chinese spy who claimed China has supported Han. Han strongly rejects this.
    “I beseech Taiwan’s people, in the 2020 presidential and parliamentary election, open your eyes.    I hope Taiwan’s people see these wicked smears to paint me black, red and yellow and make a rational decision,” Han said on Tuesday.
SCARING TAIWAN
    In the run-up to the election, China has repeated its “one country, two systems” offer to Taiwan.
    Liu Jieyi, the urbane head of China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, wrote in the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily last week that people in Taiwan were “positively exploring” this model, though offered no evidence.
    But one Chinese official, who meets regularly with senior members of the People’s Liberation Army, told Reuters that the Hong Kong protests had “increased the difficulty of getting Taiwan back.”
    “What’s happening there is scaring Taiwan,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, referring to conversations with military officers.
    While China has denied seeking to interfere in Taiwan’s elections, Taiwan’s parliament on the final day of last year passed a new anti-infiltration law designed to stop Chinese influence on Taiwan’s democracy.
    China’s military is not idly sitting on the sidelines.
    Its newest aircraft carrier, the Shandong, has twice sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait in the past two months, most recently in late December.
    The United States, Taiwan’s main arms supplier and strongest international backer even in the absence of official diplomatic ties, has said it is concerned at Chinese efforts to sway the election.
    Zhou Bo, director of the Center for Security Cooperation of the Office for International Military Cooperation at China’s Defense Ministry, said China “of course” wanted to resolve the “Taiwan issue” peacefully.
    But China could not sit by while Taiwan continued attempts to distance itself from China, and the United States should heed that warning, he said.
    “I don’t know whether the United States is prepared to pay the price militarily for Taiwan.”
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Michael Perry)

1/8/2020 Indonesian army wields internet ‘news’ as a weapon in Papua by Tom Allard and Jack Stubbs
Indonesian Marine personnel march as they take part on celebrations for the 74th Indonesian National Armed Forces
day at Halim Perdanakusuma airbase in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    JAKARTA/LONDON (Reuters) – As Indonesia celebrated its National Heroes’ Day last year, official military social media accounts lavished praise on Corporal Yunanto Nugroho for the “myriad awards he has won in the field of IT.”
    It was unusual acclaim for a low-ranking army computer operator.    But Yunanto’s work is not confined to the usual mundane tasks of an information technology specialist.
    Yunanto co-ordinates a network of websites facilitated and funded by the military that publishes pro-government propaganda under the guise of independent news, according to web registration records and Reuters interviews with website editors and a special forces intelligence officer.
    The sites publish content that supports the conduct of the military and police in quashing a separatist uprising in the Indonesian provinces in Papua, a fight that has long been led by the country’s elite special forces, Kopassus.
    Colonel Muhammad Aidi, an intelligence adviser to a Kopassus commander who bestowed an award on Yunanto in November, told Reuters the army computer operator had helped create and sustain many news websites as part of “military efforts” in partnership with civilian volunteers that included youths and media veterans who had approached the military to help.
    Other armed forces personnel also helped the sites and the military financially supported the news portals, he added.
    “The official armed forces websites cannot publish everything we do, so there are several media outlets that have been supporting us by publishing positive news as well as countering negative or hoax websites,” Aidi told Reuters in an interview.
    Indonesia, an emerging democracy of nearly 270 million people with one of the world’s highest rates of internet use, is grappling with persistent covert online disinformation campaigns – both for the government and against it – that have disrupted elections and stoked sectarian tensions.
    President Joko Widodo has railed against “hoaxes, false news and slander” but his military is also engaging in disinformation tactics, an examination of the website network by Reuters shows.
    A spokesman for Widodo did not respond to requests for comment.    Ali Mochtar Ngabalin, a presidential expert staff member, said the military was prohibited from working with non-state actors.    “I do not believe the military is involved in funding online media to spread hoaxes,” he told Reuters.
    Using software from DomainTools, a platform used by cybersecurity researchers to review historical web records, Reuters identified 10 websites presenting themselves as independent news outlets that were registered to a mobile phone number that was listed on Yunanto’s LinkedIn profile.
    When Reuters contacted that number, Yunanto said it belonged to him and that he was in the military.    After this short phone call and an exchange of text messages, Yunanto declined to respond to detailed questions sent to an email address he provided.
    The 10 websites, some of which have been operating since mid-2017, are in the Indonesian language and carry names such as berita-indonesia.co.id (News-Indonesia), koranprogresif.co.id (Progressive Newspaper) and viralreporter5.com.    They do not disclose their links to the military, and in recent months most of them have made their domain information private.
    The websites publish uniformly positive coverage of government, military and police alongside articles that demonize government critics and human rights investigators.    The subjects of some stories told Reuters the websites attributed invented quotes to them and published other falsehoods.
    Lieutenant Colonel Zulhardie, the head of the army’s Jakarta-based information unit, of which Yunanto is a part, referred Reuters questions to the Indonesian military spokesman Sisriadi who did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
‘OUR PAPUAN PEOPLE’S NEWS’
    With a name that translates as “Our Papuan People’s News” and claiming 80,000 views per month, kitorangpapuanews.com is one of three of the military-sponsored websites that registered its address as the Media Center at Kodam Jayakarta, the army’s regional command headquarters based in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.
    Yunanto works for the Kodam Jayakarta information unit that runs the Media Center where military personnel push out press releases and manage military web pages and social media accounts, according to articles on the headquarters’ website.
    Kitorangpapuanews.com is devoted to pro-government news about Papua, where many of the region’s ethnic Melanesian population have agitated for independence for decades.    Mass demonstrations have resulted in at least 40 deaths there this year.
    In response to the recent unrest, the government has periodically shut down the internet in Papua and forbidden foreign journalists and some diplomats from visiting the area.
    Papuan movie actor Benyamin Lagowan told Reuters he was falsely quoted in a 2017 kitorangpapuanews.com article that reported he made “scathing” remarks about Papuan journalist and advocate Victor Mambor.    He never spoke to the news outlet and admired Mambor, he said.
    Theo Hesegem, a human rights investigator in Papua, was denounced by kitorangpapuanews.com in a 2017 article that was accompanied by a photomontage framing him alongside a devil with fiery eyes.    The story accused him of fabricating a report for the human rights group Tapol that found five civilians were shot during clashes between the military and armed Papuan separatists.
    After the article appeared, Hesegem said he was approached by a police officer saying he was under investigation for producing fake news, a crime that carries a penalty of up to four years.
    “I interviewed the victims and saw their bullet wounds,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.    The police investigation petered out after the rights investigator demanded police serve him with a formal summons, Hesegem said.
    Reuters could not independently verify Hesegem’s account.    A police spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.     Kitorangpapuanews.com does not identify its editorial team.    It did not respond to Reuters questions.    Aidi said he did not know who was behind the site.
‘THANK YOU’ PAYMENTS
    As well as being promoted by popular military and government social media accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, kitorangpapuanews.com material is heavily shared by a network of 20 Facebook and Twitter accounts.    The accounts retweet each other’s posts and use profile photos or cartoons made to look like Papuan residents.
    Some accounts describe themselves as “free Papua” activists but criticize advocates for Papuan self-determination, including prominent lawyer Veronica Koman.
    The use of these social media accounts was a deliberate strategy to “confuse Papuan people,” said Koman.    “In fact, it’s just propaganda.”
    Top editors from two of the other sites in the network – Jesayas Simarmata from berita-indonesia.co.id and M. Ridhwan from koranprogressif.co.id – described how the military paid for advertising and for journalists to attend military events.    Ridhwan said his website was paid by army bases across Indonesia.
    The editors said further that Yunanto, who put their sites on a server and had access to them as the web administrator, uploaded articles to their sites, including content from kitorangpapuanews.com.    One of those articles, which lambasted Koman, was published on nine other websites in November.
    Simarmata said kitorangpapuanews.com was operated by the army’s Jakarta command headquarters.
    Aidi from Kopassus said there was no need for the websites to disclose their ties to the armed forces.    The military just gave money to the websites as informal “thank you” payments, he said.
(Reporting by Tom Allard in JAKARTA and Jack Stubbs in LONDON; Additional reporting by Reuters Jakarta bureau; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Bill Rigby)

1/9/2020 Don’t read too much into election results, Taiwan tells China before vote by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan's Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Wu speaks during an
interview in Taipei, Taiwan November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Fabian Hamacher
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Beijing should not see Taiwan’s elections as representing a win or loss for China, Taiwan’s foreign minister said on Thursday, days ahead of a vote overshadowed by Chinese efforts to get the island to accept its rule.
    Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday.    Its elections are always closely watched by China, which claims the island as its territory.
    Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name, and the government has warned of Beijing’s efforts to sway the vote in favor of the opposition.
    “I just don’t think China should read Taiwan’s election as its own victory or defeat,” Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters in Taipei.
    “If China reads too much into our election … there might be a likely scenario that China will engage in military intimidation or diplomatic isolation or using economic measures as punishment against Taiwan.”
    President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election, has repeatedly warned Taiwan’s people to be wary of Chinese attempts to sway the election through disinformation or military intimidation, an accusation China denies.
    Wu drew attention to China’s sailing of its new aircraft carrier into the sensitive Taiwan Strait late last year, calling the voyage “clear” evidence of Beijing’s attempts to intimidate voters.
    “This is our own election.    This is not China’s election.    It is Taiwanese people who go to the voting booth to make a judgment on which candidate or political party is better for them,” Wu said.
    “If China wants to play with democracies in other countries so much, maybe they can try with their own elections at some point.”
    The issue of China has taken center stage in the campaign, especially after its president, Xi Jinping, warned last year it could attack Taiwan, though said he’d prefer a peaceful “one country, two systems” formula to rule the island.
    Taiwan-China ties have soured since Tsai took office in 2016, with China cutting off formal dialogue, flying bomber patrols around Taiwan, and whittling away at its diplomatic allies.
    China suspects Tsai of pushing for the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.    Tsai says she will maintain the status quo but will defend Taiwan’s democracy and way of life.
‘EVERY BALLOT HAS POWER’
    In a front-page election advertisement in the mass circulation Liberty Times on Thursday, Tsai appealed directly for people to cast their vote against China.
    “In the face of China, every ballot has power,” the advertisement read, next to a picture of Tsai wearing a camouflaged military helmet and flak jacket.
    Tsai’s main opponent is Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which ruled China until 1949, when it was forced to flee to Taiwan after loosing a civil war with the Communists.
    Han says he would reset ties with Beijing to boost Taiwan’s economy, but not compromise on the island’s security or democratic way of life.
    In a Facebook post later on Thursday, Tsai wrote that China would be happiest if the Kuomintang got back into power.
    “The elections should make Taiwan’s people happy, not the Chinese government,” she added.
    But Kuomintang Chairman Wu Den-yih said Tsai was the real threat, pointing to an anti-infiltration law she championed and passed late last year to tackle Chinese influence.    The Kuomintang says the law seeks to effectively outlaw all contacts with China.
    “Don’t let Tsai Ing-wen destroy the Republic of China’s democracy, liberty and rule of law; just take down Tsai Ing-wen,” the party cited Wu Den-yih as saying, referring to Taiwan by its official name.
    Overshadowing the elections have been allegations in Australian media from a self-professed Chinese spy about China’s efforts to influence Taiwan’s politics and support Han, who, along with Beijing, has denounced the accusations as lies.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

1/9/2020 U.S. congressional study urges sanctions on China over ‘crimes against humanity’ by Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO: A Chinese national flag flutters near a minaret of the ancient Id Kah Mosque in the Old City
in Kashgar in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. congressional report called for sanctions against China over human rights abuses, and for U.S. officials to keep rights concerns in mind during dealings with Beijing, including trade negotiations.
    The annual human rights report from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China said human rights and rule of law conditions worsened in China from August 2018 to August 2019, the period studied.
    The report detailed what is said was China’s crackdown on religious minorities, labor activists and the press, and focused extensively on treatment of the minority Muslim Uighur population in Xinjiang, “where the Commission believes Chinese authorities may be committing crimes against humanity.”
    “In addition, the Administration should develop talking points for U.S. Government officials – including those engaged in trade negotiations – that consistently link freedoms of press, speech, and association to U.S. and Chinese interests,” the report released on Wednesday said.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the report was neither objective nor credible.    The United States should reflect on its own human rights situation and stop smearing China, he said at a daily briefing on Thursday in Beijing.
    It was the latest salvo from Washington over China’s human rights record, particularly the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang region, where at least a million people have been detained in what is seen by many in the West as a grave abuse of human rights and religious freedom.
    Beijing says it is providing vocational training to help stamp out separatism and to teach new skills.    It denies any mistreatment of Uighurs.
HONG KONG
    The Commission is led by Democratic Representative Jim McGovern and Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
    Negotiators were working on a new version of a bill that would require President Donald Trump’s administration to toughen its response to China’s crackdown on its Muslim minorities, they said at a news conference unveiling the report.
    China reacted angrily when the Democratic-led House of Representatives passed the bill late last year.    It stalled in the Senate, which passed its own, less stringent bill earlier in the year, amid trade talks between Washington and China.
    Rubio said he expected a version of the bill that could pass the Senate unanimously – avoiding procedural snafus that could block legislation in that chamber – and pass the House and be signed into law by Trump.
    McGovern said he expected a compromise bill would move forward in 2020, “hopefully soon,” in both the Senate and House, and he expected Trump would sign it.
    “We will get to ‘yes.’    That is my belief,” McGovern said.
    Some lawmakers at the news briefing called China’s treatment of the Uighurs a “crime against humanity.”
    To address the abuses, the study recommended tightening access to U.S. capital markets for Chinese companies that provide support or technical capabilities for repression.
    It recommended rights sanctions against businesses and officials involved in the mass internment and surveillance of Uighurs.    The report said the Chinese government has used facial-recognition cameras and mobile telephone-monitoring systems to create an “open-air prison,” the report said.
    It backed controlling the sale of facial-recognition systems, machine learning and biometric technology by placing agencies on the Department of Commerce’s “Entity List,” preventing purchases from U.S. suppliers.
    The study also described a “further erosion” of Hong Kong’s autonomy and fundamental freedoms, and said months of pro-democracy protests reveal “deep discontent” at a grassroots level.
    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Office in Hong Kong said the study “distorts the truth,” in a statement posted on its website on Thursday.    Hong Kong residents’ rights and freedoms are fully protected, it said, and the “black hand” of the United States is responsible for inciting protests.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry, Bernadette Baum and Alison Williams)

1/9/2020 EU’s Michel urges Iran’s Rouhani to comply with nuclear deal
FILE PHOTO: European Council President Charles Michel delivers a speech during a debate
at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, December 18, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Council President Charles Michel said on Thursday he had spoken to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and urged Tehran to comply with the 2015 arms control agreement that prevents it developing nuclear weapons.
    Iran said on Sunday that it was stepping back from its commitments under the deal, known as the JCPOA.
    “Just spoke with @HassanRouhani about recent developments. JCPOA remains crucial for global security.    I called Iran not to pose irreversible acts,” Michel, who coordinates EU government positions in Brussels, said in a tweet.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Robin Emmott)

1/9/2020 Beijing: ‘Phase one’ U.S.-China trade deal to be signed next week by OAN Newsroom
FILE – American flags are displayed together with Chinese flags on top of a trishaw in Beijing. China’s economy czar will visit
Washington next week for the signing of an interim trade deal, the government said Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)
    China’s vice premier is making a trip to Washington next week to finalize a ‘phase one’ trade deal.    According to Beijing’s Commerce Ministry Thursday, the interim deal is scheduled to be signed on Wednesday.
    Under the agreement, Washington is expected to postpone planned tariff hikes on Chinese imports, while Beijing will likely pledge to buy more U.S. farm products.
    “Vice Premier and chief of the Chinese side of the China-U.S. comprehensive economic dialogue will visit Washington as the head of a delegation from Jan. 13 to 15 to sign the ‘phase one’ economic and trade agreement with the United States,” stated Gao Feng, spokesman for Chinese Commerce Ministry.    “The teams of both sides are in close communication regarding the detailed arrangement of the signing."
File – Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng is pictured. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo)
    Following the signing of the ‘phase one’ deal, President Trump has said he plans to travel to Beijing for more negotiations in hopes of reaching a final agreement.

1/9/2020 Hong Kong exchange chief warns of economic ‘devastation’ from protests by Jennifer Hughes and Anne Marie Roantree
Chief Executive of Hong Kong Exchange and Clearing (HKEX) Charles Li speaks during a Reuters
Breakingviews event in Hong Kong, China, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The “depth of the devastation” inflicted on Hong Kong’s economy by more than six months of anti-government protests will be seen in the coming weeks, the chief of the city’s stock exchange operator said on Thursday.
    The warning came as Hong Kong-based companies are expected to show the scars of the sometimes violent protests that forced businesses to shut and scared away visitors over the next few weeks when they report their annual results.
    “I think local listed companies with local exposure are going to take a very big hit.    They already are taking a big hit,” Charles Li, CEO of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd (HKEX) <0388.HK>, told a Reuters Breakingviews event.
    HKEX itself posted its steepest profit slide in nearly three years in the third quarter, as investor sentiment was hit by months of unrest that pushed the city into recession for the first time in a decade.
    The protests have evolved over the months into a broad pro-democracy campaign, with demands for universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into complaints of police brutality.
    Many people are angered by what they see as Beijing’s ever-tightening grip on the city that was promised a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” formula under which it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Beijing denies interference in the former British colony and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.
    Li said what made Hong Kong great was “one country, two systems,” and that he believed China would fundamentally come to the judgement that the two systems worked for the world’s second-largest economy, even in the worst case scenario.,br>     HKEX earnings for 2019 are expected to be bolstered by a pick-up in share sales in the fourth quarter, with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba raising almost $13 billion from its secondary listing in Hong Kong.
    Referring to Alibaba, which in 2013 dropped plans for a primary listing in Hong Kong and turned instead to New York due to rigid listing rules, Li said the exchange needed to eliminate barriers for companies to return.
    HKEX launched a surprise $39 billion approach for the London Stock Exchange Group in September, but withdrew it after failing to convince LSE management and investors to back the move.
    On potential acquisitions, Li said all options were on the table.
(Reporting by Jennifer Hughes and Anne Marie Roantree; Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alex Richardson)

1/9/2020 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Gen. says Iran has hundreds of missiles targeting American forces by OAN Newsroom
In this photo taken Aug. 26, 2019 and released by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Devin Boyer,
435th Air Expeditionary Wing photojournalist, salutes the flag during a ceremony signifying the change from
tactical to enduring operations at Camp Simba, Manda Bay, Kenya. (Staff Sgt. Lexie West/U.S. Air Force via AP)
    Iran’s Ayatollah regime is making new threats against U.S. military personnel in the Middle East.    On Thursday, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard said the group has prepared hundreds of missiles to carry out new strikes on U.S. forces in Iraq and beyond.
    The Iranian general said American troops must leave the Middle East to avoid further losses.
    President Trump believes Iran is now standing down after its largely symbolic attack on the al-Assad Air Base in Iraq earlier this week.    However, Tehran has said Iran is prepared for a full-scale conflict.
    “It is in their best interest that they themselves voluntarily leave, not only Iraq, but also Afghanistan and Arab countries,” said General Amir Ali Hajizadeh.    “As far as I know, from the resistance front to the new ones that are being formed in the region will cause them to leave the region with damage and embarrassment.”
    The Iranian general pointed out the Iraqi parliament voted to expel U.S. troops and called on other Middle Eastern countries to pass similar resolutions.
Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone strike
on Friday, at the Enqelab-e-Eslami (Islamic Revolution) square in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

1/9/2020 Canadian PM Trudeau says evidence suggests Iran shot down Ukrainian plane by OAN Newsroom
Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference updating the Iran plane crash, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020,
in Ottawa, as Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan looks on. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)
    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is saying there is evidence the Ukraine International Airlines plane, which crashed and burned outside Tehran, was shot down by Iran. His remarks came after reports quoted senior U.S. Defense and Intelligence officials, who said the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile system.
    All 176 passengers on board were killed in Wednesday’s crash, including 63 Canadian citizens.
    “We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence,” stated Trudeau.    “The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”
    He added the firing of the missile at the Ukrainian plane may have been unintentional.
FILE – In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 file photo debris at the scene where a Ukrainian plane
crashed in Shahedshahr southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    Ukrainian officials are investigating the possibility of a missile strike and want to investigate the crash site after seeing photos of the wreckage.    They have rejected earlier claims that the aircraft crashed due to technical issues.
    While speaking at a UN meeting in New York on Thursday, the country’s deputy foreign minister said the circumstances of the incident remain unclear.
    The diplomat urged the UN to ensure Iran’s full cooperation with the probe.
    “176 innocent lives have been lost, citizens of Iran, Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan, Germany and the United Kingdom,” stated Sergiy Kyslytsya.    “It is now up to the experts to investigate it and to find answers to the questions of what caused the crash.”
People look at a memorial at Borispil international airport outside in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, for the flight
crew members of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    President Trump weighed in on Wednesday’s incident, saying he does not believe mechanical failure caused the Ukrainian jet to crash.    The president said he has his suspicions, but did not give details.
    He added the plane was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood and somebody could have made a mistake.    When asked by reporters if he thought the plane was shot down by accident, the president said he’s waiting on more information to be released.
    “At some point, they’ll release the black box,” he said.    “I have a feeling that something very terrible happened.”

1/9/2020 Exclusive: Informants in Iraq, Syria helped U.S. kill Iran’s Soleimani – sources by Reuters staff
Mourners attend funeral and burial of Iranian Major-General and head of the elite Quds Force Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in an air
strike at Baghdad airport, at his hometown in Kerman, Iran, January 8, 2020. Zoheir Seidanlou//WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Iranian General Qassem Soleimani arrived at the Damascus airport in a vehicle with dark-tinted glass.    Four soldiers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards rode with him. They parked near a staircase leading to a Cham Wings Airbus A320, destined for Baghdad.
    Neither Soleimani nor the soldiers were registered on the passenger manifesto, according to a Cham Wings airline employee who described the scene of their departure from the Syrian capital to Reuters.    Soleimani avoided using his private plane because of rising concerns about his own security, said an Iraqi security source with knowledge of Soleimani’s security arrangements.
    The passenger flight would be Soleimani’s last. Rockets fired from a U.S. drone killed him as he left the Baghdad airport in a convoy of two armored vehicles.    Also killed was the man who met him at the airport: Abu Mahdi Muhandis, deputy head of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Iraqi government’s umbrella group for the country’s militias.
    The Iraqi investigation into the strikes that killed the two men on Jan. 3 started minutes after the U.S. strike, two Iraqi security officials told Reuters. National Security agents sealed off the airport and prevented dozens of security staff from leaving, including police, passport officers and intelligence agents.
    Investigators have focused on how suspected informants inside the Damascus and Baghdad airports collaborated with the U.S. military to help track and pinpoint Soleimani’s position, according to Reuters interviews with two security officials with direct knowledge of Iraq’s investigation, two Baghdad airport employees, two police officials and two employees of Syria’s Cham Wings Airlines, a private commercial airline headquartered in Damascus.
    The probe is being led by Falih al-Fayadh, who serves as Iraq’s National Security Adviser and the head of the PMF, the body that coordinates with Iraq’s mostly Shi’ite militias, many of which are backed by Iran and had close ties to Soleimani.
    The National Security agency’s investigators have “strong indications that a network of spies inside Baghdad Airport were involved in leaking sensitive security details” on Soleimani’s arrival to the United States, one of the Iraqi security officials told Reuters.
    The suspects include two security staffers at the Baghdad airport and two Cham Wings employees – “a spy at the Damascus airport and another one working on board the airplane,” the source said.    The National Security agency’s investigators believe the four suspects, who have not been arrested, worked as part of a wider group of people feeding information to the U.S. military, the official said.
    The two employees of Cham Wings are under investigation by Syrian intelligence, the two Iraqi security officials said.    The Syrian General Intelligence Directorate did not respond to a request for comment.    In Baghdad, National Security agents are investigating the two airport security workers, who are part of the nation’s Facility Protection Service, one of the Iraqi security officials said.
    “Initial findings of the Baghdad investigation team suggest that the first tip on Soleimani came from Damascus airport,” the official said.    “The job of the Baghdad airport cell was to confirm the arrival of the target and details of his convoy.”
    The media office of Iraq’s National Security agency did not respond to requests for comment.    The Iraq mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to a request for comment.
    The U.S. Department of Defense declined to comment on whether informants in Iraq and Syria played a role in the attacks.    U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the United States had been closely tracking Soleimani’s movements for days prior to the strike but declined to say how the military pinpointed his location the night of the attack.
    A Cham Wings manager in Damascus said airline employees were prohibited from commenting on the attack or investigation.    A spokesman for Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority, which operates the nation’s airports, declined to comment on the investigation but called it routine after “such incidents which include high-profile officials.”
    Soleimani’s plane landed at the Baghdad airport at about 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 3, according to two airport officials, citing footage from its security cameras. The general and his guards exited the plane on a staircase directly to the tarmac, bypassing customs.    Muhandis met him outside the plane, and the two men stepped into a waiting armored vehicle.    The soldiers guarding the general piled into another armored SUV, the airport officials said.
    As airport security officers looked on, the two vehicles headed down the main road leading out of the airport, the officials said.    The first two U.S. rockets struck the vehicle carrying Soleimani and Muhandis at 12:55 a.m.    The SUV carrying his security was hit seconds later.
    As commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds force, Soleimani ran clandestine operations in foreign countries and was a key figure in Iran’s long-standing campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Iraq. He spent years running covert operations and cultivating militia leaders in Iraq to extend Iran’s influence and fight the interests of the United States. Reuters reported on Saturday that, starting in October,     Soleimani had secretly launched stepped-up attacks on U.S. forces stationed in Iraq and equipped Iraqi militias with sophisticated weaponry to carry them out.
    The attack on the general sparked widespread outrage and vows of revenge in Iran, which responded on Wednesday with a missile attack on two Iraq military bases that house U.S. troops.    No Americans or Iraqis were killed or injured in the strike.
    In the hours after the attack, investigators pored over all incoming calls and text messages by the airport night-shift staff in search of who might have tipped off the United States to Soleimani’s movements, the Iraqi security officials said.    National Security agents conducted hours-long interrogations with employees of airport security and Cham Wings, the sources said. One security worker said agents questioned him for 24 hours before releasing him.
    For hours, they grilled him about who he had spoken or text with before Soleimani’s plane landed – including any “weird requests” related to the Damascus flight – and confiscated his mobile phone.
    “They asked me a million questions,” he said.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

1/10/2020 Fearing war, nuclear proliferation, Europe scrambles to calm Iran tensions by John Irish and Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European nations will seek on Friday to find ways to guide the United States and Iran away from confrontation knowing that a miscalculation from either side could leave the bloc facing a war and a serious nuclear proliferation crisis at its doorstep.
    EU foreign ministers, in a rare emergency meeting, may avoid any tough diplomatic response for now.    Washington and Tehran backed off from intensified conflict following the U.S. killing of an Iranian general, and Tehran’s retaliatory missile strikes avoided military casualties.
    “Iran’s desire to prevent the crisis from escalating has bought us some time, it has the effect of cooling this down just a little,” a senior EU diplomat said.
    But the simmering tensions have highlighted Europe’s struggles to influence either side and play a mediating role with powerhouses Britain, France and Germany desperately trying to pressure Iran to stick to a 2015 nuclear pact and pullback from further escalation.
    They also want to convince U.S. President Donald Trump, who on Wednesday called on them to join him in withdrawing from the nuclear agreement, that they are tough-minded allies who will not be deceived by Tehran.
    With Baghdad also caught between the crossfire of Washington and Tehran, there are growing concerns that the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants could be weakened, or even forced out of Iraq, something that the European powers see as crucial to prevent for their own security interests.
    “We need to coordinate and maximize the effect everybody has in trying to deescalate what the Iranians do, but it’s the same for the Americans.    What’s most worrying is a miscalculation,” said a French diplomatic source.
NUCLEAR VIOLATIONS
    But Iran’s decision on Monday to scrap limits imposed on its nuclear enrichment under the arms control accord has also left the European powers in an awkward position.
    Iran, which says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, has already breached many of the restrictions under the deal, intended to increase the amount of time Tehran would need to accumulate enough fissile material for an atomic bomb from two to three months to about a year.
    The latest announcements could start drastically reducing that time and the three European powers, who along with Russia and China, have attempted to salvage the deal since the United States pulled out and reimposed tough economic sanctions in 2018, are keen to send a firm message that the breaches are unacceptable.
    They have agreed to launch a dispute resolution process within the accord that could ultimately lead to renewed U.N. sanctions on Tehran, but have hesitated on the timing following this week’s tensions fearing that Iran may react badly.
    Despite its nuclear announcement, Tehran has said inspectors from the international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, can continue their inspections, leaving some wiggle room for diplomacy.
    “Iran has not set any targets or deadlines when it comes to uranium enrichment targets, so that gives us time,” a second EU diplomat said.
    A third EU diplomat said the decision to launch the process had been made, but that Friday was unlikely.
    “There is a concern that it could trigger an Iranian escalation,” said a European diplomat.
    “We have made it clear that our objective in doing this is to resolve our differences over Iran’s violations within the framework of the nuclear deal.    Launching this process is not aimed at going to the U.N. for now.”
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

1/10/2020 Tear gas and water cannons: Hong Kong students brave the front lines to livestream the protests by Mari Saito
Student journalist Oscar Tsoi, 19, rides an elevator with friends Jeff Cheung, 19,
and Ryan Cheng, 18, in Hong Kong, December 27, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – It was holiday time at Hong Kong’s sprawling Harbour City shopping mall, and shoppers posed for selfies next to giant presents wrapped in golden foil, while toddlers jumped into a ball pit filled with fake marshmallows.    College students Oscar Tsoi and Joanna Ho raced past candy-colored Christmas trees, on the tail of riot police and protesters.
    Tsoi, a skinny 19-year-old who looks even younger, was wearing a fluorescent yellow safety vest over his signature white hoodie.    Ho, 20, had on combat-style boots and a corduroy skirt with her safety vest.    They were both wearing helmets with the word PRESS stamped across them.
    “I think it’s bulletproof,” Tsoi said with a weak smile, pointing to his khaki-green helmet.
    For months, Tsoi and Ho have been on the ground at nearly every protest and rally across Hong Kong, joining a tight-knit band of student reporters who tweet, livestream and send updates from the front lines of the historic pro-democracy demonstrations.
    Although they haven’t even graduated from college, the student journalists often jostle for position next to veteran photographers and newspaper reporters and have captured some of the most striking scenes of the protests, including a video of a police officer shooting a teenage demonstrator in October.
    Tsoi, a sophomore at the University of Hong Kong, didn’t plan to spend his nights and weekends prowling shopping malls and streets filled with tear gas and pepper spray.    He was studying Chinese and philosophy and working for an academic society in his college when the protests erupted last June over now-scrapped extradition legislation.
    When the unrest flared, Ho was a linguistics major minoring in media studies, hoping to one day break into broadcast journalism.    When she heard her classmates complaining that the campus publication didn’t have enough reporters to cover the protests, she volunteered.
    Tsoi and Ho both work for the Undergrad, a student union publication with 70 years of history at their university.    Ho mainly films protests with her iPhone, while Tsoi takes pictures of arrests using his heavy Canon camera.    When they’re not running between demonstrations or sending a steady stream of images for the publication’s Facebook feed, they’re glued to their phones, where they monitor dozens of Telegram channels for news of protesters clashing with police.
    Once widely respected, police have been criticized for their handling of the protests.
    “The police call us ‘black journalists’ because we’re around the same age as the protesters and they think we can’t be neutral,” Tsoi said.    “They call us kids and tell us to go home.”
    Tsoi admitted it can be hard not to get emotionally involved in the story when he sees students his age arrested or tear-gassed.
    “Actually, I have several friends arrested during this protest, and it’s really hard not to step into their shoes since they could be me and I could be them,” he said.    “I think the only thing we can do is to push our own emotions down and when we’re reporting … you have to switch your brain to a different mode.”
    Covering the protests can quickly become dangerous for the students. Ho said she was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet fired by police to disperse protesters who threw Molotov cocktails and started a fire in November.    It was one of the very first events she covered as a reporter.
    Bruce Lui, a senior lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University’s journalism school, estimated that around 100 student reporters now routinely cover the protests.
    Lui, who previously reported as a correspondent in mainland China and Hong Kong for 14 years, counsels his students to prepare to be harassed while covering the often-volatile protests.
    “I tell them, ‘You have to treat yourself like you’re working in China,'” he said. Lui said that even though students have less training than those with decades in the field, they’re getting practical experience on the ground and bring an important perspective to the coverage of the protests.
    Two of his students were arrested last year, and Lui posted bail for them both and found them lawyers.    He also accompanied them home so he could calm their parents.
    Hong Kong’s police say they respect the freedom of the press and the right of the media to report and record police operations.    In an emailed response to questions, the police’s public relations branch answered that on numerous occasions, people dressed as journalists attacked their officers and that they had seized counterfeit press badges.
    “Members of the media are strongly advised to take care of their personal safety and avoid exposing themselves to danger by placing themselves directly between Police and those they are engaged with,” it said, adding that anyone who believes they have been “unreasonably treated” should file an official complaint.
    The Hong Kong Journalists Association has filed more than 30 complaints to the Independent Police Complaints Council over police officers’ actions toward reporters.    The association hasn’t been able to compile a full list of injured and arrested journalists because it happens so frequently, said Chris Yeung, the chairman of the association.
    Police distrust of student reporters may come as no surprise to some, given that university campuses in Hong Kong have been the sites for some of the most dramatic clashes between young protesters and riot officers.    As of December 19, police had arrested 6,127 people in connection with the protests, and nearly half of them were university and secondary school students.
    Tsoi said his parents are supportive and have long given up trying to get their son to pursue other interests.    When he left home to travel more than an hour by bus and train to cover yet another protest on Christmas Day, he just told them he wouldn’t be home in time for dinner.
    “They know not to ask,” he said.
    Though he appears shy at first glance, Tsoi’s smile disappears in the field.
    On another day during the busy Christmas season, plainclothes police entered one of Hong Kong’s big shopping arcades; protesters spotted them at once.    The cops try their best to blend in by wearing Adidas and black masks, but their earpieces and matching buzzcuts quickly give them away.
    When Tsoi saw the squad scuffling with protesters and pulling some teenagers aside to make arrests, he walked up to one of the officers, an intimidating man wearing dark sunglasses and mask.    Nearby, a couple sat on velvet chairs, shopping bags from luxury retailers pooled at their feet.    They peered through plastic shutters the store clerk lowers when trouble is near.
    “Where’s your police ID?” Tsoi demanded even as the police officer jabbed his finger in the young man’s narrow chest.    “Show me your ID,” Tsoi persisted, inches away from the officer’s face.
    He returned without the officer’s name or badge number but quickly transmitted a message to his colleagues about the apparent arrest.
    Taking a break between protests, Tsoi shoveled rice and tofu into his mouth and thought aloud about what he might do after university.    He could try and get a master’s in journalism, something he never considered before because jobs in the industry are notorious for bad pay.
    Whether he chooses to pursue journalism or not depends on whether freedoms of the press will be upheld in Hong Kong in the years to come, he said.
    Like many of his peers, Tsoi has a grim outlook of the future, worrying that the territory will come under increased Beijing control when its “one country, two systems” arrangement runs its course and Hong Kong loses its designation as a special autonomous region.
    “I’m not sure if the Hong Kong of our future needs journalists,” he said.    Even so, Tsoi is running for editor-in-chief of the Undergrad next year.
    “We have grown up in such a chaotic time,” he said, halting between sentences to find the right words in English.    “But we have been chosen by the time and we need to be fearless and just to do what we think is right…. That’s the mission of our generation.”
    Ho also said she’d like to continue working as a journalist after finishing university, even though being on the front lines has taken its toll.
    “I can’t sleep well at night,” she said, her dreams haunted by riot police.
    A few days later, on New Year’s Eve, Tsoi was out again after hearing about a standoff between protesters and police in a busy shopping area.    Water cannon trucks arrived.    The wobbly video shot on Tsoi’s iPhone shows police pelting the street with a jet of water, then pivoting to aim directly at him.    His phone drenched, Tsoi staggers to the left, only to be hit again.
    For a moment, Tsoi goes silent.    A few other reporters in yellow vests rush toward him, but he waves them away.    He then gets back to work, narrating the scene for his viewers.
(Reporting by Mari Saito; editing by Kari Howard. Additional reporting by Ebrahim Harris and Joyce Zhou in Hong Kong.)

1/10/2020 Explainer: Missile system suspected of bringing down airliner: short range, fast and deadly by Gerry Doyle
FILE PHOTO: EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability
to film or take pictures in Tehran. The Tor-M1 anti-aircraft defense system is displayed in a military parade to
commemorate the anniversary of the start of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, in Tehran September 22, 2009. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    (Reuters) – Canada said on Thursday that a surface-to-air missile brought down a Ukrainian airliner in Tehran, while the Ukrainian government said it was investigating reports of debris from a Russian-made Tor-M1 missile.
    The Tor, also called the SA-15 Gauntlet by NATO, is a short-range “point defense” system that integrates the missile launcher and radar into a single tracked vehicle.
    It is designed to be mobile and lethal against targets at altitudes up to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet) and at ranges of 12 km (7.5 miles), according to the Federation of American Scientists, which researches and analyses “catastrophic threats to national and international security.”
    Military aircraft and cruise missiles – which the Tor system is designed to destroy – typically plot their courses to avoid being spotted on radar.    They are equipped with systems such as chaff, which confuses radar, and flares, which act as decoys for heat-seeking missiles.
    The jet that crashed on Wednesday, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, a Boeing 737-800, would have filed a flight plan and had no defensive features.
    It was unlikely the flight crew had time to react to any missile, said Michael Duitsman, a research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
    “They probably wouldn’t have even seen it coming,” Duitsman said.    “Right after takeoff, the pilots were probably preoccupied with other things.”
    To attack a target, the Tor operator must identify it on the radar screen and direct the missile to launch.
    Commercial air flights have transponders – radio transmitters that broadcast their identity, speed and altitude at an internationally agreed frequency.    There were several other civilian aircraft nearby when Flight 752 crashed just a few kilometers from the airport.
    All of those aircraft would have been visible on the radar screen of the Tor battery as well as civilian radar at the airport.
IDENTIFYING THE FRIENDLIES
    A former European air defense officer, who now works on missile defense technology, said that ideally, flight plans and transponder codes of all scheduled civilian flights would be shared with military units stationed near an airport.
    That allows the missile battery operator to correlate each object on radar with a flight plan and transponder code.
    “Shooting down a hostile aircraft is easy,” said the officer, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
    “It’s identifying the aircraft and not shooting down friendlies that are the challenges.”
    Tor missiles are guided by radar and fly at almost three times the speed of sound.    That means that if launched at a target 5 km (3 miles) away, they will arrive within about five seconds.
    They have a small warhead – about 15 kg (33 lb) of high explosive – but are designed to spray fragments of shredded metal, like bullets, into a target upon detonation.
    The Tor is among the most modern air defense systems Iran has, Duitsman said, and can attack two targets at once with up to two missiles each.    When Iran purchased them from Russia in the mid-2000s, “the capability was such that at the time the U.S. was concerned about the sale,” he added.
    Iran fields “small numbers” of Tor systems, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report last year.
    A U.S. official told Reuters that data showed the plane was airborne for two minutes when the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected.
    That was quickly followed by an explosion in the vicinity of the plane, the official said.    At least one video circulating from the night of the crash shows a burning aircraft crashing into the ground near Tehran.
    The New York Times published what it said was a verified video that appeared to show an Iranian missile hitting a plane near Tehran airport.
    Iran denied that the airliner had been hit by a missile.
    Riki Ellison, a defense expert and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said it would have been impossible to divert the missiles after launch, even if the ground operators realized their error.
    “Once you shoot those things, it’s over,” Ellison said.
(Reporting by Gerry Doyle; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)

1/10/2020 Iran wants to handle black box data after plane crash blamed on missile by Alexander Cornwell and Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Debris of a plane belonging to Ukraine International Airlines, that crashed after taking off from Iran's Imam Khomeini
airport, is seen on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran January 8, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Friday it wanted to download black box recordings itself from a Ukrainian airliner that crashed, killing all 176 people aboard, after Canada and others said the plane was brought down by an Iranian missile, probably by mistake.
    Iran, which has denied the Boeing 737-800 was downed by a missile, said it could take one or two months to extract information from the voice and flight data recorders.    If it needed help, it said it could ask Russia, Canada, France or Ukraine.
    An Iranian aviation official also said the probe could take one or two years.
    Ukraine said it could not rule out a missile strike but this had not been confirmed.    The Ukraine International Airlines flight to Kiev from Tehran crashed on Wednesday, when Iran was on alert for a U.S. military response hours after firing missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq.
https://graphics.reuters.com/IRAN-MISSILES/0100B4W02QP/IRAN-MISSILES.jpg
    The incident adds to international pressure on Iran, after months of tension with the United States and then tit-for-tat military strikes.    Washington killed an Iranian general last week in a drone attack in Iraq, prompting Tehran’s missile launches.
    On social media, ordinary Iranians voiced anger at authorities for not closing the airport after Iran’s missile launches.    Many passengers were Iranians with dual nationality.
    “We prefer to download the black boxes in Iran.    But if we see that we can’t do that because the boxes are damaged, then we will seek help,” Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation, told a news conference in Tehran.
    State television earlier showed the battered black boxes, saying their information could be downloaded and analyzed.
    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, citing intelligence from Canada and other sources, has blamed an Iranian missile for bringing down the plane that had 63 Canadians on board, although he said it “may well have been unintentional.”
    “The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said.
ERROR
    France said it was ready to join Canada and other nations contributing to the investigation.    “It is important that as much clarity as possible is made and as quickly as possible,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
    French agency BEA helped analyze data from the flight recorder of a crashed Boeing plane in Ethiopia last year.
    A U.S. official, citing satellite data, said Washington had concluded with a high degree of certainty that anti-aircraft missiles brought down the plane in error.
    The official said the data showed the plane airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected.    There was an explosion in the vicinity and heat data showed the plane on fire as it fell.    U.S. military satellites detect infrared emissions from heat.
    The New York Times said it had obtained a video appearing to show an Iranian missile hitting a plane near Tehran airport.
    U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters he did not believe the crash of the airliner was due to a mechanical issue, saying “somebody could have made a mistake – on the other side.”
    A defense expert said the plane’s radar signature would have been similar to a U.S. military transport plane.
    Iran denied the airliner had been hit by a missile, saying such reports were “psychological warfare against Iran.”
    “All those countries whose citizens were aboard the plane can send representatives and we urge Boeing to send its representative to join the process of investigating the black box,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said.
COOPERATION
    Iran’s civil aviation organization said in an initial report less than 24 hours after the incident that the three-year-old airliner, which had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday, encountered a technical problem after takeoff and was heading to a nearby airport before it crashed.
    Investigations into airliner crashes require cooperation of regulators, experts and companies across jurisdictions.    They can take months and initial reports in 24 hours are rare.
    Iran said bodies and body parts recovered from the site of the crash were taken to the coroner’s office for identification.
    Ukraine has outlined four potential scenarios, including a missile strike and terrorism.    Kiev said its investigators wanted to search the crash site for possible debris of a Russian-made missile used by Iran’s military.
    The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it was making arrangements to tour the site after an Iranian invitation.
    The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it had designated a representative to join the probe.
    Boeing said it would support the NTSB. The company is still reeling from two deadly crashes of 737 MAX planes, including the one in Ethiopia, that led to the plane’s grounding in March 2019.
    The 737-800 that crashed was built in 2016 and is the prior generation of the 737 before the MAX.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Pavel Poliyuk in Kiev, Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Editing by Giles Elgood)

1/10/2020 World is watching our democracy, Taiwan president says on election eve by Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen waves to supporters from a vehicle during a campaign
rally ahead of the election in Taoyuan, Taiwan January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – The world is watching what choice Taiwan makes as the only Chinese-speaking democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday, the eve of elections in which Tsai said a vote for her would be a vote for freedom.
    Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary polls on Saturday in the shadow of both a ramped up effort by China to get the democratic island to accept Beijing’s rule, and anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong.
    “To choose Tsai Ing-wen and Enoch Wu is to choose to stand together with democracy and freedom,” Tsai told reporters at a campaign event.     Wu is an up-and-coming member of Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a former banker who is standing for parliament.
    “More importantly, it shows our determination to defend our country and sovereignty,” added Tsai, who is seeking a second term.
    Tsai said Taiwan is the “only democratic country in all Chinese-speaking societies in the world.”
    “The whole world is watching how we make our choice.”
    Tsai toured the streets of the capital, Taipei, early on Friday on the back of a truck, with colorful flags and boisterous supporters making their way through busy traffic.
    China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory, to be taken under Beijing’s control by force if needed.    Taiwan says it is an independent country, called the Republic of China, its official name.
    Tsai is being challenged by Han Kuo-yu of the main opposition Kuomintang party.    He favors close ties with Beijing and says this is the only way to ensure Taiwan’s security and prosperity.
    “Please come out to support Han Kuo-yu, whose vision for the country is ‘Taiwan safe, people get rich’ and ‘cross-strait peace’,” Han campaign secretary general Tseng Yung-chuan told a news conference.
    The issue of China is front and center in the campaign, especially after President Xi Jinping warned last year China could attack Taiwan, though adding he would prefer a peaceful “one country, two systems” formula for the island.
SYMPATHY
    The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula aimed at ensuring a high degree of autonomy.
    But that model has never been popular in Taiwan and it is even less so now after months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong, largely triggered by fears that Beijing is slowly eroding the city’s freedoms. Beijing denies that.
    The Hong Kong protesters have widespread public sympathy in Taiwan, and both the DPP and Kuomintang have pledged to help any Hong Kong people who flee to the island.
    Both Tsai and Han have rejected “one country, two systems.”    The DPP has painted a vote for the Kuomintang as effectively a vote for the model, something Han has angrily denied.
    Tsai and Han will both hold mass rallies on Friday evening – Tsai in Taipei and Han in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, where he is mayor.
    Taiwan’s noisy, colorful elections are a marked contrast to China, where the Communist Party brooks no challenge to its rule and where ordinary people have no say in who governs them, something that can be a shock to Chinese visitors.
    “I didn’t expect to see singers on stage.    For a while I felt like I was in a concert,” Yin Weiguo, a 27-year-old Chinese engineer on a business trip to Taiwan, who attended a Han rally in Taipei on Thursday.
    “I just wanted to see what people did at a rally.    There were so many people,” Yin told Reuters while visiting Taipei’s Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a major tourist site.
    Voting begins at 8 a.m (0000 GMT) on Saturday and the polls close at 4 p.m. (0800 GMT).
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Meg Shen; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/10/2020 Explainer: What is at stake in Taiwan’s election
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen waves to supporters from a vehicle during a campaign rally
ahead of the election in Taoyuan, Taiwan January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan votes in presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday, which will set the course for the democratic island’s ties with its giant and autocratic neighbor China, which claims Taiwan as its territory.
    Here is what is at stake in the election, and its potential global impact.
WHY IS TAIWAN IMPORTANT?
    Aside from its key role in the global supply chain as a high-tech manufacturer, mostly notably as an Apple Inc supplier, Taiwan is in a strategic location just off the coast of China and on the edge of the Pacific.
    It is a potential military flashpoint between China and the United States, which sells arms and provides other assistance to Taiwan.
    The self-ruled island lies on major shipping lanes between Southeast Asia and U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, and on the disputed South China Sea, where China has built artificial islands and air bases.
    Taiwan is also close to a major U.S. military base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.
WHO ARE THE CANDIDATES AND WHAT ARE THEIR POSITIONS?
    President Tsai Ing-wen is seeking a second term in office. Her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) favors the island’s formal independence.    Tsai has said repeatedly in the campaign that Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.
    Tsai says it is up to Taiwan, not China, to decide the island’s future, and has warned of the Chinese threat to democracy and liberty.
    Her main opponent is Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which ruled China until 1949 when forced to flee to Taiwan after losing a civil war with the Communists.
    Han favors close ties with China as the only way to ensure Taiwan’s security and prosperity, though says he will defend the island’s freedoms and democracy.
WHAT DOES CHINA THINK OF THE ELECTION?
    China says it is not seeking to interfere in the vote, which it considers merely a local election in one of its provinces. State media often refers to Tsai as “provincial governor” and regularly denounces her.
    But China will be closely watching.
    For Beijing, the best outcome would be a Han victory.
    If Tsai wins, China will probably further ratchet up pressure on Taiwan, perhaps even by conducting military drills close to the island.
    However, it could also realize it must resume talks, as any conflict would be hugely damaging for China as well as Taiwan.
    The real danger would come if Taipei ever tries declare a formally independent Republic of Taiwan.    China passed a law in 2005 that authorizes the use of force against Taiwan if China judges it to have seceded.
WHAT DOES THE UNITED STATES THINK OF THE ELECTION?
    Although Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
    It has taken no position on who should win, but has expressed concern at Chinese efforts at intimidation and influence.
    Taiwan enjoys strong bipartisan support in Washington, and the Trump administration has approved billions in new arms sales.
    Geopolitically, Washington has watched with alarm as China has taken Taiwan’s allies in Central America and the Pacific, traditionally strong areas of U.S. influence.
    The Pacific is a big concern for Washington, and it has lobbied Taiwan’s remaining allies there to stick with Taipei and not give Beijing a further foothold.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

1/10/2020 U.S. State Dept. approves sale of 12 F-35 jets to Singapore
FILE PHOTO: A F-35B Lightning II aircraft is launched aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex, September 27, 2018.
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Freeman/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of up to 12 F-35 fighter jets and related equipment to Singapore at an estimated cost of $2.75 billion, pending approval from Congress, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said on Friday.
    The Southeast Asian city-state said last year it planned to buy an initial four F-35s from Lockheed Martin Corp, with an option for eight more, as it looks to replace its aging F-16 fleet.
    “The State Department has made a determination approving a possible foreign military sale to Singapore of up to twelve F-35B … aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of $2.750 billion,” the DSCA said in a statement, adding it had notified Congress of a possible sale.
    The DSCA said the sale would involve equipment from Lockheed and engine maker Pratt and Whitney.    The F-35B variant of the jet can handle short takeoffs and vertical landings, attributes seen as benefiting land-scarce Singapore.
    Singapore’s defense ministry said formal terms of the purchase would be negotiated after approval from Congress.
    The Pentagon in October announced F-35 jet prices for the next three years which lowered the cost of the jet by 13%, a move seen as encouraging other countries to buy the aircraft.
    The jet makes up about 25% of Lockheed’s annual revenue.
    With Southeast Asia’s largest defense budget, wealthy Singapore is a key prize for global arms companies as it looks to invest in new technology and upgrade its equipment.
    Singapore, which is expected to hold an election within months, set aside about 30% of its total expenditure on defense, security and diplomacy efforts in its 2019 annual budget.
(Reporting by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan; Additional reporting by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Robert Birsel, Raju Gopalakrishnan)

1/10/2020 U.S. army plans to expand Asian security efforts to counter China: Bloomberg
FILE PHOTO: Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy testifies to the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing
examining military housing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    (Reuters) – The U.S. Army plans to deploy a specialized task force to the Pacific capable of conducting information, electronic, cyber and missile operations against Beijing, Bloomberg said early on Friday.
    The task force, likely to be based on islands east of the Philippines and Taiwan, would be equipped to hit land and sea-based targets with long-range precision weapons, such as hypersonic missiles, in a bid to possibly clear the way for Navy vessels in the event of a conflict, Bloomberg said.
    The unit would help neutralize some capabilities China and Russia already possess that are meant to keep U.S. carrier groups away from the Asian mainland, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told Bloomberg in an interview.
    McCarthy is set to appear at an event https://brook.gs/39VM3fS in Washington on Friday to give details of how the army will operate in the Indo-Pacific.
    The plan to deploy the task force would be boosted by a new agreement with the National Reconnaissance Office that develops and manages U.S. spy satellites, McCarthy told Bloomberg.
    Reuters could not immediately reach the U.S. Army to seek comment.
(Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/10/2020 Indonesia asks Japan to invest in islands disputed by China by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released Indonesian Presidential Office, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center,
inspect troops during his visit at Indonesian Navy ship KRI Usman Harun at Selat Lampa Port,
Natuna Islands, Indonesia, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (Agus Soeparto, Indonesian Presidential Office via AP)
    Indonesia is asking Japan to increase its investment in fisheries and energy in islands near the disputed South China Sea.    On Friday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo specifically requested Japan put more resources into its Natuna islands.
    This comes after Widodo traveled to Natuna Wednesday, following reports that China’s coastguard crossed into Indonesia’s economic zone right off the chain of islands last month.    However, Beijing has claimed that it owns that area of water, which is located right next to the South China Sea.
    Japan’s foreign ministry said it stands with Indonesia in the dispute.
    “On the South China Sea issue, we shared a serious concern regarding efforts to change with force the status quo unilaterally and we confirmed on continuing close collaboration,” stated Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
In this photo released Indonesian Presidential Office, Indonesian President Joko Widodo,
second right, stands on the deck of Indonesian Navy ship KRI Usman Harun at Selat Lampa Port, Natuna Islands, Indonesia,
Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (Agus Soeparto, Indonesian Presidential Office via AP)
    Since the incident, Indonesia has stepped up its military air and sea patrols in the region.    Indonesian officials also said the country has struck an agreement with Japan to strengthen cooperation between their coastguards.

1/10/2020 Iran ‘outraged’ by reports it’s bulldozing Ukraine plane crash site by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 file photo, debris at the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed
in Shahedshahr southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)
    Iran is disputing reports that it excavated the site where a Ukrainian jet crashed in Iran, despite newly obtained images that showed otherwise.
    Local media outlets released pictures of the cleanup on Friday.    They accused the Iranian government of trying to destroy evidence before Ukrainian investigators visit the site.
    Iran’s Ambassador to the U.K. was reportedly outraged by the report and called the allegations “absurd.”
    “Plane accidents are a very technical issue, I cannot judge,” said Hamid Baeidinejad.    “You cannot judge, reporters on the ground cannot judge, nobody can judge.”
    When asked about the bulldozer seen in the pictures, the Baeidinejad said, “This is absolutely absurd.”    He also denied Iran fired a missile in the area at the time the plane went down.
In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 photo, rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane
crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization recently weighed in, saying that Tehran alone has the responsibility of investigating the plane crash.    On Thursday, Ali Abedzadeh said Tehran will study the plane’s black boxes to check the flight data.
    “The responsible side for checking the black box of this accident is Iran Civil Aviation Organization,” said Abedzadeh.    “If its necessary software and hardware are available here, it will be done here – if not, we can go to other countries.”
    This came after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau implied it was an Iranian missile that downed the plane.
    Abedzadeh has denied allegations one of Tehran’s missiles struck the jetliner. He claimed it is “scientifically impossible.”
    Tehran has reportedly invited Boeing to help investigate the cause of the crash.

