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

    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.
    This link will return you to King Of The East 2020 September-October.

KING OF THE EAST 2020 NOVEMBER-DECEMBER


    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 NOVEMBER-DECEMBER

11/1/2020 Despite Lebanon’s Woes, Armenians Spring To Action For Nagorno-Karabakh by Maria Semerdjian and Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: Armenian military volunteers receive meals while undergoing combat training at a camp,
in the course of a conflict against Azerbaijan's armed forces over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh,
in Yerevan, Armenia October 27, 2020. Picture taken October 27, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – When Lebanon’s financial crisis pushed Vartkes to leave for Armenia this summer, he never imagined he would volunteer to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.
    The young Lebanese-Armenian didn’t think twice, however, when the conflict between Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian forces erupted soon after his move.
    “I wanted to go that night,” Vartkes, who asked not to be identified by his last name, said by phone.    He has yet to be called to back troops in the region, which is recognized as part of Azerbaijan though governed by ethnic Armenians.
    “I feel like I have to do something for the country.”
    An Armenian defence ministry official has said many from the diaspora applied to volunteer without giving a precise number.    Hundreds from as far afield as Argentina and the United States have rushed back to Armenia for combat training, a local instructor says.
    The fighting, some of the deadliest in the mountain enclave in more than 25 years, has prompted mass mobilisation across Armenia and seen its vast global diaspora spring into action.
    In Lebanon, a community of nearly 140,000 of Armenian origin, one of the world’s largest, has fundraised and sent aid despite a crippling currency crash.    Many have had roots in Lebanon since their ancestors fled mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire a century ago.
    Karapet Aghajanyan, the combat instructor in Yerevan, who trains local and foreign volunteers, told Reuters around 10 Lebanese-Armenians have received training in his camp.
    He said they arrived from Beirut after the fighting broke out in late September to go to the frontline.
Scores of Lebanese of Armenian descent were already leaving Beirut for Yerevan months before the fighting, members of the community say.
    Lebanon’s economic collapse, and then the huge Beirut port explosion that killed nearly 200 people in August, have fuelled migration.
    Lebanese MP Hagop Pakradounian, who heads the Armenian Revolutionary Federation party, said there was no organisation registering or sending any volunteers from Lebanon.
    He said no more than 20 people had gone from Beirut to sign up, acting on their own.    It was not clear if any were called to battle.
    “We cannot prevent them at the end of the day.    We try to dissuade them but they have this impulse,” he said.    “It’s an existential war for the Armenian people, that’s why some youths are going.”
    The violence has raised fears of a wider conflict dragging in Turkey, which backs Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
    Azerbaijan rejects any solution that would leave Armenians controlling the enclave.    Armenians refuse to withdraw from territory they view as part of their historic homeland.
    On a main highway out of Beirut, white banners hung from bridges read: “Stop Azeri aggression.”
    In Lebanon’s largely Armenian town of Anjar, the head of the municipality, Vartkes Khoshian, said even families worried about paying bills had donated.
    “The people gave more than they had,” he said.    “We all follow news minute by minute.”
    This month, Anjar commemorated one of their own who was killed in battle, Kevork Hadjian, an opera singer born in the Lebanese town who lived in Armenia.
    Many residents saw him as a hero.
    The singer’s 74-year-old mother, Sosse Hadjian, said she had spent days watching TV, weeping over slain fighters.    But she didn’t know her son was at the front until her brother delivered the news of his death.
    “I’m a mother who lost a son after all. It’s really hard,” she said.    “But I’m also proud he joined for Armenians, for the homeland.”
(Reporting by Maria Semerdjian, Ellen Francis and Alaa Kanaan; Additional reporting by Issam Abdallah in Beirut, Nvard Hovhannisyan and Maria Tsvetkova in Yerevan; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

11/1/2020 Seven Pro Democratic Lawmakers Arrested In Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: A general view of skyline buildings in Hong Kong, China May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Seven pro-democratic lawmakers were arrested in Hong Kong on Sunday on charges related to obstructing a legislative council meeting in May, they said on Facebook, a move that comes after Beijing passed a contentious security law in June.
    The arrests, which took place early in the morning, did not appear to be directly linked to the law but come as police have arrested around 30 under the legislation in recent months.
    Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Lawmakers Wu Chi Wai, Andrew Wan, Helena Wong, Kwok Wing Kin, Eddie Chu, Raymond Chan and Fernando Cheung announced their arrests on their individual Facebook pages.
    Beijing imposed the national security law on its freest city on June 30, a move widely condemned by Western governments and human rights groups.    The law punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    Critics of the legislation say it represents the latest move by Beijing to tighten its grip over the former British colony and erode its judicial independence.
(Reporting by Yanni Chow; writing by Farah Master; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

11/1/2020 Pakistani PM Says He Will Upgrade Status Of Part Of Kashmir, Angering India by Umar Farooq
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a joint news conference with Malaysia's Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad (not pictured) in Putrajaya, Malaysia, February 4, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Sunday his government will give provisional provincial status to part of Kashmir, drawing condemnation from India, which has long objected to any such changes by Islamabad.
    Khan’s proposal would apply to Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan’s only land link to China, which is the northern part of the larger Kashmir region.    Both Delhi and Islamabad have claimed all of Kashmir since gaining independence 73 years ago, and have fought two wars over the territory.
    “We have made a decision to grant provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan, which has long been the demand here,” Khan said in a speech in the city of Gilgit.
    Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Shri Anurag Srivastava said Delhi “firmly rejects the attempt by Pakistan to bring material changes to a part of Indian territory, under its illegal and forcible occupation.”
    Last year India angered Pakistan by announcing changes to the status of Kashmir, taking away some of the region’s privileges.    Although Pakistani officials made no link between India’s prior move and Khan’s proposals, the Pakistani action is likely to be viewed in both countries as a partial tit-for-tat response.
    Both sides control parts of Kashmir, which is divided between them by a United Nations-mandated “Line of Control.”    UN observers are still stationed in the region.
    Kashmir has carried a vague constitutional status in both countries since 1947 to accommodate for a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution on the dispute.    While full details were not immediately disclosed, Khan’s proposal appears likely to bring the region closer to the status of Pakistan’s other federating provinces.
    Khan said the decision was within the scope of the UNSC resolution.    He gave no time-frame for its implementation.    Such a move would require a constitutional amendment in Pakistan, which must be passed by two-thirds of Pakistan’s parliament.
    Khan’s visit to the area comes ahead of an election for a Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, to be held on November 15.    The body, created in 2009, has few powers, and the region is largely governed directly by Islamabad.
    India’s foreign ministry has already objected to the election, saying Pakistan illegally occupies the territory.
    Strategically located Gilgit-Baltistan, with an estimated population of 1.2 million, borders Afghanistan and China, and is at the heart of the $65 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor infrastructure development plan.
    Similar plans by Islamabad to adjust its status were previously shelved over concerns that it would adversely impact Pakistan’s case in the United Nations for full control over Kashmir.
(Reporting by Umar Farooq; Additional reporting by Alasdair Pal in New Delhi; Editing by Peter Graff)

11/1/2020 Azeri Leader Says He Will Fight ‘To The End’ If Karabakh Talks Fail by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
FILE PHOTO: Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev speaks during an address to the nation in Baku,
Azerbaijan October 9, 2020. Official web-site of President of Azerbaijan/Handout via REUTERS
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said on Sunday his troops would “go to the end” should negotiations fail to result in an agreement by ethnic Armenian forces to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions.
    Aliyev, speaking during a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in the Azeri capital Baku, also said Armenia had “no basis” to request Russian military assistance in the conflict.
    Further shelling was reported by Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in and around Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday.    The death toll in the region’s worst fighting in more than 25 years has already surpassed 1,000 and is possibly much higher.
    Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    The conflict has brought into sharp focus the increased influence of Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, in a former Soviet region considered by Russia to be within its sphere of influence.    Russia also has a security alliance with Armenia.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has asked Russia to outline the extent of the support it could expect from Moscow.
    In response, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it would provide “all assistance required” should the conflict spill onto “the territory of Armenia” – land that is outside the current conflict zone.
    Aliyev, quoted by state news agency Azertag, said he wanted to resolve the conflict through negotiations that would result in the withdrawal of ethnic Armenian forces.
    “Otherwise,” he said, “we will continue by any means to restore our territorial integrity and … we will go to the end.”
    Azerbaijan’s advances on the battlefield since fighting began on Sept. 27 have reduced its incentive to strike a lasting peace deal and complicated international efforts to broker a truce.    Three ceasefires have failed to hold.
    The ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh military said that missiles been targeted at the town of Martuni, the village of Karin Tak and the city of Shushi, just 15 kilometres (9 miles) from the enclave’s largest city, Stepanakert.
    Armenia’s defence ministry said a second militant from Syria had been captured on the battlefield.    Azerbaijan has previously denied the presence of foreign fighters.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said its army units in Tovuz, Gadabay and Gubadli had come under shelling overnight.    Combat on Sunday was concentrated in Aghdere, Aghdam, Gubadli and Khojavend – the Azeri name for Martuni.
    Nagorno-Karabakh’s army says 1,166 of its soldiers have been killed since Sept. 27 and the office of Nagorno-Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman said the civilian death toll was 45.
    Azerbaijan, which does not disclose its military casualties, says 91 civilians have been killed.    Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths on both sides.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova in Baku and Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan; Additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Baku and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Writing by Robin Paxton; editing by David Evans)

11/2/2020 U.S. Drone Sale To Taiwan Crosses Key Hurdle, Nears Approval: Sources by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers walk past a AN/TWQ-1 Avenger mobile air defense missile system during
'Combat Readiness Week' drills in Hsinchu, Taiwan, October 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The sale of four sophisticated U.S.-made aerial drones to Taiwan has crossed a key hurdle in Congress and is at the last stage of approval, sources said on Monday, a deal likely to add to already strained ties with China.
    The $600 million deal would be the first such sale since U.S. policy on the export of sophisticated and closely guarded drone technology was loosened by the Trump administration.
    Reuters reported in recent weeks on the administration moving ahead with four other sales of sophisticated military equipment to Taiwan, with a total value of around $5 billion, as it ramps up pressure on China and concerns rise about Beijing’s intentions toward the island.
    The U.S. State Department could formally notify Congress of the sale later this week, one of the people said.    The formal notification gives Congress 30 days to object to any sales, but this is unlikely given broad bipartisan support for the defense of Taiwan.
    The four MQ-9 SeaGuardian drones, made by General Atomics, would come with associated ground stations and training. While the drones are armable, they will be outfitted with surveillance equipment, the people said.
    Reuters reported in September that sales of major weapons systems to Taiwan were making their way through the U.S. export process.
    On Oct. 21, the State Department sent notifications to Congress for the first tranche of arms sales to Taiwan.    They included truck-based rocket launchers made by Lockheed Martin Corp , Rocket System (HIMARS) Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) missiles and related equipment made by Boeing Co , and external sensor pods for F-16 jets.
    On Oct. 26 the United States moved ahead with the proposed sale of 100 cruise missile stations and 400 land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles made by Boeing Co .
    Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that it has vowed to bring under control, by force if necessary.    Washington considers it an important democratic outpost and is required by law to provide it with the means to defend itself.
(Reporting by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler)

11/2/2020 Armenia Calls For Probe Into ‘Foreign Mercenaries’ In Karabakh by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
Men walk along graves of soldiers and civilians who were killed during a military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Stepanakert,
November 2, 2020. Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Armenia’s prime minister called on Monday for an international investigation into the presence of “foreign mercenaries” in Nagorno-Karabakh after ethnic Armenian forces said they had captured two mercenaries from Syria.
    Azerbaijian has repeatedly denied the presence of foreign combatants in the conflict zone.    Its ministry of defence was not immediately available for comment.
    Fierce battles continued near the front line of the conflict over the mountain enclave and seven surrounding regions in which more than 1,000 people, and possibly many more, have been killed since fighting erupted more than a month ago.
    Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    The conflict has brought into sharp focus the increased influence of Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, in a formerly Soviet region considered by Russia to be in its sphere of influence.    Russia has a defence pact with Armenia.
    Armenia’s foreign ministry said on Monday the Artsakh Defence Army, its name for the ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, had captured a second Syrian combatant over the weekend.
    It said the fighter was from Syria’s Idlib province.    Another fighter, from the city of Hama, was captured on Friday, it said.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, in a Facebook post, said the involvement of “foreign mercenaries” was “a threat not only to the security of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia but also to international security, and this issue should become a subject of international investigation.”
    The ethnic Armenian-controlled, Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry said battles took place overnight along the northwestern part of the front line.    It said it had repelled a platoon of Azeri troops in fierce fighting.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said it had repelled an attack on its positions in the high ground of the Zangilan district, between the enclave and the Iranian border, while army units in the Gazakh, Tovuz and Dashkesan regions also came under fire.
    Azeri President Ilham Aliyev wrote on Twitter that Azerbaijan had retaken a further eight settlements in Zangilan, Gubadli and Jabrayil regions.
    Azerbaijan’s advances on the battlefield since fighting began on Sept. 27 have reduced its incentive to strike a lasting peace deal and complicated international efforts to broker a truce.    Three ceasefires have failed to hold.
    Nagorno-Karabakh’s army says 1,177 of its soldiers have been killed.    Azerbaijan does not disclose its military casualties, while Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths on both sides.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan and Nailia Bagirova in Baku, Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/2/2020 Four Thai Activists Vow To Continue Protests After Release by Jiraporn Kuhakan
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Four Thai activists, including protest leader and rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, were freed early on Tuesday and promised to keep fighting to oust Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and for reforms to the monarchy.
    The activists were among dozens arrested during emergency measures imposed last month to try to end months of protests, but which backfired by drawing tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Bangkok.
    The four were freed after a court ruled that police had reached the limit for detaining them. They still face public order and other charges relating to the protests.
    “We are out and ready to fight again,” Arnon said after being released from Bangkok Remand Prison, where hundreds of supporters had gathered.
    Arnon broke a longstanding taboo on criticising the monarchy in August when he was the first to openly call for reforms to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
    Also among those released were Ekachai Hongkangwan and Suranat Paenprasert, who face rarely used charges of violence against the queen over an incident in which Queen Suthida’s royal motorcade was jeered when it unexpectedly arrived where protesters had gathered.
    The charges can carry the death penalty if the queen’s life is thought to have been threatened and in other cases between 16 years and life imprisonment for those found guilty.
    All have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
    As well as reforms to the monarchy, protesters seek to change the constitution and demand the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth, a former junta leader they accuse of engineering last year’s election to keep power that he seized in a 2014 coup.    He says that vote was fair and he will not quit.
    The Palace has made no comment since the start of the protests, but on Sunday the king told Britain’s Channel 4 news “we love them all the same” of the protesters and “Thailand is a land of compromise.”
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; editing by Barbara Lewis)

11/2/2020 Gunmen Storm Kabul University, Killing 22, In Second Deadly Attack On Students In Just Over A Week by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Orooj Hakimi and Hamid Shalizi
Afghan policemen keep watch near the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Gunmen stormed Kabul University, killing at least 22 people including students in their classrooms, on Monday and Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for what President Ashraf Ghani called a “despicable act of terror.”
    In a video message, Ghani, who once lectured at the university, announced a national day of mourning to honour the victims and offered his “condolences and profound sympathies to the nation” and the families of the victims.
    “My heart is still beating for this academic institution,” he said. “Today’s attack has left us grief-stricken.”
    Gunmen barged into Kabul University in the morning, killing students in their classrooms and firing on others as they fled, officials and witnesses said, in what was the second attack on an educational institution in the capital in just over a week.
    The three attackers killed at least 22 people, including students, and wounded 22 others before Afghan security forces shot the gunmen dead, the health ministry said.
    The attack was claimed by Islamic State, the jihadist group’s Amaq News Agency said.    Amaq said the gunmen targeted a gathering being held to mark the completion of a training course at the university.
    Photos shared by a senior government official showed students lying dead in classrooms, some next to their books.    One student appeared to have been shot as he was climbing out of a window.
    “They were shooting at every student they saw…They even shot at the students who were running away,” witness Fathullah Moradi told Reuters.
    “This is the second attack on educational institutions in Kabul … Afghan children & youth need to feel safe going to school,” NATO Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan Stefano Pontecorvo said in a statement.
    A suicide bomber killed 24 people including teenage students at an education centre in Kabul on Oct. 24.    Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack, without providing evidence.
    Taliban insurgents issued a statement condemning the latest attack and denying any involvement.
    Violence has plagued Afghanistan while government and Taliban negotiators have been meeting in Qatar to try to broker a peace deal and as the United States brings home its troops.
    In a post on Twitter, the Presidential Palace announced a day of mourning on Tuesday, for which the Afghan flag will fly at half mast in the country and at its diplomatic missions around the world.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Orooj Hakimi and Hamid Shalizi; Additional reporting by Hameed Farzad in Kabul and Nayera Abdallah in Cairo; writing by Charlotte Greenfield and Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/2/2020 K-Pop’s Social Media Power Spurs Thailand’s Youth Protests by Patpicha Tanakasempipat
A woman takes a picture of a billboard whishing happy birthday to a K-pop singer Jimin
at the subway in Bangkok, Thailand November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – From raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Thai protesters to inspiring the youths who join demonstrations through dances and social media, K-pop fans have emerged as a potent political force in Thailand’s anti-government movement.
    Earlier this year, K-pop fans in the United States surprised many people by using their social media power to raise funds for Black Lives Matter and to sabotage a re-election rally for President Donald Trump.
    But in Thailand they have been part of the youth culture for a long time, and their support for the protest movement reflects the frustrations of a generation that is unhappy with the government using the power of the state to stifle dissent.
    “K-pop fans would love to just fangirl over our ‘oppas’ and care about nothing else, but with our country like this, we as citizens have to call for better things,” said Suphinchaya, 23, using the term of endearment for male K-pop artists.
    Like many Thai protesters she declined to give her full name because of the sensitivity of the issue.
    Young, mostly female, and social media-savvy, the profile of K-pop fans matches that of many protesters, said Chayanit Choedthammatorn, a Thai researcher of Korean studies.
    “Although they are K-pop fans, they are Thai citizens first,” she said.
    The greatest spur to action was an Oct. 16 crackdown when police used water cannon to disperse protesters who had defied a ban aimed at ending protests against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief, and to demand curbs on the monarchy’s power.
    Far from the scene, Areeya started a Twitter poll from her Girls’ Generation fanbase account with over 17,500 followers to see if they would help fund the cause.
    Results were overwhelmingly positive, she said, as K-pop fans were no stranger to lightning fundraising campaigns – previously using them to buy billboard ads in public spaces to celebrate their beloved artists’ birthdays or album releases.
    “Many people were angered by the crackdown and police violence against unarmed protesters that day.    They turned that anger into donation money,” Areeya, 23, told Reuters.
    In just nine hours, Thai fans of the girl group, who called themselves SONEs, raised more than 780,000 baht ($25,000), along with other Thai K-pop fandoms that collectively raised more than 4 million baht ($128,000) that week.
    Areeya and her team coordinated purchases of protective equipment such as helmets and goggles, organising deliveries to protest sites, and recording everything for transparency.
    The largest chunk of the donation went to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a non-profit group that provided pro bono legal assistance to more than 90 protesters arrested since mid-October.
    Thai fans of K-pop’s biggest names such as BTS, Super Junior, EXO, Blackpink and SHINee also mobilised.    The artists’ labels, SM Entertainment, Big Hit Entertainment, and YG Entertainment, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.
    “We’re proud to support the cause we believe in, in the name of someone we love,” said Jan, 27, who raised more than 700,000 baht ($22,500) with Super Junior’s fandom E.L.F. in 22 hours.
    Thai Lawyers for Human Rights told Reuters donations soared.
    “We suddenly have more than 10 million baht ($321,440) in our bank account,” said director Yaowalak Anuphan.    “I’m amazed by the K-pop fans.”
    On social media, K-pop fan accounts that used to focus on news about their favourite artists have turned political – promoting protest-related hashtags and undermining pro-monarchy hashtags with sarcastic messages and K-pop slang.
    The presence of K-pop fans is visible at protests, as activists wave LED signs and light sticks, as they would at K-pop concerts, and hold gold-framed pictures of music idols that parody portraits of Thai royals.
    The fans’ knowledge of South Korea’s history and the part pop culture played in recent protests was also a source for inspiration.
    Natchapol Chaloeykul, 24, danced at recent protests to the sounds of “Into the New World” by Girls’ Generation – the song sung at student rallies that led to the impeachment of former South Korean president Park Geun-hye in 2017.
    “K-pop fans read up about South Korea, and when we look back on our country, we wonder why we can’t be where they are,” said Natchapol.
    “Like in the song, we want new things for our country too.”
($1 = 31.1100 baht)
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin & Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/2/2020 Indonesian President Signs Contentious Jobs Bill: CNN Indonesia
FILE PHOTO: Indonesia's President Joko Widodo speaks at the Istana in Singapore October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim/File Photo
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has signed new contentious jobs measures into law, news publication CNN Indonesia reported late on Monday, citing finance ministry official Yustinus Prastowo.
    The latest version of the bill, comprising 1,187 pages, is aimed at boosting investment in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy and was uploaded to the website of the state secretariat ministry on Monday.
    Tens of thousands of Indonesians, which include workers and students, have protested in recent weeks against what they see as pro-business changes to labour law while activists warn that improving the investment climate could come at the expense of environmental protection and indigenous land rights.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Fanny Potkin; Editing by David Goodman)

11/2/2020 Iran Reports Record High COVID Death Toll As Travel Bans Go Into Force
FILE PHOTO: Iranian people wearing masks walk at a promenade, amid a rise in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections,
West Tehran, Iran October 23, 2020. Picture taken October 23, 2020. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Monday reported a record 440 COVID deaths in the past 24 hours, pushing the death toll in the Middle East’s worst-hit country to 35,738 as a ban on travel in and out of major cities came into force.
    The government has shut schools, mosques, shops and restaurants in most of the country since early October and on Monday imposed a four-day ban on travel in and out of 25 cities, including Tehran, state TV reported.
    Iranian state media said that the government will make a decision on a complete, two-week lockdown in the capital.    It did not elaborate.
    Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 8,289 COVID-19 cases had been registered in the previous 24 hours, taking the national tally to 628,780.
    Iran announced its first two deaths from the coronavirus on Feb. 19.
    The head of Iran’s Medical Council, Mohammadreza Zafarghandi, doubted the official toll on Sunday and warned that Iran had reached a “catastrophic mortality rate,” the Students News Agency ISNA reported.
    “The official death toll is only based on the number of registered patients,” Zafarghandi told ISNA.    “Through field surveys in hospitals and cemeteries, our council has obtained a figure at least three times higher than the official death toll.”
    The medical council is a non-governmental organisation that is responsible for licensing doctors in Iran.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11/2/2020 Indonesian Muslims Ramp Up Global Outcry Against Macron The ‘Real Terrorist’ by Heru Asprihanto and Adi Kurniawan
An Indonesian Muslim man sits next to a banner during a protest against the comments of French President Emmanuel Macron considered insulting to the
Prophet of Muhammad and Muslims, on the main road near the French Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Thousands of angry Muslims protested outside the French embassy in the Indonesian capital on Monday carrying banners calling French President Emmanuel Macron the “real terrorist” and demanding the country’s ambassador be immediately expelled.
    Joining global outcry over Macron’s comments about Islam, protesters in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation demanded the French leader withdraw his words and apologise to Muslims around the world.
    “Inshallah (God willing), we Muslims forgive but if he does not withdraw all his words and caricatures and apologise, Inshallah, he will always be despised (by the Muslim world),” Nazaruddin, a 70-year-old protestor, told Reuters.
    Dressed in black and white prayer caps and face masks, protesters joined Monday’s protest in downtown Jakarta carrying banners with a devilish caricature of the French president’s face, red with pointed ears, carrying the words “Macron is the real terrorist.”
    Demonstrators waved Islamic flags while calling for the French ambassador to be expelled and a boycott on French products.
    In recent weeks the French president has enraged Muslims for describing Islam as a “religion in crisis all over the world” and for vehemently defending free speech that some have deemed blasphemous and inflammatory.
    Macron’s remarks came before and after two recent attacks in France.
    Last week a knife-wielding Tunisian man yelling “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people in the French city of Nice.
    Two weeks earlier a teacher was beheaded by an 18-year-old, who was apparently enraged that a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad had been shown in class.
    Indonesian President Joko Widodo, better known by his nickname “Jokowi,” has condemned both the recent attack in Nice, and Macron’s comments, which he said had “insulted Islam” and “hurt the unity of Muslims everywhere.”
    Indonesia’s foreign ministry has summoned the French ambassador on Tuesday to discuss the remarks.
(Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/3/2020 China Says Report That It Seized Territory From Nepal Is Unfounded
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin speaks during a news conference in Beijing, China July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed a media report about it seizing territory from Nepal as a “completely unfounded rumour.”
    A Daily Telegraph report on Tuesday quoted Nepalese politicians as saying China has annexed more than 150 hectares from the tiny Himalayan nation bordering Tibet.    China seized control over Tibet in 1950 in what it describes as a “peaceful liberation.”
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; writing by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Kim Coghill)

11/3/2020 Khamenei Says Iran’s U.S. Policy Not Affected By Who Wins Election
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a virtual speech, on the occasion of the Prophet Mohammad's
birthday, in Tehran, Iran November 3, 2020. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday the U.S. presidential election’s result will not impact Tehran’s policy towards Washington.
    “Our policy towards the United States is clearly set and does not change with the movement of individuals. It does not matter to us who comes and goes,” Khamenei said in a speech carried live on state TV.
    Khamenei was speaking on the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, which coincided with the birthday of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
    “The students’ attack on this den of spies was quite appropriate and wise,” Khamenei said, referring to radical Islamist students who stormed the embassy, taking hostage 52 staff for an eventual 444 days. There have been no U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations since.
    Iran this year cancelled rallies and other events marking the embassy seizure because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus which has killed about 36,000 people in the country, the worst hit in the Middle East.
    The Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has pledged to rejoin Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers if Iran returns to compliance with it.
    In 2018 President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, under which Iran international financial sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs to its nuclear programme.    Iran followed Washington’s rejection by reducing its compliance.
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told U.S. network CBS on Monday that he wants the United States to rejoin the accord, but that “re-engagement does not mean renegotiation” because “if we wanted to do that [renegotiate], we would have done it with President (Donald) Trump four years ago.”
    Zarif told CBS that “the statements by the Biden camp have been more promising, but we will have to wait and see.”
    Trump has said he wants to strike a broader accord that would also address Iran’s missile programme and regional activities.    Iran has ruled out any negotiations unless Washington first returns to the agreement.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi, additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Peter Graff)

11/3/2020 #SavePornhub: Thailand’s Online Porn Ban Prompts Backlash by Patpicha Tanakasempipat
A message from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society saying that the Pornhub website has been suspended in Thailand
is displayed on a TV screen in this illustration picture taken November 3, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/Illustration
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s government said on Tuesday it had banned Pornhub and 190 other websites showing pornography, prompting social media anger over censorship and a call for a protest against the decision.
    Digital minister Puttipong Punnakanta told reporters the block was part of efforts to restrict access to porn and gambling websites, adding that such content is illegal under the country’s cybercrime law.
    But many Thai users criticised the decision to shut the site in a country that was among the Top 20 by daily traffic for Pornhub in 2019 and which has a globally-known sex industry.
    An activist group called Anonymous Party posted a statement saying: “We want to reclaim Pornhub. People are entitled to choices.”    Another group, using the hashtag #SavePornhub, called a demonstration for Tuesday afternoon.
    Pornhub did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Some internet users asked whether the ban was about trying to protect Thai morals or because the site featured some compromising royal images.
    Thailand’s government has faced months of youth and student-led protests demanding the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, as well as calling for reforms to reduce King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s powers.
    A hashtag that translates as #HornyPower is trending on Thai Twitter following the Pornhub block, with tweets making comments or posting memes that the government would be facing greater opposition now beyond the protesters.
    “If someone doesn’t hate the current military government, now they probably do,” said a user named Jirawat Punnawat on Twitter.
    Emilie Pradichit, director of the Manushya Foundation, which campaigns for digital rights, said the decision showed Thailand was “a land of digital dictatorship, with conservatives in power trying to control what young people can watch, can say and can do online.”
(Additional reporting by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Ed Davies)

11/3/2020 ‘Death Coming For Me’: Gunmen Cut Young Lives Short In Kabul Campus Slaughter by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Orooj Hakimi and Hamid Shalizi
An Afghan policeman inspects the site after yesterday's attack at the university of Kabul, Afghanistan November 3, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – As Mohammad clambered out of a second-floor window at Kabul University on Monday to escape gunmen rampaging across the campus, he was sure death was close.
    Minutes earlier, the 20-year-old had been sitting in his classroom in the Afghan university’s National Legal Training Centre building, waiting for a lecturer at the start of what should have been a regular Monday morning.
    Then three gunmen began shooting, killing at least 35 in an attack on unarmed young people that has shocked a country where insurgent violence is common despite peace talks between Taliban militants and the U.S.-backed government.
    “Sounds of screaming, gunshots and hand grenade explosions reverberated inside the building,” Mohammad, who asked to go by his first name, told Reuters by ‘phone.    “Many lives and dreams were shattered.”
    The brazen attack has been claimed by Islamic State, a jihadist group that is an enemy of the Taliban and not part of Afghanistan’s halting peace process.
    The Taliban, which wants a share of power as U.S. troops withdraw after nearly 20 years of shoring up the government in Kabul, has denied involvement in Monday’s massacre.
    That has done little to reassure a nation where trust in the Taliban – responsible for killing thousands of civilians and government troops in recent years – is at a low ebb.
    The fact that young people were specifically targeted just over a week after a suicide bomber killed 24 people – most aged between 15 and 26 – at a Kabul education centre, has only heightened the sense of anger and loss.
    About a hundred students gathered near Kabul University campus on Tuesday to protest against the peace talks, which are being held in Doha.
    “We want to raise our voices to the world and say we shall never give up,” said M. Younus, one of the demonstrators.    “No matter how many they kill, we will continue our studies.”
MORNING CALM SHATTERED
    The gunmen entered the building Mohammad was in – located beside an entrance to the campus – at around 11 a.m. (0630 GMT).
    Officials say they are still piecing together the sequence of events.    They have yet to establish whether the attackers entered the campus by force or if arms had been stored on site to be accessed after they entered the grounds.
    “With the start of gunshots I looked outside and saw well-equipped men in police force uniforms running toward our building,” said Mohammad, a third year student in the law and political science faculty.
    It was not clear whether he was referring to the insurgents or security forces who engaged them in battle.    In some previous militant attacks in Afghanistan, perpetrators have disguised themselves as members of the police or army.
    Along with his classmates, Mohammad rushed to wedge chairs and tables in front of their classroom door to stop the attackers from entering.    As the explosions and gunshots neared, the students desperately looked for a way to escape.
    “Our class had windows facing the rear of the building where there are many trees; using the trees we managed to climb down,” said Mohammad, who heard screams behind him from the building he had fled.
    “I saw death coming for me, I don’t know whose prayers saved me.”
FROZEN IN FEAR
    A short distance away on the sprawling campus, Somaya Mohammadi, 20, had been taking notes in her Islamic Culture lecture when she looked out of the window and saw a large number of students running frantically toward the exit gate.
    “One of the students shouted that suicide attackers had entered the university,” Mohammadi, a student at the Faculty of Engineering, recalled.
    There was shock and panic as she and her classmates grabbed their belongings and rushed out of the building.
    Mohammadi said she froze in fear.
    “I was shivering and could not walk at all … I got out of the building with the help of my friends.”
    Outside, there was chaos.
    “Everyone was running … the university was very crowded,” said 21-year-old Niloufar Alamyar.
    A third year student, Alamyar had been training to be a journalist – a difficult and dangerous job in Afghanistan.    But she was not prepared for what she saw.
    “I did not think I would ever see such a scene in life,” she said, adding that students were directed to flee via the south gate of the campus, away from where the attackers had entered and were exchanging heavy fire with security forces.
    The battle continued for some six hours, according to officials.
LUCKY TO BE ALIVE
    Mohammad, Mohammadi and Alamyar made it out alive, unharmed. Others were less fortunate.
    Mustafa Jan witnessed classmates being killed.
    “I saw an attacker pass by the classroom.    When he returned, he fired into the classroom.    He killed and wounded a number of my classmates and then went to other classes.”
    Outside, as Mohammadi fled, she desperately tried to call her best friend Marzia, who did not respond.    She was to meet Marzia after class to return a book she had borrowed.
    “Bring it tomorrow after the class,” Marzia, who was in the final year of a public policy course, had texted the night before.    The two had been friends for nine years and graduated school together.
    When Marzia did not answer, Mohammadi called one of her classmates, who informed her that Marzia was dead.
    “I just could not believe it,” said Mohammadi, who stumbled across a picture of Marzia on social media laying lifeless on the floor, covered in blood.
    “Marzia was very talented student, and she was top of her class,” said Mohammadi, weeping.    “I’ll miss her loud laugh and jokes.    I still can’t believe she is no more.”
(Additional reporting by Hameed Farzad; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Euan Rocha and Mike Collett-White)

11/3/2020 China’s Xi Warns Of Rising Risks As Party Charts Course For Five Years
FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping speaks while taking part in an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People's
Volunteer Army's participation in the Korean War at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping, commenting on the ruling Communist Party’s recommendations for the next five years, said on Tuesday said the country faces a significant increase in risks.
    Xi and the Central Committee, the largest of the ruling Communist Party’s top decision-making bodies, concluded a four-day meeting on economic and social policy goals for the next five years last month.
    It was not immediately clear to what risks Xi was referring but China faces rising tensions with the United States over issues including trade, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and human rights and economic shocks brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
    “At present and over the next phase, China is prone to all kinds of contradictions and risks, and the various risk factors, both foreseeable and unforeseeable, have increased significantly,” Xi was quoted by the Xinhua state news agency as saying.
    Rather than setting a numerical goal to double GDP or per capita income by 2035, China will prioritise optimising economic structure and development quality, Xi said.
    However, reaching such goals is “entirely possible,” he said, adding that China was set to declare it has achieved the goal of turning the country into a moderately prosperous society in the first half of 2021.
    China is doubling down on domestic consumption and innovation, while aiming for sustained and healthy economic development, with an emphasis on a higher quality of growth, the party said in a communique last week.
    China is set to narrowly miss a previous goal of doubling GDP in the decade to 2020, as the economy needs to grow at least 5.6% this year to hit that target.    The economy could grow just over 2% this year.
    In the party’s recommendations for economic and social development, it said technological prowess would drive growth, with key projects planned in artificial intelligence, quantum information, semiconductors and other areas.
    It will encourage the merger of companies in strategic emerging industries and provide tax incentives for companies involved in basic scientific research.    Development of China’s sovereign digital currency will be steadily pushed forward.
    It will also support Beijing, Shanghai and the southern Greater Bay Area, including Hong Kong, into becoming global tech innovation centres.
    China will boost the overall competitiveness of the state economy and keep manufacturing industry’s role in the economy basically stable, said the party, while reiterating its existing policy of discouraging speculation in the property market.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu, Gabriel Crossley and Kevin Yao; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11/4/2020 Iran’s Rouhani Says U.S. Policies Important, Not Who Becomes 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/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday the result of the U.S. election was not important for the country’s clerical rulers, but that the next president in Washington should respect international treaties and laws.
    “For Tehran, the next U.S. administration’s policies are important and not who wins the U.S. election,” Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting.
    Democratic challenger Joe Biden has promised to rejoin Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers if Iran returns to compliance with it.
    President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.    In retaliation, Iran has gradually reduced compliance with the deal’s terms.
    “We want to be respected, not subject to sanctions (by the United States).    No matter who wins the U.S. election … For us, policies and principles are important,” Rouhani said.
    Trump has said he wants to strike a new deal with Tehran that would address Iran’s missile programme and support for regional proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
    Iran has ruled out any negotiations unless Washington first returns to the accord.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, ; editing by John Stonestreet)

11/4/2020 China Says U.S. Sends Out Wrong Signals To Taiwan On Potential Drone Sale Deal
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday the United States has sent out wrong and grave signals to the so-called Taiwan military forces on the potential drone sale deal.
    China will take legitimate and necessary responses in light of the changing circumstances, Wang Wenbin, spokesman of the ministry told a regular briefing in Beijing.
    The U.S. State Department cleared the potential sale of four sophisticated U.S.-made aerial drones to Taiwan in a formal notification sent to Congress, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, the last step before finalizing a weapons sale that will further anger China.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

11/4/2020 In China, Bemusement And Scorn Over Unresolved U.S. Election
U.S. President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, speaks about early results from
the 2020 U.S. presidential election in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese social media users watched election day in the United States with bemusement and mockery, as President Donald Trump complained of a “major fraud on our nation” and falsely claimed victory before millions of votes had been tallied.
    “Whether he wins or loses, his final mission is to destroy the appearance of American democracy,” one user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform wrote on Wednesday.
    “Let Trump be re-elected and take the U.S. downhill,” another wrote, while a third likened his premature declaration of victory to claiming the pot in a game of mahjong before the round is finished.
    Communist Party-ruled China’s own leadership is chosen through an opaque, closed-door process.
    Relations between China and the United States are at their worst in decades over disputes ranging from technology and trade to Hong Kong and the coronavirus, and the Trump administration has unleashed a barrage of sanctions against Beijing.
    Chinese state media frequently call attention to negative news in the United States, and ahead of Tuesday’s voting showed images of shops that had been boarded up in anticipation of election-related violence.
    “This kind of unrest is usually (a) complication of elections in poor countries, but people are worried it may appear in the US.    The US is in degradation,” tweeted Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid published by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily.
    He later mocked pre-election polling that had predicted a stronger showing by rival Joe Biden.
    A popular meme circulating online showed an electoral map in the shape of China, coloured red to show Trump had 270 electoral votes.    Many who shared the image believe a Trump win would mean chaos for the United States, to China’s benefit.
    Beijing has not expressed a preference in the race.
    “The U.S. election is a domestic affair. China has no position on it,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Tony Munroe, Gao Liangping, Yew Lun Tian and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/4/2020 Iran Foreign Minister Arrives In Venezuela To Start Latin America Tour
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
    CARACAS (Reuters) – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has arrived in Venezuela for the start of a tour of Latin America, Venezuela’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, amid intense efforts by Washington to limit Iran’s influence in the western hemisphere. Zarif is also scheduled to visit Cuba and to attend the inauguration of Bolivian president-elect Luis Arce, who has said he will strengthen ties with Iran.
    He was “received by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza upon his arrival to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, where he will carry out an intense work agenda at the highest level,” Venezuela’s foreign ministry wrote on Twitter.
    Tehran has become a crucial ally for Caracas as the United States tightens sanctions meant to force President Nicolas Maduro from power.
    Iran has sent two flotillas of fuel tankers to Venezuela this year to help resolve debilitating gasoline shortages in the South American nation, spurred by a collapse in its refining network as well as the sanctions, which have complicated fuel imports from more traditional trade partners.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

11/5/2020 China Blocks Travellers From Coronavirus-Hit Britain, Belgium
FILE PHOTO: Staff members in protective suits sit at a checkpoint at Beijing Capital International Airport, following new
cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Beijing, China June 16, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China has barred entry to some travellers from Britain and Belgium and set strict testing requirements on visitors from the United States, France and Germany, as it reimposed border restrictions in response to rising global coronavirus cases.
    Because of the pandemic, China has temporarily suspended entry of non-Chinese nationals travelling from the United Kingdom even if they hold valid visas and residence permits, the Chinese embassy in Britain said on Wednesday.
    The Chinese embassy in Belgium released a similar statement announcing restrictions on travellers from Belgium, which has Europe’s highest per capita number of new confirmed cases.
    The rejection of non-Chinese travellers from Britain came as England entered a month-long lockdown starting Thursday.    Britain’s death toll is the highest in Europe and it is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day.
    The suspension was a partial reversal of an easing on Sept. 28, when China allowed all foreigners with valid residence permits to enter.    In March, China had banned entry of foreigners in response to the epidemic.
    Mainland China has also started to tighten some of the most stringent requirements in the world on travellers arriving from other foreign destinations.
    Starting Nov. 6, all passengers from the United States, France and Germany bound for mainland China must take both a nucleic acid test and a blood test for antibodies against the coronavirus.    The tests must be done no more than 48 hours before boarding.
    If the passenger needs to make a transit stop en route to China, the same tests must be done in the transit country or region.
    Linyi Li, a Chinese national, had planned to fly from Seattle to China in mid-November but switched to her flight to Nov. 6 to circumvent the rule, even though fares had tripled.
    “The tickets were sold out in seconds, as people were all scrambling to beat the deadline,” said Li, 30.    “I’ve been rushing to sell many of my family belongings in the past days in case I can’t get back to the States.”
    Similar requirements were imposed on travellers from countries such as Australia, Singapore and Japan, from Nov. 8.
    The dual-testing requirement was not unprecedented. Passengers arriving on specially arranged flights from countries such as India can undergo several rounds of those tests.
    The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said it saw no reason to make tweaks in the current system.
    “Unfortunately, while technically leaving the door open, these changes imply a de facto ban on anyone trying to get back to their lives, work and families in China,” it said.
    The chamber also said the antibody test was not widely available in many countries.
    On Tuesday, China Southern Airlines, the country’s biggest carrier by passenger load, said it would suspend transit services for passengers embarking from 21 countries, mostly African and Asian countries such as India and the Philippines.
    The number of weekly international passenger flights serving mainland China from late October through March is set to slump 96.8% from a year earlier to 592, the latest schedules show.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Lusha Zhang, Dominique Patton, Stella Qiu and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Stephen Coates)

11/5/2020 U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Agreement Extremely Regrettable, Japan Says
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Health, Labour and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato attends a news conference at
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – The United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is extremely regrettable, Japan’s top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said on Thursday.
    “The climate change issue isn’t something of a single country, it should be addressed by the entire international community,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato told reporters.
    “From that point of view, it’s extremely regrettable that the United States is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement now,” he said.
(Reporting by Daniel Leussink; Editing by Kim Coghill)

11/5/2020 Iran Foreign Minister, In Ally Venezuela, Says U.S. No Longer ‘Controls World’
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks in Baghdad, Iraq July 19, 2020. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    CARACAS (Reuters) – Iran believes the U.S. government no longer can “control what’s happening in the world” or show other countries how to protect citizens’ rights, the Iranian foreign minister said on Thursday during a visit to ally Venezuela.
    Speaking two days after the U.S. presidential election, Mohammad Javad Zarif said the era of “Western hegemony had ended” as he praised Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for resisting a U.S.-coordinated campaign to oust him.
    Iran has become a key ally for Maduro as his authoritarian government has weathered crippling financial sanctions and international isolation.    Faced with the collapse of a once-potent oil industry, Maduro has turned to Iran to buy gasoline to keep supplying Venezuelan consumers.
    “Today, the United States and its allies can’t control what’s happening in the world.    They’ve lost control,” Zarif told a forum in Caracas, alongside his Venezuelan counterpart, Jorge Arreaza.
    Arreaza described Venezuela’s relationship with Iran as at a “climax” and said the Maduro administration could in future acquire Iranian weapons if it was considered necessary.
(Reporting by Mayela Armas, Corina Pons and Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
[HE MAY BE RIGHT IF THE DEMOCRATS CONTINUE TO TURN THIS COUNTRY INTO A BANANA REPUBLIC.].

11/5/2020 Heavy Shelling Hits Nagorno-Karabakh’s Largest City: Sources by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
FILE PHOTO: Men walk along graves of soldiers and civilians who were killed during a military conflict over the
breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Stepanakert, November 2, 2020. Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Nagorno-Karabakh’s largest city came under heavy shelling on Thursday, three sources working there said, as Reporters Without Borders called for the safe evacuation of civilians who it says are trapped in Stepanakert.
    Writing on Twitter, Reporters Without Borders, a nonprofit group, called on the United Nations, the Council of Europe and Azerbaijan “to do everything possible” to allow an evacuation of civilians, including 80 local and foreign journalists.
    At least 1,000 people and possibly many more have been killed since fighting broke out on Sept. 27 in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    A freelance reporter working in Stepanakert, who did not wish to be identified, told Reuters by telephone that the city was under shelling before turning off the handset to avoid the risk of detection.
    “The air raid siren hasn’t stopped all day,” a second reporter said, again speaking by telephone from Stepanakert.
    A third journalist, from France, said that some reporters had left the city via a northern route because the main road to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, via the strategic region of Lachin was also under fire.
    The ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh Emergency and Rescue Service said on Thursday that Stepanakert – called Khankendi by Azerbaijan – was being shelled by Azeri forces.
    It said heavy artillery had also been used in the town of Martuni, known by Azerbaijan as Khojavend, while Shushi, or Shusha – the enclave’s second-largest city – had been damaged by shelling.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry denied these accusations.    It said the city of Terter and a nearby village, as well as villages in the Aghdam region in the east of the conflict zone, had been shelled.    Ethnic Armenian forces denied this.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry also said combat operations continued “with varying intensity” around Aghdere – Martakert, in Armenian – and Khojavend.
    The worst fighting in the South Caucasus for more than 25 years has underlined the influence of Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, in a region once part of the Soviet Union and long dominated by Moscow, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
    Three ceasefires have failed to hold while attacks by both sides resumed within hours of an agreement by the warring sides last Friday to avoid targeting civilians.
    The ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry says 1,177 of its troops have been killed since Sept. 27.        Azerbaijan does not disclose its military casualties, while Russia has estimated 5,000 deaths on both sides.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan, Nailia Bagirova in Baku and Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

11/6/2020 Hong Kong Leader Lam Discussed Coronavirus, Economic Relief With Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam meets Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan and other officials in Beijing, China in this handout
picture released by Hong Kong Information Services Department November 4, 2020. Hong Kong Information Services Department/Handout via REUTERS
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Friday she had discussed coronavirus controls and economic relief measures with mainland Chinese officials during her three-day trip to Beijing and that the central government has welcomed her proposals.
    Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Lam said the Chinese government will support Hong Kong’s competitiveness, as well as tech innovation in the Asian financial hub. Lam said she could not disclose substantial details of her meetings.
    Hong Kong’s economy has been in a downturn since mid-2019 due to the double blow of COVID-19 and anti-government protests.
    Beijing-backed Lam postponed her annual policy address last month ahead of her trip to the mainland.    She plans to deliver the address on Nov. 25.
(Reporting by Clare Jim and Anne Marie Roantree; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

11/6/2020 China Says Has Never Interfered In Other Countries’ Affairs
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China has never interfered in other countries’ affairs nor does it have any interest in doing so, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Friday, in response to Australia charging the first person under its foreign interference law.
    Wang Wenbin, spokesman with the ministry, was speaking to reporters at a regular news briefing in Beijing.
    Australian police said a Melbourne man who appeared in court on Thursday was the first person charged with foreign interference under new legislation introduced in 2018.
    The person holds senior positions in a number of Chinese community associations in the state of Victoria, including the Oceania Federation of Chinese Australians, and the Chinese Museum, according to organisation records seen by Reuters, websites and press statements.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)
[SO WHY DID CHINESE ENTITIES WHO PAID HUNTER BIDEN $3.5 MILLION TO GET ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY SO HE COULD DO HIS SCAM TO THE U.S. AND ALL OF THIS IS ON HARD DRIVE THE FBI HAVE WHICH SHOWS INVOLVING HIS BIG GUY JOE BIDEN WHO GOT HIS CUT 10-50% AND THIS INCLUDED UKRAINE AND RUSSIA IN THIS CORRUPTION AND THIS PERSON MIGHT END UP AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.].

11/6/2020 Malaysia’s 1MDB State Fund Still $7.8 Billion In Debt: Government Report
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the funds flagship
Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, March 1, 2015. REUTERS/Olivia Harris
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the state fund at the centre of a massive corruption scandal, still had an estimated 32.3 billion ringgit ($7.80 billion) in outstanding debt as of September, the government said on Friday.
    Set up in 2009 by former prime minister Najib Razak, authorities are investigating how billions of dollars went missing from 1MDB – a disappearance the government says led to the finance ministry having to bail out the fund.
    Malaysia said in 2018 the government would have to pay about $13 billion of 1MDB’s dues.
    Since April 2017, the government has provided 9.4 billion ringgit in loans and advances to help 1MDB meet its financial commitments and debt obligations, according to the 2021 fiscal outlook report, released ahead of the government’s budget announcement on Friday.
    Malaysia has also recovered a total of 13.4 billion ringgit ($3.24 billion) in assets linked to 1MDB’s financial trail as of the end of September, the report said.
    The amount includes about 2.6 billion ringgit ($628 million) in cash and assets recovered and returned to Malaysia by the U.S. authorities, as well as $2.5 billion paid by Goldman Sachs to settle a Malaysian probe into the investment bank’s role in the 1MDB scandal.
    Goldman Sachs, which had helped 1MDB raise a total of $6.5 billion in bonds, has also guaranteed to help Malaysia recover $1.4 billion more in 1MDB-linked assets.
    The United States has said about $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB in an elaborate scheme that spanned the globe and implicated high-level officials of the fund, former prime minister Najib, Goldman executives, and others.
    Malaysian authorities say billions of dollars remain unaccounted for.
($1 = 4.1390 ringgit)
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Ed Davies)

11/6/2020 India’s Top General Says Face-Off With China Could Spark Bigger Conflict by Devjyot Ghoshal
FILE PHOTO: Snow-covered mountain range is seen from a passenger airplane in Ladakh region September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s top military commander said on Friday a tense border standoff with Chinese forces in the western Himalayas could spark a larger conflict, even as senior commanders from both sides met near the frontline for their eighth round of talks.
    Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat said the situation was tense at the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border, in eastern Ladakh, where thousands of Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a months-long confrontation.
    “We will not accept any shifting of the Line of Actual Control,” Rawat said in an online address.
    “In the overall security calculus, border confrontations, transgressions and unprovoked tactical military actions spiralling into a larger conflict cannot therefore be discounted,” he said.
    Brutal hand-to-hand combat in June left 20 Indian and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers dead, escalating tensions and triggering large deployments on the remote, desolate border area.
    Both sides have since attempted to ease the situation through diplomatic and military channels, but have made little headway, leaving soldiers facing-off in sub-zero temperatures in Ladakh’s snow deserts.
    Senior Indian and Chinese commanders were meeting on Friday in Ladakh, the eight round of talks between the military leaderships since the crisis began, officials in New Delhi said.
    The talks would likely include discussions on a Chinese proposal to pull some troops back from a contested area on the northern bank of Pangong Tso lake, where soldiers were separated by a few hundred metres, according to an Indian official.
    Infantry troops, backed by artillery and armoured vehicles, are also facing off on the southern bank of the lake, where China has been pushing India to pull back, the official said.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal, Editing by William Maclean)

11/6/2020 China Urges U.S. To Terminate Arms Sales To Taiwan by OAN Newsroom
Fiel – Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin is pictured. (Reuters Photo)
    China recently pushed back on the U.S. regarding aid given to Taiwan.    On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, spoke out against the potential drone sale deal.    This followed the State Department’s Tuesday announcement confirming they cleared a potential sale of U.S. aerial drones to Taiwan.
    The weapons sale would anger China even further amid a series of already rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.    China has vowed to take Taiwan under control and has urged the U.S. to withdraw the move.
    “We urge the U.S. to abide by the One-China principle and the Three Joint Communiqués, terminate arms sales and military contact with Taiwan,” Wenbin stated.    “And immediately cancel the plans of arms sales to Taiwan to avoid further harm to bilateral relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan strait.”
    Moving forward, China has threatened to take “legitimate and necessary responses in light of the changing developments.”

11/6/2020 U.S. Urges WHO Chief To Invite Taiwan To Assembly by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting In Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.S. mission in Geneva urged World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday to invite Taiwan to a major meeting the body is hosting next week expected to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “We encourage the WHO to expand its efforts to offer Taiwan increased meaningful cooperation and collaboration with the organization, and this (an invitation to participate) would be a needed step in that direction,” it said in a statement.
    Washington has been deeply critical of the WHO and its boss Tedros for its handling of the pandemic, saying it is too close to China, and plans to withdraw.
    Backed by the United States, Taiwan has stepped up lobbying this year to take part in the meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body as an observer, angering China, which claims the democratically-run island as its own territory.
    Taiwan, which was praised internationally for quickly containing the coronavirus, was not invited to an earlier meeting by the same body in May and it agreed to put off the issue until later in the year.
    The WHO has previously said it has no mandate to invite Taiwan since members disagree on the island’s participation.
    The virtual meeting of 194 member states is set to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and related health issues.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Kim Coghill)

11/7/2020 Evacuation begins as Indonesia’s most active volcano rumbles
    YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian authorities began evacuating people living on the volatile Mount Merapi volcano’s fertile slopes on Friday following an increase in volcanic activity.    The head of Yogyakarta’s Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center, Hanik Humaida, warned that Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano, could erupt at any time, possibly sending hot gas clouds down its slopes up to 3 miles.    Edy Susanto, a local disaster mitigation agency official, said about 300 people from two villages were taken to shelters.

11/7/2020 U.N. Panel Urges Iran To Speed Investigation Of Downed Jet
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
    (Reuters) – A governing panel at the United Nations’ aviation agency urged Iran on Friday to accelerate an investigation into the downing of a Ukrainian airliner in January, while an Iranian official said a final report on the crash would be circulated soon.
    The International Civil Aviation Organization said members of its 36-nation council issued the call, nearly 10 months after a Ukraine International Airlines flight was shot down by an Iranian ground-to-air missile, killing 176 people.
    “We have had several exchanges with the Iranian CAA in which we urged its authorities to expedite the accident investigation,” council president Salvatore Sciacchitano told a meeting of the committee, according to ICAO.
    Iran’s representative to ICAO, however, said he had made a full report to the council on the progress of the investigation.
    A draft of the final report has been completed and is being translated, Farhad Parvaresh told Reuters.
    It will be sent to participating nations in “a couple of weeks,” he said, adding that Iran was adhering to international rules on air investigations known as Annex 13.
    Those rules include a recommendation that the final report appears within 12 months, which in this case runs until early January, though many high-profile probes take longer.
    Although the deadline has not yet been reached, some states including Canada are concerned about what they view as a lack of transparency, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has said it accidentally shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 on Jan. 8, mistaking it for a missile at a time when tensions were high between Iran and the United States.
    Canada and families of the victims are pressing Iran for additional answers following an initial report on the contents of black boxes, which were sent to France for analysis in July.
    Many of the 176 victims killed in the crash were Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
    Ukraine, where the Boeing 737 was operated, and the United States, where it was designed and built, are automatically part of any formal accident investigation under ICAO rules.
    The rules say any participating nations should be given 60 days to make comments before the final report can be published.
(Reporting by Shreyasee Raj, Allison Lampert, Tim Hepher; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Cynthia Osterman)

11/7/2020 Thai LGBT And Anti-Government Protesters Join In Pride Parade
Thai anti-government protesters from the LGBT community hold a pride parade in Bangkok, Thailand, November 7, 2020.REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – More than 1,000 members of Thailand’s LGBT community and anti-government protesters joined in a Pride Parade on Saturday to call for equal rights as well for the ousting of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and reforms to the monarchy.
    A protest movement that emerged in July has drawn a wide range of interest groups to push for greater democracy and human rights in the Southeast Asian country.
    Members of the LGBT community wearing colourful outfits marched in the capital Bangkok with youth and student protesters who tend to favour black clothes.
    “We agree that real democracy for Thailand will be the start of equality for Thai people and for rights to be prioritised again,” said teacher Lalita Waisinittham, 26.
    Protesters had initially demanded the removal of Prayuth, a former junta leader they accuse of engineering last year’s election to keep power, but demonstrations have also broken taboos by calling for curbs on King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s powers.
    Prayuth says last year’s election was fair and has refused to step down.    The Palace has made no official comment on the protests, but last weekend the king said “we love them all the same” when asked to comment on the protesters.
    Another anti-government demonstration is due on Sunday.
(Reporting by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Catherine Evans)

11/8/2020 Azerbaijan Says It Has Taken Karabakh’s Second-Largest City, Armenia Denies It
FILE PHOTO: A man drives a car past a damaged building following recent shelling in the town of Shushi (Shusha), in the course of
a military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 29, 2020. Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said on Sunday his country’s forces had taken Shusha, the second-largest city in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, a statement that Armenian officials denied.
    The city, called Shushi by Armenians, is of cultural and strategic importance to both sides and is located 15 km (9 miles) south of the enclave’s largest city Stepanakert.
    At least 1,000 people have died in nearly six weeks of fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in YEREVAN and Nailia Bagirova in BAKU; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/8/2020 Iranian President Says Next U.S. Administration Should Make Up For Trump’s Mistakes
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) – Iran’s president said on Sunday the next U.S. administration should use the opportunity to compensate for President Donald Trump’s mistakes, Iranian state reported after Joe Biden captured the U.S. presidency.
    “Trump’s damaging policy has been opposed … by the American people.    The next U.S. administration should use the opportunity to make up for past mistakes,” President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying.
    “Iran favours constructive interaction with the world,” Rouhani said.     Biden has pledged to rejoin Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with six powers, a deal that was agreed by Washington when he was vice president, if Iran also returns to compliance.     Tensions have spiked between the longtime foes since 2018, when Trump exited the deal and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
    In retaliation, Tehran has gradually reduced its commitments to the accord. But Iran’s clerical rulers have said those steps were reversible if Tehran’s interests were respected.
    “The heroic resistance of the Iranian people proved that the policy of maximum pressure is doomed to failure,” Rouhani said.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Edmund Blair)
[Don’t worry Rouhani the Senate will not let any of Biden’s proposals or House attacks change Trump’s protections from your agenda so GET OVER IT and Trump has began to supply all the Arab nations with weapons to defend themselves from your aggression and has united them with Israel who is not afraid of taking out any nuclear capabilities you have.].

11/8/2020 Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Favored To Win As Election Gets Underway by Reuters staff
People wearing face masks wait to cast their ballots for the general election at a polling
station in Yangon, Myanmar, November 8, 2020.?REUTERS/Shwe Paw Mya Tin
    YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar voted on Sunday in an election seen as a referendum on a fledgling democratic government whose reputation collapsed overseas amid allegations of genocide but which remains popular at home.
    Leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to win a second term in the second general election since the end of decades of military-backed rule.
    She is supported by a population that largely sees her as a heroine of democracy, though her win will likely be by a lesser margin than the landslide victory that propelled her to power in 2015.
    More than 37 million people are registered to vote, but fears over the rapid spread of COVID-19 in recent months may dampen turnout.
    In the biggest city, Yangon, queues formed at polling stations even before balloting started, with voters in masks, face shields and with hair coverings waiting patiently in evenly spaced lines as the sun came up.
    Sai Kyaw Latt Phyo, 31, said it was the first time he had left his home in three months.    Myanmar is seeing on average nearly 1,100 new daily coronavirus cases, compared to a handful each day in early August.
    “I think it is worth the risk,” he told Reuters.    “We must take the risk in such a crucial situation for our country.”
    Chaw Ei Twin, 38, said she was doing her civic duty.
    “I gave my vote to a party which can transform the country.    I voted the same party last time,” she said, without disclosing which party.
    Suu Kyi’s defenders say critics are unrealistic to expect rapid change in the country after half a century of military rule and are hampering efforts to secure gradual progress.
    United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Friday he hoped for “peaceful, orderly and credible elections” that could enable hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya in camps in neighboring Bangladesh to return “in safety and dignity.”
    More than 730,000 Rohingya, members of a persecuted Muslim minority, fled the country following a 2017 military crackdown that the UN has said was executed with genocidal intent.    Myanmar says it was carrying out legitimate operations against militants who attacked police posts.
    Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are confined to camps and villages inside Myanmar’s Rakhine state, mostly denied citizenship and unable to vote, alongside more than a million other people in areas where polls have been canceled due to insurgencies.
‘MOTHER SUU’
    Suu Kyi, the 75-year-old Nobel Laureate still known to many as “Mother Suu”, remains overwhelmingly popular in Myanmar, where a recent survey by local watchdog found 79% of people considered her the country’s most trusted figure.
    But enthusiasm is weaker in remote regions dominated by ethnic minorities, many of who feel sidelined by the Buddhist Bamar-majority central government.
    Doi Bu, vice-chair of the Kachin State People’s Party, one of several new ethnic parties that have resulted from mergers, said the government had failed to bring change to the region in part because it was cowed by the army.
    “Although five years is not long, the NLD didn’t do anything necessary, starting with (amending) the constitution,” she said.
    The army retains significant powers under the constitution, including holding a quarter of seats in parliament and a veto on changes to the charter.
    Tensions between the government and the military have been running high, with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing saying in a rare interview last week the administration had made “unacceptable mistakes” in the lead-up to the polls.
    He said opposition parties had complained about irregularities, including voter lists that were incomplete and riddled with errors.    The president’s office said his remarks risked creating fear and unrest days before the vote.
    The election commission has said it was doing its best to ensure the polls were free and fair.
    Smaller parties also say coronavirus restrictions have made it harder for them to spread their message.
    Myint Myint Aye, a Yangon street vendor, said she knew little about the more than 90 political parties running, including new ones.
    “Our choices are limited due to COVID-19,” she said.
(Reporting by Thu Thu Aung, Zaw Naing Oo and Sam Aung Moon in Yangon and Juarawee Kittisilpa in Bangkok; Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Frances Kerry; Martin Petty and Billy Mallard)

11/9/2020 Analysis: Russia And Turkey Keep Powder Dry In Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict by Maria Tsvetkova and Olzhas Auyezov
Workers unload a shipment of humanitarian aid from a plane arriving from Russia at Zvartnots
airport outside Yerevan, Armenia November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Artem Mikryukov
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Sensitive to the threat of wider confrontation, Russia and Turkey are for now limiting involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to providing humanitarian assistance and some military aid.
    Ankara sees its strong backing for Azerbaijan over the fighting with ethnic Armenians in the mountain enclave as part of efforts to boost Turkey’s international clout.    Moscow is determined to defend its own interests in the South Caucasus.
    But neither wants to be sucked into an all-out war, and private military contractors say Moscow and Ankara are largely turning a blind eye to the role of mercenaries – possibly fighting on both sides – to avoid stoking tensions.
    NATO member Turkey, which has stepped up arms supplies to Azerbaijan in recent years, is likely to refrain from deeper military involvement if its ally continues to advance in Nagorno-Karabakh, military and political analysts said.
    Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia, also has good relations with Azerbaijan and is unlikely to become directly involved militarily unless Azerbaijan launches a deliberate attack on Armenia, they said.
    “The fundamental question is: does the Kremlin want the return of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan?” said Pierre Razoux, academic director at France’s Mediterranean Foundation of Strategic Studies.
    Thousands are feared killed since fighting flared on Sept. 27 in the breakaway territory, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said on Sunday his country’s forces had taken Shusha, the second-largest city in Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Armenian officials denied this but Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan congratulated his “Azeri brothers” and said he believed Aliyev’s statement was “a sign” that Azerbaijan would soon regain control of more territory.
    Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan has been vital, and Azerbaijan’s superior weaponry and battlefield advances have reduced its incentive to reach a lasting peace deal.
    Ankara denies its troops are involved in fighting but Aliyev has acknowledged some Turkish F-16 fighter jets remained in Azerbaijan after a military drill this summer, and there are reports of Russian and Turkish drones being used by both sides.
    Russia is Armenia’s main arms supplier though it also sells weapons to Azerbaijan which, like Armenia, was for decades part of the Soviet Union.
ALL ASSISTANCE REQUIRED
    Russia has said it will give “all assistance required” should the conflict spill onto “the territory of Armenia.”
    A Russian private military contractor, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, cited unconfirmed information from a colleague that Russian mercenaries had gone to Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Alexander Borodai, a former leader of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, said a handful of Russian fighters, mostly of Armenian descent, had gone privately to Nagorno-Karabakh but had not stayed long.
    “They understood quickly that they wouldn’t be properly used there,” he said.
    Moscow and Ankara have cited the presence of foreign fighters as a threat to stability.
    After Armenia reported two Syrian fighters had been captured, Russia estimated 2,000 mercenaries from the Middle East were fighting, and Erdogan said Armenia was using Kurdish militants. The reports have not been confirmed independently.
    Political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said Russian involvement was unlikely to match the support received by the separatists in eastern Ukraine and that even an “accidental hit” on Armenian territory would not be viewed by Moscow as “aggressive action.”
    Moscow has a pragmatic relationship with Ankara that has overcome past crises and both worry about the security of oil and gas pipelines in Azerbaijan.
    But Razoux said deeper Russian involvement would be possible were Azerbaijan to attack Yerevan or Russia’s military base in Gyumri, northwest of the capital.
    “Russia has established a number of outposts along Armenia’s borders to make a statement,” he said.    “But (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has made it equally clear that this protection does not, and never did, extend to where Armenia really wants support right now – in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
MORE AID FLIGHTS
    Humanitarian aid deliveries from Russia to Armenia have increased in recent weeks, according to flight tracking data and two Armenian airline operators.
    An IL-76 military cargo plane previously used by the Armenian postal service and now operated by Atlantis Armenian Airlines had flown almost daily between Russia and Yerevan since early October, the airline said.
    On Friday, Reuters reporters saw the plane at Yerevan airport after a flight from Moscow, loaded with three minibuses, four winter tyres and dozens of sacks and boxes marked with red crosses.    Labels of many of them identified Armenia’s Moscow embassy as the sender.
    Two Airbus A320 commercial jets operated by Atlantis European airlines have also been delivering humanitarian aid from southern Russia since early October.
    On Sept. 24, after the joint Turkish-Azeri military drill, flight tracking data showed three Turkish Air Force A400 heavy transport planes making a return trip to the Azeri capital Baku.
    Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan has had “a game-changing effect,” said Laurence Broers, Caucasus programme director at the Chatham House think-tank.
    “If the Azerbaijani advance proceeds as it has to date, there won’t be a need for further Turkish involvement,” he said, adding that Turkey “would probably lend increased support” if Azeri advances stalled.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Yerevan and Olzhas Auyezov in Baku; Additional reporting by Yoruk Isik in Istanbul and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow, Writing by Robin Paxton, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/9/2020 Suu Kyi’s Party Confident As Unofficial Myanmar Vote Tally Shows Lead by Shoon Naing
A supporter of National League for Democracy holds a picture of Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi as she waits for results
outside the party headquarters after the general election in Yangon, Myanmar, November 8, 2020.?REUTERS/Shwe Paw Mya Tin
    YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s ruling party led by Aung San Suu Kyi said on Monday it was confident it would form a new government after reporting a lead based on its unofficial count of votes from the country’s second general election since the end of strict military rule.
    Sunday’s election was seen as a referendum on the fledgling democratic government led by Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), which remains popular at home but has seen its reputation collapse overseas amid allegations of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
    The Election Commission is expected to announce early official results later on Monday.
    In a running NLD tally on its official Facebook page, the party said it had won 30 of the 315 seats being contested in the 425-member lower house while the second biggest party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), had won one seat.
    “The results are better than expected,” said NLD spokesman Monywa Aung Shin, adding that the party’s tally was based on data from its campaign committees across the country.
    “I am sure we can … form the government,” Monywa Aung Shin said by telephone.
    The NLD tally also showed it had won a seat in the upper house, where 161 seats are up for grabs in the 217-seat chamber,     A spokesman for the military-backed USDP could not immediately be reached for comment.
    The military, which ruled Myanmar for nearly 50 years until it began withdrawing from civilian politics in 2011, controls a quarter of seats in both houses of parliament, under a constitution it drew up and which Suu Kyi and her allies want to amend.
    The NLD needs 322 seats in total to form a government and is expected to win but with a smaller margin as new parties emerge and ethnic minority parties gain support in some regions.
SOME UNABLE TO VOTE
    In contrast to the wave of optimism that greeted the NLD’s landslide win in 2015, Myanmar went into this election under a cloud of a surging COVID-19 outbreak, economic hardship and escalating ethnic conflicts.
    Although Myanmar is seeing an average of 1,100 new coronavirus cases a day – compared with a handful in early August – fears of the virus appeared not to dampen Sunday’s turnout among the 37 million registered voters.
    The Election Commision has yet to release data on turnout but in the biggest city, Yangon, long lines of voters wearing face masks and shields formed from dawn.
    But more than a million people across the country were unable to vote after polls were cancelled due to insurgencies.     Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim minority confined to camps and villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, most without citizenship, were also unable to vote.
    The Democracy and Human Rights Party, a Rohingya party, said in a statement it was “utterly disappointed” that its people had been disenfranchised.
    The election commission has said the polls in areas affected by conflict had to be cancelled for safety reasons and that only citizens were entitled to vote.
    Most Rohingya are not considered Myanmar citizens but migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh even though many can trace family roots back many generations.
    The United Nations has said there was genocidal intent in a 2017 army crackdown that forced 730,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
    Myanmar rejects that saying its security forces were carrying out legitimate operations against Rohingya militants.
(Reporting by Shoon Naing; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/9/2020 China Offers Backing To Guinea President After Disputed Election
FILE PHOTO: Guinea's outgoing president and presidential candidate Alpha Conde, leader of Rally for the People of Guinea (RPG) waves to supporters
as he attends his closing campaign rally ahead of the presidential election in Conakre, Guinea, October 16, 2020. REUTERS/ Sadak Souici
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Monday offered its backing to Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, congratulating him on his re-election despite accusations from the opposition of fraud during the vote in the major bauxite producer.
    “China and Guinea are good friends,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular news briefing.
    “We value our tradition of friendship and stand ready to work with the Guinean side to further advance our comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership to achieve benefits to our two peoples.”
    China has mining interests in Guinea in iron ore and bauxite, used for making steel and aluminium respectively.    China is the top world producer of both metals.
    Guinea’s top court on Saturday confirmed Conde’s victory in last month’s election, rejecting accusations of fraud and handing him a third term his opponents said is unconstitutional.
    China agreed in 2017 to loan Guinea $20 billion over nearly 20 years in exchange for concessions on bauxite which the West African country has in abundance. (https://bit.ly/2U7L9WP)
    Baowu Group, China’s biggest steel producer, plans to invest in the Simandou iron ore mine in Guinea and develop the deposit with other steel makers.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Additional reporting by Min Zhang and Helen Reid; Writing by Shivani Singh; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

11/9/2020 South Korea’s Moon Congratulates Biden, To Ensure No Gap In U.S. Alliance by Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks at the National Assembly in
Seoul, South Korea, October 28, 2020. Jeon Heon-Kyun/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – President Moon Jae-in said on Monday South Korea will ensure there is no gap in the alliance with the United States and the process of building peace on the Korean peninsula, as he congratulated Joe Biden on his U.S. presidential election win.
    South Korea found outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump a willing partner in efforts to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.    However, the relationship was strained by disagreements over exactly how to engage with Pyongyang, trade and Trump’s demand that Seoul pay billions of dollars more to support the U.S. troop presence on the peninsula.
    “We will gather forces as an alliance on the shared values of democracy, peace, human rights, international solidarity and multilateral cooperation,” Moon told his top aides, the presidential Blue House said in a statement regarding the incoming Biden administration.
    The South Korean government will work to promote economic relations through bilateral trade and policies and cooperate towards carbon neutrality and tackle climate change, said Moon.
    He also vowed to make progress on denuclearisation on the peninsula with the next administration, while seeking new opportunities and solutions to improve inter-Korean ties.
    South Korea’s ruling party floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon on Monday separately called for an arrangement of an early summit between Moon and Biden once he is inaugurated.
    On Sunday, South Korea’s foreign minister arrived in Washington for talks with her American counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who cancelled his planned visit to Seoul last month after Trump tested positive for the coronavirus.
    Speaking to reporters after visiting the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Kang Kyung-wha said it was too soon to predict how the new U.S. administration would handle specific issues, but she didn’t expect Biden to return to former U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy of strategic patience toward North Korea.
    “It should be made based on various progress and achievements made the past three years.”
    Yonhap said Kang would meet Biden’s foreign affairs and security members and discuss cooperation during her unusually long visit to the United States, without elaborating.
    Her agenda includes sitting with Pompeo on Monday to discuss solidifying the alliance between the two countries and the issues at stake on the Korean peninsula.    She had said she would also meet with senators and scholars.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha, Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry and Lincoln Feast.)