1/10/2020 Iran to probe black boxes after missile blamed for plane crash by Alexander Cornwell and Parisa Hafezi
The crate containing purportedly the two black boxes recovered from the crashed Ukrainian airliner, Boeing 737-800,
is seen in this still image taken from a video, in Teheran, Iran January 10, 2020. IRIB VIA WANA/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Tehran said on Friday it wanted to download black box recordings itself from a Ukrainian airliner crash that killed all 176 people aboard, amid Western suspicions the plane was brought down by an Iranian missile, probably by mistake.br>     The crash has heightened international pressure on Iran after months of friction with the United States and tit-for-tat military strikes.    Washington killed an Iranian general last week in Iraq, prompting Tehran to fire at U.S. targets.
    Iran, which denies the Boeing 737-800 was downed by a missile, showed the voice and flight data recorders on state TV on Friday but said it could take a month or two to extract data.
    Later in the day, the semi-official Fars news agency reported that on Saturday Iran would announce the reason for the crash, citing an informed source.    The announcement will be made after a meeting of an Iranian commission focused on air accidents, Fars said, but it gave no further details.
    Tehran said earlier that it may ask Russia, Canada, France or Ukraine for help in a probe that could take one or two years to complete.
    “We prefer to download the black boxes in Iran. But if we see that we can’t do that because the boxes are damaged, then we will seek help,” Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation, told a news conference in Tehran.
    The Ukraine International Airlines flight to Kiev from Tehran crashed on Wednesday, when Iran was on alert for a U.S. military response hours after it fired at U.S. targets in Iraq. https://tmsnrt.rs/39MLwwx
    Most of the victims were Iranian or Iranian-Canadian.
    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has blamed an Iranian surface-to-air missile for downing the plane with 63 Canadians on board, though he said it may have been unintentional.
    “We do believe that it’s likely that plane was shot down by an Iranian missile,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a briefing on additional U.S. sanctions against Iran.
    “We’re going to let the investigation play out before we make a final determination,” he added as Washington also announced sanction waivers for crash investigators.
    Iran called those accusations “psychological warfare
    Ukraine and Canada have agreed to push for an objective investigation into the crash, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said after speaking with Trudeau.
    “There should not be speculation about the tragedy; Ukraine and Canada will use all possible means to advocate for an objective and comprehensive investigation,” Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter.
GRIEF AND CONFUSION
    Grief-stricken Iranians and others posted images related to the crash.    One showed a child’s red shoe in the dirt.    Another was a selfie of a mother and daughter in their seats, sent to a loved one before takeoff.
    “Why were any civilian airlines flying out of Tehran airport in those conditions,” one user named Shiva Balaghi wrote on Twitter.
    Ukraine is looking at various possible causes of the crash, including an attack by a Russian-made missile, a collision, an engine explosion or terrorism.
    Kiev said on Friday that Iran was cooperating with an investigation and it did not want to jump to conclusions.    But Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko added Ukraine would like the analysis of the black boxes to happen in Kiev.
    Some on social media expressed worries over images, which could not be independently verified, circulating online that suggested the crash site had been cleared by bulldozers.
    Iran’s ambassador to Britain denied that.
    Russia’s deputy foreign minister said Moscow saw no grounds to blame Iran for the crash, TASS news agency reported.
    France’s BEA air accident agency said it would be involved in the investigation.    BEA helped analyse data from the flight recorder of a Boeing that crashed in Ethiopia last year.
EXPLOSION?
    A U.S. official, citing satellite data, said Washington had concluded with a high degree of certainty that anti-aircraft missiles brought down the plane in error.
    The official said the data showed the plane airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when heat signatures from two missiles were detected. There was an explosion in the vicinity and heat data showed the plane on fire as it fell.
    U.S., Canadian and French representatives were to travel to Tehran to attend meetings for the investigation, Iranian state media reported. Washington and Ottawa do not have diplomatic relations with Tehran.
    Iran’s civil aviation organisation said in an initial report less than 24 hours after the incident that the three-year-old airliner, which had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday, encountered a technical problem after takeoff and was heading to a nearby airport before it crashed.
    “All those countries whose citizens were aboard the plane can send representatives and we urge Boeing to send its representative to join the process of investigating the black box,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said.
    The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it was making arrangements to tour the site after an Iranian invitation.
    The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it had designated a representative to join the probe.
    Boeing said it would support the NTSB. The company is reeling from two deadly crashes of 737 MAX planes, including the one in Ethiopia, that led to the model’s grounding last year.
    The crash plane was built in 2016 and is the prior 737 generation before the MAX.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Dominique Vidalon in Paris, Doina Chiacu and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Giles Elgood, Andrew Cawthorne, Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)

1/10/2020 Explainer: Reading ‘black boxes’ of Ukrainian jet that crashed in Iran
General view of the debris of the Ukraine International Airlines, flight PS752, Boeing 737-800
plane that crashed after take-off from Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran
January 8, 2020 is seen in this screen grab obtained from a social media video via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – Iran is examining ‘black boxes’ from a Ukrainian jet that crashed on Wednesday in a fireball shortly after taking off from Tehran, sparking an international hunt for clues amid Western claims that the jet had been brought down accidentally by Iranian missiles.
WHAT ARE BLACK BOXES?
    They are not actually black, but high-visibility orange.    Experts disagree about how the nickname originated but it has become synonymous with the public’s quest for answers after crashes.
    Many historians attribute their invention to Australian scientist David Warren in the 1950s.
    There are two recorders: a Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) for pilot voices or cockpit sounds and a Flight Data Recorder (FDR).
HOW BIG ARE THEY?
    They weigh about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and contain four main elements:
* a metal chassis designed to hold the recorder and facilitate recording and playback
* an underwater locator beacon
* the core housing or ‘Crash Survivable Memory Unit’, made of stainless steel or titanium, and designed to withstand equivalent to 3,400 times that of gravity
* inside that housing, circuit boards holding fingernail-sized recording chips.
HOW ARE THE RECORDERS HANDLED?
    Technicians peel away protective material and carefully clean connections to make sure they do not accidentally erase data.    The audio or data file must be downloaded and copied.
    Iranian and Western experts say Iran has the equipment to extract the data if the recorders are in good order, but not if they are damaged, which requires special equipment and protocols only available in major Western or Russian agencies.
    The data itself means nothing at first.    It must be decoded from raw files before being turned into graphs.
    Western agencies sometimes use “spectral analysis” – a way of examining sounds that allows scientists to pick out barely audible alarms or the first fleeting crack of an explosion.
    It is this fragment of the audio recording that could be vital in proving or disproving claims by Canada and others that the plane was accidentally shot down by Iranian missiles, a senior Western investigator said.    Iran denies the claims.
    “If a missile hit the engine, for example, the data recording might briefly show an engine problem but not the cause.    The CVR and the wreckage field are the main areas of interest in the scenario of a missile.    You are looking for unusual frequencies or shock waves,” the investigator said.
HOW MUCH INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE?
    It depends on the make and model of recorder.
    The chip on the flight data recorder of a different model of a Boeing 737 that crashed in October 2018 contained 1,790 parameters, spread over 19 flights.
    The CVR contains two hours of recordings, more than enough to cover the brief Ukraine International Airlines flight.    It has four separate channels, for voices and ambient noise.
WHO GETS ACCESS TO THE DATA?
    The lead investigator, in this case Iran, decides who has access to the data.    Iran has said it will work closely with Ukraine, which said on Friday that Tehran was co-operating with it.    The United States has called for an independent investigation, however.
    In most jurisdictions, only the senior investigator and a handful of people actually hear the voice recordings, which are transcribed, and translated if necessary, then sealed.
HOW LONG WILL THE RESULTS TAKE?
    Investigators prefer to work methodically, but political and media pressure will be intense.    Depending on any damage to the boxes and the type of accident, some investigators say they can get a very basic picture in days or even hours.    But they stress this is not always the case, and rarely tells the whole story.
    Deeper investigations take a year or more to complete.    An Iranian official has said the probe may take two years.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/10/2020 Iran admits ‘human error’ resulted in Ukrainian plane being shot down ‘unintentionally’ by OAN Newsroom
In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 photo, rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane
crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    Iranian state media is saying human error led to a Ukrainian flight to be shot down.    Friday evening reports cited Iranian military officials, who reportedly said the nation “unintentionally” shot down the Boeing 737.
    The flight was brought down shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s international airport on Wednesday.    All 176 passengers on board were killed in the crash, including 63 Canadian citizens.
In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 photo, bodies of the victims of a Ukrainian plane crash are collected by rescue team
at the scene of the crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. Iran on Friday denied Western
allegations that one of its own missiles downed a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Tehran, and called on the U.S.
and Canada to share any information they have on the crash, which killed all 176 people on board. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier claimed the evidence showed Iranian military involvement.    His remarks came after reports quoted senior U.S. Defense and Intelligence officials, who said the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile system.
    “We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence,” stated Trudeau.    “The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”
    President Trump has also said he does not believe mechanical failure caused the Ukrainian jet to crash.    On Thursday, he said the plane was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood and somebody could have made a mistake.
    “At some point, they’ll release the black box,” he said.    “I have a feeling that something very terrible happened.”
Ottawa area members of Parliament Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance Minister Mona Fortier and
Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna participates in a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Ukraine
International Airlines plane crash, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Ottawa, Ontario. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

1/11/2020 Iran says military shot down Ukrainian passenger plane in error by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, Russia December 30, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Saturday its military had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian plane killing all 176 aboard, saying air defenses were fired in error while on high alert in the tense aftermath of Iranian missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.
    Iran had previously vigorously denied bringing the plane down. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who until Saturday kept silent about the crash, said information should be made public.
    Wednesday’s crash heightened international pressure on Iran after months of friction with the United States and tit-for-tat attacks.    A U.S. drone strike had killed a top Iranian military commander in Iraq on Jan. 3, prompting Tehran to fire at U.S. targets on Wednesday.
    Canada, which had 57 citizens on board, and the United States had both said they believed an Iranian missile brought down the aircraft although they said it was probably an accident.    Canada’s foreign minister had told Iran “the world is watching.”
    “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter, promising that those behind the incident would be prosecuted.    “My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families.”
    Experts said mounting international scrutiny would have made it all but impossible to hide signs of a missile strike in an investigation and Iran may have felt a policy U-turn was better than battling rising criticism abroad and growing grief and anger at home.
    Many of the victims were Iranians with dual nationality.
    In Twitter messages, angry Iranians asked why the plane was allowed to take off with tensions so high after the Iranian military action.    The plane came down just hours after Iran launched rockets to attack U.S. troops in Iraqi bases, at a time when Tehran was on high alert for possible reprisals.
    Responding to Iran’s announcement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he wanted an official apology and full cooperation, demanding those responsible be held to account.
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter that “human error at time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism led to disaster,” citing an initial armed forces investigation into the crash of the Boeing 737-800.
TELL-TALE SIGNS
    A military statement said the plane flew close to a sensitive military site of the elite Revolutionary Guards.    At the time, planes had been spotted on radar near strategic sites leading to “further alertness” in air defenses.
    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko had said on Friday that the plane was following a normal flight corridor.
    Experts said a probe would almost certainly have revealed tell-tale signs on the fuselage remains of a missile strike.
    “There’s nothing you can do to cover it up or hide it,” said Anthony Brickhouse, an air safety expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and former U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigator.    “Evidence is evidence.”
    Former U.S. Federal Aviation Administration accident investigator, Mike Daniel, told Reuters: “When the facts and evidence started coming out, I think it was inevitable that the government of Iran (would) accept culpability.”
    The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Mobile phone footage posted and circulated by ordinary Iranians on Twitter after the crash had indicated that it came down in flames and exploded as it struck the ground.
    Iran had said on Thursday it would download the information from voice and flight data recorders, known as black boxes, to determine what had happened, although it had said the process could take one to two months.
    Tehran had said it could ask Russia, Canada, France or Ukraine for help in the investigation.
PUBLIC GRIEF
    In its initial denials this week, Iran had described accusations that a missile was to blame as “psychological warfare,”
    Grief-stricken Iranians complained on social media that Iran’s authorities had spent more time fending off criticism than sympathizing with victims’ families.
    “Why were any civilian airlines flying out of Tehran airport in those conditions?” Twitter user Shiva Balaghi wrote.
    Former vice president Shaheendokht Molaverdi said on Twitter: “We hope one official will resign in order to calm down angry people who think that they have been humiliated.”
    A U.S. official had said data showed the plane airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected.    There was an explosion in the vicinity and heat data showed the plane on fire as it fell. U.S. military satellites detect infrared emissions from heat.
    U.S. President Donald Trump had said “somebody could have made a mistake.”
    The disaster had echoes of an incident in 1988, when the U.S. warship USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner, killing 290 people. Washington said it was a tragic accident.    Tehran said it was intentional.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, Parisa Hafezi and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai, Steve Holland in Washington and Allison Lampert; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Frances Kerry)
[AS I NOTED EARLIER IRAN DOES NOT ACKNOWLEDGE THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB, BUT AS THEY ATTACKED THE U.S. IRAQ BASE AND DID NOT KILL ANY AMERICANS WHICH KEPT TRUMP FROM HAVING TO SEND ANY MISSILES AT IRAN BUT BECAUSE OF THEIR VIOLENCE OF KILLING OVER 600 AMERICANS BY THE SLAIN SOLEIMANI THAT GOD HAS INTERVENED AND IT WAS NOT A MISTAKE AS GOD HAD BY IRANS OWN HANDS SENT A MISSILE TO DESTROY AN AIRPLANE WITH 146 IRANIANS ON IT AND I HOPE EACH ONE OF THEM WERE RELATED TO THE MULLAHS AND ANYONE WHO HAS ATTACKED AMERICANS.].

1/11/2020 Iran apologizes for ‘accidentally’ shooting down Ukrainian plane by OAN Newsroom
In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 photo, rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed
in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is apologizing for their actions, which led to the downing of Ukrainian Flight 752.    During Saturday’s press conference, members of the Revolutionary Guard took full responsibility for wrongly striking the Ukrainian plane down and claimed it was “unintentionally” seen as a “hostile target.”
    “If there was a mistake, one of our guards made that mistake.    Because that guard is under our order, we are responsible for him.    We have to be accountable.    Neither the Armed Forces were intent on maintain secrecy, nor the army.    It was a routine and we are sorry for that.” – Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard
    The conference followed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s statement, which described the incident as “horrific” and “regrettable.”
    Rouhani also offered his condolences and said the individuals responsible for the error will be reported immediately to Iran’s military court.
    The incident happened Wednesday shortly after the plane took off from Tehran’s international airport.    All 176 passengers on board were killed in the crash, including 63 Canadian citizens.
In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 photo, bodies of the victims of a Ukrainian plane crash are collected by rescue team
at the scene of the crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    In the wake of Iran’s admission of guilt, Ukrainian officials are demanding the nation’s cooperation in a full investigation.    The head of Ukraine International Airlines revealed the airline was not made aware of any threat when the plane took off and was in contact with the plane up until the moment it was hit by an Iranian missile.
    The airline official added they accepted the admission of guilt from Iran because it vindicated the airline, proving it was not responsible for the tragic incident.
    “We’ve accepted this information today because it, once again, means that there will be no more insinuations on whether our company has done anything wrong in regards to the safety of the flight,” stated UIA President Evgeny Dykhne.    “We have always been and always will be a confident and safe airline with the most qualified personnel from all over Ukraine.”
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has demanded Iran continue cooperating with investigators, offer compensation for the families of the victims and release an official apology.
    Currently, 45 professionals from Ukraine are in Iran to aid in the investigation and attempt to establish a path to justice.
Flowers and candles are placed in front of portraits of the flight crew members of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts
of Tehran, at a memorial inside Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

1/11/2020 North Korea says it has been ‘deceived’ by the U.S. by OAN Newsroom
The portraits of former North Korean leaders, Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il, right, are displayed during a
rally at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
    North Korea is saying it has been deceived by the United States. In a statement released from the state-run news agency, an adviser to chairman Kim Jong-un said the communist nation has been caught in a dialog with the U.S. for more than a year and called it “lost time.”
    The official also said there will never be another negotiation about giving up its nuclear assets and that the regime will not have its time wasted again.
    “We have been deceived by the U.S., being caught in the dialogue with it for over one year and a half.    That was lost time for us.    There will never be such negotiations as that in Vietnam, in which we proposed exchanging a core nuclear facility of the country for the lift of some UN sanctions.    There is no need for us to be present in such talks, in which there is only unilateral pressure.” – Kim Kye-gwan, Foreign Ministry Adviser of North Korea
    Though Kim Jong-un received a birthday message from President Trump and has good personal feelings towards the president, the adviser said this is not enough to restart talks.
    “The South Korean authorities had better not dream a fabulous dream that we would return to the dialogue with thankful feelings for the birthday greetings,” he added.
FILE – In this June 12, 2018, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, right, meets with
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

1/11/2020 NATO Official: Tanker struck by roadside bomb in Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
American military convoy stops near the town of Tel Tamr, north Syria, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)
    A convoy of U.S. troops was struck by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan early on Saturday. According to a NATO spokesperson, the incident took place in the southern province of Kandahar, which is about 70 miles north of the Pakistani border.
    The Taliban has taken responsibility for the blast, which reportedly killed two U.S. service members and injured two others.    None of the victims were identified, which is reportedly in keeping with Defense Department protocol.
    Officials are securing the area and an investigation is underway.

1/11/2020 U.S. applauds Tsai’s re-election as Taiwan president: Pompeo by Jonathan Landay and David Brunnstrom
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen smiles as she arrives to cast her vote at a polling station during
general elections in New Taipei City, Taipei, Taiwan January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on her re-election on Saturday and lauded her for seeking stability with China “in the face of unrelenting pressure.”
    In a statement that could anger Beijing, which views Taiwan as part of China, Pompeo said Taiwan’s democratic system, free market economy and civil society, made it “a model for the Indo-Pacific region and a force for good in the world.”
    “The United States thanks President Tsai for her leadership in developing a strong partnership with the United States and applauds her commitment to maintaining cross-Strait stability in the face of unrelenting pressure,” Pompeo said.
    While Pompeo did not mention Beijing by name, his comment referred to pressure Tsai has faced from China throughout her first term.
    Tsai’s re-election comes days before the United States and China are expected to sign phase one of a deal to end a damaging trade war that has been a principal focus for U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Although Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself and the Trump administration.
    The U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jonathan Fritz told an election-watching event in Washington that Taiwan had “provided a stellar example of democracy in action.”
    In reference to China, he added that Washington would “continue to work to counter unilateral efforts that seek to alter the status quo.”
    Randall Schriver, until the end of last year the Pentagon’s top official for East Asia, told the same event the election should be in inspiration to other countries to resist pressure from Beijing as well as to people in China itself.
    “Taiwan was under extraordinary pressure and facing coercion,” he said.
    “Taiwan is not the only country in the Indo-Pacific that faces that.    Other countries, as they prepare for their elections, will take great inspiration and heart for how Taiwan has stood that kind of pressure and carried forward with a very successful election.”
    Taiwan enjoys strong bipartisan support in Washington and the U.S. administration has expressed concern at Chinese efforts at intimidation and influence there, while watching with alarm as China has persuaded countries in Central America and the Pacific to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing.
    At the same time, Trump himself, in focusing on reaching a trade deal with Beijing, has shown some caution in his approach to Taiwan, despite the eagerness of some hawks in his administration for stronger shows of support.
    Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia until early in the Trump administration, said the extent of Trump’s interest in Taiwan had seemed to be as a customer for U.S. weapons systems and as leverage on Beijing in the trade war.
    “At times that has meant moving in Taipei’s direction; at other times it has meant backing off demonstrations of support,” he said.
    “Now that a mini-trade deal has at last been reached with Beijing, Trump may have fewer qualms about letting his national security hawks demonstrate more visible backing for Taiwan,” he said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and David Brunnstrom, Editing by Franklin Paul)

1/11/2020 Taiwan president wins landslide victory in stark rebuke to China by Yimou Lee and Meg Shen
Kuomintang party's presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu speaks at an election
rally in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwanese re-elected President Tsai Ing-wen by a landslide on Saturday in a stern rebuke that could fuel further tension with China, which has tried military threats and economic inducements to get the island to accept its rule.
    Anti-government unrest in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong took center stage during a campaign in which Tsai held up Taiwan as a beacon of hope for protesters in the former British colony and rejected Beijing’s offer of a “one country, two systems” model.
    China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory, to be taken by force if needed, a threat President Xi Jinping reiterated a year ago while saying he preferred a peaceful solution.
    “One country, two systems,” which gives a high degree of autonomy, much as Beijing uses in Hong Kong, has never been popular in Taiwan and is even less so after months of protests in Hong Kong.
    China made itself even more unpopular in Taiwan in the run-up to the election by twice sailing its newest aircraft carrier through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, denounced by Taipei as an effort at military intimidation.
    “We hope that the Beijing authorities can understand that a democratic Taiwan with a government chosen by the people will not give in to threats and intimidation,” Tsai told reporters.
    Beijing needs to understand the will of Taiwan’s people, and that only Taiwan’s people can decide its future, she added, repeating her firm opposition to “one country, two systems.”
    China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in a statement carried by state media, reaffirmed its commitment to this approach and its opposition to any form of independence.
    Tsai beat her main opponent Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which favors close ties with China, by more than 2.6 million votes.    Underscoring the scale of her victory, Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party also won a majority in parliament.
    The United States, Taiwan’s strongest international backer and main arms supplier, congratulated Tsai.    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Taiwan a “force for good in the world.”
    “The United States thanks President Tsai for her leadership in developing a strong partnership with the United States and applauds her commitment to maintaining cross-Strait stability in the face of unrelenting pressure,” Pompeo said in a statement.
LANDSLIDE WIN
    Tsai won almost 8.2 million votes in total, more than any Taiwan president since the island held its first direct presidential election in 1996.
    Speaking in the southern city of Kaoshiung where he is mayor, Han, who had to fend off allegations from Tsai on the campaign trail that he and his party were puppets of Beijing, said he had called to congratulate Tsai.
    “I still hope to see a united Taiwan after we wake up,” Han said, accompanied by a swell of mournful music on stage.    “I urge President Tsai Ing-wen to focus on giving people a life where they can live safely and happily.”
    Han said Taiwan could only be safe and prosperous if it had good relations with Beijing.
    “People have been stirred up by the Hong Kong situation and that deceived many people into voting for Tsai,” said Huang Lu-lu, 38, at what was supposed to be a victory rally for Han.
    After his brief speech, the glum crowds dispersed, some crying.
NOT GOOD FOR CHINA
    China cut off a dialogue mechanism when Tsai took office in 2016 and has regularly flown bombers near the island since.     China believes Tsai wants to push for a Republic of Taiwan, a red line for Beijing.    Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China.
    Tsai’s win is all the more embarrassing for China because it follows another landslide victory, in November, for pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong in district council elections after residents turned out in record numbers.
    “I believe friends in Hong Kong will be happy about our collective decision tonight,” Tsai said.
    Prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong tweeted that Tsai’s victory was a “precious moment” for the people of Hong Kong.
    “Today is the day for the majority of Taiwanese to choose their fate, to safeguard their democracy and freedoms, and most importantly, to say no to CCP’s authoritarian invasion,” he wrote in English, referring to China’s Communist Party.
    Taiwanese are broadly sympathetic to the protesters in Hong Kong, an Asian financial hub.
    “I saw what’s happening in Hong Kong and it’s horrible,” said first-time voter Stacey Lin, 20, in the capital Taipei.    “I just want to make sure I have the freedom to vote in the future.”
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Meg Shen; Additional reporting by Felice Wu, and by James Pomfret in Kaohsiung; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Shri Navaratnam, Frances Kerry and Alexander Smith)

1/11/2020 Death toll in Pakistan mosque bombing claimed by Islamic State rises to 15 by Gul Yousafzai
Relatives and neighbors reach out to carry the coffin of a police officer who was killed with others by a
bomb blast in a mosque, during a funeral in Quetta, Pakistan January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed
    QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – The death toll from the bombing of a mosque in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta rose to 15 on Saturday, officials said, in an escalation of militant violence.
    An improvised explosive device ripped through the mosque during Friday evening prayers, killing 13 people and wounding more than 20, police said.
    Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing, which it said targeted an Afghan Taliban seminary.
    Mineral and gas-rich Balochistan, of which Quetta is the capital, is at the centre of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of China’s Belt and Road project.
    But violence in the province has fueled concerns about the security of projects such as a planned energy link from western China to Pakistan’s southern port of Gwadar.
    Friday’s attack was the second in the city this week, while police said they had foiled another by killing a suicide attacker Rawalpindi city near Islamabad after he shot and killed two policemen.
    “Two of the wounded people died overnight in the hospital,” said provincial home minister Zia Langove, adding that six people were still in a critical condition.
    The Taliban denied in a statement that some of its members, including a top commander, were killed.
    Local officials in Quetta’s police and district administration would not confirm whether the Dar-ul-Aloom Shariah seminary belonged to the Afghan Taliban under a state policy which denies the presence of the group on its soil.
    However, two officials said on condition of anonymity that the seminary was part of the Afghan Taliban.
    Baluchistan has long been the scene of an insurgency by separatist and nationalist groups, who want a greater share in revenues earned from the local resources.
    Islamist militants, including Islamic State which consists of splinters from local Taliban and sectarian groups, also have a strong presence in the region.
(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Alexander Smith)

1/11/2020 President Trump praises Iranians for protesting Ayatollah regime by OAN Newsroom
Protesters demonstrate over the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, Saturday Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    Protesters in Iran are calling for Ayatollah Khamenei to step down.    During Saturday’s demonstrations in Tehran, protesters were heard chanting “commander in chief resign” and “death to the liars.”
    The protests came in response to the Iranian government’s admission of guilt regarding the Ukrainian passenger plane crash, which killed 176 people this week.
    On Saturday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard took full responsibility for wrongly striking the plane down and claimed it was “unintentionally” seen as a “hostile target.”    The regime initially denied any involvement, but changed their stance after an initial investigation.
People display a red crossed portrait of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani during a protest by activists of the National Council of Resistance
of Iran, outside the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
    President Trump affirmed he will continue to stand by the Iranian people during this period of protest.    He added the U.S. is following the situation closely and is “inspired by your courage.”
    In a separate tweet, the president said the Iranian government must allow human rights groups to monitor and report facts on the ground.    He went on to say there cannot be another massacre of peaceful protesters nor an internet shutdown.

People gather for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Ukraine plane crash, at the gate of Amri Kabir University that
some of the victims of the crash were former students of, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

1/12/2020 Protests pile pressure on Iran after admission of plane strike by Parisa Hafezi
Flowers and candles are placed in front of the portraits of the flight crew members of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane
that crashed in Iran, at a memorial at the Boryspil International airport outside Kiev, Ukraine January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian protesters and newspapers piled pressure on the country’s leadership and riot police stepped up their presence in Tehran on Sunday after Iran’s military admitted that it had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner.
    Riot police fired teargas at thousands of Iranians who had taken to the streets late on Saturday in the capital and other cities, many chanting “Death to the dictator,” directing their anger at Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
    Images and reports of the protests were carried by state-affiliated news agencies, alongside videos on social media.
    Tehran residents told Reuters that police had stepped up their presence in the capital on Sunday morning.
    “Apologize and resign,” Iran’s moderate Etemad daily wrote in a banner headline on Sunday, saying the “people’s demand” was for those responsible for mishandling the plane crisis to quit.
    All 176 people aboard the flight, many of them Iranians with dual citizenship, were killed.
    Protests erupted after Saturday’s admission that the military accidentally shot down the Ukraine International Airlines plane minutes after take off on Wednesday, when Iranian forces were alert for U.S. reprisals after tit-for-tat strikes.
    For days, Iranian officials had vigorously denied it was to blame, even as Canada, which had 57 citizens on the flight, and the United States said their intelligence indicated an Iranian missile was to blame, albeit probably fired in error.
    Iran’s president said it was a “disastrous mistake” and apologized.    But a top Revolutionary Guards commander added to public anger about the delayed admission, when he said he had told the authorities a missile hit the plane the day it crashed.
CHALLENGES
    Another moderate daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami, or Islamic Republic, wrote in an editorial: “Those who delayed publishing the reason behind the plane crash and damaged people’s trust in the establishment should be dismissed or should resign.”
    Criticism of the authorities in Iran is not unusual, but it tends to stay in narrow boundaries.
    The press attacks and protests add to challenges facing the establishment, which in November faced the country’s bloodiest unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
    As Saturday’s protests spread across Iran, including major cities such as Shiraz, Isfahan, Hamedan and Orumiyeh, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter: “We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage.”     “There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown.    The world is watching,” he said, posting his tweets in both Farsi and English.
    Britain said its ambassador in Iran had been briefly detained on Saturday by the authorities in Tehran.    A news agency said he was detained outside a university for inciting protests.
    Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called it “a flagrant violation of international law.”
    “The Iranian government is at a cross-roads moment.    It can continue its march toward pariah status with all the political and economic isolation that entails, or take steps to de-escalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forwards,” he said.
    Protests inside Iran followed a build up of tension between Iran and the United States, which withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear pact with world powers in 2018 and then re-imposed sanctions that have steadily crippled the Iranian economy.
‘HORRIFIC’
    On Jan. 3, a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed prominent Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, responsible for building up Iran’s network of regional proxy armies in Iraq and beyond, and Tehran responded with missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.
    No U.S. soldiers were killed, but in the tense hours after that, the Ukrainian Boeing 737 was cleared to take off from Tehran airport and then brought down by a missile fired in error by an operator who mistook the plane for an attacker.
    “Shooting down a civilian aircraft is horrific.    Iran must take full responsibility,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
    Trudeau said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had committed to collaborating with Canadian investigators, working to de-escalate tensions in the region and continuing a dialogue.
    Public fury at Iran’s authorities grew as questions about the plane crash mounted.    Iranians on social media asked why officials were busy fending off criticism from abroad rather than sympathizing with grieving families.    Others asked why the plane was allowed to take off at a time of high tension.
    Amirali Hajizadeh, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards, a parallel military set up to defend the nation and the system of theocratic rule, said he had asked for civilian planes to be grounded but his request was not heeded.
    Soleimani’s death in a U.S. drone strike had drawn huge crowds of mourners on to the streets in Iran, which Iranian officials said showed public support for the leadership.
    But Saturday’s protests and the public reaction to the downed airliner have shattered the image of national solidarity.    Demonstrators tore up pictures of the slain general.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

1/12/2020 China says will not change position on Taiwan after landslide election by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee
Incumbent Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and Vice President-elect William Lai attend a rally after their election victory,
outside the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China will not change its position that Taiwan belongs to it, Beijing said on Sunday, after President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election and said she would not submit to China’s threats, as state media warned she was courting disaster.
    The election campaign was dominated by China’s efforts to get the democratic island to accept Beijing’s rule under a “one country, two systems” model, as well as by anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong.
    “No matter what changes there are to the internal situation in Taiwan, the basic fact that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China will not change,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    While China says Taiwan is its territory, Taiwan maintains it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
    Tsai, who has firmly rejected China’s “one country, two systems” model, won another four-year term by a landslide on Saturday, and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) secured a majority in parliament.
    “Taiwan’s people once again use the vote in their hands to show the world the value of democracy,” Tsai said on Sunday when meeting the head of the United States’ de facto embassy in Taipei, Brent Christensen.
    “Democracy and freedom are indeed Taiwan’s most valuable asset and the foundation of the long-term Taiwan-U.S. partnership,” Tsai said, vowing to deepen cooperation with the United States on issues from defense to economy.
    On Saturday, Tsai called for talks to resume with China, but said she hoped Beijing understood Taiwan and its people would not submit to intimidation.
    However, China will not change its stance on the “one China” principle and opposing Taiwan independence, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
    “The universal consensus of the international community adhering to the ‘one China’ principle will not change either.”
    China hoped the world would support the “just cause” of Chinese people to oppose secessionist activities and “realize national reunification,” it added.
    Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said China should respect the election result and stop putting pressure on the island.
    “Our government will firmly defend the sovereignty of the Republic of China and Taiwan’s democracy and freedom,” it said.
‘POLICY TOOLBOX’
    China’s official Xinhua news agency said Tsai won by deploying dirty tricks, hyping the China threat and colluding with Western forces.
    “Whether it is to curb Taiwan independence secessionist activities or to benefit Taiwan compatriots, the mainland has a full ‘policy toolbox’,” it said.
    “Tsai and the DPP must be aware that they should not act wilfully because of a fluke.”
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Tsai and lauded her for seeking stability with China “in the face of unrelenting pressure.”
    Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi also sent congratulations, referring to Taiwan as a “precious friend.”
    China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said on Saturday it would continue promoting the “one country, two systems” model for Taiwan, which Beijing uses to run Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy.
    Many in the former British colony fear promises made under the system are not being kept.
    On China’s internet, there was unusual criticism for the Taiwan Affairs Office’s failure to win over the island, especially as Tsai’s win followed a landslide for pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong’s local elections in November.
    “What have you been doing?” wrote one user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.    “All the money you have spent and all you have done is give succor to hypocrites and traitors.”
    The criticism follows a denunciation of the Taiwan office on Friday by the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog for not following the party line enthusiastically and being too bureaucratic.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Elaine Lies in Tokyo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Christian Schmollinger)

1/12/2020 Thousands join Thai anti-government run, while rival camp pushes back by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat
Runners flash three finger salute as they attend at "Run Against Dictatorship" event
at a Public park in Bangkok, Thailand, January 12, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thousands of Thais joined a run in the capital on Sunday in what appeared to be the biggest show of dissent against the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, although he also drew a big show of support at a rival event.
    Police estimated more than 12,745 runners and supporters gathered before sunrise at a park in Bangkok, wearing athletic outfits and colorful shoes, to participate in the “Run Against Dictatorship” event.
    Some of them shouted slogans such as “Prayuth, get out!” or “Long live democracy!” while running the 2.6-km (1.6-mile) course amid a sprinkling of security forces.    Many also gave a three-finger salute of resistance to authority.
    “I want things to be better,” said Bangkok resident Waraporn Waralak, 45, after completing her run.    “I want Prayuth to get out.”
    Thailand’s government is headed by Prayuth, 65, after an election in March 2019 that the opposition described as having been manipulated to favor the leader’s pro-army party.
    “This is the biggest gathering since the coup,” said Anusorn Unno, dean of the sociology and anthropology faculty at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, adding that the harmless nature of the activity had spurred greater participation than usual.
    An excited crowd watched as organizers auctioned bibs bearing numbers significant in Thai politics, such as 2475, the Buddhist calendar year of the revolution that ended absolute monarchy in 1932.
    To loud cheers, a bib numbered 0044, in reference to the former ruling junta’s Article 44 that gave Prayuth absolute executive power, was ripped in two on stage.
    The event was held in line with people’s rights and no laws were broken, a government spokeswoman told Reuters.
    The run followed a rally last month staged by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the 41-year-old leader of the progressive Future Forward Party, who has emerged as the most outspoken opponent of Thailand’s new civilian government.
    Thanathorn was charged on Friday with breaching a law on public assembly over the December rally, and Future Forward faces dissolution this month by the constitutional court.
RUN OR WALK?
    Sunday’s event was called “Wing Lai Loong” in Thai, which translates as “Run to Oust the Uncle,” in an apparent reference to Prayuth’s nickname of “Uncle Tu
    It prompted a rival “Walk to Cheer the Uncle” event, held in another park, about 14 km (9 miles) away, to show support for Prayuth, where thousands also turned out.
    The clashing views of the two camps aroused memories of protests that periodically roiled the Thai capital before culminating in coups in 2006 and 2014.
    Supporters of Prayuth, who as army chief, had led the 2014 coup, put nationalism on display by brandishing the Thai flag, while branding Thanathorn and his supporters “nation haters” for their liberal views.
    They took turns hitting giant fruit piñatas with a wooden stick, to symbolize frustration at the Future Forward Party, with an orange, for example, signifying the party’s official color.
    Both crowds encompassed a wide age range, but Prayuth’s supporters were older on the whole.
    “We support the prime minister because he shows loyalty to the monarchy, our king,” said Sorasak Katkonganapan, a 62-year-old retiree at the walk.
(Additional reporting by Matthew Tostevin; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Clarence Fernandez)

1/12/2020 President Trump urges Iranian leaders not to kill protesters by OAN Newsroom
Police guard the British Embassy during an anti-UK protest in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    President Trump is urging Iranian leaders not to kill protesters in the Middle Eastern nation.    The president issued a stern warning to the Iranian regime on Sunday amid protesters’ calls for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to step down.
    On Twitter, he warned the regime “thousands have already been killed or imprisoned” by the government and “the world is watching.”    He added, “More importantly, the USA is watching.”

Hardline protesters chant slogans while holding up posters of Gen. Qasem Soleimani in front
of British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    This followed Saturday’s apology from the Iranian regime, which took responsibility for “accidentally” targeting and killing 176 passengers aboard a Ukrainian flight out of Tehran.    Protesters have since taken to the streets and began calling for the resignation of their supreme leader.
    President Trump put out a series of tweets, in both Farsi and English, to condemn the regime alongside the demonstrators.

Protesters chant slogans while holding up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration in front of the
British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. A candlelight ceremony late Saturday in Tehran turned into
a protest, with hundreds of people chanting against the country’s leaders — including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei — and police dispersing them with tear gas. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    Despite the estimated 1,500 peaceful Iranian protesters who were gunned down by Soleimani’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard in late 2019, the protests continue to grow.

1/12/2020 China pushes ‘One China, One Taiwan’ policy following landslide election by OAN Newsroom
Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election candidate, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen celebrates her
victory with supporters in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
    Chinese leadership continues to declare their rule over Taiwan after the island’s pro-democracy president won in a landslide election.
    China’s foreign ministry reportedly said no matter what happens in Taiwan, there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of that.
    Many pro-democracy supporters took to the streets after the election to celebrate.    Activist Joshua Wong said Tsai Ing-wen’s victory was a “precious moment” for people in Hong Kong.
    “Today is the day for the majority of Taiwanese to choose their fate, to safeguard their democracy and freedoms, and most importantly, to say no to CCP’s authoritarian invasion,” he said.

Supporters of Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election candidate, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen cheer
for Tsai’s victory in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
    The Chinese government is opposing Taiwan independence, or the idea of ‘one China, one Taiwan.’    The foreign ministry and residents in Beijing said they continue to push for the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.
    “Taiwan is always a part of China’s territory, many hope that the people across straits can coexist peacefully,” said one resident.    “This is the ‘One China’ principle, and is also what Chinese people have been longing for.”
    Beijing called on the international community to respect the notion of ‘one China’ following the election.    Chinese analysts have viewed the election as a setback in relations with Taiwan, but not a “major crisis.”
Supporters of Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election candidate, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen cheer
for Tsai’s victory in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

1/12/2020 Iran’s Khamenei calls for better regional cooperation, criticizes U.S.
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a gathering
in Tehran, Iran, January 8, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on Sunday for increased cooperation among countries in the region to deal with problems he blamed on the United States, his official website said.
    “The situation in the region is inappropriate because of … the United States and its friends, and the only way to deal with it is to rely on inter-regional cooperation,” Ayatollah Khamenei told Qatar’s visiting ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the website reported.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

1/13/2020 China could flex military muscles to pressure Taiwan post-election by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO - Incumbent Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and Vice President-elect William Lai attend a rally after their election
victory, outside the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – His policies rejected by Taiwan voters in a landslide re-election for President Tsai Ing-wen, Chinese President Xi Jinping will most likely continue to tighten the screws on the island, with state media already floating shows of force.
    China took center stage in the campaign after Xi sought in a major speech a year ago to get Taiwan to sign on to the same sort of “one country, two systems” model as Hong Kong.
    Tsai immediately rejected the idea. Six months later, Hong Kong erupted in anti-government protests, giving a huge boost to Tsai in her efforts to portray China as an existential threat to Taiwan’s democracy and freedoms.
    But rather than recognize that its pressure on Taiwan had failed, Beijing’s immediate reaction to the election was to double down on “one country, two systems” and say it would not change policy.
    “This administration of Xi Jinping, but I would say more broadly the DNA of the Communist Party, does not do well to reflect and recalibrate in a way that signals reconciliation, compromise or what they would frame as weakness,” said Jude Blanchette, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
    “I thoroughly expect that the conversation right now in Beijing is about turning the screws even more,” Blanchette added.
    China says Taiwan is its territory.    Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
    Options for increasing pressure post-election include many of the actions China was taking before: stepped up military drills around the island or picking off more of Taiwan’s 15 remaining diplomatic allies.    It could also withdraw from a key trade agreement reached a decade ago.
    Widely read Chinese state-backed tabloid the Global Times said in a Monday editorial that military flexing may be the next step.
    “We need to plan to crack down on Tsai’s new provocative actions, including imposing military pressure,” it wrote.
    China already sailed its newest aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait twice in the run-up to the election, and during Tsai’s first administration regularly flew bomber jets around the island.
    Zheng Zhenqing, a Taiwan expert at Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University, said China using even more military coercion against Taiwan was “a realistic thing to do.”
    “For the mainland, ‘one country, two systems’ is a basic policy of the state. How can it be changed just because of one election on Taiwan?” he said.
CREATING ‘POISON’
    Since Xi took power in late 2012, he has overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent at home, locking up political rivals in the name of fighting corruption and tightening Communist Party control at every level of society.
    Internationally, China has faced opprobrium for locking up Muslims in its far western region of Xinjiang as part of what it calls an anti-radicalisation program.
    And in Hong Kong, Beijing has shown no sign of giving into demands for greater democracy there, and continues to face censure from Western countries for how it has dealt with the protests.
    This month Beijing replaced its top man in the former British colony with an official known for enforcing party discipline in coal-rich Shanxi, where corruption was once likened to cancer.
    Alongside strident calls to use force to take Taiwan, there has been some rare criticism on China’s Twitter-like Weibo site of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office’s failure to win over the island.
    “You officials there please step down as soon as possible.    From dawn to dusk you slam Taiwan, but the more you do this the more poison you create,” wrote one user.
    The Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to a request for comment on whether its head, former Chinese ambassador to the United Nations Liu Jieyi, would be replaced in light of Tsai’s huge win.
    One diplomatic source, familiar with policy making in China and Taiwan, said it was possible Xi was not being given the true picture of what was happening in Taiwan because officials under him were scared to report bad news.
    “In the current atmosphere in Beijing, who wants to be the one to tell the boss that he’s on the wrong track?” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

1/13/2020 Iran denies shooting at protesters amid fury over downing of plane by Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: People and families of the victims of the crash of the Boeing 737-800 plane, flight PS 752, light candles as they
gather to show their sympathy in Tehran, Iran January 11, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s police said on Monday officers had not fired at protesters demonstrating over Tehran’s admission that it shot down a passenger plane, as video on social media recorded gunshots and pools of blood.
    U.S. President Donald Trump, tweeting on Sunday during a second day of Iranian demonstrations, told the authorities “don’t kill your protesters.”
    The demonstrations at home are the latest development in one of the most destabilizing escalations between the United States and Iran since the Iranian revolution of 1979.
    Tehran has acknowledged shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner in error, killing 176 people, hours after it had fired at U.S. bases to retaliate for the killing of Iran’s most powerful military leader in a drone strike ordered by Trump.
    Iranian public anger, rumbling for days as Iran repeatedly denied it was to blame for Wednesday’s plane crash, erupted into protests on Saturday when the military admitted it.    Demonstrators turned out again on Sunday.
    Videos on social media, posted late on Sunday, recorded gunshots in the vicinity of protests in Tehran’s Azadi Square. Footage showed blood on the ground, wounded being carried and people who seemed to be security personnel running with rifles.    Other posts showed riot police hitting protesters with batons as people nearby shouted “Don’t beat them!
    “Death to the dictator,” footage circulating on social media showed protesters shouting, directing their fury at Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
    “They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here,” another group outside a Tehran university chanted.
    Reuters could not independently authenticate the footage.    But state-affiliated media reported the protests on Saturday and Sunday in Tehran and other cities, without giving such details.
    “At protests, police absolutely did not shoot because the capital’s police officers have been given orders to show restraint,” Hossein Rahimi, head of the Tehran police, said in a statement carried by the state broadcaster’s website.
    Iran’s latest showdown with the United States has come at a precarious time for the authorities in Tehran and their allies across the Middle East, when sanctions imposed by Trump have caused deep harm to the Iranian economy.
    Iranian authorities killed hundreds of protesters in November in what appears to have been the bloodiest crackdown on anti-government unrest since the 1979 revolution.    In Iraq and Lebanon, governments that include Iran-backed armed groups have also faced months of hostile mass demonstrations.
‘CHOKED OFF’
    Trump wrote on Twitter late on Sunday that National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien had “suggested today that sanctions & protests have Iran ‘choked off’, will force them to negotiate.”
    “Actually, I couldn’t care less if they negotiate.    Will be totally up to them but, no nuclear weapons and ‘don’t kill your protesters’,” he wrote, repeating his earlier tweets making similar calls to the Iranian authorities not to open fire.
    Trump precipitated the escalation between the United States and Iran in 2018 by pulling out of an agreement between Tehran and world powers under which sanctions were lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.    He has said the goal is to force Iran to agree to a more stringent pact.
    Iran has repeatedly said it will not negotiate as long as U.S. sanctions are in place. It denies seeking nuclear arms.
    The latest flare-up began at the end of December when rockets fired at U.S. bases in Iraq killed one American contractor.    Washington accused pro-Iran militia and launched air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters.    The militia responded by surrounding the U.S. embassy in Baghdad for two days. Trump then ordered the strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general who led pro-Iran militia across the region.
    Iran fired at U.S. bases in Iraq on Wednesday, though no Americans were hurt.    The Ukrainian plane, on its way to Kiev and carrying many Iranian dual nationals, crashed hours later.
    After days of denying blame for the crash, Commanders of Iran’s Guards, a parallel force set up to protect the Islamic Republic and answering to Khamenei, issued profuse apologies.
    Iran’s president called it a “disastrous mistake.”    A top Guards commander said he had told the authorities on the same day as the crash that a missile had brought down the plane, raising questions about why Iran had initially denied it.
    Canadians held vigils for the victims.    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told one event: “We will not rest until there are answers.”
    Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said it had obtained visas for two of its investigators to travel to Iran.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Parisa Hafezil; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/13/2020 Human Rights Watch head denied entry to Hong Kong ahead of report launch
FILE PHOTO: Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during a
interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The global head of Human Rights Watch said he was denied entry on Sunday to Hong Kong, where he was scheduled to launch the organization’s latest world report this week.
    Kenneth Roth, the group’s executive director, said he was blocked at Hong Kong airport from entering for the first time, having entered freely in the past.
    During seven months of sometimes violent anti-government protests, the Chinese-ruled city has barred several activists, foreign journalists and an academic.
    “This year (the new world report) describes how the Chinese government is undermining the international human rights system.    But the authorities just blocked my entrance to Hong Kong, illustrating the worsening problem,” Roth said in a post on his Twitter account.
    He added that Hong Kong immigration officials had cited only “immigration reasons.”
    Speaking at a daily news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Human Rights Watch had encouraged radicals in Hong Kong “to take violent and extremist actions.”
    “They have instigated the activities of Hong Kong separatists and hold a major responsibility for the current chaos,” Geng said.
    Responding to Reuters’ questions, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Immigration Department said it did not comment on individual cases.
    “In handling each immigration case, (the department) will, in accordance with the laws and immigration policies, fully consider all relevant factors and circumstances of the case before deciding whether the entry should be allowed or not,” the spokesman said.
    Human Rights Watch, based in New York, had been scheduled to release its 652-page World Report 2020 at the Foreign Correspondent Club in Hong Kong on Jan. 15.
    Roth would now launch the report on Jan. 14 at the United Nations in New York, the organization said in a statement.
    “This disappointing action is yet another sign that Beijing is tightening its oppressive grip on Hong Kong and further restricting the limited freedom Hong Kong people enjoy under ‘one country, two systems’,” Roth said in the organization’s statement.
    Human Rights Watch said a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official had threatened to impose unspecified “sanctions” against it and several U.S.-based pro-democracy organizations in early December.    Neither Beijing nor Hong Kong authorities have since provided further details, it added.
    The Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club, said in a statement it is concerned that the Hong Kong government is using the immigration department to act punitively against organizations and media representatives it does not agree with.
    “This sort of treatment and lack of explanation appeared to be making a weapon of visas and violated press freedom rights in Hong Kong law,” the Club said.
    Many people in Hong Kong are angered by what they see as Beijing’s ever-tightening grip on the city, which was promised a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.
(Reporting by Greg Torode and Clare Jim; Additional reporting by Huizhong Wu in BEIJING; Editing by Frances Kerry, Lincoln Feast and William Maclean)

1/13/2020 Australian prime minister’s approval rating goes up in flames by Sonali Paul
FILE PHOTO: An Australian Army combat engineer from the 5th Engineer Regiment utilises a JD-450 Bulldozer to
spread out burnt woodchip at the Eden Woodchip Mill in southern New South Wales, Australia, in support of
Operation Bushfire Assist, January 11, 2020. SGT Bill Solomou/Australian Department of Defence/Handout via REUTERS
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Public support for Prime Minister Scott Morrison has slumped to its lowest levels amid widespread anger over his government’s handling of Australia’s bushfire crisis, according to a survey released by Newspoll on Monday.
    At least 28 people have been killed in the fires that have destroyed 2,000 homes, and razed 11.2 million hectares (27.7 million acres), nearly half the area of the United Kingdom.
    Morrison has come under attack for being slow to respond to the crisis, even taking a family holiday to Hawaii while fires were burning.    He acknowledged during a television interview on Sunday that he had made some mistakes.
    “We have heard the message loud and clear from the Australian people,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Monday, when asked about the poll result as he announced a A$50 million ($34.56 million) wildlife protection fund.
    “They want to see a Federal Government adopt a very direct response to these natural and national disasters,” Frydenberg said.
    The Newspoll survey showed Morrison’s approval rating dropped 8% since the last poll on Dec 8 to stand at 37%, scoring lower than opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
    It is Morrison’s worst showing in the poll since he took over leadership of the ruling Liberal Party in August 2018 when a backbench uprising ousted former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
    No margin of error was provided for the poll, which surveyed 1,505 people from Wednesday to Saturday, although it was about 2.5% points in previous Newspolls.
    The poll was taken after Morrison announced a A$2 billion bushfire recovery fund and called out 3,000 army reservists to back up state emergency workers – responses that were viewed as belated.
    Morrison said on Sunday he would take a proposal to Cabinet to hold a Royal Commission national inquiry into the bushfires, including examining the response to the crisis, the role and powers of the federal government and the impact of climate change.
    After weeks of raging fires whipped up by erratic winds and temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), conditions eased over the weekend with showers forecast for New South Wales (NSW), the worst hit state, over the next few days.
    “If this BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) rainfall forecast comes to fruition then this will be all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one.    Fingers crossed,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said on Twitter.
    Here are key events in the crisis:
-Australia’s pristine ‘AAA’ sovereign ratting is not at “immediate risk” from the fiscal and economic impact of bushfires raging across the country’s east coast, S&P said on Monday.
-The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) saidd on Monday bushfire victims can submit damaged banknote claims to redeem their lost money.
-The Australian government committed A$500 million to an emergency wildlife recovery program on Monday, calling the bushfires crisis engulfing the country “an ecological disaster” that threatens several species, including koalas and rock wallabies.
-German engineering giant Siemens said it would fulfill its contract to provide signaling for a rail line to a controversial new coal mine being built by India’s Adani Group in Australia’s outback, drawing criticism from green groups on Monday.
-Frydenberg announced A$50 million in funnding on Monday for protecting wildlife and restoring damaged habitat, with a focus on threatened species, like koalas, with heartbreaking images of rescues of burned animals having gone viral around the world.
-Since October, thousands of Australians have been subjected to repeat evacuations as huge and unpredictable fires scorched more than 11.2 million hectares (27.7 million acres), an area nearly half the size of the United Kingdom.
-Across New South Wales, 111 fires were sstill burning late on Sunday, 40 of them not yet contained, but none at emergency level.
-A number of fires burning in the Snowy MMountains region in New South Wales and into Victoria have merged across more than 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) of land.    They do not pose a threat, authorities say, despite being in an area hard to reach.
-The government said on Sunday it would pprovide A$76 million ($52 million) for mental health counseling and healthcare consultations to firefighters, emergency workers, individuals and communities.
-Western Australia Department of Fire andd Emergency Services said on Sunday an out-of-control and unpredictable fire that is moving slowly in the state’s south, poses a possible threat to lives and homes in the area.
-South Australia said on Sunday that moree than 32,000 livestock animals, mostly sheep, had died in recent fires on Kangaroo Island, while fire services are working to strengthen containment lines ahead of expected worsening weather conditions on Monday.
-Thousands of Australians took to the strreets on Friday to protest against government inaction on climate change, and were supported by protesters in London.
-Australia’s wildfires have dwarfed otherr recent catastrophic blazes, with its burnt terrain more than twice the extent of that ravaged by 2019 fires in Brazil, California and Indonesia combined.
-Westpac estimated total bushfire losses to date at about A$5 billion, higher than the 2009 bushfires in Victoria but smaller than the Queensland floods in 2010/11.    It forecast a hit of 0.2% to 0.5% on gross domestic product.
-The Insurance Council of Australia increeased to more than A$900 million its estimate of damage claims from the fires, and they are expected to jump further.
-About 100 firefighters from the United SStates and Canada are helping, with 140 more expected in coming weeks.
-The fires have emitted 400 megatons of ccarbon dioxide and produced harmful pollutants, the European Union’s Copernicus monitoring program said.
-Smoke has drifted across the Pacific, afffecting cities in South America, and may have reached the Antarctic, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization said.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; additional reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney, Editing by Peter Cooney & Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/13/2020 Hong Kong applauds its financial prowess amid protests by Noah Sin and Alun John
FILE PHOTO - Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, China January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam and top finance officials praised the Chinese-ruled city’s resilience as a global financial hub on Monday amid more than six months of often violent pro-democracy unrest.
    Protests escalated in June over a since-withdrawn bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party.    They have since broadened to several demands, including universal suffrage.
    Speaking at the opening of a regional financial forum, Lam said the city’s financial system remained stable thanks to lessons learnt since the 1998 Asian financial crisis.    Lam cited the listing of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd as a boon for other listings by mainland companies.
    The city’s “strengths and resilience, just like our financial systems, have not been undermined despite (the fact) that we experienced considerable social unrest and challenges,” Lam said.
    She added she was confident the former British colony, which returned to China in 1997, would bridge divisions and realize its goals of a reunited community and “flourishing” economy.
    Finance Secretary Paul Chan, speaking at the same event, said Hong Kong’s banking system was running smoothly and had ample liquidity despite the city facing “unprecedented” turbulence.
PARALLEL UNIVERSE
    Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s Deputy Chief Executive Howard Lee said the strong performance of financial assets was further proof of the city’s resilience.
    “No matter whether it is the currency or the equity markets or infrastructure, they seem to be going through a kind of parallel universe,” he said.
    The Hang Seng index was trading at its highest since July, while the Hong Kong dollar has flirted with three-year highs.
    Julia Leung, deputy chief executive of the Securities and Futures Commission, said that Hong Kong markets had been “hyper stress tested in the last six months” and they “had done well.”
    Many protests involved violent clashes between protesters and police on central streets lined by the city’s tallest towers hosting top finance companies.
    Some financial firms have been caught in the middle, with branches of mainland banks repeatedly vandalized as protesters vented their anger at what they perceive as Beijing meddling in the city’s affairs, an accusation denied by Beijing which blames the West for fomenting unrest.
    HSBC has also drawn the ire of some protesters who accuse it of being complicit in action by authorities against activists trying to raise money to support their campaign.    HSBC strongly denies any connection.
    by a tariff war between Washington and Beijing, and with protests hurting tourism and retail sales, Hong Kong’s economy has fallen into recession and is relying on its finance industry to prevent a deeper downturn.
    Chan said the government was considering a more “competitive” tax arrangement to attract private equity funds to the city and further relief measures to prop up the economy, without offering further details.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie)

1/13/2020 Senior China diplomat says One China principle unshaken after Taiwan election
FILE PHOTO: China’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi waves during a meeting with Russia's President
Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia April 5, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said Monday that the One China principle will not be changed by the Taiwan election result and will not be shaken by the wrong words and actions of Western politicians.
    The Taiwanese re-elected President Tsai Ing-wen, who says Taiwan is an independent country, by a landslide on Saturday.    China claims Taiwan as its rightful territory under the One China principle.
(Reporting by Huizhong Wu, Lusha Zhang and Judy Hua; Editing by Toby Chopra)

1/13/2020 ‘Clerics get lost!’: Iran protests rage on over plane disaster by Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: A woman shouts slogans as she gathers with people to show their sympathy to the victims of the crash of the Boeing
737-800 plane, flight PS 752, in Tehran, Iran January 11, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Protesters denouncing Iran’s clerical rulers took to the streets and riot police deployed to face them on Monday, in a third day of demonstrations after authorities acknowledged shooting down a passenger plane by accident.
    Demonstrations in Iran, some met by a violent crackdown, are the latest twist in one of the most serious escalations between Washington and Tehran since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
    Video showed students on Monday chanting slogans including “Clerics get lost!” outside universities in the city of Isfahan and in Tehran, where riot police were filmed taking positions on the streets.
    Images from the previous two days of protests showed wounded people being carried and pools of blood on the ground.    Gunshots could be heard, although the police denied opening fire.
    U.S. President Donald Trump, who raised the stakes last week by ordering a drone strike that killed Iran’s most powerful military commander, tweeted to Iran’s leaders: “don’t kill your protesters.”
    Tehran has acknowledged shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner by mistake on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard, hours after firing at U.S. targets in Iraq to retaliate for the killing on Jan. 3 of General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
    Iranian public anger, rumbling for days as Iran repeatedly denied it was to blame for the plane crash, erupted into protests on Saturday when the military admitted its role.
    A full picture of protests inside Iran is difficult to obtain because of restrictions on independent media.    But videos uploaded to the internet showed scores, possibly hundreds, of protesters on Monday at sites in Tehran and Isfahan, a major city south of the capital.
    “They killed our elites and replaced them with clerics,” they chanted outside a Tehran university, referring to Iranian students returning to studies in Canada who were on the plane.
‘DON’T BEAT THEM’
    Videos posted late on Sunday recorded the gunfire around protests in Tehran’s Azadi Square.    Wounded were being carried and men who seemed to be security personnel ran as they gripped rifles.    Riot police hit protesters with batons as people shouted “Don’t beat them!
    “Death to the dictator,” other footage showed protesters shouting, directing their fury directly at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader since 1989.
    Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.    State-affiliated media has reported the protests in Tehran and other cities but without all the details from the uploaded videos.
    “At protests, police absolutely did not shoot because the capital’s police officers have been given orders to show restraint,” Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi said in a statement on state media.
    Tehran’s showdown with Washington has come at a precarious time for the authorities in Iran and the proxy forces they support to wield influence across the Middle East.    Sanctions imposed by Trump have hammered the Iranian economy.
    Iran’s authorities killed hundreds of protesters in November in what appears to have been the bloodiest crackdown on anti-government unrest since 1979.    In Iraq and Lebanon, governments backed by pro-Iran armed groups have also faced mass protests.
    The deaths of the passengers, including many Iranians, some with dual citizenship, adds trauma to a nation still raw from the deaths in November’s unrest, when police fired on protesters who torched shops, petrol stations and banks.
    Soleimani’s killing led to days of mourning and public shows of solidarity with the authorities, but even that turned bloody, with at least 56 people trampled to death at his funeral.
    Five nations whose citizens died in the crash will meet in London on Thursday to discuss possible legal action, Ukraine’s foreign minister told Reuters.
ESCALATION
    Trump tweeted that he “couldn’t care less if (the Iranians) negotiate.    Will be totally up to them but, no nuclear weapons and ‘don’t kill your protesters’.”
    Iran’s government spokesman dismissed Trump’s comments, saying Iranians were suffering because of his actions and they would remember he had ordered the killing of Soleimani.
    In another tweet, Trump said “The wonderful Iranian protesters refused to step on, or in any way denigrate, our Great American Flag,” a reference to footage showing students standing around rather than on a U.S. flag painted on the ground so that people would walk on it.
    Trump precipitated an escalation with Iran in 2018 by pulling out of a deal under which sanctions were eased in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.
    Trump says he wants a more stringent pact.    Iran says it will not negotiate as long as U.S. sanctions are in place.
    The recent flare-up began in December when rockets fired at U.S. bases in Iraq killed a U.S. contractor.    Washington blamed pro-Iran militia and launched air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters.    After the militia surrounded the U.S. embassy in Baghdad for two days, Trump ordered the strike on Soleimani.
    Iran retaliated on Wednesday by firing missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed, without hurting any Americans.    The Ukrainian plane crashed shortly after.     Iran’s president called the downing of the plane a “disastrous mistake.”    A top commander said he had told the authorities on the day of the crash it had been shot down, raising questions about why Iran had initially denied it.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/13/2020 Cherish rule of law, says Hong Kong’s senior judge by Greg Torode and Clare Jim
Judges attend the ceremonial opening of the legal year at City Hall in Hong Kong, China January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s most senior judge made a rare public plea on Monday for the rule of law to be protected amid often violent anti-China protests rocking the financial center since mid-2019.
    Hong Kong’s judiciary, which underpins the former British colony’s semi-autonomous status since returning to China in 1997, is facing the strain of more than 7,000 arrests at the youth-led demonstrations.
    While some Hong Kong lawyers, politicians and activists fear judicial independence is under threat by meddling from the Communist Party leadership in Beijing, there is also pressure on courts to take a firm line against violence and vandalism at protests.
    “The rule of law is rightly cherished by the community and is the foundation of a cohesive society,” Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma said during an event with Hong Kong and mainland Chinese lawyers as well some international jurists.
    “We do all our best to preserve it and to treasure it because once damaged, this is not something from which our community can easily recover,” added Ma, who is usually reticent in public and steps down from his post at the end of this year.
    Under Hong Kong’s post-1997 “One Country, Two Systems” model, Ma and his judges are widely seen as symbols of the special freedoms guaranteed for half a century that have helped make Hong Kong an attractive global investment hub.
    With thousands of cases pending, both pro-Beijing figures and anti-government protesters have at times criticized the courts.    Some demonstrators have lobbed petrol bombs at the Court of Final Appeal and sprayed graffiti on the High Court.
    Ma confirmed internal discussions over how to manage the volume of looming cases, but said no decisions were finalised, stressing rights to fair trial and due process must be protected without any political bias.
    Most of the cases were simply not ready for trial, he added.    “One day we will be, that’s why we need to plan to deal with it,” he said.    Most of those arrested are out on bail.
    Speaking at the same event, Hong Kong Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes noted Hong Kong’s “extraordinary year” in 2019 and cited provisions allowing government prosecutors to drop cases in the public interest.
    While some faced serious charges and potentially long sentences, many faced lesser public order offences, he said.
    “They are all of them, in the main, of good character.    They are representative of a large section of Hong Kong society.”
    Ma’s successor, who is due to take office early next year, has yet to be announced.
(Reporting by Greg Torode and Clare Jim in Hong Kong; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

1/13/2020 Report: Soleimani was a target since June 2019 after Iran shot down a U.S. drone by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Soldiers stand at a site of Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Ain al-Asad
air base was struck by a barrage of Iranian missiles on Wednesday, in retaliation for the U.S. drone strike that killed atop Iranian
commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose killing raised fears of a wider war in the Middle East. (AP Photo/Qassim Abdul-Zahra)
    According to a new report, the fatal U.S. air strike on the Iranian Gen. Qasam Soleimani may have been months in the making.    NBC recently quoted several White House sources who said President Trump recognized Soleimani as a target after the downing of a U.S. Intelligence drone by Iranian forces back in June of last year.    The president was reportedly encouraged to approve a potential strike on the general by then-National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
    “It was very clear, Qasem Soleimani, himself was plotting a broad, large scale attack against American interests,” stated Secretary Pompeo.    “And those attacks were imminent against American facilities, including American embassies, military bases, American facilities throughout the region.”
    While the president gave his preliminary approval, the directive came with the condition he would only move forward if Iran’s actions led to the death of an American.
    On December 27, 2019 tensions escalated when a rocket attack left one U.S. contractor dead and many service members injured.    Days later, the president gave the final ‘green light’ to launch the attack on Soleimani and admitted it should have happened much earlier.
    “In recent days, he was planning new attacks on American targets, but we stopped him,” said President Trump.    “Soleimani’s hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood, he should have been terminated long ago.”
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.,
Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, en route to Ohio for a campaign rally. (AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin)
    Since the NBC report, the president has responded to continued claims by Democrats, who doubt the existence of an “imminent threat,” by saying Soleimani’s history was enough to warrant military action regardless of any direct threat.
    “By removing Soleimani, we have sent a powerful message to terrorists: ‘If you value your own life, you will not threaten the lives of our people,” President Trump added.
[GOOD JOB TRUMP BECAUSE IRAN MULLAHS THOUGHT THEY WOULD GET AWAY FROM SHOOTING DOWN OUR DRONE WHILE IT WAS IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS JUST LIKE THEY THINK AN IRANIAN MADE A MISTAKE AND SHOT DOWN AN AIRCRAFT WITH 176 CIVILIANS WAS NOT A MAJOR ISSUE.].