11/9/2020 Thai Protesters March To Palace To Demand Royal Reforms by Jiraporn Kuhakan and Patpicha Tanakasempipat
Anti-government protesters attend a mass rally to call for the ouster of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's
government and reforms in the monarchy in Bangkok, Thailand, November 8, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Despite a burst of water cannon and a police blockade, thousands of Thai protesters marched to the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Sunday to demand curbs to King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s powers and the removal of the government.
    Police used the water cannon for only the second time in months of largely peaceful protests to demand greater democracy and the departure of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader.
    “When the king truly cherishes democracy, all people will find happiness,” the protesters said in a statement read a few dozen metres for the walls of the palace, where they were stopped by police lines.
    “When you hear all the flattering praise from the people, you must also hear fearless criticisms and suggestions all the same,” said the statement, signed “with power of equal human dignity” by “people.”
    The Royal Palace was not available for comment.    It has not commented since the start of the protests.
    But the king said a week ago that the protesters were still loved and that Thailand was a land of compromise, as he greeted thousands of well-wishers near the very spot that the demonstrators reached on Sunday.
    Reuters journalists estimated more than 10,000 protesters marched from Democracy Monument in central Bangkok.    Police put the number at 7,000.
    “Reform or revolution,” read one placard.
    Police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen said water cannon had been fired only as a warning.    The Bangkok authority’s emergency unit said one police officer and four protesters were hurt during the brief confrontation outside the palace, where police had set a barricade of buses and barbed wire.
    “We no longer want the monarch to interfere in politics,” Jutatip Sirikhan, one of the protest leaders, told Reuters.
‘PLEASE, KING’
    One 25-year-old protester, who gave his name only as Keng, said “Please, king, please listen to the people.    People are unhappy because you let the military have full power and approved their coups.    We want the reform.”
    The protesters brought boxes stuffed with letters for the king and left them near the palace with police agreement.
    Protests since July have increasingly called for reforms to the powerful monarchy, breaking a long-standing taboo against criticising the institution – which can be punished by up to 15 years in prison.
    The protesters say the monarchy has helped enable decades of military domination of Thailand, most recently by approving the premiership of Prayuth, who seized power in a 2014 coup and kept it after disputed elections last year.
    The protesters seek to put the king more clearly under the constitution, reversing changes he made shortly after taking the throne as well as moves he made to take personal control of the palace fortune and some army units.
    Several dozen royalists earlier held a counter-protest at Democracy Monument, wearing yellow shirts in the colour of the king and waving Thai flags.    Many held up pictures of the king and his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
    “I want to protect the monarchy and the king,” said Chutima Liamthong, 58.    “The monarchy is the identity of Thailand. We cannot stand without the monarchy,” she said.
    Monarchists see the student-led protesters’ demands for reforms to the institution as a way of getting rid it of entirely, although protesters deny that is their goal.
(Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Frances Kerry)

11/9/2020 Biden Win Opens Door For Improved Predictability In China-U.S. Relations: State Media
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter near The Bund, before U.S. trade delegation meet
their Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese state media struck an optimistic tone in Monday in editorials reacting to Democrat Joe Biden’s win of the U.S. presidential elections, saying relations could be restored to a state of greater predictability and could start with trade.
    While acknowledging the United States was unlikely ease pressure on China on issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, state-backed newspaper Global Times said Beijing should work to communicate with the Biden team as thoroughly as it can.
    The Trump administration had deliberately created tensions in China-U.S. relations, especially after adopting a campaign strategy of pressuring China, which led to “bubbles” occurring in U.S.-China policy, it said.
    “We believe it is possible to pop those bubbles,” it said.    “It’s in the common interests of people from both countries and of international community that China-U.S. relations become eased and controllable.”
    The Global Times is a tabloid published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, but does not speak on behalf of the party and government.
    The China Daily newspaper said in a separate editorial it was “obvious” improving ties with China could start from trade, and reviving trade talks was critical to restore some understanding and trust in China-U.S. relations.
    “It is one of the last threads linking the two sides.    It is notable that neither Beijing nor Washington has ventured to scrap the hard-earned so-called phase one deal they negotiated,” said the China Daily, the country’s official English language newspaper.
    Tensions between the world’s two largest economies have intensified over the past year, shaking up technology supply chains and trade relations, and stoking fears that a financial war between the two countries could be brewing.
    The U.S. pressure, along with the global pandemic, have set China on a mission to reduce its reliance on overseas markets and technology for its economic development, as part of a new “dual circulation” model of growth to steer its economy.
    “China must become a country the U.S. cannot suppress or destabilize, and make it that cooperation with China is the best option for the U.S. to realize its national interests,” the Global Times added.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)
[IF BIDEN BECOMES PRESIDENT HE WILL CONTINUE ALLOWING CHINA TO TAKE CONTROL OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT/ENVIRONMENT AS THEY DID DURING THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION BECAUSE HE HAS SOLD OUT TO THEM AND IS NOW COMPROMISED AND THEY CAN DO HIM IN BY SHOWING THE CORRUPTION THAT HE DID WITH THEM IF HE DOES NOT PURSUE THEIR IDEOLOGY SO AMERICANS BE PREPARED TO OVERTHROW HIM IF HE ACTUALLY BECOMES PRESIDENT AFTER ALL THE COUNTS AND LEGAL AVENUES HAVE BEEN DONE.].

11/9/2020 ‘Don’t Worry’ – Pro-Trump Taiwan Seeks To Reassure Over Biden by Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: Copies of Taiwanese daily newspaper Liberty Times, with its frontpage on the inauguration of U.S. Presidentbr> Donald Trump, are seen a printing house in Taipei, Taiwan January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s top China policy maker on Monday sought to reassure nervous lawmakers that Democrat Joe Biden will continue U.S. support for the Chinese-claimed island, which has benefited from strong backing by the outgoing administration of Donald Trump.
    Tensions over democratic Taiwan have escalated dramatically since Republican Trump took office four years ago. China was infuriated first by Trump’s unprecedented call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen shortly after he won election, followed by increased U.S. arms sales and two visits to Taipei by top U.S. officials in recent months.
    While that made Trump a popular figure with the public in Taiwan, China responded by increasing military drills near Taiwan, including flying fighter jets over the sensitive mid line of the Taiwan Strait, escalating fears of conflict.
    In Taiwan’s parliament on Monday, several legislators expressed concerns about a Taiwan policy shift under a Biden administration, with some describing Biden as “China-friendly,” and others pointing to Biden’s opposition to a bill to strengthen Taiwan’s security in 1999.
    Huang Shih-chieh, from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said their main concern was whether U.S. support for Taiwan would change.
    “Our biggest worry is that with a Biden presidency he may adjust his policy,” Huang said.
    But Chen Ming-tong, who heads Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, repeatedly reassured lawmakers a fundamental change in U.S. support for Taiwan was unlikely.
    “There’s no need to worry about a change of ownership in the White House,” he said.    “Although there might be some changes in Biden’s tactics towards China, there will be no change in its China strategy.”
    Chen noted it was former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, who pushed the “pivot” back to Asia to challenge a rising China, and that Biden was unlikely to challenge the current geopolitical structure of the U.S.-China standoff.     The United States and Taiwan share the same values, Chen said.
    “Looking at (Biden’s) comments and support for Taiwan in the past, we can trust him to continue to reinforce the Taiwan-U.S. relationship.”
    Chen said while Biden was “generally viewed as China-friendly” he had also made a lot of criticism about China.
    “Some people only see one side of the story and overlook another.”
    Taiwan officials have long worried that Trump was just using the island as a pawn to put pressure on China.
    So Biden being in the White House may not be a bad thing for Taiwan, said Lai Shyh-bao, a lawmaker for the main opposition party, the Kuomintang, which traditionally favours close ties with China.
    “With a Biden administration I think tensions in the Taiwan Strait will be lowered, because he will not think of Taiwan as a big chess piece, like Trump always did,” he said.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)
[DON’T GET AHEAD OF YOURSELF BECAUSE YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD ALL THE BEGEIN JOE CORRUPTION THAT THE FAKE NEWS HAS BLOCKED.].

11/9/2020 Australia Says U.S. Return To Paris Agreement, WHO Under Biden Would Be Welcome by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: People attend a demonstration to urge politicians to act against climate change
in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia would welcome President-elect Joe Biden restoring the United States to the Paris climate accord, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, speaking as he faced renewed pressure himself to boost efforts to cut Australia’s carbon emissions.
    “We would be welcoming the United States back into the Paris Agreement, somewhere we’ve always been,” Morrison told reporters, saying a U.S. return to other global organisations like the World Health Organization (WHO) would also be welcome.
    The United States formally withdrew from the Paris climate agreement last week, but Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris pact, and also commit to net zero emissions by 2050.
    Although Australia state and territory governments have adopted the same 2050 target for net zero emissions, Morrison’s federal government has yet to do so.    Australia is a major exporter of fossil fuels, particularly coal, and Morrison said many countries have made qualified climate commitments.
    On Monday independent lawmaker Zali Steggall introduced a climate bill to federal parliament seeking a net zero target, saying Australia would be “the pariah of the international community” if it didn’t strengthen its climate commitments.
    Meanwhile, underlining Australia’s frustration with the outgoing President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies, Morrison said Australia would welcome the U.S. back to the WHO, and potentially the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, signed by Australia and 10 other countries in 2018.
    On Sunday, Morrison said Australia would also welcome the U.S. engaging with the World Trade Organization, because the way out of a global recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic is “market-based trade, fair trade, under the proper rules through the World Trade Organization.”
    Australia is currently embroiled in a worsening commercial and diplomatic relationship with China, its largest trading partner.
    Australian exporters have expressed concern that Chinese importers were warned off buying seven categories of Australian products from November 6.
    Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Chinese authorities had denied an “outright ban across a sweeping range of product categories,” and products appeared to be moving through Chinese ports at this stage.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

11/9/2020 Taiwan Says Not Invited To WHO Meeting After China’s ‘Obstruction’
FILE PHOTO: A logo of the World Health Organization (WHO), is seen before a news
conference in Geneva, Switzerland, June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan is yet to receive an invite to a key World Health Organization (WHO) meeting this week expected to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic due to “obstruction” from China, the island’s foreign ministry said, expressing its displeasure.
    The U.S. mission in Geneva last week urged WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to invite Chinese-claimed but democratically ruled Taiwan to the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA).
    Late on Sunday, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said the island had yet to get an invite to the virtual meeting of 194 member states.
    “The Foreign Ministry expresses strong regret and dissatisfaction at China’s obstruction of Taiwan participating in the WHO and the WHO’s continuing to neglect the health and human rights of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people,” it added.
    The WHO’s refusal to invite Taiwan based on political considerations makes a mockery of the body’s “health for all” claim, the ministry said.
    Taiwan is locked out of most global organisations such as the WHO due to the objections of China, which considers the island one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of a sovereign state.
    The WHO says it is up to member states whether to invite Taiwan, which has been praised internationally for quickly containing the coronavirus, to observe the WHA meeting.
    Backed by the United States, Taiwan has stepped up lobbying this year to take part, angering China.
    China’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva on Friday denounced the “distorted” U.S. remarks on Taiwan, saying the island can only take part if it admits to being part of China, something Taipei’s government has refused to do.
    The WHO says it cooperates with Taiwan on various health matters including on aspects of the pandemic and that the island has been provided with the help it needs.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

11/9/2020 Japan PM Suga: Want To Work With President-Elect Biden To Enhance Alliance
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks to the media during a press
conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 21, 2020. Dita Alangkara/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday that he wanted to work with President-elect Joe Biden to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and to secure peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
    Speaking to reporters, Suga also said nothing had been decided on the timing of phone talks with Biden or a visit to the United States, but added he wanted to arrange them at the right time.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim)

11/9/2020 Fierce Fighting In Nagorno-Karabakh After Azeris Say They Capture City by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
FILE PHOTO: A view shows what is said to be the aftermath of recent shelling in the city of Stepanakert during a military conflict over the breakaway
region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in this handout photo released November 6, 2020. Armenian Unified Infocentre/Handout via REUTERS
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijan declared on Monday it had seized dozens more settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, a day after proclaiming victory in the battle for the enclave’s strategically positioned second-largest city.
    After six weeks of heavy fighting, Azerbaijan said on Sunday it had captured Shusha, known by Armenians as Shushi, which sits on a mountaintop overlooking Stepanakert, the city regarded as the enclave’s capital by its ethnic Armenian administration.
    The fighting has raised fears of a wider regional war, with Turkey supporting its ally Azerbaijan, while Russia has a defence pact with Armenia and a military base there.
    Azerbaijan acknowledged on Monday that it had shot down a Russian MI-24 military helicopter over Armenia, killing two crew members.    It apologised to Moscow for what it said was an accident, and offered compensation.
    President Ilham Aliyev announced a list of 48 settlements he declared liberated on Monday in several parts of the enclave.
    The apparent fall of Shusha, or Shushi, could be a major turning point for Azerbaijan, which has sought for decades to recapture the breakaway enclave: part of Azerbaijan which has been populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s.
    An Azeri defence ministry video posted online showed Azerbaijan’s national flag flying over deserted streets in what it said was Shusha.
    Armenia disputes that the city has fallen. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said fighting for the city was still raging.    Suren Sarumyan, a Nagorno-Karabakh defence official, said there was still fighting in the city, and the Azeri footage was filmed by a “sabotage group.”
    But Vahram Poghosyan, a spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan, wrote on Facebook: “Shushi city is not in our control.”
    Karabakh forces “should keep it together, as the enemy is near Stepanakert,” he wrote.
    Emboldened by Turkish support, Azerbaijan says it has since Sept. 27 retaken much of the land in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that it lost in a 1991-94 war which killed an estimated 30,000 people and forced many more from their homes.    Armenia has denied the extent of Azerbaijan’s territorial gains.
RUSSIAN HELICOPTER DOWNED
    Several thousand people are feared killed in the flare-up of the conflict.    Three ceasefires have failed in the past six weeks and Azerbaijan’s superior weaponry and battlefield gains have reduced its incentive to seek a lasting peace deal.
    Military analysts say direct Russian military involvement in the conflict is unlikely unless Armenia itself is deliberately attacked, and that Turkey will probably not step up its involvement if Azeri advances continue.
    Moscow, which ruled the South Caucasus during Soviet times, also has good relations with Azerbaijan, a gas and oil-producing state whose pipelines have not been affected by the fighting.
    With its armed forces outgunned by Azerbaijan, Armenia has avoided direct military intervention in Nagorno-Karabakh.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Jon Boyle, Nick Tattersall and Peter Graff)

11/9/2020 U.S. Imposes Sanctions On Four Chinese Officials Over Hong Kong Crackdown by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, wearing a mask following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak, holds a news conference in Beijing, China, November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Suen/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on four more Chinese officials in Hong Kong’s governing and security establishment over their alleged role in crushing dissent in the former British colony.
    The U.S. Treasury and State Department identified the four as Deng Zhonghua, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office; Edwina Lau, deputy commissioner of police in Hong Kong, and Li Jiangzhou and Li Kwai-wah, two officials at the newly established national security office in Hong Kong.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions were for their role in implementing Hong Kong’s new national security law. He said they would be barred from traveling to the United States, and any U.S.-related assets would be blocked.
    “These actions underscore U.S. resolve to hold accountable key figures that are actively eviscerating the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy,” he said in a statement.
    None of the four could be reached immediately for comment.
    Washington has called China’s enactment of a new national security law in Hong Kong this year an unacceptable breach of China’s “one country, two systems” commitment to what was once China’s freest city.
    The designations are the first sanctions imposed on China since Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump in last week’s U.S. election.    Biden is due to take office on Jan. 20.    Trump so far has refused to concede defeat.
    In actions heralding a more authoritarian era for Hong Kong, China opened a new national security office in July, a week after imposing the new national security legislation to punish what it called crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    Last month, the U.S. State Department warned international financial institutions doing business with individuals deemed responsible for China’s crackdown in Hong Kong that they could soon face tough sanctions.
    Washington put sanctions on Carrie Lam, the territory’s current and former police chiefs and other top officials in August for what it said was their role in curtailing freedoms in a crackdown on the territory’s pro-democracy movement.
    Relations between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, plunged to the lowest point in decades in the run-up to last week’s U.S. election.    The two sides are at odds on a wide range of issues including China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its treatment of Hong Kong.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Humeyra Pamuk, David Brunnstrom and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Howard Goller)

11/10/2020 Taliban Call On Biden To Stick To U.S. Troop Withdrawal Deal
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks to reporters about efforts to confront the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic after meeting with members
of the "Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board" in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s insurgent Taliban on Tuesday called on the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to stick to the February agreement to withdraw U.S. troops.
    The United States has been pulling out troops under the deal which envisages the withdrawal to be complete by May, subject to certain security guarantees, while the Taliban holds peace talks with the Afghan government in Doha.
    “The Islamic Emirate would like to stress to the new American president-elect and future administration that implementation of the agreement is the most reasonable and effective tool for ending the conflict between both our countries,” the militant group said in a statement, its first substantive comment on the results of the United States presidential election.
    However, violence has been ramping up throughout the country with the Taliban attacking provincial capitals, in some case prompting United States airstrikes, as talks in Qatar’s capital have been mired in delays.
    Groups such as the United Nations have also raised questions over Al Qaeda with a senior U.N. official telling the BBC last month that the group were still “heavily embedded” with the Taliban.
    Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump had made ending the war in Afghanistan a major campaign promise and had said in a Tweet in October that troops could be out of Afghanistan by Christmas, though officials such as his national security advisor have said that they were working to the May 2021 deadline.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/10/2020 South Korea Sees Biden Win As Good News For Military Cost-Sharing Dispute by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: Members of South Korea and U.S. Special forces get on a CH-47 Chinook during a joint military
exercise conducted by South Korean and U.S. special forces troops in Gangwon province, South Korea, November 7, 2019.
Photo taken November 7, 2019. Capt. David J. Murphy/U.S. Air Force/DVIDS/Handout via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – With Joe Biden’s projected victory in the U.S. presidential election, South Korean officials are expecting a win of their own in a drawn-out, multi-billion dollar dispute with Washington over the cost of thousands of U.S. troops on the peninsula.
    Officials and experts in Seoul don’t expect Biden to entirely drop the demand that South Korea pay more toward maintaining the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops that are stationed in the country as a legacy of the technically unfinished 1950-1953 Korean War.
    But Biden has promised not to use the troop presence to “extort” South Korea, and South Korean government sources say they anticipate his administration would agree to a deal close to Seoul’s proposal to pay 13% more, or around $1 billion per year.
    Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump demanded much as $5 billion as part of a broader push to get allies to contribute more towards defence.
    A Biden campaign spokesman declined to comment, and South Korean officials say it’s unclear how deeply his team has thought about the exact outlines of a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA).
    “But the 13% increase discussed in past negotiations could be considered reasonable,” said one South Korean government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations.
    “We will know more when we actually sit down with their team after the new administration names a new negotiator or reappoints the incumbent, but at least there is more predictability now and a Biden White House wouldn’t veto a nearly done deal at the last minute,” the official added.
    In April, Reuters reported Trump had rejected that 13% proposal, which was seen as probably Seoul’s best offer ahead of its parliamentary elections that month.
STRAINED RELATIONS
    The impasse has strained the alliance in almost unprecedented ways, experts say.    It comes as North Korea pushes ahead with its weapons programmes, including state-of-the-art weapons designed to target South Korea, as well as long-range, nuclear-capable missiles that may now put the entire United States within range.
    In early 2019, South Korea and the United States were forced to sign an SMA covering only one year instead of the usual five amid ongoing disagreements.    But that short-term deal, under which South Korea agreed to pay 8.2% more, or about 1.0389 trillion won ($920 million) per year, expired earlier this year with no new agreement.
    One of the most tangible results of the breakdown in the talks was the roughly 4,000 South Korean workers on U.S. bases furloughed as a result of the failure to reach a deal by an April 1 deadline.
    Eventually those workers were able to return to work under stop-gap agreements, but the ongoing deadlock led U.S. Forces Korea to warn in October those workers could once again be placed on unpaid leave early next year if no agreement is made.
    One Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S.-South Korea alliance, said the dispute cast a near-constant shadow over many of the two countries’ discussions on other issues including North Korea and China.
    Trump’s view that wealthy South Korea, which has an economy larger than Australia’s, is taking advantage of the United States was met in Seoul by a perception that Washington has become a transactional partner with unreasonable demands.
    Ahead of the Nov. 3 election, Biden vowed not to use the threat of reducing U.S. troop levels in South Korea as a bargaining chip.
    “As President, I’ll stand with South Korea, strengthening our alliance to safeguard peace in East Asia and beyond, rather than extorting Seoul with reckless threats to remove our troops,” Biden wrote in an unprecedented op-ed published on Oct. 30 in South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
    Cho Tae-yong, a former deputy national security advisor who worked with many Biden aides, said issues around U.S. troops and their costs would be “substantially” resolved under Biden.
    “Biden’s victory is a source of relief when it comes to alliance issues,” he said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

11/10/2020 Afghan Woman Shot, Blinded, For Getting A Job by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
Khatera, 33, an Afghan police woman who was blinded after a gunmen attack in Ghazni province,
speaks during an interview in Kabul, Afghanistan October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – The last thing 33-year-old Khatera saw were the three men on a motorcycle who attacked her just after she left her job at a police station in Afghanistan’s central Ghazni province, shooting at her and stabbing her with a knife in the eyes.
    Waking up in hospital, everything was dark.
    “I asked the doctors, why I can’t see anything?    They told me that my eyes are still bandaged because of the wounds.    But at that moment, I knew my eyes had been taken from me,” she said.
    She and local authorities blame the attack on Taliban militants – who deny involvement – and say the assailants acted on a tip-off from her father who vehemently opposed her working outside the home.
    For Khatera, the attack caused not just the loss of her sight but the loss of a dream she had battled to achieve – to have an independent career.    She joined the Ghazni police as an officer in its crime branch a few months ago.
    “I wish I had served in police at least a year.    If this had happened to me after that, it would have been less painful.    It happened too soon … I only got to work and live my dream for three months,” she told Reuters.
    The attack on Khatera, who only uses one name, is indicative of a growing trend, human rights activists say, of an intense and often violent backlash against women taking jobs, especially in public roles.    In Khatera’s case, being a police officer could have also angered the Taliban.
    The rights activists believe a mix of Afghanistan’s conservative social norms and an emboldened Taliban gaining influence while the United States withdraws its troops from the country is driving the escalation.
    The Taliban are currently negotiating in Doha, Qatar, with the Afghan government to broker a peace deal in which many expect them to formally return to power, but progress is slow and there has been an uptick in fighting and attacks on officials and prominent women around the country.
    “Though the situation for Afghan women in public roles has always been perilous, the recent spike in violence across the country has made matters even worse,” said Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International’s Afghanistan campaigner.    “The great strides made on women’s rights in Afghanistan over more than a decade must not become a casualty of any peace deal with the Taliban.”
CHILDHOOD DREAM DASHED
    Khatera’s dream as a child was to work outside the home and after years of trying to convince her father, to no avail, she was able to find support from her husband.
    But her father, she said, did not give up on his opposition.
    “Many times, as I went to duty, I saw my father following me … he started contacting the Taliban in the nearby area and asked them to prevent me from going to my job,” she said.
    She said that he provided the Taliban with a copy of her ID card to prove she worked for police and that he had called her throughout the day she was attacked, asking for her location.
    Ghazni’s police spokesman confirmed they believed the Taliban were behind the attack and that Khatera’s father had been taken into custody.    Reuters was unable to reach him directly for comment.
    A Taliban spokesman said the group was aware of the case, but that it was a family matter and they were not involved.
    Khatera and her family, including five children, are now hiding out in Kabul, where she is recovering and mourning the career she lost.
    She struggles to sleep, jumps when she hears a motorbike and has had to cut off contact with her extended family, including her mother, who blame her for her father’s arrest.    She hopes desperately that a doctor overseas might somehow be able to partially restore her sight.
    “If it is possible, I get back my eyesight, I will resume my job and serve in the police again,” she said, adding in part she needed an income to avoid destitution.    “But the main reason is my passion to do a job outside the home.”
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Additional reporting by Orooj Hakimi and Charlotte Greenfield; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/10/2020 Japan Should Brace For ‘Leaderless Era’ As U.S. Turns Inward, Adviser To PM Says by Linda Sieg
FILE PHOTO: People read an extra edition of a newspaper reporting that Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden was
projected to win the 2020 U.S. presidential election, in Tokyo, Japan November 8, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – A prominent economic adviser to Japan’s prime minister says Tokyo should prepare for a “leaderless era” as U.S. global leadership gradually withers, and expand other strategic ties while bolstering its security alliance with Washington.
    The prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, wasted little time in congratulating U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on last week’s election win over incumbent Donald Trump, despite the latter’s refusal to concede, saying he wanted to strengthen the alliance and ensure peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
    But concerns about America’s inward turn have simmered in Japan for years, intensifying in the face of China’s growing military and economic assertiveness and persisting during the Trump presidency despite comparatively warm ties between the outgoing U.S. leader and Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe.
    For Suga adviser Takeshi Niinami, chief executive of drinks giant Suntory Holdings Ltd and a well-known regular on the international business circuit, Biden’s promises to restore U.S. ties with international institutions and allies are welcome.
    But Niinami expects U.S. influence to keep waning relative to China, as Biden faces deep domestic divisions in America after the election, so Japan must widen its push for multiple partnerships.
    “We have to put a footprint in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries and India,” he told Reuters in an interview, while at the same time “we must explore further relations with the United States in the security space.”
    In a separate statement issued soon after Biden’s election victory, Niinami said, “I believe it is inevitable that U.S. global leadership will wither in the long term."
    “Japan must continue deepening the U.S.-Japan alliance but at the same time establish its relationship with the world in order to ready itself for a leaderless era,” said Niinami.
‘LIKE-MINDED NATIONS’
    Worries about declining U.S. global influence are not new, but former diplomat Kunihiko Miyake, a foreign policy adviser to Suga, agreed Biden could not “run away” from a trend toward U.S. “neo-isolationism.”
    “Orthodoxy is back in Washington and we welcome that, but everything is relative and we need more like-minded nations, not only the United States but also other neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region,” Miyake said.
    In a clear sign of Japan’s aim to expand its network of strategic ties, Suga’s first overseas trip after taking office in September was to Vietnam and Indonesia, where he reached agreements to bolster defence ties.
    That followed Tokyo’s hosting of the Quad grouping of the United States, Australia, Japan and India, which proponents see as a bulwark against Beijing’s influence.    China has denounced the Quad group as a “mini-NATO” aimed at its containment.
    Japan must balance its deep economic ties with China with its concerns about Beijing’s military assertiveness and worries about such matters as cybersecurity and intellectual property protection that it shares with Washington.
    Hawks in Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) want a tougher line on China, but a government source said Suga, a relative novice on foreign policy, was still feeling his way.
    Some conservatives in Japan worry Biden may adopt a softer line toward Beijing than Trump, but others expect little substantive change.
    “The way the U.S. describes China (under Biden) might change but the general direction is the same – to make China a responsible partner and competitor,” said a Japanese government source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

11/10/2020 Supporters Throng Airport To Welcome Back Controversial Indonesian Cleric by Heru Asprihanto
People gather for the homecoming of Rizieq Shihab, the leader of Indonesian Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) who has
resided in Saudi Arabia since 2017 in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Thousands of supporters gathered at Jakarta’s airport on Tuesday to welcome back Rizieq Shihab, a firebrand cleric and Islamist leader, who went into exile in Saudi Arabia after facing charges over sending pornographic messages and insulting state ideology.
    There were chaotic scenes at the airport as his supporters, dressed in white, paralysed the toll road, scrambling to get a glimpse of the cleric and trying to kiss his hand.
    Some airlines were forced to reschedule flights.
    “We really miss him because we know he really fights for Islam and the Indonesian nation,” said Abdul Sobur, 42, who was among the crowd.    “I hope Muslims can unite.”
    Rizieq, who was jailed in 2008 on charges of inciting violence and who is head of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), became a figurehead for conservative Islam and a politically influential movement that helped bring down Jakarta’s former Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as “Ahok,” who in 2017 was jailed for insulting Islam.
    That year, police filed a case against Rizieq over insulting Indonesia’s secular state ideology, Pancasila, and breaching pornography laws, after a purported steamy exchange with a supporter that included naked images of a woman was circulated online.
    The cleric left Indonesia in 2017 and police dropped both cases a year later, but he had remained in self-exile in Saudi Arabia until Tuesday.
    Another supporter, Ima Sari Kartika, 39, said she was jubilant the cleric had returned home to the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.
    “I have been waiting for his presence among Indonesian Muslims for a long time because Indonesia is the largest Islamic country, so there should be an imam who leads the people here,” she said.
(Reporting by Heru Asprihanto; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Ed Davies and Gerry Doyle)