1/13/2020 Democrats stay silent on Iran protests, continue to attack President Trump by OAN Newsroom
In this photograph taken Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, protesters hold flowers as tear gas fired by police rises at a demonstration in
front of Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, to remember victims of a Ukrainian airplane shot down by an Iranian missile. (AP Photo)
    Democrat congressional leaders and presidential hopefuls are staying quiet about ongoing anti-government protests in Iran.    This comes as President Trump has continued to face criticism since authorizing the strike that killed a top Iranian general.
    In the days following the strike, Iranians reportedly blasted the president for his decision.    The president’s critics used the opportunity to accuse him of bringing the U.S. closer to war, but Iranians are focusing their anger toward their own government after admitting to unintentionally downing a Ukrainian jetliner.
    While the president has blasted the regime for its actions, Democrats are still finding reasons to blame President Trump.
    “This is an opportunity to make sure that there’s a face on every single Iranian, who will be impacted if we continue to escalate the situation and find ourselves in war,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

1/14/2020 Iran says it has made arrests over plane disaster as protests rage on by Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh
In this photograph taken Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, Iranian police officers take position while protesters gather in front of
Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, to remember victims of a Ukrainian airplane shot down by an Iranian missile. On
Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, online videos purported to show that Iranian security forces fired both live ammunition and
tear gas to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Islamic Republic’s initial denial that it shot down a Ukrainian jetliner. (AP Photo)
    The Democrats’ silence on the situation in Iran comes after video surfaced showing police firing tear gas and live ammunition to disperse protesters.    So far, only 2020 Democrat presidential candidates Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar have spoken out in support of the Iranian people.

1/14/2020 Iran says it has made arrests over plane disaster as protests rage on by Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: A woman shouts slogans as she gathers with people to show their sympathy to the victims of the crash of the
Boeing 737-800 plane, flight PS 752, in Tehran, Iran January 11, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Tuesday it had arrested an undisclosed number of suspects accused of a role in shooting down a Ukrainian airliner, as anti-government demonstrations triggered by the disaster entered a fourth day.
    Wednesday’s shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, killing all 176 people on board, has led to one of the greatest public challenges to Iran’s clerical rulers since they came to power in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
    After days of denying blame, Iran acknowledged on Saturday it had shot the plane down during a state of high alert, hours after it had fired missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq to retaliate for the killing of Iran’s most powerful military commander.
    Protesters, with students at the forefront, have held demonstrations against the establishment since Saturday, some met by a violent police crackdown.
    Video from inside Iran has shown wounded people being carried, pools of blood on the streets and the sound of gunfire. The overall level of unrest is difficult to assess because of restrictions on independent reporting.
    President Hassan Rouhani promised a thorough investigation into the “unforgiveable error” of shooting down the plane, giving a television address on Tuesday, the latest in a series of apologies from a leadership that rarely admits mistakes.
    Iran’s judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said some of those accused of having a role in the plane disaster had already been arrested.    He did not identify the suspects or say how many had been held.
    Most of those on board the flight were Iranians or dual nationals.    Canada, Ukraine, Britain and other nations who had citizens on the plane have scheduled a meeting on Thursday in London to consider legal action against Tehran.
‘CLERICS GET LOST!’
    The disaster and subsequent unrest comes amid one of the biggest escalations between Tehran and Washington since the revolution four decades ago that made them into foes.
    Tit-for-tat military strikes began with missiles launched at a U.S. base that killed an American contractor in December, and reached their climax when Washington killed the architect of Iran’s regional network of proxy militia, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3.
    Iran’s government was already in a precarious position, with sanctions imposed by the United States having hammered its economy, causing public anger.
    The authorities killed hundreds of demonstrators in a crackdown two months ago, in what was probably the worst anti-government unrest since the revolution. Across the region, governments that include armed Iran-allied factions have also faced months of hostile mass demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon.
    In recent days, demonstrators have chanted “Clerics get lost!” and other slogans against Iran’s system of theocratic rule.    “Death to Khamenei,” others shouted, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader for more than 30 years.
    Riot police have beaten some demonstrators with batons, social media posts show.    Gunfire has also been heard, although police have denied shooting at protesters.
    The most recent video posted on social media showed protesters gathered into the night in Tehran and other cities, and burning images of Soleimani.
‘FIRST STEP’
    “Iranian armed forces admitting their mistake is a good first step,” Rouhani said in Tuesday’s address.    He said those responsible would be punished and the government would be accountable to Iranians and those nations who lost citizens.
    Ukraine’s foreign minister said “grieving nations,” five of the countries whose citizens were killed when an airliner was shot down, would meet on Thursday.
    “We will meet in person in London to discuss the ways, including legal, (for) how we are following this up,” Vadym Prystaiko said on Monday.
    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose nation had at least 57 citizens on the flight, told Global News TV that victims would still be alive and at home with their families now if there had been no tensions in the region.
    According to a transcript, Trudeau said Canada did not receive a heads up before the United States killed Soleimani.
    “The U.S. makes its determinations.    We attempt to work as an international community on big issues.    But sometimes countries take actions without informing their allies,” he said.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/14/2020 France, Britain, Germany to trigger Iran deal dispute mechanism: diplomats
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) – France, Britain and Germany will on Tuesday inform the European Union on Tuesday that they are triggering a dispute mechanism in the Iran nuclear deal following renewed violations by Tehran of the 2015 accord, two European diplomats said.
    The diplomats said the decision was aimed at saving the deal by discussing with Iran what it should do to reverse decisions it had made.    The aim was not to reimpose UN sanctions, the diplomats said.
(Reporting by John Irish; editing by John Stonestreet)

1/14/2020 Inter-Korean projects could help ease sanctions on North: South Korea’s Moon by Kevin Krolicki and Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
next to U.S. President Donald Trump at a military demarcation line at the demilitarized zone (DMZ)
separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday it was too early to be pessimistic about stalled denuclearization dialogue between the United States and North Korea, and that inter-Korean cooperation could help ease the way for sanctions to be lifted.
    Despite hostile rhetoric from Pyongyang, North Korea has not conducted a weapons test nor shut the door to more talks even after Washington ignored its year-end deadline to make concessions, Moon told an annual New Year news conference.
    “North Korea made clear that the door to dialogue is not closed though there’s a premise that they can come back to talks only when their demands are accepted,” he said.
    North Korea said on Saturday that it had received birthday greetings for its, leader Kim Jong Un, from U.S. President Donald Trump but that their personal rapport is not enough for a return to talks.
    Negotiations have been stalled since a day-long meeting in October collapsed, and the United States ignored a year-end deadline Kim set for it to soften its stance, calling it “artificial.”
    The deadlock left South Korea increasingly sidelined, with Moon saying in his New Year speech that there is a “desperate needz” for practical ways to kick-start cross-border projects blocked by sanctions imposed over Pyongyang’s weapons programs.
    When asked by Reuters whether South Korea would seek to reopen exchanges with the North independently of the United States, Moon said there is a need to explore a “new idea” to foster a breakthrough in the stalemate.
    “If we expand inter-Korean cooperation as much as possible, it will be able to not only expedite North Korea-U.S. dialogue, but also fetch international support for partial lifting or exemptions of sanctions if necessary,” he said.
    Moon said there are steps that the two Koreas could take that aren’t blocked by the restrictions, including border-area cooperation and tourism.    He also suggested sports exchanges such as fielding combined teams for this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and a joint bid for the 2032 Games.
    “If any inter-Korean efforts require an exemption from U.N. sanctions, we can work to address it,” Moon said.    “After all, we have to have the resolve to develop inter-Korean relations more independently as it’s an issue of our own.”
SANCTIONS
    North Korea has spent much of the last year criticizing Seoul as being beholden to the United States, and threatened to bulldoze the tourism complex that was once a rare example of rapprochement between the Koreas.
    White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said last week the United States had reached out to North Korea seeking to resume talks.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is in California for meetings with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, said on Monday he was hopeful Kim will make the right decision despite slow progress.
    “The sanctions that we have put in place on North Korea along with the rest of the world … have certainly caused Chairman Kim to think seriously about the right path forward for his people,” Pompeo told a Silicon Valley event in San Francisco.    “I hope we have a successful 2020.”
    Moon also said he hoped the Tokyo Olympics would not only help foster peace with North Korea but provide a chance to “fundamentally resolve” a bilateral history and trade feud.
    But he did not confirm whether he would attend the opening ceremony, saying there would be a high-level delegation.
    Moon also vowed to impose fresh property market regulations and review whether taxes need to be raised if current measures fail to calm surging home prices.
(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki, Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha; Writing by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Gerry Doyle)

1/14/2020 Hong Kong pledges $1.3 billion in economic relief amid unrest
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, China January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday pledged HK$10 billion ($1.3 billion) in relief measures to prop up the economy as it grapples with months of anti-government protests that have hurt business confidence in the global financial hub.
    Hong Kong sank into recession for the first time in a decade in the third quarter as the sometimes violent protests forced businesses to shut and scared away travelers.
    The proposed new spending brings the Chinese-ruled city’s total stimulus to HK$35 billion ($4.5 billion) since this summer, when protests escalated.
    The measures target the elderly, unemployed and low-income residents, with plans to provide cash handouts among other benefits.
    The government said it also aims to increase statutory holidays from 12 to 17 days, subject to discussions with the business sector.
    The protests flared in June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.
    The demonstrations, which have escalated into calls for greater democracy, have also been powered by a broad perception that Beijing is meddling in the former British colony’s affairs, despite a guarantee of wide-ranging autonomy when it returned top Chinese rule in 1997, and by complaints of police brutality.
    Beijing denies interfering.    Police say they have exercised restraint in the face of escalating violence.
    On Monday, Lam joined other government officials at a regional financial forum in praising Hong Kong’s resilience as a financial hub, saying its “strengths and resilience, just like our financial systems, have not been undermined despite (the fact) that we experienced considerable social unrest and challenges.”
(Reporting By Sharon Tam, Clare Jim, Donny Kwok, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Nick Macfie)

1/14/2020 Europeans trigger dispute mechanism in Iran nuclear deal by John Irish and Guy Faulconbridge
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) – France, Britain and Germany formally triggered the dispute mechanism in Iran’s nuclear deal on Tuesday, the strongest step the Europeans have taken so far to enforce an agreement that requires Iran to curb its nuclear programme.
    The European powers said they were acting to avoid a crisis over nuclear proliferation adding to an escalating confrontation in the Middle East.    Russia, another signatory to the pact, said it saw no grounds to trigger the mechanism.     The three European nations said they still wanted the 2015 nuclear deal to succeed and were not joining a “maximum pressure” campaign by the United States, which abandoned the pact in 2018 and has reimposed economic sanctions on Iran.
    Triggering the mechanism amounts to formally accusing Iran of violating the terms of the deal and could lead eventually to reimposing U.N. sanctions that were lifted under the pact.
    Iran has gradually rolled back its commitments under the accord since the United States quit. Tehran argues that it has the right to do so because of Washington’s actions.
    “We do not accept the argument that Iran is entitled to reduce compliance with the JCPoA,” the three European countries said in a joint statement, using the formal name of the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
    “Our three countries are not joining a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran.    Our hope is to bring Iran back into full compliance with its commitments under the JCPoA,” they said.
    Iran has long accused the Europeans of reneging on promises to protect its economy from U.S.
sanctions.    Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi dismissed the “completely passive action” of the three countries.
    He said Iran would support any act of “goodwill and constructive effort” to save the agreement but would give a “serious response to any destructive measures.”
    Russia’s Foreign Ministry said activating the mechanism could make it impossible to resume implementation of the deal.
CONFRONTATION
    To trigger the mechanism, the European states notified the European Union, which acts as guarantor of the agreement.    EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said the aim was not to reimpose sanctions but to ensure compliance.
    After months of gradual steps to reduce compliance, Iran said on Jan. 6 it would scrap limits on enriching uranium.
    The nuclear diplomacy is at the heart of a broader confrontation between Iran and the United States, in which Washington killed an Iranian general in a drone strike in Baghdad and Tehran responded by launching missiles on U.S. targets in Iraq.
    “Given recent events, it is all the more important that we do not add a nuclear proliferation crisis to the current escalation threatening the whole region,” the European states said, adding that their aim was preserving the deal.
    U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the nuclear deal reached under his predecessor Barack Obama, arguing it was too weak and new sanctions would force Iran to accept more stringent terms.    Iran says it will not negotiate with sanctions in place.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday: “If we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal.”
    Under the mechanism, the EU should inform the other parties – Russia and China as well as Iran – of the move.    There would then be 15 days to resolve differences, a deadline that can be extended or ultimately lead to reimposing U.N. sanctions.
(Reporting by John Irish and Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Babak Deghanpisheh in Dubai and Marine Strauss in Strasbourg; Writing by Peter Graff and Edmund Blair; Editing by Jon Boyle)

1/14/2020 Shanghai suspends all ties with Prague in spat over Taiwan<
Mayor of Prague Zdenek Hrib and Taipei city Mayor Ko Wen-je pose with a signed partnership agreement between
the two cities at the Old Town Hall in Prague, Czech Republic January 13, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    SHANGHAI/TAIPEI (Reuters) – The Shanghai city government said on Tuesday it was suspending official contact with Prague after the Czech capital signed a sister-city agreement with Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, instead of Beijing.
    While Czech President Milos Zeman has pushed ties with China, he has become more critical after promised Chinese investment has failed to materialize.    On Sunday, he said he would not attend a summit in China in April.
    Prague’s government has forged its own path, including Mayor Zdenek Hrib’s refusal to eject a Taiwanese diplomat from a conference at the demand of a Chinese official.    He also flew the Tibetan flag at City Hall.
    Taiwan is China’s most sensitive diplomatic issue, as the island is claimed by Beijing as a renegade province.    China has stepped up pressure on foreign governments to fall in line with accepting its claims.
    On Monday, Hrib and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je signed a sister city agreement in Prague.
    The government of financial hub Shanghai said Prague’s government had made many missteps on core issues such as Taiwan.
    They have “wantonly interfered in China’s internal politics and publicly challenged the ‘one China’ principle,” it said in a statement, adding its “stern opposition” to these moves.
    As a result, Shanghai was immediately suspending all official interactions with Prague, it said.
    This decision comes after Prague’s city council upset China in October by canceling a partnership agreement with Beijing that required it to commit to the “one China” principle.
    “We are not dealing with China’s internal politics here in Prague since the cancellation of a partnership with Beijing. The one-China topic should be left for the Foreign Ministry,” Hrib said in a statement on Tuesday.
    The Czech Foreign Ministry said city partnerships were decided by elected municipal politicians, not the state.
    Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election by a landslide last weekend in a campaign in which she routinely denounced China’s efforts at intimidation and said Taiwan would not be bullied into submission.
    Tsai says Taiwan is an independent country known as the Republic of China, its official name, and that the People’s Republic of China has never ruled Taiwan.
    Taipei Mayor Ko is no supporter of Taiwan’s formal independence.    He visited Shanghai last year and has said that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are part of “one family."
    Ko is widely expected to stand for the presidency in the 2024 elections.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Additonal reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Bernadette Baum)

1/15/2020 Iran rejects idea of a new ‘Trump deal’ in nuclear row by Parisa Hafezi
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dismissed on Wednesday a proposal for a new “Trump deal” aimed at resolving a nuclear row, saying it was a “strange” offer and criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump for always breaking promises.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has praised Trump as a great dealmaker, called on Tuesday for the president to replace Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers with his own new pact to ensure Tehran does not get an atomic weapon.
    Trump said he agreed with Johnson that a “Trump deal” should replace the Iran nuclear deal.    In a televised speech, Rouhani told Washington to return to the nuclear pact, which Washington abandoned in 2018.
    The agreement calls for the lifting of international sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear program. Since quitting, Trump has reimposed sanctions on Iran that have crippled its economy.
    Tehran says it wants to keep the agreement but cannot do so indefinitely if it receives none of the promised economic benefits.    It has gradually taken steps to reduce its compliance, which prompted Britain, France and Germany to formally accuse it on Tuesday of violating the terms.
    “This Mr. Prime Minister in London, I don’t know how he thinks.    He says let’s put aside the nuclear deal and put the Trump plan in action,” Rouhani said.
    “If you take the wrong step, it will be to your detriment.    Pick the right path.    The right path is to return to the nuclear deal.”
    Rouhani said Iran could reverse steps that exceeded restrictions in the agreement as soon as sanctions are lifted.
    “What we have done is reversible. Whatever we do on the nuclear issue is under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA),” said Rouhani.
    In its biggest step away from the agreement yet, Iran announced on Jan. 5 it would abandon all limitations on enriching uranium set down in the pact.
    Britain, France and Germany reacted by activating a dispute mechanism in the deal on Tuesday, which eventually could lead to the reimposing of U.N. sanctions.    Iran called this step a “strategic mistake.”
    The European powers said they were acting to avoid a crisis over nuclear proliferation adding to an escalating confrontation in the Middle East.
    Rouhani criticized the Europeans for reneging on promises to protect Tehran’s economy from U.S. sanctions.
    The flare-up in nuclear diplomacy comes as military confrontation between Washington and Tehran has also reached a new peak.
    The United States killed an Iranian general in a drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3. Tehran responded a week ago by launching missiles at     U.S. targets in Iraq.    No Americans were hurt, but hours later Iran shot down a Ukrainian civilian airliner in what its authorities have acknowledged as a tragic mistake, prompting anti-government protests at home.
    Rouhani repeated Iran’s longstanding position that peace can come to the Middle East only when the United States withdraws from the region.
    “American soldiers today are not secure in the region … We don’t want there to be insecurity in the world.    We want you to go from here, but not with war. We want you to leave the region intelligently and it’s to your benefit.”
(Additional Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/15/2020 Iran social media posts call for more protests after plane disaster by Babak Dehghanpisheh
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians called on social media on Wednesday for fresh demonstrations a week after the shooting down of a passenger plane, seeking to turn the aftermath of the crash into a sustained campaign against Iran’s leadership.
    Protesters, with students at the forefront, have staged daily rallies in Tehran and other cities since Saturday, when after days of denials the authorities admitted bringing down a Ukrainian plane last week, killing all 176 aboard.
    “We’re coming to the streets,” one posting circulating on social media said on Wednesday, urging people to join nationwide demonstrations against a “thieving and corrupt government
    Most of those killed on the plane were Iranians or dual citizens, many of them students returning to studies abroad from holiday visits with their families.
    It remains to be seen whether the protests will lead to sustained violence.    After several days of unrest, when images posted to the internet showed demonstrators being beaten by the police and shocked with electric batons, protests on Tuesday appear to have been quieter.    Two months ago, authorities killed hundreds of demonstrators to put down protests sparked by fuel price hikes.
    The plane was downed by air defenses on Jan. 8 when the armed forces were on high alert for U.S. reprisals following tit-for-tat military strikes, the latest escalation in a crisis that has rumbled on for years over Iran’s nuclear program.
    Iran has dismissed the idea of a new deal to resolve the nuclear row, as proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump and described by Britain’s prime minister as a “Trump deal.”
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Trump, who quit an existing nuclear pact in 2018, broke his promises.
    The military and top officials apologized profusely for the “unforgivable error” that brought the plane down and said it would prosecute those to blame, in a bid to quell the outrage.
    Thousands of protesters have been shown in videos gathering in the past four days in cities across Iran.    Many have been outside universities.    Tehran’s central Azadi Square has also been a focus.    But the scale of protests and unrest is difficult to determine due to restrictions on independent reporting.     State-affiliated media has offered few details on rallies.
OUTRAGE
    Police have denied shooting at protesters and say officers were told to show restraint.    The judiciary said it had arrested 30 people but would show tolerance to “legal protests.”
    Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said a person who had posted a video online last week of a missile striking the plane has been taken into custody by the Revolutionary Guards, the elite force that said one of its operators shot down the plane.
    Iranians were outraged the military took days to admit it had shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight 752.    They asked why the plane had been allowed to take off at a time of high tension.
    Iran had launched missile strikes against U.S. targets in Iraq hours earlier in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander in Iraq on Jan. 3.
    Security camera footage showed two missiles, fired 30 seconds apart, hitting the plane after takeoff, the New York Times reported. U.S. intelligence officials said on Jan. 9 heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected.
    The disaster and unrest have piled pressure on the Iran’s rulers, who are already struggling to keep the economy running under stringent U.S. sanctions imposed after Washington withdrew from the nuclear pact Tehran had with world powers.
    Britain’s ambassador to Tehran was detained, accused of attending a protest. He said he was paying respects at a vigil for victims.
    Judicial officials urged the authorities to expel the envoy and social media posts said he had left.    The foreign ministry in Britain, which has long had strained ties with Iran, said he was on a previously planned trip and was not leaving permanently.
    On Thursday, London hosts a meeting of Canada, Ukraine, Britain and other nations who had citizens on the downed plane to discuss legal action against Iran, Ukraine said.
    Canada, which had 57 citizens on the flight, has sent investigators to Iran, where they toured the crash site on Tuesday, Iranian media reported.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Parisa Hafezi and the London bureau; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Peter Graff)

1/15/2020 Human Rights Watch report blasts China as its chief barred from Hong Kong
    UNITED NATIONS/BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a scathing review of the Chinese government, calling on the international community to push back against “the most brutal and pervasive oppression China has seen in decades” in its 2020 annual report.
    The organization’s global head, Kenneth Roth, was denied entry on Sunday to Hong Kong where he was expected to launch the report, which covers the global human rights situation but features China prominently.
    The report condemns Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region and warns that China’s growing political influence and efforts to censor people abroad pose an “existential threat to the international human rights system.”
    “If not challenged, Beijing’s actions portend a dystopian future in which no one is beyond the reach of Chinese censors, and an international human rights system so weakened that it no longer serves as a check on government repression,” Roth said in the report.
    China last month announced sanctions on HRW and other U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as a countermeasure to the U.S. Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which supports anti-government protests in Hong Kong and threatens China with sanctions for human rights abuses.
    Beijing says the NGOs are encouraging violent crime linked to anti-government protests in Hong Kong that have plagued the city for over six months.    Roth rejected the accusation.
    Chinese state media has also broadly blamed fake news and Western interference for landslide victories against pro-Beijing election candidates in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
    On Wednesday U.S. democracy watchdog group Freedom House, which was also hit with sanctions, released a separate report criticizing Beijing’s efforts to influence media overseas and calling on governments to impose penalties on Chinese officials.
    Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, told reporters he would not read either report, adding that both organizations “distort the truth” and have no objectivity.
    “Currently, China’s human rights’ situation is the best it’s been in history,” said Geng.
    The HRW report, released at the United Nations on Tuesday, said Hong Kong police have used “excessive force” and have “increasingly restricted freedom of assembly” there.    It criticized Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam for refusing to launch an independent investigation into police abuses.
TRUMP CREDIBILITY
    Beijing has previously criticized HRW over its investigations on surveillance technology and re-education camps in Xinjiang.    The United Nations estimates roughly 1 million Uighurs have been previously detained in Xinjiang.
    Beijing denies any mistreatment of Uighurs or others in Xinjiang, saying it is providing vocational training to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism and to teach new skills.
    China has always been sensitive to rights allegations, but in the past year it has become increasingly forceful in rebuking criticisms, which have periodically threatened to derail trade negotiations with the United States.
    “To avoid criticism of them, the Chinese government is trying with increasing ferocity to use its economic and diplomatic clout to silence critical voices abroad and to undermine global institutions that protect human rights,” Roth told a news conference at the United Nations.
    When it came to countering China on human rights, Roth said several important governments have been “missing in action.”
    “(U.S. President Donald) Trump has lost credibility because he so often embraces friendly autocrats, rather than defend the human rights standards that they flout,” Roth said.
    “The European Union has been diverted by Brexit, it’s been obstructed by nationalist members, it’s been divided over migration and as a result it’s often found it difficult to adopt a strong common voice on human rights,” he said.    “Other governments are simply bought off (by China.)
    Chinese diplomat Xing Jisheng addressed reporters at the end of the news conference, saying China totally rejected the HRW report as prejudiced and fabricated.
    “Hong Kong is a part of China, so given what you said here, I think it is clear to all why you have been barred such entry,” Xing told Roth.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Jonathan Oatis)

1/15/2020 Iran rejects ‘Trump deal’ for nuclear program by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks
in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)
    After the downing of a passenger jet resulted in the deaths of 176 people, the global community has scrutinized Iran’s military capabilities and has expressed concern about the possible acquisition of a nuclear weapon.
    During an interview Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested the original nuclear deal with Iran, signed under President Obama, was insufficient and needed to be replaced.
    “The problem with the agreement is that, from the American perspective, it’s a flawed agreement, it expires, plus it was negotiated by (former) President Obama,” he stated.    “Well, if we’re gonna get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal.”
    President Trump took to Twitter shortly after, stating that he agreed with the prime minister about the possibility of a ‘Trump deal.’

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaks in the Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast, Northern Ireland,
Monday Jan. 13, 2020, as the power sharing Northern Ireland assembly starts up. (Liam McBurney/PA via AP)
    However, the president of Iran did not agree to any attempt for diplomacy.    Instead Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told his cabinet the United States needed to be ousted from the Middle East entirely.
    “The countries of the region should work hard so that America gets out of the region just as the parliament of Iraq made an effort, just as other countries have the same view,” he stated.    “This goal might not be for the short term, but we have to pursue it.”
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif agreed with his president by saying the original deal was among the best deals he could imagine.    The original agreement allowed Iran to maintain a comprehensive nuclear infrastructure and removed a number of economic sanctions.
    President Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal back in 2018. He warned if the deal remained, a nuclear arms race would break out in the Middle East.

1/16/2020 Iran’s nuclear enrichment at higher level than before 2015 deal: president
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran is now enriching more uranium than Tehran did before it agreed to a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday in a televised speech.
    “We are enriching more uranium before the deal was reached … Pressure has increased on Iran but we continue to progress,” Rouhani said.
    Iran has gradually scaled back its commitments under the nuclear deal in retaliation to Washington’s withdrawal from the pact in 2018 and its reimposition of sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Edmund Blair)

1/16/2020 Iran says Europeans yielding to ‘high school bully’ Trump in nuclear row
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister said on Thursday three European states had succumbed to U.S. threats of new tariffs on their goods when they triggered a dispute mechanism in a nuclear pact, a step that could lead to the reimposition of United Nations sanctions.
    The pact, or JCPOA, was agreed in 2015 between Tehran and world powers.    U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and imposed stringent U.S. sanctions on Iran, telling Tehran he wanted a new broader deal on nuclear and other issues.
    “Appeasement confirmed.    E3 sold out remnants of #JCPOA to avoid new Trump tariffs.    It won’t work my friends.    You only whet his appetite.    Remember your high school bully?” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.
    The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the Trump administration had threatened to impose a 25% tariff on European automobile imports if Britain, France and Germany did not formally accuse Iran of breaking the 2015 nuclear deal.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/16/2020 ‘One country, two systems’ can continue beyond 2047: Hong Kong leader by Felix Tam and Clare Jim
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The principle that ensures Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unavailable in mainland China can continue beyond its 2047 expiry date as long as the city’s youngsters do not destroy it with “temporary misunderstandings,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Thursday.
    The Chinese-ruled city, roiled by months of pro-democracy protests fueled by perceptions that Beijing is tightening its grip, was handed over to China by Britain in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework valid for at least 50 years.
    Beijing denies meddling there, says it is committed to the principle, and blames the West for fomenting unrest.
    The handover agreement states that the Asian financial hub is part of Communist-ruled China, but is assured freedoms such as those of expression and assembly, plus a different institutional framework, including an independent judiciary.
    The protests escalated in June over a now-dead bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to the mainland for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, but have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.
    “There is enough reason to believe ‘one country, two systems’ … will not change after 2047,” Lam said in her first appearance in the city’s Legislative Council this year.
    She said the understanding and the implementation of the principle required maintaining the “foundation of one country” and respecting the difference “of two systems.”
    Lam urged the city’s youngsters, which have been at the forefront of the often-violent protests, to not violate the principle because of “temporary misunderstandings.”
    “The scenario they worry about today may be triggered by their own hand,” Lam said.
    Hong Kong’s protest movement is supported by 59% of city residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute in December.    Only 17% expressed support for seeking independence from China.
    Almost 9 in 10 of the respondents aged 18-20 say they support the protests.
    Lam also rejected allegations of police brutality, which have been another source of anger in the protests.
    “I do not accept allegations that police violence has occurred during the handling of seven months of social unrest,” she told legislators.    “Unfortunately, in the past few months, we have seen continuous smearing and demonising of the Hong Kong police force, with the intention to weaken the law enforcement ability of the police force.”
(Writing by Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

1/16/2020 Trump admin. stands in solidarity with Iranian protesters by OAN Newsroom
FILE – A protester allegedly injured by gunfire from a pro-government militia is helped
by another protester near a rally in Tehran, Iran. (AP photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
    As protesters in Iran continue to call for the country’s president to step down, President Trump appears to be doing everything in his power to support those demonstrations.
    On Wednesday, Iran’s foreign minister admitted the Ayatollah misled the public about whether it fired the missiles that took down a Ukrainian 737 passenger jet earlier this month.    The admission comes amid a wave of unrest in Tehran after the government admitted it was responsible for accidentally shooting down the plane.
    As the demonstrations heated-up over the weekend, President Trump posted multiple tweets in support of the protesters with one tweet urging Tehran not to kill its citizens.
    To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS.    Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching.    More importantly, the USA is watching.    Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free!    Stop the killing of your great Iranian people! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2020
    This is in reference to the United Nation’s determination late last year that Iranian forces were “shooting to kill” protesters that were speaking out against 300 percent gas hikes in the country.    While the regime was closed-lipped about the exact number of casualties, the United Nations Human Rights Office estimated just over 200 people were killed as a result of the government’s violent dispersal methods.
In this photograph taken Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, Iranian police officers take position while protesters gather in front of
Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, to remember victims of a Ukrainian airplane shot down by an Iranian missile.
Online videos purported to show Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, that Iranian security forces fired both live ammunition and tear gas
to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Islamic Republic’s initial denial that it shot down a Ukrainian jetliner. (AP Photo)
    Meanwhile, the Trump administration has also worked to ensure Iranian citizens can bypass oppressive government restrictions on internet in the country.    According to Reuters Wednesday, the U.S. has collaborated with multiple tech companies to find ways circumvent the restrictions.    During the November protests, tens of thousands of people reportedly used those tools to access the internet.
    Many protesters have shown appreciation for the U.S.’s efforts to express solidarity by refusing to trample on American and Israeli flags deliberately placed on the ground for people to disrespect by stepping on them.    In the meantime, Trump administration has said it is doing everything it can to prevent a war with Iran.

1/17/2020 Khamenei says Iran’s strikes at U.S. targets show ‘hand of God’ by Parisa Hafezi
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a Friday prayers sermon that Iran’s missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq showed it had divine support in delivering a “slap on the face” to a world power.
    Making the main weekly sermon in Tehran for the first time since 2012, with Iran and its clerical rulers under pressure at home and abroad, Khamenei also said that U.S. sanctions imposed in a row over its nuclear program would not make Iran yield.
    Thousands had gathered inside a large prayer hall in central Tehran and packed the area and streets outside the building, chanting “Death to America.”
    The sermon was delivered after Iran’s rulers faced days of often violent protests after the military admitted to mistakenly shooting down an airliner in the tense hours after the missile strikes, which were in turn launched in retaliation for the U.S. killing on Jan. 3 of a top Iranian commander, close to Khamenei.
    “The fact that Iran has the power to give such a slap to a world power shows the hand of God,” Khamenei, saying the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, showed Washington’s “terrorist nature.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of a nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and ratcheted up tension by reimposing U.S. sanctions, had ordered the drone strike that killed Soleimani, who built up proxy militias across the region.
    After days of denying a role in the plane crash, the Revolutionary Guards, a parallel military force answering directly to Khamenei that acts as guardian of Islamic Republic, finally admitted on Jan. 11 that one of its air defense operators mistakenly shot down Ukraine Airlines International flight 752.
    Vigils for the 176 victims swiftly turned into protests against Iran’s rulers.    “Death to Khamenei” was chanted at protests and spray painted on walls of Tehran and other cities.    Such public criticism can result in a jail term in Iran.
    Khamenei described the crash as a tragedy and a very sad incident that was used by Iran’s “enemies,” used to describe the United States and its allies, to overshadow the killing of Soleimani, whose funeral drew huge crowds onto the streets.
    In the demonstrations after the downing of the airliner, police launched a sometimes crackdown and deployed riot police outside universities, where many students had protested.
    Video footage posted online showed protesters were beaten and also recorded gunshots, teargas and blood on the streets.
    Iran’s police denied firing at protesters and said officers had been ordered to show restraint.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Edmund Blair and Alison Williams)
[You are right Khamenei the hand of the GOD of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made all your missiles miss killing any Americans and then had one of your soldiers to shoot two missiles at the airplane killing 146 Iranians instead.    So the Allah of Mohammed failed you which will lead to your downfall soon.].

1/17/2020 Taliban open to 10-day ceasefire with U.S., talks with Afghan government: sources by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Jibran Ahmad
    KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Taliban will implement a 10-day ceasefire with U.S. troops, a reduction in violence with Afghan forces and discussions with Afghan government officials if it reaches a deal with U.S. negotiators in talks in Doha, two sources have said.
    If an agreement is sealed, it could revive hopes for a long-term solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
    Taliban and U.S. negotiators met on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the signing of a peace deal, according to a spokesman for the Taliban office in Qatar.    The talks were “useful” and would continue for a few days, the spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said on Twitter early on Friday.
    U.S. President Donald Trump had called off the stop-start talks to end the 18-year war in September after an U.S. soldier was killed in an attack by the militant group.
    They resumed but were interrupted again in December after the Taliban launched a suicide attack on a U.S. base outside Kabul killing two civilians.
    Two sources close to the matter told Reuters on Wednesday that the Taliban’s top leadership had now agreed to implement a 10-day ceasefire with U.S troops once a deal was signed in Doha, and to “reduce” attacks against the Afghan government.
    A senior Taliban commander said: “The U.S. wanted us to announce a ceasefire during the peace talks which we had rejected.    Our shura (council) has agreed to a ceasefire the day the peace accord is signed.”
    Once an agreement is in place, the Taliban and Afghan government could meet face to face in Germany, said the commander. Previously, the Taliban had refused to engage in talks with the Afghan government.
    The U.S. team in Doha had demanded a ceasefire “which we had declined due to some issues,” the Taliban commander said.    “Now most of our reservations have been addressed.”    Another source close to the talks confirmed the commander’s version of events.
    A signing date has not been fixed, but the Taliban commander said he expected it to be “very soon.”
    Both sources asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
    A U.S. State Department spokeswoman declined to comment and the Pentagon referred queries to the State Department.
    An Afghan presidency spokesman said a ceasefire was the only way to achieve sustainable and dignified peace.    “Any plan which proposes a ceasefire as a basic step will be acceptable for the government,” Sediqi Sediqqi tweeted on Friday.
    Violence in Afghanistan rose after the breakdown of talks in September.
    The Taliban’s readiness to reduce violence revives odds of the peace process moving forward before the militant group launches what is usually an annual spring offensive around early April.
(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and John Stonestreet)

1/17/2020 Iran’s Khamenei to address nation facing unrest at home, pressure abroad by Parisa Hafezi
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will deliver a Friday prayers sermon when he is expected to throw his support behind the elite Revolutionary Guards after their belated admission that they had downed an airliner in error sparked days of rage on the streets.
    Making the main weekly sermon in Tehran for the first time since 2012, with Iran and its clerical rulers under pressure at home and abroad, Khamenei is also expected to blame “enemies,” usually a jibe directed at Washington, for causing the public fury, a source familiar with decision-making in Iran told Reuters.
    U.S. President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of a nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and started the latest escalation that briefly resulted in open conflict this month, had tweeted support for protesters in both English and Farsi.
    State television showed queues of buses that were taking people to attend the ceremony in central Tehran.    The prayers usually take place around midday on Friday in Iran.
    The Ukrainian passenger plane was shot down on Jan. 8 in the tense hours after Iran launched missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq in response to a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3 that killed a powerful Iranian general, who was close to Khamenei.
    After days of denying a role in the plane crash, the Guards, a parallel military force answering directly to Khamenei that acts as guardian of the clerical system, finally admitted one of its air defense operators mistakenly shot down Ukraine Airlines International flight 752.
    Vigils for the 176 victims swiftly turned into protests against Iran’s rulers.    “Death to Khamenei” was chanted at protests and also spray painted on walls of Tehran and other cities.    Such public criticism can result in a jail term in Iran.
    The demonstrations, mainly led by students, were quelled by a violent police crackdown and the deployment in force of riot police outside universities.    Protesters were beaten and video footage recorded gunshots, teargas and blood on the streets.
    Iran’s police denied firing at protesters and said officers had been ordered to show restraint.    Police had launched a bloody crackdown two months ago on demonstrations that were sparked by a fuel price hike.
    Unrest at home has added to international pressure on Iran over the plane disaster and its nuclear program, which is at the heart of a long-running row between Tehran and the West.
    Under Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for sanctions relief.
    Washington reimposed sanctions after it withdrew from the pact, plunging Iran’s oil-dependent economy into crisis.    Since then, Tehran has scaled back on its commitments, including saying it would stop observing limits on uranium enrichment.
    Britain, France and Germany have subsequently launched a dispute mechanism in the deal, triggering a diplomatic process that could lead to the reimposition of U.N. sanctions.
    Iran’s government has sought to galvanize loyalists at home.    A state-sponsored body has called for rallies on Friday to show support for the leadership and to commemorate “martyrs” of the plane disaster, Iranian media has reported.
    The authorities have also sought to refocus public attention on the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander killed in the U.S. drone strike.    Soleimani had built up proxy militias abroad, creating an arc of Iranian influence across the Middle East.
    President Hassan Rouhani’s adviser Hesameddin Ashena said on Twitter that: “All those who were chanting ‘I am Qassem Soleimani’ come and fill his empty space on Friday.”
    Soleimani’s funeral had drawn huge crowds onto the streets of Iranian cities, which the authorities said showed support for Iran’s leadership despite U.S. attacks, although those scenes were swiftly overshadowed by protests on the streets.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Edmund Blair)

1/17/2020 Iran’s supreme leader gives historic address, blames the U.S. for downing of Ukrainian plane by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center,
leads the Friday prayers at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020.(Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
[THE ABOVE IMAGE IS FUNNY AS IT LOOKS LIKE THEY ARE ABOUT TO SING A SONG IN A MUSICAL AT A DISCO DANCE MOVIE AND KHOMEINI IS ABOUT TO DO A JOHN TRAVOLTA ROUTINE.].
    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently called the U.S. an enemy while addressing his nation.    During his first weekly prayer sermon in Tehran since 2012, Khameni said Iran’s missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq was a “slap on the face” to a world power.    He also said Iran has “divine support for attacking the U.S.”
    Khameni told supporters Iranian General Qasem Solemani was a martyr and the strongest commander in the fight against terrorism.    This follows the death of Quds Force leader by U.S. airstrikes.    Iran’s supreme leader defended Iran’s armed forces and its retaliatory missile strike against U.S. targets.
    “What took place, cannot be the work of any element other than the hand of God almighty,” he stated.    “That day also, when the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) missiles shattered the U.S. base, that day too shows the hand of God.”
    Khameni then called for national unity and told supporters that Iran’s enemies were using the downing of the Ukrainian plane to overshadow Solemani’s death.
Snow-covered flowers and candles are seen outside of the family bakery of Ayeshe Pourghadheri and her daughter Fatemah Pasavand, who were among
the Canadian victims in the Jan. 8 Ukrainian plane crash in Iran, in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. Iran’s judiciary
says arrests have been made over the shootdown of the plane that killed all 176 people on board. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
    All 176 passengers aboard the Ukraine International Airlines flight died when the plane was shot down shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s main airport. Ukrainian officials are demanding the nation’s cooperation in a full investigation.    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also demanded Iran offer compensation for the families of the victims.

1/17/2020 Iran’s Khamenei stands by Guards after unrest over downed plane by Parisa Hafezi
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gestures as he delivers Friday prayers sermon,
in Tehran, Iran January 17, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTER
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader threw his support behind the elite Revolutionary Guards in a rare sermon on Friday after their belated admission that they had accidentally downed an airliner triggered days of street protests.
    In his first Friday prayers sermon for eight years, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also told worshippers chanting “Death to America” that the elite Guards could take their fight beyond Iran’s borders after the U.S. killing of a top Iranian commander.
    U.S. President Donald Trump hit back later on Twitter, writing that Khamenei should be careful what he says.
    Khamenei’s address came amid a deepening crisis for Iran as it grapples with unrest at home and rising pressure from abroad.
    Tension has steadily ratcheted higher since 2018, when the United States withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear pact with world powers and reimposed sanctions that have hammered the economy.
    The standoff erupted into tit-for-tat military strikes this month, when Washington killed top commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike on Jan. 3 and Iran launched missile strikes at U.S. targets in Iraq on Jan. 8.
    In the tense aftermath, a Ukrainian airliner was shot down by mistake.    But it took days for the Guards to admit this and protesters directed their rage at the elite force and the clerical system it was set up to defend.
    “Our enemies … were happy that they found an excuse to undermine the Guards, the armed forces and our system,” Khamenei said in his sermon, heaping praise on the Guards for protecting Iran and renewing a call for U.S. troops to leave the region.
    Khamenei said Soleimani’s work of projecting Iran’s military influence abroad would continue and said the Quds Force he commanded “protects oppressed nations across the region.”
    He said Quds Force soldiers were “fighters without borders.”
    The U.S. State Department’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, said in Washington that Iranian threats risked further isolating the country.
    But Russia lent Iran some support over the airliner disaster, saying it had been shot down when Tehran was spooked by reports of advanced U.S. stealth fighters in the area.
    “I’d like to underline the edginess that always accompanies such situations,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
‘BITTER TRAGEDY’
    Protests led by students erupted in Tehran and other cities for four days over the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, in which all 176 aboard were killed, mostly Iranians or dual nationals.
    As the unrest picked up, Trump sent tweets in Farsi and English supporting the protesters, who were chanting “Death to Khamenei” and slogans against the Guards.
    Khamenei said in his sermon: “These American clowns who lie and say they are with the Iranian people should see who the Iranian people are.”
    Trump responded on Twitter: “The so-called ‘Supreme Leader’ of Iran, who has not been so Supreme lately, had some nasty things to say about the United States and Europe.    Their economy is crashing, and their people are suffering.    He should be very careful with his words!
    Khamenei said the shooting down of the plane was a “bitter tragedy that burned through our heart,” but stopped short of offering a direct apology.
    “Some tried to use it as an excuse to overshadow the martyrdom of our great commander Soleimani,” he said, urging Iranians to unite and show solidarity by turning out in numbers for the February parliamentary election.
    The funeral of Soleimani, long portrayed as a national hero in Iran but seen by the West as a ruthless adversary, had brought huge numbers of Iranian mourners to the streets.
    On social media, some Iranians reacted angrily to Khamenei’s sermon and his comments on the plane disaster.    “Not a word of apology.    Only arrogance,” tweeted Mike Pouraryan.
    Online footage during demonstrations had shown protesters being beaten and recordings of gunshots.    Riot police were deployed in force on the streets, particularly outside universities, a focus for the unrest.
    Iran’s police denied firing at protesters.
    Two months earlier, police launched a bloody crackdown on protests that erupted over sharp fuel price hikes, which added to the suffering of Iranians already hurt by U.S. sanctions.
    In reaction to Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy, Tehran has gradually scaled back on commitments to the nuclear deal, including lifting limits on its uranium enrichment.
    Britain, France and Germany, which have been trying to salvage the pact, have subsequently launched the deal’s dispute mechanism over Iran’s violations, starting a diplomatic process that could lead to reimposing U.N. sanctions.
    “These European countries cannot be trusted.    Even their negotiations with Iran are full of deceit,” Khamenei said.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh; Additional reporting by Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Edmund Blair, Gareth Jones and Daniel Wallis)

1/17/2020 Explainer: How close is Iran to producing a nuclear bomb? by Francois Murphy and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: A view of the water nuclear reactor at Arak, Iran December 23, 2019. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    VIENNA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The central achievement of the Iran nuclear deal – keeping Tehran at arm’s length from nuclear weapons – is eroding.
    The 2015 accord’s many restrictions on Iran’s atomic activities were built around one objective: to extend the “breakout time” Tehran would need to produce enough fissile material for one atomic bomb – if it decided to do so – to at least a year from around 2-3 months.
    Iran maintains that it has never sought nuclear weapons and never would.    It has long said it has enriched for civilian purposes including future nuclear energy and research projects.
    Tehran began breaching the deal’s curbs last year in a step-by-step response to President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the deal in May 2018 and the reimposition of U.S. sanctions that have throttled Iran’s vital oil exports.
    Those breaches have shortened the breakout time slightly, though Iran is far from sprinting ahead as fast as it could, reports by the U.N. nuclear watchdog policing the deal show.
    But the breaches have been enough to prompt the European signatories to the deal to trigger its dispute resolution mechanism, raising the prospect of the global, United Nations sanctions that were lifted under the deal being reinstated.
WHAT HAS IRAN DONE?
    Iran has contravened many of the deal’s core restrictions, but has said it will continue to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and its inspectors.    The deal has imposed on Iran the most intrusive nuclear verification regime of any country, and it has not backed out of that yet.
* Enriched uranium – The deal limits Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium to 202.8 kg – less than half the amount it was producing per quarter before its accord with world powers, and a small fraction of the tonnes it possessed.    This was the first of Iran’s breaches last year, verified by the IAEA on July 1.    The last quarterly IAEA report in November said the stockpile stood at 372.3 kg. It will have continued to increase since then.
* Enrichment level – The deal caps the fissile purity to which Iran can refine uranium to at 3.67%, far below the 20% it was achieving before the deal and the 90% that is weapons-grade. Iran breached that cap on July 8.    Since then, however, its enrichment level has remained steady at up to 4.5%.
* Centrifuges – The deal only allows Iran to produce enriched uranium with about 5,000 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at its Natanz plant.    It can operate small numbers of more advanced – faster-producing, more durable and efficient – models there without accumulating enriched uranium.    Iran had roughly 19,000 installed centrifuges before the deal.
    The IAEA verified on Sept. 25 that Iran had begun enriching with advanced centrifuges, but in much smaller numbers than the IR-1s.    Iran has brought online two 164-machine cascades of centrifuges that were dismantled under the deal, and installed smaller clusters of other models.     As those come online, its production of enriched uranium is likely to increase.
    The Islamic Republic has yet to breach the cap on IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz.
* Fordow – The deal bans enrichment at Fordow, a site that Iran secretly built inside a mountain and was exposed by Western intelligence services in 2009. Centrifuges are allowed there for other purposes, like producing stable isotopes https://www.iaea.org/topics/nuclear-science/isotopes/stable-isotopes.    Iran began enriching there on Nov. 9 but only with a small number of IR-1s.
HOW CLOSE IS IRAN TO HAVING A BOMB NOW?
    The breaches have eaten into the breakout time slightly, but estimates of the current breakout time vary.    Many diplomats and nuclear experts also believe the starting point of one year is a conservative estimate.
    A European diplomat who previously put the breakout time at 12 months declined to offer an estimate but said Iran’s actions were now “having a serious impact.”
    Another diplomat pointed to a statement by France’s foreign minister last week that it would take Iran one to two years to get a bomb, though it was not clear if that meant the necessary fissile material or an actual weapon.
    David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and a hawk on Iran, said Tehran could within five to 10 months amass 900 kg of uranium enriched to 4.5% at its current rate.    That amount, if further refined, could yield the 25 kg of weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium needed for one nuclear bomb.
WHAT MORE WOULD IRAN NEED TO DO?
    Even if Iran had accumulated sufficient fissile material, it would need to assemble a bomb, probably one small enough to be carried by its ballistic missiles.    How long that would take exactly is unclear, but stockpiling enough fissile material is widely seen as the biggest hurdle in producing a weapon.
    Both U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran once had a nuclear weapons program that it halted.    There is evidence suggesting Iran obtained a design for a nuclear weapon and carried out various types of work relevant to making one.
    U.S. intelligence experts, however, believe Iran has yet to demonstrate an intention to shatter the 2015 deal, three U.S. government sources said, noting Tehran continues to grant the IAEA access to its declared nuclear facilities.
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay in Washington, Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/17/2020 Taliban open to 10-day ceasefire with U.S., talks with Afghan govt-sources by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Jibran Ahmad
FILE PHOTO: File picture of members of a Taliban delegation leaving after peace talks with Afghan
senior politicians in Moscow, Russia May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Taliban will implement a 10-day ceasefire with U.S. troops, a reduction in violence with Afghan forces and discussions with Afghan government officials if it reaches a deal with U.S. negotiators in talks in Doha, two sources have said.
    If an agreement is sealed, it could revive hopes for a long-term solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
    Taliban and U.S. negotiators met on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the signing of a peace deal, according to a spokesman for the Taliban office in Qatar.    The talks were “useful” and would continue for a few days, the spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said on Twitter early on Friday.
    U.S. President Donald Trump had called off the stop-start talks to end the 18-year war in September after an U.S. soldier was killed in an attack by the militant group.
    They resumed but were interrupted again in December after the Taliban launched a suicide attack on a U.S. base outside Kabul killing two civilians.
    Two sources close to the matter told Reuters on Wednesday that the Taliban’s top leadership had now agreed to implement a 10-day ceasefire with U.S troops once a deal was signed in Doha, and to “reduce” attacks against the Afghan government.
    A senior Taliban commander said: “The U.S. wanted us to announce a ceasefire during the peace talks which we had rejected. Our shura (council) has agreed to a ceasefire the day the peace accord is signed.”
    Once an agreement is in place, the Taliban and Afghan government could meet face to face in Germany, said the commander.    Previously, the Taliban had refused to engage in talks with the Afghan government.
    The U.S. team in Doha had demanded a ceasefire “which we had declined due to some issues,” the Taliban commander said.    “Now most of our reservations have been addressed.”    Another source close to the talks confirmed the commander’s version of events.
    A signing date has not been fixed, but the Taliban commander said he expected it to be “very soon.”
    Both sources asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
    A U.S. State Department spokeswoman declined to comment and the Pentagon referred queries to the State Department.
PAKISTAN WARNS ON WITHDRAWAL
    Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who was visiting top U.S. officials in Washington, said Islamabad had been facilitating the dialogue and had played its role in helping get the negotiations getting this far.
    Qureshi noted that the Taliban ultimately sought the withdrawal of the roughly 13,000 American troops from Afghanistan in any agreement.
    Qureshi stressed that Pakistan, which fears greater instability in neighbouring Afghanistan, did not want a precipitous U.S. withdrawal.
    “The Taliban want withdrawal of foreign forces.    What we are saying is, yes, they should be withdrawn, but the withdrawal should be a responsible one,” Qureshi said.”    "Let’s not forget that there are forces, there are elements in Afghanistan that can take advantage if there is anarchy … if there is some kind of civil war.”
    An Afghan presidency spokesman said a ceasefire was the only way to achieve sustainable and dignified peace.    “Any plan which proposes a ceasefire as a basic step will be acceptable for the government,” Sediqi Sediqqi tweeted on Friday.
    Violence in Afghanistan rose after the breakdown of talks in September.
    The Taliban’s readiness to reduce violence revives odds of the peace process moving forward before the militant group launches what is usually an annual spring offensive around early April.
(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, John Stonestreet and Marguerita Choy)

1/18/2020 North Korean foreign minister replaced: report
FILE PHOTO: North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho attends a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping
at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China December 7, 2018. Fred Dufour/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho has been replaced, Seoul-based NK News reported on Saturday.
    Ri’s replacement has not been identified but Pyongyang is set to reveal his successor about next Thursday, the report said, citing unnamed sources.
    South Korea’s unification ministry, which is in charge of North Korea affairs, has said that any change in Ri’s status should be assessed cautiously.
    Born in 1956, Ri is the son of Ri Myong Je, former deputy director of the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), a shadowy body within the ruling Workers’ Party that oversees the appointment of management positions within the state, according to the South Korean unification ministry.
    His father was also an editor at the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the state media body that publishes Pyongyang’s propaganda statements.
    A fluent English speaker who studied at Pyongyang’s prestigious University of Foreign Languages, Ri has for years held a number of high-level posts dealing with the West.
    From 2003 to 2007, he was North Korea’s ambassador in London and served as vice foreign minister, representing North Korea at six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.
    Ri did not attend the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in September.    He had attended the high-level meeting in New York for three years from 2016 to 2018.
(Reporting by Heekyong Yang and Hyonhee Shin Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/18/2020 Myanmar, China ink deals to accelerate Belt and Road as Xi courts an isolated Suu Kyi by Thu Thu Aung and Poppy McPherson
Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the
Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, January 18, 2020. Nyein Chan Naing/Pool via REUTERS
    NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – China and Myanmar inked dozens of deals on Saturday to speed up infrastructure projects in the Southeast Asian nation, as Beijing seeks to cement its hold over a neighbor increasingly isolated by the West.
    But no major new projects were agreed during the two-day visit by President Xi Jinping, the first of any Chinese leader in 19 years.    Analysts said Myanmar was generally cautious of investments by Beijing and was also being careful ahead of elections later this year.
    Still, Xi and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi signed 33 agreements shoring up key projects that are part of the flagship Belt and Road Initiative, China’s vision of new trade routes described as a “21st century silk road.”
    They agreed to hasten implementation of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor, a giant infrastructure scheme worth billions of dollars, with agreements on railways linking southwestern China to the Indian Ocean, a deep sea-port in conflict-riven Rakhine state, a special economic zone on the border, and a new city project in the commercial capital of Yangon.
    They did not address a controversial $3.6 billion Beijing-backed mega dam, where work has been stalled since 2011, reflecting the contentiousness of Chinese investment in Myanmar, where many are uncomfortable with the sway Beijing has over its smaller neighbor.
    “While a large number of different agreements have been signed, there is no Big Bang here,” said Richard Horsey, a Yangon-based analyst with the International Crisis Group.
    “The overall impression is that Myanmar is being cautious about Chinese investment, especially ahead of elections planned later in the year," he said.
    “China will be hoping that this is an incremental step toward realizing its mega-infrastructure goals, and that further progress can be locked in over the coming months,” he said.
‘DERAILED’ BY WEST
    At a welcoming ceremony on Friday, Xi hailed a “new era” of relations between the countries.
    “We are drawing a future roadmap that will bring to life bilateral relations based on brotherly and sisterly closeness in order to overcome hardships together and provide assistance to each other,” Xi said. He was scheduled to leave later on Saturday.
    Suu Kyi called China “a great country playing an important role in the international affairs and the world economy” but urged for economic projects that avoid environmental degradation and benefit locals.
    Xi also met leaders from political parties in ethnic areas riven with civil conflict where Chinese infrastructure projects are underway.
    Sai Kyaw Nyunt, joint-secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, one of the ethnic politicians invited to meet Xi, said it was only a handshake.
    “Our country is very small and powerless,” he said, “So they treat us that way.”
    The two countries have historically had a fraught relationship, but have moved closer since 2017, when Myanmar was internationally condemned for its treatment of minority Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.
    More than 730,000 Rohingya were forced to flee western Myanmar after a military crackdown that the United Nations has said was executed with “genocidal intent.”    China has defended the country on the global stage and is viewed as the biggest obstacle to a prosecution of its leaders at an international war crimes tribunal.
    An article in Chinese state media ahead of the state visit said Myanmar had been “derailed” by its engagement with the West and only China was willing to “pull Myanmar from the sludge.”
    “But after some turbulence, Myanmar realized there were double standards in the approach Western countries had taken on human rights issues and began to turn to China for diplomatic and economic help,” the article in the Global Times said.
(Reporting by Thu Thu Aung, Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

1/18/2020 To defuse palm row, Davos diplomacy likely between India, Malaysia by Joseph Sipalan and Neha Dasgupta
FILE PHOTO: A worker unloads palm oil fruits from a lorry inside a palm oil factory in
Salak Tinggi, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, August 4, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said
    KUALA LUMPUR/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Trade ministers from India and Malaysia are likely to meet on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos next week amid a palm oil spat between the two countries, a Malaysian government spokesman told Reuters on Friday.
    Hindu-majority India has repeatedly objected to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaking out against its recent policies which critics say discriminate against Muslims.
    Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, is the second biggest producer and exporter of palm oil and India’s restrictions on the refined variety of the commodity imposed last week have been seen as a retaliation for Mahathir’s criticism of New Delhi’s actions.
    India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal denied on Thursday that the government was trying to hit out at Malaysia in particular.
    The row between the countries, nevertheless, pushed benchmark Malaysian palm futures to its biggest weekly decline in more than 11 years on Friday.
    No agenda has been set for the proposed meeting between Goyal and his Malaysian counterpart Darell Leiking on Friday, the spokesman for Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry said, adding that the request for a meeting had come from India.
    An Indian government source said a meeting was indeed likely with Leiking.    A spokeswoman for India’s trade ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    Reuters reported on Thursday that Malaysia did not want to escalate the palm spat with India by talking of any retaliation for now, after Mahathir’s media adviser called for tighter regulations on Indian expatriates and products.    Malaysia instead wants to rely on diplomacy.
    A separate Indian government source said it was important for New Delhi also to talk things out with Malaysia.
    “We too have a lot to lose in Malaysia, there are 2 million Indian-origin people there,” the source said.
    There were a total of 117,733 Indian nationals registered as foreign labor in Malaysia as at June 2019, accounting for nearly 6% of the total foreign workforce in the country.    Ethnic Malaysian-Indians are the third-largest community in the Southeast Asian country.
    Another reason for frosty ties between the countries is the continued presence of controversial Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik in Malaysia, said one of the sources.
    Naik, who faces charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, has lived in Malaysia for more than three years and has permanent residency in the country.    He denies the Indian accusations.
    The sources declined to be identified as they were not authorized to talk to the media.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das, Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur and Neha Dasgupta in New Delhi, Editing by William Maclean and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

1/18/2020 Iran to send black boxes of downed Ukrainian plane to Ukraine by Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: The crate containing purportedly the two black boxes recovered from the crashed Ukrainian airliner, Boeing 737-800,
is seen in this still image taken from a video, in Tehran, Iran January 10, 2020. IRIB VIA WANA/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Saturday it was sending to Ukraine the black boxes from a Ukrainian passenger plane that the Iranian military shot down this month, an accident that sparked unrest at home and added to pressure on Tehran from abroad.
    Iran’s Tasnim news agency also reported the authorities were prepared for experts from France, Canada and the United States to examine information from the data and voice recorders of the Ukraine International Airlines plane that came down on Jan. 8.
    It did not say when the black boxes would be sent to Ukraine.
    The plane disaster, in which all 176 aboard were killed, has added to international pressure on Iran as it grapples with a long running row with the United States over its nuclear programme that briefly erupted into open conflict this month.
    The plane was shot down in error at a time when Iran was on high alert for a U.S. attack.    But the military took days to admit they had brought it down, a delay that sparked protests.
    Hassan Rezaifar, a director in charge of accident investigations at Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, said the aim was to read the information on the recorders “with the use of the expertise of the countries of France, Canada and America.”
    “If this effort is unsuccessful then the black box will be sent to France,” he said, according to Tasnim, adding that black boxes were being sent to Kiev at the request of Ukrainian experts in Tehran and that they would not be inspected in Iran.
    The U.S.-built Boeing 737-800 was en route from Tehran to the Ukrainian capital.    Most of those on board were Iranians or dual nationals. Canada had 57 citizens on board.
    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been pressing for a full investigation into the plane downing, said on Friday Iran should send the black boxes to France.
CALL FOR COMPENSATION
    France was one of the few countries with the ability to read the flight and cockpit data recorders from the jet, he told a news conference, adding they were badly damaged.
    Canada’s Foreign Ministry and the prime minister’s office had no immediate comment on the move to send the black boxes to Ukraine.    The     French Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment and a spokesman for the France’s air accident agency, BEA, said it was awaiting an official request for assistance.
    A spokesman for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board also said it had no comment.
    Ukraine has previously said it expected Iran to hand over the black boxes to Ukraine.    The foreign minister also expects Iranian representatives to travel to Kiev next week.
    Canada, alongside Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Britain, which also had citizens on the flight, have called for a thorough investigation and compensation for the families.
    The plane was brought down in the tense hours after Iran launched missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq in response to the U.S. killing of an Iranian commander in a drone strike on Jan. 3 in Baghdad.excuse for political gestures.”
    Addressing the crisis, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told worshippers chanting “Death to America” at prayers on Friday that the disaster was a “bitter tragedy that burned through our heart.”
    But he said “some tried to use it as an excuse to overshadow the martyrdom of our great commander” Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful general who was killed in the U.S. strike.
    The death of Soleimani, portrayed as a national hero at home but viewed as a dangerous enemy in the West, prompted huge mourning ceremonies in Iran.    Those were followed by street protests against the clerical system after the plane disaster.
    Tension between Tehran and Washington has ratcheted higher since 2018, when the United States withdrew from Iran’s nuclear pact with world powers and reimposed sanctions, and erupted into the tit-for-tat military strikes this month.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Gus Trompiz in Paris, Steven Scherer in Ottawa, David Brunnstrom in Washington and Matthias Williams in Kiev; Writing by Frances Kerry and Edmund Blair; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/18/2020 Facebook apologizes after vulgar translation of Chinese leader’s name by Poppy McPherson
Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the
Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, January 18, 2020. Nyein Chan Naing/Pool via REUTERS
(Note: Story contains graphic language)
    YANGON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc said on Saturday it was working to find out how Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name appeared as “Mr Shithole” in posts on its platform when translated into English from Burmese, apologizing for any offense caused and saying the problem had been fixed.
    The error came to light on the second day of a visit by the president to the Southeast Asian country, where Xi and state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi signed dozens of agreements covering massive Beijing-backed infrastructure plans.
    A statement about the visit published on Suu Kyi’s official Facebook page was littered with references to “Mr Shithole” when translated to English, while a headline in local news journal the Irrawaddy appeared as “Dinner honors president shithole
    It was not clear how long the issue had lasted but Google’s translation function did not show the same error.
    “We have fixed an issue regarding Burmese to English translations on Facebook and are working to identify the cause to ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” Facebook said in a statement.    “This issue is not a reflection of the way our products should work and we sincerely apologize for the offence this has caused.”
    China is Facebook’s biggest country for revenue after the United States, and the tech company is setting up a new engineering team to focus specifically on the lucrative advertising business there, Reuters reported last week.
    “We are aware of an issue regarding Burmese to English translations on Facebook, and we’re doing everything we can to fix this as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson for the tech company said in a statement.
    “This issue is not a reflection of the way our products should work and we sincerely apologize for the offence this has caused.”
    Facebook has faced numerous problems with translation from Burmese in the past.    In 2018 it temporarily removed the function after a Reuters report showed the tool was producing bizarre results.
    An investigation documented how the company was failing in its efforts to combat vitriolic Burmese language posts about Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, some 730,000 of whom fled a military crackdown in 2017 that the U.N has said was conducted with “genocidal intent.”
    It also showed the translation feature was flawed, citing an anti-Rohingya post advocating killing Muslims that was translated into English as “I shouldn’t have a rainbow in Myanmar.”
(Reporting by Poppy Elena McPherson; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/19/2020 Police fire tear gas to disperse thousands in central Hong Kong by Jessie Pang and Mari Saito
Anti-government protesters attend a rally to call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong, China January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas on Sunday to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters who gathered in a central Hong Kong park but later spilled onto the streets, briefly barricading roads and spray-painting buildings.
    Out in numbers before the demonstration began, police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march.    Several units of police in riot gear were seen chasing protesters and several arrests were made.
    A water cannon truck drove on central streets, flanked by an armored jeep, but was not used.
    Organizers initially applied for a permit for a march, but police only agreed to a static rally in the park, saying previous marches have turned violent.
    Once protesters spilled onto the streets, some of them, wearing all-black clothing, barricaded the roads with umbrellas and street furniture, dug up bricks from the pavement and smashed traffic lights.
    Police said in a statement two police community liaison officers were attacked with wooden sticks and sustained head injuries.    They also said some protesters threw water bottles at some other officers who were conducting a ‘stop and search’ operation.
    “In view of the violent incidents, police officers have asked the organizer to halt the public meeting … and urge participants to … leave the area by public transport,” the statement said.
    The “Universal Siege Against Communism” demonstration was the latest in a relentless series of protests against the government since June, when Hong Kongers took to the streets to voice their anger over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
    The protests, which have since broadened to include demands for universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police handling of the demonstrations, had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks.
    In an apparent new tactic, police have been showing up ahead of time in riot gear, with officers conducting “stop and search” operations near expected demonstrations.
    “Everyone understands that there’s a risk of stop-and-search or mass arrests.    I appreciate Hong Kong people still come out courageously, despite the risk,” said organizer Ventus Lau.
    On Jan 1, a march of tens of thousands of people ended with police firing tear gas to disperse crowds.
    The gathering in the park was initially relaxed, with many families with children listening to speeches by activists.
    In one corner, a group of volunteers set up a stand where people could leave messages on red cards for the lunar new year to be sent to those who have been arrested.    One read: “Hong Kongers won’t give up.    The future belongs to the youth.”
    Authorities in Hong Kong have arrested more than 7,000 people, many on charges of rioting that can carry jail terms of up to 10 years. It is unclear how many are still in custody.
    Anger has grown over the months due to perceptions that Beijing was tightening its grip over the city, which was handed over to China by Britain in 1997 in an deal that ensured it enjoyed liberties unavailable in the mainland.
    Beijing denies meddling and blames the West for fomenting unrest.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

1/19/2020 Trump marks U.S.-Japan security pact with call for stronger, deeper alliance
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bilateral meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the 74th
session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    TOKYO (Reuters) – President Donald Trump marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the security treaty between the United States and Japan with a call for a stronger and deeper alliance between the two countries, despite criticizing the pact six months ago.
    “As the security environment continues to evolve and new challenges arise, it is essential that our alliance further strengthen and deepen,” Trump said in a statement dated Jan. 18.
    “I am confident that in the months and years ahead, Japan’s contributions to our mutual security will continue to grow, and the alliance will continue to thrive.”
    Last June, Trump told a news conference in Japan that the treaty – signed six decades ago on Sunday and the linchpin of Japan’s defense policy – was “unfair” and should be changed, echoing his long-held view that Japan is a free-rider on defense.
    Trump at the time added he was not thinking of withdrawing from the pact.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called for making the treaty more robust.
    “We have elevated the relationship to one in which each of us, the U.S. and Japan, protects the other, thereby giving further force to the alliance,” Abe said at a Tokyo reception to mark the anniversary of the signing.
    “Going forward, it is incumbent upon us to make it even more robust, to make it a pillar for safeguarding peace and security in both outer space and cyberspace.”
    The treaty obligates the United States to defend Japan, which under its U.S.-drafted constitution renounced the right to wage war after World War Two.    Japan in return provides military bases used by the United States to project power in Asia.
    The treaty was first signed in 1951 and revised in 1960 under Abe’s grandfather, then-premier Nobusuke Kishi.    Kishi was forced to step down afterwards following a massive public outcry from Japanese critics who feared the pact would pull their country into conflict.
    Abe since taking office in 2012 has raised Japan’s defense spending by 10% after years of decline and his government in 2014 reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two.
    Although generally supportive of the alliance, Japanese voters remain concerned about their country getting dragged into U.S.-led conflicts.    A recent survey by Kyodo news agency showed 58.4% opposed Tokyo’s decision to dispatch a warship and patrol planes to the Middle East to help protect ships bringing goods to Japan.
    Trump’s administration has also pushed for Japan to pay more for U.S. forces stationed in the country.    Under an agreement reached in 2015, Japan pledged to increase its spending for U.S. forces stationed there by 1.4% over the following five years to 189.3 billion yen ($1.72 billion) per year on average.
(Reporting by Daniel Leussink and Linda Sieg; additional reporting by Hideto Sakai; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

1/19/2020 Hong Kong police fire tear gas to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters by OAN Newsroom
Police use tear gas on protesters calling for electoral reforms and a boycott of the
Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
    Anti-government protesters clashed with police in Hong Kong as citizens called for democratic reforms.    Sunday reports said police fired tear gas at demonstrators and arrested multiple people in an effort to disperse the thousands of protesters.
    Protesters used bricks, umbrellas and traffic barriers to barricade a road at Hong Kong’s central park.    The protests began peacefully, but turned violent after many moved into nearby streets.