11/10/2020 Hong Kong Journalist Appears In Court Amid Fears Over Press Freedom by Jessie Pang
Choy Yuk-Ling, a reporter affiliated with Hong Kong's public broadcaster RTHK, arrives at a court over charges that she improperly obtained
personal data while reporting an incident on July 21, 2019 from last year's protests, in Hong Kong, China November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong journalist appeared in court on Tuesday on a charge of making a false statement to obtain data for a documentary on the police’s handling of a mob attack, in a case that has stoked concern over press freedom in the Chinese-ruled city.
    Bao Choy, 37, a freelance producer with local broadcaster RTHK, was arrested last week in connection with data on vehicle registrations she used for the investigative documentary.
    The piece examined the police force’s response to the attack in Yuen Long district in July 2019 when more than 100 men in white T-shirts wielding sticks and poles attacked pro-democracy protesters, journalists and bystanders at a train station.
    RTHK obtained data on the ownership of some cars that were seen in video footage on the night of the attack in a bid to trace those behind the assault and highlight the police’s alleged slow response.    According to a chargesheet, Bao made false statements when seeking access to the data.
    The police were severely criticised at the time for what pro-democracy activists and human rights groups described as a slack response, with some accusing the authorities of colluding with triad gangsters.
    Police have rejected the claims and said their slow response was due in part to protests elsewhere in the city that drained resources that night.
    “I understand this incident is no longer a personal matter but a matter related to public interest and press freedom in Hong Kong,” Bao said outside the court.    “I truly believe I will not walk alone.”
    Supporters hugged Bao as she left the court.    Her case was adjourned to Jan. 14.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has rejected criticism the arrest represents a crackdown on press freedom in the former British colony.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a one country, two systems agreement that promised it wide-ranging freedoms unavailable on the Communist Party-ruled mainland.
    The protests last year were fuelled by perceptions that Beijing was tightening its grip on those freedoms, which authorities have denied.
(Reporting By Jessie Pang; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/10/2020 Blocking Taiwan At WHO Will Increase Hostility To China, Premier Says
FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured on the headquarters of the World Health Orgnaization (WHO)
in Geneva, Switzerland, June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China’s efforts to block Taiwan’s participation at the World Health Organization (WHO) during the coronavirus pandemic will only increase the world’s hostility towards the country, the island’s premier said on Tuesday.
    Chinese-claimed but democratically run Taiwan says its inability to fully access the WHO, because of China’s objections, has created a gap in global pandemic prevention.    China and the WHO say that is untrue.
    On Monday, WHO member countries rejected a U.S.-backed appeal on for Taiwan to be permitted at a meeting of its decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA). China had labelled the proposal illegal and invalid.
    Speaking to reporters, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said many countries supported the island’s participation in the WHA.
    “But China, because of political factors, has obstructed Taiwan, which has prevented the pandemic the best,” Su said.
    “This is not only suppressing Taiwan, it is in fact also damaging to the whole world, creating a rupture in pandemic prevention,” Su added.
    “What China has done will only cause more and more countries and people to stand up and condemn them.”
    The WHO says it cooperates with Taiwan on health matters, including on aspects of the pandemic, and that the island has been provided with the help it needs, but that it is up to member states to decide whether to invite it to the meeting.
    Taiwan has won praise for its early and effective steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and life there has continued more or less normally.
    China says Taiwan can only take part in such international bodies if it accepts that it is part of China, something Taipei’s government has refused to do.
    Su said that in the face of China’s threats, more and more Taiwanese recognise that they are a “sovereign and independent country and that China is the most unfriendly country towards Taiwan.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/11/2020 Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Lawmakers To Resign As Beijing Moves To Quash Opposition by Jessie Pang and Sharon Tam
Pan-democratic legislators including Wu Chi-Wai, Claudia Mo and Lam Cheuk-ting announced to resign from
the Legislative Council after Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, Kwok Ka-ki, Kenneth Leung and Dennis Kwok were disqualified
when China passed a new resolution in Hong Kong, China November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition lawmakers said on Wednesday they will resign in protest against the dismissal of four of their colleagues from the city assembly after Beijing gave local authorities new powers to further curb dissent.
    The Chinese parliament adopted a resolution earlier in the day allowing the city’s executive to expel legislators deemed to be advocating     Hong Kong independence, colluding with foreign forces or threatening national security, without having to go through the courts.
    Shortly after, the local government announced the disqualification of four assembly members who had previously been barred from running for re-election as authorities deemed their pledge of allegiance to Hong Kong was not sincere.
    The moves will raise further concern in the West about the level of Hong Kong’s autonomy, promised under a “one country, two systems” formula when Britain ended its colonial rule and handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
    “We can no longer tell the world that we still have ‘one country, two systems, this declares its official death,” Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-Wai told a news conference which started with all opposition lawmakers holding hands.
    Opposition members of the city assembly, all part of the moderate old guard of democrats, say they have tried to make a stand against what many people in Hong Kong see as Beijing’s whittling away of freedoms and institutional checks and balances, despite a promise of a high degree of autonomy.
    “My mission as a legislator to fight for democracy and freedom cannot continue but I would certainly go along if Hong Kong people continue to fight for the core values of Hong Kong,” one of the disqualified assembly members, Kwok Ka-Ki, told reporters.
    China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub, but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved swiftly to stifle dissent after anti-government protests flared in June last year and plunged the city into crisis.
    The city government said in a statement the four legislators – Kwok, Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung – were expelled from the assembly for endangering national security.
    Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, later told a briefing she welcomed diverse opinion in the 70-seat legislature but the law had to be applied.
    “We could not allow members of a Legislative Council who have been judged in accordance with the law that they could not fulfil the requirement and the prerequisite for serving on the Legislative Council to continue to operate,” she said.
    Shortly after the disqualifications, China’s representative office in the city said Hong Kong had to be ruled by loyalists.
    “The political rule that Hong Kong must be governed by patriots shall be firmly guarded,” the Liaison Office said in a statement.
DAMNED EITHER WAY
    Analysts say mass resignations remove democracy activists’ access to a forum where they could question policymakers and make them more accountable to public opinion.
    But staying could have been perceived by their supporters as legitimising Beijing’s move and led to discord.
    “Both staying and leaving have their own difficulties,” said Ma Ngok, associate professor of government and public administration at Chinese University of Hong Kong.
    Concern about Hong Kong’s promised high autonomy, which underpins its role as an international financial centre, has grown since June 30, when Beijing imposed national security legislation on the city.
    The law punishes anything China considers subversion, secessionism, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    Since then, authorities have removed some pro-democracy books from libraries, banned certain songs and other activities in schools, declared some slogans illegal and raided the newsroom of an anti-government tabloid.
    This month, eight other opposition politicians were arrested in connection with a legislative meeting in May that descended into chaos.
    Government supporters say the authorities are trying to restore stability in China’s freest city after a year of unrest.
(Additional reporting by Marius Zaharia, Donny Kwok, Joyce Zhou and Farah Master, Writing by Marius Zaharia, Editing by Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan)

11/11/2020 China Urges U.S. To Stop Increasing Ties With Taiwan
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting between U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce speaks
and with Su Chia-chyuan, President of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu//File Photo
    BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China urged the United States on Wednesday to stop boosting ties with Taiwan, after Washington and Taipei announced they would hold economic talks this month that Taiwan’s government described as a “major milestone” in relations.
    China considers democratically-ruled Taiwan its own territory with no right to formal ties with other countries, and has watched with growing alarm stepped up U.S. support for the island, including new arms sales and visits to Taipei by senior U.S. officials.
    Taiwan will send a small delegation to Washington, led by Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Chen Chern-chy, its government said, for Nov. 20’s inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue.
    U.S. Undersecretary of State Keith Krach, who angered China with a visit to Taipei in September, will lead the U.S. side.
    Speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said they opposed any official exchanges between Washington and Taipei.
    China urges the United States to “stop any kind of official exchanges or contacts with Taiwan and stop elevating substantive relations,” he added.
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry hailed the talks.
    “This dialogue is a major milestone in Taiwan-U.S. economic relations.    It demonstrates that Taiwan and the United States will develop closer and broader cooperation under their global economic strategic partnership,” it said in a statement.
    Krach was the most senior State Department official to visit Taiwan in four decades after being named to head a new bilateral economic dialogue with the island.
    Taiwan has long sought a free trade agreement with the United States.
    While U.S. President Donald Trump is a popular figure in Taiwan due to his administration’s support for the island, Taipei’s government has moved to assure people that President-elect Joe Biden will continue that backing.
    “There may be changes in the U.S. government and personnel, but we are confident in the continued development of Taiwan-U.S. relations,”     Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday, according to her Democratic Progressive Party.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossly and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

11/11/2020 South Korea Appealed For Biden’s ‘Summit-Level’ Interests In North Korea Talks by Hyonhee Shin
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha arrive prior to talks at
the U.S. State Department, in Washington, D.C., U.S., November 9, 2020. Nicholas Kamm/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s foreign minister said on Tuesday she had raised the need for U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s administration to pay “summit-level” attention to reopen denuclearisation talks with North Korea during meetings in the United States this week.
    Kang Kyung-wha met a number of Biden allies in Washington, including Democratic Senators Chris Coons and Chris Murphy and John Allen, chief of the Brookings Institution think tank, after arriving there for talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
    Kang said she conveyed the South Korean government’s commitment to advance the alliance and work together on North Korea issues, while hearing about Biden’s views on foreign policy issues during the meetings.
    “I highlighted the need to reinforce diplomatic efforts to achieve the goal of completely denuclearising the Korean peninsula given the urgency of the North Korean nuclear issue,” she told reporters.
    “I put a particular emphasis on the importance of a swift restart of U.S.-North Korea dialogue … as an issue that requires a priority, summit-level interests.”
    The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said separately on Wednesday it was arranging a phone call between Moon and Biden for Thursday.
    Kang said she was looking forward to having early formal discussions after Biden is sworn in, building on past experiences working with Democratic administrations.
    Kang also met incumbent White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.    They discussed bilateral, regional and global issues including the election for chief of the World Trade Organisation and agreed to maintain close cooperation until the new administration comes in, she said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Michael Perry)

11/12/2020 Southeast Asian Leaders Begin Summit Amid ‘Major Power Rivalries’ by James Pearson
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc speaks at the opening ceremony of the 37th ASEAN summit in Hanoi, Vietnam November 12, 2020. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – Southeast Asian leaders kicked off a multilateral summit on Thursday expected to address tensions in the South China Sea and tackle plans for a post-pandemic economic recovery in a region where U.S.-China rivalry has been rising.
    The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has so far not been “drawn into the maelstroms” of those rivalries and challenges to the international multilateral system, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said in his opening remarks at the 37th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi.
    “Three quarters of a century have passed since the end of the Second World War.    World peace and security, however, are not yet truly sustainable,” said Phuc, whose government holds the chairmanship of the 10-member bloc.
    “This year, they are particularly under greater threat as a result of compounding risks arising from the unpredictable conduct of states, major power rivalries and frictions,” Phuc said at the virtual summit, which also includes meetings between ASEAN and China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United States.
    High on the summit’s agenda will be tensions in the South China Sea, where Chinese ships have been embroiled in periodic standoffs with vessels from Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia as Beijing seeks to assert its territorial claims in the disputed waterway.
    China claims about 80% of the sea including large swathes of Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, as well as the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands.    It also overlaps the EEZs of ASEAN members Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
    Since mid-August, the United States has repeatedly riled China by sending warships to the South China Sea and has blacklisted 24 Chinese entities over their involvement in building and militarising artificial islands.
    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged Beijing would “continue to work with ASEAN countries on the path of peaceful development to uphold peace and stability in the region.”
    Describing the coronavirus pandemic as the “defining challenge of our generation,” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte urged countries to “work together to ensure that all nations – rich or poor – will have access to safe vaccines.”
    ASEAN leaders are also expected to sign the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) on Sunday in what could become the world’s biggest trade agreement.
    The deal, which comes at a time when tensions over the U.S. election result leave questions over Washington’s engagement in the region, will likely cement China’s position more firmly as an economic partner with Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, and put it in a better position to shape the region’s trade rules.
(Additonal reporting by Phuong Nguyen and Neil Jerome Morales in MANILA; Editing by Ed Davies)

11/12/2020 UK To Consider Sanctions Against China For Breaching Hong Kong Treaty by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton
Pro-democracy legislators Helena Wong, Wu Chi-wai, Andrew Wan and Lam Cheuk-ting wave to media
after handing in their resignation letters as four pan-democratic legislators were disqualified when
Beijing passed a new dissent resolution in Hong Kong, China November 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Thursday said China had broken its main bilateral treaty on Hong Kong by imposing new rules to disqualify elected legislators in the former British colony, cautioning that it would consider sanctions as part of its response.
    The British flag was lowered over Hong Kong when the colony was handed back to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule – imposed after Britain defeated China in the First Opium War.
    Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
    “Beijing’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong constitutes a clear breach of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
    “China has once again broken its promises and undermined Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
    Britain summoned China’s ambassador, Liu Xiaoming, to express its deep concerns and Raab’s deputy, Nigel Adams, told parliament that it was considering possible sanctions on individuals over China’s actions.
    “We will continue to consider designations under our Magnitsky-style sanctions regime,” said Adams, Britain’s minister for Asia, referring to sanctions similar to those imposed on those deemed responsible for human rights abuses under the U.S. Magnitski Act.    He was asked by lawmakers if Britain would sanction Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
    Adams said it would not be helpful to speculate on names at this stage.    China’s embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The European Union called on Beijing to immediately reverse the new rules, which it said undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy.
    On Wednesday, the United States, which has already imposed sanctions on Lam and other Chinese officials over the crackdown, warned of further steps.
    The U.S. national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said China had “flagrantly violated its international commitments” and Washington would “continue to identify and sanction those responsible for extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom.”
    On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Chinese Communist Party of using “a twisted vision of patriotism … to stifle freedom and the call for democracy.”
    “We will hold accountable the people responsible for these actions and policies,” he said in a statement.
    Canada said on Thursday it would make it easier for Hong Kong youth to study and work in Canada in response to new security rules.
MAKING A STAND
    Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition lawmakers said on Wednesday they would resign in protest against the dismissal of four of their colleagues from the city assembly after Beijing gave local authorities new powers to further curb dissent.
    The Chinese parliament earlier adopted a resolution allowing the city’s executive to expel lawmakers deemed to be advocating Hong Kong independence, colluding with foreign forces or threatening national security, without having to go through the courts.
    Opposition members of the Hong Kong assembly say they have tried to make a stand against what many people in Hong Kong see as Beijing’s whittling away of freedoms and institutional checks and balances, despite a promise of a high degree of autonomy.
    China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub, but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved swiftly to stifle dissent after anti-government protests flared in June last year and plunged the city into crisis.
    Britain now considers China has broken the Joint Declaration three times, including with the national security legislation for Hong Kong introduced this year.
    “The UK will stand up for the people of Hong Kong, and call out violations of their rights and freedoms,” Raab said.
    The national security law punishes what China broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    Critics of the law fear it will crush freedoms, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.    Supporters say it will bring stability after last year’s sometimes violent anti-government and anti-China unrest.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton in London; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Paul Sandle, Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)

11/12/2020 Canada Woos Hong Kong Students As China Imposes New Security Law by Steve Scherer
FILE PHOTO: Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne speaks to
media at a Cabinet retreat in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Canadian government said on Thursday it would make it easier for Hong Kong youth to study and work in Canada in response to new security rules imposed by China on the former British colony, a move likely to heighten already strained relations with Beijing.
    “Today’s announcement is set against the backdrop of a number of developments which have been gravely concerning to Canada,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told Reuters in an interview, citing this week’s move by China to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong.
    Any Hong Kong resident who has graduated from university in the past three years can apply to work for up to three years in Canada, and will be offered a way to transition more easily to permanent residency, the minister said.
    Canada will also accelerate the processes for “their spouses, their partners and their children to come and build the next chapter in their life,” Mendicino said.
    Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.    Britain on Thursday said China had broken this treaty when it disqualified elected legislators this week.br>     Violations of the China’s security law, or of any laws that Canada does not itself have on its books, will be disregarded when it evaluates requests for asylum, permanent residency or other permits from Hong Kong and anywhere else, Mendicino said.
    China’s envoy to Canada, Cong Peiwu, warned Canada last month against granting asylum to pro-democracy protesters because he said they were “violent criminals” who threatened the “health and safety” of the 300,000 Canadian passport holders living in Hong Kong.
    On Thursday, The Chinese embassy in Ottawa had no immediate comment. Study permit applications from Hong Kong are on the rise this year, the minister also said.
    “Things are going to get worse, not better” in Hong Kong, Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said, adding that Hong Kong parents should consider sending their children to study in Canada.
    After China initially announced it would put new national security legislation in place for Hong Kong in July, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suspended an extradition treaty with the city and banned the export of sensitive military items.
    Canada’s relations with China, the world’s second biggest economy, soured after Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese citizen, was arrested in Vancouver in late 2018 on a bank fraud warrant issued by U.S. authorities.
    Soon after, Beijing arrested two Canadian men it said were suspected of espionage, and Meng is now fighting extradition to the United States.    China has also suspended most imports of canola.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by Julie Gordon; editing by Chris Reese, Bernadette Baum and Grant McCool)

11/13/2020 China Congratulates Biden And Harris On Election
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden discusses protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and his health care
plans during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Friday congratulated U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who won the Nov. 3 election that President Donald Trump has not conceded, nearly a week after the former vice president clinched enough states for the win.
    “We respect the choice of the American people. We extend congratulations to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular daily briefing, referring to Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris.     “We understand the results of the U.S. election will be determined according to U.S. laws and procedures,” he added, repeating Beijing’s earlier stance.
    Trump’s refusal to accept defeat has put Beijing in an awkward position, with China loath to do anything to antagonize Trump, who has mounted court challenges to the balloting and remains in office until the Jan 20 inauguration.
    Relations between China and the United States are at their worst in decades over disputes ranging from technology and trade to Hong Kong and the coronavirus, and the Trump administration has unleashed a barrage of sanctions against Beijing.
    Shortly after Biden’s win following days of ballot counting in several swing states, numerous U.S. allies offered congratulations, while the leaders of China and Russia were among conspicuous holdouts.
    In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent congratulations to Trump on Nov. 9, a day after the election.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Catherine Evans and Peter Graff)
[GOOD JOB JOE YOU FOOLED THE CHINESE THAT YOU HAVE BEEN ELECTED AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE STILL COUNTING VOTES IN 5 STATES AND YOU ONLY HAVE 253 VOTES WHICH IS SHORT OF THE 270 YOU NEED DUE TO CORRUPTION IN THE VOTE COUNTING AND LIVE IT UP SINCE THE CHINESE DO THE SAME THING TO THEIR PEOPLE.].

11/13/2020 Explainer: Asia-Pacific Closes In On World’s Biggest Trade Deal by Martin Petty
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in are seen on screen as they attend the 2nd Mekong
- South Korea virtual meeting as part of the 37th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam November 13, 2020. VNA/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Fifteen Asia-Pacific economies are set to conclude talks on Sunday and sign what could become the world’s largest free trade agreement, covering nearly a third of the global population and about 30% of its global gross domestic product.
    The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which could be approved at the end of a four-day ASEAN summit in Hanoi, will progressively lower tariffs and aims to counter protectionism, boost investment and allow freer movement of goods within the region.
    A U.S.-China trade war and U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” retreat from predecessor Barack Obama’s “pivot” towards Asia has given impetus to complete RCEP, which is widely seen as Beijing’s chance to set the regional trade agenda in Washington’s absence.
    The U.S. election win by Democrat Joe Biden, however, could challenge that, with the former vice president signalling a return to stronger U.S. multilateralism.
WHAT IS RCEP ALL ABOUT?
    RCEP includes China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
    India was involved in earlier discussions but opted out last year.
    One of the deal’s biggest draws is that its members already have various bilateral or multilateral agreements in place, so RCEP builds on those foundations.
    It will allow for one set of rules of origin to qualify for tariffs reduction with other RCEP members.    A common set of regulations mean less procedures and easier movement of goods.
    This encourages multinational firms to invest more in the region, including building supply chains and distribution hubs.
WHAT IS ITS GEOPOLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE?
    The idea of RCEP was hatched in 2012 and was seen as a way for China, the region’s biggest importer and exporter, to counter growing U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific under Obama.
    Negotiations for a U.S.-led “mega-regional accord” then known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – Obama’s signature trade deal – were making strong progress and China was not among its 12 members.
    Momentum behind RCEP grew when Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP in 2017, taking away its main architect and two-thirds of the bloc’s combined $27 trillion GDP.    It was renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and it includes seven RCEP members.
    As the key source of imports and main export destination for most RCEP members, China stands to benefit and is well positioned to shape the trade rules and expand its influence in the Asia-Pacific, which Obama had openly sought to prevent.
HOW IS RCEP DIFFERENT TO CPTPP?
    RCEP focuses heavily on slashing tariffs and increasing market access but it does not harmonise to the same extent as CPTPP and is seen as less comprehensive.
    It requires fewer political or economic concessions compared with CPTPP and RCEP has less emphasis on labour rights, environmental and intellectual property protections and dispute resolution mechanisms, although it does include provisions on competition.
    RCEP’s market size is nearly five times greater than that of the CPTPP, with almost double its annual trade value and combined GDP.
WILL A BIDEN PRESIDENCY CHANGE ANYTHING?
    Biden is signalling a swing back to the multilateral approach of the Obama administration, but it might be premature to talk about trade deals given the huge challenges awaiting him on the domestic front, and risk of upsetting unions that helped get him elected.
    His trade priorities are expected to focus on working with allies to jointly exert pressure on China over trade and to push for changes at the World Trade Organization.    Rejoining the CPTPP in its current form might not be on the horizon soon.
    The trade unions and progressives that backed Biden’s election have previously been sceptical about free trade agreements.    He has included elements of those in his transition team and may be advised to maintain protections on vulnerable industries like steel and aluminium.
    However, indications of Biden’s intent to reconnect in the Asia-Pacific would be broadly welcomed, including as a counterbalance against China.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/13/2020 China Warns Of Action After Pompeo Says Taiwan Not Part Of China
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing to the media at the
State Department in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2020. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS
    BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China will strike back against any moves that undermine its core interests, its foreign ministry said on Friday, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Taiwan “has not been a part of China.”
    China calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States, and has been angered by the Trump administration’s stepped-up support for the Chinese-claimed yet democratically ruled island, such as arms sales.
    Speaking in a U.S. radio interview on Thursday, Pompeo said: “Taiwan has not been a part of China.”
    “That was recognised with the work that the Reagan administration did to lay out the policies that the United States has adhered to now for three-and-a-half decades,” he said.
    The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, and officially only acknowledges the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of it, rather than explicitly recognising China’s claims.
    Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Taiwan was an inalienable part of China and that Pompeo was further damaging Sino-U.S. ties.
    “We solemnly tell Pompeo and his ilk, that any behaviour that undermines China’s core interests and interferes with China’s domestic affairs will be met with a resolute counterattack by China,” he said, without elaborating.
    China has put sanctions on U.S. companies selling weapons to Taiwan, and flew fighter jets near the island when senior U.S. officials visited Taipei this year.
    The defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after loosing a civil war to the communists, who founded the People’s Republic of China.
    Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman, Joanne Ou, thanked Pompeo for his support.
    “The Republic of China on Taiwan is a sovereign, independent country, and not part of the People’s Republic of China. This is a fact and the current situation,” she said.
    Taiwan officials will travel to Washington next week for economic talks, which have also annoyed Beijing.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)
[BRING IT ON CHINA OR YOU CAN WAIT TO SEE IF JOE BIDEN WILL BEND OVER AND TAKE IT UP THE YOU KNOW WHAT.].

11/13/2020 Next Move Unclear Amid China Curbs, Says Hong Kong Democrat, But ‘We Will Be Back’ by Aleksander Solum
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The mass resignation of Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers leaves the pro-democracy movement with no clear option in its fight against Communist Party rulers in Beijing, one of the outgoing legislators said on Friday, but she promised not to give up.
    “It’s okay to lose.    It’s not okay to quit,” Claudia Mo told Reuters in her office where she was packing up old campaign posters in cardboard boxes.    “We will be back.”
    Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government expelled four opposition members from the Legislative Council on Wednesday for endangering national security after China’s parliament gave city authorities new powers to curb dissent.
    The remaining opposition members quit in solidarity.
    Mo, of the HK First party, said the coronavirus and a sweeping national security law prevented the resumption of last year’s months-long anti-government, anti-China street protests that swept the territory.
    “So what next? We don’t know, as of today,” said Mo, a lawmaker during both the Umbrella Movement’s 79-day occupation of key roads in 2014 and last year’s often-violent protests, both demanding universal suffrage for the former British colony.
    “You can’t expect two million Hong Kong people taking to the streets again in the near future, no way. And the legislative fight has been put to an end, basically.    I really don’t know the right way.”
    Opposition members have tried to make a stand against what many people see as Beijing’s whittling away of freedoms promised to Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” formula under which it returned to China in 1997.
    China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the financial hub but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved decisively to stifle dissent, especially with the national security legislation which punishes what China broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    Britain said on Thursday China had broken its main bilateral treaty on Hong Kong by imposing new rules to disqualify elected legislators, cautioning that it would consider sanctions as part of its response.
    The fate of Hong Kong’s political opposition has been in doubt since the government, citing coronavirus risks, postponed September’s legislative elections by a year.
    Critics saw that as a bid to kill the pro-democracy camp’s momentum as it hoped for the first time to build a majority in the assembly.
    But Mo was optimistic the pro-democracy movement will eventually make a comeback.
    “The spirit is still there,” she said.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11/13/2020 India, China Close In On Plan To End Months Of Military Standoff by Sanjeev Miglani and Devjyot Ghoshal
FILE PHOTO: India's Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint along a highway
leading to Ladakh, at Gagangeer in Kashmir's Ganderbal district June 17, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Seeking to end a dangerous military standoff in the western Himalayas, India and China are formulating a plan that involves creating no-patrol zones, pulling back tanks and artillery, and using drones to verify the withdrawal, Indian officials say.
    Tensions have run high since June, when at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed after being attacked by Chinese troops using rocks and clubs.    Indian officials say the Chinese troops had intruded across the disputed border in a remote valley.    China said the Indian soldiers’ actions had been provocative.
    Since then, the nuclear armed Asian neighbours have deployed tens of thousands of troops on the rugged frontier between India’s Ladakh region and the Chinese-held Tibetan plateau, raising the risk of further confrontation even while looking for ways to de-escalate.
    After months of fitful progress, the two sides are discussing a staggered disengagement from the high-altitude desert where temperatures have dipped to 18 degrees below Celsius, three Indian government officials said.
    “We have a firm plan for disengagement on the table, it is being internally discussed on both sides,” said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
    Under the plan that was shared during a meeting of top commanders last Friday, both sides will pull back from the contested Pangong Tso lake area and establish a buffer zone.
    Chinese soldiers will dismantle defence structures on several hilly spurs overlooking the lake and pull back, the officials briefed on the discussions said.
    India, which has occupied heights on the lake’s south bank, will also withdraw.    Both sides will cease patrolling certain sections.br>     The 3,800-km long India-China border is undemarcated, and the two countries went to war in 1962.
    While there have been recurrent incidents down the years, troops from both sides have largely abided by a long-standing protocol to avoid firing weapons on the high altitude border, although some warning shots were fired in September.
    India’s defence and foreign ministries declined to comment on the specifics of the latest negotiations.
    “When we have something to share, we will share.    Discussions are ongoing,” foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said.
    The three officials said that military commanders from both sides could meet within a week for further discussions on disengagement.
    There was no immediate comment from China, but the state-controlled Global Times newspaper cited unnamed sources saying a disengagement plan was under discussion where India would first withdraw troops who had “illegally crossed lines” south of Pangong Tso.
    Finding a mutually acceptable sequence for withdrawal could be complicated.    Indian troops currently occupy heights on the southern shore of the lake, overlooking Chinese positions.
    “If we empty out from there, there is nothing to negotiate,” a second Indian official said.
    Under the plan outlined by Indian officials, tanks and artillery that two sides had deployed following the clash in June would be moved back from the frontline.
    They were also discussing a way to verify the troop withdrawal including the use of drones over the disputed areas at specific times each day, one of the Indian officials said.
    “If you are going to establish buffer zones, verification is the key to this,” the official said.
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/14/2020 Corpses And Burnt-Out Cars Line Karabakh Road As Russian Troops Deploy
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting dedicated to a humanitarian mission in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh via a video conference
call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia November 13, 2020. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    SHUSHA, Azerbaijan (Reuters) – Corpses of ethnic Armenian soldiers lined stretches of a mountain road in Nagorno-Karabakh on Friday as Russian peacekeepers in trucks and armoured personnel carriers moved in after a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
    Russia is deploying almost 2,000 troops along with tanks and other armour to secure a truce agreed this week after a six-week war over the ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan and surrounding areas in which Turkey-backed Azeri forces captured swathes of territory.
    The scale of the destruction on Friday showed how desperate the fighting had become.
    One Russian column, accompanied by Reuters reporters from the Armenian border, drove past around a hundred dead ethnic Armenian soldiers strewn by the roadside.
    One soldier lay prostrate in the middle of the road as the convoy laboured up a hill.
    Cars, pierced with shrapnel, and vans littered the roadside as well as a burnt out tank and other damaged military vehicles.    Several bodies were slumped in what looked like a bullet-riddled military ambulance. One of the dead men’s legs was bandaged up, another dead man had a tourniquet.
    Several roadside gravestones were damaged, and some of the bullet-riddled vehicles bore graffiti, including Swastikas and a reference to a bloody Soviet-era outbreak of ethnic violence against Armenians in then the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.     It was not clear who had left the graffiti.
    In Lachin, closer to Armenia, a group of ethnic Armenian men who said they had fought for Nagorno-Karabakh defence forces raised their hands to greet the passing Russian convoy, but said they were not happy with the peace deal.
    One of them, Suren Zarakyan, 50, said he had moved to the Lachin region from Yerevan, the Armenian capital, in the 1990s after Armenians took the territory in the first war over Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Married with two children, he said he had raised honey bees before the war but was not sure now whether the hives were on territory which under the terms of the peace deal would now be handed to Azerbaijan.
    He said he felt shame when he heard about the truce agreement, which froze the Azeri territorial gains and paved the way for Moscow’s deployment of troops in the enclave.
    “I expected more from Russia and sooner,” he said.    “But Russia is interested in its bases and goals.    It does not matter if it’s a base in Azerbaijan or in Armenia.    It is interested in not letting the Turks here.”
    He said he did not want to live side by side with Azeris, but that Azeri forces, with Turkey’s help, had been stronger and drones had played a crucial role.
    “They did 90% of the work,” he lamented.    An abandoned truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher system sat nearby.
    “We were lying low and did not see anyone. But we were bombed, bombed, and bombed.    In the night, in the morning, and during the day.”
    More than 4,000 people were killed on both sides, including civilians, with 8,000 wounded and tens of thousands driven from their homes, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday.
    Near the town of Kalbajar, on a different road, ethnic Armenians could be seen leaving.    Trucks full of household possessions jostled with heavily-laden cars and trucks to make their way to Armenia.
(Reporting by Reuters reporters; writing by Andrew Osborn in Moscow; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

11/14/2020 Thousands Of Thai Protesters Call For Removal Of Prime Minister by Matthew Tostevin and Chayut Setboonsarng
People write on poster during a rally to call for the ouster of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's government
and reforms in the monarchy in Bangkok, Thailand, November 14, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thousands of people protested in Bangkok on Saturday in the latest in months of anti-government demonstrations that have also called for reforms to Thailand’s powerful monarchy.
    A few kilometres away, thousands of royalists gathered in yellow shirts and waved Thai flags as they waited to greet King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who was expected to attend a local event.
    The initial focus of protests that began in July was to seek the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader.
    “Not only is he incompetent, he also lacks legitimacy,” activist Sombat Boonngamanong said from loudspeakers on the back of a truck wearing a pirate hat.    “Thailand has not progressed because of Prayuth.”
    Some 2,500 protesters gathered at Democracy Monument in Bangkok, according to police, putting on songs and dances mocking the government.
    Prayuth’s government holds the majority in parliament because his junta picked the entire upper house before an election last year that opponents say was designed to keep him in power. He says the vote was fair.
    Police said they would not use violence to crack down on demonstrators and deployed 5,100 troops to maintain order.
    But last week thousands were met with water cannons when they marched to the Grand Palace to demand curbs to the monarchy’s power.
    Two kilometres away, thousands of royalists waited for the king’s arrival where he was due to attend the opening ceremony of a subway station.
    Protesters said they would turn their back when the Royal Motorcade passed.
    Demonstrators have increasingly called for reforms to the powerful monarchy, breaking a long-standing taboo against criticising the institution.
    “Some people want to bring him down, but we have come out to support him and show that all Thai people love him,” said Donnapha Kladbupha, 48.
    The Royal Palace was not available for comment.    It has not commented since the start of the protests, but the king said two weeks ago that the protesters were still loved and that Thailand was a land of compromise.
    Criticism of the monarchy can be punished with 15 years in jail under Thailand’s lese majeste laws, but it has become widespread in recent weeks.
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Kim Coghill and William Mallard)

11/14/2020 National Security Adviser O’Brien To Represent U.S. At Asia Meetings
FILE PHOTO: U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien takes off his a face mask during a meeting at Sao Paulo's
Industries Federation President in Sao Paulo, Brazil October 19, 2020. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien will represent the United States at back-to-back virtual summits with Asian countries this weekend, the White House said on Friday.
    O’Brien will lead the U.S. delegation in talks with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) beginning on Friday evening U.S. time, or Saturday morning in Asia.
    He will participate in a broader East Asia Summit on Sunday, when 15 Asia-Pacific economies – excluding the United States – are expected to sign a China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which could become the world’s largest free trade agreement.
    The White House has not yet said who will represent the United States at a leaders’ meeting of a larger grouping of Pacific Rim nations, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, next Friday.
    It will be the third year in a row that the United States has been represented in the East Asia meetings at a relatively low level, even though the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump had declared the Asia Pacific and competition with China a foreign policy priority.
    Trump is preoccupied with challenging the results of last week’s U.S. presidential election and has refused to concede defeat to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who is due to take office in January.
    “Ambassador O’Brien will reaffirm the commitment of the United States to prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific during virtual remarks,” the White House said in a statement.
    A U.S.-China trade war and Trump’s “America First” retreat from predecessor Barack Obama’s “pivot” toward Asia have given impetus to complete the RCEP, which is widely seen as Beijing’s chance to set a regional trade agenda.
    Biden’s election win could challenge that, with the former vice president signaling a return to stronger multilateralism, although moves on trade are not expected to be his first priority.
    While Trump attended the U.S.-ASEAN summit in Manila in 2017, he has never attended a full EAS meeting.    Vice President Mike Pence represented the United States at the meetings in Singapore in 2018, while O’Brien did so in Thailand last year.
(This story corrects final sentence to show that Pence represented the United States in 2018 and O’Brien last year)
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Chris Reese and Richard Chang)

11/14/2020 Armenians Set Fire To Homes Before Handing Village Over To Azerbaijan
A man reacts as he stands near a house set on fire by departing Ethnic Armenians, in an area which had held under their military control but is soon to be
turned over to Azerbaijan, in the village of Cherektar in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 14, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    CHAREKTAR, Azerbaijan (Reuters) – Still wearing the camouflage fatigues in which he had fought against Azeri forces a week earlier, Arsen, an ethnic Armenian, lit a fire on Saturday under his sister’s dining room table in the small village of Charektar.
    As the flames took hold with the help of strips of cardboard, he used a wooden chair to smash the low-slung one-storey house’s windows and bed sheets to try to spread the blaze, which soon consumed the whole house.
    “They will already be here tomorrow morning. The Azeris. Screw them.    Let them live here, if they can,” he said, as the fire got going.
    Next door, grey smoke was rising from what was left of his own house.
    Armenians are resorting to a scorched earth policy as the clock ticks down to a handover of territory to Azerbaijan under a Russia-brokered peace deal that followed six weeks of fighting between ethnic Armenian forces and Azeri troops over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.
    Nestled in the mountains, Charektar is a small village in the Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan, which borders Nagorno-Karabakh.
    It is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since a war over Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s.    On Sunday, the Azeris will return and take back control of the area.
    Arsen, 35, who declined to give his surname, said he and other ethnic Armenians had no desire to leave anything useful for the Azeris.
    “They will have to build their own houses from scratch,” he said.
    Reuters reporters saw six houses, around half the village, on fire in Charektar on Saturday.
    One man, who refused to give his name, said Armenians were carting off everything they could as trucks nearby loaded up with household possessions.
TEARS AND FEARS
    Some residents of Armenia visited the area on Saturday to see it, possibly for the last time, and witness the village’s burning.
    One Armenian woman was in tears as she watched.
    Arsen said he’d learnt of the peace deal from other fighters.
    “They called me and said: Go home and take everything you have.    They (the Azeris) should enter the region by the fifteenth (of November),” he recalled.
    He and his wife planned to go with their four children to Armenia and rent a flat there, he said.
    Asked why he and other villagers were afraid to stay, he said they feared the Azeris would kill them.
    “Have you ever seen Armenians and the Azeris living together?” he said.
    “We are leaving all the gravestones (of our relatives) here.    Nightmare is not the right word for it.”
(Reporting by Reuters reporters, Editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

11/14/2020 Pakistan To Provide ‘Irrefutable Evidence’ India Sponsors Militant Groups by Umar Farooq
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) office in Islamabad, Pakistan March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan will present evidence to the United Nations and other international bodies that India, its neighbour and arch rival, is involved with militant organisations on its soil, Pakistan’s foreign minister said on Saturday.
    Pakistani officials have long claimed that India sponsors violent groups in Pakistan — claims India has always denied — but Saturday’s announcement at a press conference in the capital Islamabad provided a heightened level of detail and specific accusations.
    “We are now presenting irrefutable evidence to the world to demonstrate the Indian state’s direct sponsorship of terrorism in Pakistan that has resulted in the deaths of innocent Pakistanis,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told media alongside the spokesperson for the country’s military.
    A dossier of evidence would be shared with the United Nations and other international agencies, he added.
    Reuters sent India’s foreign ministry a statement from the media wing of Pakistan’s military detailing the allegations but it did not respond to request for comment.
    India not only denies interfering in Pakistan but accuses Islamabad itself of supporting militants who launch attacks in India and fight in Indian-controlled portion of the disputed territory Kashmir, a claim Pakistan denies.
    The accusations come at a time of heightened tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours after at least 10 civilians and five security personnel were killed in cross-border shelling along the Line of Control, the de facto border in Kashmir on Friday.
    Pakistan’s foreign minister and military said that India’s Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) intelligence agency was operating a network of agents and training camps through its diplomatic missions in Afghanistan who were financing, training, and equipping militants operating inside Pakistan.
    They said they had obtained documents that showed New Delhi had met with and funded members of the Pakistani Taliban, as well as Baloch insurgent groups from the southern province of Balochistan who have claimed responsibility for attacks on Chinese interests as part of an effort to sabotage China’s $65 billion Belt and Road investment plan in Pakistan.
(Reporting by Umar Farooq; Additional reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Charlotte Greenfield and Christina Fincher)

11/14/2020 Thai King Calls For Unity After Protesters Turn Back On Motorcade by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Matthew Tostevin
A protester attends a rally to call for the ouster of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's government
and reforms in the monarchy in Bangkok, Thailand, November 14, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn told well-wishers of the importance of unity as he marked the opening of a new railway line on Saturday, after thousands of protesters had turned their backs on his motorcade as it passed through central Bangkok.
    Around 2,500 demonstrators had gathered at the capital’s Democracy Monument in the latest of months of protests against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, demanding changes to the constitution as well as reforms of the monarchy.
    The protesters draped the centrepiece of the monument, which has become a rallying point for the protests, in a cloth covered in grievances and insults.    “Dictatorship be destroyed, democracy shall prosper,” shouted protesters who scaled the three-metre structure.
    As the motorcade carrying the king and Queen Suthida passed by they turned their backs, gave the three-fingered “Hunger Games” salute of pro-democracy campaigners, and sang the national anthem in the latest show of disaffection with the monarchy.
    The king was greeted with a show of support when he arrived at the rail ceremony in the west of the city, where thousands of people had gathered in yellow shirts, waving national flags and chanting “long live the king.”
    “He told me to show children how important the unity of the country is,” said Donnapha Kladbupha, 48, a teacher who posed for selfies with the king.
    The Royal Palace has not commented since the start of the protests, but the king said two weeks ago that the protesters were still loved and that Thailand was a land of compromise.
    “Think well, do good, be hopeful, endure.    Have unity in being Thai,” the king wrote on the back of a picture of himself and the queen which had been held up by one supporter.
    The initial focus of protests that began in July was to seek the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. But demonstrators have increasingly called for reforms to the monarchy, breaking a long-standing taboo against criticising the institution – an offence punishable with 15 years in jail.
    “Without the people, the government and monarchy will have no power,” said Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, one of the protest leaders.    “Are they willing to take a step back or find a consensus that we can agree on?
(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by William Mallard and David Holmes)

11/14/2020 Armenia Says Prevented Assassination Attempt On Prime Minister
FILE PHOTO: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is pictured during an interview with
Reuters in Yerevan, Armenia October 13, 2020. Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenia prevented an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the seizure of power by a group of former officials, the National Security Service (NSS) said on Saturday.
    Pashinyan had come under pressure with thousands of demonstrators protesting since Tuesday and demanding he resign over a ceasefire that secured territorial advances for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh after six weeks of fighting.
    The NSS said its former head Artur Vanetsyan, the former head of the Republican Party parliamentary faction Vahram Baghdasaryan and war volunteer Ashot Minasyan were under arrest.
    “The suspects were planning to illegally usurp power by murdering the prime minister and there were already potential candidates being discussed to replace him,” the NSS said in a statement.
    Pashinyan said earlier this week he had no choice but to sign the agreement to prevent further territorial losses.    He said he was taking personal responsibility for the setbacks, but rejected calls to step down.
    The ceasefire halted military action in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians.    Under the agreement, 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops are being deployed to the region.
    Since the early 1990s, ethnic Armenians had held military control over all of Nagorno-Karabakh and substantial swathes of Azeri territory surrounding it.    They have now lost much of the enclave itself as well as the surrounding territory.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by David Holmes)

11/15/2020 Taiwan Hopes For Close U.S. Cooperation In Call With Biden Adviser
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends an interview with Reuters in Paris, March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan hopes to continue its close cooperation with the United States, the island’s de facto U.S. ambassador told Antony Blinken, a longtime confidant of President-elect Joe Biden, as Taiwan moves to shore up ties with the new administration.
    Claimed by China but democratically ruled, Taiwan enjoyed unprecedented support from President Donald Trump’s government, including stepped-up arms sales and visits of top officials to Taipei. Biden’s election has caused some unease in Taiwan.
    Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s representative in Washington and close to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, spoke to Blinken by telephone to convey Taiwan’s congratulations to Biden, Hsiao said on Twitter on Saturday.
    “Appreciated bipartisan support for U.S. relations with Taiwan and hope to continue close cooperation with the U.S. in coming years,” she added.
    Tsai met Blinken in 2015 at the State Department when he was deputy secretary of state and she was the presidential candidate for Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
    On that trip, Tsai also became the first Taiwanese presidential candidate to visit the White House, meeting Evan Medeiros, President Barack Obama’s senior director for Asian Affairs.
    “It is thus clear that the government of the Democratic Party had a friendly attitude towards Taiwan,” Tsai said in a DPP-issued statement on Wednesday.
    With his decades of experience on Capitol Hill, at the White House and as the former No. 2 at the State Department, Blinken is widely seen in Washington as a natural fit to be Biden’s national security adviser or a possible pick for secretary of state.
    Biden, a Democrat, has not discussed what role Blinken will fill in the new administration.
    Tensions over Taiwan have escalated dramatically since Republican Trump took office four years ago, with China mounting regular military drills near the island, including during visits earlier this year to Taipei by senior U.S. officials.
    Taiwanese officials are due in Washington this week for trade talks, and the island has expressed confidence these will continue under the new administration, pointing to bipartisan U.S. support for Taiwan.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by William Mallard)
[Fake News Biden not President Elect since he is at 253 and Trump 232 neither are at 270 and 4 states are still doing counts and even today the Fake News is promoting that Biden has won Georgia and they are still counting ballots in Georgia.].

11/15/2020 Sandbags And Monks In Khaki: Russian Troops Guard Armenian Monastery After Ceasefire
An ethnic Armenian soldier is seen inside a destroyed school in the village of Knaravan located in a territory which is soon to be turned
over to Azerbaijan under a peace deal that followed the fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, November 15, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    DADIVANK, Azerbaijan (Reuters) – Soldiers unloaded sandbags and monks donned khaki vests over their cassocks on Sunday after Russian peacekeepers arrived to guard the 12th century Armenian Dadivank monastery in territory due to be ceded to Azerbaijan within days.
    Russia has deployed troops as part of a Moscow-brokered ceasefire deal to end six weeks of fighting between ethnic Armenian forces and Azeri troops over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.
    Ethnic Armenians have set fire to their homes, severed electricity cables and cut down trees before leaving the area that is to be handed over to Baku’s control.
    But Father Ovanes, the superior of the monastery, said he would not leave, regardless of whether there were Russian peacekeepers stationed there to protect him.
    “I was prepared and I said: I’m not getting out of here,” he told Reuters.
    Azerbaijan was initially expected to take over the Kalbajar region, controlled by ethnic Armenians since the end of the first war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1994, on Sunday.
    But Baku has extended the deadline until Nov. 25, presidential administration official Hikmet Gadjiyev said.
    Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has told his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev to take care of Christian shrines in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that Azerbaijan gets under the deal, the Kremlin said on Saturday.
    Reuters reporters saw Russian peacekeepers guarding a newly established checkpoint next to the monastery.    An armoured personnel carrier was parked in front of a chapel, and troops took selfies with the clergy inside.
    “We are happy that our Russian soldiers, our brothers are here to protect the border and to protect this monastery, and the monastery will bless them and protect them,” said Father Moses, a clergyman.
    Peacekeepers might be allowed to remain at the monastery as a result of negotiations which are still ongoing, Father Ovanes said.
    The clergy has taken down church bells and cross-stones and sent them out of the region, fearing they could be desecrated and vandalised.
    The monastery overlooks a village that was burnt down and abandoned by its residents after the peace deal.
    Most residents had already left the Kalbajar district by Sunday, but some Armenian soldiers stayed behind to finish demolishing the houses in another village called Knaravan.
    Reuters reporters saw them taking down electricity poles, sawing them and loading them into a truck next to a school that had its windows smashed and roof torn off.
    “We don’t want to leave to the enemy, to Azerbaijan, what belonged to us. We just try to keep what belonged to us,” said one of the soldiers who declined to give his name.
(Additional reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan and Nailia Bagirova in Baku; Editing by Matthias Williams and Hugh Lawson)

11/15/2020 China’s Xi Calls For Further Development Of Yangtze Economic Belt
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during a meeting to commend role models in China's fight against the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China September 8, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    (Reuters) – China’s President Xi Jinping has called for further development of the Yangtze River economic belt as part of the country’s “dual circulation” strategy, the official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday.
    Xi first raised the concept of dual circulation in May this year, amid a rift with the United States, and later explained China would rely mainly on “internal circulation” – the domestic cycle of production, distribution, and consumption – for its development, supported by “external circulation.”
    Speaking in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, on Saturday, Xi said provinces and cities along Asia’s longest river – which flows from west to east China – should promote “coordinated development” and “guide the orderly transfer of capital, technology and labour-intensive industries in (Yangtze river) downstream regions to upstream and midstream regions.”
    They should also “actively open their markets to the world,” he said, according to Xinhua.
    The sprawling Yangtze economic belt spans 11 Chinese provincial-level regions and covers around 2.1 million sq km, accounting for 21% of China’s total land area and more than 40% of its population, according to state media.
(Reporting by Tom Daly and Roxanne Liu. Editing by Jane Merriman)

11/16/2020 Japan Foreign Minister: Maintaining Behind-The-Scene Dialogue With North Korea
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi speaks at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, September 16, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Monday that Japan is maintaining dialogue with North Korea to resolve long-standing issues on its nuclear and missile developments and on Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents decades ago.
    “Both former prime minister (Shinzo) Abe and Prime Minister (Yoshihide) Suga have said they are ready to hold face-to-face talks with leader Kim Jong Un,” Motegi said.
    “We are having various behind-the-scene communication with North Korea through not just our embassy in Beijing, but through other routes as well.”
    Motegi did not elaborate further.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Tom Hogue)

11/16/2020 Shell-Shocked Armenians Return To Nagorno-Karabakh After Peace Deal
Local residents carry humanitarian aid in Stepanakert in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 16, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    STEPANAKERT, Azerbaijan (Reuters) – Armenian refugees who fled a six-week war between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces have begun to return home to Nagorno-Karabakh to try to rebuild their shattered lives after Russia last week brokered a peace deal over the enclave.
    At least two convoys of buses carrying residents arrived in Stepanakert, the capital of the mountainous area, from neighbouring Armenia over the weekend.
    Under the terms of the agreement, control over the enclave’s main city Stepanakert, in territory internationally recognised as Azerbaijan, will stay with ethnic Armenians despite them being forced to cede other land to a victorious Azerbaijan.
    On Monday, refugees lined up in the centre of Stepanakert, which had been deserted for weeks beforehand, to collect bags of humanitarian aid which included staples such as canned food and pasta.
    Several men handed out rolled-up pieces of plastic which the returnees could use to fix broken windows in their homes.
    Some said they had come back with a heavy heart.
    “I have seen the third war already here.    In 1992 and 2016 I did not leave the city for even a minute.    But this time it was awful,” said a middle-aged woman who declined to give her name.
    The woman, who said she had returned on Sunday, said she had left for the Armenian border town of Sisian after the first week of fighting in early October when she had been forced to hide from shelling in a bomb shelter.
    While Stepanakert may remain in ethnic Armenian hands after the deal, Shusha, the second largest town in Nagorno-Karabakh, is now controlled by Azerbaijan after fierce fighting.
    “There are no Armenians in Shusha now,” said 35-year-old Alexander Simonyan, a gymnastics teacher from Shusha.
    When the fighting began, he sent his wife and children to Armenia and joined the Nagorno-Karabakh defence forces.
    He said he now lived with a friend in Stepanakert and had nowhere to house his family, though he hoped local authorities might offer them all somewhere to live.    “This is our land.    Where else can I go?    I can’t live in another place.”
    The Russian defence ministry said on Monday it had helped 475 people to return on Sunday and that a total of 725 people had come back to the enclave since Nov. 14.
LOST LAND
    After the ceasefire, Andranik Sarkisyan, 27, a former fighter, managed to bring his wife and two sons back from Armenia to their home village of Badara in Nagorno-Karabakh.
    News of the truce had been painful, he said.    “I was on the front line and they (commanders) simply called and told us that the land has been given up.    All the soldiers were crying.”
    Sarkisyan worked as a hairdresser in Stepanakert before the war and went to fight in the district of Gadrut, which was taken by Azeri forces at the start of the conflict.
    Many men in his battalion had been killed by artillery fire in an Oct. 11 attack, he said, adding that he had only survived because he had left earlier to guard a checkpoint.
    “The guys were simply burnt, they died, we collected their body parts.    I saw it every night.    It was unbearable, impossible,” he said.
    Such memories make it difficult for him to think about the terms of the settlement.
    “It is not about land.    It is about the blood spilled on it,” he said.    “I hope it was the last war.”
(Reporting by Reuters reporters; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich)

11/16/2020 Armenian Foreign Minister Quits After Unpopular Karabakh Ceasefire by Nvard Hovhannisyan
FILE PHOTO: Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan attends a meeting with his Russian counterpart
Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia October 21, 2020. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan resigned on Monday, the ministry said, in a sign of political fall-out in the ex-Soviet republic after a ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that locked in territorial gains for Azerbaijan.
    Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government has faced a backlash over the ceasefire that ended six weeks of fighting, with thousands of protesters last week demanding he resign.
    On Monday, hundreds of protesters rallied in the capital Yerevan.
    The ceasefire signed by leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia on Nov. 10 halted military action in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians.    Some 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops are now being deployed to the region.
    Armenian President Armen Sarkissian said Pashinyan’s government should step down and a snap parliamentary election should be held.
    “Taking into account the current situation, taking into account public demands, it is obvious that in order to avoid internal political upheavals, the holding of early parliamentary elections is inevitable,” Sarkissian said in address to the nation.
    He said there should be an interim government of national unity.    However, the president does not have much power and his statement might be viewed as more of a recommendation.
    Pashinyan has rejected calls to step down.
    For over 25 years until fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh resumed on Sept. 27, ethnic Armenians held military control over the entire pocket and swathes of Azeri territory ringing it. But when the guns fell silent, they had lost much of the enclave – including its second city Shushi, which Azeris call Shusha – as well as adjoining terrain.
    Pashinyan said war could have been avoided if Armenia had voluntarily ceded control of seven regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh as well as Shushi. “But we took up the challenge of war,” he told a news conference.
    Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anna Naghdalyan wrote on Facebook afterwards that giving up Shushi was never on the agenda at any stage of negotiations.
    Pashinyan said the road through the Lachin region that connects Nagorno Karabakh with Armenian state territory would be reopened later on Monday, and that many displaced residents of the enclave were returning home.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh, the Kremlin said.
    The two leaders said the situation in the region had generally stabilised and it was time to address humanitarian issues, including the return of refugees and the preservation of Christian churches and monasteries.
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

11/17/2020 Thai Police Fire Water Cannon At Parliament Protest by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Panarat Thepgumpanat
Riot police officers stand in line as water cannons are being used during an anti-government protest as lawmakers debate on
constitution change, outside the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai riot police fired water cannon at protesters who tried to cut their way through razor wire barricades outside parliament on Tuesday as lawmakers discussed possible changes to the constitution.
    Protesters are demanding changes to the constitution drawn up by Thailand’s former junta.    They also want the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army ruler, and reforms to curb the powers of the monarchy.
    Police set up barricades outside parliament, where hundreds of royalists earlier demonstrated to call on lawmakers not to change the constitution.
    Live television images showed water cannon being fired against an advance guard of anti-government protesters who arrived with helmets and masks and tried to remove the coils of wire. Protesters threw back coloured smoke bombs at police.
    “Dictator’s lackeys!” the Free Youth protest group posted on Twitter with pictures of the helmeted riot police using the water cannon.
    Police declared that protests were banned within 50 metres of the area. Hundreds of protesters assembled nearby.
    Lawmakers were discussing several proposals for the way in which the constitution can be amended – some of which would exclude the possibility of changes to the way King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s monarchy is treated under the constitution.
    There is also discussion of the role of the Senate, which was entirely selected by Prayuth’s former junta and helped ensure that he kept power with a parliamentary majority after a disputed election last year.    Prayuth says the vote was fair.
    Opposition parliamentarians have also called for changes to the constitution.
    Protests since July initially targeted Prayuth and constitutional change, but have since called for the monarch’s role to be more clearly accountable under the constitution and for the reversal of changes that gave the current king personal control of the royal fortune and some army units.
    “Amending the constitution is going to lead to the abolition of the monarchy,” royalist leader Warong Dechgitvigrom told reporters at the demonstration.
    Protesters have said they do not intend to abolish the monarchy.
(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan)

11/17/2020 Islamists Say Pakistan Agrees To French Boycott, End Protest by Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: People chant slogans as they set fire to France's flag during a protest against the cartoon publications of Prophet Mohammad
in France and comments by the French President Emmanuel Macron, in Karachi, Pakistan October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistani Islamist group called off protests over cartoons of Prophet Mohammad on Tuesday saying the government had agreed to their demand for a boycott of French products, the group’s spokesman said.
    Thousands of Islamists had clashed with police on the edge of the capital, Islamabad, on Monday in protests over the recent display of cartoons of the Prophet in France.
    “We are calling off our protests after the government signed an agreement that it will officially endorse boycotting French products,” Ejaz Ashrafi, a spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Labaik group, told Reuters by telephone.
    The government spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the agreement, which, according to a copy provided by the group and seen by Reuters, was signed by two ministers, a top official and the group’s leaders.
    Protests broke out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to a deadly attack last month on a teacher who showed cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammad to pupils during a civics lesson.
    For Muslims, depictions of the Prophet are blasphemous.
    Pakistan condemned the re-printing of the cartoons.
    The agreement between the group and the government also stipulated that the Pakistani parliament would decide within three months on whether to expel the French ambassador.
    Also, all detained protesters and their leaders would be set free immediately, the spokesman said, shortly after he was released.
    The Islamist group that has made blasphemy its rallying cry had blocked one of the main roads into the capital, demanding the government sever diplomatic ties with France and expel its ambassador.
    Pakistani trade with France was valued at nearly $800 million in the last financial year, according to central bank data, with $422 million worth of exports and imports valued at $356 million.
    There is a history of violent reactions to perceived incidents of blasphemy in Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet Mohammad carries the death penalty.    A mere accusation of blasphemy can provoke a lynching.
    The Islamist group called off a similar protest in 2017, in which one police and six protesters were killed, after the government agreed to its demands, which included the resignation of the then law minister.
(Reporting and writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

11/17/2020 South Korea To Tighten Social Distancing, Warns Of New COVID-19 Crisis by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: A man holding a pet dog takes a walk amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic at a park in Seoul, South Korea, November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea will impose stricter social distancing rules for the greater Seoul area a month after easing them, officials said on Tuesday, warning of an even bigger crisis if anti-COVID-19 efforts fail to dampen a spike in new cases.
    Starting Thursday, tighter curbs will ban public gatherings of 100 people or more, limit religious services and audiences at sporting events to 30% capacity, and require high-risk facilities including clubs and karaoke bars to broaden distance among guests.
    South Korea has been one of the world’s coronavirus mitigation success stories after tackling the first major COVID-19 epidemic outside China with aggressive tracing and testing, but continues to battle persistent rises in infections.
    The tougher restrictions came as the daily case tally hovered above 200 for a fourth consecutive day, with a series of cluster outbreaks emerging from offices, medical facilities and small gatherings in Seoul and surrounding regions where around half of the country’s 52 million population live.
    “Our anti-coronavirus efforts are facing a crisis,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a meeting.
    “The heightened curbs would cause greater inconvenience in our daily lives … but we all know from our experiences that there would be an even bigger crisis if we don’t act now.”
    The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 230 cases, the highest since early September.    Nearly 68% of the 202 domestic infections came from the greater Seoul area.
    The country’s total infections rose to 28,998, with 494 deaths.
    Health authorities warned the daily tally could go as high as 400 in coming weeks, asking citizens to stick to strict hygiene rules and minimise year-end celebrations.
    “It’s important to bring a turnaround without further levelling up the measures, which could have a large impact on people’s livelihoods,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told reporters, adding the government will decide on its next move in two weeks.
    With the pandemic raging around the globe, the foreign ministry extended its special travel advisory by another month, urging all nonessential overseas trips to be cancelled.
    The KDCA said it was arranging an air ambulance to bring six athletes and two officials of the men’s national football team who have tested positive for the coronavirus from Austria, where they were staying for friendly matches.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry and Richard Pullin)

11/17/2020 Senior Chinese Official Says Authorities Working On More Hong Kong Reforms, Including Judiciary
FILE PHOTO: Zhang Xiaoming, Executive Deputy Director of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council attends a news conference about the
new national security laws for Hong Kong at the State Council Information Office in Beijing, China July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – A senior Chinese official said on Tuesday that authorities are working on reforms related to semi-autonomous Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, including its judicial system.     Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told a legal summit in the global financial hub that moves to “perfect” the legal system in Hong Kong would not undermine judicial independence.
    The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” agreement that guaranteed freedoms unavailable in mainland China and an independent judiciary.     But after prolonged anti-government and anti-China protests last year, Beijing introduced a sweeping national security law on June 30 that critics say aims to quash dissent.    Supporters say it restores stability in China’s most restive city.
    “We need to see the Basic Law as something that is alive so we can interpret the Basic Law whenever necessary,” said Zhang, referring to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, adding that authorities are looking to push through more “Basic Law-related work.”
    Zhang said that the work was related to “oath optimisation” and “qualification screening” for civil servants, national education, and judicial reform. He did not elaborate.
    Under the new security law, civil servants are required to pledge allegiance to Hong Kong and the Basic Law.
    Zhang said the moves were aimed to correct “wrongful activities” and cover loopholes.
    “Right now is time to sort out what is true and what is false,” Zhang said, stating that people who do not recognise the “motherland” or threaten the country’s national security, do not fall in line with the Basic Law.
    The independence of Hong Kong’s judicial system is seen as crucial for the city to thrive as a finance hub acting as an interface between mainland China’s closed capital system and the rest of the world.
    Zhang’s comments come after Beijing passed a resolution last week to empower Hong Kong authorities to disqualify lawmakers deemed a threat to national security without having to go through courts.
    Hong Kong then immediately expelled four legislators, prompting opposition pro-democracy lawmakers to resign en masse in protest.
    “Only those who are patriotic should be in place, otherwise they should be removed from the system,” Zhang said.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/17/2020 More Than 40 Hurt In Thailand’s Most Violent Protests Since New Movement Emerged by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat
Demonstrators form a line as they protect themselves from water cannons during an anti-government protest as lawmakers
debate on constitution change, outside of the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – At least 41 people were hurt, some with gunshot wounds, when demonstrators marching on the Thai parliament clashed with police and royalist counter-protesters, in the worst violence since a new youth-led protest movement emerged in July.
    Police fired water cannon and teargas at protesters who cut through razor-wire barricades and removed concrete barriers outside parliament.    The police denied that they had opened fire with live ammunition or rubber bullets, and said they were investigating who might have used firearms.
    The protest movement, which has called for deep constitutional reform to a system demonstrators say has entrenched the power of the military, has emerged as the biggest challenge to Thailand’s establishment in years.
    Thousands of demonstrators converged on parliament to put pressure on lawmakers discussing changes to the constitution.    The protesters also want the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army ruler, and to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
    Bangkok’s Erawan Medical Centre said at least 41 people were hurt.    It did not immediately give a full breakdown, but said at least 12 were suffering from teargas and five people had gunshot wounds.    It did not say who might have used firearms.
    “We tried to avoid clashes,” the deputy head of Bangkok police, Piya Tavichai, told a news conference.    He said police had tried to push back protesters from parliament and to separate them and the yellow-shirted royalist counter-protesters.
    Protesters advanced on police with makeshift shields, including inflatable pool ducks.    After about six hours, police pulled back and abandoned their water trucks, which the protesters mounted and sprayed with graffiti.
    “I hereby announce the escalation of the protests.    We will not give in.    There will be no compromise,” Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak told the crowd at the gates of parliament before protesters dispersed.
    Another protest was set for central Bangkok on Wednesday.
    Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said police had been obliged to use teargas and water cannon to keep parliamentarians safe.
    Prime Minister Prayuth took power as the head of a military junta in 2014 and remained in office after an election last year.    He rejects opposition accusations that the election was unfair.
    Lawmakers were discussing several proposals for constitutional changes, most of which would exclude the possibility of altering the monarchy’s role.
    There is also discussion of the role of the upper house Senate, which was entirely selected by Prayuth’s former junta and helped ensure that he kept power with a parliamentary majority after last year’s disputed vote.
    Some protesters fought with dozens of royalists who had remained behind after an earlier demonstration by hundreds of right-wing Thais calling on lawmakers not to make changes to the constitution.
    “Amending the constitution is going to lead to the abolition of the monarchy,” royalist leader Warong Dechgitvigrom told reporters.    Protesters have said they do not want to abolish the monarchy.
(Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, Jiraporn Kuhakan, Juarawee Kittisilpa; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff)

11/17/2020 Pompeo Welcomes Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire, Urges For Political Solution
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo puts on a mask before boarding a plane at Istanbul Airport in Istanbul, Turkey November 17, 2020. Patrick Semansky/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said the United States welcomed the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, but urged the warring sides, Armenia and Azerbaijan, to move ahead in pursuing a lasting political solution to the conflict.
    The ceasefire signed by leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia on Nov. 10 halted military action in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians. Some 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops are being deployed to the region.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

11/17/2020 Iranians Warned Coronavirus Deaths May Double As Cases Hit Record High
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian woman wears a mask and face shield, amid a rise in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
infections, in Tehran, Iran October 24, 2020. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s health minister warned on Tuesday that coronavirus deaths may more than double soon if Iranians flout rules aimed at containing the virus, as new cases surged to a record high in the Middle East’s worst-hit country.
    “This is the last chance for our health system to recover, if people fall short we will lose the game and reach 4-digit death figures …and that is an abyss from which it is difficult to escape,” Health Minister Saeed Namaki said ahead of nationwide restrictions to curb the virus’ spread, state media reported.
    The government says stricter restrictions will be imposed in the capital Tehran and some 100 other cities and towns from Nov. 21.    Non-essential businesses and services will be shut or seriously reduced and cars will not be allowed to leave or enter those cities.
    New coronavirus infections in Iran have risen by 13,352 in the past 24 hours, a daily record, taking the cumulative total to 788,473, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
    Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that a near-record 482 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 42,461.
    Police said a ban on cars leaving or entering provincial capitals would already go into effect on Wednesday, state television reported.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Catherine Evans and Bernadette Baum)

11/18/2020 Thai Lawmakers Vote On Constitutional Change In Face Of Protests by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Petra Mahira
Demonstrators use inflatable rubber ducks as shields to protect themselves from water cannons during an anti-government protest as
lawmakers debate constitution change, outside the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai members of parliament voted on Wednesday on options for changing the constitution, with most of them opposed to a demand from protesters for a proposal that could mean changes to the role of the powerful monarchy.
    The vote comes after the most violent day since July of youth-led protests that seek to rewrite the constitution, to remove Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha – a former junta leader – and to reform King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s monarchy.
    Prayuth’s supporters have a majority in the parliament, where the entire upper house Senate was appointed by the junta he led after a 2014 coup.
    Only one of seven proposals for constitutional reform would potentially allow amending the role of the monarchy, which protesters say has enabled decades of military domination in the Southeast Asian country.
    The government has said it is ready to amend the constitution but not to touch on the monarchy.
    “The government coalition will vote to accept two drafts, which do not change articles related to the monarchy, but refrain from voting on the iLaw draft,” government whip Chinnaworn Boonyakiat told Reuters, referring to a proposal from the iLaw human rights group that would allow for the monarchy’s place to be discussed.
    Individual voting on each proposal by the 487 elected members of parliament and 245 senators was expected to take several hours.
    “We need to protect the monarch,” senator Seri Suwanphanon said as he spoke against the iLaw proposal, which is backed by protesters and many opposition members of parliament.
    “If we want solutions for our country, we need to adopt the iLaw draft,” said Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the opposition Move Forward Party.
    “While we were sitting in an air-conditioned room, officers used violence on many people,” he said referring to protests outside parliament on Tuesday that left at least 55 people hurt, several with gunshot wounds.
    Police repeatedly used teargas and water cannon to try to push back protesters who eventually made their way past barricades to the gates of parliament.    Protesters also scuffled with yellow-shirted royalist counter-protesters.
    Bangkok’s Erawan Medical Centre said at least 55 people were hurt, with 32 suffering from teargas and six with gunshot wounds.
    Police said they had confirmed two gunshot wounds – one to a protester and the other to a royalist – and they were investigating.    Bangkok deputy commander Piya Tavichai defended the police response to the protest.
    Another protest is due on Wednesday close to the police headquarters in central Bangkok.
    Among constitutional reforms being discussed is the place of senators.    Government critics say they ensured Prayuth kept power after last year’s election. He says the vote was fair and has rejected calls to resign.
    The Royal Palace has not commented on the demands for reforms to the monarchy that would make it accountable under the constitution.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Petra Mahira; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel)

11/18/2020 Three Ex-Lawmakers Arrested In Hong Kong Over Foul Smelling Liquid Protests
Former legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick arrives at West Kowloon Magistrates Courts in Hong Kong, China, November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Police in Hong Kong said they had arrested three former lawmakers on Wednesday morning over May and June incidents in which foul-smelling liquid was thrown in the city’s legislature, an act police said was intended to cause harm.
    Pro-democracy activists Ted Hui, Ray Chan and Chu Hoi-dick confirmed the arrests on their Facebook pages.
    The arrests come after Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers resigned en masse last week in protest against the dismissal of four colleagues in what they see as another push by Beijing to suppress democracy in the city.
    Police said that after an in-depth investigation, the three men had been charged with attempting to use harmful substances with the intent to cause harm, mental injury or irritation to others. They have been detained while the investigation continues.
    Live television footage showed lawmakers Eddie Chu and Ray Chan rushing to the front of the chamber during a June debate over a controversial bill that would criminalise disrespect of China’s national anthem, splashing the reeking fluid as guards grappled with them.    Police and firefighters arrived later.
    In May, Ted Hui dropped a rotten plant in the middle of the meeting, footage showed.
    Hui, who is part of the city’s Democratic Party, said on Wednesday that officers came to his home to arrest him after accusing him of disturbing legislature proceedings and mentally disturbing the council’s president, Andrew Leung.
    Opposition members have tried to take a stand against what many people in the former British colony see as Beijing’s whittling away of freedoms, despite a promise of a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula, agreed to when it returned to China in 1997.
    China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub, but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved swiftly to quash dissent after anti-government protests erupted last year and engulfed the city.
(Reporting by Sharon Tam, Donny Kwok and Marius Zaharia; Writing by Farah Master. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/18/2020 Armenian PM, Under Pressure To Quit After Karabakh Defeat, Unveils Action Plan
FILE PHOTO: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan speaks during his address to the nation in
Yerevan, Armenia November 12, 2020. Armenian Prime Minister Press Service/Tigran Mehrabyan/PAN Photo via REUTERS
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Wednesday unveiled a six-month action plan he said was designed to ensure his country’s democratic stability even as the make-up of the government was in flux.
    Pashinyan has rejected calls from opponents and protesters to resign over what they say was his disastrous handling of a six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabkh enclave and surrounding areas.
    Under a Russian-brokered peace deal, swaths of territory previously controlled by ethnic Armenians are being handed over to Azerbaijan whose forces recaptured chunks of territory which Baku lost in an earlier war in the 1990s.
    The Armenian foreign minister resigned earlier this week.
    Pashinyan, in a Facebook post, reiterated on Wednesday that he took full responsibility for what had happened, but said he was now responsible for stabilising Armenia and ensuring its national security.
    “I am completely resolved,” he wrote, before listing 15 action points he wanted to target.
    He said he wanted to try to restore a formal negotiation process over Nagorno-Karabakh under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk group and to prioritise the return of people to territory still controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    That meant helping people restore homes and damaged infrastructure, offering financial help to the families of soldiers killed in the conflict, and caring properly for those who had been wounded.
    He said he also wanted to address the legal status of Nagorno Karabakh, carry out military reform, amend election law, and focus on tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the economy.
    “In June 2021 I will present a report on this road map,” Pashinyan wrote.    “Public opinion and reaction will be taken into account for deciding future actions.”
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