Swat police corner protesters calling for electoral reforms and a boycott of the
Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
    “This police reaction is definitely suppressing us, but the Hong Kong people would not get used to this, we would still come out to support the movement,” said protester Ada Cheng.    “This rally was supposed to be a march and the police only gave approval to the rally.”
    Friction between Hong Kong residents and Beijing has been going on for over six months after proposed extradition legislation sparked the violent unrest.
A woman cries as she pleads with the police not to beat a man as police detain protesters calling for electoral reforms
and a boycott of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

1/20/2020 Iran has not ruled out talks to end nuclear dispute, says official
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Monday that it had not closed the “door to negotiations” in efforts to resolve a dispute over its nuclear agreement with world powers that has escalated steadily since the United States withdrew from the deal in 2018.
    Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said any further move by Tehran to scale back its commitments to the deal would depend on actions by other parties, after European states triggered a mechanism that could lead to the reimposition of U.N. sanctions.
    Iran has gradually stepped back from its obligations to the 2015 deal, under which Tehran secured sanctions relief in return for limiting its nuclear work, after Washington quit the agreement and then imposed stringent U.S. sanctions.
    Britain, France and Germany, also signatories to the pact, triggered a dispute mechanism this month, citing Iranian violations.    This starts a diplomatic process that could lead to U.N. sanctions being reimposed.
    “Tehran still remains in the deal … The European powers’ claims about Iran violating the deal are unfounded,” Mousavi told a weekly news conference in Tehran, saying that the “door to negotiations” had not been closed.
    “Whether Iran will further decrease its nuclear commitments will depend on other parties and whether Iran’s interests are secured under the deal,” Mousavi said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and began a policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, saying he wanted a new deal that would cover nuclear issues, Iran’s ballistic missile program and Iranian activities in the Middle East.
    Britain has said a “Trump deal” could replace the 2015 agreement and France has called for broad talks to end a crisis with the United States, which briefly erupted into tit-for-tat U.S.-Iranian military action this month.
    Mousavi repeated Iran’s rejection of a “Trump deal.”    Iranian officials have said Trump could not be trusted, so such deal would not have any value.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Edmund Blair and Catherine Evans)
[REMEMBER THIS DAY THAT TRUMP OFFERED YOU A DEAL BECAUSE THE NEXT TIME HE OFFERS ONE YOU WILL REGRET THAT YOU REFUSED THE PREVIOUS ONE AND I PREDICT YOU WILL BE CRY BABYING TO GET THE PREVIOUS ONE.].

1/20/2020 Myanmar government-appointed panel finds no ‘genocide’ against Rohingya by Poppy McPherson
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows burned down villages once inhabited by the Rohingya seen from the Myanmar military
helicopters that carried the U.N. envoys to northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Michelle Nichols
    YANGON (Reuters) – A government-appointed panel established in Myanmar to probe allegations of abuses in Rakhine state in 2017 that drew global outrage said on Monday they had found no evidence of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
    More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine state during weeks of brutal violence, during which the United Nations says gang rapes and mass killings were carried out with “genocidal intent.”    Hundreds of villages were burned to the ground and later razed and scraped.
    The commission of inquiry said there were “reasonable grounds” to conclude members of the security forces among “multiple actors” were responsible for possible war crimes and serious human rights violations during a military-led crackdown against the group in 2017.
    These included the “killing of innocent villagers and destruction of their homes,” it said.
    But in its statement, issued to mark the finalization of a full report based on interviews with villagers and members of the security forces, the panel blamed Rohingya militants for attacking 30 police posts and “provoking” the crackdown and described the situation as an “internal armed conflict.”
    “The ICOE has not found any evidence suggesting that these killings or acts of displacement were committed pursuant to an intent or plan to destroy the Muslim or any other community in northern Rakhine State,” the panel’s statement read.
    “There is insufficient evidence to argue, much less conclude, that the crimes committed were undertaken with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, or with any other requisite mental state for the international crime of genocide.”
    The statement said the panel had submitted the report to the government but it did not say whether it would be made public.
    In Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled Myanmar have taken refuge, a Rohingya leader, Dil Mohammed, described the report as a whitewash.
    “We have been persecuted for decades. So many of our people were killed, our women were raped, our children were thrown into fire and our homes were torched.    If it is not genocide, what is it?” he said.
    The International Court of Justice, the highest U.N. court, will this week issue a decision on a request for emergency measures in a genocide case against the country.
    Gambia filed the suit in November alleging Myanmar was committing “an ongoing genocide” against the Rohingya.
    The commission of enquiry was formed in 2018 as the country faced growing calls for accountability.    The government appointed two local and two international members – Filipino diplomat Rosario Manalo and Kenzo Oshima, a former Japanese ambassador to the United Nations.
(Reporting by Poppy Elena McPherson, Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Editing by William Maclean)

1/20/2020 Thai court could dissolve opposition party on anti-monarchy allegations by Patpicha Tanakasempipat
FILE PHOTO: Thailand's opposition Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit speaks to his supporters
as he leaves after reporting to a Bangkok police station to hear charges filed against him for organizing the country's
biggest protest since the 2014 coup in December last year, Thailand, January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s Constitutional Court is to decide on Tuesday whether to dissolve the opposition Future Forward Party, in a ruling that could strengthen the military-backed government’s majority in parliament.
    The case is based on a complaint that claims the party is seeking to overthrow the revered constitutional monarchy and is linked to the     Illuminati, a secret society that conspiracy theorists believe seeks world domination.
    Founded almost two years ago by auto-parts billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Future Forward Party came third in last year’s general election, which the opposition says was manipulated in favor of the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party.
    Thanathorn, 41, has emerged as the most prominent opponent to the government led by Palang Pracharat, which reinstalled former junta leader     Prayuth Chan-ocha, 65, as a civilian prime minister five years after he staged a military coup.
    Future Forward spokeswoman Pannika Wanich said the case is an attempt to eliminate the party, using a claim of protecting the monarchy that few would dare argue against.
    “It’s clear that the anti-monarchy claim is the only one that can go so far as to destroy Future Forward Party,” Pannika said.
    “We emphasize that this is a deliberate political harassment.”
    The case, accepted by the Constitutional Court in July, is best known for its allegation that the party’s triangular logo signifies association with the Illuminati, making the party a threat to Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.
    It also alleges that language in the party’s manifesto, as well as past business investments, Facebook pictures and academic briefings by key party figures, suggest personal hostility toward the constitutional monarchy since before the party was founded.
    “I looked into their behavior from the past to now,” Nattaporn Toprayoon, who filed the complaint last May, told Reuters.    “I did it because I’m Thai.    The monarchy is of utmost reverence.”
    But Pannika said these allegations were problematic.
    “This would set a new legal precedent that executive members of a political party must have their thoughts and minds inspected,” she said.
    “It’s also an unexpected new low that a political party has to defend itself to show it’s not involved with the Illuminati.”
    A verdict to dissolve Future Forward on Tuesday is likely, which could spark political events like flashmobs in the short term, said Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.
    “But even if the party survives, it will still face other outstanding legal challenges ahead,” Yuthaporn said.
    Future Forward faces another case alleging that it had violated laws governing political parties by accepting loans from its party leader, among others.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/20/2020 North Korea’s Kim taps tough-talking military veteran as foreign minister by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korean delegation led by Ri Son Gwon, Chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification
of the Country (CPRC) of DPRK, crosses the concrete border to attend their meeting at the truce village
of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Korea Pool
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s new foreign minister is a former defense commander with little diplomatic experience, spotlighting leader Kim Jong Un’s reliance on party and military loyalists at a sensitive time amid stalled U.S. talks, analysts in Seoul said on Monday.
    Last week, North Korea told countries with embassies in Pyongyang that Ri Son Gwon, a senior military officer and official of the ruling Workers’ Party, had been appointed foreign minister, a diplomatic source in Seoul told Reuters.
    He replaces Ri Yong Ho, a career diplomat with years of experience negotiating with Washington, but who often took a backseat to other officials during the last two years of diplomacy.
    Seoul-based NK News first reported the change on Saturday, citing unnamed sources in Pyongyang.
    Analysts said it was too soon to tell exactly what impact the appointment may have for the stalled denuclearisation talks with the United States, but said Ri Son Gwon had often played a confrontational role in negotiations with South Korea.
    Unlike his predecessor, Ri Son Gwon does not have any experience in dealing with nuclear issues or U.S. officials, though he has led high-level talks between the neighbors.
    Previously chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), which handles relations with South Korea, Ri is the latest military official to be promoted to the party leadership.
    “There has been a demonstrative crossover dynamic in which senior military officials migrate into the party leadership,” said Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Stimson Centre, a U.S. think tank.
    As the young North Korean leader oversaw a number of short-range ballistic missile launches in the past year, the number of military and arms industry officials appearing in public with Kim Jong Un has increased sharply.
    Ri had largely stayed out of the public eye since talks with South Korea stalled last year.    But in April he was named to the foreign affairs panel of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s parliament, and was most recently seen at a meeting of the party’s policy-making central committee in December.
    A tough, hawkish negotiator, Ri “stormed out of the room” during military talks with South Korea in 2014 when Seoul demanded an apology for what it saw as the North’s past military provocations, a former South Korean official who met him said.
    Ri was also known as a right-hand man of Kim Yong Chol, another former military leader who took up a top party post before steering nuclear talks with the United States.
POWER SHIFTS
    After the failed Hanoi summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, Kim Yong Chol faded from public view as Kim Jong Un elevated diplomats versed in U.S. relations, including Ri Yong Ho’s deputy Choe Son Hui.
    But Kim Yong Chol seemed to retain influence behind the scenes, while the role of Ri Yong Ho gradually withered, as working-level talks with the United States also collapsed in October and Washington ignored a year-end deadline to resume negotiations.
    Ri Yong Ho’s absence from a group photograph of top party executives at the December meeting prompted speculation about his future.
    “Ri Yong Ho is the official who was effectively sidelined after the Hanoi meetings and was removed from office because the interlocutors selected by the foreign ministry appeared not to accomplish anything,” Madden said.
    As Ri Son Gwon becomes foreign minister, deputy Choe is expected to retain an influential position, thanks in part to her family background and personal rapport with an inner circle of women close to Kim Jong Un, including his sister and wife, diplomatic sources say.
    “What’s most important is what Kim Jong Un thinks, and he needs someone he can trust to speak for him, whether it be Ri Son Gwon or Choe Son Hui,” said Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean nuclear negotiator.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Josh Smith and Clarence Fernandez)

1/20/2020 Iran says Zarif not attending Davos as its organizers ‘changed its agenda’
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with Russia's
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, Russia December 30, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will not attend the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this week because its organizers had “abruptly changed its agenda,” its foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday.
    “He was scheduled to attend … but they abruptly changed the schedule and it was not the schedule that we agreed upon.    So he will not attend Davos,” Abbas Mousavi told a televised weekly conference.
    Reuters last week reported that Zarif was no longer on the list of nearly 3,000 people due at the event, which is being held under the banner “Stakeholders for a Sustainable and Cohesive World.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

1/20/2020 Japan’s Abe strikes conciliatory note on South Korea, row may be easing
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions at a news conference at the 8th trilateral leaders' meeting
between China, South Korea and Japan in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China December 24, 2019. Wang Zhao/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that South Korea was its “most important neighbor” and that the two shared basic values, taking a conciliatory tone toward the country that has been locked in a bitter row with Tokyo for over a year.
    The comment comes after South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week proposed the two countries work together to resolve the issue of wartime forced laborers, and called Japan “our closest neighbor.”
    It also follows some fence-mending steps in recent months, including Seoul’s reversal of its decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, and Tokyo’s partial easing of curbs on the export of high-tech materials to South Korea.
    “Under an increasingly severe security environment in Northeast Asia, diplomacy with neighboring countries is extremely important,” Abe told parliament in his policy speech.
    “Essentially, South Korea is the most important neighbor with which Japan shares basic values and strategic interests.”
    In a parliamentary speech in October, Abe simply referred to South Korea as an “important neighbor.”
    But Abe and Moon met in China in December and stressed the need to improve ties, officials from both sides said.
    Also, Moon told a news conference last week South Korea would actively cooperate for the success of this year’s Olympic Games in Japan, and that he hoped the sporting event would provide a good opportunity to fundamentally improve ties.
    Relations between Japan and South Korea, two of the United States’ major Asian allies, plunged to their lowest in decades after South Korea’s top court ordered Japanese firms in 2018 to compensate some wartime forced laborers.
    Japan says the matter was settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral relations following Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean peninsula.
    “I sincerely hope South Korea honors the commitments between the two counties and works toward building future-oriented relations,” Abe said in his Monday speech, reiterating that the onus is on Seoul to put ties back on an even keel.
    By adopting a warmer tone toward its neighbor while making it clear that the ball is in Seoul’s court, Abe’s message was meant to encourage South Korea to take fresh steps to resolve the issue, said Narushige Michishita, vice president of Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
    “If South Korea realizes that Japan is resolved to maintain the firm stance, that will give them an incentive to buckle down and decide what they should do now,” Michishita said.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Hyonhee Shin in Seoul)

1/20/2020 Police arrest organizer of Hong Kong protest after rally turns violent
FILE PHOTO: Anti-government protesters attend a rally to call for democratic reforms
in Hong Kong, China January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – A prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist was arrested by police, his organization said on Monday, after a protest he helped organize in the financial district a day earlier turned violent with officers firing tear gas to disperse the crowds.
    Ventus Lau was arrested on Sunday evening on charges of “obstruction of police administration” and violating terms set when permission was granted for the protest, the Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team said in a statement.
    The organizers initially applied for a permit – known as a letter of no objection – for a march, but the police only agreed to a static rally in a park in the city’s Central district.
    But as the crowds swelled and spilled onto surrounding streets, some protesters briefly barricaded roads with umbrellas, traffic cones and other street furniture and dug up bricks from the pavement.
    Police then ordered a halt to the protest and began dispersing the crowd.
    “It was primarily rioters’ violent acts which led to the suspension of the gathering,” Senior Superintendent Ng Lok-chun told reporters.
    “The organizer has violated the agreements set in the no objection letter, failed to assist in maintaining the order in the public gathering event, that is why we have arrested Mr. Lau.”
    Police said two community liaison officers were attacked with wooden sticks and sustained head injuries.    They also said some protesters threw water bottles at officers conducting a ‘stop and search’ operation.
    In a statement late on Sunday, the government said it “strongly condemns” the attack on the police officers.
    The “Universal Siege Against Communism” demonstration was the latest in a relentless series of anti-government protests since June, when Hong Kongers took to the streets to voice their anger over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
    Organizers said 150,000 attended the demonstration, while police estimated a crowd of 11,680 at its peak.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang and Donny Kwok; Writing by Marius Zaharia; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/20/2020 Iran prepares to launch satellites into orbit by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this photo, released by the official website of the Iranian Defense Ministry, the Simorgh satellite-carrying rockets
at Imam Khomeini National Space Center is pictured at an undisclosed location in Iran. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP, File)
    Iran is planning to launch two newly constructed and domestically engineered satellites into orbit.    On Sunday, Iranian officials said the 200 pound Zafar satellites have already been delivered to Iran”s space center.
    Both satellites reportedly have four high resolution color cameras to monitor conditions on Earth from space.    Analysts say Iran could attempt to launch the satellites in the coming months in alignment with national holidays.
    Iran has claimed the purpose of their country’s satellite program is for scientific and civilian missions.
    “The two observation satellites, Zafar 1 and 2, have been built by scientists and experts at Iran University of Science and Technology and ordered by the Iranian Space Agency,” stated Morteza Barari, head of the Space Agency.    “God willing, these satellites will be sent to the space launch site for being sent into orbit.”
    U.S. and western nations have long been suspicious of Iran’s space program amid concerns over the country’s use of ballistic missile technology.    Last year, Iran to failed to successfully launch two satellites into orbit when one of its delivery rockets exploded prematurely on the ground.

1/21/2020 Hong Kong leader in Davos charm offensive as protests persist by Anne Marie Roantree
FILE PHOTO - Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in
Hong Kong, China January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – For Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos is a chance to convince global business and political leaders that the Asian financial hub is back on track.
    After more than seven months of turmoil Hong Kong’s status as a financial center has come under scrutiny as sometimes violent demonstrations paralyzed parts of the city and forced businesses to close, posing the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.
    Lam and “Team HK,” including its trade secretary, top officials from the stock exchange, airport authority, MTR Corp and the head of Swire Group, are in the Swiss mountain resort two days after another violent clash and more are planned for the weekend of her return.
    “The biggest concern for foreign investors is around the long-term position of Hong Kong as a global financial center,” said Benjamin Quinlan, CEO of Hong Kong-based consultancy Quinlan & Associates and a former Deutsche Bank strategist.
    “More importantly, there are questions around whether the fundamental, underlying rule of law in the city will be maintained … and whether it will stand the test of time.”
    Since its return to Beijing in 1997, the former British colony has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees it broad freedoms not seen in mainland China, including an independent judiciary and free press.
    Those liberties, which protesters say Beijing is gradually chipping away at, are widely viewed as central to the city’s prosperity and any erosion could have a significant impact on its status as an international financial center.
    Beijing denies meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs and accuses Western governments of fomenting the crisis.
CREDIBILITY CRISIS
    Another challenge in 2020 will be to tame the protest movement, which kicked off the year with a rally that organizers said drew 1 million people, and bolster support for the beleaguered government ahead of key elections in September.
    On Sunday, police fired teargas to disperse thousands gathered in Chater Garden, a small open park ringed by the Asian headquarters of leading global investment banks and law firms.
    “There will be a major crisis of governability because I think the government has no credibility and I think it faces major resistance, both in the legislature and district councils,” said Ma Ngok, a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
    A resounding victory for pan-democrats in local elections in November dealt a huge blow to the pro-Beijing camp and marked a significant political shift amid months of protests that shocked a city where violence is rare.
    As the protest movement still enjoys broad support, observers expect Beijing to lean harder on the city to silence activists and curb a surge in anti-China sentiment that has rattled mainland Chinese living in Hong Kong and prompted some, including many students, to leave.    Others expect the deep-seated political tensions to intensify and further polarize society.
    “By summer we shall witness deeper political conflict within society, coinciding with crippling economic actions and feeding of growing disenfranchisement of working and middle classes,” said Phill Hynes, head of political risk and analysis at ISS risk.    “2020 is not going to be the year Hong Kong heals, it will be the year it festers and becomes inflamed.”
    A survey conducted for Reuters in December found 59% of city residents supported the protest movement, while 57% said they favored the resignation of Beijing-backed Lam.
    President Xi has repeatedly voiced support for Lam, who has rejected calls to step down.    According to an audio recording obtained by Reuters of remarks Lam made to a group of business people in August, Hong Kong’s leader said she would “quit” if she could.
    In public, Lam remains defiant and rejects any link between the protests and political reform.
    “Hong Kong is not alone in facing social problems related to topics such as upward mobility, youth discontent, income disparity and housing affordability,” she said in the Jan. 16 release.    “We know we need to deal with these issues, and we will.”    While the demonstrations have at times closed businesses, shopping malls, schools, and even the international airport, life for many in the city goes on, while Hong Kong’s financial markets have proved resilient.
    The unrest has, however, drawn corporate heavyweights including HSBC and Cathay Pacific into the political turmoil, underscoring the tightrope businesses must navigate between protesters and the city’s political masters in Beijing.    The protests have also taken a heavy toll on the economy – which sank into recession for the first time in a decade in the third quarter – in particular the retail and tourism sectors.
    The Hong Kong administration has pledged HK$35 billion in stimulus to prop up the economy but some analysts say it is unlikely to have a major impact as long as the unrest continues.
(Additional reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Alexander Smith)

1/21/2020 Iran seeks help reading downed plane’s black boxes in new standoff by Alexander Cornwell and Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: General view of the debris of the Ukraine International Airlines, flight PS752, Boeing 737-800
plane that crashed after take-off from Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran
January 8, 2020 is seen in this screen grab obtained from a social media video via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said it had asked the U.S. and French authorities for equipment to download information from black boxes on a downed Ukrainian airliner, potentially angering countries which want the recorders analyzed abroad.     Canada, 57 of whose citizens were among the 176 people killed in the crash, has said France should handle the flight data and voice recorders as one of the few nations with the capability. Kiev wants the recorders sent to Ukraine.
    The U.S.-built Boeing 737 flown by Ukraine International Airlines was shot down in error on Jan. 8.
    Tehran, already embroiled in a long-running standoff with the United States over its nuclear program that briefly erupted into tit-for-tat military strikes this month, has given mixed signals about whether it would hand over the recorders.
    An Iranian aviation official had said on Saturday the black boxes would be sent to Ukraine, only to backtrack in comments reported a day later, saying they would be analyzed at home.
    A further delay in sending them abroad is likely to increase international pressure on Iran, whose military has said it shot the plane down by mistake while on high alert in the tense hours after Iran fired missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq.
    Iran, which took several days to acknowledge its role in bringing down the plane and faced street protests at home as a result, launched its missiles at U.S. targets in response to a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander on Jan. 3.
    “If the appropriate supplies and equipment are provided, the information can be taken out and reconstructed in a short period of time,” Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said in its second preliminary report on the disaster released late on Monday.
    Its initial report was released just 24 hours after the incident, before Iran’s military acknowledged its role.
    A list of equipment Iran needs has been sent to French accident agency BEA and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the Iranian aviation body said.
    “Until now, these countries have not given a positive response to sending the equipment to (Iran),” it said.    It said two surface-to-air TOR-M1 missiles had been launched minutes after the Ukrainian plane took off from Tehran.
‘MAXIMUM PRESSURE’
    Iran’s aviation body said in its report it did not have equipment needed to download information from the model of recorders on the three-year-old Boeing 737.
    Iran has for years faced U.S. sanctions that limited its ability to purchase modern planes and buy products with U.S. technology. Many passenger planes used in Iran are decades old.
    Under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, Iran received sanctions relief in return for curbing its nuclear work.    But Washington reimposed U.S. sanctions after withdrawing from the pact in 2018, a move that led to the steady escalation of tension in recent months between the United States and Iran.
    Responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign designed to shut off Iran’s oil exports, Tehran has scaled back its commitments to the nuclear accord.
    After Iran’s latest move this month to scrap limits on uranium enrichment, a process that can make material for nuclear warheads although Tehran denies any such aim, Britain, France and Germany triggered the nuclear pact’s dispute mechanism.
    Launching the mechanism starts a diplomatic process that could lead to reimposing U.N. sanctions on Iran.
    European capitals say they want to save the deal but have also suggested it may be time for a broader pact, in line with Trump’s call for a deal that would go beyond Iran’s nuclear work and include its missile program and activities in the region.
    Iran says it will not negotiate with sanctions in place.
    The Iranian general killed in the U.S. drone strike, Qassem Soleimani, was responsible for building up a network of militias that created an arc of Iranian influence across the Middle East.
    Since the plane disaster, Iran’s judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi has said compensation should be paid to families of the victims, many of whom were Iranians or dual nationals.
    Canada, Ukraine, Britain, Afghanistan and Sweden, which all lost citizens, have demanded Iran make the payouts.    Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said two of its investigators had spent six days in Iran and visited the wreckage.    Iranian investigators had been “cooperative and helpful,” it said.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Babak Dehghanpisheh; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Catherine Evans and Peter Graff)

1/21/2020 Iranian MP says Iran would be protected if it had nuclear arms: ISNA
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran would be protected from threats if it had nuclear weapons, Iranian lawmaker told parliament on Tuesday, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency, adding that Iran should build missiles with “unconventional” warheads.
    “If we had nuclear weapons today, we would be protected from threats … We should put the production of long-range missiles capable of carrying unconventional warheads on our agenda.    This is our natural right,” he was quoted as saying by ISNA.
    The West has long accused Tehran of seeking to develop nuclear arms, although Iran’s clerical rulers consistently deny this, saying the nation’s nuclear program has only peaceful aims.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Edmund Blair)

1/21/2020 North Korea abandons nuclear freeze pledge, blames ‘brutal’ U.S. sanctions by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of
North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Picture
    GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korea said on Tuesday it was no longer bound by commitments to halt nuclear and missile testing, blaming the United States’ failure to meet a year-end deadline for nuclear talks and “brutal and inhumane” U.S. sanctions.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set an end-December deadline for denuclearization talks with the United States and White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said at the time the United States had opened channels of communication.
    O’Brien said then he hoped Kim would follow through on denuclearization commitments he made at summits with U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Ju Yong Chol, a counselor at North Korea’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva, said that over the past two years, his country had halted nuclear tests and test firing of inter-continental ballistic missiles “in order to build confidence with the United States.”
    But the United States had responded by conducting dozens of joint military exercises with South Korea on the divided peninsula and by imposing sanctions, he said.
    “As it became clear now that the U.S. remains unchanged in its ambition to block the development of the DPRK and stifle its political system, we found no reason to be unilaterally bound any longer by the commitment that the other party fails to honor,” Ju told the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament.
    Speaking as the envoy from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea’s official name, Ju accused the United States of applying “the most brutal and inhumane sanctions.”
    “If the U.S. persists in such hostile policy toward the DPRK there will never be the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” he said.
    “If the United States tries to enforce unilateral demands and persists in imposing sanctions, North Korea may be compelled to seek a new path.”
    U.S. military commanders said any new path could include the testing of a long-range missile, which North Korea has suspended since 2017, along with nuclear warhead tests.
DO THE RIGHT THING
    U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood voiced concern at Pyongyang’s remarks and said Washington hoped the North would return to the negotiating table.
    “What we hope is that they will do the right thing and come back to the table and try to work out an arrangement where by we can fulfill that pledge that was made by President Trump and Chairman Kim to denuclearize,” he said.
    South Korean Ambassador Jang-keun Lee said there must be substantial progress in denuclearization to “maintain and build upon the hard-won momentum for dialogue.”
    “Therefore, early resumption of negotiations between the United States and the DPRK is critical,” he said.
    Vesna Batistic Kos, permanent representative of Croatia to the U.N. Office at Geneva speaking on behalf of the European Union, also called on North Korea to stick to the talks.
    Pyongyang, slapped with multiple Security Council resolutions and sanctions, has rejected unilateral disarmament and given no indication that it is willing to go beyond statements of broad support for the concept of universal denuclearization.
    North Korea has said in previous, failed talks that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States provided security guarantees by removing its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.
    Impoverished North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
    The North regularly used to threaten to destroy the South’s main ally, the United States, before rapprochement began after the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Boyle and Nick Macfie)

1/21/2020 Hong Kong protesters decry police inaction six months after brutal mob attack by James Pomfret
FILE PHOTO: Anti-government protesters attend a rally to call for democratic
reforms in Hong Kong, China January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Several hundred Hong Kong protesters gathered on Tuesday at the site of an attack six months ago by an armed mob on anti-government demonstrators, denouncing the lack of progress by police in bringing those responsible to justice.
    Chinese-ruled Hong Kong has been embroiled by more than seven months of turmoil sparked by a now withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed individuals to be sent to China for trial.
    The youth-led protests, including mass marches, petrol bomb attacks and battles on university campuses, have since morphed into a broader revolt against authorities and strong-arm Chinese rule.
    Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with sweeping promises of a high degree of autonomy and freedoms.    But the perceived failure of Beijing to honor these commitments has fueled the protests, posing a grave challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
    China denies meddling in Hong Kong and blames the West for stirring up trouble.
    Some protesters in a concourse below the Yuen Long train station in a district close to the border with China said they remained traumatized by scenes of an armed mob of white-shirted men beating up black-shirted protesters and ordinary people on July 21 last year.
    A pro-democracy district councilor, Zachary Wong, criticized the police for not preventing the attack, and for not apprehending any of the attackers afterwards when they retreated into a nearby village and were surrounded by officers.
    Yuen Long district councilor Tommy Cheung, who has helped set up a task force to probe the attack, said none of the 37 men arrested so far, some with organized criminal gang backgrounds, had yet seen their cases go to trial.
    Jason Liu, a 29-year-old masked protester in the crowd, said he’d lost confidence in police enforcement: harsh on pro-democracy protesters but lenient toward pro-government allies, even those suspected of serious crimes.
    “They always have excuses, and justify everything they do as right,” said Liu, who was dressed in a gray hoodie while listening as riot police surrounded the area.    “It’s really unfair how twisted and biased law enforcement has become.”
    More than 7,000 protesters have been arrested in connection with the protests so far, including nearly 1,000 who have been charged.    Police dispersed the protesters on Tuesday with pepper spray and made several arrests during a face-off in a nearby park.
    Moody’s downgraded Hong Kong’s credit rating one notch this week as the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, flew to the World Economic Forum in Davos for a charm offensive amid the turmoil.    She said in an interview with CNBC she was “very disappointed.”
    Despite the backlash against Beijing, there are few signs of Beijing heeding demands for democracy and respect for the freedoms guaranteed at the handover.
    China’s most senior official in the city, Luo Huining, wrote on Monday in the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, of the need to “establish and perfect the national security protection legal system and executive mechanism, as well as strengthening law enforcement.”
    Lam said in Davos conditions have to be right for a national security law.
    “Enacting local legislation to protect national security has always been Hong Kong’s constitutional obligation.    That is written into the Basic Law (mini-constitution),” she said.
    “(But) I have to ask myself whether we have the right conditions conducive to doing this very controversial issue now.”
(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/21/2020 Canada, Iran at odds over who should analyze downed plane’s black boxes by Alexander Cornwell and Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: General view of the debris of the Ukraine International Airlines, flight PS752, Boeing 737-800 plane
that crashed after take-off from Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran
January 8, 2020 is seen in this screen grab obtained from a social media video via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said it had asked the U.S. and French authorities for equipment to download information from black boxes on a downed Ukrainian airliner, potentially angering countries which want the recorders analyzed abroad.
    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, which lost 57 of the 176 people killed in the crash, said Iran did not have the ability to read the data and he demanded the cockpit and flight recorders should be sent to France. Kiev wants the recorders sent to Ukraine.
    The U.S.-built Boeing 737 flown by Ukraine International Airlines was shot down in error by Iranian forces on Jan. 8 during a period of tit-for-tat military strikes that included the killing by the United States of a senior Iranian general on Jan. 3.
    Tehran, already embroiled in a long-running standoff with the United States over its nuclear program, has given mixed signals about whether it would hand over the recorders.
    An Iranian aviation official had said on Saturday the black boxes would be sent to Ukraine, only to backtrack in comments reported a day later, saying they would be analyzed at home.
    A further delay in sending them abroad is likely to increase international pressure on Iran, whose military has said it shot the plane down by mistake while on high alert in the tense hours after Iran fired missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq.
    “If the appropriate supplies and equipment are provided, the information can be taken out and reconstructed in a short period of time,” Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said in its second preliminary report on the disaster released late on Monday.
    A list of equipment Iran needs has been sent to French accident agency BEA and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the Iranian aviation body said.
    “Until now, these countries have not given a positive response to sending the equipment to (Iran),” it said.    It said two surface-to-air TOR-M1 missiles had been launched minutes after the Ukrainian plane took off from Tehran.
‘MAXIMUM PRESSURE’
    Iran’s aviation body says it does not have equipment needed to download information from the model of recorders on the three-year-old Boeing 737.
    Trudeau said the data should be downloaded immediately.
    “There need to be qualified experts doing that but it’s also a question of technology and equipment and that is not available in Iran,” he told a news conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
    “There has been broad consensus in the international community that France would be the right place to send those boxes (and) we continue to pressure Iran to do just that.”
    Trudeau also said Tehran’s refusal to acknowledge dual citizenship was posing a challenge when it came to helping support the families of the Canadian victims, many of whom had close ties to Iran.
    Iran, which took several days to acknowledge its role in bringing down the plane and faced street protests at home as a result, fired its missiles at U.S. targets in response to a U.S. drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.
    Iran has for years faced U.S. sanctions that limited its ability to purchase modern planes and buy products with U.S. technology.    Many passenger planes used in Iran are decades old.
    Under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, Iran received sanctions relief in return for curbing its nuclear work.    But Washington reimposed U.S. sanctions after withdrawing from the pact in 2018, a move that led to the steady escalation of tension in recent months between the United States and Iran.
    European governments say they want to save the deal but have also suggested it may be time for a broader pact, in line with Trump’s call for a deal that would go beyond Iran’s nuclear work and include its missile program and activities in the region.
    Iran says it will not negotiate with sanctions in place.
    Since the plane disaster, Iran’s judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi has said compensation should be paid to families of the victims, many of whom were Iranians or dual nationals.
    Canada, Ukraine, Britain, Afghanistan and Sweden, which all lost citizens, have demanded Iran make the payouts.
(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Winnipeg; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan)

1/21/2020 Iran MP offers reward for killing Trump, U.S. calls it ‘ridiculous’ by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives for the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF)
in Davos, Switzerland, January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian lawmaker offered a $3 million reward to anyone who killed U.S. President Donald Trump and said Iran could avoid threats if it had nuclear arms, ISNA news agency reported on Tuesday amid Tehran’s latest standoff with Washington.
    U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood dismissed the reward as “ridiculous”, telling reporters in Geneva it showed the “terrorist underpinnings” of Iran’s establishment.
    Tensions have escalated since Trump in 2018 pulled the United States out of a multilateral 2015 agreement meant to contain Iran’s nuclear program, saying it was flawed, then reimposed heavy U.S. sanctions on Tehran.    The standoff erupted into tit-for-tat military strikes earlier this month.
    “On behalf of the people of Kerman province, we will pay a $3 million reward in cash to whoever kills Trump,” lawmaker Ahmad Hamzeh told the 290-seat parliament, ISNA reported.
    He did not say if the reward had any official backing from Iran’s clerical rulers.
    The city of Kerman, in the province south of the capital, is the hometown of Qassem Soleimani, a prominent Iranian general whose killing in a drone strike ordered by Trump on Jan. 3 in Baghdad prompted Iran to fire missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq.
    “If we had nuclear weapons today, we would be protected from threats … We should put the production of long-range missiles capable of carrying unconventional warheads on our agenda.    This is our natural right,” Hamzeh was quoted as saying by ISNA.
    The United States and it Western allies have long accused Iran of seeking nuclear weapons.    Tehran insists it has never sought nuclear arms and never will, saying its nuclear work is for research and to master the process to generate electricity.
    The 2015 nuclear accord overall was designed to increase the time Iran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb.    Parties to the deal believed, at the time, Iran could produce enough material in 2-3 months if it wanted.
    Under the deal, known as the JCPOA, Iran received relief from sanctions in return for curbing its nuclear activities.    In response to the U.S. withdrawal and pressure from U.S. sanctions, Iran has rolled back its commitments to the deal.
    This month, Iran announced it was scrapping all limits on its uranium enrichment work, potentially shortening the so-called “breakout time” needed to build a nuclear weapon.
    Iran on Tuesday repeated its position that its steps to reduce compliance could be reversed.
    “Iran has said steps taken in full conformity with JCPOA will be reversible should other JCPOA participants take meaningful decisions to live up to their commitment,” Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh, told the U.N.-backed disarmament conference on Tuesday.
    Reports issued by the U.N. nuclear watchdog have suggested Tehran is still far from sprinting ahead with uranium enrichment.
    After Iran’s latest step, Britain, France and Germany triggered a dispute mechanism in the nuclear pact, starting a diplomatic process that could lead to reimposing global, U.N. sanctions that were lifted under the JCPOA.
    Iran said on Monday it would pull out of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which commits all signatories seeking nuclear energy to use it only for peaceful purposes, if United Nations sanctions were reinstated.
    Wood, the U.S. disarmament envoy, said the Iranian threat to quit the NPT, the foundation of global nuclear arms control since the Cold War, would send a “very, very negative message.”
(Additional reporting by Emma Farge and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/21/2020 U.S. decries Iran threat to withdraw from global nuclear treaty
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif speaks with the media on the sidelines
of a security conference in New Delhi, India, January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Alasdair Pal
    GENEVA (Reuters) – A U.S. envoy said on Tuesday that Iran would be sending a “very, very negative message” if it quits the 1970 global nuclear non-proliferation treaty after European countries accused it of violating a separate 2015 deal with world powers.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Monday that Tehran would withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if Europeans continued with what he called “their improper behavior” or refered Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its alleged violations of the 2015 deal.
    Robert Wood, U.S. disarmament ambassador, noting talks set for April in New York on the NPT, told reporters in Geneva: “Here we are on the eve of a review conference that Iran is threatening to walk away from.”
    “We think that Iran needs to end its malign behavior and sit down with the United States and negotiate an agreement that deals not only with the nuclear issue but also with the other issues that concern us like the ballistic missile proliferation and development and the malign activities around the world,” he said.
    Tensions have steadily escalated since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of Tehran’s nuclear agreement with world powers in 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions.    The standoff erupted into an exchange of military strikes in the past month. s month.
    Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, later took the floor and said Iran’s nuclear program had always been peaceful.
    “It continues to be under unprecedented scrutiny of the IAEA for the past year,” he said, referring to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency which deploys inspectors at Iran’s nuclear facilities.
    The 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the JCPOA, had been “crafted as a confidence-building measure to alleviate any concerns, real or concocted, over the nature of our program,” he said.
    The United States and it Western allies have long accused Iran of seeking nuclear weapons.    Tehran insists it has never sought nuclear arms and never will, saying its nuclear work is for research and to master the process to generate electricity.
(Reporting by Emma Farge and Stephanie Nebehay; writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams and Angus MacSwan)

1/22/2020 Iran: Russian missiles fired at Ukraine jet by Jon Gambrell, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran acknowledged on Tuesday that its armed forces fired two Russian antiaircraft missiles at a Ukrainian jetliner that was downed after taking off from Tehran’s main airport earlier this month, killing all 176 people on board.
    The new preliminary report by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, however, stopped short of blaming the TOR-M1 for the fall of the Boeing 737800, flown by Ukraine International Airways.
    For days after the Jan.8 shootdown, Iran denied that it fired missiles at the plane, initially blaming a technical malfunction and engine fire for the plane’s demise.
    However, after the U.S. and Canada blamed missile fire for the incident, Iran’s armed forces said anti-aircraft fire from the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard had downed the flight.
    The new report identified the missiles fired at the aircraft as coming from the TOR-M1.    In 2017, Iran received the delivery of 29 TOR-M1 units from Russia under a contract worth an estimated $700 million.

1/22/2020 China says Taiwan’s role in international bodies must be under ‘One China’ principle
FILE PHOTO: A Chinese flag flutters at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China
October 25, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo/File Photo - RC2LJE9RAKHZ
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the central government cares for the health and well-being of its Taiwan compatriots more than anyone else.
    Taiwan’s participation in international bodies must be arranged under the “One China” principle, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing in Beijing, referring to a core Chinese government policy that states Taiwan is part of China.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called on China on Wednesday to share “correct” information about a new virus which is spreading and urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) not to exclude Taiwan from collaboration on the outbreak for political reasons.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Kim Coghill)

1/22/2020 India’s top court gives government more time to explain divisive citizenship law by Sankalp Phartiyal and Suchitra Mohanty
Television journalists are seen outside the premises of the Supreme Court
in New Delhi, India, January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court declined calls to suspend the implementation of a new citizenship law on Wednesday, deciding that a constitutional bench of five judges was needed to hear all the challenges to legislation that critics say discriminates against Muslims.
    The court gave Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government four weeks to respond to 144 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law which has ignited protests across the country.
    The law, which came into effect on Jan.10 after being passed by parliament in December, lays out a path for citizenship for six religious minorities in neighboring mostly-Muslim countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
    Critics say that the omission of Muslims is discriminatory, and that basing the right to citizenship on religion violates the secular principles of India’s constitution.
    Opposition leaders, Muslim organizations and student groups had petitioned the court to hold off implementation of the law until the challenges to the legislation were settled.
    But Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde heading a three-bench panel told a packed courtroom that only a constitutional bench of five judges could rule on the matter and in the meantime gave the government more time to explain its stance.
    “We will give you four weeks to file reply to all petitions,” Bobde told the government’s top lawyer, indicating that the next hearing will be held in late February.
    The government says the law is for the benefit of religious minorities such as Hindus, Sikhs and Christians who face persecution in India’s Muslim majority neighbors.
    The biggest student organization in the northeastern state of Assam, where some of the worst violence was seen last month during widespread protests against the law, said it would keep up its opposition.
    “Non-violent and democratic protests will continue alongside the legal battle,” All Assam Students Union general secretary Lorinjyoti Gogoi told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Zarir Hussain in GUWAHATI;Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani & Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/22/2020 Iran tells Europe not to follow U.S. by undermining nuclear pact by Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s president told European powers on Wednesday not to copy the United States by undermining Tehran’s strained nuclear pact with world powers, and said Tehran would not seek nuclear weapons whether or not the deal survived.
    Britain, France and Germany launched a dispute mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal this month, accusing Iran of violating the deal that has become increasingly frayed since Washington pulled out in 2018 and then reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
    The dispute mechanism could ultimately lead to the case being referred to the U.N. Security Council to restore U.N. sanctions.    Iranian officials have threatened a range of steps if this should happen, including quitting the 2015 deal or even withdrawing from the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), basis for global nuclear arms control since the Cold War.
    Iran has gradually rolled back its commitments under the 2015 deal, arguing that it has a right to do so because European countries failed to protect it from U.S. sanctions.
    This month, the escalating crisis briefly flared into a military exchange between Iran and the United States.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on his website President.Ir on Wednesday that the United States had made a mistake by quitting the 2015 pact.
    “Do you want to make the same mistake? … I am emphasizing that if the Europeans make a mistake and violate the deal, they will be responsible for the consequences of their actions.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump says his “maximum pressure” campaign aims to drive Iran toward a broader deal that will further curb Tehran’s nuclear work, end its missile program and halt proxy wars in the Middle East.
    The three European powers have shown greater readiness to work toward what the British prime minister dubbed a “Trump deal.”    France has said it might be time for a broader pact.
    “In the current context, France is determined that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, but also that we avoid all military escalation in the region,” French President Emmanuel Macron said during a trip to Israel.
‘COMMITTED TO THE DEAL’
    Iran has always insisted its nuclear program was only for peaceful purposes, pointing to monitoring of its work by the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
    “With or without the nuclear deal or the IAEA’s safeguards, whether our relation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog is good or bad, Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons,” Rouhani said.
    Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, had earlier said one of Tehran’s possible responses to the crisis would be to withdraw from the 2015 deal.    Rouhani said of the pact: “We do not want to destroy it and we are still committed to the deal.”
After months of rising tension, the crisis flared into open conflict this month. Trump ordered the killing in Baghdad of Iran’s most prominent military commander on Jan. 3, prompting Tehran to launch missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq on Jan. 8.
    In the tense aftermath, Iran’s military shot down an airliner by mistake, igniting protests at home and adding to pressure on Tehran from abroad.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Europe had yielded to pressure from Washington by launching the dispute mechanism in the nuclear pact, the JCPOA.    He has cited a threat of U.S. tariffs if European capitals did not take action.
    “When E3 sold out remnants of #JCPOA to avoid Trump tariffs last week, I warned that it would only whet his appetite,” he tweeted.    “EU would do better to exert its sovereignty.”
    European diplomats say they would have triggered the dispute mechanism regardless of any U.S. tariff threats.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Edmund Blair and Peter Graff)

1/22/2020 Hong Kong leader Lam insists to stay on to tackle crises by Anne Marie Roantree
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a session at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF)
annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – A confident Carrie Lam said on Wednesday that Hong Kong had several crises to manage, but insisted she was staying on as the Chinese-ruled city’s leader, dismissing calls to step down.
    At times laughing and smiling, Beijing-backed Lam told the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos that she had to stay on to tackle an economic crisis and the coronavirus, which has killed 17 people in mainland China.
    Lam is on a mission to the Swiss Alps to reassure global leaders meeting there that the Asian financial center is open for business, despite months of anti-government protests and “nothing is more important than the rule of law.”
    “It would be very easy to just run away from a situation.    It’s very difficult to govern and implement policies.    For those who understand the political structure, leaving that position vacant would only create more confusion,” she said.
    Lam’s remarks contrast with comments made in August.    In a recording obtained by Reuters she told a private meeting of business people she had caused “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the crisis and would quit if allowed to do so.
    The coronavirus could not come at a worse time for Hong Kong, whose status as a financial center has come under scrutiny as images of sometimes violent street clashes between police and protesters have been beamed live to the world since June.
    “While people focus on what has happened in Hong Kong, what has not happened in the last months is massive bloodshed on Hong Kong streets….    A curfew has not happened.    The gagging of the media has not happened,” Lam said.
    Speaking hours after Hong Kong quarantined a man “highly suspected” to have contracted China’s new flu-like virus, Lam said robust processes were in place and the city had learned lessons from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 300 people in the city in 2003.
    “My health colleagues are really on guard.    With this rapid flow of people across the border we are vulnerable,” she added.
NEW YEAR FEAR
    Tens of millions of Chinese start traveling this week to celebrate Lunar New Year, heightening fears of contagion of the coronavirus, which has killed 17 people in mainland China and rattled global markets.
    Memories of the impact of SARS still haunt Hong Kong and any repeat would batter an economy that sank into recession in the third quarter as months of protests took a heavy toll.
    Since its return to Beijing in 1997, the former British colony has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees it broad freedoms not seen in mainland China, including an independent judiciary and free press.
    Some demonstrators accuse Beijing of meddling in the city’s affairs, which it denies.
    The revolt in the global financial center has dealt a major setback to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said in December Hong Kong’s situation in 2019 “was the most complex and difficult since its return to the motherland.”
    Lam said Xi was “definitely” committed to the “one country, two systems” formula of governance, which was “sacrosanct.”
(Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Alexander Smith)

1/22/2020 Pakistan’s Khan calls for U.N. action on India dispute by Steve Adler
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a session at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF)
in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan called on Wednesday for the United Nations to help mediate between nuclear armed India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
    “This is a potential flashpoint,” Khan said during a media briefing at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, adding that it was time for the “international institutions … specifically set up to stop this” to “come into action.”
    The Indian government in August revoked the constitutional autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, splitting it into two federal territories in a bid to integrate it fully with India and to rein in militancy.
    Kashmir is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan.    The two countries have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it.    India’s portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.
    Khan said his biggest fear was how New Delhi would respond to ongoing protests in India over a citizenship law that many feel targets Muslims.
    “We’re not close to a conflict right now … What if the protests get worse in India, and to distract attention from that, what if …
    The prime minister said he had discussed the prospect of war between his country and India in a Tuesday meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.    Trump later said he had offered to help mediate between the two countries.
    Khan said Pakistan and the United States were closer in their approach to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan than they had been for many years.    He said he had never seen a military solution to that conflict.
    “Finally the position of the U.S. is there should be negotiations and a peace plan.”
    In a separate on-stage conversation later on Wednesday, Khan said he had told Trump in their meeting that a war with Iran would be “a disaster for the world.”    Trump had not responded, Khan said.
    Khan made some of his most straightforward comments when asked why Pakistan has been muted in defense of Uighurs in China.
    China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in remote Xinjiang that Beijing describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.    The United Nations says at least one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained.
    When pressed on China’s policies, Khan said Pakistan’s relations with Beijing were too important for him to speak out publicly.
    “China has helped us when we were at rock bottom. We are really grateful to the Chinese government, so we have decided that any issues we have had with China we will handle privately.”
(Editing by Simon Robinson)

1/22/2020 Trump says Taliban must curb violence for meaningful Afghanistan talks
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he holds a news conference at the 50th World
Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump told Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani that there cannot be meaningful negotiations until the Taliban significantly reduces its violence, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.
    “Trump reiterated the need for a significant and lasting reduction in violence by the Taliban that would facilitate meaningful negotiations on Afghanistan’s future,” the White House said.    Trump had been in Davos attending the World Economic Forum.
(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

1/22/2020 Iran will never seek nuclear arms, with or without nuclear deal: Rouhani
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran,
January 22, 2020. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will never seek nuclear weapons, with or without nuclear deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, calling on the European powers to avoid Washington’s mistake of violating Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.
    “We have never sought nuclear weapons … With or without the nuclear deal we will never seek nuclear weapon … The European powers will be responsible for the consequences of violating the pact,” said Rouhani, according to his website President.Ir.
    In reaction to Washington withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and the reimposition of sanctions, Iran has gradually rolled back on its commitments.    Rouhani said Iran remained committed to the deal and could reverse its steps away from compliance if other parties fulfilled their obligations.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Edmund Blair)

1/23/2020 China locks down two cities at epicenter of virus outbreak by Yawen Chen and Se Young Lee
A man wearing a protective mask is seen on a subway in Shanghai, China January 23, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China put on lockdown on Thursday two cities at the epicenter of a new coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected nearly 600, as health authorities around the world scramble to prevent a global pandemic.
    Health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.
    The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
    Most transport in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was suspended on Thursday morning and people were told not to leave. Hours later, state media in neighboring Huanggang, a city of some 6 million people, said it was imposing a similar lockdown.
    Chinese authorities gave no new details on the numbers of virus infections but it has been reported in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and several other countries including the United States, stoking fears it is already spreading worldwide.
    Wuhan’s city government said it would shut down all urban transport networks and suspend outgoing flights from 10 a.m. (0200 GMT).    Domestic media said some airlines were operating after the deadline, however.
    State media broadcast images of one of Wuhan’s transport hubs, the Hankou rail station, nearly deserted, with gates blocked or barred.    The government is urging citizens not to leave the city.
    State media reported highway toll booths around Wuhan were closing down, which would effectively cut off road exits.    Guards were patrolling major highways, one resident told Reuters.
    As the city slipped into isolation, residents thronged into hospitals for checks and scrambled for supplies, clearing out supermarket shelves and queuing for petrol.
    Authorities in Huanggang ordered indoor entertainment venues including cinemas and internet cafes to close and were asking citizens not to leave other than under special circumstances, state media said.
    Authorities had confirmed 571 cases and 17 deaths by the end of Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission said. Earlier, it said another 393 suspected cases had been reported.
    Of eight known cases worldwide, Thailand has confirmed four, while Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States have reported one each.
    In a report on Wednesday, Imperial College London said it estimated a total of 4,000 cases of the coronavirus in Wuhan alone as of Jan. 18, an infection rate based on the number of cases reported in China and elsewhere.
VIRUS SPREADING
    In contrast with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people, China’s communist government has provided regular updates to avoid panic ahead of the holidays.br>     During a visit to Wuhan, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said authorities needed to be open about the virus and efforts to contain it, the official Xinhua news agency said.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it will decide on Thursday whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, which would step up the international response.
    If it does so, it will be the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade.
    Some experts believe the new virus is not as dangerous as previous coronaviruses such as SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.
    “The early evidence at this stage would suggest it’s not as severe,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told reporters.
    WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva that China’s actions were “very strong” but called on it to take “more and significant measures to limit or minimize the international spread.”
    “We stressed to them that by having a strong action not only they will control the outbreak in their country but they will also minimize the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally.    So they recognize that,” he said.
    Despite China’s response, stock markets across Asia were on the back foot on Thursday, led by drops of roughly 1.5% in Hong Kong and Shanghai while China’s yuan fell to a two-week low.
FLIGHTS, RAIL SUSPENDED
    There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission.    Symptoms include fever, difficulty in breathing and cough, similar to many other respiratory illnesses.
    Preliminary research suggested the virus was passed on to humans from snakes, but government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.    Confirmed sufferers include 15 medical workers.
    Many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks and avoiding cinemas and shopping centers, and even turning to an online plague simulation game as a way to cope.
    The release of seven movies over the Lunar New Year has been postponed.    The holiday is the high season for distributors and cinemas attract huge crowds.
    Airports globally stepped up screening of passengers from China and the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the further global spread of the virus was likely.
    “Obviously this is a huge concern for the world,” Britain’s business minister, Andrea Leadsom, told Sky.
(Reporting by Yawen Chen, Se Young Lee and Sophie Yu in Beijing, Sam Shen and Engen Tham in Shanghai, Ben Blanchard in Taiwan, Alison Lui and Donny Kwok in Hong Kong, John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore, Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland and Elizabeth Howcroft in London; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez)