11/18/2020 Iran Feeds Uranium Gas Into Advanced Centrifuges Underground: IAEA Report by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: Satellite image shows Iran's Natanz Nuclear Facility in Isfahan, Iran, October 21, 2020. Picture taken October 21,
2020 in this image supplied by Maxar Technologies. ©2020 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has fired up advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges that it had installed underground at its Natanz site, in the latest breach of its nuclear deal with major powers, a report by the U.N. atomic watchdog obtained by Reuters on Wednesday showed.
    Natanz is Iran’s main uranium-enrichment site and the one that U.S. President Donald Trump recently asked for options on attacking, according to a source who confirmed a New York Times report.
    The deal states that Iran can only accumulate enriched uranium with first-generation IR-1 machines and that those are the only centrifuges it can operate at its underground plant at Natanz, apparently built to withstand aerial bombardment.
    An International Atomic Energy Agency report last week showed Tehran had installed a cascade, an interlinked cluster, of advanced IR-2m machines underground at Natanz, having moved them from an above-ground plant where it was already enriching uranium with advanced centrifuges in breach of the deal.
    Last week’s report said it had not fed uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, the feedstock for centrifuges, into that cascade.
    “On 14 November 2020, the Agency verified that Iran began feeding UF6 into the recently installed cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) in Natanz,” the IAEA report to member states dated Tuesday said.
    Iran has breached many restrictions imposed by the 2015 deal on its atomic activities, including on the purity to which it enriches uranium and its stock of enriched uranium.    These breaches came in response to Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018 and the reimposition of U.S. sanctions against Tehran that had been lifted under the accord.
    Last week’s IAEA report said Iran had also begun installing a cascade of IR-4 centrifuges at the underground plant but not a planned third cascade of IR-6 machines.    It is also operating 5,060 IR-1 machines at the underground plant.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy, editing by Louise Heavens and Gareth Jones)

11/18/2020 U.S. Imposes Sweeping Sanctions On Iran, Targets Khamenei-Linked Foundation by Daphne Psaledakis and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a virtual speech, on the occasion of the
Prophet Mohammad's birthday, in Tehran, Iran November 3, 2020. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday imposed broad sanctions targeting Iran, blacklisting a foundation controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and taking aim at what Washington called Iran’s human rights abuses a year after a deadly crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.
    The sanctions announced by the U.S. Treasury Department, which also targeted Iran’s intelligence minister, are the latest action to reinforce the “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran pursued by President Donald Trump’s administration.    They come little more than two months before Trump is due to hand over power to Joe Biden after losing a Nov. 3 election.
    The department imposed sanctions on what it described as a key patronage network for Khamenei.    It said it blacklisted the Bonyad Mostazafan, or the Foundation of the Oppressed, which is controlled by Khamenei, in a move also targeting 10 individuals and 50 subsidiaries of the foundation in sectors including energy, mining and financial services.
    The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets of those targeted and generally bar Americans from doing business with them. Anyone who engages in certain transactions with these individuals and entities runs the risk of being hit with U.S. sanctions.
    The charitable foundation – an economic, cultural and social-welfare institution – has amassed vast amounts of wealth to the detriment of the rest of the Iranian economy and controls hundreds of companies and properties confiscated since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, insiders say.
    The Treasury Department in a statement accused Khamenei of using the foundation’s holdings to “enrich his office, reward his political allies, and persecute the regime’s enemies.”
    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement: “The United States will continue to target key officials and revenue-generating sources that enable the regime’s ongoing repression of its own people.”
‘SIGN OF DESPERATION’
    Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York, called the new sanctions “a sign of desperation” by Trump’s administration.
    “These latest attempts to continue a failed policy of ‘maximum pressure’ against Iran and its citizens will fail, just as all other attempts have,” Miryousefi said.
    The head of the blacklisted foundation, Parviz Fattah, tweeted: “The struggle of the declining U.S. government cannot impact the foundation’s anti-sanction activities and its productivity.”
    Fattah, who was among those blacklisted on Wednesday, described Trump as “a loser and disturbed person.”
    U.S.-Iranian tensions have risen since Trump two years ago abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal struck by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and restored harsh economic sanctions designed to force Tehran into a wider negotiation on curbing its nuclear program, development of ballistic missiles and support for regional proxy forces.
    President-elect Biden, set to take office on Jan. 20, has said he will return the United States to the nuclear deal, if Iran resumes compliance.
    Some analysts have said Trump’s piling-on of additional U.S. sanctions appeared to be aimed at making it harder for Biden to re-engage with Iran after taking office.
    “The administration is clearly, and I think transparently, trying to raise the political cost for Biden to re-engage with Iran and lift the nuclear deal sanctions,” said Henry Rome, an Iran analyst with Eurasia Group.
    Rome said Wednesday’s move could embarrass the supreme leader, dissuade non-U.S. companies from dealing with the charitable foundation even if sanctions are eventually lifted, and put the Biden administration in the potentially difficult position of justifying why they did so.
    The Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi and accused his ministry of playing a role in serious human rights abuses against Iranians, including during last year’s protests.
    The U.S. State Department also designated two Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officials, accusing them of involvement in the killing of nearly 150 people in the city of Mahshahr during last year’s crackdown.    The action bars them and their immediate families from traveling to the United States.
    The 2019 crackdown may have been the bloodiest repression of protesters in Iran since the 1979 revolution.
    Reuters reported last year that about 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15, 2019.    The toll was provided to Reuters by three Iranian Interior Ministry officials.
    Iran’s Interior Ministry has said around 225 people were killed during the protests, which erupted after state media announced that gas prices would rise by as much as 200% and the revenue would be used to help needy families.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement urged other nations to take action against Iran for its human rights abuses.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Mary Milliken, Will Dunham and Howard Goller)

11/18/2020 IAEA And U.S. Pressure Iran Over Uranium Particles At ‘Atomic Warehouse’
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
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog and the United States pressured Iran on Wednesday to finally explain the origin of uranium particles found almost two years ago at an old but undeclared site that Israel has called a “secret atomic warehouse
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew attention to the Turqazabad site in Tehran in a speech to the United Nations in September 2018, urging the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit it.    Iran called it a carpet-cleaning facility.
    IAEA inspectors went there in February 2019 and took environmental samples that showed traces of processed uranium.    The Vienna-based U.N. watchdog has been seeking answers on where those traces came from ever since; it says only part of Iran’s explanations have held water.
    “We believe they need to give us information which is credible.    What they are telling us from a technical point of view doesn’t add up, so they need to clarify this,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told a news conference during a quarterly meeting of his agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors.
    The IAEA and U.S. intelligence services have long believed Iran had a coordinated, clandestine nuclear weapons programme that it halted in 2003.    Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers effectively drew a line under much of its past.
    Irrespective of the deal, however, the IAEA is in charge of accounting for all nuclear material in countries that have ratified the global Non-Proliferation Treaty to ensure none is being diverted to make nuclear weapons, even if evidence of previously unknown material is many years old.
    Israel has said it seized part of an Iranian “archive” of its past nuclear work, and has used that to call attention to Iranian activities long predating the 2015 deal.
    Iran has objected to use of that archive material, denouncing “attempts to open an endless process of verifying and cleaning-up of ever-continuing fabricated allegations.”    It says it has never sought to weaponise nuclear energy.
    An IAEA report last week said further analysis of the Turqazabad samples found “isotopically altered particles of low enriched uranium.”
Similar particles were found in Iran in the past, linked to secretly imported centrifuge components originally from Pakistan, it added.
    “Whatever nuclear material left such traces was very likely enriched or irradiated,” the United States said in its statement to the board.    “This raises a whole new series of questions about where such material came from and what Iran may still be hiding.    It should be of the utmost concern to all Board members.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/18/2020 Trump To Represent U.S. At This Week’s Virtual APEC Summit, Official Says by David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks about the "Operation Warp Speed" program, the joint Defense Department and HHS initiative
that has struck deals with several drugmakers in an effort to help speed up the search for effective treatments for the ongoing
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump plans to represent the United States at a virtual Asia-Pacific summit this week in which his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping also plans to participate, a U.S. official told Reuters.
    Trump’s participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum hosted virtually by Malaysia on Friday will be his first in the event since 2017, the only time he has participated.
    The news comes after Trump’s outgoing administration faced criticism for lower-level participation at last weekend’s virtual East Asia Summit, on the sidelines of which 15 countries signed a major China-backed regional trade deal.
    “POTUS is doing APEC,” said a U.S. official, who did not want to be identified, using the acronym for the President of the United States.
    The White House declined to comment and while the current plan is for Trump to take part in APEC, the Republican president is preoccupied with an uphill battle to contest his defeat in the Nov. 3 presidential election.    In the past, he has changed his mind about taking part in such meetings.
    China’s Xi is scheduled to be among the participants in Friday’s APEC leaders’ meeting and will also address a chief executives’ conference starting on Thursday.
    Last year’s APEC summit, which Trump had been due to attend, did not take place because Chile backed out of hosting it amid violent street protests.
    Vice President Mike Pence represented the United States at APEC in 2018 amid heightened U.S.-China tensions, which have deteriorated since to their worst level in decades.
    Trump failed in his re-election bid after a campaign that highlighted rivalry with China, although he has refused to concede defeat.    Democratic rival Joe Biden is due to take over on Jan. 20.
    APEC is being held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit the United States hardest and which Trump has blamed on China.
    The U.S. official in charge of APEC said last week the United States had yet to decide who would attend the leaders’ meeting, suggesting Xi would take the spotlight at a time of steadily increasing Chinese influence across Asia.
    A joint APEC ministerial statement on Monday outlined the need for free, fair and non-discriminatory trade practices to drive economic recovery from the pandemic and structural reforms to promote sustainable and inclusive growth.
    Trump’s East Asia Summit no-show was viewed by many analysts as a snub even though even his administration had declared the Asia-Pacific and competition with China a foreign policy priority.
    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said on Monday it was concerned the United States was being left behind after the 15-nation Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP) formed the world’s largest free-trade bloc, cementing China’s dominant role in regional trade.
    The United States is absent from both RCEP and the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which Trump withdrew from after taking office in 2017.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; additional reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

11/18/2020 Duck And Cover: Blow-Up Mascots Star At Thai Protests by Chayut Setboonsarng and Juarawee Kittisilpa
Pro-democracy demonstrators move inflatable rubber ducks during a rally in Bangkok, Thailand November 18, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai police have water cannon and teargas to fire at protesters.    The answer: Inflatable yellow pool ducks.
    The giant ducks starred on Wednesday as thousands of protesters massed outside police headquarters in Bangkok.
    They had first made an appearance on Tuesday outside parliament in the most violent day of months of demonstrations as protesters used them as shields to advance towards police lines.
    “They’re like a mascot now.    I saw them being used as shields.    Maybe they are not that strong but they are a good stunt,” said a 27-year-old protester named Earn as she posed for a photo with three of the ducks.
    One protester said the ducks had originally been bought for fun, but were used as impromptu shields when police used water cannon.
    “If the police hadn’t fired water cannon at us, we wouldn’t have had to use them as a shield,” said one protester who gave her name as Wim.
    Police did not respond immediately to a request for comment on use of the ducks.    Police did not use water cannon or teargas on Wednesday as protesters sprayed water and splashed paint at police headquarters.
    Similar ducks were offered for around 2,800 baht ($90) each by several suppliers on Lazada, a popular online shopping site in Thailand.
    Protests began in July and seek the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha – a former junta leader, changes to the constitution and curbs on the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
    “Long Live the King,” protesters shouted sardonically at the convoy of ducks borne head high at Wednesday’s protest.
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

11/19/2020 Campus March By Hong Kong Graduates Marks A Year Since University Clashes     HONG KONG (Reuters) – Dozens of Hong Kong students turned their graduation ceremony on Thursday into a march to commemorate pro-democracy protests last year that included violent clashes with police across city campuses.
    Wearing black graduation robes and Guy Fawkes masks, the students marched through the campus of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).    They said they were organising their own graduation after the university said it would be held online because of the risk of the novel coronavirus.
    “I want to pass on the spirit … so the next generation of students don’t forget what happened last year,” said Philip, a social sciences graduate who declined to give his last name.
    In November last year, campuses of CUHK and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) saw prolonged clashes between students and riot police, with protesters firing petrol bombs from catapults and using bows and arrows and police responding with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets.
    The PolyU campus was surrounded by police for more than a week, with some students staging dramatic escapes through sewers rather than hand themselves in to police.
    On Thursday, the students held black balloons and a banner reading “Happy graduation, CU rioters.”    They chanted pro-democracy slogans and brandished the three-finger “Hunger Games” salute, in a nod to the gesture of defiance adopted by anti-government protests in Thailand.
    Some of the graduates reconstructed a battle scene, posing for pictures as they waved flags and showed how they had used umbrellas as shields.
    Protests in Hong Kong snowballed in June 2019 after years of resentment over what many residents see as meddling by the Chinese government in freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    The novel coronavirus, and a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing this year in response to the protests, have largely stifled the demonstrations.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang and Sharon Tam; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/19/2020 UK Will Likely Follow The U.S. In Cutting Afghanistan Troops, Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace arrives for a cabinet meeting, in London, Britain October 13, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
    LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will likely follow the United States in reducing troop levels in Afghanistan but it will continue to work with its government and the U.S. to protect the country’s security, Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Thursday.
    The Pentagon said on Tuesday President Donald Trump would sharply reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.
    Wallace said the Americans were not totally pulling out at this stage, and neither was Britain.
    But he said: “I expect if they (the U.S.) are reducing at some stage, we will come down.”
    Wallace said Britain had limited scope to act independently of its largest ally, but an increased funding settlement he had agreed with the finance ministry would in the future give the country greater options.
    “Part of this defence review is how can Britain be more independent,” he told Sky News.    “How can we complement each other around the world.     If one power or another pulls out and we … decide we want to stay longer, we could do so.”
    “At the moment if the United States unilaterally pulls out of some of these countries we have a challenge.”
(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Kate Holton, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

11/19/2020 ‘Five Eyes’ Alliance Urges China To End Crackdown On Hong Kong Legislators
FILE PHOTO: Legislative Council chamber is seen after Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, Kwok Ka-ki, Kenneth Leung and Dennis Kwok
were disqualified when Beijing passed a new dissent resolution in Hong Kong, China November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group said on Wednesday China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong appeared to be part of a campaign to silence critics and called on Beijing to reverse course.
    “We urge the Chinese central authorities to re-consider their actions against Hong Kong’s elected legislature and immediately reinstate the Legislative Council members,” foreign ministers from Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States said in a statement.
    It brought an angry response from Beijing.
    If the Five Eyes alliance dared harm China’s sovereignty, security or development interests, they should be careful not to “get their eyes poked out,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference in Beijing on Thursday.
    China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong said earlier any attempt by foreign states to threaten or pressure Beijing to make concessions was “doomed to fail
    Hong Kong expelled four opposition members from its legislature last week after Beijing gave city authorities new powers to curb dissent.    The move triggered mass resignations by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition lawmakers.
    It also raised further alarm in the West about the level of Hong Kong’s autonomy, promised under a “one country, two systems” formula when Britain ended its colonial rule and handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
    “China’s action is a clear breach of its international obligations under the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the five English-speaking allies which have an agreement to share intelligence and techniques for gathering it, said.
    Britain now considers China has broken the Joint Declaration three times, including with national security legislation for Hong Kong introduced this year.
    The United States has imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other Chinese officials over the crackdown and has warned of further steps.
    China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved swiftly to stifle dissent after anti-government protests flared in June last year and plunged the city into crisis.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by Farah Master in Hong Kong and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel)

11/19/2020 Canadian Accusations On China Being Cyber-Crime Threat Are Groundless, Says China
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference in Beijing, China September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday accusations by Canada are groundless, when asked about Canada naming China and Russia among main cyber-crime threats.
    Canada on Wednesday identified state-sponsored programs in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as major cyber-crime threats for the first time, and said it feared foreign actors could try to disrupt power supplies.
(Reporting By Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

11/19/2020 Hong Kong Court Rules That Police Complaints System Breaches Bill Of Rights
FILE PHOTO: An anti-government demonstrator walks past tear gas on Christmas Eve in Hong Kong, China, December 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s High Court ruled on Thursday that the city government had failed to provide an independent mechanism to handle police complaints, breaching the Asian financial hub’s Bill of Rights on torture and cruel treatment.
    Hong Kong’s Journalist Association had launched a judicial review in 2019 following widespread anti-government protests, arguing that the government had an obligation to set up a mechanism capable of “effective investigation” into suspected ill treatment by the police.
    An independent enquiry into police handling of the protests in the semi-autonomous, Chinese-ruled city became a main demand of the protesters last year, along with universal suffrage.
    The former British colony’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, has said the existing mechanism was sufficient to deal with complaints and there was no need to set up an independent system.
    The court disagreed and stated that the government was under a “duty pursuant” to Article 3 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, to establish and maintain an independent mechanism.
    “The existing complaints mechanism involving the complaints against the police office, with oversight by the Independent Police Complaints Council, is inadequate to discharge this obligation,” the court said in its judgement.
    Hong Kong’s Bill of Rights was introduced in 1991 as the then British-ruled city was preparing for its 1997 handover to China under a “one country, two systems” formula aimed at guaranteeing it a high degree of autonomy.
    The court ruling comes amid fears in the city over the erosion of its judicial independence by Beijing.
    A senior Chinese official said on Tuesday that authorities were working on reforms related to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, including its judicial system.
    The independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary is seen as crucial to its role as an international financial hub and an interface between mainland China’s closed capital system and the rest of the world.
    The court also ruled that police officers not prominently displaying their identification numbers also violated the Bill of Rights.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/19/2020 Pakistan’s PM Goes To Afghanistan As U.S. Prepares Drawdown, Peace Talks Stall
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a joint news conference with Malaysia's Prime Minister
Mahathir Mohamad (not pictured) in Putrajaya, Malaysia, February 4, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Kabul on Thursday to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, at a time when peace negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives have stalled and violence is rising.
    This will be Khan’s first visit to Afghanistan since assuming office over two years ago. It is the highest profile visit by a Pakistani official to Kabul since peace talks began between the Taliban and the Afghan government in the Qatari capital of Doha.
    And it comes days after the Pentagon announced it would reduce the number of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.
    Due to leave office on Jan. 20 after losing this month’s presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden, President Donald Trump is seeking to end the 19-year war in Afghanistan, the United States’ longest conflict.
    Critics slammed Trump for timing the withdrawal to his own calendar as opposed to some kind of breakthrough in Afghanistan that would justify a major drawdown.
    And outside of Afghanistan, nowhere is the risk of instability greater than in neighbouring Pakistan.
    Mistrust has cloaked relations between the neighbours, due to Pakistan’s covert support for the Taliban during the past two decades.    And as militants later began launching attacks inside Pakistan, it accused Afghanistan of stirring trouble in its borders.
    “Focus would be on further deepening the fraternal bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Afghan peace process, and regional economic development and connectivity,” Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement as Khan headed for Kabul.
    Pakistan’s role in the peace talks has been key, according to Washington, particularly given its influence over the Taliban leadership, though Pakistan says that influence has waned over the years.
    Washington’s special representative for Afghan peace, Zalmay Khalilzad has a made a number of trips to Islamabad to discuss the peace process.
    Ghani had last visited Pakistan in June 2019, according to Pakistan’s foreign office.
    A spokesman for the Afghan presidential palace, Dawa Khan Minapal, said the main purpose of the visit would be bilateral trade and economic relations, but the fight against militancy in the region would also be at the top of the agenda.
    “The focus will be mainly on the peace process but we won’t keep our hopes high,” said a source in the Afghan presidential palace.
    Violence has remained high in Afghanistan despite the ongoing peace process.
    During the past six months the Taliban have carried out 53 suicide attacks, while 1,210 civilians were among the thousands killed in violence linked to the insurgency, according to Tariq Arian, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry.
(Reporting by Adbul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul and Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/19/2020 Thai PM Says All Laws To Be Used Against Protesters by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng
FILE PHOTO: Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha attends a special parliament session to discuss the current political
situation and the ongoing anti-government protests in Bangkok, Thailand October 26, 2020. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Thursday that all laws would be used against protesters who break them, as demonstrations escalate for his removal and for reforms to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
    Activists voiced concern that this could mean the resumption of prosecutions under some of the world’s harshest royal insult laws.
    The protests are the greatest challenge to Thailand’s establishment in years and have broken a longstanding taboo by criticising the monarchy, which can carry a jail term of up to 15 years.
    Prayuth’s announcement came a day after thousands of protesters threw paint at Thai police headquarters in what they said was a response to the use of water cannon and teargas that hurt dozens on Tuesday, the most violent day of protests since July.    Some protesters also sprayed anti-monarchy graffiti.
    “The situation is not improving,” Prayuth said in a statement.    “There is a risk of escalation to more violence.    If not addressed, it could damage the country and the beloved monarchy."
    “The government will intensify its actions and use all laws, all articles, to take action against protesters who broke the law.”
    It did not specify whether this included Article 112 of the criminal code, which forbids insulting the monarchy.    Prayuth said earlier this year that it was not being used for the moment at the request of the king.
    “This could mean they are using Article 112 to arrest protest leaders,” said activist Tanawat Wongchai on Twitter.    “Is this a compromise?
    Although the Royal Palace has not commented on the protests, the king recently referred to Thailand as a “land of compromise” – a phrase that has been treated with scorn by protesters.
    Outraged by the anti-monarchy graffiti at Wednesday’s demonstration, some royalists called for the application of Article 112 in posts on social media.
    Dozens of protesters, including many of the most prominent leaders, have been arrested on a variety of charges in recent months, though not for criticising the monarchy.
    A major protest is planned at the Crown Property Bureau on Nov. 25 over the management of the palace fortune, which the king has taken into his personal control.    The fund is valued in the tens of billions of dollars.
    Protesters said there would be seven more days of demonstrations after that.
(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Petra Mahira; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Stephen Coates)

11/19/2020 China To Cut Tariffs, Boost Imports Of High-Quality Goods And Services: Xi
China's President Xi Jinping speaks during a CEO Dialogue forum via video link, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
leaders' summit, hosted by APEC Malaysia, November 19, 2020. APEC CEO DIALOGUES MALAYSIA 2020/via REUTERS TV
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China will continue to cut its tariffs and expand imports of high-quality goods and services, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Thursday, while vowing to push reforms and promote an innovation-driven growth model.
    “We will further reduce tariffs and institutional costs…, and expand imports of high-quality products and services from all countries,” Xi said in a keynote speech delivered via video at the APEC CEO Dialogues, ahead of a leaders’ virtual summit on the future of international cooperation on Friday.
    China will pursue higher quality growth through its “dual circulation” development model, driven by technological innovation, Xi said.
    Xi also called for stronger policy coordination among international communities and said globalisation is “irreversible” and that China will not engage in “de-coupling.”
    “Our new development pattern is not a closed domestic single circulation, but an open and mutually promoting domestic and international dual circulation,” Xi said.
    The “dual circulation” strategy envisages that China’s next phase of development will depend mainly on “domestic circulation” or an internal cycle of production, distribution and consumption, backed by domestic technological innovation.
    Xi also said China will sign free trade pacts with more countries and will promote a high-quality Belt and Road initiative.
    At a key meeting last month, Xi and other leaders laid out a blueprint for China’s five-year plan and key objectives for the next 15 years.    They include a goal to turn China into a “high income” nation by 2025 and advance to a “moderately developed” nation by 2035.
(Reporting by Kevin Yao and Lusha Zhang; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

11/19/2020 Australia ‘Will Always Be Australia,’ PM Responds To China Grievances by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s prime minister on Thursday pushed back over a list of more than a dozen grievances raised by China regarding his country’s human rights diplomacy, independent media and investment policies, saying “we will always be Australia.”
    Tensions between Australia and its largest trading partner China have mounted this year, with Beijing imposing a series of trade reprisals after Canberra led calls for an international inquiry into the coronavirus.
    Australian government ministers have recently said they want to improve communication with Beijing, but China’s foreign ministry has said Australia needs to “take concrete actions to correct their mistakes.”
    China’s foreign ministry in Beijing listed the complaints about Australia’s China policy in a regular press briefing on Tuesday and its embassy in Canberra shared a list of 14 complaints with Australian media company Nine the same day.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday referred to the Chinese embassy’s list and said Australia acted in its own interests.    It would not change its policies including having a free media, elected parliamentarians able to speak their minds and speaking up on human rights.
    “If this is the cause for tension in that relationship, then it would seem that the tension is that Australia is just being Australia,” Morrison said an interview with the Seven Network.
    Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Tuesday read out complaints about Australia’s actions including “mistakes on issues concerning China’s core interests like Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan,” actions in the Human Rights Council, and support for Taiwan entering the World Health Organization.
    China also criticized Australia’s action against foreign interference, and being the first country to ban Chinese companies from participating in its 5G telecommunications network.
    The embassy said more than 10 Chinese investments had been blocked in Australia on national security grounds.
    “We won’t be compromising on the fact that we will set what our foreign investment laws are, or how we build our 5G telecommunications networks, or how we run our systems of protecting against interference,” Morrison told Nine Television.
‘WOLF WARRIOR DIPLOMACY’
    On Tuesday, Australia and Japan agreed on a breakthrough defence pact during a visit by Morrison to Tokyo, prompting a rebuke from China over statements the two leaders made.
    Back in Australia, Morrison told media it was a mistake for China to believe Australia acted at the behest of the United States.    He said     Australia formed trade and defence arrangements with Japan and other countries, and set its foreign investment rules, in accordance with its national interests.
    “Beijing is just gradually ratcheting up the pressure,” said Lowy Institute senior fellow Richard McGregor, adding the timing was not good for China’s speeches about trade openness.
    The White House National Security Council chimed in, saying on Twitter that Beijing’s “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy was backfiring and “more and more nations worldwide have Australia’s back.”
    “The Chinese Communist Party used to be more subtle in its attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of nations,” the Council said of the grievance list.
    Richard Maude, a senior fellow at New York-based think tank the Asia Society Policy Institute, said China was trying to get a change in Australia’s approach, trying to polarise the Australian political system on China policy settings, and also sending a signal internationally.
    He said the grievance list was “totally tone deaf, and not accepting they have any responsibility for the state of the relationship."
    “The best chance for the Australia-China relationship to settle down is if (U.S. President-elect Joe) Biden finds a model for managed competition with China,” Maude, a former Australian diplomat, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by David Gregorio and Lincoln Feast.)

11/19/2020 U.S. Navy Commander In Asia Welcomes Japan-Australia Military Pact As Encouraging by Tim Kelly
FILE PHOTO: Vice Admiral William Merz, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, speaks to U.S. Navy sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier during a coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak on the ship at Naval Base Guam April 7, 2020. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kaylianna Genier/Handout via REUTERS.
    TOKYO (Reuters) – A senior U.S. Navy commander in Asia on Thursday welcomed an agreement by Japan and Australia to tighten military cooperation that will bolster the United States in a region where China’s influence is growing.
    Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian leader Scott Morrison on Tuesday agreed in principle on a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) that will more closely align the U.S. allies through a legal framework allowing each other’s troops to visit for training and to conduct joint military operations.
    “That kind of agreement is really helpful and encouraging to everybody in the region.    We are very supportive of that agreement and we look forward to exercising along right with them,” Vice Admiral William Merz, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, which is headquartered in Japan, said during a roundtable briefing.
    The agreement between Canberra and Tokyo, Japan’s first with another country since a similar agreement with Washington in 1960, comes as the two countries work more closely with the United States and India as part of an informal grouping known as the “Quad” as they grow more concerned about Chinese activity in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
    Suga hosted foreign ministers from the Quad in Tokyo last month before heading to Vietnam and Indonesia to deepen ties with key Southeast Asian nations.
    Merz, who spoke with Lieutenant General H. Stacy Clardy, the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, said greater cooperation in the region is not aimed at China.
    “There is no attempt to contain China or anyone else, we are trying to create an environment of inclusion,” he said.
    Beijing, which says its intentions in the region are peaceful, has described the Quad as a “mini-NATO."
    The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed to provide collective security against the then Soviet Union and is still seen as a threat by Russia as it expands to include some European states that were formerly part of the Eastern Bloc.
    The Japan-Australia agreement also came under similar criticism in China on Tuesday, with the state-backed newspaper the Global Times saying the United States “is using its two anchors in the Asia-Pacific region to push forward the construction of an Asian version of NATO.”
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Michael Perry)

11/19/2020 U.S. Navy Welcomes Japan-Australia Military Pact by OAN Newsroom
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, right, and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison exchange signed documents during
a signing ceremony at Suga’s official residence in Tokyo, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (Kiyoshi Ota/Pool Photo via AP)
    Officials in the U.S. Navy are sharing their support for Australia and Japan’s recent military agreement.    In a press briefing in Japan Friday, Vice Admiral William Merz welcomed the historic military pact between the two U.S. allies.
    The Japan-Australia Military Pact will allow for soldiers from the two countries to conduct trainings with one another amid growing concerns about the threat posed by China. Merz said the agreement will help contain the communist threat.
    “So as we work to work through the larger challenges, that kind of agreement (Reciprocal Access Agreement between Japan and Australia) is really helpful and encouraging to everybody in the region,” stated the vice admiral.    “So, we’re very supportive of that agreement and we look forward to exercising along right with them.”
    Chinese officials have accused the military pact of targeting the communist regime and have slammed the West’s involvement.    However, Vice Admiral Merz said greater cooperation is merely intended to create an environment of inclusion.
[THAT’S THE FIRST TIME I HAVE HEARD THE CHINESE TO BE HONEST.    YES, THE U.S.A. AND ALL THE NATO MEMBERS ARE TARGETING YOU IF YOU DO NOT STOP YOUR AGGRESION AND I DARE YOU TO TELL YOUR PEOPLE THE TRUTH ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS THAT YOU RELEASED AND ATTACKED THE WORLD WITH IT.].

11/20/2020 Taiwan Says U.S. Environment Protection Head Wheeler To Visit by Jeanny Kao and Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), listens during a Senate Environment
and Public Works Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., May 20, 2020. Al Drago/Pool via REUTERS
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – The Cabinet-level head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, will visit Taiwan, the island’s premier said on Friday, in what will be the third visit by a senior U.S. official since August.
    China, which claims democratically-run Taiwan as its own territory, reacted with fury when the U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar came to Taipei in August, followed by U.S. Undersecretary of State Keith Krach in September, sending fighter jets near the island each time.
    The Trump administration has ramped up support for Taiwan, including with new arms sales, alarming China.
    Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters Taiwan-U.S. interactions had been increasing.
    “At the invitation of Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will come to Taiwan, to have bilateral discussions on international cooperation on environmental protection issues,” Su said.
    The trip will “be further beneficial to the relationship between the two countries,” Su added.
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said Wu had extended the invite to Wheeler last year, and that it would announce details at an “appropriate time.”
    The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    The New York Times reported that Wheeler’s three-day trip was scheduled for the week of Dec. 5.
    The paper quoted James Hewitt, a spokesman for Wheeler, as saying the agency was still working through logistics but that Wheeler was invited to Taiwan “to collaborate on issues including the Save our Seas initiative and marine litter, air quality, and children’s health.”
    Former President Barack Obama’s then-EPA chief Gina McCarthy visited Taiwan in 2014.
    While Trump, a Republican, is a popular figure in Taiwan, the government has moved to allay concerns the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, will not be as supportive.
    Taiwanese officials have pointed out that support for Taiwan is bipartisan in the United States, and last week Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Washington spoke by telephone with Antony Blinken, a longtime confidant of Biden’s.
(Reporting by Jeanny Kao and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Lincoln Feast.)

11/20/2020 Trump, Xi To Meet At Virtual Asia Pacific Forum As Trade Spat Endures by Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping pose for a photo ahead of their bilateral
meeting during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will attend a virtual summit of Asia Pacific leaders on Friday to discuss the coronavirus and global economic recovery, with lingering trade differences likely to cloud the meeting.
    The pair will be at a meeting of the leaders of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) hosted virtually by Malaysia just two weeks after Trump lost his re-election bid.
    Asia Pacific leaders have called for more open and multilateral trade to support the economic recovery, and warned against protectionist trade policies.
    After coming to power in 2017, Trump slapped tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese products, which launched a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
    At the last APEC summit in 2018, member countries failed to agree on a joint communique for the first time in the bloc’s history as the United States and China disagreed on trade and investments.
    In the run up to Friday’s meeting, several APEC leaders warned against protectionism as the world grapples with the economic impact of the novel coronavirus.
    “As we confront this generation’s biggest economic challenge, we must not repeat the mistakes of history by retreating into protectionism,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday, speaking at the APEC CEO Dialogues.
    “APEC must continue to commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing.”
    Xi on Thursday said “mounting unilateralism, protectionism and bullying as well as backlash against economic globalisation” had added to risks and uncertainties in the world economy.
    He said China will remain committed to multilateralism, openness and cooperation.
    Other Asia Pacific leaders have also expressed hope that a Joe Biden administration would engage more and support multilateral trade.
    Japan aims to expand the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Friday, potentially catering for China’s and Britain’s interest in joining the deal.
    Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, the predecessor to CPTPP.    The United States is also absent from the world’s largest free-trade bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP) – a 15-nation pact backed by China that was signed last week.
    The Trump administration has been criticised for a lower level of engagement in Asia.    The only time he has joined an APEC summit – held annually – was in 2017.    Last year’s summit in Chile was cancelled due to violent protests.
    Trump also missed two virtual Asia meetings last week: the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit and the broader East Asia Summit.
    Other than working on a joint communique, the APEC leaders are also expected to discuss the bloc’s post-2020 vision, which would replace the 1994 Bogor Goals – a set of targets on reducing barriers to trade and investment – that expire this year.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi; additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Ju-min Park in Tokyo; Editing by Sam Holmes)

11/20/2020 Shame And Vindication As Australia Digests Report Of Afghan Military Killings by Byron Kaye
FILE PHOTO: Members of Australia's special forces conduct an exercise during the
Australian International Airshow in Melbourne March 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian military personnel who spoke out against alleged war crimes in Afghanistan said on Friday they felt vindicated by an inquiry which called for possible prosecution of troops, as the country reacted with shame and anger at the findings’ severity.
    A report published on Thursday found Australian special forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan, with senior commandos forcing junior soldiers to kill defenceless captives in order to “blood” them for combat.
    The report recommended referring 19 current and former soldiers for potential prosecution, in a development that prompted anguish in Australia which usually honours its military history with fervour.
    David McBride, a former military lawyer facing charges of leaking information about special forces actions in Afghanistan, felt “buoyed” by the report after years of being treated like a “traitor to the diggers,” his lawyer Mark Davis told Reuters, using the Australian slang for soldiers.
    “If the accusations that he’s previously made are proven right, he will feel vindicated whatever the penalty,” Davis said by telephone. “His reputation will be intact and his sense of honour will be intact.”
    McBride has confirmed giving classified documents to the Australian Broadcasting Corp, triggering charges against him and an investigation into the public broadcaster which sensationally led to a raid on its Sydney headquarters last year.
[https://reut.rs/35KCobF]
    Police dropped the ABC investigation last month, citing lack of public interest in proceeding, but McBride still faces a lengthy prison sentence if found guilty after a trial starting next year.    His charges must now also be dropped, said his lawyer Davis.
    Dusty Miller, a special forces medic who testified at the inquiry, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp that hearing the country’s defence chief publicly confirm his claims was “complete vindication.”
DISTRESSING
    The report has been described by Australian leaders as one of the darkest military chapters for Australia, just nine days after the country’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers when it is customary to wear a red poppy to show respect.
    Top lawmakers walked a delicate line of condemning the allegations of the report and supporting the possibility of prosecutions, while expressing solidarity with the country’s armed forces.
    “It made me physically ill, and it was a very distressing read,” said Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, a former army officer.
    “I know that it certainly didn’t represent my service … and it certainly doesn’t represent the majority of men and women who have and continue to serve our nation with such great distinction.”
    Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the allegations were “very serious but they should not overshadow the immense good work that is being done the defence forces in our name.”
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned earlier that the report would be troubling for Australia and its military but has not commented since its publication.    Overnight, the office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter that Morrison had “expressed his deepest sorrow” over the allegations.
    Reynolds said last week that Canberra had been advised that local prosecution would negate charges at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
    People in Kabul, the Afghan capital, welcomed the prospect of bringing perpetrators to justice, but were divided on the question of where.
    “They who have committed such a big crime must be handed to face the law of Afghanistan and should be punished accordingly,” said Abdul Mutahal, a resident of Kabul.
    Mohammad Isaaq Faiaz, a shi’ite imam, said the alleged perperators “should be brought to justice in Australia, and the affected families of those martyred must be paid with the ransom.”
(This story fixes missing word in third last par)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/20/2020 Thai Police To Charge High School Students Over Protest by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Panarat Thepgumpanat
FILE PHOTO: Benjamaporn Nivas, also known as Ploy, speaks during a mass rally to demand constitutional changes
and the government resignation in Bangkok, Thailand September 19, 2020. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Two Thai high school student leaders will be charged for joining a banned protest last month, police said on Friday, a day after embattled Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha threatened tougher action against protesters.
    The students said they had been summoned for violating an emergency decree by joining a protest on Oct. 15, when tens of thousands of people defied a ban by Prayuth aimed at halting protests demanding his removal and reforms of the monarchy.
    “Even if you arrest protest leaders, there is not enough space in prison because hundreds more will rise up,” one of the students, 15-year Benjamaporn Nivas, told Reuters in an instant message.
    The “Bad Student” group is planning a protest on Saturday and Benjamaporn said she would still attend.    The other member of the group who faces charges is Lopanapat Wangpaisit, 17.
    Police spokesman Yingyos Thepjumnong said the two were summoned to acknowledge the charge and would be questioned in the presence of their parents and lawyer.
    Youth-and-student-led protests since July have become the greatest challenge to Thailand’s establishment in years and dozens of arrests and attempts to quell them have so far only brought more people into the streets.
    Prayuth has refused the protesters’ demand to resign and rejected their accusation that he engineered last year’s election to keep power he seized in a 2014 coup.
    Protesters also seek to redraw the constitution written by his former junta and curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, saying the monarchy has enabled decades of military domination.
    The Royal Palace has made no comment since the protests began.
    On Thursday, Prayuth threatened to use all laws to prosecute protesters who break them, raising concerns among activists that this could also mean harsh royal insult laws under which there have been no prosecutions for more than two years.
    Although demonstrations have largely been peaceful, police used teargas and water cannons against protesters on Tuesday.    At least 55 were injured from tear gas and six from gunshot wounds.     Another major protest is planned at the Crown Property Bureau on Wednesday.    Protesters say they seek to reclaim the palace fortune, which the king has taken under his personal control.
(Writing and additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Clarence Fernandez)

11/20/2020 Plan To Raise China’s Retirement Age Sparks Anger
FILE PHOTO: An elderly villager walks along a railway line on the outskirts of Jixi,
in Heilongjiang province, China, October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A decision by the Communist Party of China to raise the retirement age under a long-term economic and development plan has sparked anger on social media in fast-greying China.
    In 2018, nearly 250 million of China’s 1.4 billion people were aged 60 or over.    That is 17.8% of the population and it may exceed 33% by 2053, a prominent think-tank has said.
    Authorities will “implement postponing the retirement age in a gradual manner,” the official Xinhua news agency said in a report this month, citing government targets by 2035.
    No specifics were given but the report has caused a stir.
    “Delaying retirement means we have to postpone our pension,” one user on the Weibo platform wrote on Friday.
    For more than four decades, China’s retirement age has remained unchanged at 60 for men and 55 for women civil servants and white-collar workers.
    Authorities have yet to raise the retirement age although a suggestion to do so in 2013 provoked strong public opposition.
    “Delaying retirement, which has no rationality or necessity, is out of ideological considerations that only when the interests and health of the people are sacrificed can there be economic development,” another social media user said.
    China faces what experts call a “demographic time-bomb” as its elderly population increases while its workforce gets smaller, partly due to a one-child policy in place for about four decades until it was finally scrapped in 2016.
    “Postponing retirement is an inevitable trend,” the state-run Securities Times wrote in a commentary on Friday.
    “If you travel abroad, you’ll find that people over 60 are still working, and that’s normal.”
    China’s retirement age is lower than in many other countries.    In Japan, it’s 65. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government said last year it was considering raising it to 70 or even 75.
    In South Korea, where 25% of the population may be 65 or older by 2030, workers retire at around 68 for men and 67 for women.     China’s aging population will also put huge pressure on its pension system.    An official research report showed China’s total pension pot could be “insolvent” as early as 2035.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/20/2020 Hong Kong, World’s Most Visited City, Faces Tourism Bust by Farah Master and Joyce Zhou
FILE PHOTO: Visitors wearing face masks visit Man Mo Temple for a Hong Kong Tourism Board's free local tour,
following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hong Kong, China November 1,2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of parked tour buses are gathering dust at a northern Hong Kong container port, having been off the road for 10 months since authorities banned non-resident arrivals into the city due to the new coronavirus.
    The area has turned into a “bus cemetery,” said Freddy Yip, president of Hong Kong’s Travel Agent Owners Association.    He said the former British colony – which was the world’s leading tourist city destination last year – faces a similar fate at the end of November, when the government ends a wide-ranging wage subsidy programme that has helped about 2 million employees in all types of industries.
    The programme was introduced in June and renewed in September, but the Hong Kong government has ruled out an extension beyond the end of November citing the high cost, leaving many tourism-dependent businesses on the brink of collapse, unable to find other revenue sources and unable to pay wages.
    “If they cannot see any light ahead of them, they will just stop and cut their losses,” said 70-year-old Yip, who has worked in the trade for nearly 50 years.
    A spokesperson for the Hong Kong government said it would “keep a close watch on the latest situation and respond in a timely manner,” but gave no further details.
    About 56 million people visited Hong Kong last year. The city was ranked number one for arrivals globally in 2019 by research company Euromonitor International.    Visitors, most of them from mainland China, are drawn to its vibrant mix of cultures, dramatic harbour views and world-class shopping.
    The Chinese-ruled, semi-autonomous global finance hub makes about 5% of its gross domestic product, or about $18 billion, directly from tourism, not counting money spent in local shops and restaurants.    Hong Kong’s tourism sector directly employs about 260,000 people, according to the government.
    Mainland Chinese visitors typically spend more per day than the average resident on baby formula, cosmetics and luxury goods, driven by a perception that Hong Kong has better quality standards than at home.    That source of spending was cut off in early February, when Hong Kong sealed its borders to mainland China, with exemptions only for a small number of business travellers.
BUBBLE TROUBLE
    Visitor arrivals have been down 96% to 99% year-on-year every month since February, according to government figures.    A travel bubble with Singapore – allowing a limited number of people to move between the cities after being tested for the virus – is due to begin this week, but is not likely to halt that decline, industry executives said.
    The arrangement lets travellers forgo quarantine, but is initially limited to one daily flight of only 200 passengers each way.    That is a drop in the ocean for Hong Kong, which set its own record in January 2019 with 6.8 million visitors, including 5.5 million from mainland China.
    Tour guide Mimi Cheung, 46, said she was pessimistic about the travel bubble, due to the limited number of people, strict regulations and high costs – around HK$2,000 ($260) for mandatory virus tests, plus around HK$6,000 ($774) to buy a tour in either city.
    “The government should open the mainland border under safe conditions.    It will bring some hope,” said Cheung, who has found temporary work as a night security guard to provide for her parents and two children.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said reopening the border with the mainland remains a priority, but Chinese officials have shown no indication they are willing to do so until virus cases fall to zero in Hong Kong.
    The city’s government has been trying to spur local tourism by offering free tours for small groups, but operators say it has been little help.
    Dozens of travel agencies have told staff to take unpaid leave from December, saying they can no longer afford to pay salaries or rent, according to employees interviewed by Reuters, travel associations and local media reports.
    Violent anti-government street protests in the second half of last year discouraged some tourists, leaving many operators without cash buffers to weather this year’s crisis.
    The city’s meetings and conventions business is also likely to see a 90% revenue drop this year, equivalent to about HK$50 billion ($6.45 billion), said Stuart Bailey, chairman of the Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association.
    The sector, which employs around 80,000 people, has had to cancel most of this year’s events, he said.
    “People are not optimistic we will be back to 2019 levels for at least 18 months to two years.”
(Reporting by Farah Master and Joyce Zhou in Hong Kong; Editing by Bill Rigby)

11/21/2020 Trump Administration To Add Four More Chinese Firms To Pentagon Blacklist: Sources by Alexandra Alper and Mike Stone
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter near The Bund, before U.S. trade delegation meet their
Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington is poised to designate four more Chinese companies as backed by the Chinese military, sources said, curbing their access to U.S. investors as the Trump administration seeks to cement its hawkish China legacy in its waning days.
    The designations, which have not been previously reported, could be released by the Department of Defense as soon as Friday but may be unveiled next week, said one U.S. official and one person familiar with the matter who declined to be named.
    The White House and the Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    The additions would bring the number of Chinese companies affected to 35.    They include giants like Hikvision <002415.SZ> China Telecom Corp <0728.HK> and China Mobile <0941.HK>, which were added earlier this year.
    The list of “Communist Chinese Military Companies” was mandated by a 1999 law requiring the Pentagon to compile a catalogue of companies “owned or controlled” by the People’s Liberation Army, but the defense department only complied this year.
    The latest move would come just days after the White House published an executive order, first reported by Reuters, that sought to give teeth to the list by prohibiting U.S. investors from buying securities of the blacklisted companies from November 2021.
    The move “helps ensure no American is unwittingly subsidizing the (Chinese Communist Party)’s campaign to dominate the technologies of the future,” said Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher, who has introduced legislation to ban blacklisted Chinese companies from U.S. capital markets.
    However, the executive order is unlikely to deal the firms a serious blow, experts said, due to its limited scope, uncertainty about the stance of the incoming Biden administration and already-scant holdings by U.S. funds.
    Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has not laid out a detailed China strategy but all indications are that he will continue a tough approach toward Beijing.
    The growing defense department list will likely add to tensions between the world’s two largest economies, which have been at loggerheads over the coronavirus and China’s crackdown on Hong Kong.
    The list is also part of a broader effort by Washington to target what it sees as Beijing’s efforts to enlist corporations to harness emerging civilian technologies for military purposes.
    In September, the U.S. Commerce Department imposed restrictions on exports to China’s biggest chip maker SMIC after concluding there was an “unacceptable risk” that equipment supplied to it could be used for military purposes.
    Congress and the administration have sought increasingly to curb the U.S. market access of Chinese companies that do not comply with rules faced by American rivals, even if that means antagonizing Wall Street.
    In August, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Treasury officials urged Trump to delist Chinese companies that trade on U.S. exchanges and fail to meet its auditing requirements by January 2022.
(Writing by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Tom Brown)

11/21/2020 Rockets Hit Afghan Capital Kabul, At Least Eight Killed
An injured man is carried to a hospital after rockets hit residential areas in Kabul, Afghanistan November 21, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Several rockets hit residential areas in the early rush hour in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 31, police officials said.
    The explosions, some close to the diplomatic enclave, sent warning sirens blaring from embassies and it comes two days before a major donor conference for Afghanistan in Geneva.
    Tariq Arian, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said at least eight civilians had been killed in the attack and 31 wounded.    A health ministry official said five bodies and 21 injured were taken to the hospital from the incident.
    Arian said “terrorists” mounted 14 rockets in a small truck and set them off, adding that an investigation is going on to find out how the vehicle came inside the city.
    Some residents filmed the rockets being fired and posted them on social media.    Several pictures circulating on Facebook showed damaged cars, shattered windows and holes in residential homes.
    A picture of a young brother and sister, whom officials said were killed in their home, was widely shared on Facebook.
    One of the rockets landed in the vicinity of the Iranian embassy and several fragments hit the main building but there were no casualties among the staff, the embassy said in a statement.
    Since peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban stalled in the Qatari capital of Doha, attacks by the Taliban and other extremist groups have been on the rise, especially in the capital that is home to more than five million Afghans.
    Taliban insurgents, fighting against a foreign-backed Kabul administration, denied involvement in the attack.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travels to Qatar on Saturday to meet with an Afghan delegation and Taliban negotiators.
    Early this month, several gunmen stormed Kabul University campus and killed at least 35, most of them students and wounded more than 50.
    The attack was claimed by the Islamic State militant group.
(Reporting by Kabul Bureau, Writing by Hamid Shalizi Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

11/21/2020 Tibetan Political Leader Visits White House For First Time In Six Decades
FILE PHOTO: Paramilitary police officers swap positions during a change of guard in front of Potala Palace in Lhasa, during a
government-organised tour of the Tibet Autonomous Region, China, October 15, 2020. Picture taken October 15, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The head of the Tibetan government in exile has visited the U.S. White House for the first time in six decades, a move that could further infuriate Beijing, which has accused the United States of trying to destabilise the region.
    Lobsang Sangay, President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), was invited to the White House to meet the newly appointed U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Robert Destro, on Friday, the CTA said in a press release.
    “This unprecedented meeting perhaps will set an optimistic tone for CTA participation with U.S. officials and be more formalised in the coming years,” said the CTA, which is based in India’s Dharamshalah.
    Tibet has become one of the areas of dispute between the United States and China, with relations between the world’s two biggest economies at their lowest point in decades.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Beijing in July of violating Tibetan human rights and said Washington supported “meaningful autonomy” for the region.
    Beijing officials have since accused the United States of using Tibet to try to promote “splittism” in China.    China has also refused to engage with Destro.
    China seized control over Tibet in 1950 in what it described as a “peaceful liberation” that helped it throw off its “feudalist past,” but critics led by the exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama say Beijing’s rule amounts to “cultural genocide.”
    Chinese President Xi Jinping said in August that China needed to build an “impregnable fortress” in Tibet in order to protect national unity.
(This story corrects spelling of Sangay’s name in paragraph 2)
(Reporting by David Stanway)

11/21/2020 Families Of Detained Hong Kong Dozen Protest On Island Near Chinese Prison by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret
    The father of Cheng Tsz Ho, one of the 12 detainees, stands on a peak overlooking Yantian district in
the neighbouring Chinese mainland city of Shenzhen, in Hong Kong, China November 21, 2020. REUTERS/James Pomfret
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Relatives and supporters of 12 Hongkongers, detained in China after trying to flee the city by speedboat, protested on Saturday on an island near the Chinese prison where they have been held virtually incommunicado for nearly three months.
    The 11 men and one woman were captured by the Chinese coastguard on Aug. 23 aboard a speedboat believed to be bound for Taiwan.
    All had faced charges linked to the protest movement embroiling Hong Kong, including rioting and violation of the a national security law China imposed in June.
    Family members and supporters of some of the 12 hiked to the peak of Kat O island in Hong Kong’s remote northeastern reaches, looking onto China’s high-tech boomtown of Shenzhen, and the Yantian district where the dozen are being held.
    Some peered through binoculars at a hill where the detention centre is located.    Several told Reuters they want the Chinese authorities to deal with the cases in a just, fair and transparent manner.
    The group inflated blue and white balloons and wrote the names of the detainees on them, before releasing them into a leaden sky.    They chanted for their “immediate safe return” while holding white banners reading “SAVE 12” and “Return Home.”
    “I hope he can see the balloons and know we didn’t give up yet,” said the 28-year-old wife of detainee Wong Wai-yin.
    A Hong Kong marine police vessel later docked on the island, with police questioning and taking down the details of several reporters present.
    Authorities have denied family and lawyers access to the 12, insisting they be represented by officially appointed lawyers.    Last week seven detainees wrote handwritten letters to their family, but the group said in a statement that “they seem to have been compiled under duress.”
    Eddie Chu, a former lawmaker who recently quit his post in protest against political suppression by authorities under the national security law, said it was important to keep fighting.
    “We are so close to them, just a few kilometres in reality, but in fact it’s like … something unreachable.    So we need to have the balloons to do this for us.”
(Reporting by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret; Editing by William Mallard)

11/21/2020 South Korea’s COVID Third Wave May Be Largest If Not Curbed, Says Official by Joyce Lee
A couple wearing masks stand at a street amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
pandemic in Seoul, South Korea, November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea grappled with a resurgence in COVID-19 cases on Saturday, as a senior official warned it could be the country’s largest wave of infections if the spread is not quickly contained.     The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 386 new daily coronavirus cases as of midnight on Friday, bringing total infections to 30,403, with 503 deaths.    New cases topped 300 for the fourth day in a row, after Tuesday saw the highest since August.
    “We are at a critical juncture; if we fail to block the current spread, we could be facing a large nationwide infection that surpasses” the first two waves, senior KDCA official Lim Sook-young told a news briefing.    The country was hit by a jump in cases in late February-early March and August.
    The standard for imposing tougher social distancing measures was expected to be reached soon, Lim said.    The daily national tally was expected to reach 400 new cases next week and more than 600 in early December if the current rate of one patient infecting 1.5 people was not curbed, she added.
    Due to recent infections spreading among college and private after-school tuition academies, she especially urged young people to refrain from meeting and to get tested early.
    South Korea tightened prevention guidelines on Thursday ahead of highly competitive annual college entrance exams on Dec. 3, and Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called on Friday for all social gatherings to be cancelled, but bars, nightclubs, religious services and sports events continue to be permitted with attendance restrictions.
    South Korea is negotiating to secure COVID-19 vaccines for 30 million people, or about 60% of the population, of which vaccines for 10 million people are expected to be procured through the global COVID-19 vaccine facility known as COVAX, Lim said.
    The Seoul metropolitan region recorded 262 new cases on Friday, up from 218 cases on Thursday.
    Health officials have previously said the capital region, where about half of the country’s 52 million people live and work, could be subject to tougher restrictions if the average daily infection over a week rose to 200 or more.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by William Mallard and Jacqueline Wong)

11/21/2020 Thai School Students Protest Against Government, Demand Reform by Matthew Tostevin and Petra Mahira
FILE PHOTO: A woman takes a picture of the police headquarters from a distance in the
morning after a rally in Bangkok, Thailand November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thousands of people joined a protest led by high school students in Bangkok on Saturday to call for education reforms as well as the demands of a broader movement pushing to remove the government and curb the powers of the monarchy.
    It was the first major protest since Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Thursday that police would use all laws against protesters, who have become the biggest challenge to the establishment in years.
    Police said the protest by the Bad Student group could go ahead, although two of its teenage leaders were summoned on Friday for charges over a previous protest.
    “We are here to ask for the freedom that has been taken away from us as well as for reforms to education,” said high school student Mameaw, 18, who declined to give her full name. “We want a real constitutional monarchy.”
    Protests since July have three core demands: the removal of former junta leader Prayuth as prime minister, a new constitution and reforms to the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
    But the high school students also seek greater freedom and fairer treatment within an education system they say is archaic and aimed primarily at inculcating obedience.    Many spoke of the importance of gender equality.
    “I have been sexually abused by teachers.    School is not a safe place,” said a placard held by one student who sat in uniform with her mouth taped shut in protest.
    One of the hashtags used by the Bad Student group on Saturday translates as #ByeByeDinosaurs.
    Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said the prime minister hoped protesters would exercise their freedom constructively and within the law.
    Prayuth has rejected the demand of protesters that he resign and their accusations that he engineered last year’s election to keep power that he first seized from an elected government in 2014.    The Royal Palace has made no comment since the protests began in July.
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

11/21/2020 Rockets Hit Afghan Capital Kabul, At Least Eight Killed
An injured man is carried to a hospital after rockets hit residential
areas in Kabul, Afghanistan November 21, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Several rockets hit residential areas in the early rush hour in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 31, police officials said.
    The explosions, some close to the diplomatic enclave, sent warning sirens blaring from embassies and it comes two days before a major donor conference for Afghanistan in Geneva.
    Tariq Arian, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said at least eight civilians had been killed in the attack and 31 wounded.    A health ministry official said five bodies and 21 injured were taken to the hospital from the incident.
    Arian said “terrorists” mounted 14 rockets in a small truck and set them off, adding that an investigation is going on to find out how the vehicle came inside the city.
    Some residents filmed the rockets being fired and posted them on social media.    Several pictures circulating on Facebook showed damaged cars, shattered windows and holes in residential homes.
    A picture of a young brother and sister, whom officials said were killed in their home, was widely shared on Facebook.
    One of the rockets landed in the vicinity of the Iranian embassy and several fragments hit the main building but there were no casualties among the staff, the embassy said in a statement.
    Since peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban stalled in the Qatari capital of Doha, attacks by the Taliban and other extremist groups have been on the rise, especially in the capital that is home to more than five million Afghans.
    Taliban insurgents, fighting against a foreign-backed Kabul administration, denied involvement in the attack.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travels to Qatar on Saturday to meet with an Afghan delegation and Taliban negotiators.
    Early this month, several gunmen stormed Kabul University campus and killed at least 35, most of them students and wounded more than 50.
    The attack was claimed by the Islamic State militant group.
(Reporting by Kabul Bureau, Writing by Hamid Shalizi Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

11/21/2020 Thousands Attend Pakistani Cleric’s Funeral Despite COVID-19 Curbs by Mubasher Bukhari
People gather to attend funeral services for Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of religious and political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), at the Minar-e-Pakistan
monument as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Lahore, Pakistan November 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
    LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of mourners attended the funeral of a hardline Pakistani cleric in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday, defying a government ban on large public gatherings in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases in the country.
    Khadim Hussain Rizvi, 54, died of cardiac arrest on Thursday, just days after leading a violent protest march to the capital, Islamabad, against the publication in France of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
    Daily coronavirus infections have risen in Pakistan this month, and the government banned big events and meetings as it declared the country was witnessing a “second wave” after a three-month lull in cases.
    Official data released on Saturday showed 2,843 people had tested positive for the virus and 42 had died during the last 24 hours – both figures the highest for a day since July.
    Despite the coronavirus curbs, tens of thousands turned out to mourn Rizvi, and organisers of the funeral said the government had not told them to limit the gathering.
    Government officials did not respond to a request for comment about the funeral, which wreaked havoc in Lahore as cellphone services were shut down and major roads blocked for security reasons.
    A local official, who asked not to be named, said he estimated that close to 200,000 people had attended the event.
    The gathering was so large that Rizvi’s coffin could not be carried through the crowd to the site set up for the ceremony, and had to be positioned on a nearby bridge for the prayers, a Reuters journalist said.
    Known for his fiery sermons, Rizvi headed the Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which has made denouncing alleged blasphemy its rallying cry and staged several protests in recent years – pressuring the government on a number of issues.
    Earlier this month, the cleric led a march joined by thousands of protesters to Islamabad that blocked a main entry road for hours and saw demonstrators clash with police.
(Writing and additional reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Helen Popper)

11/22/2020 Afghanistan Conference To Set Aid Cuts, Conditions Amid War, Pandemic
FILE PHOTO: Internally displaced Afghan girls read the Koran at a mosque, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Kabul, Afghanistan May 10, 2020.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    (Reuters) – Afghanistan faces funding cuts and tighter restrictions on vital aid from an international donor conference this week, marking further challenges for a nation torn by two decades of war and now ravaged by COVID-19.
    Ministers from about 70 countries and officials of humanitarian organisations, at the virtual conference hosted in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday, are expected to pledge billions of dollars to safeguard development projects, with talks between the Afghan government and Taliban rebels stalled and President Trump sharply reducing U.S. forces in the country.
    Although the fragile economy depends heavily on foreign aid, Kabul will see cuts in donations, and donors will introduce stringent political and human rights conditions on the money, five participants told Reuters.
    Afghanistan’s economy is set to contract by at least 5.5%this year because of COVID-19 impacts, stated the World Bank in a recent report.
    The strategy aims to protect the peace talks and prod the Afghan government to improve allocation, they said.
    Donors at the last conference, in Brussels in 2016, pledged $15.2 billion for 2017 to 2020, or $3.8 billion a year.
    That could be cut by 15% to 20%, said a senior Western diplomat participating in the conference.    “This is the best countries can offer amid the domestic challenge of managing a pandemic.”
    Trump will cut U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 2,500 from 4,500 by mid-January, the Pentagon said last week, seeking to wind down America’s longest war.    The drawdown of foreign forces – Britain plans to follow the U.S. lead – could mean greater influence for the Taliban.
    This makes donors uneasy over whether the hardline Islamists will try to roll back progress on human rights and girls’ education.     The peace talks in the Qatari capital Doha have stalled and the Taliban refuses to call a ceasefire.    Its attacks have sometimes prompted U.S. airstrikes to protect urban areas.
    But senior diplomats told Reuters that a breakthrough was expected in the peace talks after the donor conference.
    “Taliban and Afghan government representatives will take a break from the peace talks after the Geneva conference but not before they have joint declaration of agreement over key security issues,” said a senior Western official.
    At the Geneva meeting, the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will present a peace and development framework meant to allocate funds to key projects, safeguard millions of jobs and protect democratic institutions.
    “The conference will remain focused on making Afghanistan self-reliant by the end of its transformation decade which is 2024,” Naser Sidiqee, a senior official of the Afghan finance ministry, said in Geneva last week.
    The Taliban is not invited to the conference but the militants have urged donors to continue their humanitarian assistance while accusing Ghani’s government of pocketing the aid money.
    “We request the international community and organisations to deliver aid, collected in the name of the people, to the people,” the Islamist group said in a statement.
(Reporting by Stephanie Ulmer Nebehay in Geneva, Alexander Cornwell in Dubai, Rupam Jain in Mumbai, Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad, Hamid Shalizi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by William Mallard)

11/22/2020 Australia Defense Chief Pledges Changes After Damning Afghanistan Report by Lidia Kelly
FILE PHOTO: Members of Australia's special forces conduct an exercise during the
Australian International Airshow in Melbourne March 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas/
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s top military official said on Sunday the country’s defense force must ‘own’ a recent report on soldiers committing crimes in Afghanistan and pledged changes to ensure that atrocities do not happen again.
    The report, published on Thursday after an inquiry into the conduct of special forces personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016, found that senior commandos forced junior soldiers to kill defenseless captives in order to “blood” them for combat.
    Defense Force Chief General Angus Campbell said on Sunday he would be held to account to ensure the report was dealt with thoroughly, as well as for duty and performance as the commander in the Middle East in 2011.
    “I want the ADF (Australia Defense Force) to acknowledge that this is something we’ve got to own because if we don’t own it, we won’t fix it and if we don’t fix it, this horror may appear again and I just cannot accept that,” Campbell told ABC television.
    The report, which recommended referring 19 current and former soldiers for potential prosecution, caused shame and anger in Australia, a country that usually honours its military history with fervour.
    “I see layers of responsibility here,” Campbell said.    “    I’m determined to see deep, comprehensive and enduring change where it is needed.”
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; editing by Richard Pullin)

11/22/2020 South Korea To Close Bars, Restrict Restaurants And Churches Amid Coronavirus Spike by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians wearing masks walk with umbrellas as it rains amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic in central Seoul, South Korea, November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s capital city and nearby areas will close bars and nightclubs, limit religious gatherings, and restrict service at restaurants, in a bid to contain a burgeoning third wave of coronavirus infections, the health minister said on Sunday.
    The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 330 new daily coronavirus cases as of midnight on Saturday, a drop from 386 reported the day before, but the fifth straight day of more than 300 new cases.
    “The third wave of COVID-19 outbreaks is increasingly in full swing,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a briefing. “The situation is extremely serious and grave.”
    A nationwide outbreak was being driven by clusters of infections in the densely-populated Seoul metropolitan area, he said, home to around half of the country’s 52 million residents.
    As of Tuesday, major coffee shops in the Seoul area will be required to only offer takeaway and delivery service, while restaurants must close to in-person dining after 9 p.m.    Other restrictions will be placed on facilities like gyms, with attendance caps on religious gatherings and sporting events.
    Earlier in the day Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting that preemptive distancing regulations might be needed to head off a wider outbreak, Yonhap news agency reported.
    “We’re at a critical juncture of facing a large number of infections nationwide,” Chung said.
    On Saturday, a KDCA official said the country could be facing an outbreak that surpasses two earlier waves of infections, if it fails to block the current spread.
    The tightened prevention guidelines are aimed partly at allowing students to go ahead with highly competitive annual college entrance exams scheduled for Dec. 3.
    South Korea has employed an aggressive tracing, testing, and quarantine effort to stamp down outbreaks without imposing lockdowns.    But the country has been dogged by a persistent number of small infections, bringing the total number of cases to 30,733 with 505 deaths.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; aditional reporting by Sangmi Cha and Hyonhee Shin; editing by Richard Pullin)

11/22/2020 Iran Vows To Crush Any Israeli Attempt To Hit Its ‘Advisory’ Role In Syria
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Sunday vowed to defeat any Israeli attempt to harm its role in Syria, saying the era of “hit and run” attacks by Israel there was over, days after Israel carried out air strikes on Syrian army and Iranian paramilitary targets in the country.
    Israel, which views Tehran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets and those of allied militia in Syria, where Tehran has backed President Bashar al-Assad and his forces against rebels and militants since 2012.
    On Wednesday, an Israeli military spokesman said eight targets were attacked, including an Iranian headquarters at Damascus international airport and a “secret military site” that served as a “hosting facility for senior Iranian delegations when they come to Syria to operate.”
    Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khateebzadeh told a virtual weekly news conference: “The Zionist regime (Israel) is well aware that the era of hit and run is over and therefore they are very cautious.”
    Iran denies having military forces in Syria and says it has sent commandos to the country as military advisers.    Tehran says it will provide military advisers to Syria for as long as necessary.
    “Iran’s presence in Syria is advisory and naturally if anyone disrupts this advisory presence, our response will be a crushing one,” Khatibzadeh said.
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said at least 10 people, including five Iranians from the Quds Force, a branch of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards responsible for operations outside of Iran’s own borders, were killed during the attack.
    “I do not confirm the martyrdom of Iranian forces in Syria,” Khatibzadeh said.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

11/22/2020 China’s Li Keqiang Tells Local Governments To Create More Jobs: State Media
FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang take part in an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People's Volunteer Army's
participation in the Korean War at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Premier Li Keqiang told local governments to create more jobs, spur consumption and expand effective investment, according to a report by state-owned China National Radio.
    Li made the remarks in a video meeting with local officials on Friday, according to the report.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

11/22/2020 U.S. Navy Admiral Makes Unannounced Visit To Taiwan, Sources Say by Ben Blanchard and Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting In Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    TAIPEI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A two-star Navy admiral overseeing U.S. military intelligence in the Asia-Pacific region has made an unannounced visit to Taiwan, two sources told Reuters on Sunday, in a high-level trip that could vex China.
    The sources, who include a Taiwanese official familiar with the situation, said the official was Rear Admiral Michael Studeman. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.
    According to the Navy’s website, Studeman is director of the J2, which oversees intelligence, at the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command.
    The Pentagon declined comment. Taiwan’s foreign ministry confirmed on Sunday that a U.S. official had arrived in Taiwan but declined to provide details, saying the trip had not been made public.
    China, which claims democratically-run Taiwan as its own territory, reacted with fury when U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar came to Taipei in August, followed by U.S. Undersecretary of State Keith Krach in September, sending fighter jets near the island each time.
    The Trump administration has ramped up support for Taiwan, including with new arms sales, alarming China.
    It was not immediately clear whether Studeman’s visit would be seen as an escalation by Beijing.    Still, he could be one of the most high-ranking U.S. military officers known to have visited Taipei in recent years.
    Douglas Paal, a former head of the U.S. representative office in Taiwan who is now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “If it is Indopacom J2 Studeman, I know of no precedent for such a visit.”
    But Randall Schriver, a former assistant secretary of defense for Asia during the Trump administration, said Trump’s Pentagon had been quietly sending one-star flag officers to Taiwan on a routine basis.
    He noted that the United States and Taiwan had close intelligence exchanges on the threat from China’s military.
    Bonnie Glaser, a regional security expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said it would not be unprecedented for a U.S. flag officer to visit Taipei.
UNMARKED AIRCRAFT
    Taiwan’s United Daily News published pictures of an unmarked private jet, which it identified as being a U.S. military aircraft, arriving at Taipei’s downtown Songshan airport, and what appeared to be officials waiting at its VIP terminal.
    Data on the flight-tracking website planefinder.net showed a private flight arriving from Hawaii – home to the headquarters of the Indo-Pacific Command – into Songshan airport late Sunday afternoon, shortly before the United Daily News published the pictures on its website.
    In a brief statement, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said there were frequent interactions with the United States and that “we welcome the visit of the U.S. official.”
    “But as this itinerary has not been made public, based on mutual trust between Taiwan and the United States, the Foreign Ministry has no further explanation or comment,” it added.
    However, it said in a separate statement that Taiwan media reports that a delegation led by CIA chief Gina Haspel had arrived in Taiwan were untrue, and that Haspel had no plans to come.
    The de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei declined to comment.
    The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is the democratic island’s most important international backer and supplier of arms.
    Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said last week the cabinet-level head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, will visit Taiwan. U.S. media said that trip is likely next month.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by William Maclean, Andrew Heavens and Paul Simao)

11/22/2020 Iran Vows To Crush Any Israeli Attempt To Hit Its ‘Advisory’ Role In Syria
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag is pictured near in a missile during a military drill, with the participation
of Iran’s Air Defense units, Iran October 19, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Sunday vowed to defeat any Israeli attempt to harm its role in Syria, saying the era of “hit and run” attacks by Israel there was over, days after Israel carried out air strikes on Syrian army and Iranian paramilitary targets in the country.
    Israel, which views Tehran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets and those of allied militia in Syria, where Tehran has backed President Bashar al-Assad and his forces against rebels and militants since 2012.
    On Wednesday, an Israeli military spokesman said eight targets were attacked, including an Iranian headquarters at Damascus international airport and a “secret military site” that served as a “hosting facility for senior Iranian delegations when they come to Syria to operate.”
    Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khateebzadeh told a virtual weekly news conference: “The Zionist regime (Israel) is well aware that the era of hit and run is over and therefore they are very cautious.”
    Iran denies having military forces in Syria and says it has sent commandos to the country as military advisers.    Tehran says it will provide military advisers to Syria for as long as necessary.
    “Iran’s presence in Syria is advisory and naturally if anyone disrupts this advisory presence, our response will be a crushing one,” Khatibzadeh said.
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said at least 10 people, including five Iranians from the Quds Force, a branch of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards responsible for operations outside of Iran’s own borders, were killed during the attack.
    “I do not confirm the martyrdom of Iranian forces in Syria,” Khatibzadeh said.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