1/23/2020 World Court orders Myanmar to take steps to protect Rohingya by Stephanie van den Berg
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks on the second day of hearings in a case filed
by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, at the
International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The International Court of Justice on Thursday ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Muslim Rohingya population from persecution and atrocities, and preserve evidence of alleged crimes against them.
    Mostly Muslim Gambia launched a lawsuit in November at the United Nations’ highest body for disputes between states, accusing Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya in violation of a 1948 convention.
    Thursday’s ruling dealt only with Gambia’s request for so-called preliminary measures, the equivalent of a restraining order for states.    While the court’s final decision could take years to reach, the 17 judge panel made clear in a unanimous ruling that the court believes the Rohingya are in danger now, and steps must be taken to protect them.
    The Rohingya remain “at serious risk of genocide,” presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf said, reading a summary the decision.    Myanmar shall “take all measures within its power to prevent all acts” prohibited under the 1948 Genocide Convention, the ruling said.    Myanmar must report back within four months.
    It ordered the government of Myanmar to exercise influence over its military and other armed groups to prevent “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life intended to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
    More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military-led crackdown in 2017, and were forced into squalid camps across the border in Bangladesh.    U.N. investigators concluded that the military campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent.”
    Moments before the court in The Hague began reading its ruling, the Financial Times published an article by Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in which she said war crimes may have been committed against Rohingya Muslims but that refugees had exaggerated the abuses against them.
    During a week of hearings last month, Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, had asked the judges to drop the case.
    The World Court’s rulings are final and without appeal, although it has no real way of enforcing them.
‘EXTREMELY VULNERABLE’
    “The court is of the opinion that the Rohingya in Myanmar remain extremely vulnerable,” said Yusuf, the presiding judge.
    “Moreover, the court is of the opinion that the steps which [Myanmar] claimed to have taken to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees present in Bangladesh, to promote ethnic reconciliation, peace and stability in Rakhine State, and to make its military accountable for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, do not appear sufficient.”
    More than 100 Myanmar civil society groups published a statement saying they hoped international justice efforts would “bring forth the truth” and end impunity.
    “Political and military policies have always been imposed with violent force and intimidation upon the people of Myanmar, systematically and institutionally, on the basis of their political and religious beliefs and ethnic identities and continue until the present,” the statement said.
    “We understand very clearly that the ICJ case against Myanmar is directed toward those responsible for using political power and military might, and not to the people of Myanmar.”
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Cox’s Bazar; Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/23/2020 Arrested Hong Kong protesters stuck in limbo as cases grind forward by Jessie Pang and Mari Saito
Derek Tai and his girlfriend Ann react inside a library at Chinese University of Hong Kong
in Hong Kong, China, January 15, 2020. Picture taken January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Derek Tai was arrested outside Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building last June, early in the city’s anti-government protests, which have seen millions join demonstrations over the past seven months.
    Tai, a soft-spoken 21-year-old philosophy major, was one of the first protesters to be arrested.    Five months later, he was charged with unlawful assembly, a crime that carries a sentence of up to three years in jail.    In past cases, defendants have been sentenced to eight months.
    “I didn’t really think they would charge me,” he said.    Tai had planned to study in Germany this year, but like many of his peers, he now faces a potential prison term and an unpredictable future in Hong Kong.
    More than 7,000 protesters have been arrested amid seven months of unrest over a since-withdrawn extradition bill.    Of those, 1,092 have been charged, Hong Kong police chief Chris Tang told district councillors recently.
    Just 12 people have been sentenced, Tang said, with the longest sentence, 14 months, handed down to a protester who had a petrol bomb.
    For protesters like Tai, the scale of mass arrests and charges, longer-than-normal delays for hearings, and bail conditions that could land them in jail if they are arrested again have forced them to put their lives on hold – and discouraged them from returning to the streets.
    The arrested demonstrators, 40 percent of whom are secondary school and university students, face a slew of charges, including rioting, arson, and possession of weapons.    Protesters convicted of rioting, one of the most serious charges, can face up to 10 years in prison.
    Tai has not told his mother he was charged.    She lives in mainland China and could not understand why her son was arrested at a protest.
    “She was disappointed … she thinks I’m capable of doing more things than getting arrested, and our relatives in the mainland think I’m a rioter,” he said.
    Whenever he feels depressed, Tai tries to remember his favorite Chinese philosophers.
    “It really gives me strength,” he said.    “Especially when they emphasize that I have the ability to see what’s right and wrong,” he said.
    Tai said he felt it was important to publicly discuss his case and use his full name so arrested protesters were not reduced to a statistic.
MASS ARRESTS
    Police have conducted dozens of mass arrests at protests and rallies – often with scant evidence, critics say – leaving the task of building winnable cases to the Hong Kong Department of Justice.br>     A New Year’s Day march this year ended with the arrest of more than 400 people after police ordered the dispersal of an officially sanctioned event, leading to street clashes.
(Graphic: Hong Kong arrests – https://tmsnrt.rs/37hlBM0)
    Protesters and rights groups say mass arrests are a powerful deterrent for demonstrators.    People who are free on bail may fear attending even legally approved rallies because if they are arrested again, they risk being kept in custody until sentencing.
    The Hong Kong Police Force said that it is politically neutral and that officers only make arrests if someone is suspected of breaking the law.    The politics of the arrested person are never a consideration for arrest or prosecution, police wrote in an e-mail responding to questions.
    Under Hong Kong law, arrestees can only be held for 48 hours without charges.    Most protesters have been granted bail, but supporters say courts are setting tighter bail conditions, including restrictions on travel outside the city.
    Robert Godden, the co-founder of Rights Exposure, a local human rights consultancy, was arrested with a colleague in November during the siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where they were acting as human rights observers.
    He was questioned and detained for 16 hours before being granted bail.
    So far, Godden has not been charged.    The Hong Kong police said it does not comment on individual cases.
    “There is an uncertainty that weighs on you; you don’t know whether they’ll contact our lawyers tomorrow and say we’ve decided to charge you with X, Y, or Z,” he said.    “It’s a low hum in the background that sometimes gets louder.”
    Godden said the specter of possible charges has a chilling effect on human rights and political activists.
    Police arrested three volunteers for the Civil Rights Observer, a human rights group, as they monitored the Jan. 1 march.
    Later in January, Hong Kong denied entry to the global head of Human Rights Watch, who had traveled to the city to release the group’s annual world report.    Hong Kong’s immigration department said it would not comment on individual cases.
(Graphic: Age of those arrested – https://tmsnrt.rs/2TMeC9A)
LONG DELAYS
    The flood of arrestees has strained the courts, lawyers and advocates say.     Vannie Lau, a solicitor defending 10 arrested protesters, including Tai, said many lawyers are already volunteering for 25 cases, the maximum number for which the government will subsidize fees for defendants who can’t afford representation.
    Lau said it was not uncommon for court hearings to stretch long past normal hours, recounting a hearing for 96 people in a rioting case that lasted from 4:30 to 10:30 p.m.
    “It just shows that even the judiciary can’t handle such a large amount of defendants,” Lau said.
    The city’s most senior judge, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma, acknowledged the huge volume of pending cases at an event with Hong Kong and mainland Chinese lawyers, noting that most cases were not ready for trial.
    He said a task force had been set up to study how the courts can expedite matters.
    The justice department did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
    Activists have come up with their own ways to track the glut of pending trials.    A Telegram channel called “You are not alone HK” offers real-time summaries and updates of protest-related court hearings.    The channel, set up last August, already has more than 50,000 subscribers.
    The group’s 14 volunteers line up for public seats in court hearings and provide a transcription service for families, supporters and lawyers.    A volunteer who helps run the group said it has covered more than 100 hearings involving 1,000 defendants.
    In December, police arrested members of Spark Alliance, an organization that raised money to cover protesters’ legal fees, on charges of money laundering and froze HK$70 million ($9 million) in donations.
    Tai’s legal fees are covered by the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund.
LIFE IN LIMBO
    Ann, Tai’s girlfriend of a year, recalled the anxiety she felt when she learned of his arrest.
    “It felt like time had stopped for 40 hours.    I didn’t cry or feel anything,” when he was in detention, the 20-year-old university student said.    “When I saw him again, I felt relieved.    But I also knew it was just the beginning.”
    Ann, who declined to give her last name because she fears repercussions for speaking out, said 10 other friends had been arrested at protests.    It has become routine for her to contact their families and find lawyers.
    “It’s so terrible that I got used to it and I’ve started to feel numb already,” she said.
    Tai’s next court hearing is scheduled for March. Not knowing whether he will spend months or years in jail, Tai has told Ann to be ready to move on.
    “I don’t think the responsibility is on her to wait for me,” he said.
    Classes at Chinese University of Hong Kong provided a distraction for Ann before they were suspended because of the protests.
She finally broke down in the two weeks leading up to Tai’s first court appearance on Nov. 8.
    “Before everything happened, I didn’t really cherish his existence in my life,” she said.    “I was so used to the fact that he would always be there for me.”
    Defendants and their families say they are determined to keep protesting and are willing to serve months or years in prison for the cause.
    “I know that someone has to carry this responsibility because a thousand of us have already been charged,” Tai said.    “Some of us have to do it, and it just happens to be me.”
(Reporting by Jessie Pang and Mari Saito. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

1/23/2020 Successor to slain Iran general faces same fate if he kills Americans – U.S. envoy by Nafisa Eltahir
FILE PHOTO: Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran, attends a news conference
in London, Britain June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The successor to the Iranian commander killed in a U.S. drone strike would suffer the same fate if he followed a similar path by killing Americans, the U.S. special representative for Iran said, according to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.
    Washington blamed Qassem Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias against U.S. forces in the region.    U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the Jan. 3 drone strike in Iraq after an escalation that began in December with missile strikes that killed an American contractor, which Washington blamed on an Iran-aligned militia in Iraq.
    Iran responded to the killing of Soleimani by launching missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq on Jan. 8, although no U.S. soldiers were killed.
    After Soleimani’s death, Tehran swiftly appointed Esmail Ghaani as the new head of the Quds Force, an elite unit in the Revolutionary Guards that handles actions abroad. Ghaani has pledged to pursue Soleimani’s course.
    “If (Esmail) Ghaani follows the same path of killing Americans then he will meet the same fate,” U.S. envoy Brian Hook told the Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat.
    He said in the interview in Davos that Trump had long made it clear “that any attack on Americans or American interests would be met with a decisive response.”
    “This isn’t a new threat.    The president has always said that he will always respond decisively to protect American interests,” Hook said.    “I think the Iranian regime understands now that they cannot attack America and get away with it.”
    After his appointment, Ghaani said he would “i>continue in this luminous path” taken by Soleimani and said the goal was to drive U.S. forces out of the region, Iran’s long stated policy.
    The Revolutionary Guards aerospace commander said four U.S. military bases in the region were used to deploy aircraft and drones that played a role in the Jan. 3 attack that killed Soleimani, including two bases in Iraq and another in Kuwait.
    “Most of the drones” had taken off from Kuwait, Amirali Hajizadeh, who heads the Guards’ aerospace unit, told state television, although he did not say if a drone from Kuwait was ultimately responsible for attack on Soleimani.
    Tensions between Washington and Tehran have steadily increased since Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and imposed tough news sanctions that have hammered the Iranian economy.
    This month’s military flare-up began in December when rockets fired at U.S. bases in Iraq killed a U.S. contractor.    Washington blamed pro-Iran militia and launched air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters.    After the militia surrounded the U.S. embassy in Baghdad for two days, Trump ordered the drone strike on Soleimani.
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir and Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Michael Perry and Peter Graff)

1/23/2020 Myanmar leader Suu Kyi says Rohingya ‘exaggerated’ abuses – FT
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks on the second day of hearings in a case filed by
Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, at the
International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi admitted on Thursday that war crimes may have been committed against Rohingya Muslims but denied genocide, saying refugees had exaggerated the extent of abuses against them.
    In an opinion piece published in the Financial Times ahead of an initial International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on the issue, she said Myanmar was the victim of “unsubstantiated narratives” by human rights groups and U.N investigators.
    She also said the country could itself punish perpetrators through domestic mechanisms.
    The ICJ said it had jurisdiction to hear the case, which is seeking emergency measures to prevent Myanmar from committing genocide against the Rohingya minority.
    “The international justice system may not yet be equipped to filter out misleading information before shadows of incrimination are cast over entire nations and governments,” she said.
    “Human rights groups have condemned Myanmar based on unproven statements without the due process of criminal investigation.”
    The ICJ is ruling on Thursday on a request by Gambia for emergency measures in Myanmar to halt violence immediately against Rohingya, to protect the ethnic minority and to preserve evidence of past abuses.
    The small, mostly Muslim West African country launched the lawsuit in November at the highest U.N. body for disputes between states, accusing Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya in violation of a 1948 convention.
    The case has not been heard in full and Thursday’s ruling deals only with Gambia’s request for so-called preliminary measures, the equivalent of a restraining order for states.    It gives no indication of the court’s final decision, which could take years to reach.
    More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military-led crackdown in 2017 and were forced into camps across the border in Bangladesh. U.N. investigators concluded that the military campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent.”
    During a week of hearings last month, Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader, asked the ICJ to drop the case.
    She conceded that disproportionate military force may have been used and civilians killed but said the acts did not constitute genocide.
    This week, a government-appointed panel in Myanmar said that, while the military had probably committed crimes, there was no indication of an intent to commit genocide.
(Reporting by Poppy Elena McPherson; Editing by John Stonestreet, Robert Birsel)

1/23/2020 Iran welcomes dialogue with Gulf neighbors: foreign minister tweets
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with Russia's Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, Russia December 30, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran welcomes dialogue with its Gulf neighbors, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday, amid heightened tension in the Middle East.
    “Iran remains open to dialogue with its neighbours and we announce our readiness to participate in any complementary work that is in the interest of the region,” Zarif wrote in Arabic on Twitter.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Edmund Blair)

1/23/2020 U.S. imposes fresh Iran-related sanctions on two people, six companies
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside
an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday said it blacklisted two companies based in Hong Kong, one in Shanghai and one in Dubai for helping Iran’s state-owned National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) export millions of dollars of goods in violation of U.S. sanctions.
    The U.S. Treasury Department said it imposed sanctions on the Hong Kong-based Triliance Petrochemical Co. Ltd and Sage Energy HK Limited, China-based Peakview Industry Co Ltd and United Arab Emirates-based Beneathco DMCC.
    The sanctions would freeze all assets held by the companies that fall under U.S. jurisdiction, generally bar U.S. companies and individuals from dealing with them, and potentially subject non-U.S. financial institutions that knowingly facilitate “significant transactions” for them to U.S. sanctions.
    In addition, the U.S. government-imposed sanctions on two other companies, Jiaxiang Industry Hong Kong Limited and Shandong Oiwangwa Petrochemical Co Ltd, and two individuals, Ali Bayandrian, who is linked to Triliance Petroleum, and Zhiqing Wang, a Chinese national linked to Shandong Oiwangwa.
    The announcements are the latest step in the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign designed to squeeze the Iranian economy to try to force Iran to accept greater constraints on its nuclear program, regional activities and pursuit of ballistic missiles.
    U.S.-Iranian tensions have risen since the U.S. decision to abandon the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, its subsequent re-imposition of U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic, attacks on Saudi oil facilities blamed on Iran and the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in early January.
(Reporting by Makini Brice and Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Tim Ahmann and David Gregorio)

1/24/2020 World Court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya from acts of genocide by Stephanie van den Berg and Ruma Paul
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks on the second day of hearings in a case filed
by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, at the
International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    THE HAGUE/COX’S BAZAAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – The International Court of Justice on Thursday ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from genocide, a ruling cheered by refugees as their first major legal victory since being forced from their homes.
    A lawsuit launched by Gambia in November at the United Nations’ highest body for disputes between states accuses Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya in violation of a 1948 convention.
    The court’s final decision could take years, and Thursday’s ruling dealt only with Gambia’s request for preliminary measures.    But in a unanimous ruling by the 17-judge panel, the court said the Rohingya face an ongoing threat and Myanmar must act to protect them.
    Myanmar must “take all measures within its power to prevent all acts” prohibited under the 1948 Genocide Convention, and report back within four months, presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf said, reading out a summary of the judgment.
    Myanmar must use its influence over its military and other armed groups to prevent violence against the Rohingya “intended to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
    Rohingya activists, who had come from all over the world to the Hague, reacted with joy to the unanimous ruling which also explicitly recognized their ethnic minority as a protected group under the Genocide Convention.
    “That is something we have been fighting for a long time: to be recognized as humans the same as everyone else,” Yasmin Ullah, a Canada-based Rohingya activist said. Majority Buddhist Myanmar generally refuses to describe the Muslim Rohingya as an ethnic group and refers to them as Bangladeshi migrants.
    Myanmar’s ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement late on Thursday it “takes note” of the decision.
    “The unsubstantiated condemnation of Myanmar by some human rights actors has presented a distorted picture of the situation in Rakhine and affected Myanmar’s bilateral relations with several countries,” it added.
    More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military-led crackdown in 2017, and were forced into squalid camps across the border in Bangladesh.    U.N. investigators concluded that the military campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent.”
    In camps in Bangladesh where they have fled, Rohingya refugees hovered over mobile phones to watch the judgment.
    “For the first time, we have got some justice,” said Mohammed Nur, 34.    “This is a big achievement for the entire Rohingya community.”
    Rohingya still living inside Myanmar contacted by phone said they hoped the ruling would force the country to improve their situation.    “We need protection,” said Tin Aung, a Rohingya leader living in Myebon township in central Rakhine state, where Muslims have been confined to camps since violence in 2012.
    A Myanmar government spokesman and two military spokesmen did not answer calls from Reuters seeking comment.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the court order and “recalls that, pursuant to the Charter and to the Statute of the Court, decisions of the Court are binding and trusts that Myanmar will duly comply,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
‘TRIUMPH’
    Gambia’s justice minister, Abubacarr Tambadou, hailed the ruling as “a triumph for international justice.”
    Mainly Muslim Gambia brought the case despite being located halfway around the world, on the argument that all nations have a universal legal duty to prevent genocide.    Tambadou, a former prosecutor at a U.N. tribunal over the Rwanda genocide, took up the issue on behalf of the 57-member OIC group of Muslim states.
    The case was argued last month by some of the world’s top human rights lawyers, with Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi personally attending hearings at The Hague to ask judges to dismiss it.
    Moments before the court began reading its ruling, the Financial Times published an article by Suu Kyi, in which she said war crimes may have been committed against Rohingya Muslims but refugees had exaggerated abuses.
    Although ICJ rulings are final and binding, countries have occasionally flouted them, and the court has no formal mechanism to enforce them.
    “The ICJ order to Myanmar to take concrete steps to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya is a landmark step to stop further atrocities against one of the world’s most persecuted people,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.    “Concerned governments and UN bodies should now weigh in to ensure that the order is enforced. …
    Yusuf, the presiding judge, said the court was not satisfied with Myanmar’s own efforts “to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees present in Bangladesh, to promote ethnic reconciliation, peace and stability in Rakhine State, and to make its military accountable for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”
    Myanmar will now have to regularly report on its efforts to protect the Rohingya from acts of genocide every six months until a final ruling in the case.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg and Bart H. Meijer in The Hague, Ruma Paul in Cox’s Bazar and Poppy McPherson in Yangon; Writing by Kevin Liffey and Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Peter Graff, Catherine Evans and Jonathan Oatis)

1/24/2020 ‘This is an emergency in China’ says WHO, as virus death toll rises to 18 by Stephanie Nebehay and Yawen Chen
A man wearing a protective mask is seen on a subway in Shanghai, China January 23, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    GENEVA/BEIJING (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) called a new coronavirus that has killed 18 people in China and infected around 650 globally “an emergency in China” on Thursday, but stopped short of declaring the epidemic of international concern.
    Chinese state television said 634 cases had been confirmed so far.    China’s National Health Commission said there had been 17 deaths as a result of the virus in Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak, and health authorities confirmed the first Chinese death outside Hubei.
    Non-fatal cases have been found in at least seven other countries.
    Health officials fear the transmission rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.
    Nonetheless, it was a “bit too early” to consider the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” WHO Emergency Committee panel chair Didier Houssin said after the body met in Geneva.    Such a designation would have required countries to step up the international response.
    “Make no mistake, though, this is an emergency in China,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
    “It has not yet become a global health emergency.    It may yet become one,” he said.
    Scrambling to contain the outbreak, the local government in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in Hubei province, suspended most transport on Thursday, including outgoing flights, and people were told not to leave.    Hours later, neighboring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million people, announced similar measures.
    “The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history,” said Gauden Galea, the WHO’s representative in Beijing.
    The organization said, however, that it was not yet recommending any broader restrictions on travel or trade.
    The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in Wuhan.
    It has created alarm because there are a number of unknowns surrounding it.    It is too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people.
    There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission.    Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing.
    Michael Ryan, head of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said data from China suggested almost three-quarters of the cases were in people aged over 40, with some 40% having underlying health conditions.
    “At the moment, we haven’t seen many mild cases,” he said, cautioning that it was difficult at the start of an epidemic to estimate the severity or true fatality rate.
    There had been human-to-human transmission of the virus in China, limited to family groups and health workers, said Tedros.
    Three research teams working on a vaccine, a global coalition set up to fight diseases said.    It is aiming to have a shot developed and approved within a year.
    The committee of 16 independent experts had been divided in its conclusion not to declare a global emergency, said Tedros, adding that the decision “should not be taken as a sign that the WHO does not think the situation is serious.”
    Peter Piot, a professor of global health and director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the outbreak was at a critical phase.
    “Regardless of the decision not to declare this a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, intensified international collaboration and more resources will be crucial to stopping this outbreak in its tracks,” he said.    “There cannot be any complacency as to the need for global action.”
    The biggest tumble in Chinese stocks in more than eight months led global equity markets lower on Thursday as concern mounted about the outbreak. [MKTS/GLOB]
TRAVEL WARNINGS
    In Wuhan, the Hankou railway station was nearly deserted on Thursday, state broadcasts showed.    State media reported highway toll booths around Wuhan were closing, effectively cutting off road exits, and all ride-hailing services would be canceled from Friday. Guards were patrolling highways, one resident said.
    As the city slipped into isolation, residents thronged hospitals for medical checks and rushed to buy supplies, clearing out supermarket shelves and queuing for petrol.
    Other cities were also taking steps to contain the virus.
    Nearby Ezhou shut train stations.    Beijing canceled large gatherings, including two Lunar New Year temple fairs, and closed the Forbidden City, the capital’s most famous tourist attraction, to visitors until further notice.
    The U.S. State Department warned travelers to exercise increased caution in China as airports worldwide stepped up the screening of passengers arriving from the country.
    Cases have already been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States.
    Five people were being tested in Scotland for the virus as a precaution, the BBC reported on Thursday.    All had respiratory symptoms and had recently been in Wuhan, it said.
    Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which has two confirmed cases, is turning two holiday camps into quarantine stations as a precaution.
    Taiwan has banned anyone from Wuhan from going to the island.
    Chinese people had their own ways of protecting themselves.
    “I go straight to where I need to go, and then I go home,” said 79-year-old Li Meihua, from behind a mask, on the streets of Shanghai.
(Reporting by Yawen Chen, Se Young Lee, Sophie Yu and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Sam Shen and Engen Tham in Shanghai, Ben Blanchard in Taiwan, Alison Lui and Donny Kwok in Hong Kong, John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, and Kate Kelland and Elizabeth Howcroft in London; Writing by Alison Williams, Nick Macfie and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)

1/24/2020 China shuts transport, temples, part of Great Wall as virus toll hits 26 by Judy Hua and Cate Cadell
People wearing masks are seen at a hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 22, 2020,
in this still image taken from video. China News Service/via REUTERS TV
    BEIJING, China (Reuters) – China ramped up measures to contain a virus that has killed 26 people and infected more than 800, suspending public transport in 10 cities, shutting temples over the Lunar New Year and even closing the Forbidden City and part of the Great Wall.
    The week-long holiday to welcome in the Year of the Rat began on Friday, raising fears that the infection rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of people travel to their homes and abroad. The risks also persuaded Shanghai Disneyland theme park to close from Saturday until further notice.
    The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the new coronavirus an emergency for China but stopped short of declaring the epidemic of international concern.
    While most of the cases and all of the deaths have been in China, the virus has been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States.    It was highly likely Britain also had cases, a health official said.
    In Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the outbreak began last month, pharmacies were running out of supplies and hospitals were flooded with nervous resident seeking medical checks.
    “There’s so much news, so much data, every 10 minutes there’s an update, it’s frightening, especially for people like us in a severely hit area,” said Lily Jin, 30, a resident of the city.    “Even if you’re not ill you’ll frighten yourself into getting sick.”
    As of Thursday, there were 830 confirmed cases and 26 people had died, the National Health Commission said.
    Most cases have been in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated in a market that traded illegally in wildlife.    Preliminary research suggested it crossed to humans from snakes.
    The city of 11 million people, and neighbouring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million, were in virtual lockdown.    Rail stations were largely shut, with few trains stopping, flights suspended and checkpoints on main roads in and out.
    About 10 people got off a high-speed train that pulled into Wuhan on Friday afternoon but nobody got on before it resumed its journey.
    “I need to be with my family,” said one passenger, dragging two large cases out of the station.    He declined to give his name.
    Wuhan was rushing to build a 1,000-bed hospital for the infected by Monday, the official Changjiang Daily reported.
    Prefabricated buildings were going up around a holiday complex originally intended for workers, set in gardens by a lake on the outskirts of the city.
    Television footage showed about 30 mechanical diggers clawing at brown earth preparing the site.
    Wuhan hospitals called for donations of protective equipment such as masks and suits, as supplies ran low.
    Several airlines have suspended flights to Wuhan while airports worldwide have stepped up the screening of passengers from China.
CHINA EMERGENCY, NOT GLOBAL
    The WHO said on Thursday it was a “bit too early” to designate the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, which would require countries to step up their response.
    “Make no mistake, though, this is an emergency in China,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.     Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing.    Most of the fatalities have been elderly, many with pre-existing conditions, the WHO said.
    Three research teams are to start work on vaccines, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations said. The plan is to have at least one in clinical trials by June.
    Some experts believe the virus is not as dangerous as the one that caused the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which also began in China and killed nearly 800 people, or the one that caused Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.
GREAT WALL, FORBIDDEN CITY TO CLOSE
    Chinese authorities have advised people to avoid crowds and 10 cities in the central province of Hubei, where Wuhan is located, have suspended some transport, the Hubei Daily reported.
    Some sections of the Great Wall near Beijing will be closed from Saturday, state media said.
    Famous temples have also closed, including Beijing’s Lama Temple where people make offerings for the new year, have also been closed as has the Forbidden City, the capital’s most famous tourist attraction.
    Shanghai Disneyland will close from Saturday.    The theme park has a 100,000 daily capacity and sold out during last year’s Lunar New Year holiday.
    The virus is expected to dent China’s growth after months of economic worries over trade tensions with the United States, unnerving foreign companies doing business there.
    A National Australia Bank research team estimated China’s gross domestic product growth for the first quarter could be hit by about 1 percentage point.
    Shares in luxury goods firms have suffered from the anticipated drop in demand from China, and on Friday French spirits group Remy Cointreau said it was “clearly concerned” about the potential impact.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, David Stanway, Martin Pollard, Tony Munroe, and Ben Blanchard; Writing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/24/2020 ‘What choice do I have?’ Lock-down strands millions in China’s Wuhan by David Stanway and Martin Pollard
FILE PHOTO: File picture of travellers boarding a train in China as the annual Spring Festival travel rush begins ahead
of the Chinese Lunar New Year, in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) – A trickle of passengers at the train station in the Chinese city of Wuhan put on a brave face on Friday as they arrived in the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 26 people, infected hundreds and raised fears of a pandemic.
    Authorities have all but shut down Wuhan, a city of 11 million and a major transport hub, at what is normally the busiest time of year – the Lunar New Year holiday – when millions of people travel home to visit their families.
    Millions of people in surrounding cities are virtually stranded after public transport networks were shut to stop the spread of the virus, believed to have originated at a Wuhan market illegally selling wildlife.
    On one high-speed train carrying a Reuters journalist that stopped in Wuhan station on Friday afternoon, about 10 passengers got off and nobody got on before the train resumed its journey to Changsha.
    Although it stopped there, Wuhan had been removed from the train’s schedule.
    “What choice do I have?    It’s Chinese New Year. We have to see our family,” said a man getting off the train who gave his family name Hu.
    Wuhan’s airport is not closed, but nearly all flights have been canceled.    Three international flights arriving on Friday would leave with no passengers, an airport official said.
    China’s biggest ride-hailing company, Didi Chuxing, shut down all services in Wuhan from midday on Friday, adding that service resumption depended on government orders.
    “Please reduce going out as much as possible, and look after yourselves and your families,” the company told its drivers in a statement.
    A traffic control map on Baidu maps – China’s equivalent of Google maps – showed a swathe of highways into and around the city closed.     Police at one highway checkpoint said special permission would be needed to leave the city.
    Police also checked incoming vehicles for wild animals.
FACE MASKS, CANCELED PLANS
    Lying on the banks of the mighty Yangtze River and historically prone to devastating floods, Wuhan stretches across 8,500 square kilometers (3,300 square miles) – five times the size of Greater London – and includes rural areas as well as the sprawling urban conurbation.
    Some images circulated on social media showed packed hospital corridors, as people – all wearing face masks – waited for consultations. Hospitals made public appeals for supplies.
    The government has pledged to ensure the city is properly equipped, and on Friday flew in two planes with 32 tonnes of supplies, mostly medical gear and masks.
    China’s second-largest e-commerce firm, JD.com Inc, said it was donating one million medical masks and other supplies like disinfectant.
    “My family has hoarded much food, and when we need something, we go downstairs to a supermarket nearby with masks on,” a 30-year-old city resident who works in financial services told Reuters via social media, declining to provide her name.
    Authorities have warned against price-gouging.
    Zou Tianjing, 30, an alcoholic drinks distributor, said she was resigned to spending the Lunar New Year at home, reading and watching movies.
    “A lot of people did not realize how serious the situation was.    Just the day before, people were wearing masks but would still go to bars,” she said, speaking on Thursday.br>     Hugo Guo, a 22-year-old university student who had returned home to Wuhan for the holiday, said the restrictions were not having much of an impact on him, although all his dinner plans with friends and family had been canceled.
    “I’m most worried about whether I will be able to return to school at the right time,” he said, referring to the start of term next month at his university in Shanghai.
    One foreign resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the transport lockdown was causing problems though he was able to get around, albeit slowly.
    “I can go anywhere I want to go.    I just can’t leave Wuhan.”
(Reporting by David Stanway and Martin Pollard; Additional reporting by Huizhong Wu and Roxanne Liu in Beijing, Engen Tham in Shanghai and Shanghai newsroom; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Tony Munroe)

1/24/2020 Myanmar already protecting Rohingya, ruling party says after world court’s order by Thu Thu Aung and Sam Aung Moon
FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees take part in a prayer as they gather to mark the second anniversary of the exodus
at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman/File Photo
    YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar has put in place measures to protect Rohingya Muslims, a spokesman for the ruling party said on Friday, shrugging off an order from the International Court of Justice a day earlier to stop genocidal acts against the ethnic minority.
    The Hague-based court ordered Myanmar to protect the persecuted Rohingya against further atrocities and preserve evidence of alleged crimes, after mostly Muslim Gambia launched a lawsuit in November accusing Myanmar of genocide.
    “The government is already doing most of the orders,” Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy, told Reuters by phone, without elaborating.
    “One more thing we need to do is submit reports,” he said, referring to one of several measures approved by the court requiring Myanmar to write regular summaries of its progress.
    But he said the civilian government, who rule jointly with the military in an awkward constitutional arrangement that reserves great powers for the commander-in-chief, could not control troops.
    “Under the current political circumstances, we have difficulties solving some issues – such as the (order) that the government must ensure its military or armed insurgents do not commit genocide or attempt to commit genocide against Rohingya or Bengali,” he said.
    More than 730,000 Rohingya fled western Rakhine state for neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 to escape a military-led crackdown that the U.N has said was executed with genocidal intent.    Myanmar says the military campaign was a legitimate counter-insurgency operation launched in response to militant attacks on security forces.
    Some 600,000 Rohingya remain inside Myanmar, confined in apartheid-like conditions to camps and villages, unable to freely access healthcare and education.
    They are derided as “Bengalis,” implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite tracing their history in Rakhine back centuries.
    The court said in its judgment on Thursday it did not accept Myanmar’s assertion that it has been taking steps to facilitate the return of refugees, promote peace in Rakhine, and hold the military accountable through domestic mechanisms.
    “In particular, the Court notes that Myanmar has not presented to the Court concrete measures aimed specifically at recognizing and ensuring the right of the Rohingya to exist as a protected group under the Genocide Convention,” it said.
THERE WAS NO GENOCIDE
    While Thursday’s ruling was an emotional victory for the minority, who have for decades fought to prove their existence as an ethnic group, legal analysts said it will be difficult to force Myanmar to comply.
    In a statement late Thursday, the ministry of foreign affairs said it had noted the ruling but did not mention specific steps it was taking.    The next morning the front page of state-run newspaper the Global New Light of Myanmar read: “Myanmar takes note of ICJ decision.     There was no genocide in Rakhine.”
    While the measures are legally binding, there is no enforcement mechanism.
    In separate statements on Friday, Britain and Malaysia urged Myanmar to fully implement the measures. U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell told a U.N. briefing in Geneva the office “calls on Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally implement them in full.”
    “We know that there are limitations but it’s very important for the Rohingya community in Bangladesh and in Myanmar to know that the world has heard them, the highest court in the land has made this decision,” said human rights lawyer Antonia Mulvey.
    Kobsak Chutikul, a Thai diplomat who in 2018 quit a government-appointed panel set up to probe the alleged atrocities, said he feared the government would “delay and obfuscate” once the spotlight faded.
    Of dozens of people interviewed by Reuters in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, only two were aware of the judgment, and neither of them paid much heed.
    “I already knew that Myanmar would lose this case since the other side is funded by the Islamic countries,” said a civil servant, who also asked not to be named.
(Reporting by Thu Thu Aung and Sam Aung Moon. Additional reporting and writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/24/2020 China a ’21st century surveillance state,’ U.S. defense chief says
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Global Security
Forum on "Emerging Technologies Governance" in Washington U.S., January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that China’s Communist Party had created a surveillance state that uses artificial intelligence to repress Muslim minorities and pro-democracy demonstrators.
    China has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home.
    “As we speak, the Communist Party of China is using artificial intelligence to repress Muslin minority communities and pro-democracy demonstrators,” Esper said during a speech in Washington.
    “In fact, the party has constructed a 21st century surveillance state with unprecedented abilities to censor speech and infringe upon basic human rights,” Esper added. “George Orwell would be proud.”
    Orwell’s “1984” novel features a “Big Brother” government that spies on its citizens and forces them into “doublethink,” or simultaneously accepting contradictory versions of the truth.
    The Chinese government has ramped up personal surveillance in Xinjiang over recent years, including the construction of an extensive video surveillance system and smartphone monitoring technology.
    China says Xinjiang is its internal affair, and the issue there is not a religious or ethnic one, but about preventing terrorism and separatism.
    Chinese-ruled Hong Kong has been embroiled by more than seven months of turmoil sparked by a now withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed individuals to be sent to China for trial.
    The youth-led protests, including mass marches, petrol bomb attacks and battles on university campuses, have since morphed into a broader revolt against authorities and strong-arm Chinese rule.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Howard Goller)

1/25/2020 China virus death toll rises to 41, more than 1,300 infected worldwide by Judy Hua and Tony Munroe
Picture uploaded to social media on January 25, 2020 by the Central Hospital of Wuhan show
medical staff, in Wuhan, China. THE CENTRAL HOSPITAL OF WUHAN VIA WEIBO /via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The death toll from China’s coronavirus outbreak jumped on Saturday to 41 from 26 a day earlier as the Lunar New Year got off to a gloomy start, with authorities curbing travel and cancelling public gatherings.
    More than 1,300 people have been infected globally with a virus traced to a seafood market in the central city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife. Health authorities around the world are scrambling to prevent a pandemic.
    State-run China Global Television Network reported in a tweet on Saturday that a doctor who had been treating patients in Wuhan, 62-year-old Liang Wudong, had died from the virus.
    It was not immediately clear if his death was already counted in the official toll of 41, of which 39 were in the central province of Hubei, where Wuhan is located.
    U.S. coffee chain Starbucks said on Saturday that it was closing all its outlets in Hubei province for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, following a similar move by McDonald’s in five Hubei cities.
    Wuhan, a city of 11 million, has been in virtual lockdown since Thursday, with nearly all flights at the airport canceled and checkpoints blocking the main roads leading out of town.    Authorities have since imposed transport restrictions on nearly all of Hubei province, which has a population of 59 million.
    In Beijing on Saturday, workers in white protective suits checked temperatures of passengers entering the subway at the central railway station, while some train services in eastern China’s Yangtze River Delta region were suspended, the local railway operator said.
    The number of confirmed cases in China stands at 1,287, the National Health Commission said on Saturday.
    The virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, Malaysia, France, the United States and Australia.
    Australia on Saturday announced its first case of coronavirus, a Chinese national in his 50s, who had been in Wuhan and arrived from China on Jan. 19 on a flight from Guangzhou.    He is in stable condition in a Melbourne hospital.
    “Given the number of cases that have been found outside of China and the significant traffic from Wuhan city in the past to Australia, it was not unexpected that we would get some cases,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told a news conference.
    “This is the first confirmed case.    There are other cases being tested each day, many of them are negative, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had further confirmed cases.”
    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday it had 63 patients under investigation, with two confirmed cases, both in people who had traveled to Wuhan.
REINFORCEMENTS TO WUHAN
    The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus an “emergency in China” this week but stopped short of declaring it of international concern.
    Human-to-human transmission has been observed in the virus.    GRAPHIC – The spread of a new coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B56G2WC/coronavirus.jpg
    China’s National Health Commission said on Saturday it had formed six medical teams totaling 1,230 medical staff to help Wuhan. Three of the six teams, from Shanghai, Guangdong and military hospitals have arrived in Wuhan.
    Hubei province, where authorities are rushing to build a 1,000 bed hospital in six days to treat patients, announced on Saturday that there were 658 patients affected by the virus in treatment, 57 of whom were critically ill.
    The newly-identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people.    It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
    Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing. Most of the fatalities have been in elderly patients, many with pre-existing conditions, the WHO said.
NEW YEAR DISRUPTIONS
    Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, though some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings and of the lockdown.
    Health officials fear the transmission rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel before and during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, which began on Saturday, although many have canceled their plans, with airlines and railways in China providing free refunds.
    The virus outbreak and efforts to contain it have put a dampener on what is ordinarily a festive time of year.     Shanghai Disneyland was closed from Saturday.    The theme park has a 100,000 daily capacity and sold out during last year’s Lunar New Year holiday
    Beijing’s Lama Temple, where people traditionally make offerings for the new year, has also closed, as have some other temples and the Forbidden City, the capital’s most famous tourist attraction.    Sections of the Great Wall near the capital were also closed off.
    Film premieres have been postponed.
(Reporting by Sophie Yu, Yilei Sun, Judy Hua, Roxanne Liu, Se Young Lee and Cate Cadell; Additional reporting Lidia Kelly in Melbourne. Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Sam Holmes)

1/25/2020 China’s Haikou city to start 14-day medical observation for tourists from Hubei
Workers in protective suits check the temperature of passengers arriving at the Xianning North Station on the eve of the Chinese Lunar New
Year celebrations, in Xianning, a city bordering Wuhan to the north, in Hubei province, China January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Martin Pollard
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Haikou city, capital of the southern island province of Hainan, will start a 14-day centralized medical observation for tourists from the central Hubei province, center of the coronavirus outbreak, from Saturday at noon, the Haikou government said.
    Tourists from Hubei, especially from Wuhan city, are not allowed to leave the hotel where the medical observation will be held during the 14-day period, it said.
    Hubei has confirmed 729 cases of the new coronavirus, with 39 deaths as of Jan 24, the provincial health authorities said.
(Reporting by Judy Hua, Roxanne Liu and Tony Munroe; Editing by Sandra Maler)

1/25/2020 Report: U.S. planning to evacuate Americans from Wuhan amid coronavirus outbreak by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020 file photo, Passengers wear protective face masks at
the departure hall of the high speed train station in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)
    The U.S. government is organizing a flight of out the Chinese city of Wuhan to evacuate American citizens and diplomats amid the coronavirus outbreak.    The local U.S. consulate is reportedly contacting American citizens to offer them a place on the plane, which will seat around 230 people and is expected to take off on Sunday.
    Around 1,000 U.S. citizens are said to be in Wuhan.    However, those who choose to evacuate on the plane will be responsible for the cost of their ticket.    The flight will be directly to the U.S. Onboard medical personnel will be present to ensure the infection doesn’t spread.
The U.S. government is also planning to temporarily close the consulate in Wuhan.
In this Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, photo, a staff member wearing a hazardous materials suit hauls a bin at a
hospital that reported a coronavirus death in Yichang in central China’s Hubei Province. (Chinatopix via AP)
    Meanwhile, officials in China are taking on a massive construction project to build a quarantine hospital within 10 days.    Authorities reportedly started building the 1,000 bed hospital on Friday.    It will be used to treat patients who are being turned away from overcrowded hospitals in Wuhan.
    At least 41 people have died and 1,200 others have been infected by the new and unknown virus, which includes pneumonia-like symptoms.
    In 2003, a similar building was quickly erected during a SARS outbreak.

1/25/2020 Iran has capacity to enrich uranium at any percentage: nuclear agency
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has the capacity to enrich uranium at any percentage if Iranian authorities decide to do so, the deputy head of the country’s nuclear agency said in a report posted on its website on Saturday.
    “At the moment, if (Iranian authorities) make the decision, the Atomic Energy Organization, as the executor, will be able to enrich uranium at any percentage,” Ali Asghar Zarean said.
    Iran said earlier this month it would scrap limitations on enriching uranium, taking a further step back from commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, but pledged to continue cooperating with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
    Since Iran took the latest step in reducing commitments to the accord, the country’s stock of uranium produced has passed 1,200 kilograms and it will quickly be added to the stock of enriched uranium, Zarean said.
    Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions to throttle Iran’s oil exports as part of a “maximum pressure” policy.
    The United States says it aims to force Tehran to agree a broader deal that puts stricter limits on its nuclear work, curbs a ballistic missile program and ends regional proxy wars. Iran says it will not negotiate while sanctions remain in place.
    Tehran has steadily been reducing its compliance with the deal, which prompted Britain, France and Germany to formally accuse it in mid-January of violating the terms and activating a dispute mechanism in the deal, which could eventually lead to the reimposition of U.N. sanctions.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last week that if Iran’s nuclear file is sent to the U.N. Security Council, the country will withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), according to the official IRNA news agency.
    Iran denies any intent to acquire nuclear weapons and says its breaches of the deal would be reversed if Washington lifts sanctions.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by David Evans and Helen Popper)

1/25/2020 Hong Kong declares citywide virus emergency over coronavirus by OAN Newsroom
Passengers wearing protective face masks enter the departure hall of a high speed
train station in Hong Kong, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
    Hong Kong has declared a citywide emergency in response to five confirmed coronavirus cases in the region.    While speaking at a news conference on Saturday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the “impact on the population will be high and imminent.”
    Lam explained that schools will be closed until next month in an attempt to limit the spread of the deadly virus.    Major events, flights and trains in Wuhan and Hong Kong have been cancelled as local authorities step up screening procedures at major ports of entry.
    “We will wait until we are fully in control of the outbreak before we will resume the flights, as well as the high speed rail train service with Wuhan.    Then we are going to expand the health declaration system concerning the visitors from the mainland.    We are going to cover all the ports.” – Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong
    Lam reiterated the government will not “not be frugal” about resources “for the sake of public health and safety.”
In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker attends to a patient in the
intensive care unit at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province. (Xiong Qi/Xinhua via AP)
    Meanwhile, officials in China are taking on a massive construction project to build a quarantine hospital within 10 days.    Authorities reportedly started building the 1,000 bed hospital on Friday.    It will be used to treat patients who are being turned away from overcrowded hospitals in Wuhan.
    At least 41 people have died and 1,300 others have been infected by the new and unknown virus, which includes pneumonia-like symptoms.
    In 2003, a similar building was quickly erected during a SARS outbreak.

1/26/2020 China scrambles to contain ‘strengthening’ virus by Gabriel D. Crossley and Cheng Leng
    Workers from local disease control and prevention department in protective suits disinfect a residential area
following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, in Ruichang, Jiangxi province, China January 25, 2020. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The ability of the new coronavirus to spread is strengthening and infections could continue to rise, China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday, with nearly 2,000 people in China infected and 56 killed by the disease.
    A handful of cases have been reported outside China, including in Thailand, Australia, the United States and France, with health authorities around the world racing to prevent a pandemic.
    The newly-identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people.    It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
    China’s National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said the incubation period for the virus can range from one to 14 days, and the virus is infectious during incubation, which was not the case with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
    SARS was a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.
    “According to recent clinical information, the virus’s ability to spread seems to be getting somewhat stronger,” Ma told a packed media briefing on the second day of the Lunar New Year holiday, adding that knowledge of the virus was limited.
    Containment efforts, which have thus far included transportation and travel curbs and the cancellation of big events, will be intensified, Ma said.
    The virus, believed to have originated late last year in a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife, has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai.    Hong Kong has six confirmed cases.
    President Xi Jinping said during a politburo meeting on Saturday that China was facing a “grave situation.”
    On Sunday, China announced a temporary nationwide ban on the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants, and e-commerce platforms.    Wild and often poached animals packed together in Chinese markets are blamed as incubators for viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.
    Snakes, peacocks, crocodiles and other species can also be found for sale via Taobao, an e-commerce website run by Alibaba.
    The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society called on China to make the ban permanent.
    The U.S. State Department said it will relocate personnel at its Wuhan consulate to the United States and will offer a limited number of seats to private U.S. citizens on a Jan. 28 flight to San Francisco.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Sunday the government was working with Chinese authorities to arrange a charter flight for any Japanese nationals who wish to return from Wuhan.
    The World Health Organization this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health experts question whether China can continue to contain the epidemic.
    On Sunday, China confirmed 1,975 cases of patients infected with the new coronavirus as of Jan. 25, while the death toll from the virus has risen to 56, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
    No fatalities have been reported outside China.
    The outbreak has prompted widening curbs on movements within China, with Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on virtual lockdown, with transports links all-but severed except for emergency vehicles.
CANCELLATIONS AND MISTRUST
    Health authorities in Beijing urged people not to shake hands but instead salute using a traditional cupped-hand gesture.    The advice was sent in a text message that went out to mobile phone users in the city on Sunday morning.,br>     Beijing also postponed the reopening of the city’s schools and universities after the Lunar New Year holiday, state radio reported.    Hong Kong had already delayed the reopening of schools to Feb. 17.
    Health officials in Orange County, California, reported that a third case of the virus had been registered in the United States, in a traveler from Wuhan, who was in isolation and in good condition.
    On Saturday, Canada declared a first “presumptive” confirmed case in a resident who had returned from Wuhan.    Australia confirmed its first four cases.
    China has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after a cover-up of the spread of the deadly SARS virus eroded public trust, but officials in Wuhan have been criticized for their handling of the current outbreak.
    “People in my hometown all suspect the real infected patients number given by authorities,” said Violet Li, who lives in the Wuhan district where the seafood market is located.
    “I go out with a mask twice a day to walk the dog – that’s the only outdoor activity,” she told Reuters by text message.
    The outbreak has overshadowed the start of the Lunar New Year, when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad to be with families, with public events canceled and many tourist sites shut.
    Overall passenger travel declined by nearly 29 percent on Saturday, the first day of the Lunar New Year, from a year earlier, with air passengers down nearly 42 percent, a transportation ministry official said.
    Many cinemas across China are also closed with major film premieres postponed.
    Cruise operators including Royal Caribbean Cruises, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises and Astro Ocean Cruises said that they canceled a combined 12 cruises that had been scheduled to embark from Chinese ports before Feb. 2.
    Hong Kong Disneyland and the city’s Ocean Park were closed on Sunday. Shanghai Disneyland, which expected 100,000 visitors daily through the Lunar New Year holidays, has already closed.
    Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of these efforts.
(Reporting by Yilei Sun, Samuel Shen, Huizhong Wu, Se Young Lee, Shivani Singh, Cheng Leng, Martin Pollard; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Michael Perry and Toby Chopra)

1/26/2020 Afghan forces launch air, ground attacks on Taliban, killing 51 by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: Members of the Afghan Air Force crew stand next to a helicopter
at the military airport in Kabul December 18, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan forces used ground attacks and air strikes in multiple operations against the Taliban during the last 24 hours, killing 51 fighters in an escalation that signaled renewed deadlock in peace talks.
    Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that government forces had conducted 13 ground offensives and 12 air strikes in nine provinces, adding that 51 “terrorists” had been killed, 13 wounded and six arrested.
    Local officials in the northern province of Balkh said at least three women and four children were killed in the air strikes, prompting protests in front of the provincial governor’s office.
    The government pledged to send a fact-finding mission to investigate the reports of civilian deaths.
    Meanwhile, the Taliban said it had staged two more attacks targeting security forces over the weekend, following sporadic assaults last week.
    Afghan security forces’ checkpoints in Kunduz were attacked on Saturday night, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement, adding that 10 members of the security forces were killed and three wounded.    Taliban fighters also captured a large weapons cache, he said.
    In a separate statement, the Taliban said its fighters had ambushed an Afghan forces patrol in Balkh, killing eight security personnel.
    The spike in hostilities comes as U.S. and Taliban negotiators in Doha take a two-day break for consultations about how to overcome recent hurdles in the talks, a source close to the process told Reuters.
    Negotiations between the two sides began last year in Doha but have been interrupted at least twice after Taliban attacks on U.S. military personnel in September and December.
    Last week, another round of talks kicked off with U.S. Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad meeting repeatedly with the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
    Multiple sources close to the talks said the Taliban had agreed internally to halt attacks against U.S. forces and “reduce” assaults against Afghan government interests.
    Over the last week, however, reports of attacks by Taliban fighters on government installations, including police stations continued to filter in from different parts of Afghanistan.
(Additional reporting by Matin Sahak from Mazar-e-Sharif; Writing by Gibran Peshimam)

1/26/2020 U.S. will not lift sanctions to negotiate with Iran: Trump
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to address U.S mayors in the East Room
of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States will not lift sanctions on Iran in order to negotiate, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted late on Saturday, seemingly in response to a Der Spiegel interview with Iran’s foreign minister.
    “Iranian Foreign Minister says Iran wants to negotiate with The United States, but wants sanctions removed.    @FoxNews @OANN No Thanks!”    Trump tweeted in English on Saturday and later in Farsi.
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Sunday by tweeting an excerpt from the interview with Der Spiegel published on Friday, where he said Iran is still open to negotiations with America if sanctions are lifted.
    “@realdonaldtrump is better advised to base his foreign policy comments & decisions on facts, rather than @FoxNews headlines or his Farsi translators,” Zarif said in the tweet with the interview excerpt.
    Tensions between Iran and the United States have reached the highest levels in decades after the U.S. killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting Iran to fire missiles days later at bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are stationed.
    Tensions between the two have been increasing steadily since Trump pulled the United States out of Iran’s nuclear pact with world powers in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have driven down Iran’s oil exports and hammered its economy.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Tom Hogue)

1/26/2020 Oman’s foreign minister meets Iran’s foreign minister Zarif: Tweet
FILE PHOTO: Oman's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah shakes hands with Iran's
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran, Iran July 27, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Oman’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah will meet Iran’s Foreign Ninister Javad Zarif in Tehran on Sunday to discuss maritime security in the Hormuz strait, Oman’s foreign ministry tweeted.
    Oman maintains friendly ties with both the United States and Iran and has previously been a go-between for the two countries, which severed diplomatic ties after the 1979 Iranian revolution.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah, Editing by William Maclean)

1/26/2020 Public anger grows over coronavirus in Thailand, with eight cases of the illness by Chayut Setboonsarng
A health worker uses an infrared thermometer to check the temperature of a tourist who arrives
at Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport, Thailand, January 25, 2020. REUTERS/Panumas Sanguanwong
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – The health minister in Thailand, the country with the most confirmed cases outside China of the new coronavirus, called an emergency meeting on Sunday with the transport and tourism ministries amid rising public discontent over the government’s handling of the illness.
    “We can control the situation and are confident in our ability to handle the crisis,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters.    The number of cases of the disease in Thailand rose on Sunday to eight.
    Anutin added that three of the people infected were being treated and five had recovered and gone home.
    The hashtag #crapgovernment was top trending on Twitter in Thailand on Saturday with over 400,000 tweets.    Users complained about the management of the virus and other health issues.
    “If it reaches a point where public health is in danger, we will take (more) action,” Anutin said, adding that the government would not prioritize tourism revenue over health.
    “Detecting infected patients is a good sign because it shows that our system is efficient,” Anutin said.
    China is Thailand’s biggest source of tourists and had nearly 11 million visitors from there last year.
    In China, there have been nearly 2,000 cases of the illness and 56 people have died.    A scattering of cases have been reported in other countries, including Thailand.
    Graffiti artist, @headachestencil commented on Twitter, “Can close roads and islands, but can’t close the country from China for the safety and confidence of the public.    Can you not value Yuan more than our lives #crapgovernment.”
    All but one of the eight cases in Thailand were tourists from Wuhan, the central Chinese city that is at the epicenter of the outbreak.    One Thai national, who had visited Wuhan over the New Year, contracted the disease.
    There have been no cases of human-to-human transmission in Thailand.
    The government is scanning passengers arriving on flights from Guangzhou across five airports including the main Suvarnabhumi airport, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Don Muang and Krabi.
    Based on numbers during the SARS outbreak in 2003, three months of reduced travel from China would result in 50 billion baht ($1.52 billion) of lost tourism revenue, Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, said.
    Major shopping malls in Thai tourist spots have introduced hygiene measures.
    Mass transit operators including the Bangkok skytrain and subways are increasing the frequencies of wipedowns and spraying disinfectant in trains, the Transport Ministry said.
(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/26/2020 Xi says China faces ‘grave situation’ as virus death toll hits 42 by Tony Munroe and Roxanne Liu
Picture uploaded to social media on January 25, 2020 by the Central Hospital of Wuhan show
medical staff, in Wuhan, China. THE CENTRAL HOSPITAL OF WUHAN VIA WEIBO /via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping said China was facing a “grave situation” as the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak jumped to 42, overshadowing Lunar New Year celebrations that began on Saturday.
China also announced further transport restrictions.
    With more than 1,400 people infected worldwide, most of them in China, Hong Kong declared a virus emergency, scrapped celebrations and restricted links to mainland China.
    Australia confirmed its first four cases and Canada its first on Saturday, after Malaysia confirmed four and France reported Europe’s first cases on Friday, as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a pandemic.
    The United States is arranging a charter flight on Sunday to bring its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicenter of the outbreak, the Wall Street Journal reported.
    In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said flights and high speed rail trips between the city and Wuhan will be halted.    Schools in Hong Kong that are currently on Lunar New Year holidays will remain closed until Feb. 17.
    Xi held a politburo meeting on Saturday on measures to fight the “accelerating” outbreak, state television reported.
    As of 8 p.m. local time (1200 GMT) on Saturday, the death toll in China had risen to 42, authorities reported.    Some 1,372 people in China have been infected with the virus – traced to a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife.
    The virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, and the United States.
    In Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, officials appealed for masks and protective suits.
    “We are steadily pushing forward the disease control and prevention … But right now we are facing an extremely severe public health crisis,” Hu Yinghai, deputy director-general of the Civil Affairs Department, told a news briefing.
    The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
    Ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing said it was halting inter-city services to and from Beijing from Sunday, while the capital will also stop running inter-province shuttle buses.
    State broadcaster CCTV, citing an announcement from China’s tourism industry association, said the country would halt all group tours, both at home and abroad, from Monday.
    Wuhan said it would ban non-essential vehicles from its downtown starting Sunday, further paralyzing a city of 11 million that has been on virtual lockdown since Thursday, with nearly all flights canceled and checkpoints blocking the main roads leading out of town.
    Authorities have since imposed transport restrictions on nearly all of Hubei province, which has a population of 59 million.
PROTECTIVE SUITS
    Australia confirmed its first four cases in two different cities on Saturday, and the country’s chief health official said he expected more cases as Australia is a popular destination for Chinese tourists.
    Canada on Saturday identified its first case in a Toronto resident who recently returned from Wuhan.
    State-run China Global Television Network reported on Saturday that a doctor who had been treating patients in Wuhan, 62-year-old Liang Wudong, had died from the virus.
    U.S. coffee chain Starbucks said it was closing all its Hubei outlets for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, following a similar move by McDonald’s in five Hubei cities.
    Workers in white protective suits checked temperatures of passengers entering the subway at Beijing’s central railway station on Saturday, while some train services in the eastern Yangtze River Delta region were suspended, the local railway operator said.
‘GLOBAL HEALTH THREAT’
    There are fears transmission could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel during the holiday, although many have canceled their plans.
    Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings.
    In an illustration of how such efforts could miss cases, doctors at a Paris hospital said two of the three Chinese nationals in France who have been diagnosed with the virus had arrived in the country without showing any symptoms.
    The World Health Organization this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency.
    A report by infectious disease specialists at Imperial College, London on Saturday said that despite this, the epidemic “represents a clear and ongoing global health threat,” adding: is uncertain at the current time whether it is possible to contain the continuing epidemic within China.”
    While China has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after a cover-up of the 2002/2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) spread, officials in Wuhan have been criticized for their handling of the current outbreak.
    In rare public dissent, a senior journalist at a Hubei newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party wrote on Friday on the Twitter-like Weibo social media platform that there should be an “immediate” change of leadership in Wuhan.    The post was later removed.
    Hubei province, where authorities are rushing to build a 1,000-bed hospital in six days, announced on Saturday that there were 658 patients affected by the virus in treatment, 57 of whom were critically ill.
    Shanghai Disneyland was closed from Saturday. Beijing’s Lama Temple, where people make offerings for the New Year, has also closed, as have some other temples.
    Britain advised against all travel to Hubei and told its citizens in the province to leave.
(GRAPHIC: The spread of a new coronavirus – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B56G2WC/coronavirus.jpg)
(Reporting by Sophie Yu, Yilei Sun, Judy Hua, Roxanne Liu, Se Young Lee and Cate Cadell; Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, Yawen Chen in Beijing and Felix Tam in Hong Kong; Writing by Michael Perry and Frances Kerry; Editing by Sam Holmes, Giles Elgood, Hugh Lawson and Sandra Maler)

1/26/2020 Hong Kong protesters set fire to building intended as coronavirus quarantine site by OAN Newsroom
First aid volunteers try to extinguish a fire set by local residents at a building of the Fai Ming Estate, in
Fanling district of Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, after the Hong Kong government announced it would requisition
the unoccupied housing project to house quarantined patients of the new viral coronavirus illness. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
    Hong Kong protesters have set fire to a newly constructed residential building, which the government was planning to use to address the coronavirus outbreak.    Reports revealed about 200 protesters gathered near the building and set the fire on Sunday.
    Firefighters and riot police arrived soon after.    The damage appeared to be confined mostly to the lobby.
    Protesters said they were opposed to the building being used as a quarantine zone, due to its close proximity to a school and the city’s main residential area.
    “Our message is very simple: Don’t make the Fai Ming Estate into a quarantine area, as there are lots of local residents here,” said one protester.
Local residents struggle with riot police at the Fai Ming Estate, in Fanling district of Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020,
after the Hong Kong government announced it would requisition an unoccupied housing project to house quarantined patients of the
new viral coronavirus illness. Residents took the streets on Sunday night to oppose the plan to house quarantined patients
or medical workers in their neighbourhood, that is far from Hong Kong’s busy business centres. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
    Hong Kong authorities said nearly 80 locals were believed to be infected, but only six cases have been confirmed so far.    The government has raised its response to emergency levels, closing schools and suspending flights in the region.

1/27/2020 China extends holiday, businesses shut as virus toll rises to 81 by Winni Zhou and Josh Horwitz
A medical official takes the body temperature of a man at the departure hall of the airport in Changsha, Hunan Province,
as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, China, January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The death toll from a coronavirus outbreak in China rose to 81 on Monday, as the government extended the Lunar New Year holiday and more big businesses shut down or told staff to work from home in an effort to curb the spread.
    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited the central city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, as the government sought to signal it was responding seriously.
    Asian shares tumbled, with Japan’s Nikkei average sliding 2.0%, its biggest one-day fall in five months, as investors grew increasingly anxious.    Demand spiked for safe-haven assets such as the Japanese yen and Treasury notes.
    The total number of confirmed cases in China rose about 30% to 2,744, with about half in Hubei province, the capital of which is Wuhan.    But some experts suspect the number of infected people is much higher.
    As worry grew around the world, Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which has had eight confirmed cases, banned entry to people who had visited Hubei in the past 14 days.    The ban did not cover Hong Kong residents.
    The nearby gambling hub of Macau, which has had at least one case of the flu-like virus, imposed a similar ban on those arriving from Hubei, unless they can prove they are virus-free.
    The city of Haikou on Hainan island in southern China said tourists from Hubei would be quarantined for 14 days.
    “Hubei people are getting discriminated against,” a Wuhan resident complained on the Weibo social media platform.
    The number of deaths from the virus in Hubei climbed to 76 from 56, health officials said, with five deaths elsewhere in China.
    While a small number of cases linked to people who traveled from Wuhan have been confirmed in more than 10 countries, including Thailand, France, Japan and the United States, no deaths have been reported elsewhere
.
    Li is the most senior leader to visit Wuhan since the outbreak began.    Clad in a blue protective suit and mask, he inspected efforts to contain the epidemic and spoke to patients and medical staff, the government said.
    Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, is in virtual lockdown and severe limits on movement are in place in several other Chinese cities.    Much of Hubei province, home to nearly 60 million people, is under some kind of travel restriction.
    The government is extending the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days to Feb. 2, in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.    The Lunar New Year is usually a time for travel by millions, but many have had to cancel plans.
INCUBATION
    Investors are worried about the impact on travel, tourism and broader economic activity.
    During the 2002-2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally, air passenger demand in Asia plunged 45%.    The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travelers now than it was then.
    The newly identified coronavirusvirus is believed to have originated late last year in a Wuhan market illegally selling wildlife.
    Much is not known about it, including how easily it spreads and just how dangerous it is.    It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
    National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said on Sunday the incubation period could range from one to 14 days, and the virus was infectious during incubation, unlike SARS.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated an incubation period of two to 10 days.    It is also not clear if an infected person can pass it on before they show symptoms.
    Wendy Barclay, a professor and virologist at Imperial College London, said many of the respiratory viruses that spread among humans do transmit even in the absence of symptoms, and it would not be surprising if the new coronavirus also did.
    “If this does prove to be the case then controlling the spread does become more of a challenge, and measures like airport screening are unlikely to stem the virus effectively,” she said.
‘OVERWHELMED’
    Australia confirmed its fifth case on Monday involving a woman on the last flight out of Wuhan to Sydney before China’s travel ban.
    Health Minister Greg Hunt told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) authorities aimed to get about 100 Australian children and young people out of Wuhan.    Countries including the United States are working to evacuate their citizens.
    One father of two, Nathan Wang, told the ABC his wife was stuck in Wuhan with the children.    “We absolutely want the children to come back, because hospitals in Wuhan are overwhelmed,” he said.
    Images on social media showed hospital corridors packed with people seeking treatment.
    Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health experts have questioned its effectiveness.
    Last week the WHO stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health experts question whether China can contain the epidemic.
    WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is due to travel to Beijing to meet officials and health experts.
    Some of China’s biggest companies have been affected, with hotpot restaurant chain Haidilao International Holding shutting branches nationwide from Sunday until Friday.
    Gaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd advised staff to work from home until Feb. 7, and e-commerce firm Alibaba removed vendors’ offers of overpriced face masks from its online Taobao marketplace as prices surged.
(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Wu Huizhong and Josh Horwitz; Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Lidia Kelly in Sydney, Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

1/27/2020 North Korea urges citizens to ‘break through barriers’ as nuclear standoff continues by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: North Korea test fires a new weapon, in this undated photo released on August 11, 2019
by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – While a North Korean deadline for the United States to soften its stand on denuclearization talks passed uneventfully over the New Year, state media and propaganda efforts have been focusing on the prospect of a long confrontation with the United States.
    Optimism that two years of contacts between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump would usher in a new age, and related hopes for economic improvement after decades of deprivation, appear to have faded.
    Instead, the government has been hard at work in recent weeks using state media, propaganda posters, and performances to warn the public of a bumpy road ahead under U.S. and international pressure.
    The propaganda effort has included calls for North Koreans to “break through barriers” and strengthen the country.
    The weekend’s Lunar New Year celebrations included a concert for Kim and other dignitaries with tributes to the country’s leaders for overcoming adversity.
    It is a familiar message for North Koreans, but one that now underscores that the leadership does not foresee a breakthrough in diplomacy any time soon.
    “The message will be that because of the U.S. hostile policy and sanctions, that things will be more difficult for the foreseeable future,” said Andray Abrahamian, a visiting scholar with George Mason University Korea.
    Behind the scenes, North Korean officials still say they are seeking badly needed sanctions relief, said one European scholar who regularly attends informal meetings with North Korean representatives.
    Publicly, North Korea has said it is no longer bound by commitments to halt nuclear and missile testing, blaming the United States for failing to meet the year-end deadline for it to show more flexibility in the nuclear talks and its “brutal and inhumane” sanctions.
    Since Kim came to power in 2011, many North Koreans have steadily seen living conditions improve compared with deprivation and even famines of the 1990s.
    In 2018, Kim doubled down by declaring the “completion” of the nuclear weapons program would allow the government to focus on economic development.
‘WORRYING TIME’
    But the failure to win sanctions relief is putting Kim in a sensitive spot.
    “In 2012, Kim promised that there would be no more belt tightening, so for him to call on the country to prepare for exactly that sends a very clear message,” Abrahamian said.
    “Most North Koreans have seen their economic prospects improve under Kim Jong Un so I’m sure this is a worrying time for them.”
    The propaganda push is designed to support a line Kim set out in a speech at the end of last year calling for North Koreans to brace for an “arduous and prolonged struggle” and to foster a self-reliant economy because of a delay in the anticipated lifting of sanctions, analysts said.
    Kim used that speech to acknowledge North Korea may need to “tighten our belts” for the time being.
    But state media and propaganda have not yet widely pushed that line widely, likely in part because of Kim’s past promises, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with NK News, a website that monitors North Korea.
    “It is a controversial term and North Korea will likely roll it out very subtly and carefully,” she said.
    The final months of 2019 saw senior officials warning the United States not to ignore its threat of a “new way” if it did not offer more concessions in talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.
    Beyond a warning from Kim that the world would soon see a “new strategic weapon,” however, the deadline passed uneventfully.
    Since then, the North’s state media has been ominously quiet on the issue of talks with the United States.
    “I have a feeling they’re biding their time to roll out some changes to their foreign policy, including US policy, and North Korea may make its intentions clearer as it gets closer to the showcasing of its ‘new strategic weapon’,” Lee said.
(The story refiles to correct the spelling of denuclearization in first paragraph)
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/27/2020 Iran’s Rouhani calls for unity, accuses Trump of exploiting rift by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the family of the Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force,
who was killed by an air strike in Baghdad, at his home in Tehran, Iran January 4, 2020. Official President Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians should not allow U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach to harm national unity ahead of parliamentary elections, President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech, lashing out at hardliners over mass disqualification of candidates.
    Iran’s clerical rulers face challenges in keeping the economy afloat under increasingly tough U.S. sanctions imposed by Washington after it withdrew in 2018 from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Vital oil exports have been slashed.
    “We should not let Trump succeed in creating gaps between the establishment and people … We should remain united … Don’t turn your back on (Feb. 21) elections.    Let’s have a high turn out,” said Rouhani in a speech broadcast live on his official website.
    “We should not let Trump and those terrorists in the White House isolate Iran.”
    Iran’s hardline Guardians Council, which vets all election candidates, has disqualified about 9,000 of the 14,000 who registered to run in the elections.    Moderates say in most cities they have no candidates to enter the race.
    “This parliamentary election is a very important election … I have written letters to relevant authorities to resolve the issue of disqualifications,” said Rouhani.
    “You (hardliners) claim that you will win the election.    That is fine, but just let the election be a competitive one.”
    Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, its rulers have swept aside challenges to their grip on power.    But the gap between them and the people has widened since last year, when hundreds were killed in anti-government protests.    Iran has yet to announce the death toll and rejects figures published by human rights organizations.
    Tehran also risks a legitimacy crisis amid mounting public fury and international criticism over the belated admission of blame by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards for shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane by mistake.
    Angry Iranians took to streets to protest against the delayed admission by the Guards.
    The distrust between the rulers and the ruled, combined with economic hardship, bodes ill for the parliamentary vote in February, when Iran’s rulers typically seek a high turnout to show their legitimacy, even if the outcome will not change any major policy.
    “I am calling on our nation to vote,” Rouhani said.    “Even if you have criticism over issues and problems, please cast your vote.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

1/27/2020 China has world’s second-largest arms industry, think tank estimates
FILE PHOTO: A military vehicle carrying a WZ-8 supersonic reconnaissance drone travels past Tiananmen Square during military parade marking the 70th
founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Newly available data suggests that China is the world’s second-biggest arms producer, behind the United States and ahead of Russia, a leading conflict and armaments think-tank said on Monday.
    A lack of transparency means the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has excluded China from its annual global rankings of arms makers, but it said credible financial information had become available for four major companies.
    The data, covering the period from 2015 to 2017, allowed it to compile what it called the most comprehensive picture of Chinese companies’ weapons production to date.
    “With the increase of available data on these companies, it is now possible to develop reasonably reliable estimates of the scale of the Chinese arms industry,” the institute said.
    The four companies had combined estimated arms sales of $54.1 billion for 2017, it said, which would put them among the top 20 arms producers in the world.
    “Three of the companies would be ranked in the top 10.”
    Total U.S. arms sales in 2017 were $226.6 billion, and in Russia, $37.7 billion, according to the think tank’s Top 100 list for that year.
    Aircraft and avionics group Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) would rank as the sixth largest arms producer, with estimated 2017 sales of $20.1, while land systems-focused China North Industries Group Corporation (NORINCO) would place eighth with an estimated $17.2 billion in sales, the institute said.
    The other two companies it looked at, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) and China South Industries Group Corporation (CSGC), had estimated sales of $12.2 billion and $4.6 billion, respectively, a spokesperson for the institute said.
    China’s foreign and defense ministries did not respond to faxed requests for comment during a public holiday. Calls to AVIC, NORINCO and CSGC went unanswered and China Electronics Technology Group (CETC) declined to comment.
    The Sweden-based think tank has said global expenditure in 2018 hit $1.8 trillion, its highest level since the end of the Cold War, fuelled by increased spending in the United States and China.
    U.S. arms sales that year were $246 billion, Russia’s were $36.2 billion and the United Kingdom had $35.1 billion in sales, it said.
(Additional reporting by Roxanne Liu and Yilei Sun; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

1/27/2020 Trump offers China ‘any help’ as virus spreads, markets reel by Cheng Leng and Josh Horwitz
A medical official takes the body temperature of a man at the departure hall of the airport in Changsha, Hunan Province,
as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, China, January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump offered China whatever help it needed on Monday to control a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 81 people, stranded tens of millions during the biggest holiday of the year and rattled global markets.
    With provincial authorities taking increasing flak from the public over their initial response, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Wuhan city, epicentre of the outbreak, to encourage medical workers and promise reinforcements.
    Global stocks fell, oil prices hit three-month lows, and China’s yuan dipped to its weakest in 2020 as investors fretted about damage to the world’s second-biggest economy from travel bans and an extended Lunar New Year holiday.
    “We are in very close communication with China concerning the virus,” tweeted Trump, who waged a bruising 18-month trade war with Beijing until a recent truce.
    “We have offered China and President Xi (Jinping) any help that is necessary.    Our experts are extraordinary!
    Visiting Wuhan in blue protective suit and mask, Li praised medics, said 2,500 more workers would join them in the next two days, and visited the site of a new hospital to be built in days.
    The most senior leader to visit Wuhan since the outbreak, Li was shown on state TV leading medical workers in chants of “Wuhan jiayou!” – an exhortation to keep their strength up.
MOUNTING ANGER
    On China’s heavily censored social media, officials have faced mounting anger over the virus, which is thought to have come from a market where wildlife was sold illegally.
    Some criticised the governor of Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, after he corrected himself twice during a news conference over the number of face masks being produced.
    “If he can mess up the data multiple times, no wonder the disease has spread so severely,” said one user of the Weibo social media platform.
    In rare public self-criticism, Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang said the city’s management of the crisis was “not good enough” and indicated he was willing to resign.
    The central Chinese city of 11 million people is in virtual lockdown and much of Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, is under some kind of travel curb.
    Elsewhere in China, people from the region faced questioning about their movements.    “Hubei people are getting discriminated against,” a Wuhan resident complained on Weibo.
    A few cases linked to people who travelled from Wuhan have been confirmed in a dozen countries, from Japan to the United States, where authorities said they had 110 people under investigation in 26 states.
    Sri Lanka was the latest to confirm a case.
INVESTORS WORRIED
    Investors are worried about the impact on travel, tourism and broader economic activity.    The consensus is that in the short term, economic output will be hit as authorities limit travel and extend the week-long New Year holiday – when millions traditionally travel by rail, road and plane – by three days to limit the spread of the virus.
    Asian and European shares tumbled, with Japan’s Nikkei average sliding 2%, its biggest one-day fall in five months.    Demand spiked for safe-haven assets such as the Japanese yen and Treasury notes. European stocks fell more than 2%.
    “China is the biggest driver of global growth so this couldn’t have started in a worse place,” said Alec Young, FTSE Russell’s managing director of global markets research.
    During the 2002-2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally, air passenger demand in Asia plunged 45%.    The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travellers now.
    Latest official figures put the total number of confirmed cases in China at 2,835, about half in Hubei.
    Some experts suspect a much higher number.
    The number of deaths in Hubei climbed to 76 from 56, officials said, with five fatalities elsewhere in China including the first in Beijing.
    Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which has had eight cases, banned entry to people who had visited Hubei recently.
    Some European tour operators cancelled trips to China, while governments round the world worked on repatriating nationals.
    Officially known as 2019-nCoV, the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia, but it is still too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.
    “What we know about this virus it that transmission occurs through human contact but we are speaking of close contact, i.e. less than a meter,” said Jerome Salomon, a senior official with France’s health ministry.
    “Crossing someone (infected) in the street poses no threat.    The risk is low when you spend a little time near that person and becomes higher when you spend a lot of time near that person.”
(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Sun Yilei, Cheng Leng and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Cate Cadell, Gabriel Crossley and Yawen Chen in Beijing; Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Lidia Kelly in Sydney, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London, Ben Blanchard in Tapei, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Matthias Blamont in Paris; Writing by Tony Munroe, Nick Macfie and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alison Williams, Lisa Shumaker and Giles Elgood)

1/27/2020 U.S. military plane crashes in Afghanistan, Taliban claims responsibility by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Idrees Ali
Afghan National Army forces go towards the site of an airplane crash in Deh Yak
district of Ghazni province, Afghanistan January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Mustafa Andaleb
    KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A plane which U.S. officials described as a small U.S. military aircraft crashed in a Taliban-controlled area of central Afghanistan on Monday, and the insurgent group claimed to have brought it down.
    The U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there were no indications so far that the plane had been brought down by enemy activity.    One of the officials said there were believed to be fewer than 10 people on board.    Pictures and a video on social media purportedly from the crash site showed what could be the remains of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft.
    Senior Afghan officials told Reuters the authorities had rushed local personnel to locate and identify the wreckage, in a mountainous area partly controlled by the Taliban.    Reuters journalists filmed Afghan soldiers heading toward the snow-covered mountains where the plane crashed in Ghazni province.
    “The plane which was on an intelligence mission, was brought down in Sado Khel area of Deh Yak district of Ghazni province,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban in a statement.
    Mujahid did not say how fighters had brought the plane down.    He said the crew on board included high ranking U.S. officers.    A senior defense official denied that senior American officers were involved.
    The Taliban control large parts of Ghazni province.    The militant group, which has been waging a war against U.S.- led forces since 2001, often exaggerates enemy casualty figures.
    Civilian airline Ariana Afghan Airlines denied initial reports that it was the owner of the plane.
    “It does not belong to Ariana because the two flights managed by Ariana today, from Herat to Kabul and Herat to Delhi, are safe,” its acting CEO, Mirwais Mirzakwal, told Reuters.
    Two officials from Ghazni province said the crashed aircraft appeared to belong to a foreign company.
    “There is no exact information on casualties and the name of the airline,” Ghazni provincial governor Wahidullah Kaleemzai told private broadcaster Tolo News earlier on Monday.
    Dozens of private entities operate planes and helicopters across Afghanistan to move military contractors and aid.
(Additional reporting by Rupam Jain, Hamid Shalizi, Phil Stewart; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/28/2020 China says WHO chief against virus-related evacuations, as countries plan pull-outs by Tony Munroe and Gabriel D. Crossley
People wear masks as they wait for their train at a subway station in Shanghai, China January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday he was confident in China’s ability to contain a new coronavirus that has killed 106 people and that he did not think foreigners should be evacuated, China’s foreign ministry said.
    A growing number of countries have said they will evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, a central city of 11 million people and the epicenter of the outbreak.    A chartered plane taking out U.S. consulate staff was set to leave Wuhan on Wednesday, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Beijing said.    Some space was being offered to other U.S. citizens.
    India said it was preparing to evacuate its citizens from Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.
    Concern is mounting about the impact of the coronavirus may have on the world’s second-biggest economy amid travel bans and an extended Lunar New Year holiday.    Global stocks fell again, oil prices hit three-month lows and China’s yuan currency dipped to its weakest in 2020.
    The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a meeting with State Councillor Wang Yi in Beijing, said he approved of the government’s measures to curb the outbreak, the foreign ministry said.
    “Tedros said the WHO does not advocate for countries to evacuate their citizens from China, adding there was no need to overreact,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.    “He said the WHO is confident in China’s ability to prevent and control the epidemic.”
    The WHO chief was not available for comment.    A WHO panel of 16 independent experts twice last week declined to declare an international emergency over the outbreak.
    The flu-like virus has spread overseas, with Sri Lanka and Germany the latest countries to be hit, but none of the 106 deaths has been outside China and all but six have been in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month.
    Thailand confirmed six more infections among visitors from China, taking its tally to 14, the highest outside China.    Far eastern Russian regions would close their borders with China until Feb. 7, Tass news agency said, citing the regional government.
    The WHO said only one of the overseas cases involved human-to-human transmission.
    “That’s still one case too many.    But we’re encouraged that so far we have not seen more human-to-human transmission outside China,” the WHO said on Twitter.
    “We’re monitoring the outbreak constantly.”
    Wuhan, where the virus apparently jumped to a human in an illegal wildlife market, has been all but put under quarantine, with a lockdown on transport and bans on gatherings.
    Tens of millions of others in Hubei live under some form of travel curbs set up to try to stifle the virus.
    Tuesday’s toll of 106 dead was up from 81 the day before.    The number of total confirmed cases in China surged to 4,515 as of Monday from 2,835 the previous day, the National Health Commission said.
INCUBATION ESTIMATES
    Analysts said China’s travel and tourism would be the hardest-hit sectors, together with retail and liquor sales, though healthcare and online shopping were seen as likely outperformers.
    Officially known as “2019-nCoV,” the coronavirus can cause pneumonia, but it is too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.
    Some health experts question whether China can contain it.
    Chinese health officials say the incubation period could range from one to 14 days, and the virus is infectious during that time.    The WHO estimated an incubation period of two to 10 days.
    U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday offered China whatever help it needed, while the State Department said Americans should reconsider visiting China.
    Canada, which has two infections and 19 potential cases, warned its citizens to avoid travel to Hubei.
    Authorities in Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, have been the focus of public outrage on China’s heavily censored social media over what many see as a bungled initial response to the virus.
    In rare public self-criticism, Mayor Zhou Xianwang said Wuhan’s management of the crisis was “not good enough” and indicated he was willing to resign.
    China’s ambassador to the United Nations, following a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said his government put “paramount importance” on the epidemic and was working with the international community in a spirit of “openness, transparency and scientific coordination.”
    Communist Party-ruled China has been eager to seem open in its handling of the epidemic, after it was heavily criticized for efforts to cover up an epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed about 800 people globally in 2002-2003.
    SARS, which was also believed to have originated in a wildlife market, led to a 45% plunge in air passenger demand in Asia.    The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travelers now, and China’s share of the global economy has quadrupled.
    With Chinese markets shut for the holiday, investors were selling the offshore yuan and the Australian dollar as a proxy for risk.    Oil was also under pressure as fears about the wider fallout grew.
    The U.S. S&P 500 closed down nearly 1.6%.
(GRAPHIC: Number of confirmed cases rockets – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B56G2WC/coronavirus.jpg)
(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Sun Yilei, Cheng Leng, David Stanway and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Cate Cadell, Gabriel Crossley, Tony Munroe and Yawen Chen in Beijing; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Matthias Blamont in Paris; Writing by Stephen Coates and Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

1/28/2020 Taliban repel Afghan forces’ bid to reach U.S. plane crash site by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
The wreckage of an airplane is seen after a crash in Deh Yak district of Ghazni province, Afghanistan January 27, 2020.
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan forces and Taliban fighters clashed in a central region where a U.S. military aircraft crashed, officials said on Tuesday, as the government tried to reach the wreckage site in a Taliban stronghold.
    On Monday, the U.S. military said an E-11A aircraft crashed in the province of Ghazni, but disputed Taliban claims to have brought it down, without saying how many were aboard or if any had been killed.
    Security forces were sent to the site immediately after receiving a report of the crash in the Deh Yak district, but were ambushed by Taliban fighters, Ghazni provincial police chief Khalid Wardak told Reuters.
    “As per our information, there are four bodies and two onboard were alive and they are missing,” Wardak said, adding that the forces subsequently received an order to retreat and airborne action is to be taken instead.
    Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Afghan forces backed by U.S. military support had tried to capture the area around the crashed aircraft and clashed with fighters of the Islamist militant group.
    The attempt was repelled, however, he told Reuters, but added that the Taliban would allow a rescue team access to recover bodies from the crash site.
    “Taliban fighters on the ground counted six bodies at the site of the U.S. airplane crash,” he said, adding that while there could have been more, the militant group could not be certain, as fire had reduced everything to ashes.
    Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said the plane was carrying fewer than five when it crashed, with one official saying initial information showed there were at least two.
    The site has not been visited by U.S. officials or any other members of the international force in Afghanistan, but the Taliban claim to have brought down the plane is misleading, a U.S. defense official told Reuters on Tuesday, adding that a preliminary probe showed there was a mechanical error.
    The crashed aircraft, built by Bombardier Inc, is used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.
(Additional reporting by Rumpam Jain; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/28/2020 Current U.S. government is the worst in America’s history: Iran president
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the
United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The current U.S. government is the worst in the history of America, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state TV on Tuesday.
    Rouhani also said Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections in February will have an effect on regional and international politics.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh)
[BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY ROUHANI THE DEMOCRATS ARE DESPERATE AND MAY ASK YOU TO COME AND BE A WITNESS AT THE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL.].

1/28/2020 Thailand coronavirus cases rise to 14, all passengers from China to be screened by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng
Members of the Thai Airways crew disinfect the cabin of an aircraft of the national carrier during a procedure to prevent the spread
of the coronavirus at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand announced plans on Tuesday to screen all arrivals from China for symptoms of the coronavirus and confirmed six more infections among such visitors, taking its tally to 14, health officials said.
    Thai tourist authorities meanwhile said the number of Chinese tourists to Thailand was expected to fall by 2 million to 9 million this year due to the coronavirus outbreak in China.
    Thais were also advised to avoid non-essential travel to China, Sukhum Kanchanapimai, the health ministry’s permanent secretary, told a news conference.
    The death toll from the outbreak now stands at 106, although there have been no fatalities outside China.
    Thailand has the second-largest number of cases outside China, though it is far lower than the 4,515 infections in China.
    Five of the patients among Thailand’s new cases, aged between 6 and 70, came from China’s Hubei province, and belonged to the same family, health official Tanarak Plipat told reporters.    The sixth was from Chongqing city in southwestern China.
    One passenger from among the family of seven traveling together was taken to hospital after showing symptoms on arrival, added Tanarak, the deputy director-general of the department of disease control.
    The other four family members were quarantined after showing symptoms following monitoring, he added.
    “Now we will expand screening to all Chinese from China and prepare equipment to screen 100%,” Sukhum said.
    Thailand had earlier screened passengers only from China’s central city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, its southern city of Guangzhou and northeastern Changchun across five airports, from Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok to those at Chiang Mai, Don Mueng, Phuket and Krabi.
    The Tourism Authority of Thailand said it expected the number of Chinese tourists to fall by 2 million to 9 million this year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
    Tourism has been hit hard by China’s ban on all group tours as China is Thailand’s biggest source of visitors.
    Reduced travel from China could result in 50 billion baht ($1.52 billion) of lost tourism revenue, the tourism ministry estimates.
    TAT will propose to the government measures to help the industry, TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told a news conference.
(This story corrects to say Chongqing is a city, not a province, in China)
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/28/2020 South Koreans call in petition for Chinese to be barred over virus by Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: Employees from a disinfection service company sanitize the floor of Incheon
International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, January 24, 2020. Yonhap via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – More than half a million South Koreans have signed a petition calling for a ban on visitors from China as Seoul announced on Tuesday it would evacuate citizens from the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak.
    A petition filed with the presidential Blue House last week had gathered more than 540,000 signatures by Tuesday, highlighting a growing fear in South Korea that the coronavirus could spread.
    South Korea has found four cases of the virus.
    The first was a Chinese national but the other three are South Koreans who traveled from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak started.
    That has not stopped the calls for Chinese visitors to be banned.
    “Coronavirus is spreading from China. Even North Korea is banning Chinese people from entering,” wrote the anonymous author of the petition, adding that even a temporary ban would help stop the virus from spreading too widely.
    The Blue House has not directly responded to the petition.    When asked about other countries’ bans on Chinese entries, its spokesman said only that the issue should be handled in close consultation with the World Health Organization.
    The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because many of its details are still unknown.    It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.    It is still too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.
    “The government must respond to the petition and come up with strong measures such as barring Chinese tourists,” said a passerby in Seoul, a man in his 50s who only gave his surname Chae. He was wearing a surgical mask.
    Kim Eun-kyung, 40, a social worker with two children, said she was also concerned about the outbreak but she also worried that a ban on visitors could upset China and bring “political, economic risks
EVACUATION PLANS
    The South Korean government says it is making “all-out efforts” to head off an outbreak and announced it would send at least four flights to Wuhan this week to evacuate nearly 700 South Korean citizens.
    “We’ve come to this decision because our citizens there can’t return on their own due to the lockdown in the region, and they were unable to get proper medical treatment as local clinics are at full capacity,” vice foreign minister Lee Tae-ho told a briefing.
    People hoping to leave would be screened before they boarded the flights, he said.
    The evacuated citizens are expected to be quarantined for about two weeks at two government facilities south of Seoul.
    On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in visited a hospital that had been treating one of the four patients, and sent a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping promising to help contain the spread of the virus.
(The story refiles to correct headline to ‘S.Koreans’)
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha; Additional reporting by Chaeyoun Won; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel)

1/28/2020 China virus death toll passes 100 as U.S., Canada issue travel warning by Cheng Leng and Josh HORWITZ
Flight crew members wear masks at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The United States warned against travel to China on Monday and Canada issued a more narrow travel warning as the death toll from the spreading coronavirus passed 100, with tens of millions stranded during the biggest holiday of the year and global markets rattled.
    Global stocks fell, oil prices hit three-month lows, and China’s yuan dipped to its weakest level in 2020 as investors fretted about damage to the world’s second-biggest economy from travel bans and the Lunar New Year holiday, which China extended in a bid to keep people at home.
    The health commission of China’s Hubei province said on Tuesday that 100 people had died from the virus as of Jan. 27, according to an online statement, up from the previous toll of 76, with the number of confirmed cases in the province rose to 2,714.
    Other fatalities have been reported elsewhere in China, including the first in Beijing, bringing the deal toll to 106 so far, according to the People’s Daily.    The state newspaper put the total number of confirmed cases in China at 4,193, though some experts suspect a much higher number.
    On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump offered China whatever help it needed, while the State Department said Americans should “reconsider” visiting all of China due to the virus.
    Canada, which has two confirmed cases of the virus and is investigating 19 more potential cases, warned its citizens to avoid travel to China’s Hubei province, at the heart of the outbreak.
    Authorities in Hubei province are taking increasing flak from the public over their initial response to the virus.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited the city of Wuhan, epicenter of the outbreak, to encourage medical workers and promise reinforcements.
    Visiting Wuhan in blue protective suit and mask, Li praised medics, said 2,500 more workers would join them in the next two days, and visited the site of a new hospital to be built in days.
    The most senior leader to visit Wuhan since the outbreak, Li was shown on state TV leading medical workers in chants of “Wuhan jiayou!” – an exhortation to keep their strength up.
    China’s ambassador to the United Nations, following a meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday, said “the Chinese government attaches paramount importance to prevention and control of the epidemic, and President Xi Jinping has given important instructions. …"
    “China has been working with the international community in the spirit of openness, transparency and scientific coordination,” he said.
    Guterres said in a statement, “The UN appreciates China’s effort, has full confidence in China’s ability of controlling the outbreak, and stands ready to provide any support and assistance.”
MOUNTING ANGER
    On China’s heavily censored social media, officials have faced mounting anger over the virus, which is thought to have originated from a market where wildlife was sold illegally.
    Some criticized the governor of Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, after he corrected himself twice during a news conference over the number of face masks being produced.
    “If he can mess up the data multiple times, no wonder the disease has spread so severely,” said one user of the Weibo social media platform.
    In rare public self-criticism, Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang said the city’s management of the crisis was “not good enough” and indicated he was willing to resign.
    The central Chinese city of 11 million people is in virtual lockdown and much of Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, is under travel curbs.
    Elsewhere in China, people from the region faced questioning about their movements.    “Hubei people are getting discriminated against,” a Wuhan resident complained on Weibo.
    Cases linked to people who traveled from Wuhan have been confirmed in a dozen countries, from Japan to the United States, where authorities said they had 110 people under investigation in 26 states.    Sri Lanka was the latest to confirm a case.
INVESTORS WORRIED
    Investors are worried about the impact.    The consensus is that in the short term, economic output will be hit as authorities limit travel and extend the week-long New Year holiday – when millions traditionally travel by rail, road and plane – by three days to limit spread of the virus.
    Asian and European shares tumbled, with Japan’s Nikkei average sliding 2%, its biggest one-day fall in five months.    Demand spiked for safe-haven assets such as the Japanese yen and Treasury notes.    European stocks fell more than 2%.
    The U.S. S&P 500 closed down nearly 1.6%.
    “China is the biggest driver of global growth so this couldn’t have started in a worse place,” said Alec Young, FTSE Russell’s managing director of global markets research.
    During the 2002-2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally, air passenger demand in Asia plunged 45%.    The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travelers now.
    Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which has had eight cases, banned entry to people who had visited Hubei recently.
    Some European tour operators canceled trips to China, while governments around the world worked on repatriating nationals.
    Officially known as 2019-nCoV, the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia, but it is still too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.
    “What we know about this virus it that transmission occurs through human contact but we are speaking of close contact, i.e. less than a meter,” said Jerome Salomon, a senior official with France’s health ministry.
    “Crossing someone (infected) in the street poses no threat,” he said.    “The risk is low when you spend a little time near that person and becomes higher when you spend a lot of time near that person.”
(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Sun Yilei, Cheng Leng and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Cate Cadell, Gabriel Crossley and Yawen Chen in Beijing; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Lidia Kelly in Sydney, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London, Ben Blanchard in Tapei, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Matthias Blamont in Paris; Writing by Tony Munroe, Nick Macfie, Andrew Cawthorne, Lisa Shumaker and Leslie)
Adler; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Stephen Coates)

1/28/2020 China’s Hubei province says 100 dead, 2,714 total cases in virus outbreak
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang wearing a mask and protective suit speaks to medical workers as he visits the Jinyintan hospital where the patients
of the new coronavirus are being treated following the outbreak, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 27, 2020. cnsphoto via REUTERS.
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The health commission of China’s Hubei province said on Tuesday that 100 people had died from a coronavirus outbreak as of Jan. 27, according to an online statement.
    The number of confirmed cases in the province rose to 2,714.
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz and Winni Zhou; Editing by Kim Coghill)

1/28/2020 China says death toll from coronavirus rises to 106, confirmed cases hits 4,515
A doctor looks to a monitor showing thermal scanners that detect temperatures of passengers at the
security check inside the airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China said on Tuesday that 106 people had died from a new coronavirus that is spreading across the country, up from the previous toll of 81.
    The number of total confirmed cases in China rose to 4,515 as of Jan. 27, the National Health Commission said in a statement, up from 2,835 reported a day earlier.
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Kim Coghill)

1/28/2020 China encourages people to reconsider timing of overseas travel to curb virus spread
FILE PHOTO: Passengers arrive at LAX from Shanghai, China, after a positive case of the coronavirus was announced
in the Orange County suburb of Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Ringo Chiu

1/28/2020 China’s Beijing suspends most bus services to Hebei to curb virus spread
People wearing face masks walk at the Tiananmen Gate, as the country is hit by an outbreak
of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

1/28/2020 Four months after ‘Howdy, Modi!’, some Indians abroad protest over citizenship law by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Alexandra Ulmer
Protesters rally against India's new citizenship law during a demonstration in Houston, Texas, U.S. January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Go Nakamura
    BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi got a thunderous reception when he addressed a crowd of more than 50,000 Indian-Americans in a stadium in the U.S. city of Houston last September.
    But four months after the event dubbed “Howdy Modi!,” intended to deepen relations with the wealthy Indian-American minority which has influence in India, some members of the diaspora have been protesting against a new citizenship law.
    In the past month, small demonstrations from Harvard to San Francisco have underlined criticism of what detractors say are Modi’s divisive identity politics.
    The law, which was promised by Modi before he was re-elected and was approved in December, in effect granted Indian citizenship to non-Muslim religious groups fleeing persecution from three neighboring Muslim-majority countries.
    Critics say it is a prelude for the marginalization of Muslims and an affront to India’s secular constitution.
    “It is still only a minority, but the disenchantment (in the diaspora) is real and deep,” said a 50-year-old sociologist who gave her name only as Nidhi to avoid straining relations with older relatives who attended Modi’s rally in Houston.
    Nidhi emigrated to the United States when she was five and has taken part in demonstrations against the citizenship law in the U.S. state of Texas.
    “If we as Indo-Americans don’t raise our voice, we are complicit,” she said.
    The latest protests were outside Indian diplomatic missions on Sunday, India’s Republic Day.    A large proportion of the rallies attract student, academics and religious minorities — groups that have long been worried by Modi’s rise.
    Many in the diaspora cheered Hindu nationalist Modi to an election victory in 2014, convinced he would transform India into an economic powerhouse.
    But India’s economy has been sputtering because of an ailing banking sector and tepid rural demand, while protests in India, in which at least 25 people have been killed, have revived the specter of social unrest after years of stability under Modi.
    Microsoft Corp’s India-born CEO, Satya Nadella, told Buzzfeed News this month the citizenship law was “bad.”
    Even so, a significant chunk of Indians abroad remain die-hard Modi supporters who have staged their own rallies in favor of the law.
SOCIAL MEDIA PUSH
    Vijay Chauthaiwale, chief of the foreign affairs department of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said overall diaspora support was intact.
    “People believe in the conviction of Mr. Modi.    Some transient issue will not affect his popularity,” Chauthaiwale said.
    The BJP has launched a social media push with the diaspora, circulating testimonies from “persecuted minorities in Pakistan” who could benefit from the citizenship law.     “Those who are educated are saying, ‘Hey, this is not what we were expecting,'” said Sam Pitroda, the opposition Congress party’s head of overseas affairs.
    Chicago-based Pitroda was unable to provide data, but said he was getting many calls from worried Indians abroad.
    Retired engineer Krishna Vavilala, 82, was excited by Modi’s rise and recounted being photographed at “Howdy, Modi!” – which took its name from what is a popular greeting in Texas – because his beard made him look like the Indian leader.
    But recent developments have given him pause.
    He suggested that Modi, who has not answered questions at a press conference in India since coming to power six years ago, speak to more reporters.    Vavilala also urged Modi to clarify “perceptions” that he wants to sideline minorities.
    “His heart is in the right place,” said Vavilala.    “But the euphoria of “Howdy, Modi!” has lost its shine.”
(Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Timothy Heritage)

1/28/2020 China vows to slay ‘devil’ virus, as countries scramble to evacuate citizens by Tony Munroe and Muyu Xu
People wear masks as they wait for their train at a subway station in Shanghai, China January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday that China was sure of defeating a “devil” coronavirus that has killed 106 people, but international alarm was rising as the outbreak spread across the world.
    From France to Japan, governments were organising evacuations, while Hong Kong – scene of anti-China unrest for months – planned to suspend rail and ferry links with the mainland.
    The United States said it was expanding screening of arrivals from China from five to 20 airports and Health Secretary Alex Azar said nothing was “off the table” in terms of imposing further travel restrictions.
    Among countries pulling nationals out of Wuhan, the central Chinese city of 11 million people where the outbreak started, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said a chartered plane would pick up its consular staff on Wednesday.    The European Commission said it would help fund two aircraft to fly EU citizens home, with 250 French nationals leaving on the first flight.
    World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Xi met in Beijing to discuss how to protect Chinese and foreigners in areas affected by the virus and possible evacuation alternatives, a WHO spokesman said.
    “The virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide,” state television quoted Xi as saying.
    “China will strengthen international cooperation and welcomes the WHO participation in virus prevention … China is confident of winning the battle against the virus.”
    The UN agency said later that China had agreed the WHO can send a team of international experts “as soon as possible” to increase understanding of the virus and guide the global response.
    Investors are fretting about the impact of the crisis on the world’s second-biggest economy, though stock markets rebounded on Tuesday following a sharp sell-off the previous day.
    An outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002-03 led to a 45% plunge in air passenger demand in Asia.    The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travellers now, and China’s share of the global economy has quadrupled.
GRAPHIC: Number of confirmed cases rockets https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B56G2WC/coronavirus.jpg
CONTAGION
    The flu-like virus has spread overseas, but none of the 106 deaths has been outside China and all but six were in Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month, probably from illegally traded wildlife.
    However, cases in Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan where the virus has spread person-to-person – as opposed to a visitor from China arriving – have heightened concern.
    “The reported human-to-human transmission in Germany and Japan is unsurprising to see,” said Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Britain’s University of Southampton.
    “We will continue to see further similar cases outside of China, but the indications are at this stage that onwards transmission will be limited, so there will likely not be too many cases for example across Europe, and on a much lesser scale than we are seeing in China.”
    Chinese-ruled Hong Kong said high-speed rail services to the mainland would be suspended from midnight on Thursday, while the number of flights would be halved.    Chinese authorities later said they would stop issuing travel permits for mainland tourists to visit Hong Kong and neighbouring Macau.
    Thailand confirmed six more infections among visitors from China, taking its tally to 14, the highest outside China.    France had a fourth confirmed case, a Chinese tourist.
    Far eastern Russian regions would close their borders with China until Feb. 7, Tass news agency said.
    Wuhan is under virtual quarantine, with a lockdown on transport and bans on gatherings.    Tens of millions in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, live under some form of travel curb.
MAP: Confirmed cases around the world https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B589312/coronavirus-map.jpg
NO ‘INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCY’, YET
    The number of confirmed cases in China surged to 4,515 as of Monday from 2,835 the previous day, the government said.
    Communist Party-ruled China has been eager to show it is transparent over this outbreak, after initially covering up the extent of the SARS epidemic that killed about 800 people globally.
    Known as “2019-nCoV,” the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia and, like other respiratory infections, it spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes.    It is too early to know what its death rate will be, since there are likely to be many cases of milder disease going undetected.
    It has an incubation of between one and 14 days.
    A WHO panel of 16 independent experts twice last week declined to declare an international emergency.    Traditionally, the WHO is reluctant to antagonize or ostracize countries dealing with epidemics for fear of undermining future willingness to report cases of infectious disease outbreaks.
    Confirmation of any sustained human-to-human spread of the virus outside of China, as well as any documented deaths, would bolster the case for reconsidering.
    Tedros can reconvene the panel on very short notice as needed, the WHO statement said.
GRAPHIC: Tracking the outbreak https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html
(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Sun Yilei, Cheng Leng, David Stanway and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Cate Cadell, Gabriel Crossley, Tony Munroe, Muyu Xu and Yawen Chen in Beijing; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Matthias Blamont in Paris; Writing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie, Andrew Cawthorne and Alex Richardson; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Giles; Elgood)

1/28/2020 U.S. recovers remains from Afghanistan plane crash, verifying identities: officials by Idrees Ali and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
The wreckage of an airplane is seen after a crash in Deh Yak district of Ghazni province, Afghanistan January 27, 2020.
    WASHINGTON/KABUL (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday recovered the remains of individuals from a U.S. military aircraft that crashed in Afghanistan and was in the process of confirming their identities, U.S. and Afghan officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
    On Monday, the U.S. military said an E-11A aircraft had crashed in the province of Ghazni, but disputed claims by the Taliban militant group that they brought it down.
    Earlier on Tuesday, Afghan forces and Taliban fighters clashed in a central region where the U.S. military plane crashed as the government tried to reach the wreckage site in a Taliban stronghold.
    The U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said multiple attempts had been made to recover the remains but they had been hampered by the terrain and weather.
    The official said the remains were believed to be of two service members who were on the plane.    A second U.S. defense official said the aircraft had been carrying no other individuals apart from the two service members.
    The Pentagon declined to comment.
    Ghazni provincial police chief, Khalid Wardak, told Reuters that two bodies were airlifted by U.S. forces from the crash site on Tuesday.
    Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Afghan forces backed by U.S. military support had tried to capture the area around the crashed aircraft and clashed with fighters of the Islamist militant group.
    The attempt was repelled, he told Reuters, but the Taliban would allow a rescue team access to recover bodies from the crash site.
    “Taliban fighters on the ground counted six bodies at the site of the U.S. airplane crash,” he said, adding that while there could have been more, the militant group could not be certain, as fire had reduced everything to ashes.
    Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said the plane was carrying fewer than five people when it crashed, with one official saying initial information showed there were at least two.
    The crashed jet, built by Bombardier Inc, is used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.
    The incident came as the Taliban and the United States have been in talks to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
    Trump has long called for an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which began with an American invasion triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that al Qaeda launched from then-Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
(Additional reporting by Rumpam Jain and Phil Stewart; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Jonathan Oatis and Bernadette Baum)

1/28/2020 Iran lawmakers call for debate on quitting nuclear arms treaty
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A group of Iranian lawmakers on Tuesday asked parliament to debate a motion for Iran to quit a treaty governing global nuclear arms control, a move apparently aimed at pressuring European powers to salvage Tehran’s own 2015 nuclear deal.
    A report on the assembly’s news site ICANA said a minimum number of MPs had signed a request to parliament’s managers to arrange a debate on the motion for Iran to take the far-reaching step of leaving the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last week that Iran could withdraw from the NPT if European countries refer the country to the U.N. Security Council over the 2015 deal, a move that would overturn diplomacy in Tehran’s turbulent relations with Western powers.
    Lawmakers in the past have sometimes withdrawn their signatures seeking debates on motions about nuclear and other issues.
    To become a law, the proposal would have to be passed by lawmakers in two readings and then ratified by the Guardian Council, a body that is in charge of ensuring bills do not contradict religious laws or Iran’s constitution.
    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest authority in the Islamic Republic, has the final say on all state matters like Tehran’s nuclear policy.
    The 1968 NPT has been the foundation of global nuclear arms control since the Cold War, including the 2015 deal Iran signed with world powers that offered it access to global trade in return for accepting curbs to its atomic program.
    The fate of the 2015 pact has been in doubt since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
    Iran has responded by gradually scaling back its commitments, although it says these steps are reversible if the European powers can salvage the deal by shielding Iran’s economy from U.S. penalties.
    Britain, France and Germany formally accused Iran on Jan. 14 of violating the terms of the agreement to curb its nuclear program, which eventually could lead to the reimposing of U.N. sanctions lifted under the pact.
    However, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell on Friday extended the time available to discuss ways to save the nuclear deal with Iran under the dispute mechanism.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean)

1/29/2020 China virus toll crosses 130; Japan, U.S. evacuate citizens by by Se Young Lee and Cheng Leng
FILE PHOTO: A general view inside a shopping mall in Wuhan, Hubei province, China
January 25, 2020 in this still image taken from video. Jovis and Marissa/via REUTERS
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The United States and Japan flew citizens out of the Chinese city at the epicenter of a new virus outbreak on Wednesday, as the death toll rose sharply to 132 and the first case appeared in the Middle East.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is confident in China’s ability to contain the coronavirus, but concern is mounting as health authorities reported the number of confirmed cases had jumped by 1,459 to 5,974.
    The number of deaths from the flu-like virus rose by 26 to 132, almost all in the province of Hubei, the capital of which is Wuhan, the city where the virus emerged last month in a wild animal market.    The central province of about 60 million people is under virtual lockdown.
    “I was extremely worried that I was stuck there while the situation was changing very rapidly,” said Takeo Aoyama, who arrived in Tokyo on a chartered plane carrying 206 Japanese nationals out of Wuhan, with more flights planned.
    “I feel really relieved,” Aoyama, an employee of Nippon Steel who was wearing a mask, told reporters at the airport in the Japanese capital.
    Concern is also growing over the impact of the virus on the world’s second-biggest economy, with airlines cutting flights to China – British Airways is the latest to announce a suspension – and global companies curbing employees’ travel there.
    Sectors from mining to luxury goods have been shaken by concerns about the possibility of a worst-case pandemic.
    Hong Kong stocks took a beating on the first day of trading after the Lunar New Year break.    Casino and financial stocks led the Hang Seng index 2.5% lower to a seven-month trough.
    Regional markets, however, arrested their slide, with stocks in Japan, Australia, Korea and India steady or firmer and currencies mostly stable.
    Chinese markets resume trade on Feb. 3.
    “In our view, the worst is yet to come,” Japanese securities firm Nomura said in a note, warning of a severe near-term blow to China’s economy.
    “We expect Beijing to introduce a raft of measures to provide liquidity and credit support,” it said.
ALL OPTIONS
    But in what could be a major step toward reining in the disease, scientists in Australia said they had developed a lab-grown version of the coronavirus, the first to be recreated outside China.
    As infections spread and the number of cases rises, numerous countries are scrambling to get citizens out of Wuhan while, at the same time, hoping to keep the virus at bay.
    A U.S. government official who declined to be identified told Reuters a U.S. charter plane had left Wuhan.    It had 220 people aboard, a U.S. diplomatic source added, with 50 diplomats and contractors among them.
    Australia said it would help some citizens leave and then quarantine them on Christmas Island, a remote speck in the Indian Ocean best known for housing asylum seekers.
    U.S. officials said the White House was weighing whether to suspend flights to China in what would be a drastic measure to control the spread of the disease.
    “All options for dealing with infectious disease spread have to be on the table, including travel restrictions,” said U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar.
    The White House is holding daily meetings on the outbreak and monitoring China-U.S. flights as a likely source of infections, sources briefed on the matter said, though it had decided against suspending air traffic for the time being.
TRANSMISSION
    The number of cases in China now exceeds its tally of 5,327 infected with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus that killed about 800 people around the world in 2002 and 2003.
    While some experts believe the new strain, known as “2019-nCoV,” is not as deadly as SARS, it has created alarm because it is spreading quickly and key features are still unknown, including its lethality.
    Like other respiratory infections, it is spread by droplets from coughs and sneezes, with an incubation time from one to 14 days. There are signs it may also be able to spread before symptoms show.
    Wuhan, with a population of 11 million, is racing to build two dedicated hospitals for victims, with the first 1,000-bed facility to be completed on Feb. 3.    The second will have its capacity expanded to 1,600 beds from 1,300, the official People’s Daily said.
    Nearly 60 cases have been reported in 15 other countries, including the United States, France and Singapore.    Airports around the world are screening passengers from China.
    The United Arab Emirates (UAE) diagnosed its first case in a family from Wuhan, state news agency WAM said, citing the UAE health ministry.    It was not immediately clear how many people were infected.
    In Germany, four people from the same company were infected in what is being seen as one of the first cases of person-to-person transmission outside China.
    The WHO has reported a suspected case of person-to-person transmission in Vietnam, and Japan has reported another.
    In a possible breakthrough, researchers in the Australian city of Melbourne said they had developed the coronavirus in a laboratory, from an infected patient, and would share the sample with the WHO and others.
    “Having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities,” said Julian Druce of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity.
(Reporting by Lusha Zhang, Gabriel Crossley, Tony Munroe, Huizhong Wu, Cheng Leng and Judy Hua in Beijing; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Matthias Blamont in Paris, Akira Tomoshige in Tokyo; Writing by Stephen Coates and Robert Birsel; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)

1/29/2020 China vows to beat ‘devil’ virus as countries rush to evacuate citizens by Tony Munroe and Muyu Xu
People wear masks as they wait for their train at a subway station in Shanghai, China January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday that China was sure of defeating a “devil” coronavirus that has killed 106 people, but international alarm was rising as the outbreak spread across the world.
    The United States said it was expanding screening of arrivals from China from five to 20 airports and would consider imposing further travel curbs.
    “All options for dealing with infectious disease spread have to be on the table, including travel restrictions,” said U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar.
    From France to Japan, governments were organising evacuations, while Hong Kong – scene of anti-China unrest for months – planned to suspend rail and ferry links with the mainland.
    Among countries pulling nationals out of Wuhan, the central Chinese city of 11 million where the outbreak started, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said a chartered plane would pick up its consular staff on Wednesday.    The European Commission said it would help fund two aircraft to fly EU citizens home, with 250 French nationals leaving on the first flight.
    World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Xi met in Beijing to discuss how to protect Chinese and foreigners in areas affected by the virus and possible evacuation alternatives, a WHO spokesman said.
    “The virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide,” state television quoted Xi as saying.
    “China will strengthen international cooperation and welcomes the WHO participation in virus prevention … China is confident of winning the battle against the virus.”
    The UN agency said later that China had agreed that the WHO can send a team of international experts “as soon as possible” to increase understanding of the virus and guide the global response.
GRAPHIC: Tracking the outbreak https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html
PERSON-TO-PERSON SPREAD
    Investors are fretting about the impact of the crisis on the world’s second-biggest economy, though stock markets rebounded on Tuesday following a sharp sell-off the previous day.
    United Airlines said it was suspending some flights between the United States and China for a week from Feb. 1 due to a “significant decline in demand,” while Facebook Inc and other global companies restricted employee travel to the country.
    The flu-like virus has spread overseas, but none of the 106 deaths has been outside China and all but six were in Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month, probably from illegally traded wildlife.
    However, cases in Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan where the virus has spread person-to-person – as opposed to a visitor from China arriving – have heightened concern.
    “The reported human-to-human transmission in Germany and Japan is unsurprising to see,” said Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Britain’s University of Southampton.
    “We will continue to see further similar cases outside of China, but the indications are at this stage that onwards transmission will be limited, so there will likely not be too many cases for example across Europe, and on a much lesser scale than we are seeing in China.”
    Chinese-ruled Hong Kong said high-speed rail services to the mainland would be suspended from midnight on Thursday, while the number of flights would be halved.    Chinese authorities later said they would stop issuing travel permits for mainland tourists to visit Hong Kong and neighbouring Macau.
    Britain advised against all but essential travel to mainland China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau.
    Thailand confirmed six more infections among visitors from China, taking its tally to 14, the highest outside China. France had a fourth confirmed case, an elderly Chinese tourist who was said to be in a serious condition.
    Wuhan is under virtual quarantine, with a lockdown on transport and bans on gatherings.    Tens of millions in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, live under some form of travel curb.
NO ‘INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCY’, YET
    The number of confirmed cases in China surged to 4,515 as of Monday from 2,835 the previous day, the government said.
    Communist Party-ruled China has been eager to show it is transparent over this outbreak, after initially covering up the extent of the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed about 800 people globally.
    Known as “2019-nCoV,” the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia and, like other respiratory infections, it spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes.    It is too early to know what its death rate will be, since there are likely to be many cases of milder disease going undetected.
    It has an incubation of between one and 14 days.
    A WHO panel of 16 independent experts twice last week declined to declare an international emergency.
    Confirmation of any sustained human-to-human spread of the virus outside of China, as well as any documented deaths, would bolster the case for reconsidering.
    Tedros can reconvene the panel on very short notice as needed, the WHO said.
(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Sun Yilei, Cheng Leng, David Stanway and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Cate Cadell, Gabriel Crossley, Tony Munroe, Muyu Xu and Yawen Chen in Beijing; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Matthias Blamont in Paris; Writing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie, Andrew Cawthorne and Alex Richardson; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Giles; Elgood)

1/29/2020 Poetry and rap highlight the rift over India’s citizenship law by Shilpa Jamkhandikar
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators march on a street during a protest against a new citizenship
law on the outskirts of Mumbai, India, January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – On a recent balmy evening at a Mumbai sports ground, writer Varun Grover, a pink flower tucked behind his ear, read his new poem to thousands of people protesting against a citizenship law.
    “Dictators will come and go. We will not show our papers,” Grover, who has written lyrics for several Bollywood musicals and was the writer of Netflix’s flagship Indian show “Sacred Games,” told the crowd.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new law grants citizenship to followers of non-Muslim religions fleeing persecution from India’s three Muslim-majority neighbors – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
    But critics say the law is Islamophobic and a threat to India’s secular constitution.    The government says the law seeks to help persecuted minorities and it accuses its opponents of misconstruing it.
    The nearly two months of protests, spearheaded by students, represent the most concerted challenge to Modi and his Hindu-nationalist government since he was first elected in 2014.
    The campaign has been championed by musicians and poets, both Hindu and Muslim, highlighting the stand much of India’s liberal intelligentsia and artistic community has taken against the government.     “In the short term, songs or poems bind the protesters and keep the camaraderie going,” Grover, 40, told Reuters.
    “In the long term, which I think is more important, it reminds those of us who are voicing our opposition why we aren’t like those who support this government.”
    Grover’s Hindi-language poem, “We Will Not Show our Papers,” which he first posted on social media on Dec. 21, has become a rallying cry for the demonstrators.
    It has been translated into several Indian languages, and is recited at rallies, and hashtagged on Twitter.
    Rap and folk musicians have also rallied to the anti-government cause.
    “There is a strong element of resistance to rap music – it was a symbol of protest against white supremacy, and it also feels relevant to the mostly student protesters,” said Shumais Nazar, a student at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia University, who has written rap songs for the campaign and performed them at rallies.
    Nazar was at the university last month when police stormed in, firing tear gas shells as scores of students took shelter inside, in a night of violence that shocked many and galvanized the protests.
    The police said they were going after “miscreants” who threw stones at them from the campus.
    Muslim artists have also been vocal, with writer Hussain Haidry’s poem “I am an Indian Muslim” resonating with Muslim demonstrators who have carried national flags and copies of the constitution, aiming to prevent Hindu nationalists from painting them as anti-India.
    “Do not look me from one perspective – I have a hundred faces … I am as Indian as I am Muslim,” Haidry said to cheers at the same Mumbai rally that Grover addressed.
(Editing by Alexandra Ulmer, Robert Birsel)

1/29/2020 Taliban kill at least 29 Afghan security personnel in renewed clashes
FILE PHOTO: Afghan National Army forces go towards the site of an airplane crash in Deh Yak
district of Ghazni province, Afghanistan January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Mustafa Andaleb/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – At least 29 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed in Taliban attacks that followed air and ground assaults by government forces on the Islamist group at the weekend.
    The surge in hostilities signals deadlock at stop-start peace talks involving U.S and Taliban negotiators in Doha.
    The Defense Ministry said on Sunday government forces had killed 51 Taliban fighters in the weekend assaults.
    But the Taliban hit back, carrying out attacks on security checkpoints in the northern province of Kunduz on Tuesday night in which a security official who declined to be identified said 15 members of the Afghan army were killed.
    The Taliban also attacked a police station on Monday night in Pul-e Khomri, capital of the neighboring Baghlan province, killing 14 policemen, said Safdar Muhseni, head of the provincial council.
    Taliban said it was responsible for both attacks.    The group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said 35 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed in the attack in Kunduz and 17 in Baghlan.
    Sources close to the talks in Doha said the Taliban had agreed internally to halt attacks against U.S. forces and “reduce” assaults against Afghan government interests, but clashes between the Taliban and Afghan forces have risen.     Afghan forces and the Taliban also clashed on Tuesday when security personnel tried to access the site of a crashed U.S. military plane in central Afghanistan.    U.S. forces were later able to access the site and recover the remains of two personnel and what is believed to be the flight data recorder.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul and Sardar Razmal in Kunduz; Writing by Gibran Peshimam, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

1/29/2020 China evacuations begin as WHO voices concern about virus spread by Se Young Lee, Cheng Leng and Stephanie Nebehay
An aircraft chartered by the U.S. State Department to evacuate government employees and other Americans from
the novel coronavirus threat in the Chinese city of Wuhan, is seen on the tarmac after arriving at a closed
terminal at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kerry Tasker
    BEIJING/GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States and Japan flew nationals out of China’s coronavirus epicentre on Wednesday, as the number of deaths leapt to 133 and the World Health Organization said there was “deeply concerning” evidence of person-to-person transmission in other countries.
    The WHO said its Emergency Committee would reconvene on Thursday to decide whether the spread of the new virus from China now constitutes a global emergency.
    “In the last few days the progress of the virus especially in some countries, especially human-to-human transmission, worries us,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva, naming Germany, Vietnam and Japan.
    Beijing’s plans to slay what its leader called the “devil” coronavirus may have won the trust of the WHO, but confirmation of another 1,459 cases – taking the total to 5,974 in China – only fuelled global public alarm.
    The death toll from the flu-like virus also rose by 27 to 133.
    Almost all have been in the central province of Hubei, the capital of which is Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month in a live wild animal market.grim and complex,” Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged.    U.S. President Donald Trump said he had spoken to Xi and his administration was working closely with China on containing the outbreak.
    Some major airlines suspended flights to China, and a senior economist predicted a major impact on growth.     The WHO’s panel of 16 independent experts twice last week declined to declare an international emergency, but will re-evaluate the situation on Thursday.
    “We are at an important juncture in this event.    We believe these chains of transmission can still be interrupted,” said Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.
    Ryan also praised China’s response, saying: “They are taking extraordinary measures in the face of what is an extraordinary challenge.”
STREETS DESERTED
    In many Chinese cities, streets were largely deserted. Tourist attractions were closed, while Starbucks coffee shops required people to have their temperatures taken and to wear masks.
    “It’s my first time here in Asia, I feel very unlucky,” said Brazilian tourist Amanda Lee, 23, cutting short a trip.    “I couldn’t even see the places I wanted, like the Great Wall.”
    There was relief, however, among evacuees from Hubei province, home to about 60 million people and under virtual lockdown.    “I was extremely worried that I was stuck there,” said Takeo Aoyama, who arrived in Tokyo on a chartered plane carrying 206 Japanese out of Wuhan.
    The United States flew about 210 citizens out of Wuhan, to be screened several times on arrival in California.    Britain said it would put 200 citizens on a charter plane on Thursday.
    The virus is weighing heavily on the world’s second-biggest economy, with companies cutting corporate travel to China and tourists cancelling trips. Various airlines are cutting flights, from British Airways and Lufthansa to Tanzania’s national carrier that postponed maiden flights.
    A government economist said the crisis could cut China’s first quarter growth by one point to 5% or lower as the crisis hits sectors from mining to luxury goods.
    Hong Kong stocks took a beating on the first day of trading after the Lunar New Year break.    Casino and financial stocks led the Hang Seng index 2.5% lower to a seven-month trough.
    “In our view, the worst is yet to come,” securities firm Nomura said, warning of a severe, near-term blow to China’s economy.
‘LESS DEADLY THAN SARS’
    But in a potentially major step towards finding a vaccine, scientists in Australia said they had developed a lab-grown version of the virus, the first recreated outside China.
    The researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity said they would share the sample, grown from an infected patient, with the WHO and global laboratories in the hope of hastening immunisation and detection.
    The number of cases of the new virus in China now exceeds the 5,327 that were infected with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which also originated in China and killed about 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.
    While some experts believe the new strain, known as “2019-nCoV,” is not as deadly as SARS, alarm has grown over its rapid spread and many unknown attributes.
    “There have been more cases in China, but so far with a lower death rate than the SARS outbreak,” said Michael Head, a health researcher at Britain’s University of Southampton.
    Like other respiratory infections, the new virus is spread by droplets from coughs and sneezes, with an incubation time between one and 14 days.
    About 60 cases, but no deaths, have been reported in 15 other countries.    In the first known cases in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates diagnosed four members of a Chinese family who arrived from Wuhan with the coronavirus.
(Reporting by Cheng Leng in Shanghai, Se Young Lee, Lusha Zhang, Gabriel Crossley, Tony Munroe, Huizhong W, Judy Hua, Nanlin Fang and Joyce Zhou in Beijing and Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Matthias Blamont in Paris, Akira Tomoshige in Tokyo, Kate Kelland in London, Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Robert Birsel, Andrew Cawthorne and Alex Richardson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Nick Macfie and Hugh Lawson)

1/30/2020 China virus toll rises to 170 as fear grows over global economic hit by Pei Li and Josh Smith
Medical workers take the temperature of passengers after they got off the train in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, China, as the
country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, January 29, 2020. Picture taken January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – Countries began isolating hundreds of citizens evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to stop the spread of an epidemic that has killed 170 people as worry about the impact on the world’s second-biggest economy rattled markets.
    Asian stocks and currencies fell as the death toll rose and more cases were reported with fears growing that the hit to China’s economy will ripple around the world in coming months.
    India became the latest country to report a case – a student of Wuhan University – while anger and fear brought protests in South Korea and threats of strikes Hong Kong.
    “Markets will remain highly volatile as long as they feel that they only have an incomplete picture of what is going on, and what is going to happen next,” said Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
    In a sign of alarm over possible damage, Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Masayoshi Amamiya said China’s huge presence in the world economy must be taken into account in gauging the impact the outbreak could have on global growth.
    Alphabet Inc’s Google and Sweden’s IKEA joined other major firms in closing operations in China.
    Concern is also growing that thousands of Chinese factory workers on Lunar New Year holidays may struggle to get back to work next week, due to extensive travel restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the virus.
    South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd said it had extended the holiday closure for some Chinese production facilities.
    China’s National Health Commission said the total number of deaths from the coronavirus in the country climbed to 170 by late Wednesday, and the number of those infected rose to 7,711.
    Almost all the deaths have been in the central province of Hubei, home to about 60 million people and now under virtual lockdown.    The virus emerged last month in a live wild animal market in the provincial capital of Wuhan.
    The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee is due to reconvene on Thursday to decide whether the virus constitutes a global emergency.
    Infections have been reported in at least 16 other countries, with 105 confirmed cases, but no deaths have occurred outside China.
    Cases of human-to-human transmission outside China are of particular concern to the WHO, but it is too early to determine how lethal the virus is, as there are likely to be many cases of milder infections going undetected.
    It has an incubation time of between one and 14 days and there are signs it may be able to spread before any symptoms show.
    Chinese National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said this week the virus was infectious during incubation, unlike Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that emerged from China and killed about 800 people in 2002 and 2003.
(Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus – https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7)
ISOLATION PLANS
    Countries getting citizens out of China have to decide what to do with them as fears of infection grow.     Australia, South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand and Indonesia will quarantine evacuees for at least two weeks, while the United States and Japan plan shorter periods of voluntary isolation.
    Australia defended a decision to put evacuees on Christmas Island, 2,600 km (1,600 miles) off its coast.
    An Indian official said bringing citizens home was not the best option because of the risk of infection but pressure from people there, most of them students, and their families, had forced the government to put an aircraft on standby.
    In South Korea, protesters who want facilities earmarked as quarantine centers moved away from residential areas threw eggs and insults at a minister trying to mollify them.
    President Moon Jae-in has urged people not to give in to fear as the country prepared to evacuate the first of about 700 citizens from Wuhan.
    “The weapons that will protect us from the new coronavirus are not fear and aversion, but trust and cooperation,” he said.
    Up to four planned South Korean evacuation flights to Wuhan are expected to begin later on Thursday.
    Singapore said all the 92 citizens it is bringing home on Thursday, with accompanying foreign ministry staff, will be taken either to hospital or quarantined for 14 days.
    Nearly 200 Americans, mostly diplomats and families, airlifted from Wuhan on Wednesday, will stay isolated at a U.S. military base in California for at least 72 hours, officials said.
    Three Japanese people, from 206 evacuated on Wednesday, were found to be infected, and two of them had not shown symptoms, the health ministry said.
    A second Japanese flight landed in Tokyo on Thursday with nine people showing symptoms of fever or coughing, broadcaster NHK said.
    In China, a government economist said first-quarter growth could fall by one point to 5% or lower.
    Some airlines have suspended flights to China, including British Airways, Lufthansa, Air Canada and American Airlines.
    Streets in many Chinese cities are largely deserted and tourist attractions are shut.    Starbucks coffee shops require temperature checks and masks.
(Graphic: The coronavirus outbreak – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B59Y39P/index.html)
(Reporting by Pei Li and Muyu Xu in Beijing, Samuel Shen and David Stanway in Shanghai, Josh Smith, Sangmi Cha and Joyce Lee in Seoul, Chang-Ran Kim in Tokyo and Se Young Lee; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/30/2020 Shot fired at Indian protest against citizenship law, one hurt by Alasdair Pal and Danish Siddiqui
A wounded man is helped after an unidentified man opened fire during a protest against a new citizenship law outside
the Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi, India, January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – An unidentified man fired at a protest against India’s new citizenship law near a university in Delhi on Thursday, wounding a student, witnesses said, the first such incident in the capital during more than a month of demonstrations.
    Witnesses said the man holding a gun shouted slogans against the protesters near Jamia Millia Islamia University, before firing at them.
    “The police stood nearby,” Ahmed Zahir, a witness, told Reuters.
    A Reuters photograph showed the man, dressed in a black jacket and brandishing a single-barrel weapon, standing meters away from dozens of policemen outside the university, where more than 1,000 protesters had gathered for a march.
    Police later said they had detained the suspected gunman but gave no details.
    Protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, which fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from three neighboring countries, have flared since last December.
    Some of the biggest protests have taken place near the university, which police stormed in December. On Thursday, police barricaded the road outside the university.
    A group of students, most of them women, were holding a sit-in near the barricade after they were stopped from marching to a memorial for independence leader Mahatma Gandhi on the anniversary of his assassination in 1948.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government insists the citizenship law is needed to help members of persecuted religious minorities who fled to India before 2015 from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
    But protesters say the law, and a proposed national register for citizens, discriminates against Muslims and violates India’s secular constitution.
    In recent days, leaders from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have called for action against the protesters, who they term unpatriotic.
    This week, India’s junior finance minister Anurag Thakur encouraged supporters at a state election rally in New Delhi to chant slogans calling for traitors to be shot, drawing a reprimand from the election commission.
(Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal and Sanjeev Miglani; editing by John Stonestreet and Gareth Jones)

1/30/2020 U.S. renews waivers on Iran nuclear work, sanctions Iran’s top nuclear official by Humeyra Pamuk and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    WASHINGTON/PARIS (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Thursday said it will allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue work at Iranian nuclear sites to make it harder for that country to develop a nuclear weapon, drawing ire from Iran hawk Republicans.
    But it has also imposed sanctions on Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) and its chief, a move described by the entity’s spokesman as sign of Washington’s “despair” who said Tehran’s civilian nuclear work would continue full force.
    The Trump administration, which in 2018 pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, will let the work go forward by issuing waivers to sanctions that bar non-U.S. firms from dealing with the AEOI.
    The waivers’ renewal for 60 days will allow nonproliferation work to continue at the Arak heavy-water research reactor, the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Tehran Research Reactor and other nuclear cooperation initiatives.
    There had been a great deal of lobbying in Washington to stop the latest waivers as U.S. President Donald Trump seeks to exert more pressure on Iran.    A Western diplomat said there was initial disagreement between the U.S. State Department and Treasury but the latter won.
    “We will closely monitor all developments in Iran’s nuclear program and Secretary (Mike) Pompeo can end these projects as developments warrant,” Brian Hook, U.S. special representative for Iran, told a news briefing.
    The moves come weeks after the United States and Iran came to the brink of war.    Washington killed Iranian military commander Qassem Solemani, the mastermind of Iran’s control over Iraq, in a drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3.
    Under the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions that had crippled its economy.
    Trump unilaterally abandoned the deal in May 2018, and reimposed U.S. sanctions in a “maximum pressure” campaign designed to force Iran to return to the negotiating table.
    Washington in November terminated the sanctions waiver related to Iran’s Fordow nuclear plant after Tehran resumed uranium enrichment at the underground site.
    “There was a difference of opinion between the U.S. Treasury and State Department.    The Treasury won,” the Western diplomat said.    “There is an appetite for more sanctions, so this was a surprise; but others argue that these waivers are vital to ensure nonproliferation.”
MORE SANCTIONS
    The United States on Thursday also placed Ali Akbar Salehi, head AEOI, and the organization itself under U.S. sanctions, Hook said.
    The decision to sanction Salehi and the AEOI would have an impact on Iran’s civilian nuclear program because it has operational control over the program, including purchasing parts for nuclear facilities.
    Republican Senator Marco Rubio expressed discontent over the waiver renewal.    “While I am glad to see new sanctions imposed against Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and its chief, the administration should terminate the controversial sanctions waivers on Iran’s civil nuclear program and exert maximum pressure on the regime in Tehran,” he said in a statement.
    Last week three Republican senators known to be close to Trump – Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina – had called for the remaining civil nuclear waivers to be rescinded. “Enough is enough,” the senators and Republican lawmaker Liz Cheney said in a joint statement.
    The diplomat said the United States had likely opted to extend the Bushehr waiver because the Russian company targeted also provides nuclear fuel to U.S. facilities, causing a potential sanctions headache for the administration.
    “Imposing sanctions…is a political game played by Washington.    These sanctions have no value and are childish measures,” IAEO spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iran’s Fars news agency.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and John Irish; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Parisa Hafezi in DUBAI; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)

1/31/2020 U.S. warns citizens against travel to China as virus toll passes 200 by Brenda Goh and Muyu Xu
A surgical face mask is steamed in a wok to disinfect it, amid the outbreak of a new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China
January 31, 2020, in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit FACEBOOK / DANTE YASUO/via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States warned Americans not to travel to China as the death toll from a new virus reached 213 on Friday and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency, and Britain confirmed its first two cases.
    Stock markets steadied slightly after the WHO praised China’s efforts to contain the virus, following a tumble the previous day over a rising toll in the world’s second-biggest economy. [MKTS/GLOB]
    “Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan,” the U.S. State Department said in a new travel advisory on its website, raising the warning for China to the same level as Afghanistan and Iraq.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament his government had decided to raise its infectious disease advisory level for China, urging citizens to avoid non-urgent trips.
    Japan’s advisory for China’s central province of Hubei, where the virus first emerged in its capital of Wuhan in December, is a level higher, advising citizens not to travel there.
    China has taken “the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in response to the WHO declaration, although Beijing has not commented on the U.S. travel warning.
    “We have full confidence and capability to win this fight,” Hua Chunying said in a statement.
    WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had commended China for its efforts and said the WHO was not recommending curbs on travel or trade with the Asian giant.
    He said the global emergency was declared because of the danger the virus could spread to countries with weak health systems, adding, “We must act now.”
    Chinese health authorities said the number of infections had risen to 9,692 by Thursday.
    There have been no deaths outside China, although 131 cases have been reported in 23 other countries and regions, with the latest in Britain, where authorities said the two cases were from the same family.
    The WHO has reported at least eight instances of human-to-human transmission in four countries: the United States, Germany, Japan and Vietnam.
    Thailand said on Friday it too had a case of human-to-human transmission.
FEAR AND FLIGHTS
    Flu epidemics kill hundreds of thousands of people across the world each year, WHO figures show, but new viruses trigger alarm because their fatality and transmission rates are unknown and there are no vaccines.
    Researchers worldwide are rushing to unlock the secrets of this virus and make a vaccine.
    Italy took a more drastic step than most countries, stopping all air traffic with China after announcing its first cases, in two Chinese tourists.
    More airlines have stopped flying to mainland China, including Air France KLM SA, British Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic, while others have cut flights.
    Japan’s ANA Holdings said it may consider suspending China flights, media reported, after the airline said bookings for February flights leaving China had halved.
    Several foreign governments evacuating citizens from Hubei are holding them in quarantine for the 14-day incubation period of the virus.
    A plane carrying Britons and other Europeans left Wuhan on Friday, Britain’s embassy said.
    Japan, with 14 confirmed cases, said it would take special measures against the virus, including compulsory hospitalization and the use of public funds for treatment.
    It has sent three flights to bring citizens home.
    The first of four planned flights taking South Koreans home landed on Friday, as tension simmered over quarantine centers that protesters have said are too close to homes.
    China in turn is trying to bring home its tourists stranded abroad, with the state-run People’s Daily saying two flights were sent on Thursday, to Thailand and Malaysia.
ECONOMIC RISK
    While markets took a breather on Friday after falls this week, apprehension is growing about the impact of the virus on China and the world.
    “The fear of contagion risk is already evident in global financial markets,” Moody’s Investors Service said on Thursday.
    Major firms, such as Alphabet Inc’s Google and Sweden’s IKEA, have suspended operations in China.
    At least 15 Chinese municipalities and provinces have asked companies to extend the Lunar New Year holiday by a week, to Feb. 10.
    China’s statistics show that just over 2% of infected people have died, suggesting the virus is less deadly than the coronaviruses responsible for the 2002-2003 outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and an episode of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
    But economists fear its impact could be bigger than SARS, which killed about 800 people at an estimated cost of $33 billion to the global economy, since China’s share of the world economy is now far greater.
    The effect could “reverberate globally”, hitting supply chains, Moody’s said, adding, “Global companies operating in the affected area may face output losses as a result of the evacuation of workers.”
    The virus is believed to have originated in a food market illegally selling wildlife in Wuhan.    About 60 million people in Hubei province are living under virtual lockdown.
    With new cases being reported around the world, anti-China sentiment is emerging in some places and manufacturers are scrambling to meet demand for protective masks.
    Facebook Inc said it would take down misinformation about the coronavirus, in a rare departure from its approach to health content.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Muyu Xu and Cate Cadell in Beijing, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Michelle Nichols at the U.N., and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

[THERE WAS VERY LITTLE NEWS TODAY DUE TO ALL THE EAST NATIONS WHO ARE ALL TO BUSY TRYING TO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM THE CORONAVIRUS AS THE DEATH TOLL IS RISING.].
2/1/2020 Death toll from China virus rises to 259, border curbs disrupt more flights by David Stanway and Winni Zhou
People wearing face masks look for products at a supermarket, as the country is hit by an outbreak
of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The number of deaths from a coronavirus epidemic in China has risen by 46 to 259, the country’s health authority said on Saturday, as the United States and other nations announced new border curbs on foreigners who have been in China.
    The central province of Hubei, the center of the epidemic, is under a virtual quarantine, with roads sealed off and public transport shut down.    Elsewhere in China, authorities have placed restrictions on travel and business activity in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
    In its latest figures, China’s National Health Commission said there were 2,102 new confirmed infections in China on Friday, bringing the cumulative total to 11,791. Around two dozen other countries have reported confirmed cases of the virus.
    Amid growing international concern, Singapore and the United States announced measures on Friday to restrict entry to foreign nationals who have recently been in China.
    Australia followed suit, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying the country will deny entry to all foreign nationals traveling from mainland China from Saturday.
    “We’re in fact operating with an abundance of caution in these circumstances,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.    “So Australians can go about their daily lives with confidence.”
    However, the World Health Organization, which this week declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, reiterated global trade and travel restrictions were not needed.
    “We would want countries to focus on the mitigation efforts of identifying the possible importation of cases and responding to any domestic outbreak,” China WHO representative Gauden Galea told Reuters on Saturday.
    Qantas Airways Ltd and Air New Zealand said international travel bans had forced them to suspend their direct flights to China from Feb. 9.
    All three major U.S. airlines said on Friday they would cancel flights to mainland China.
    Nearly 10,000 flights have been suspended since the outbreak of the new coronavirus, according to travel and data analytics firm Cirium, illustrating concerns about a slowdown in economic activity in China and elsewhere.
EVACUATIONS
    Many nations have put on special charter flights to repatriate citizens from China.
    More than 300 South Koreans arrived home on Saturday on a second charter flight from China and have been transported to a facility where they will be isolated for two weeks, the health ministry said.    Seven people on the flight exhibited symptoms and were sent to hospital.
    Indonesian officials said around 250 nationals being evacuated from Hubei will be quarantined on a military base on the remote Natuna Islands.
    Britain said it was withdrawing some staff from its embassy and consulates in China.
    “In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the British Embassy and Consulates to provide assistance to British nationals from within China may be limited,” the UK government said in a statement.
    Infections have jumped in two cities flanking Wuhan, raising concerns that new hot spots are emerging despite strict travel restrictions.
    In one of them, Huanggang, authorities are requiring households to designate one individual who can leave the home, a local newspaper said.    The city has a population of about 7.5 million.
    The northern city of Tianjin, with a population of about 15 million, suspended all schools and businesses until further notice, joining other cities across China in implementing measures aimed at curbing the spread of the pathogen.
    A senior leadership group tasked with handling the crisis promised to take action to prevent a big surge in the number of people traveling after the extended Lunar New Year holiday.
    The team led by Premier Li Keqiang said they would coordinate with local governments to stagger the times when people are asked to go back to work.
    Although the WHO has praised China’s efforts to contain the virus, the U.S.-based China Human Rights Defenders urged Beijing to ease restrictions on movement and counter discrimination against residents of Wuhan and Hubei.
    “Human rights must not be a casualty of the government’s work to contain the coronavirus outbreak that has killed nearly 200 people and affected millions,” the group said.
BUSINESSES, EVENTS DISRUPTED
    Still, efforts to contain the virus have caused major disruptions and threaten to exacerbate a slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy.
    Growth had already slowed in the fourth-quarter to a 30-year low of 6%. But the impact of the virus prompted Capital Economics to almost halve its estimate for first-quarter growth to 3% from 5.7%.
    China’s central bank said the impact was temporary and economic fundamentals remained sound, but it would increase monetary and credit support, including lowering lending costs for affected companies.
    The United Nations has announced it has moved a key round of talks on a new biodiversity treaty originally scheduled to take place in Kunming in southwest China on Feb. 24.    The talks will now take place in Rome.
    Several high-profile sporting events have also been moved or postponed, the latest a badminton Olympic qualifier in Hainan province.
    Apple Inc said on Saturday it would close all of its official stores and corporate offices in China until Feb. 9, the latest of dozens of major companies, including Sweden’s IKEA and Walmart Inc, restricting travel and operations due to the outbreak.
(Graphic: Comparing outbreaks – https://tmsnrt.rs/2GK6YVK)
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and David Stanway in Shanghai, Yilei Sun and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong, Joori Roh in Seoul an Nick Mulveney in Melbourne; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Jane Wardell and Neil Fullick)

2/1/2020 Australia bans foreigners traveling from China by OAN Newsroom
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, second right, Minister for Health Greg Hunt, left, Chief Medical Officer
Professor Brendan Murphy, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, right, give an update on the coronavirus
at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)
    Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a ban on any foreign travelers coming from China amid the coronavirus outbreak.    On Friday, Morrison said Australia has declared a Level 4 travel guidance and is advising its citizens against traveling to China at all.
    He said the health and well-being of Australians is behind the decision.
    “Well, our first responsibility is Australians and Australia’s national interests,” said the prime minister.    “That means the health of Australians and their well-being – that is what is driving our decisions.”
    Morrison said Australian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed entry into the country, but are required to isolate themselves for 14 days upon arrival.
    Australia’s foreign minister has said the government is working to evacuate its citizens from China.    However, anyone with a temperature of 99 or higher has to stay and receive medical attention.

In this Jan. 22, 2020, photo, tourists gather to have their photos taken with the Opera House
and Harbour Bridge as a backdrop in Sydney, Australia. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
    This came after U.S. officials declared a Level 4 travel advisory for Americans earlier this week.    The Chinese government responded to the travel restriction by saying the U.S. has set a “bad example.”
    On Saturday, a spokeswoman from China’s foreign ministry criticized the U.S. for enacting the temporary travel ban, which went into effect after the administration declared a public health emergency following the outbreak.

2/1/2020 U.S. pressure on Iran to continue despite lifting sanctions on China’s COSCO unit, official says
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) – A decision by the United States to lift sanctions on one of two units of the Chinese tanker company COSCO was not a sign that the Trump administration was letting up on its “maximum pressure” against Iran, a senior U.S. official said on Saturday.
    The lifting of sanctions on Friday by the U.S. Treasury Department partially reversed its punishment on the company for transporting Iranian oil after China complained about the measure in trade talks with Washington.
    The Treasury said it deleted COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Co from its sanctions list but continues to blacklist a second unit – COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Seaman & Ship Management Co Ltd.
    “This administrative de-listing should not be misinterpreted as a change in policy,” a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
    “Our maximum pressure campaign continues as before; we will sanction any sanctionable activity.”
    China is the world’s only major importer of Iranian oil despite sanctions President Donald Trump unilaterally reimposed on Tehran’s petroleum exports in 2018 after withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers.
    Trump hopes the sanctions will limit Tehran’s ballistic missile program and influence across the Middle East.    Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Idrees Ali; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

2/2/2020 China facing global isolation as virus toll rises by David Stanway and Winni Zhou
People wearing face masks look for products at a supermarket, as the country is hit by an outbreak
of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China faced mounting isolation in the face of increasing international travel curbs and flight suspensions on Saturday, as the death toll from a spreading coronavirus outbreak rose to 259.
    The epidemic has led to mass evacuations of foreign citizens as world airlines halt flights, and risks exacerbating a slowdown in growth in the world’s second-largest economy.
    China’s National Health Commission said there were 2,102 new confirmed infections in China as of Friday, bringing the total to 11,791.    Around two dozen other countries have reported more than 130 cases
.
    All of the reported deaths from the virus have been in China.
    The Russian military was to start evacuating Russian citizens from China on Monday and Tuesday, Interfax and TASS news agencies reported.    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying the evacuations would be from regions that had been most affected by the outbreak.
    Russia, which has already restricted direct flights with its biggest trading partner, also said it was suspending visa-free travel for Chinese visitors and halting work visas.
    Most international cases have been in people who had recently traveled to or were visiting from Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.
    Hubei has been under a virtual quarantine for the last week, with roads sealed off and public transport shut down.    Elsewhere, Chinese authorities placed growing restrictions on travel and business.
    In Beijing, counters were set up at the entrances of housing estates, where volunteers wearing red arm bands and masks noted details of residents coming back from their hometowns after the Lunar New Year holiday.
    “As long as I am properly protected and don’t go to crowded places, I don’t feel scared at all about my hometown or Beijing,” said a 58-year-old migrant worker surnamed Sun.
    Others were more worried.
    “There will be a huge number of people returning to the city.    I think it will put Beijing at risk of more infections,” said Zhang Chunlei, 45, another returning migrant worker.
    In Hubei, the provincial government extended the holiday break to Feb. 13 in a bid to contain the outbreak, the Hubei Daily reported.
    The World Health Organization, which this week declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, has said global trade and travel restrictions are not needed.
    But Singapore and the United States announced measures on Friday to ban foreign nationals who have recently been in China from entering their territories. Australia followed suit on Saturday.
    “We’re in fact operating with an abundance of caution in these circumstances so Australians can go about their daily lives with confidence,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
    The Chinese data would suggest the flu-like virus is less deadly than the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people of the some 8,000 it infected, although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
EVACUATIONS
    The list of international airlines suspending all or some flights to China is growing.     The latest were Qantas Airways Ltd and Air New Zealand, who said travel bans forced them to suspend their direct flights to China from Feb. 9.    All three major U.S. airlines said on Friday they would cancel flights to mainland China.     The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific banned travel to China for all service members and civilian personnel under his authority and ordered those now in China to leave immediately, officials said.     U.S. health officials on Saturday confirmed an eighth case of the virus, a person in Massachusetts who recently returned from Hubei province.     Many nations have sent charter flights to repatriate citizens from China and then place them in isolation for around two weeks, believed to be the incubation period of the virus.     German Health Minister Jens Spahn called for calm and warned against hysteria as more than 100 Germans and family members landed in Frankfurt, none showing any symptoms of the virus.    As of Saturday evening Germany had eight confirmed cases.
    Britain, which has had two confirmed cases, said it was withdrawing some staff from its embassy and consulates in China.
    Many of the private clinics catering to foreigners in China have started to turn away people with fevers.
    “I don’t want to go to the local hospital with a sore throat only to catch something else,” said Czech national Veronika Krubner in Tianjin.
DISRUPTIONS
    Infections have jumped in two cities flanking Wuhan, where the new virus is believed to have originated, raising concerns that new hot spots are emerging despite strict transport restrictions.
    In Huanggang, authorities asked households to designate one individual who can leave the home, a local newspaper said.    The mayor of the city of about 7.5 million people said there could be a significant rise in cases this weekend.
    The northern city of Tianjin, home to some 15 million, suspended all schools and businesses until further notice.
    Efforts to contain the virus risk slowing economic growth in China.    The virus impact prompted Goldman Sachs to cut its estimate for first-quarter growth to 4% from 5.6%.
    China’s central bank said the impact was temporary and economic fundamentals remained sound, but that it would increase credit support, lowering lending costs for affected companies.
    Apple Inc said on Saturday it would close all of its official stores and corporate offices in China until Feb. 9, the latest of dozens of major companies, including IKEA and Walmart Inc, to restrict travel and operations due to the outbreak.
    For a graphic comparing this with previous coronavirus outbreaks, see https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS-COMPARISON/0100B5BY3CY/index.html
(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Brenda Goh and David Stanway in Shanghai, Judy Hua, Se Young Lee, Yilei Sun and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong, Joori Roh in Seoul, Nick Mulveney in Melbourne, Chris Helgren in Toronto, and Vera Eckert in Frankfurt; Writing by Nick Macfie and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Frances Kerry and Bill Berkrot)

2/2/2020 Philippines reports first coronavirus death outside China by Ryan Woo and Enrico Dela Cruz
A woman wearing a face mask holds a child near a shopping mall in Beijing, China, as the
country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, February 1, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING/MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines on Sunday reported the growing epidemic of a coronavirus has claimed its first fatality outside of China, where new confirmed infections jumped by a daily record to top 14,000 cases.
    The Philippines Department of Health said a 44-year-old man from Wuhan city in central Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, had died in a Manila hospital after developing severe pneumonia.
    It was the first death out of more than 130 cases reported in around two dozen countries and regions outside of mainland China.
    The man who died was a companion of a 38-year-old Chinese woman, also from Wuhan, who was the first and only other person to test positive for the virus in the Philippines.    Both patients arrived in the Philippines via Hong Kong on Jan. 21.
    China’s death toll from the outbreak reached 304 as of the end of Saturday, state broadcaster CCTV said on Sunday, citing the country’s National Health Commission.
    China is facing mounting isolation as other countries introduce travel curbs, airlines suspend flights and governments evacuate their citizens, risking worsening a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.
    China’s central bank has promised to provide monetary and credit support to companies struggling due to the virus.    It said it will inject a hefty 1.2 trillion yuan ($173.8 billion) worth of liquidity into the markets via reverse repo operations on Monday as the country prepares to reopen its stock markets after an extended Lunar New Year holiday.
    China Evergrande Group, the nation’s third-largest property developer, said in an internal note on Sunday it would extend its Lunar New Year holiday to Feb. 16, and suspend construction work at all of its 1,246 sites until Feb. 20.
    Also on Sunday, state media reported that construction of one of two hospitals in Wuhan dedicated to treating coronavirus patients has been completed.    Huoshenshan, a hospital with 1,000 beds, was built in eight days and can receive patients from Monday, state media said.
TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS MOUNT
    The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, but said global trade and travel restrictions are not needed.
    However, some countries are responding to fears of the virus spreading by ramping up border controls.    Singapore and the United States announced measures on Friday to ban foreign nationals who have recently been to China from entering their territories, and Australia followed suit on Saturday.
    Russia introduced visa restrictions and will start evacuating Russian citizens on Monday and Tuesday, Interfax and TASS news agencies reported.
    The Philippines expanded its travel ban to include all foreigners coming from China, widening an earlier restriction that covered only those from Hubei province.
    New Zealand and Vietnam also barred foreigners who have been in China, with Vietnam saying it would halt all flights to and from China.
    Taiwan has asked its diplomats to talk to governments where Taiwanese airlines fly to ensure flights are not cut off due the island’s inclusion by the WHO as part of China.
    Meanwhile, nations continue to evacuate citizens from China.
    More than 100 Germans and family members landed in Frankfurt on Saturday after being evacuated from Wuhan.    Around 250 Indonesians were also evacuated from Hubei.
    China will start making arrangements to fly back to Taiwan the first 200 Taiwanese who have been stranded in Hubei, Chinese state media reported on Sunday. China said about 500 Taiwanese are in the province.
    Japan plans to send another chartered plane mid-week or later to bring back Japanese nationals who are still in Hubei, its foreign ministry said on Sunday.
    Japan also confirmed an additional three cases of the new coronavirus among an earlier batch of evacuees, including one who initially tested negative, the health ministry said, bringing the country’s total to 20 cases.
    Japan has barred foreigners who have been in Hubei from entering the country, a move followed on Sunday by South Korea where the entry ban will go into effect on Tuesday, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said.
    Hubei has been under virtual quarantine for the last week, with roads sealed off and public transport shut down.    The province extended its Lunar New Year holiday break to Feb. 13 in a bid to contain the outbreak.
    The number of deaths in Hubei from the outbreak had risen to 294 as of the end of Feb. 1, with a total of 9,074 cases, the majority in the capital city Wuhan, where the virus is thought to have emerged late last year in a market illegally trading wildlife.
    New confirmed cases also surged by 276 in nearby Huanggang.    One death was reported in the city, about 60 km (37 miles) east of Wuhan.
(Reporting by Lusha Zhang and Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Jiujiang, Roxanne Liu in Beijing, Yilei Sun in Shanghai and Clare Jin in Hong Kong; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Christopher Cushing)

2/2/2020 Pompeo urges Kazakhstan to press China over Uighurs by Olzhas Auyezov
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a joint news conference with Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi
at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, February 2, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Pool
    NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Kazakhstan on Sunday to join Washington in pressing Beijing over its treatment of Muslim minorities, a sensitive matter for the Central Asian nation which has close ties with its neighbor China.
    Speaking on a visit to the capital Nur-Sultan, Pompeo said he has raised the matter in talks with Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi.
    “We discussed trafficking in persons and the plight of more one million Uighur Muslims and ethnic Kazakhs that the Chinese Communist Party has detained in Xinjiang, just across the Kazakh border,” Pompeo said.
    “The United States urges all countries to join us in pressing for an immediate end to this repression.    We ask simply for them to provide safe refuge and asylum to those seeking to flee China.”
    The United Nations and human rights groups estimate between 1 million and 2 million people, mostly ethnic Uighur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions as part of what Beijing calls an anti-terrorism campaign.
    China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uighurs and says the camps provide vocational training. It describes the detainees as students.
    Both the United States and China – which are caught up in a broad dispute over trade and other issues – are major investors in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic.
    Pompeo said on Twitter he met families of ethnic Kazakhs detained in China’s Xinjiang province, and praised Kazakhstan for not forcing asylum-seekers to return to China.
    Pompeo said the United States was helping oil-rich Kazakhstan protect itself against the coronavirus outbreak originating from China.
    Tleuberdi made no comment on the Uighur issue and focused instead on economic and security cooperation.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Andrew Heavens)

2/2/2020 EU’s foreign policy chief to travel to Iran in de-escalation mission
FILE PHOTO: European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell addresses the European Parliament regarding
the situation in Iran and Iraq, in Strasbourg, France January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The head of the European Union’s foreign service, Josep Borrell, will travel to Iran next week to meet the country’s leaders in a bid to reduce tensions in the Middle East, the EU said in a statement on Sunday.
    During in his trip on Monday and Tuesday, Borrell will meet Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif among others.
    “Borrell received a strong mandate from the EU foreign ministers to engage in diplomatic dialogue with regional partners, to de-escalate tensions and seek opportunities for political solutions to the current crisis,” the statement said.
    Tensions in the region stepped up after the killing in early January of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani by the United States in Iraq.
    “The visit will also be an opportunity to convey the EU’s strong commitment to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” the statement said, referring to the nuclear deal that Iran reached with six major powers in 2015, and from which the United States withdrew in 2018.
    The EU serves as guarantor of the nuclear deal, and Borrell has a formal role in its dispute resolution process, which Britain, France and Germany activated in January after Iran said it was no longer abiding by some limits on nuclear material.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Peter Graff)

2/2/2020 China deploys cargo planes of medical workers and supplies to Wuhan by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese military medical staff members stand in formation after arriving at
Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. (Cheng Min/Xinhua via AP)
    China is sending medical workers and supplies to Wuhan amid the coronavirus outbreak.    On Sunday, the Chinese Air Force deployed eight cargo planes, which carried nearly 800 workers in total.    Many of the workers previously helped treat the SARS outbreak.
    According to reports, this is the largest non-military operation of the country’s air force since 2010.
    China has confirmed more than 300 deaths from the virus while more than 130,000 are under medical observation.    The city of Wuhan has been on lockdown for over a week to stop the spread of the virus.
The Huoshenshan temporary field hospital under construction is seen as it nears completion
in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. (Chinatopix via AP)
    This came after hospital personnel in Hong Kong called out mainland China’s poor handling of the outbreak.    On Saturday, the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance denounced government efforts to contain the virus and threatened to strike.
    The union also said over 9,000 of its members supported participating in a five day protest.    A group of officials took specific aim at Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who they have called on to supply more medical equipment and ban all travel into China.
    “The measures outlined at news conferences by the emergency committee led by Carrie Lam about border control, school closure, science and getting protective equipment aren’t going to solve the problem.    If we don’t completely close the border, any suspected cases can come from mainland China into Hong Kong.    The burden on our health care system will be much more than our current system can support.” – Winnie Yu, Hospital Authority Employees Alliance Chairwoman
    In the meantime, rail connections to the mainland have been halted and Lam has not appeared willing to block all travel outright.

2/3/2020 China accuses U.S. of whipping up panic over virus as stocks tumble by Kevin Yao and Winni Zhou
Passengers wearing masks walk outside the Shanghai railway station in Shanghai, China, as the
country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, February 2, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China accused the United States on Monday of whipping up panic over a fast-spreading coronavirus with travel restrictions and evacuations as Chinese stocks plunged on the first day back from the extended Lunar New Year holiday.
    The death toll in China from the newly identified virus, which emerged in Wuhan, capital of the central province of Hubei, rose to 361 as of Sunday, up 57 from the previous day, the National Health Commission said.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) last week declared the flu-like virus a global emergency and it has since spread to 23 other countries and regions, with the first death outside of China reported on Sunday, that of a 44-year-old Chinese man who died in the Philippines after travelling from Wuhan.
    Wuhan and some other cities remain in virtual lockdown with travel severely restricted, and China is facing increasing international isolation.
    China accused the United States of spreading fear by pulling its nationals out and restricting travel instead of offering significant aid.    Relations between the two sides had just begun to recover after a long and bruising trade war.
    Washington has “unceasingly manufactured and spread panic,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, noting that the WHO had advised against trade and travel curbs.
    “It is precisely developed countries like the United States with strong epidemic prevention capabilities and facilities that have taken the lead in imposing excessive restrictions contrary to WHO recommendations,” she added, saying countries should make reasonable, calm and science-based judgements.
‘NO REASON’ FOR TRAVEL CURBS
    WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking in Geneva, again said travel bans were unnecessary.
    “There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” he told the WHO’s Executive Board.
    “We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent.”
    China’s delegate said the international community needed to treat the new virus outbreak objectively, fairly and not “deliberately create panic” among the general public.
    China would continue to take a “responsible attitude” towards its people’s health, rigorously implement control measures and work to halt the spread of the virus, he said.
    Chinese stocks closed down almost 8%, the yuan currency had its worst day since August, and Shanghai-traded commodities from oil to copper hit their maximum downward limits.
    The wipeout came even as the central bank made its biggest cash input into financial markets since 2004 – with an injection of 1.2 trillion yuan ($174 billion) of liquidity into the markets via reverse repo operations – and despite apparent regulatory moves to curb selling.
    Investors had been bracing for volatility when onshore trade in stocks, bonds, yuan and commodities resumed, following a steep global selldown on fears about the impact of the virus on the world’s second-biggest economy.
    Beijing also said it would help firms that produce vital goods resume work as soon as possible, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
    But while stock markets reopened, most provinces have extended the holiday to try to contain the virus, with workers in Hubei not scheduled to return until after Feb. 13.
    The number of new confirmed infections in China rose by 2,829, bringing the total to 17,205.
    The WHO reported at least 151 confirmed that cases have been reported in 23 other countries and regions, including the United States, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Britain.
CHINA OPENS FAST-BUILT HOSPITAL
    A 1,000-bed hospital built in just eight days to treat people with the virus in Wuhan will begin to take patients on Monday, state media said.    More than 7,500 workers took part in the project, launched on Jan. 25 and finished this weekend.
    A second hospital in Wuhan with 1,600 beds is due to be ready on Feb. 5.
    While countries have been trying to block the virus with travel bans, they have also been getting stranded citizens out of Wuhan.
    The United States, which flew people out last week, is planning “a handful more flights” while Russia is due to start evacuating its citizens from Wuhan on Monday.    It has also suspended direct passenger trains link.
    Australia evacuated 243 people, many of them children, from Wuhan on Monday and will quarantine them on a remote island.
    Australia on Saturday followed the United States in barring entry to all foreign nationals travelling from mainland China.
    The virus is thought to have emerged late last year in a Wuhan market illegally trading wildlife.    It can cause pneumonia and spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes.
    It has created alarm because it is spreading quickly and there are still important unknowns surrounding it, such as its death rate and whether it is able to spread before any symptoms show.
    The number of deaths in China has now passed the total Chinese toll from the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that emerged from China and killed almost 800 people around the world.
    Even so, Chinese data suggests the new coronavirus is less deadly than SARS, although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
    Chinese authorities sacked two officials in Hubei over the death of a cerebral palsy patient whose father and sole caretaker was taken into quarantine.
    Yan Cheng, 16, was found dead on Wednesday, a week after his father was taken away.
For a graphic comparing coronavirus outbreaks, see https://tmsnrt.rs/2GK6YVK
(Reporting by Kevin Yao, Lusha Zhang and Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Yilei Sun, Leng Cheng, Brenda Goh, Winni Zhou in Shanghai, Martin Pollard in Jiujiang, Roxanne Liu, Pei Li, Gabriel Crossley and Muyu Xu in Beijing, Clare Jim and Noah Sin in Hong Kong, Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru, Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Gayatri Suroyo in Jakarta, Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Writing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Hugh Lawson)

2/3/2020 Hong Kong suspends four more border crossings to curb spread of virus by by Felix Tam and Twinnie Siu
Supporters of medical workers hold a flash mob protest to back their strike to demand Hong Kong closing its border
with China to reduce the coronavirus spreading, in Hong Kong, China February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s leader announced the closure of four more border crossings with mainland China on Monday, leaving just three checkpoints open, but stopped short of demands for the entire border to be closed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
    Hong Kong has 15 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which emerged in central China in December and has killed more than 360 people there and sent jitters through global markets.
    Carrie Lam, chief executive of Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, was speaking hours after more than 2,500 workers from the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA) went on strike to call for the border to be shut and better protection for hospital staff, among other demands.
    “We should be united if we have the same goal.    At this critical moment, (some people are) taking extreme means and it is inevitable it will affect the rights of patients,” Lam said.
    “Those using extreme means to try to force the government’s hand will not succeed.”
    The Hospital Authority said those using extreme means “to try to force the government and Hospital Authority’s hands will not succeed”
    Striking workers at the Hospital Authority building booed as they watched Lam speak, calling her a liar and chanting: “Close all borders.”
    The medical workers, members of the newly formed union, held a press conference shortly after Lam spoke and said they planned to keep up their strike action.
    HAEA chairwoman Winnie Yu said she expected around 9,000 of the alliance’s roughly 18,000 members to strike on Tuesday.
    Pro-democracy protesters have in recent months formed about 40 unions as a way to press their demands on the government and at least a dozen have come out in support of the HAEA’s strike.
    Reflecting concerns in the broader business community, three-quarters of American business leaders polled said they wanted Hong Kong to shut the border with the mainland, according to a survey of 156 executives by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
    Lam has rejected calls to shut the entire border, saying such a move would be “inappropriate and impractical” as well as “discriminatory.”
    By making it inconvenient for people to cross the border, Lam said she hoped it would help contain the spread of the virus although she does not “rule out future measures as the situation evolves
    The health scare comes after months of at times violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong triggered by fears the city’s autonomy, guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula, is being eroded by Beijing.
    China denies meddling and accuses foreign governments of fomenting the unrest.
    The virus is expected to heap more pressure on the former British colony, which on Monday reported its economy contracted for the first time in a decade in 2019.
    The HAEA’s five demands are for the government to close the border, distribute masks to the public, ensure that front-line medical workers have adequate supplies and protection, provide enough isolation wards for patients and guarantee no reprisals for strikers.
    Panic-stricken residents have emptied shelves in major supermarkets in Hong Kong, stockpiling meat, rice and cleaning products as fears escalate over the coronavirus.
    About 90 percent of the city’s food is imported, with the bulk coming from the mainland, according to official data.
    Toy shop owner Lam Wa-yin, 45, said closing the border would intensify worries about supplies of staples.
    “They’ve started rushing to buy supplies even before they fully close the borders,” Lam said.
    “It’ll get worse if it is fully closed.    Especially food.    People have been rushing to buy oil, salt and rice, not to mention the face masks.”
(Reporting By Felix Tam, Joseph Campbell, Twinnie Siu, Jessie Pang, Yoyo Chow; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel)

2/3/2020 Iran not sharing evidence from airline crash with Ukraine after audio leak: Iran official
FILE PHOTO: General view of the debris of the Ukraine International Airlines, flight PS752, Boeing 737-800 plane
that crashed after take-off from Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran January 8, 2020
is seen in this screen grab obtained from a social media video via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran is no longer sharing evidence from the investigation into the Ukraine airliner crash with Ukraine after audio from the investigation was leaked by Ukrainian media, the director in charge of accident investigations at Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization was quoted as saying on Monday.
    The audio file was part of the evidence that was given to Ukrainian experts as part of the joint investigative team’s examination of the crash.
    “The technical investigation team of the Ukrainian airline crash, in a strange move, published the secret audio file of the communications of a pilot of a plane that was flying at the same time as the Ukrainian plane,” Hassan Rezaifar said, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.
    “This action by the Ukrainians led to us not sharing any more evidence with them.”
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/3/2020 China accuses U.S. of scaremongering over coronavirus by Gabriel CROSSLEY
A man has his body temperature measured at a booth set up at an entrance to a shopping mall as the country is hit
by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Beijing on Monday accused the United States of spreading fear over a coronavirus outbreak by pulling nationals out and restricting travel instead of offering significant aid.
    The United States was the first nation to begin evacuations, issued a travel warning against going to China, and from Sunday barred entry to foreigners recently in China.
    Washington has “unceasingly manufactured and spread panic,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) had advised against trade and travel curbs.
    “It is precisely developed countries like the United States with strong epidemic prevention capabilities and facilities that have taken the lead in imposing excessive restrictions contrary to WHO recommendations,” she added, saying countries should make reasonable, calm and science-based judgements.
    In China, 361 people have died with more than 17,000 infected from the virus, which originated in the central city of Wuhan.    At least another 171 cases have been reported in more than two dozen other countries and regions, from the United States to Japan.
    Conducting her daily news briefing via the WeChat app rather than in person, Hua also chided the United States for lack of help.    “So far, the U.S. government has yet to provide any substantial assistance to China,” she said.
    That contrasted with President Donald Trump’s weekend comments that U.S. officials had offered “tremendous help.”
    However, his national security adviser Robert O’Brien told an interviewer China had not yet accepted U.S. offers of aid.
    Tensions over the coronavirus come after the two world’s largest economies have only just started to patch up relations from an 18-month trade war.
    Trump said over the weekend the United States had “shut down” the coronavirus threat.    “We can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem,” he told broadcaster Fox.
    Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam have also announced restrictions on travel from China, while numerous nations have been evacuating citizens.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Cawthorne)

2/3/2020 China facing global isolation as virus toll rises by David Stanway and Winni Zhou
People wearing face masks look for products at a supermarket, as the country is hit by an outbreak
of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China faced mounting isolation in the face of increasing international travel curbs and flight suspensions on Saturday, as the death toll from a spreading coronavirus outbreak rose to 259.
    The epidemic has led to mass evacuations of foreign citizens as world airlines halt flights, and risks exacerbating a slowdown in growth in the world’s second-largest economy.
    China’s National Health Commission said there were 2,102 new confirmed infections in China as of Friday, bringing the total to 11,791.    Around two dozen other countries have reported more than 130 cases.
    All of the reported deaths from the virus have been in China.
    The Russian military was to start evacuating Russian citizens from China on Monday and Tuesday, Interfax and TASS news agencies reported.    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying the evacuations would be from regions that had been most affected by the outbreak.
    Russia, which has already restricted direct flights with its biggest trading partner, also said it was suspending visa-free travel for Chinese visitors and halting work visas.
    Most international cases have been in people who had recently traveled to or were visiting from Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.
    Hubei has been under a virtual quarantine for the last week, with roads sealed off and public transport shut down.    Elsewhere, Chinese authorities placed growing restrictions on travel and business.
    In Beijing, counters were set up at the entrances of housing estates, where volunteers wearing red arm bands and masks noted details of residents coming back from their hometowns after the Lunar New Year holiday.
    “As long as I am properly protected and don’t go to crowded places, I don’t feel scared at all about my hometown or Beijing,” said a 58-year-old migrant worker surnamed Sun.
    Others were more worried.
    “There will be a huge number of people returning to the city.    I think it will put Beijing at risk of more infections,” said Zhang Chunlei, 45, another returning migrant worker.
    In Hubei, the provincial government extended the holiday break to Feb. 13 in a bid to contain the outbreak, the Hubei Daily reported.
    The World Health Organization, which this week declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, has said global trade and travel restrictions are not needed.
    But Singapore and the United States announced measures on Friday to ban foreign nationals who have recently been in China from entering their territories.    Australia followed suit on Saturday.
    “We’re in fact operating with an abundance of caution in these circumstances so Australians can go about their daily lives with confidence,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
    The Chinese data would suggest the flu-like virus is less deadly than the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people of the some 8,000 it infected, although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
EVACUATIONS
    The list of international airlines suspending all or some flights to China is growing.
    The latest were Qantas Airways Ltd and Air New Zealand, who said travel bans forced them to suspend their direct flights to China from Feb. 9.    All three major U.S. airlines said on Friday they would cancel flights to mainland China.
    The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific banned travel to China for all service members and civilian personnel under his authority and ordered those now in China to leave immediately, officials said.
    U.S. health officials on Saturday confirmed an eighth case of the virus, a person in Massachusetts who recently returned from Hubei province.
    Many nations have sent charter flights to repatriate citizens from China and then place them in isolation for around two weeks, believed to be the incubation period of the virus.
    German Health Minister Jens Spahn called for calm and warned against hysteria as more than 100 Germans and family members landed in Frankfurt, none showing any symptoms of the virus. As of Saturday evening Germany had eight confirmed cases.
    Britain, which has had two confirmed cases, said it was withdrawing some staff from its embassy and consulates in China.
    Many of the private clinics catering to foreigners in China have started to turn away people with fevers.
    “I don’t want to go to the local hospital with a sore throat only to catch something else,” said Czech national Veronika Krubner in Tianjin.
DISRUPTIONS
    Infections have jumped in two cities flanking Wuhan, where the new virus is believed to have originated, raising concerns that new hot spots are emerging despite strict transport restrictions.
    In Huanggang, authorities asked households to designate one individual who can leave the home, a local newspaper said. The mayor of the city of about 7.5 million people said there could be a significant rise in cases this weekend.
    The northern city of Tianjin, home to some 15 million, suspended all schools and businesses until further notice.
    Efforts to contain the virus risk slowing economic growth in China.    The virus impact prompted Goldman Sachs to cut its estimate for first-quarter growth to 4% from 5.6%.
    China’s central bank said the impact was temporary and economic fundamentals remained sound, but that it would increase credit support, lowering lending costs for affected companies.
    Apple Inc said on Saturday it would close all of its official stores and corporate offices in China until Feb. 9, the latest of dozens of major companies, including IKEA and Walmart Inc, to restrict travel and operations due to the outbreak.
For a graphic comparing this with previous coronavirus outbreaks, see https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS-COMPARISON/0100B5BY3CY/index.html
(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Brenda Goh and David Stanway in Shanghai, Judy Hua, Se Young Lee, Yilei Sun and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong, Joori Roh in Seoul, Nick Mulveney in Melbourne, Chris Helgren in Toronto, and Vera Eckert in Frankfurt; Writing by Nick Macfie and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Frances Kerry and Bill Berkrot)

2/3/2020 Shutout of WHO, Taiwan faces flight bans, delays in virus updates by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a news conference on the
coronavirus outbreak, in Taipei, Taiwan January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Fabian Hamacher
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Shut out of the World Health Organization, Taiwan faces a dual problem in battling the threat of a new coronavirus: it is being included as a high-risk area as part of China but is unable to get epidemic information firsthand.
    Taiwan is denied membership of most international bodies including the WHO, a U.N. agency, due to the objections of China, which considers the island a Chinese province with no right to participate unless it accepts it is part of China, something Taiwan’s fiercely democratic government will not do.
    Taiwan has long complained about China belittling it on the international stage and forcing foreign governments and companies to refer to it as part of China.
    Now, with the virus biting, Taiwan says this policy means it has become collateral damage.    It has only 10 coronavirus cases compared with more than 17,000 in China, but the WHO is lumping it together with China.
    The consequences surfaced at the weekend when Taiwan said its largest airline, China Airlines <2610.TW>, had been included in an Italian ban on flights from China because the WHO lists Taiwan under China, where the virus originated, as part of a high-risk area.
    Bob Chen, the head of the Taiwan foreign ministry’s Department of International Organisations, said it had complained repeatedly to the WHO.
    “But to date, the WHO’s secretariat’s attitude has been very hard-line,” he said on Sunday.    “It’s very obvious that under China’s pressure they can’t show flexibility.”
    However, the WHO, while still listing Taiwan as part of China, now refers to it as “Taipei,” rather than “Taiwan, China” as it did in initial situation reports, Chen said.
    “It’s a small change, but from our perspective it’s still far from enough.    The biggest problem is they are still putting us under China.”
    In a rare diplomatic success, Taiwan managed on Saturday to get Vietnam to lift its ban on flights to the island.    China Airlines says its Rome flights remain suspended as Taiwan pressed Italy for them to be resumed.
    Taiwan’s other main airline, Eva Airways <2618.TW>, which is due to start flights to Milan this month, said it had no information whether they would go ahead.
    Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Taiwan’s diplomats were working to ensure more countries do not stop flights from Taiwan.
    Italy’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
‘LIMITED’ INFORMATION
    China has denied seeking to make life difficult for Taiwan, saying it can get information from the WHO in a timely way.
    “Taiwan compatriots are our own flesh and blood, and if they encounter difficulties overseas, we are willing to provide strong support,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday, responding to a question on Italy’s flight ban.
    But the WHO is for sovereign states and Taiwan can only take part under the “one China” principle, she added.
    Procedures need to be changed as existing WHO channels provide only limited information, said Wang Liang-yu, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Geneva, where the WHO is based.
    “The WHO should not hint that bilateral channels are enough to replace international cooperation,” she told Reuters.
    The WHO says it is collaborating closely with Taiwan through a 2005 legal instrument on health reporting requirements, the International Health Regulations.
    Taiwan experts were involved in all consultations on the coronavirus and the WHO “had received vital information from Taiwanese authorities,” spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in an email to Reuters, without directly addressing the issue of Taiwan being listed as part of China.
    Taiwan can’t go to the emergency WHO meetings but has still been able to get coronavirus information, though has to wait for it to show up on WHO websites, said Chuang Jen-hsiang, deputy head of its Centres for Disease Control.
    “There is a time gap, but we can see it,” he said.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee, and Se Young Lee and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Emma Farge in Geneva and Gavin Jones in Rome; Editing by Robert Birsel, Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

2/3/2020 Fearing virus, Hong Kong residents stock up on food, essentials by Farah Master
FILE PHOTO: Customers wear masks as they shop for instant noodles at a supermarket following the outbreak
of a new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Panic-stricken residents have emptied shelves in major supermarkets in Hong Kong, stockpiling meat, rice, cleaning products and soap as fears escalate over a coronavirus epidemic on the mainland.
    The rush to procure food in the city of 7.4 million people is unprecedented, residents say, describing it as far worse than the panic during the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people around the world, including nearly 300 in Hong Kong.
    The new coronavirus originated in central China’s Hubei province and has so far killed 361 people in the country.
    Over the weekend in Hong Kong, hundreds of people queued for hours to buy masks and immune-boosting products such as vitamin C.
    At a major supermarket in the bustling Wan Chai district, counters selling chilled meat and seafood were empty by mid-morning on Friday and over the weekend, with stocks of fresh vegetables dwindling.
    “Everybody is really worried.    I think everyone is afraid of what is going to happen in the next few days. Prices are also going to rise,” said Cindy, a retail executive who was buying dry food and soap.
    Dozens of mask-wearing shoppers pushed trolleys down empty aisles showing sold-out signs for hand wash and antiseptic liquids.    Others tried to stock up on remaining bags of rice and packaged noodles.
    The rush to buy food and cleaning products comes as some shoppers said they were concerned that a potential shutdown of the border would impact the supply of products.
    Around 90 percent of the city’s total food supply is imported, with the bulk coming from the mainland, according to official data.
    The Hong Kong government has closed some border crossings, including the high-speed rail, but has stopped short of a complete shutdown, despite growing calls from medical workers, who plan a strike on Monday to demand action.
    The government is grappling with how to handle spreading infections locally, with 15 confirmed cases in the city.    Calls have grown for the government to close the border with mainland China to minimize the risk of infection.
    Hong Kong’s economy was badly hit during the SARS epidemic with tourism and services sectors the most affected as visitor arrivals tumbled and unemployment spiraled.
    There was also a severe drop in consumer spending in the second quarter of 2003 due to SARS but a pick up for the rest of the year saw retail sales drop only 0.6 percent on the year.
    Last week, at an upmarket supermarket in Kowloon’s Elements mall, chilled produce was sold out most afternoons while at Britain’s Marks & Spencer, chicken was sold out by midday.
    At local wet markets, which are typically packed with local residents, many stalls were shuttered as residents opted to shop in air-conditioned grocery stores, believing they were safer.
    “It is worrying that food is being stockpiled but what is even scarier is the stockpiling of masks and sanitizers,” said a man who would only go by his first name, Nelson, who was shopping with his wife.
    So frantic is the search for masks that police on Friday said a 56-year-old medical worker was in custody for stealing 36 face masks and gloves from a hospital where she worked.
(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang and Scott Murdoch; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

2/3/2020 Virus fears wipe $393 billion off China’s stock market despite government support moves by Winni Zhou and Noah Sin
A men wearing a mask walk at the Shanghai Stock Exchange building at the Pudong financial district in
Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Investors erased $393 billion from China’s benchmark stock index on Monday, sold the yuan and dumped commodities as fears about the spreading coronavirus and its economic impact drove selling on the first day of trade in China since the Lunar New Year.
    A nearly 8% plunge on the Shanghai composite index was its biggest daily fall in more than four years.    The Chinese yuan blew past the 7-per-dollar mark and Shanghai-traded commodities from palm oil to copper hit their maximum down limits.
    The wipeout came even as the central bank made its biggest cash injection to the financial system since 2004 and despite apparent regulatory moves to curb selling.
    The total number of deaths in China from the coronavirus rose to 361 by Sunday, compared with 17 on Jan. 23, when Chinese markets last traded.
    “You wanted to know what a real decoupling from China might look like, or what a ‘What if everyone just stayed at home and didn’t buy anything?’ economic thought-experiment looks like?    Well here you are, folks,” Rabobank strategist Michael Every said in an afternoon note.
    The yuan began onshore trade at its weakest this year and was down 1.2% by the afternoon, sliding past the symbolic 7-per-dollar level to close at 7.0257. [MKTS/GLOB]
    Shanghai-traded oil, iron ore, copper and soft commodities contracts all posted sharp drops, catching up with sliding global prices.
    The new virus has created alarm because it is spreading quickly, much about it is unknown, and authorities’ drastic response is likely to drag on economic growth.
    “This will last for some time,” said Iris Pang, Greater China economst at ING.
    “It’s uncertain whether factory workers, or how many of them, will return,” she said.    “We haven’t yet seen corporate earnings since the (spread of the) coronavirus.    Restaurants and retailers may have very little sales.”
    More than 2,500 stocks fell by the daily limit of 10%.    The Shanghai Composite closed down 7.7% at 2,746.6, its lowest since August and a modest recovery from early trade, when it was down nearly 9%.
    Copper sank to its lowest in more than three years, falling by its daily limit of 7%, while aluminum , zinc and lead shed more than 4% and soybeans dropped 2%. [MET/L]
    Bond prices surged, with March futures contracts for 10-year bonds jumping 1.4% .
    The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said the stocks plunge had irrational or even panic elements, triggered by herd behavior, in a newspaper commentary published after markets closed.
    The sell-off cast a pall over Asia, though losses were contained because a slide had been expected.    Hong Kong’s Hang Seng <.HSI>, which shed almost 10% in two weeks, closed 0.2% firmer.
(GRAPHIC: China stocks plummet as virus takes economic toll – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/13/76/76/Pasted%20Image.jpg)
CLEAR MESSAGE
    Amid the selldown, the PBOC had injected 1.2 trillion yuan ($173.81 billion) into money markets through reverse bond repurchase agreements, the largest such move since 2004, according to DBS analysts.
    It also unexpectedly cut the interest rate on those short-term funding facilities by 10 basis points.
    The chance of a benchmark lending rate cut on Feb. 20, the date of its next monthly fixing, has significantly increased, central bank adviser Ma Jun said.
    China’s securities regulator moved to limit short selling and urged mutual fund managers not to sell shares unless they face investor redemptions, sources told Reuters.
    “It is a clear message that they want to take growth-supportive measures and keep the market reassured,” Mayank Mishra, a macro strategist at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore, said of the PBOC move.
    “They are managing the situation well.    The timing of the repo rate cut came a little quicker than some people were expecting, but they wanted to send a clear message.”
    Beijing has also said it would help firms that produce vital goods resume work as soon as possible, state broadcaster CCTV said.
    Cities like Wuhan, where the virus originated, remain in virtual lockdown and China faces mounting international isolation.    Analysts are beginning to suspect the impact will be greater than the hit from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2003.
    That pounded growth across Asia, especially in Hong Kong, and sent the Hang Seng index down by 18% over four months.
    Though it quickly rebounded then, China’s share of the global economy has grown fourfold since and, with so many unknowns, few are willing to call a bottom just yet.
    “At this point, we don’t see this as a buying opportunity,” said Invesco’s David Chao, a global market strategist for Asia ex-Japan.    “We are in the midst of the escalation period.”
(Additional reporting by Luoyan Liu and Sam Shen in Shanghai, Mai Ngyuen in Hanoi and Wayne Cole in Sydney; Writing by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Clarence Fernandez)

2/3/2020 Iran oil minister says China’s virus impacted oil demand
A general view of Abadan oil refinery in southwest Iran, is pictured from Iraqi side of Shatt al-Arab
in Al-Faw south of Basra, Iraq September 21, 2019. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Monday that the spread of China’s new coronavirus had hit oil demand and called for an effort to stabilize oil prices, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported.
    The minister also said Iran would agree to an earlier OPEC meeting if the rest of the group’s members agreed to oil production cuts. OPEC and its allies, a group know as OPEC+, are considering meeting in February instead of March.
    “The oil market is under pressure and prices have dropped to under $60 a barrel and efforts must be made to balance it,” Zanganeh said.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Edmund Blair)

2/3/2020 Iran’s president says Tehran ready to work with EU to resolve nuclear deal issues
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the United Nations
General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran is ready to cooperate with the European Union on issues related to the nuclear deal it agreed with world powers in 2015, President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying on Monday by the ISNA news service.
    He made his comments at a meeting with Josep Borell, the head of the EU’s foreign service, who traveled to Iran to try to reduce tensions in the Middle East after the U.S. killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani last month.
    Under the deal, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions, but the United States withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
    “The Islamic Republic of Iran is still ready for interaction and cooperation with the European Union for resolving issues and, whenever the opposite side completely upholds their commitments, Iran will return to its commitments,” Rouhani said.
    Iran began reducing its commitments under the nuclear deal last year to put pressure on the parties remaining in the accord to protect its economy from U.S. sanctions and allow the Islamic Republic to gain the full benefits outlined in the deal.
    Iranian officials have said all of their actions have been within the parameters of the nuclear deal, are reversible and that they are still committed to having their program monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
    But Britain, France and Germany, which with the United States, Russia and China agreed the deal with Iran, declared Iran in violation of the 2015 pact last month and launched a dispute mechanism under which the matter could be referred back to the Security Council and U.N. sanctions reimposed.
    Iran could quit the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if European countries refer it to the U.N. Security Council over the nuclear agreement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in late January.
    The 1968 NPT has been the foundation of global nuclear arms control since the Cold War.
    Iran says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Timothy Heritage)

2/3/2020 Chinese citizens turn to virus tracker apps to avoid infected neighborhoods
FILE PHOTO - A woman wearing a mask checks her mobile phone in Shanghai, China January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) – Chinese citizens are using mapping programs and travel trackers in a bid to avoid neighborhoods with infections of the coronavirus and to better prepare for the dangers they face.
    Both data mapping company QuantUrban and a third-party Wechat mini-program developer have created platforms that take official information on the neighborhoods where confirmed cases live and map it geographically so that users can gauge how close they are to infection sites.
    While the WeChat program, called “YiKuang” – or “Epidemic Situation,” covers the southern cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, QuantUrban’s browser-based maps also cover nine other cities in the province.
    “Shenzhen might have a major outbreak in the next few days, and government data comes out slowly,” said April, a Shenzhen-based manager who declined to give her full name.
    “Seeing the map is a psychological comfort.    You can’t guarantee there won’t be fresh cases, but you can avoid an area that’s already hit,” she said.
    Confirmed cases in Shenzhen have climbed rapidly to 245 as of Monday, making the southern tech capital the worst-affected of China’s main cities – Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. It has a large population of migrant workers from the heavily affected central provinces.
    “We wanted to annotate the information on the map so that the public could better see how epidemic sites are distributed more intuitively, and also remind everyone to make adequate protection,” said Yuan Xiaohui, QuantUrban’s co-founder and CEO.
    Volunteers also help the team to keep the map up to date as the government releases data daily, she said.
    Yikuang also relies on volunteers to keep up to date and originally denoted neighborhoods with confirmed cases with a skull and crossbones logo.    It has since changed to less alarming exclamation points after users on social media platform Weibo complained they would cause panic.
    “If I know that there are sick people nearby, I can take steps to be extra cautious,” a finance student named Steven told Reuters.    “I live between Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and these maps are really great there.”
    QuantUrban is also covering nine other cities in Guangdong province, Yuan said.
    State-owned media CCTV and the People’s Daily have also given their endorsement to separate programs that help users track whether a bus, train or aeroplane they have traveled on was also used by a confirmed infected patient.
(Reporting by David Kirton in Shenzhen; additional reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/4/2020 Hong Kong records first virus death, Macau shuts casinos by Farah Master and Ryan Woo
A passenger wears a face mask in a Hong Kong bound MTR train at Lo Wu MTR station before the closing of the
Lo Wu border, following the coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong, China February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – Hong Kong reported its first coronavirus death on Tuesday, the second outside mainland China from a fast-spreading outbreak that has killed 427 people and threatened the global economy.
    China’s markets steadied after losing $400 billion in stock values the previous day, and global markets also recovered from a sell-off last week. But bad news kept coming.
    The Chinese-ruled gambling hub of Macau asked casino operators to close for two weeks to help curb the virus.
    And in the latest major corporate hit, Hyundai Motor <005380.KS> said it was to gradually suspend production at South Korean factories because of supply chain disruptions.
    Hong Kong’s first fatality was a 39-year-old man with an underlying illness who had visited China’s Wuhan city, the epicentre of the outbreak, hospital staff said.
    Chinese authorities, meanwhile, reported a record daily jump in deaths of 64 to 425.    The only other death outside mainland China was a man who died in the Philippines last week after visiting Wuhan, the virtually quarantined city at the epicentre of the outbreak.
    Total infections in mainland China rose to 20,438, and there have been nearly 200 cases elsewhere across 24 countries and China’s special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau.
    Thailand’s tally of infections jumped to 25, the highest outside China, while Singapore’s rose to 24, four of those from local contagion as opposed to visitors from China.
    New cases were reported in the United States, including a patient in California infected via someone in the same household who had been infected in China.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency and experts say much is still unknown, including its mortality rate and transmission routes.
FOREIGN FEARS
    Such uncertainties have spurred strong measures by some countries – offending Beijing’s communist government which has called for calm, fact-based responses instead of scaremongering.
    The deluge of misinformation on social media – from a recommendation to eat more onions to a warning of spread via a video game – has led Asian governments to hit back with arrests, fines and fake news laws, alarming free speech advocates.
    At least 16 people have been arrested over coronavirus posts on social media in Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong.
    Australia sent hundreds of evacuees from Wuhan to an island in the Indian Ocean, while Japan ordered the quarantine of a cruise ship with more than 3,000 aboard after a Hong Kong man who sailed on it last month tested positive.
    Thousands of medical workers in Hong Kong, which had seen months of anti-China political protests, held a second day of strikes to press for complete closure of borders with the mainland after three checkpoints were left open.
    “We’re not threatening the government, we just want to prevent the outbreak,” said Cheng, 26, a nurse on strike.
    The Asian financial centre has confirmed 17 cases of the virus and its public hospital network is struggling to cope with a deluge of patients and containment measures.
    Hong Kong was badly hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that emerged from China in 2002 to kill almost 800 people worldwide and cost the global economy an estimated $33 billion.
    WHO figures show SARS killed 299 people in Hong Kong then.
    Chinese data suggest the new virus, while much more contagious, is significantly less lethal, although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
    In Wuhan, authorities started converting a gymnasium, exhibition centre and cultural complex into makeshift hospitals with more than 3,400 beds for patients with mild infections, the official Changjiang Daily said.
U.S.-CHINA FRICTIONS
    Raising the prospect of another major spat – just as trade frictions were easing – Beijing on Monday accused the United States of spreading panic after it announced plans to block nearly all recent foreign visitors to China.
    A handful of other nations have done the same.
    With the world’s second biggest economy facing increasing international isolation and disruption, some economists predict world output will shrink by 0.2 to 0.3 percentage points.
    Many airlines have stopped flights to parts of China, with Japan’s biggest carrier, ANA Holdings <9202.T>, the latest to announce cuts, saying it would slash the number of flights to Beijing by two-thirds for at least seven weeks.
    Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd <0293.HK> plans to cut 30% of global capacity over the short term, including 90% to mainland China.
    Data from aviation statistics provider VariFlight showed 41 Chinese carriers cancelled nearly two-thirds of 16,623 planned flights for Tuesday as of 10:30 a.m. Beijing time (0230 GMT).
    In addition, 10 regional airlines from Hong Kong and Taiwan had cancelled 162 flights, while 37 airlines from other countries cancelled 168 flights on the same day, it said, each day since the start of February.
    For a graphic comparing coronavirus outbreaks, see https://tmsnrt.rs/2GK6YVK.
(Reporting by Lusha Zhang and Ryan Woo in Beijing, Farah Master in Hong Kong, Cheng Leng and Winni Zhou in Shanghai, Roxanne Liu, Muyu Xu and Se Young Lee in Beijing, Brenda Goh and Zoey Zhang in Shanghai, Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Byron Kaye in Sydney, Matthew Tostevin in Bangkok, Linda Sieg, Sakura Murakami and Ami Miyazaki in Tokyo, John Geddie in Singapore, Kate Kelland in London, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Clarence; Fernandez and Alex Richardson)

2/4/2020 Iran to execute man for spying for CIA: judiciary
FILE PHOTO: Iranians burn U.S and Israeli flags as they gather to mourn General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, who was
killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, in Tehran, Iran January 4, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A man sentenced to death in Iran for spying for the CIA and attempting to pass on information about Tehran’s nuclear program will be executed soon, authorities said on Tuesday, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
    In another case, two people working for a charity were sentenced to 10 years in prison for spying and five years in prison for acting against national security on similar charges, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said, according to Fars.
    “Amir Rahimpour who was a CIA spy and got big pay and tried to present part of Iran’s nuclear information to the American service had been tried and sentenced to death and recently the supreme court upheld his sentence and he will see the consequences of his action soon,” Esmaili said, referring to the individual facing capital punishment.
    Esmaili did not provide any additional information about the nationality of the convicted individuals working for a charity.    Iran does not recognize dual nationality and the judiciary prosecutes dual nationals as Iranian citizens.
    Last summer, Iran announced it had broken up a CIA spy ring of 17 individuals and that some had been sentenced to death.
    The CIA did not immediately comment on Esmaili’s remarks.    U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted after the announcement last summer: “The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false.    Zero truth.”
    Tensions have increased between Tehran and Washington since the United States killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting the Islamic Republic to retaliate with a missile strike against a U.S. base in Iraq.
    Speaking at a press conference streamed live on the judiciary’s website, Esmaili said the names of the individuals working for a charity would not be released yet because the sentence has not been finalised.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean and Timothy Heritage)

2/4/2020 Canada aims to evacuate citizens from China on Thursday: source
FILE PHOTO: A traveller wears a mask at Pearson airport arrivals, shortly after Toronto Public Health received
notification of Canada's first presumptive confirmed case of novel coronavirus, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada aims to evacuate some 300 of its citizens on Thursday from the quarantined Chinese city at the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak, a government source said, though the planned flight was still awaiting final Chinese approval.
    Canadians in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province, have received an email from the foreign ministry saying a plane was expected to leave with evacuees early on Feb. 6, according to a report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC).
    However, a Canadian government source said the Chinese government had yet to give final consent for the flight.    Residents of Wuhan and Hubei have been under quarantine for a few weeks as China attempts to contain the spread of the virus.
    According to a portion of the letter the CBC posted online, not everyone who is eligible for a seat will get one.
    “Right now, there is a larger number of Canadians asking for evacuation than is space on the plane,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on his way to a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.    “That’s why we have already got an option on the second plane.”
    Trudeau said the aim was to get people home soon, specifying the time frame only as “in coming days.”
    On Monday, Canada’s foreign minister said some 300 people had asked to be evacuated.    They will be flown first to Vancouver, where the plane will refuel, and then on to a military base in southern Ontario.
    Those evacuated will be placed in quarantine for 14 days once they arrive at Trenton Air Force base, some 180 km (110 miles) northeast of Toronto.
    Hong Kong reported its first coronavirus death on Tuesday, the second outside mainland China after the Philippines, from a fast-spreading outbreak that has killed 427 people and threatened the global economy.
    Total infections in mainland China rose to 20,438, and there have been nearly 200 cases elsewhere across 24 countries and China’s special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau.
    Canada has had four confirmed cases.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

2/4/2020 Japan screens 3,700 on quarantined cruise ship after coronavirus case by Sakura Murakami and Naomi Tajitsu
A man in a proctective clothing is seen on the sixth deck of cruise ship Diamond Princess in Yokohama,
in this February 4, 2020 photo obtained from social media. Twitter / @DAXA_TW via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Health screening began on Tuesday for some 3,700 passengers and crew aboard a cruise liner held in quarantine at the Japanese port of Yokohama, after a Hong Kong passenger who sailed on the vessel last month tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus.
    The 80-year-old man flew to Japan and boarded the ship, the Diamond Princess, run by Carnival Japan Inc, in Yokohama on Jan. 20 and disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan. 25, the company said.
    Photographs and video posted on Twitter by a passenger with the handle @daxa_tw showed masked health workers clad in blue plastic gowns walking down empty corridors as well as views of deserted lounges and a barren deck.
    Guests awaiting screening were asked to stay in their cabins, where they answered a questionnaire and had their temperatures taken.    But onboard announcements later in the day said about 70% of the health checks had been completed and activities were operating normally except for the casino, shops and photo studio.
    Some family members expressed concern about relatives trapped on board. “Unaffected people can easily say ‘keep them out’ but my whole family wants my precious sister to come home safe,” wrote one Twitter user.
    Carnival Japan, a unit of British-American cruise operator Carnival Corp, confirmed that the turnaround of the ship had been delayed by about 24 hours for authorities to review the health of all 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew on board. About half of those on board were Japanese, a company spokeswoman said.
    Carnival’s Princess Cruises Japan later said cruises scheduled to depart from Yokohama on Tuesday and the western Japanese port of Kobe on Thursday would be canceled because of delays related to the coronavirus checks.
    Once everyone’s health was checked, those with fevers or who felt unwell would be tested, after which authorities would decide whether to let people leave the ship, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo.
EXPANDING TEST TARGET SCOPE
    A health ministry official said not everyone would be tested with PCR (polymerase chain reaction) kits because it was too time-consuming and deemed unnecessary.
    Public broadcaster NHK said authorities were checking whether the Hong Kong man who later tested positive had disembarked when the ship docked in Kagoshima, southwest Japan.
    NHK also said that when the ship made a stop in Naha on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, about 10 passengers got off after checks showed no passengers had fever or other symptoms.
    Also on Tuesday, Japan expanded the scope of its screening for the virus generally after some people who had not met criteria for testing were later found to be infected.
    Opposition parties and some experts have criticized the government for responding too slowly to the risks following the outbreak of the coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.    So far, the epidemic that has claimed more than 420 lives in mainland China.
    Chinese make up 30% of all tourists traveling to Japan and nearly 40% of the total amount foreign visitors spent last year, according to an industry survey.
    Japan has 20 confirmed coronavirus cases, of these 17 people have been in Wuhan.    And on Saturday, Japan began refusing entry to foreigners who have been in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, in the past 14 days as well as people with passports issued in Hubei.
    Suga said that as of Feb. 3, eight foreigners had been barred from entering Japan.
    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary panel the government would be flexible about expanding areas in China from which visitors would be banned, depending on trends in China.
    Some countries including the United States and Australia have denied entry to all foreign nationals traveling from China.     Separately, Taiwan’s government said on Tuesday it would ban cruise ships from calling at the island if they had visited China, Hong Kong or Macau in the 14 days before, or 28 days before if they had previously carried confirmed or suspected cases of the virus.
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park, Rocky Swift, Ami Miyazaki and Kaori Kaneko, and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

2/4/2020 Europe to avoid taking Iran nuclear dispute to U.N., EU’s top diplomat says
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif shakes hands with High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and
Vice-President of European Commission Josep Borrell in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2020. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will extend indefinitely the time limit to resolve disputes in the Iran 2015 nuclear accord to avoid having to go to the U.N. Security Council or triggering new sanctions, the EU’s top diplomat said during a visit to Tehran.
    Britain, France and Germany formally accused Iran on Jan. 14 of violating the terms of the 2015 arms control agreement aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program. Violations could lead to the reimposing of U.N. sanctions lifted under the 2015 deal.
    “We are in agreement not to go directly to a strict time limit which would oblige (us) to go to the Security Council,” the EU’s Josep Borrell told reporters during a visit to Tehran on Monday.
    In his remarks, broadcast on Tuesday, he said: “The willingness is not to start a process that goes to the end of JCPOA, but to keep it alive,” referring to the Iran deal by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
    After months of gradual steps to reduce compliance, Iran said on Jan. 6 it would scrap limits on enriching uranium.
    Borrell, who is chair of the Iran deal, was notified in January by Paris, London and Berlin that they had triggered the dispute mechanism, in theory starting a 15-day process to resolve issues with Iran.
    However, there are some questions over when the 15-day period should start because Iran has not formally recognized the consultation process, officials have said.
    China and Russia are also signatories to the deal signed in Vienna in 2015 and have expressed misgivings about the Europeans’ decision to trigger the mechanism.
    All sides say they want to save the deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from in May 2018, reimposing economic sanctions on Iran.
    Borrell said he had agreed with Berlin, London and Paris to “continuously postpone” the 15-day limit.    However, he said progress depended on maintaining the presence of the U.N. atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in Iran to monitor its nuclear activities.
    After meeting Borrell on Monday, President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying that Iran is ready to cooperate with the EU on issues related to the nuclear deal.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

2/5/2020 Two cruise ships ordered into quarantine as virus death toll nears 500 by Se Young Lee and Winni Zhou
People are transferred from cruise ship Diamond Princess to a patrol ship, after ten people onboard the cruise have tested
positive for coronavirus, in Yokohama, Japan in this picture taken by Kyodo February 5, 2020. Kyodo/via REUTERS
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Thousands of passengers and crew on two cruise ships in Asian waters were placed in quarantine on Wednesday, as the death toll from an outbreak of a fast-spreading coronavirus rose to nearly 500.
    China’s National Health Commission said another 65 people had died as of Tuesday, a new daily record taking the toll on the mainland to 490, most in and around the locked-down central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged late last year.
    There have been two deaths outside mainland China, both following visits to Wuhan.    A man in the Philippines died last week, and a 39-year-old man with underlying illness died in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
    A Thai taxi-driver, who recovered from the infection, told a news conference in Bangkok of his shock upon learning he had caught it.
    “I cried because I have to take care of my family,” said the man, who wore a mask to hide his identity.
    “But I don’t have a bad feeling against tourists or the Chinese,” he said, adding he had a message of support for Wuhan.
    “Even I can beat it, so can you.”
    Across mainland China, there were 3,887 new confirmed infections, for a total of 24,324.
    The virus had disrupted air travel with more than two dozen airlines suspending or restricting flights to China and several countries, including the United States, banning the entry of anyone who has been in China over the previous two weeks.
    Taiwan banned the entry of people who live on the mainland from Thursday.
    The disruption spread to cruise ships this week with about 3,700 people facing at least two weeks locked away on a liner anchored off Japan after health officials confirmed that 10 people aboard had tested positive for the virus.
    In Hong Kong, more than 1,800 passengers and crew were confined to their cruise ship docked in the city during tests for the virus, after three people on board had earlier tested positive.
    Passengers on the ship off Japan, the Diamond Princess, described their predicament on social media, posting pictures of officials in masks and gowns conducting health checks, room service meals, empty corridors, and a barren deck.
    “This is not a good situation,” British passenger David Abel said in a video shot in his cabin and posted to his Facebook page.
    He said all passengers were confined to their cabins on Wednesday morning, with staff delivering food to their rooms.
    “The challenging situation for me is that I’m an insulin dependent diabetic,” Abel said.
    Japan now has 33 infections.
    For a full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak click, https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B59Y39P/index.html
‘UNCERTAINTIES’
    In Hong Kong, authorities said it was not clear how long those aboard the World Dream would be confined to the ship, operated by Dream Cruises, which docked in the former British colony after Taiwan’s southern port of Kaohsiung denied it entry on Tuesday.     Hong Kong has confirmed 18 cases of the virus, including at least four transmitted locally.
    Nearly 230 cases have been reported in some 27 countries and regions outside mainland China, according to a Reuters tally based on official statements.
GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html
    The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency but experts say features still unknown include its exact mortality rate and transmission routes.
    Asian stocks steadied on Wednesday as Chinese shares nudged higher on hopes of additional stimulus to lessen the financial impact on the world’s second-largest economy.
    Nearly $700 billion was wiped off mainland Chinese stocks on Monday and many factories remain shut, cities cut off and travel links constricted, fuelling worries about global supply chains.
    White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the epidemic would delay a surge in U.S. exports to China expected from the Phase 1 trade deal set to take effect this month.
    Japan’s central bank is ready to ramp up stimulus measures for the world’s third-biggest economy, Deputy Governor Masazumi Wakatabe said, citing uncertainty over the impact of the virus among the woes.
    American Airlines Group and United Airlines said they would suspend flights to and from Hong Kong after this week, a step that would leave no U.S. carriers flying passengers to the Asian financial hub.
‘WIN THIS WAR’
    Neighboring Macau, a gambling hub and another special administrative region of China, ordered casinos to suspend operations on Tuesday, effectively halting the lifeblood of its economy in a drastic bid to contain the epidemic.
    Beijing has criticized as an overreaction U.S. travel curbs that bar foreign nationals who have visited China and urged Washington to do more to help.
    “We have the ability and confidence to finally win this war of containment,” China’s state councillor Wang Yi told Thailand’s foreign minister in a telephone call on Tuesday, according to China’s foreign ministry.
    Wang said the outbreak’s mortality rate, of less than 2.1% until now, was far lower than that for other major epidemics.
    Australia and New Zealand were among several countries that kept up efforts to evacuate citizens from virus-hit Wuhan, with the United States saying it may add flights to evacuate its private citizens on Thursday.
    Two flights expected to arrive on Wednesday in the United States will bring home 350 passengers from Wuhan who face 14 days in quarantine, a Defense Department spokesman said.
For a graphic comparing coronavirus outbreaks, see https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS-COMPARISON/0100B5BY3CY/index.html
(Reporting by Lusha Zhang, Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu and Se Young Lee in Beijing, Yilei Sun and Winni Zhou in Shanghai, Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Matthew Tostevin in Bangkok, Chang-Ran Kim, Chris Gallagher, Linda Sieg and Ju-min Park in Tokyo, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Hong Kong and Taipei newsrooms, David Lawder, Andrea Shalal, Susan Heavey and Makini Brice in Washington; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

2/5/2020 Data suggests virus infections under-reported, exaggerating fatality rate by Cate Cadell
FILE PHOTO: Funeral parlour staff members in protective suits help a colleague with disinfection after they transferred a body at a
hospital, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 30, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Fatalities from the coronavirus epidemic are overwhelmingly concentrated in central China’s Wuhan city, which accounts for over 73% of deaths despite having only one-third the number of confirmed infections.
    In Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease, one person has died for every 23 infections reported.    That number drops to one on 50 nationally, and outside mainland China, one death has been recorded per 114 confirmed cases.
    Experts say the discrepancy is mainly due to under-reporting of milder virus cases in Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province that are grappling with shortages in testing equipment and beds.
    “In an outbreak your really have to interpret fatality rates with a very skeptical eye, because often it’s only the very severe cases that are coming to people’s attention,” said Amesh Adalja, an expert in pandemic preparedness at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
    “It’s very hard to say those numbers represent anything like the true burden of infection” said Adalja, who estimates current fatality rates are likely below 1%.
    As of Tuesday, 24,551 cases have been confirmed globally. A 1% fatality rate would put total cases at over 49,000, based on the current death toll of 492.
    Gauden Galea, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative for China, told Reuters on Sunday that a “crude calculation” done by dividing total cases by deaths put the rate at 2% and said the rate was generally falling.
    “Trying to really demystify those fatality numbers by including mildly symptomatic cases will help people to better understand the risk,” said Adalja.
CLUSTER OF DEATHS
    In Wuhan, some patients with milder symptoms have been turned away from hospitals in recent weeks because of the strain on resources, several people in the city told Reuters.    Others have opted to self-isolate.
    Wuhan resident Meiping Wang said she and her sister both believe they have mild cases of the virus after their mother tested positive, but have not been tested.
    “There is no use going to the hospital because there is no treatment,” Wang, 31, said in a telephone interview.
    Under-reporting mild cases – which increases fatality rates – could have a negative social and economic impact as global health authorities race to contain the disease.
    “It’s good to remember that when H1N1 influenza came out in 2009, estimates of case fatality were 10 percent,” said David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, who was working in public health at the time.    “That turned out to be incredibly wrong.”
    “As the denominator is growing in terms of case numbers, and case fatality goes down and down… you start to realize it’s everywhere,” he said.
    The global response to the coronavirus epidemic has been swift and fierce.    Several countries have implemented partial or full travel bans on Chinese travelers.
    “There are many actions going on all over the world that really are premised on the idea that this is a very severe illness,” said Johns Hopkins’ Adalja.
    WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday that the bans were an unnecessary interruption to travel and trade.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

2/5/2020 No box of chocolates: South Korea border town laid low by swine fever, not shells from North by Jane Chung
Kong ji-ye, CEO of DMZ Dreamfood, walks out of the chocolate factory that has been shut down
in Paju, South Korea, January 21, 2020. Picture taken January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    PAJU, South Korea (Reuters) – For the first time in 10 years, Kong Ji-ye’s chocolate-making machines sit idle in Paju city, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas.
    Not because of shelling, nuclear tests or general sabre-rattling from the North.    Her business is at a standstill because an outbreak of a virus that kills pigs but can’t harm humans triggered a ban on tours that bring hundreds of thousands of South Korean and foreign visitors to the border with the North.
    Kong, 47, makes souvenir chocolates for tourists on their way to the DMZ.    But four months ago Seoul halted all DMZ tours in a bid to stop the spread of African swine fever from the North – the disease can be transmitted by human traffic and has decimated pig herds in the South and across Asia.
    The chocolate maker is just one of tens of thousands of people in thousands of businesses whose livelihood depends on tourism in Paju, a city of about 460,000 about an hour north of Seoul: With revenue down to a trickle, Kong has had to borrow money to keep staff on her books – though two have already quit – and the future looks bleak unless the ban is reversed soon.
    “The tours were suspended following North Korea’s shelling on Yeonpyeong island (in 2010) for safety reasons, but since then this is the first time the tours were completely suspended,” said Kong in an interview at her DMZ Dreamfood factory, methodically folding empty chocolate boxes.
    The extreme response by Seoul is because South Korea suspects the fever spread from the North: The South’s first confirmed case in September was at a pig farm in Paju, less than four months after North Korea’s own outbreak.
    No new cases have been reported at farms in South Korea since Oct. 10, but infected wild boars still roam the DMZ, with more than a third of those that have been found dead discovered inside Paju city-limits, according to data from the National Institute of Environmental Research.
FENCES, HUNTS, PROTESTS
    To try to cut risks, Paju has set up fences to try to block wild boars from crossing into tourist spots as well as stepping up efforts to hunt the animals, an official at Paju city hall said.
    In early January, Kong joined hundreds of Paju citizens ranging from restaurant owners to tour operators in a protest demonstration urging Seoul to lift the tour ban and provide measures to support them.
    An agriculture ministry official said Paju must continue to hunt wild boars through February before swine fever-related ministries decide whether it is safe for tours to resume.
    Park Sung-jun, executive director at Cosmo-Jin Travel Agency in Paju, also said the fever has taken a heavy toll on business, since DMZ tour packages typically account for 40% of revenue.
    “The swine fever hit tourism and that’s caused a direct blow to the wrong industry,” said Park.
    For Kong, there’s little left to do for now but fold boxes for the chocolates she hopes to start selling to tourists, at about $10 apiece, as soon as the ban is lifted.
    “I thought it would be for a week, not four months and it’s really hard because not once has this ever happened,” she said.
(GRAPHIC: Map of African swine fever cases found in wild boars on South Korean side of DMZ link: https://graphics.reuters.com/SOUTHKOREA-SWINEFEVER/0100B5B139T/South%20Korea%20Swine%20Fever.jpg)
(Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

2/5/2020 Iran’s Khamenei calls for a high turnout in February parliament election: TV affiliated website
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers Friday prayers sermon,
in Tehran, Iran January 17, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a high turnout in a February parliamentary election, the YJC news site, which is affiliated with Iran’s state TV, reported on Wednesday.
    “Any person who has an affinity for Iran and its security must take part in the election,” Khamenei said, according to YJC.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alex Richardson)

2/5/2020 China says Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen to visit China
FILE PHOTO: Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen arrives at a celebration marking the 41st anniversary
of the fall of Khmer Rouge regime in Phnom Penh, Cambodia January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Foreign Ministry said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen would visit China on Wednesday.
    Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the announcement at a daily news briefing in Beijing.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley)

2/5/2020 Japan screens 3,700 on quarantined cruise ship after coronavirus case by Sakura Murakami and Naomi Tajitsu
An officer in protective gears carry a luggage cases after people who were transferred from cruise ship Diamond Princess
arrived at a maritime police's base in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Health screening began on Tuesday for some 3,700 passengers and crew aboard a cruise liner held in quarantine at the Japanese port of Yokohama, after a Hong Kong passenger who sailed on the vessel last month tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus.
    The 80-year-old man flew to Japan and boarded the ship, the Diamond Princess, run by Carnival Japan Inc, in Yokohama on Jan. 20 and disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan. 25, the company said.
    Photographs and video posted on Twitter by a passenger with the handle @daxa_tw showed masked health workers clad in blue plastic gowns walking down empty corridors as well as views of deserted lounges and a barren deck.
    Guests awaiting screening were asked to stay in their cabins, where they answered a questionnaire and had their temperatures taken.    But onboard announcements later in the day said about 70% of the health checks had been completed and activities were operating normally except for the casino, shops and photo studio.
    Some family members expressed concern about relatives trapped on board. “Unaffected people can easily say ‘keep them out’ but my whole family wants my precious sister to come home safe,” wrote one Twitter user.
    Carnival Japan, a unit of British-American cruise operator Carnival Corp, confirmed that the turnaround of the ship had been delayed by about 24 hours for authorities to review the health of all 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew on board. About half of those on board were Japanese, a company spokeswoman said.
    Carnival’s Princess Cruises Japan later said cruises scheduled to depart from Yokohama on Tuesday and the western Japanese port of Kobe on Thursday would be canceled because of delays related to the coronavirus checks.
    Once everyone’s health was checked, those with fevers or who felt unwell would be tested, after which authorities would decide whether to let people leave the ship, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo.
EXPANDING TEST TARGET SCOPE
    A health ministry official said not everyone would be tested with PCR (polymerase chain reaction) kits because it was too time-consuming and deemed unnecessary.
    Public broadcaster NHK said authorities were checking whether the Hong Kong man who later tested positive had disembarked when the ship docked in Kagoshima, southwest Japan.
    NHK also said that when the ship made a stop in Naha on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, about 10 passengers got off after checks showed no passengers had fever or other symptoms.
    Also on Tuesday, Japan expanded the scope of its screening for the virus generally after some people who had not met criteria for testing were later found to be infected.
    Opposition parties and some experts have criticized the government for responding too slowly to the risks following the outbreak of the coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. So far, the epidemic that has claimed more than 420 lives in mainland China.
    Chinese make up 30% of all tourists traveling to Japan and nearly 40% of the total amount foreign visitors spent last year, according to an industry survey.
    Japan has 20 confirmed coronavirus cases, of these 17 people have been in Wuhan. And on Saturday, Japan began refusing entry to foreigners who have been in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, in the past 14 days as well as people with passports issued in Hubei.
    Suga said that as of Feb. 3, eight foreigners had been barred from entering Japan.
    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary panel the government would be flexible about expanding areas in China from which visitors would be banned, depending on trends in China.
    Some countries including the United States and Australia have denied entry to all foreign nationals traveling from China.
    Separately, Taiwan’s government said on Tuesday it would ban cruise ships from calling at the island if they had visited China, Hong Kong or Macau in the 14 days before, or 28 days before if they had previously carried confirmed or suspected cases of the virus.
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park, Rocky Swift, Ami Miyazaki and Kaori Kaneko, and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

2/5/2020 China virus hits cruise ships, carmakers, airlines and Airbus by Se Young Lee and Winni Zhou
People are transferred from cruise ship Diamond Princess to a patrol ship, after ten people onboard the cruise have tested
positive for coronavirus, in Yokohama, Japan in this picture taken by Kyodo February 5, 2020. Kyodo/via REUTERS
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Thousands of passengers and crew on two cruise ships in Asian waters were placed in quarantine for China’s coronavirus on Wednesday as airlines, car manufacturers and other global companies counted the cost of the fast-spreading outbreak.
    China said another 65 people had died as of Tuesday, the highest daily total yet, taking the overall toll on the mainland to 490, most in and around the locked-down central city of Wuhan, where the new virus emerged late last year.
    There have been two deaths outside mainland China – in the Philippines and Hong Kong – both following visits to Wuhan.
    The virus had disrupted air travel, with more than two dozen airlines suspending or restricting flights to China and several countries, including the United States, banning the entry of anyone who has been in China over the previous two weeks.
    Taiwan banned the entry of mainland residents from Thursday.
    For more on the Coronavirus outbreak, click: https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B59Y39P/index.html
    The disruption spread to cruise ships this week, with about 3,700 people facing at least two weeks cut off aboard a liner anchored off Japan after health officials confirmed 10 passengers had tested positive for the virus.
    Passengers on the Diamond Princess posted pictures online of officials in masks and gowns conducting health checks and an empty deck.
    “This is not a good situation,” British passenger David Abel said in a video shot in his cabin and posted to Facebook.
    In Hong Kong, 3,600 passengers and crew were confined to their ship docked in the city for tests after three people on board had tested positive earlier.
    Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways <0293.HK> asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave, saying conditions were as grave now as during the 2009 financial crisis.
    American Airlines Group and United Airlines said they would suspend flights to and from Hong Kong after this week, a step that would leave no U.S. carriers flying passengers to the Asian financial hub.
FACTORY DISRUPTION
    Nearly $700 billion was wiped off mainland Chinese stocks on Monday with many factories shut, cities cut off and travel links constricted, fuelling worries about global supply chains.
    Asian stocks steadied on Wednesday.
    Hyundai Motor <005380.KS> will suspend production in South Korea because of a disruption to the supply of parts, it said, becoming the first major carmaker to do so outside of China.
    Global carmakers have already extended factory closures in China in line with government guidelines.    These include Hyundai, Tesla , Ford , PSA Peugeot Citroen , Nissan <7201.T> and Honda Motor <7267.T.>
    Planemaker Airbus has prolonged a planned closure of its final assembly plant in Tianjin, China, it said.
    Taiwan’s Foxconn <2317.TW>, which makes phones for global vendors including Apple , aims to gradually restart factories in China next week but could take at least a week or two more to resume full production, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.
    German sportswear company Adidas said it was temporarily shutting a “considerable” number of its stores in China.
    White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the epidemic would delay a surge in U.S. exports to China expected from a Phase 1 trade deal set to take effect this month.
    European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said the virus was adding to economic doubts.
    “While the threat of a trade war between the United States and China appears to have receded, the coronavirus adds a new layer of uncertainty,” she said in Paris.
GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus – https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7
HUMAN-TO-HUMAN SPREAD
    Evidence of human-to-human spread outside China surfaced after an international business gathering in Singapore in January was linked to virus cases reported in Malaysia and South Korea, but authorities did not comment on its nature or the industry involved.
    Singapore – one of the worst hit countries outside China in the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) – has reported 28 cases of the new coronavirus.
    Across mainland China, there were 3,887 new confirmed infections of the coronavirus, making a total of 24,324.    Nearly 230 cases have been reported in some 27 countries and regions outside mainland China, a Reuters tally based on official statements shows.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the flu-like virus – officially called 2019-nCoV – a global emergency and says facemasks are important in curbing transmission if someone is showing symptoms.    Pregnant women may be able to pass it to their unborn children, according to Chinese state media.
    Asked about various reports of “drug breakthroughs,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said: “There are no known effective therapeutics against this 2019-nCoV.”
    Russia said it would take between eight and 10 months to develop a vaccine, Interfax reported.    Scores of Russians began two weeks of quarantine in Siberia on Wednesday after being flown from Wuhan.
    Beijing has criticised as an overreaction U.S. travel curbs that bar foreign nationals who have visited China.    About 350 Americans, the latest to be evacuated from Wuhan, landed in California on Wednesday.
GRAPHIC: Comparing new coronavirus to SARS and MERS – https://tmsnrt.rs/2GK6YVK
(Reporting by Lusha Zhang, Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu and Se Young Lee in Beijing, Yilei Sun and Winni Zhou in Shanghai, Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Matthew Tostevin in Bangkok, Chang-Ran Kim, Chris Gallagher, Linda Sieg and Ju-min Park in Tokyo, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Gleb Stolyarov, Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Hong Kong and Taipei newsrooms, David Lawder, Andrea Shalal, Susan Heavey and Makini Brice in Washington, Riham Alkousaa in Berlin and Balazs Koranyiin; in Frankfurt; Writing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alex Richardson)

2/5/2020 Iran will back Palestinian armed groups as much as it can: leader
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a public gathering ahead of the 41st anniversary of the
Islamic revolution, in Tehran, Iran February 5, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will support Palestinian armed groups as much as it can, Iran’s Supreme Leader said on Wednesday, urging Palestinians to confront a U.S. plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
    “We believe that Palestinian armed organizations will stand and continue resistance and the Islamic Republic sees supporting Palestinian groups as its duty,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech, the text of which appeared on his website.
    “So it will support them however it can and as much as it can and this support is the desire of the Islamic system and the Iranian nation.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump announced a U.S. plan last month which would set up a Palestinian state with strict conditions but allow Israel to take over long-contested Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
    Palestinian leaders have rejected it as biased toward Israel.
    Trump’s plan is to the detriment of America and Palestinians should confront the deal by forcing Israelis and Americans out through jihad, Khamenei said, according to his official website.
    Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting the Islamic Republic to retaliate with a missile attack against a U.S. base in Iraq days later.
    Khamenei jabbed at Arab leaders who have supported the Trump plan.
    “The welcoming and clapping from a few traitorous Arab leaders who are worthless and dishonorable among their own people has no importance,” Khamenei said, according to his official website.
    Separately, Khamenei called for a high turnout in parliamentary elections on Feb. 21, broadly seen as a gauge of support for authorities after all-out war with the United States almost broke out last month.
    “It’s possible that someone doesn’t like me but if they like Iran they must come to the ballot box,” Khamenei said, according to his official website, noting that the elections could help solve Iran’s international problems.
    Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at hardliners over the mass disqualification of candidates for the election.
    Iran’s economy has been battered after Trump pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic in 2018 and reimposed sanctions in a bid to bring Iran to the negotiating table for curbs on its ballistic missile program and to cut its support for regional proxies.
    America’s attempt to pressure Iran to negotiate through sanctions will not work, Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state TV on Wednesday.
    “They thought we would request negotiations from America.    Negotiations by their definition, not our definition,” Rouhani said.    “They want us to surrender through cruel, unequal and undignified negotiations. This is impossible for the Iranian people.”
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alex Richardson, William Maclean)
[MAKE A CHOICE PALESTINIANS DO YOU WANT TO CONTINUE TO LIVE IN STRIFE AND DEATH WITH IRAN BACKED HAMAS OR FIND SOME PEACE WITH THE OFFERINGS OF A PEACE PLAN SO YOU CAN LIVE LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE FINALLY AND IMPROVE YOUR LIFE.].

2/5/2020 Canada to press Iran to send downed plane’s black boxes to France
FILE PHOTO: Debris from the Ukraine International Airlines, flight PS752, Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after take-off
from Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran January 8, 2020. Social media video via REUTERS
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will press Iran on Wednesday to send the black boxes from a downed airliner immediately to France where the data can be analyzed, Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told reporters.
    Iran’s civil aviation authority said on Tuesday it would keep working with other countries investigating its downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane last month. Tehran has not released the black boxes.
    Champagne said he would be talking to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about the recorders, the probe and compensation for families of the 57 Canadians who were among the 176 people aboard who were killed.
    “We are going to ask that the black boxes be sent to France … (which) has all the equipment and technical expertise to analyze them,” said Champagne.    “We don’t want there to be any more delays so we would like to see that happen immediately.”
    Champagne said he and Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau met the head of the International Civil Aviation Organization last Friday to ask for its help to make sure the flight and cockpit recorders were sent to France.
    “This is a message I will reiterate (to Zarif) … we judge Iran by their actions, not their words,” Champagne said.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Paul Simao)

2/5/2020 Thailand scraps China-led project to blast open Mekong River by Panarat Thepgumpanat
FILE PHOTO: A fisherman is seen on the Mekong river bank outside Nong Khai, Thailand January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand has scrapped a Chinese-led project to blast rapids on the Mekong River that had been opposed by local people and environmental groups, a government spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
    China initiated a plan to dredge the Mekong River in 2001 to make room for large ships to carry goods from its landlocked southern province of Yunnan to ports in Thailand, Laos, and the rest of Southeast Asia.
    The plan had been opposed by conservationists and communities in Thailand living along the Mekong River.    They feared it would harm the environment and benefit only China.
    The Thai cabinet agreed to scrap the dredging plan during a weekly meeting on Tuesday.
    “The communities affected and non-profit groups were against the plan, fearing it would affect the way of life, and China also had no funding for it … So we ended the project,” said Trisulee Trisaranakul, a deputy government spokeswoman.
    “It didn’t take off yet. We were only doing environmental and social impact assessments,” she told Reuters.
    The Chinese embassy in Bangkok was not immediately available for comment.
    A Thai cabinet document said that China had in any case informed countries on the Mekong River last year that it was not planning to pursue the project, but work had continued on stretches of the river in Laos and Myanmar.
    The Mekong flows from China, where it is known as the Lancang river, through five southeast Asian countries.
(Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Louise Heavens)

2/5/2020 Rouhani says U.S. is a terrorist, calls on Palestinians to challenge Middle East peace plan by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks
in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)
    Iran is calling on Palestinian forces to fight President Trump’s Middle East peace plan.    On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced his disapproval of the proposal, calling it the “crime of the century.”
    Rouhani labeled the U.S. a terrorist threat and noted the country has imposed unfair, severe economic sanctions on Iran amid nuclear talks.
    “We want to talk under a free climate in which our logic is dominant…because we are right,” stated the Iranian president.    “(Americans) want to make us surrender in unfair, unequal and humiliating negotiations, (but) this is impossible.”
    Iran recently said it plans to increase uranium production and will no longer abide by the 2015 nuclear deal.
    President Trump has called for Israeli control of the “long contested Jewish areas in the West Bank” as a condition to implement a Palestinian state.
[Rohani you will never be part of the 'Deal of the Century' because you will be the 'Sanctions For The Century' and will go down in history as not killing any Americans but only your own 146 Iranians with missles.].

2/5/2020 President Trump: Iran war was closer than you thought by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House
on the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops in Washington,
as Vice President Mike Pence and others looks on. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)
    President Trump has admitted the U.S. narrowly avoided going to war with Iran earlier this year.    While speaking at an off-the-record lunch with TV anchors on Tuesday, the president reportedly said a war with Iran was “closer than you thought.”
    The president’s comments came in response to a question on tensions with Iran in early January.    This followed the killing of General Qasem Soleimani and several retaliatory strikes from Iran.
    Iran’s ayatollah is now making new threats against the United States.
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 5, 2020. Khamenei said Wednesday
that Donald Trump’s Mideast plan will not outlive the president. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
    “America’s plan for the Middle East will definitely not succeed, this plan will die before Trump’s death,” stated Ayatollah Khamenei.    “What they did and are pursuing is firstly stupid, secondly, it is a sign of their wickedness, and thirdly, it is already harming them from the start.”
    President Trump said he will continue to stand up to the ayatollah regime while supporting the Iranian people.
[Khamenei that deal of the century will be implemented by the Arab nations in time because they will want peace and economic improvement and you will be shut out of the benefits of it and you will be begging Trump to stop the sanctions and will have to give into what the world wants not what you want because the GOD of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is in control here or you will suffer the prophesies of your demise in Jeremiah 49:35-39 PROPHESY OF ELAM.].

2/6/2020 More virus cases on cruise ship off Japan; China death toll exceeds 500 by David Stanway and Roxanne Liu
A firefighter and an officer wearing face masks and protective gear wait to transfer passengers, who tested
positive for coronavirus, from the cruise ship Diamond Princess to a hospital, after the ship arrived at
Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Ten more people on a quarantined cruise liner in Japan have tested positive for coronavirus, officials said on Thursday, as health experts stepped up efforts to find a vaccine for a disease that has provoked fears of a global pandemic.
    The death toll from the virus in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563, with more than 28,000 confirmed infections there.
    Financial analysts have cut their growth outlook for the world’s second-largest economy, with ratings agency Moody’s pointing to a risk to auto sales and production.
    But global stocks extended their recovery, cheered by record closes in Wall Street benchmarks following encouraging economic data and China’s announcement of a tariff cut on some imports from the United States, which analysts saw as a move to boost confidence.
    The virus has shut down cities and factories in China and disrupted global air travel.    This week, it brought chaos to the sedate world of luxury ocean cruises.
    About 3,700 people on Carnival’s Diamond Princess, docked off a Japanese port, face quarantine for at least two weeks on the ship, which has 20 virus cases, with testing continuing. Japan now has 45 virus cases.
    Gay Courter, a 75-year-old American novelist on the ship, said he hoped the U.S. government would send transport to take the Americans off.
    “It’s better for us to travel while healthy and also if we get sick to be treated in American hospitals,” he told Reuters.
    In Hong Kong, a cruise ship with 3,600 passengers and crew was quarantined for a second day pending testing after three positive cases on board.
    Taiwan, which has 13 cases, banned international cruise ships from docking.
TROUBLING TRANSMISSION
    Several countries, including the United States, have banned entry to visitors who have been in China over the previous two weeks.
    News of another virus hot spot emerged, linked to a mid-January company meeting in Singapore.    At least three people caught the disease after a conference held with 94 overseas staff, including one from China’s central city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic.,br>     Authorities have not identified the company, but the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was investigating.
    Singapore has reported 28 infections, some involving person-to-person transmission, a feature the WHO has said is deeply concerning and could signal a much larger outbreak.
    Health officials in the United States and China have set ambitious goals for getting a vaccine to initial human testing within the next few months, although drugmakers cautioned that they have a long way to go.
    “There are no known effective therapeutics,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said, when asked about reports of drug “breakthroughs” that boosted financial markets on Wednesday.
    Hundreds of experts will gather in Geneva on Feb. 11-12 to try and find a way to battle the outbreak by speeding research into drugs and vaccines, the WHO said, adding that a multinational WHO-led team would also visit China.
    Most of those infected recover quickly with only mild symptoms but the virus can lead to severe respiratory illnesses.    It is too early to know how lethal it may be, as many mild cases are probably going undetected.
SHUT AND SEALED
    Tens of millions of people in China’s Hubei province, the capital of which is Wuhan, have been living under virtual lockdown for nearly two weeks, with train stations and airports shut and roads sealed off.
    Hubei reported 70 new deaths on Wednesday and 2,987 new confirmed cases, for more than 80% of China’s total.
    National health officials said 3,694 cases were reported throughout China on Wednesday, the first day in more than a week to see a fall in new daily cases.    They did not say why.
    At a briefing in Shanghai, a mental health official, asked how people could avoid stress over the outbreak, said they should not watch too much news but enjoy television soap operas instead: “That could help people relieve their anxiety,” said the official, Xie Bin.
    First identified in Wuhan, the flu-like virus is believed to have originated at a city market selling wild animals.
    The two deaths outside mainland China, in the Philippines and Hong Kong, have both involved visits to Wuhan, where more than 400 people have died.
    Nearly 260 cases have been reported in 31 countries and regions outside mainland China, according to a Reuters tally.     China, which has bristled at some measures to close borders to its travelers, was considering delaying an annual meeting of its top legislative body set, from March 5, people familiar with the matter said.
    “The situation doesn’t look likely to be contained by March,” a government official told Reuters.
    The virus is also stirring animosity in the decades-old dispute between Taiwan and Beijing, with the island complaining that China is providing the WHO with wrong information about Taiwan’s cases.
    Taiwan is not a WHO member because of China’s objections.    The United States urged the agency to deal directly with the island’s health authorities.
(Graphic: Comparing new coronavirus to SARS and MERS, https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS-COMPARISON/0100B5BY3CY/index.html)
(Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus, https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html)
(Reporting by Lusha Zhang, Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu and Se Young Lee in Beijing; David Stanway, Yilei Sun and Winni Zhou in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Se Young Lee, Yilei Sun, Lusha Zhang, Liangping Gao in China; Ju-min Park in Tokyo; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

2/6/2020 China wages ‘people’s war’ on coronavirus as cruises, companies hit by David Stanway and Roxanne Liu
A firefighter and an officer wearing face masks and protective gear wait to transfer passengers, who tested
positive for coronavirus, from the cruise ship Diamond Princess to a hospital, after the ship arrived at
Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping declared a “people’s war” on Thursday against the fast-spreading coronavirus whose impact has been felt around the world from slowing factory floors to quarantined cruise liners.
    The death toll in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563, with more than 28,000 infections also confirmed inside the world’s second largest economy.    Such was the anxiety that some Chinese were asking HIV patients for medicines.
    But Xi, again seeking to prevent global panic, said China’s strong mobilisation capacity and rich experience in public health would enable it to beat the coronavirus.
    “The whole country has responded with all its strength to respond with the most thorough and strict prevention and control measures, starting a people’s war for epidemic prevention and control,” Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying in a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.
    In a striking image of the epidemic’s reach, about 3,700 people moored off Japan on the Diamond Princess faced testing and quarantine for at least two weeks on the ship, which has 20 cases.
    Gay Courter, a 75-year-old American novelist on board, appealed for the U.S. government to take Americans off.
    “It’s better for us to travel while healthy and also, if we get sick, to be treated in American hospitals,” he told Reuters.
    In Hong Kong, another cruise ship with 3,600 passengers and crew was quarantined for a second day pending testing after three cases on board.    Taiwan, which has 13 cases, banned international cruise ships from docking.
    In China, sometimes dubbed the world’s workshop, cities have been shut off, flights cancelled and factories closed, shutting supply lines crucial to international businesses.
CORPORATE FALLOUT
    Companies including Hyundai Motor <005380.KS>, Tesla , Ford , PSA Peugeot Citroen , Nissan <7201.T>, Airbus , Adidas and Foxconn <2317.TW> are taking hits.
    Financial analysts have cut China’s growth outlook, with ratings agency Moody’s flagging risks for auto sales and output.
    Nintendo Co Ltd <7974.T> warned of delays to production and shipping of its Switch console and other goods to the Japan market.    Honda Motor Co <7267.T> was considering keeping operations suspended for longer than planned at its three plants in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported.
    Indonesia said it stands to lose $4 billion in tourism if travel from China is disrupted for the whole year.
    More than two dozen large trade fairs and industry conferences in Asia, where billions of dollars worth of deals are usually done, have been postponed.
    Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, hit by months of anti-China unrest, said the coronavirus was hurting its economy and urged banks to adopt a “sympathetic stance” with borrowers.
    But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he still expected China to maintain its commitment to boost purchases of American goods and services by at least $200 billion over the next two years, as part of a Phase 1 trade deal.
    And stock markets across the world rose, buoyed by record highs on Wall Street and a move by China to halve tariffs on some U.S. goods that emboldened bets the global economy would avoid long-term damage from the virus.
    China, which has bristled at being ostracised, was considering delaying an annual meeting of its highest legislative body, the National People’s Congress, from March 5, sources said.
RUSH FOR HIV DRUG
    The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was too early to say the outbreak was peaking, but noted the country had recorded its first day of a drop in the number of new infections.
    “We are still in the middle of an intense outbreak,” said WHO emergencies expert Mike Ryan, calling it “a great worry.”
    WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove, said the virus causes a full spectrum of disease, from what looks like the common colds to pneumonia including multiple organ failure and death.
    One Chinese official said the crisis could be nearing its peak, with just over 1,300 patients discharged from hospital, although the number of new patients diagnosed with coronavirus was still rising.
    “The darkest time is before the dawn,” the official said.    “I have full confidence that we’re going to get ahead of it.”
    “The biggest challenge is still to control the spread of the disease, and let all the suspected patients be cured in the hospital.”
    Health officials in the United States and China want to get a vaccine to initial human testing within months, but drugmakers have cautioned they have a long way to go.
    “There are no known effective therapeutics,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said, when asked about reports of “breakthroughs” that boosted markets on Wednesday.
    China’s National Health Commision said the HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir could be used for coronavirus patients, without specifying how.
    That triggered a rush, specifically for Kaletra, also known as Aluvia, which is drugmaker AbbVie’s off-patent version of lopinavir/ritonavir and the only version approved for sale in China.
    Devy, a 38-year-old from Shandong province, said he was among hundreds who had asked people with HIV for medicine.
    “When you are left alone, seeing the blur shadow of death far away, I think no one can feel calm,” Devy told Reuters.
    People were also desperate for face masks.    The city of Dali, in southwestern Yunnan province, with only eight confirmed cases of the virus, was accused of intercepting a shipment of masks bound for a municipality with 400 cases.
    In the overwhelmed province of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital, authorities said they needed another 2,250 medical staff at least.    And around a nation unaccustomed to widespread working from home, the epidemic has forced millions of white-collar workers to get used to just that.
    The epidemic brushed up against geopolitics when the United States and China clashed over the issue of self-ruled Taiwan’s exclusion from     WHO meetings, where it is represented by China.
    Beijing complained of political “hype-up.”
    Full coverage: https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B59Y39P/index.html
(Graphic: Comparing new coronavirus to SARS and MERS, https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS-COMPARISON/0100B5BY3CY/index.html)
(Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus, https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html)
(Reporting by Lusha Zhang, Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu, Liangping Gao, Sophie Yu and Se Young Lee in Beijing; David Stanway, Yilei Sun and Winni Zhou in Shanghai; Alun John and Noah Sin in Hong Kong; Ju-min Park in Tokyo; Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alexandra Hudson)

2/6/2020 WHO says too early to say coronavirus peaking in China by Stephanie Nebehay
Executive Director of the World Health Organisation's emergencies program Mike Ryan, Director-General of WHO
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the Technical Lead for the WHO's emergencies program Maria Van Kerkhovespeaks
at a news conference on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday it was too early to say that China’s coronavirus outbreak was peaking, but noted that the country had recorded its first day of a drop in the number of new infections.
    The death toll from the virus in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563, with more than 28,000 confirmed infections inside the world’s second-largest economy.    That number had risen by nearly 4,000 from Wednesday to Thursday.
    Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, said it was very difficult to make predictions on the course of the disease first reported in the central city of Wuhan in late December, noting: “We are still in the middle of an intense outbreak.”
    “There are cycles of transmission, and we may see those cases increase in the coming days.    But at least for the moment, things are stable,” Ryan told a news conference.
    “But 4,000 cases or nearly, 3,700 coronavirus cases confirmed in a single day, is nothing to celebrate and is certainly still a great worry,” he said.
    There is a constant rise in infections in the epicentre of Hubei province, which accounts for about 80 pct of cases, Ryan said, adding:     “But we haven’t see that same acceleration in provinces outside Hubei.    And equally we haven’t seen that acceleration in Hong Kong, Macao, in Taiwanese people either.”
    Earlier, the United States and China clashed over the issue of Taiwan’s exclusion from WHO meetings, including the ongoing Executive Board, where it is represented by China, with Beijing accusing Washington of political “hype-up.”
    “It’s hard to believe just two months ago this virus was unknown to us,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
    “We have already learned so much about it, we know its DNA, we know it can be transmitted from one person to another, we know that those most at risk are older people and those with underlying health conditions,” he said.
    But there is still a lot to learn, including the source of the virus, its severity and ability to spread, Tedros said.
    Maria van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said that the virus causes a “full spectrum of disease.”
    “You have mild cases which look like the common cold, which have some respiratory symptoms – sore throat, runny nose, fever – all way through pneumonia.    And there can be varying levels of pneumomia, all the way through multiple organ failure and death,” she said, calling for further study of mild cases and how easily they can spread the virus.
    Full coverage: https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B59Y39P/index.html
(Graphic: Comparing new coronavirus to SARS and MERS, https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS-COMPARISON/0100B5BY3CY/index.html)
(Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus, https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html)
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean)

2/6/2020 Xi says China has achieved ‘positive’ virus control results
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi jinping speaks during a meeting with Tedros Adhanom, director general of the World Health
Organization, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, January 28, 2020. Naohiko Hatta/Pool via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China has achieved “positive” results in its prevention and control efforts in fighting the new coronavirus, President Xi Jinping told Saudi Arabia’s King Salman by telephone, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
    The two discussed “efforts to combat and control the novel coronavirus epidemic,” the report said.
    China has declared a “people’s war” on the virus and the whole nation is working as one to combat it, Xi said.
    “China has a strong mobilisation capacity, rich experience in responding to public health incidents and is confident and capable of winning the battle for epidemic prevention and control,” the report paraphrased him as saying.
    China hopes countries respect and understand the World Health Organization’s guidance on travel, Xi said.
    WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday there was no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade” in trying to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
    China will continue to take an open and transparent approach towards dealing with the virus, Xi added.
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie)

2/6/2020 U.S. clashes with China over Taiwan’s place at the WHO table by Ben Blanchard and Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Foxconn employees wearing masks attend the company's year-end gala
in Taipei, Taiwan January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yimou Lee/File Photo
    TAIPEI/GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States and China clashed on Thursday over the issue of Taiwan’s exclusion from World Health Organization (WHO) meetings, where it is represented by China, with Beijing accusing Washington of political “hype-up.”
    Earlier on Thursday, Taiwan accused China of providing the WHO with wrong information about the number of coronavirus cases on the island, after the WHO published incorrect case numbers earlier this week.
    Andrew Bremberg, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told the WHO Executive Board in Geneva that the agency should deal directly with Taiwan authorities.
    “It is a technical imperative that WHO present visible public health data on Taiwan as an affected area and engage directly with Taiwan public health authorities on actions,” he said.
    Japan appeared to support this.    Ambassador Ken Okaniwa told the forum: “We should not make a geographical vacuum by creating a situation where a specific region cannot join WHO even as an observer.”
    China responded sharply, with China’s delegate saying there is ample cooperation between China and Taiwan on the virus epidemic and “we feel that the Chinese central government can say it is very sincere in protecting the health and well-being of Taiwan compatriots.”
    “I would like to reiterate that Taiwan is part of China, this fact cannot be changed,” the delegate, Qi Daihai, said.
    Taiwan is not a WHO member because China, which views the island as a wayward Chinese province and not a country, says it adequately represents Taiwan in the organization.
    Democratically governed Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China – its formal name – and has never been part of the People’s Republic of China.
    “China requests that the relevant countries should respect the guidance of the chairman to strictly abide by the rules of procedure of the conference,” Qi told the Geneva forum.
    “And stop hyping-up about the so-called Taiwan issue.    Don’t waste our time.”
    On Tuesday, the WHO corrected the number of cases reported on the island after having said there were 13. At the time Taiwan had only 10.     Taiwan said on Thursday there were now 16 cases.
    Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told a news conference that the crux of the problem was China giving the wrong case number details to the WHO.
    “This was wrong information that was provided by China which created the mistake,” she said.
    “We beseech the WHO not to put Taiwan’s information under China, creating mistake after mistake after mistake.”
    Taiwan says the main consequence of that so far has been Italy including Taiwan in its ban on flights from China.
    China’s foreign ministry, in a faxed statement to Reuters, said the case numbers it reported to the WHO for Taiwan all came from Taiwan’s government.
    “If there are mistakes, this is the relevant authorities in the Taiwan region deliberately reporting mistakes to us,” it said.
    The WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the figures.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing and David Stanway in Shanghai; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Frances Kerry)

2/6/2020 China’s Tianjin restricts entry, exit to homes to prevent virus spread
A man wearing a face mask travels on an escalator inside a subway station, as the country is hit by
an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Beijing, China February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s northern city of Tianjin began on Thursday restricting the entry and exit of people from residential compounds and villages to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the official People’s Daily reported.
    Tianjin is following the example of several other major cities including Beijing in enacting these restrictions.
    Tianjin, which has a population of around 15 million and borders capital Beijing, had 78 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of 12 p.m. (0400GMT) on Thursday.
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Toby Chopra)

2/6/2020 Vietnam total confirmed coronavirus cases rise to 12
People line up to buy protective masks at a shop in Hanoi, Vietnam February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam said on Thursday it has confirmed two new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total to 12.
    Both the new cases are Vietnamese nationals from the northern province of Vinh Phuc and had close contact with previously detected patients, the health ministry said in a statement.
    The death toll in China from the coronavirus outbreak has exceeded 500.
(Reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Editing by Alex Richardson)

2/7/2020 China doctor who warned of coronavirus mourned; Xi speaks with Trump by Se Young Lee and Brenda Goh
A firefighter and an officer wearing face masks and protective gear wait to transfer passengers, who tested
positive for coronavirus, from the cruise ship Diamond Princess to a hospital, after the ship arrived
at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – A Chinese doctor who issued an early warning about the coronavirus outbreak before it was officially recognized died of the virus on Friday, triggering a wave of public mourning and rare expressions of anger toward the government online.
    The death of the doctor who sounded the alarm, ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, came as Chinese President Xi Jinping assured his U.S. counterpart that China was doing all it could to contain the virus that has killed almost 640 people.
    China was gradually achieving results and was confident it could defeat the epidemic with no long-term consequences for economic development, Xi told President Donald Trump in a telephone call, according to state television.
    China’s central bank vowed further support for the world’s second-biggest economy, with the outbreak expected to knock 2 percentage points, or more, off its first-quarter growth, from 6%, analysts say.
    Chinese stocks had their worst week since May, while elsewhere in Asia, financial markets slipped after several days of gains.
    The death of Li, 34, spurred an outpouring of grief on social media. He was one of eight people reprimanded by police in the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the flu-like contagion in central Hubei province, for spreading “illegal and false” information about it