11/23/2020 China Says It Will Respond To U.S. Admiral Visit To Taiwan
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference in Beijing, China September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING/MANILA (Reuters) – China will respond to the reported visit of a U.S. Navy admiral to Taiwan and firmly opposes any military relations between Taipei and Washington, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday as a senior U.S. official praised their ties with Taipei.
    A two-star Navy admiral overseeing U.S. military intelligence in the Asia-Pacific region has made an unannounced visit to Taiwan, two sources told Reuters on Sunday.    Neither Taiwan nor the United States has officially confirmed the trip.
    The Trump administration has ramped up support for Taiwan, including with new arms sales, alarming China, which views the democratic island as one of its provinces with no right to state-to-state ties.
    Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China “resolutely opposes” any form of exchanges between U.S. and Taiwanese officials or the two having military relations.
    China urges the United States to fully recognise the extreme sensitivity of the Taiwan issue, Zhao told a news briefing.
    “The Chinese side will, according to how the situation develops, make a legitimate and necessary response,” he said, without elaborating.
    China reacted with fury when U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar came to Taipei in August, followed by U.S. Undersecretary of State Keith Krach in September, sending warplanes near to the island each time.
    Speaking during a visit to Manila, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien underscored the U.S. commitment to Taiwan, saying that as democracies they have a lot in common.
    “I can’t imagine anything that will cause a greater backlash against China from the entire world if they attempted to use military force to coerce Taiwan,” he said.    “The U.S. is with her friends in Taipei.    We will continue to be there.”
    In Beijing, Zhao also expressed displeasure with the signing of a memorandum of understanding on economic exchanges following a meeting between Taiwanese and U.S. officials in Washington.
    China has already lodged “stern representations” with the United States, which should stop having these kinds of interactions with Taiwan, he added.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Karen Lema; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich)

11/23/2020 Hong Kong Activist Joshua Wong Detained For 2019 Illegal Assembly by Jessie Pang and Joyce Zhou
Pro-democracy activists Ivan Lam, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow arrive at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts to face
charges related to illegal assembly stemming from 2019, in Hong Kong, China November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was remanded in custody on Monday after pleading guilty to charges of organising and inciting an unauthorised assembly near the police headquarters during last year’s anti-government protests.
    Wong, who was just 17 years old when he became the face of the 2014 student-led Umbrella Movement democracy protests, faces a maximum three-year jail term. The sentence will be delivered by Dec 2 at 2.30 p.m. (0630 GMT)
    Before being taken away by security staff, Wong shouted “Everyone hang in there! Add oil” in the courtroom, using a popular Cantonese expression of encouragement often used during protests.
    On Twitter afterwards, Wong said attention should be directed to the 12 Hong Kong people detained virtually incommunicado in China after being arrested at sea in August as they were attempting to flee by boat to Taiwan to escape charges related to last year’s protests in the city.
    “I wish to pay tributes to our fellow activists who are about to face trials and prison, or … (are) in distress for not being able to return home: We’re not fearless, but you are the braver ones,” he said.
    “What we are doing now is to explain the value of freedom to the world,” Wong added.    “I’m still learning to conquer the fear and I believe you are with me along this journey.”
    Wong did not plead guilty to a third charge of knowingly participating in an unauthorised assembly after the prosecution offered no evidence for it.
    His long-time activist colleagues Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, who also pleaded guilty for similar charges, were remanded in custody at the same trial.
    Dozens of supporters outside the court chanted pro-democracy slogans and “Release Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam!
    Wong was not a leading figure in last year’s pro-democracy and anti-China protests, but his continued activism has drawn the wrath of Beijing, which sees him as a “black hand” of foreign forces.
    He disbanded his pro-democracy group Demosisto in June, just hours after China’s parliament passed a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong, punishing anything Beijing considers to be subversion, secessionism, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with up to life in prison.
    Wong also faces charges of participating in an unauthorised assembly in October 2019 and on June 4, 2020 over a vigil commemorating the crackdown on protesters in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
    Earlier this year, Wong was disqualified along 11 other pro-democracy politicians and activists from running in a since-postponed election for the city’s legislature.
    Wong spent five weeks in jail last year for contempt of court, before being released on June 16 when protests were already in full swing.
    Wong’s and other activists’ repeated arrests have drawn criticism from Western governments who say China is not fulfilling its obligation to allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, agreed with former colonial master Britain when the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    China denies the accusation and says Hong Kong is its internal affair.
(Reporting by Joyce Zhou and Jessie Pang; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/23/2020 Thai Woman Alleges Sex Abuse In School Then Faces Storm Of Criticism by Petra Mahira and Matthew Tostevin
Nalinrat Tuthubthim, 20, a student, who claims she was sexually abused by a teacher, has her mouth covered with tape as
pro-democracy protesters demanding the resignation of Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and reforms on the monarchy
gather during a rally in Bangkok, Thailand November 21, 2020. Picture Taken November 21, 2020. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – A row over a Thai woman who held up a placard alleging sexual abuse in schools has put a spotlight on harassment in the education system even as she draws threats of legal action for misrepresentation and attacks for soiling Thailand’s image.
    The issue is the latest on which discussion has become more vocal as an anti-government protest movement seeking reform of the monarchy also emboldens people in a society where conservatism has often constrained criticism of the powerful.
    “I hope my case will raise awareness for people in society, for students in schools, for adults who send children to schools, for teachers and for the Ministry of Education,” Nalinrat Tuthubthim, 20, told Reuters.
    Nalinrat, now a university student, had made allegations on social media of being sexually harassed at school several years ago.
    But she grabbed attention at the weekend when she dressed in a high-school uniform at a protest in Bangkok, put black tape over her mouth and held up a placard that read: “I have been sexually abused by teachers.    School is not a safe place.”
    Detractors criticised her for not being a real high-school student and she was bombarded with abusive messages.    Some shared screengrabs of her Instagram account showing recent pictures in which she had modelled revealing outfits.
    “When a non-student wears school uniform, when you draw this much attention from society and from social media, you need to take responsibility for it and what follows,” said Pareena Kraikupt, a member of parliament for the Palang Pracharat Party of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
    Pareena told Reuters she was planning to file a police complaint against Nalinrat for wearing a school uniform when she was not a school student, but also to call for a police investigation into her former school over the alleged harassment.
    Senator Somchai Sawangkarn condemned Nalinrat for damaging Thailand’s image and said she should be punished if an investigation of her accusations found them to be untrue.
    Nalinrat said it was their right to criticise and take legal action but she would defend herself.
BIGGER MESSAGE
    While she has faced thousands of negative comments on social media, her supporters have argued that the message should not get lost in the questions over whether she chose the right form of protest.
    “Successive governments have promised to make schools safe for children but little has been done in reality to end sexual harassment and other abuses,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
    “Children refuse to be silently submissive in the face of an education system that fails to protect them,” he told Reuters.
    When asked for comment on the allegations of harassment, an official at the education ministry noted that this year it had established a Student Protection Center to tackle sexual harassment and set up a committee to investigate reports of it.
    “If any crime is committed, there will be immediate punishment … If any case is reported there will be investigation and it will be resolved,” Supat Chumpathong, permanent secretary at the ministry, told Reuters.
    In a high-profile case in March, a teacher was put under investigation after students accused him of molesting students in exchange for better grades.
    But student groups say the problem is far more widespread, both in school and beyond.
    Alongside the broader demands of the youth-led protest movement, students are also campaigning for greater freedom and gender equality in schools they say are designed to instil archaic principles of obedience rather than to educate.
    A YouGov poll in 2019 found that one in five Thais had experienced sexual harassment, with men almost as likely to face it as women.    The most common form of sexual harassment was sexual assault – reported by 44% of those who had suffered harassment.    Only 10% said they reported incidents to police.
    “Schools are a place where rates of sexual harassment are high,” said Bajrasobhin Maneenil of the Feminist’s Liberation Front Thailand group.
    “Students have been sexually abused by both teachers and students but schools and this society still do not provide solutions for victims to take legal action or get therapy.”
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/23/2020 In Malaysia’s Sabah, Pandemic Rages As Migrants Flee Testing by Rozanna Latiff
Children play with medical gloves made into balloons at a village for the Bajau Laut, a community of stateless sea nomads on Kerindingan
island, off the eastern coast of Sabah, Malaysia on November 14, 2020. Surau Al Falah Semporna Aid Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Some flee on boats. Some hide in the stilts under their homes. Others run into the woods.
    All across Malaysia’s Sabah region on Borneo island, stateless residents and undocumented migrants are fleeing public health officials conducting coronavirus screenings, fearful of being detained or deported.
    The race to tackle COVID-19 in Sabah, Malaysia’s biggest palm oil producing state, is being complicated by an estimated one million undocumented migrants and stateless residents who account for a third of the population.
    Sabah accounts for nearly half of Malaysia’s 54,775 recorded COVID-19 infections and over half its 335 deaths despite having barely a tenth of the Southeast Asian country’s population.
    But health officials fear the real picture could be much worse as people evade screenings in fear of detention or deportation.
    “We see authorities coming, we do what we’ve always done: run,” Ahmad Han, an undocumented migrant living on the outskirts of Semporna district in Sabah, told Reuters by phone.
    As of Nov. 17, nearly a fifth of the state’s infections involved foreigners, according to government data obtained by Reuters.     They included stateless indigenous communities as well as refugees and migrant workers from neighbouring Philippines and Indonesia, countries that have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the region.
    Sabah has recorded 192 deaths from COVID-19 so far. Of the 176 fatalities recorded in the state as of Nov. 16, 63 people died even before receiving treatment, including 40 foreigners, according to the data provided by Sabah cabinet minister Masidi Manjun.    The data included both documented and undocumented migrants.
    “Many would flee whenever they see nurses in uniform or an ambulance,” Masidi, who is also the state’s spokesman on COVID-19 matters, told Reuters.
    “We are constantly trying to convince them that they won’t be arrested or deported when they go for COVID-19 testing.    But the response has been lukewarm to say the least.”
    Malaysia’s crackdown on undocumented migrants since the start of the pandemic has also worsened fears among vulnerable communities, rights groups say.    The country has detained thousands, including during lockdowns, in what it says are efforts to stem the virus’ spread.
‘CHALLENGING’
    Coronavirus infections have been surging in Sabah since a state-wide election in September.
    Movement restrictions have already hurt production of palm oil, a key export for Malaysia, while an emergency has been declared in one eastern Sabah region to prevent a by-election during the pandemic.
    Deprived of income due to lockdown measures and ineligible for government aid, many of the undocumented people depend on working odd jobs to survive and fear that being forced to quarantine would leave their families unable to fend for themselves.
    Doctors in Sabah say some migrants delay seeking treatment even after falling ill, likely leading to more severe COVID-19 infections and the state’s higher death rate.
    “Many come in only when they’re at the stage where they’re having trouble breathing,” said one doctor at Tawau Hospital in eastern Sabah, who declined to be identified as staff there were not authorised to speak to media.
    Minister Masidi said health officials were working with aid groups and local authorities to reach vulnerable groups.
    On islands off Semporna, the Bajau Laut community of sea nomads, most of whom are stateless, only came forward after health officials teamed up with aid agencies to persuade them to undergo screening in exchange for supplies such as rice, oil, baby formula and sanitary pads.
    But even after they were tested, many fled as they feared being quarantined on land.
    “Logistically, it’s a huge challenge,” said Ahmad Kamil of the Sabah-based Surah Al Falah aid group.
    “Many communities live far in the interior or on remote islands so it’s hard to do contact tracing or transport patients to health facilities.”
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/23/2020 China Planning New Policies To Take On Ageing Population: State Media
FILE PHOTO: Local residents are seen in central Beijing, China February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China is planning to include new measures to encourage more births and address its rapidly ageing population as part of its new 2021-2025 “five-year plan,” state media reported on Monday.
    China will offer extensive financial and policy support to encourage couples to have more children, the official China Daily cited experts as saying.
    “More inclusive population policies will be introduced to improve fertility, the quality of the workforce and the structure of the population,” said Yuan Xin, vice-president of the China Population Association.
    China introduced a controversial “one-child policy” in 1978, saying efforts to reduce poverty and develop the economy were being undermined by rapid population growth, especially in the countryside.
    But the world’s most populous nation decided in 2016 to relax restrictions and allow couples to have a second child in a bid to address the rapid increase in the elderly as well as a dwindling workforce.    Some experts say it should now scrap all limits entirely.
    The number of citizens aged 60 or over stood at 254 million at the end of last year, accounting for 18.1% of the population.    The number is expected to rise to 300 million by 2025 and 400 million by 2035, putting huge pressure on the country’s health and social care system, demographers say.
    Demographers also predict that on current trends, the number of people of working age could decline by 200 million by 2050.
    Despite the relaxation of the one-child policy in 2016, the number of live births per 1,000 people fell to a record low of 10.48 last year, down from 10.94 in 2018.
    Policies aimed at suppressing population growth must be replaced by a system designed to boost fertility, the official Legal Daily said, citing government experts.
    “To proactively tackle the ageing population, urgent measures are required to reform our country’s family planning policies and liberate fertility,” said Zheng Bingwen, an expert with the China Academy of Social Science.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/24/2020 Taiwan Says Is Having ‘Good Interactions’ With Biden Team
FILE PHOTO: A man holds flags of Taiwan and the United States in support of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during an
stop-over after her visit to Latin America in Burlingame, California, U.S., January 14, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan has been having “good interactions” with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s team, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday, as it seeks to cement ties with the incoming administration after getting strong support from President Donald Trump’s government.
    Claimed by China but democratically ruled, Taiwan enjoyed unprecedented backing from Republican Trump’s administration, including stepped-up arms sales and visits by top officials to Taipei.
    The election of Biden, a Democrat, has caused some unease in Taiwan, where Trump remains a popular figure amongst the public.
    Still, Taiwan has sought to underscore its confidence in ties, noting bipartisan support for the island in Washington.    This month, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Washington spoke to longtime Biden confidant Antony Blinken, now tapped as the next secretary of state.
    Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said the island had good contacts with both the Democratic and Republican parties.
    “The foreign ministry and our representative office in the United States have continued to maintain smooth communication and have good interactions with the Biden team via various appropriate means,” she said.
    “At the same time, we have also conveyed Taiwan’s sincere gratitude to the current Trump administration.    The current Taiwan-U.S. relationship is at its best in history. We sincerely thank you.”
    Taiwan will continue to play the role of a close and reliable partner to the United States, whether in regional or global issues, Ou added.
    The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is its strongest backer on the international stage and major source of arms, to China’s anger, becoming another major irritant in Sino-U.S. ties.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)
[Taiwan you better be prepared since the Beijing Biden regime would give you back to China since it was the Trump administration who was protecting you for 4 years so be prepared to act to that if necessary.].

11/24/2020 Taiwan To Protect Sovereignty With New Submarines Amid China Tensions by Ann Wang
Navy Honor Guards are seen at the ceremony for the start of construction of a
new submarine fleet in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday vowed to defend the democratic island’s sovereignty with the construction of a new fleet of domestically-developed submarines, a key project supported by the United States to counter neighbouring China.
    Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has been for years working to revamp its submarine force, some of which date back to World War Two, and is no match for China’s fleet, which includes vessels capable of launching nuclear weapons.
    At a ceremony to mark the start of construction of a new submarine fleet in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, Tsai called the move a “historic milestone” for Taiwan’s defensive capabilities after overcoming “various challenges and doubts.”
    “The construction demonstrates Taiwan’s strong will to the world to protect its sovereignty,” she told the event, which was also attended by the de facto U.S. ambassador in Taiwan, Brent Christensen.
    “Submarines are important equipment for the development of Taiwan’s navy’s asymmetric warfare capabilities and to deter enemy ships from encircling Taiwan.”
    The U.S. government in 2018 gave the green light for U.S. manufacturers to participate in the programme, a move widely seen as helping Taiwan secure major components, though it is unclear which U.S. companies are involved.
    State-backed CSBC Corporation Taiwan said it would deliver the first of the eight planned submarines in 2025, giving a major boost to Tsai’s military modernisation and self-sufficiency plan.
    Company chairman Cheng Wen-lung said they had faced major challenges, including difficulty procuring parts as well as “external forces hindering the development of this programme.”
    Taiwan’s armed forces are mostly equipped by the United States, but Tsai has made development of an advanced home-grown defence industry a priority.
    In June, Tsai oversaw the first public test flight of a new locally designed and made advanced jet trainer.
    Chinese forces have ramped up their military activities near Taiwan, on occasion flying fighter jets across the unofficial buffer median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait.
(Reporting By Ann Wang; Writing By Yimou Lee; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/24/2020 Thai Police To Deploy Thousands For Royal Protest by Panarat Thepgumpanat
FILE PHOTO: Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida greet royalists during the inauguration of
a new subway station at the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, November 14, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai police will deploy nearly 6,000 officers on Wednesday for a demonstration at the office that manages the royal fortune by protesters demanding that King Maha Vajiralongkorn give up personal control of the assets.
    Police said on Tuesday that no protesters would be allowed within 150 metres (450 feet) of the Crown Property Bureau, where royalists have also said they plan to gather in defence of a monarchy that faces its biggest challenge in decades.
    Piya Tavichai, the deputy head of Bangkok police, said the two groups would be kept apart.
    “Depending on how protesters behave, we will take appropriate measures,” he told a news conference.
    More than 50 people were hurt last week when police used water cannon and teargas against thousands of protesters at parliament in the most violent day of more than four months of demonstrations.
    Protesters seek the removal of former junta leader and now Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and want a new constitution, but have also broken taboos by demanding reforms to curb the powers of the king.
    Among protesters’ demands is the reversal of changes that gave the king personal control over a royal fortune valued in the tens of billions of dollars.
    The FreeYouth protest group said in a Twitter post that they would demonstrate on Wednesday to “reclaim the property that is meant to belong to the people.”
    The Royal Palace has made no comment since the protests began, although the king said the protesters were loved “all the same” when asked for comment on the demonstrations.
    Prayuth has rejected protesters’ calls to resign and said last week that all laws would be used against protesters who break them – raising concerns among activists that this includes royal insult laws which have not been used since 2018.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/24/2020 China Tells Britain To Curb Double Standards On Six-Monthly Hong Kong Reports
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference in Beijing, China September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China urged Britain on Tuesday to curb its colonial mindset, hypocrisy and double standards, in a response to its series of six-monthly reports on the former colony of Hong Kong.
    The remarks were made by foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a news conference in the Chinese capital of Beijing.
(Reporting By Yew Lun Tian)

11/24/2020 Malaysian Lawmaker Calls For Hate Speech Law After Reuters’ Rohingya Report
FILE PHOTO: 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – An opposition lawmaker called on Tuesday for Malaysia to outlaw online hate speech, accusing authorities of downplaying the gravity of an issue highlighted by a Reuters investigation into abuse on Facebook of Rohingya refugees and undocumented migrants.
    Citing the Reuters report on rising xenophobia online in Malaysia in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, lawmaker Chan Foong Hin asked the Communications and Multimedia Ministry last week to state its plans to combat such hate speech.
    In a written parliamentary reply on Thursday, the ministry said hate speech on social media platforms such as Facebook was assessed according to the companies’ terms and would be removed if it violated community standards.
    The ministry did not refer directly to the Reuters’ report in its response.    But it said it had instructed state broadcaster RTM and state news agency Bernama to produce reports that would help correct “misconceptions,” and curb “external elements that try to make Malaysia look bad.”
    Chan said authorities appeared to be deflecting responsibility to Facebook or downplaying hate speech as “misconceptions” or “fake news.”
    “The Ministry seems to be in denial and thinks that the hate speech as reported by Reuters is under control, and there is no need for any further control by law,” he said.
    “It is time we enact laws that punish makers of hate speech,” Chan said, adding that current laws were not adequate to control “those who create and spread hate speech” among different communities.
    Malaysia has broad laws against offensive and seditious comments that cover some aspects of hate speech.    But some have called for a specific law on hate speech, citing sensitivities over ethnicity and religion in the multi-ethnic Southeast Asian country.
    Muslim-majority Malaysia has been long been supportive of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority fleeing persecution in largely Buddhist Myanmar, but sentiment turned in April amid accusations that refugees and undocumented migrants were bringing in the coronavirus.
    Rights groups have accused the Malaysian government of failing to counter the rising anti-migrant sentiment.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/24/2020 EU Calls For Afghan Ceasefire, Warns Against Islamic Emirate
FILE PHOTO: European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, gives a news briefing at the end
an informal video conference of EU Defense minister in Brussels, Belgium November 20, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The European Union (EU) foreign policy chief called on Tuesday for an immediate ceasefire in Afghanistan and said that any move to set up an Islamic emirate would affect the bloc’s support.
    Josep Borrell, EU High Representative, told an Afghanistan fund-raising conference in Geneva: “A ceasefire should not be an outcome of the (peace) processs, it should accompany the process from today…Any attempt to restore an Islamic emirate would have an impact on our political and financial engagement.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge)

11/24/2020 China’s Manila Mission Says ‘Dangerous’ U.S. Creating Chaos In Asia
U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien speaks during the turnover ceremony of defense articles, at the
Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    MANILA (Reuters) – China’s embassy in the Philippines has denounced the United States for “creating chaos” in Asia, after a visiting White House envoy backed countries in disputes with China and accused Beijing of using military pressure to further its interests.
    During a trip to Manila on Monday, national security adviser Robert O’Brien underscored the U.S. commitment to Taiwan and told the Philippines and Vietnam, countries both locked in maritime rows with China, that “we’ve got your back.”
    “It shows that his visit to this region is not to promote regional peace and stability, but to create chaos in the region in order to seek selfish interests of the U.S.,” the embassy said in a statement issued late Monday.
    The United States should “stop inciting confrontation” in the South China Sea and “stop making irresponsible remarks on the Taiwan and Hong Kong issue, which are purely China’s internal affairs,” the statement said.
    O’Brien has warned China it would face a “backlash” if it attempted to use military force to coerce Taiwan, which China views as one of its provinces with no right to state-to-state ties.
    The United States and China have been at loggerheads over issues from technology and human rights to Chinese maritime militarisation, with each accusing the other of deliberately provocative behaviour.
    China claim to 90% of the South China Sea includes areas claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.    An international tribunal in 2016 ruled that China’s expansive claim, based on its historical maps, is inconsistent with international law.
    The United States has repeatedly sent warships to the strategic waterway to demonstrate freedom of navigation there.
    “Facts have proved that the U.S. is the biggest driver of the militarization,” the embassy statement said, calling it “the most dangerous external factor” in the South China Sea.
    The United States embassy in Manila had no immediate response.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)

11/24/2020 Foreign Donors Pledge $12 Billion Over Four-Years For Afghanistan With Tougher Conditions
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan girl receives free bread distributed by the government, outside a bakery, during
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Kabul, Afghanistan May 3, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Foreign donors pledged a projected $12 billion in civilian aid to Afghanistan over the next four years at a key donor conference on Tuesday but many made it conditional on protecting human rights and maintaining progress during peace talks underway with the Taliban.
    Ville Skinnari, Finland’s minister for development cooperation and foreign trade whose government co-organised the conference, said donors had pledged $3 billion for next year, with annual commitments expected to continue at the same level until the end of 2024, adding: “This would amount to $12 billion.”
    That preliminary figure was a drop from $15.2 billion pledged in 2016, despite coming at a time when Afghanistan’s needs are growing due to rising violence and the coronavirus pandemic.
    Many donors also put strict conditions on future funding and some officially committed for just the next year.
    The United States pledged $600 million in civilian aid to Afghanistan next year but made half of it conditional on progress in peace talks.
    Diplomats said keeping financing for Afghanistan on a tight leash could provide foreign governments with some leverage to inject a greater sense of urgency into a halting peace process.
    “We’re pleased to pledge today $300 million…with the remaining $300 million available as we review progress in the peace process,” U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said in a virtual address to the conference.
    The United States has contributed roughly $800 million a year in civilian aid in recent years.
    Another top donor, Germany, pledged 430 million euros ($510.88 million) in 2021 and signalled it would keep contributing until 2024 but also stressed that progress towards ending almost 20 years of war was needed.
    Talks in the Qatari capital Doha between the Afghan government and Islamist Taliban insurgents began in September but have been mired in procedural wrangling as violence has resurged around the country.
    But Hale said “significant progress” had recently been made, including a tentative agreement on ground rules that could allow negotiators to proceed to the next stage of forming an agenda.
    As the donors conference proceeded, two explosions rocked an outdoor market in the central province of Bamyan, usually considered one of Afghanistan’s safest areas, killing at least 14 people and wounding almost 45, mostly civilians.
COVID-19 UNCERTAINTIES
    During the lead-up to the quadrennial international donors conference, diplomats reckoned Afghanistan could receive 15-20% less funding than at the last conference in Brussels in 2016 due to uncertainties over the peace process and difficulties securing commitments from governments financially strapped by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Uncertainty over whether the compromises needed for peace might lead to backsliding on human and women’s rights has also made some countries wary about making long-term commitments to an Afghan administration, which needs foreign money to cover about three-quarters of its spending.
    The European Union pledged 1.2 billion euros ($1.43 billion)over four years on Tuesday but emphasised aid was conditional.
    “Afghanistan’s future trajectory must preserve the democratic and human rights gains since 2001, most notably as regards to women and children’s rights,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
    “Any attempt to restore an Islamic emirate would have an impact on our political and financial engagement,” he added, referring to the     Taliban’s previous hardline Islamist rule between 1996 and 2001.
    Conference organisers have said curbing corruption was another wish on the part of countries considering donations.     Some such as Britain announced pledges covering only one year.
    Britain said it would pledge $227 million in annual civilian and food aid.    France pledged 88 million euros ($104.20 million) and Canada 270 million Canadian dollars ($206.66 million).
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge; Writing by Rupam Jain and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell)

11/24/2020 Indian State Criminalizes ‘Forced’ Religious Conversions By Marriage by Saurabh Sharma
FILE PHOTO: Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, addresses the
audience after inaugurating power projects in Allahabad, India, June 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash
    LUCKNOW (Reuters) – India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party approved a decree in the country’s most populous state on Tuesday laying out prison terms for anyone compelling others to convert their faith or luring them into these conversions through marriage, officials said.
    The move follows a campaign by hardline Hindu groups against some interfaith marriages that they describe as “love jihad,” Muslim men engaging in a conspiracy to turn Hindu women away from their religion by seducing them.
    Critics said the unlawful conversion order approved by the cabinet of Uttar Pradesh state, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP, was aimed at further alienating India’s 170 million Muslims by painting them as aggressors plotting to weaken Hindus.
    Little data exists to show how many interfaith marriages took place in the state, the first in the country to bring in such legislation.
    Uttar Pradesh cabinet minister Siddharth Nath Singh said prison terms of up to five years were necessary to stop unlawful conversions and provide justice to women who have suffered from them.
    Under the new law, a man and woman belonging to different religions will have to give two months’ notice to the district magistrate before they get married and they will be allowed to tie the knot if there are no objections.
    Hindus makes up 80 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population.    But hardline groups accuse political parties of appeasing minority groups such as Muslims for votes and in recent years have stepped up a campaign for a Hindu-first India.
    Nusrat Jahan, a member of the national parliament from a regional group most active in the neighbouring state of West Bengal, told NDTV television news channel the decree smacked of politics – even though regional elections are at least a year away.
    “This is just another agenda before the elections.    There is nothing like ‘love jihad’ that exists.    People can make their own decisions,” she said.
(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow and Writing by Nupur Anand; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alison Williams)

11/24/2020 Japan And China To Continue Communications On East China Sea, Japan Says
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Japanese flags flutter in front of the Tiananmen Gate ahead of Japan's
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit, in Beijing, China October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan and China agreed on Tuesday to continue communications on issues around the East China Sea where the two countries are in dispute, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said.
    Motegi made the comment after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Tokyo.
    At a joint press briefing, Wang said he would like to make the East China Sea “the sea of peace” through cooperation with Japan.
    The two countries agreed to ease restrictions on business travels imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic by the end of November.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Writing by Ju-min Park; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

11/25/2020 Hong Kong’s Lam Says Restoring ‘Political System From Chaos’ Is Priority by Twinnie Siu and Clare Jim
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivers her annual policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Hong Kong government’s priority is to “restore the political system from chaos,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday in her annual policy address, which did not deliver blockbuster steps to boost the economy or ease a housing crisis.
    Lam’s lengthy address to the semi-autonomous city’s legislature was delayed by more than a month to accommodate her high-profile trip to Beijing for talks on how China can help with the finance hub’s economic recovery.
    But after briefly mentioning the city will contribute to efforts towards further integration of the Greater Bay area, a region that includes Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in China’s Guangdong province, she spent a large part of her address on the need to restore order and protect China’s national security.
    The central government’s role in the former British colony has been in the spotlight, in particular with the imposition in June of a security law after months of pro-democracy protests – the most intense in decades – last year.
    “In the past year or so, Hong Kong has experienced the most severe political challenges since its return to the motherland,” Lam said.    “One of our urgent priorities is to restore … constitutional order and political system from chaos.”
    She accused foreign governments and legislatures of increasing interference in Hong Kong’s affairs, which she said were China’s internal affairs, and that their actions were jeopardising national security.
    Lam said the government will introduce a bill to “enhance oath-taking” by civil servants and conduct widespread public education “to enhance the understanding of the rule of law.”
    The government will launch programmes to educate Hong Kong’s youth, who were at the frontlines of last year’s demonstrations, about respecting China’s national flag and its anthem.
    Lam spoke at length about prioritising “moral development” of youth and strengthening “their sense of national identity and awareness of national security.”
    Last year’s protests were triggered in part by fears in Hong Kong that the central government was whittling away the freedoms granted when the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula.
    Lam, the city’s least popular leader since the handover, presented her annual policy address via video last year after some opposition lawmakers disrupted the legislative session, jeering as she started her speech.
    She did not face any opposition this year, after pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse after four of their colleagues were disqualified after China’s parliament gave city authorities powers to oust lawmakers without court scrutiny.
LANTAU TOMORROW RELOADED
    A plan to build vast artificial islands, estimated to cost at least HK$624 billion ($80.51 billion) — the city’s most expensive infrastructure project — was expected to move further along in the coming year, Lam said.
    The plan envisions building up to 400,000 housing units across 1,700 hectares of reclaimed land between Lantau island where the city’s airport is located and the main Hong Kong island.    It is backed by powerhouse property developers including New World Development and Henderson Land.
    The Lantau Tomorrow Vision was first announced by Lam in her policy address in October 2018, but legislative discussions have been delayed by social unrest.    At that time, residents were expected to move into new housing by 2032.
    Additionally, Lam said the government will relax investment limits for Real Estate Investment Trusts and remove the double stamp duty for commercial property transactions.    The government had no plan to remove stamp duty on residential properties.
    Other economic measures included support for an iconic floating restaurant and offering dental treatment support for the elderly.
    The protests and later the novel coronavirus pandemic have battered the city’s economy, with full year gross domestic product (GDP) forecast to contract 6.1%.
(Reporting by Twinnie Siu, Donny Kwok, Clare Jim, Anne Marie Roantree; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Michael Perry and Kim Coghill)

11/25/2020 China Foreign Minister To Meet Japan’s Suga; Beijing’s First High-Level Contact With New PM
China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a joint news conference with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi
(not in picture), amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan, November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Pool
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will meet Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday, marking Beijing’s first high-level contact with Japan’s new leader.
    Wang met his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi on Tuesday where they agreed to cooperate on trade and fighting the coronavirus, but maintained their stances on territorial disputes, leaving a security concern unresolved.
    Japan and China agreed to resume coronavirus-hit business travel this month and to continue talks on disputed isles in the East China Sea.
    The two did not discuss Chinese President Xi Jinping’s delayed visit to Tokyo, Japanese media reported.
    The two-day visit by China’s foreign minister comes amid growing concerns over Beijing’s assertiveness in the region.
    While Japan’s security strategy is grounded on its alliance with the United States, it has also pursued economic interests through trade with China, its top trading partner.
    On Wednesday morning, Wang met Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato for 30 minutes, Jiji Press reported.
    The two countries are engaged in various issues as neighbours, but these matters should be handled with mutual respect, Wang told reporters after the meeting with Kato, according to Jiji.
    Wang will later make a courtesy call on Japan’s prime minister, who has so far sought to balance Japan’s deep economic reliance on China with security concerns, including Beijing’s claims over the disputed isles that are controlled by Japan.
    While Suga has steered clear of the harsh anti-China rhetoric used by Japan’s ally the United States, he has moved to counter its influence by deepening ties with Australia and choosing Vietnam and Indonesia for his first overseas trip.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/25/2020 South Korean Protests Fan COVID-19 Fears by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: A woman looks at her mobile phone next to an exit of a subway station amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic at a shopping district in Seoul, South Korea, November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea called on unionists to cancel protests on Wednesday as the country grapples with a third wave of coronavirus infections, warning any violations of social distancing measures will be punished.
    The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) said up to 200,000 members would go on strike but protests would be limited to nine people in Seoul, where public gatherings of 10 or more are banned.
    Dozens of union members joined rallies in other places that were not subject to stricter distancing, including one in the southeastern city of Changwon which was attended by about 30 people.
    “There are still high risks of infections during meetings and movements before and after the protests,” health ministry spokesman Son Young-rae told a briefing.
    “It is important to ensure the freedom of assembly, but following rules to protect people’s lives should come first under the current situation where COVID-19 is spreading rapidly.”
    South Korea has reported around 300 new coronavirus cases each day over the last week, prompting health officials to reimpose tough social distancing rules on the capital Seoul and surrounding regions.
    Union members are protesting over provisions of a bill which would ban labourers from occupying certain facilities at workplaces during strikes.
    The rallies have revived memories of a major COVID-19 outbreak following a political protest in August.
    “They have said they would comply with anti-virus guidelines but it is extremely concerning given the recent spread of COVID-19,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a meeting, vowing strict penalties for any transgressions of social distancing rules.
    The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 382 new cases, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 31,735, with 513 deaths.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Stephen Coates)

11/25/2020 Thailand Criticised Over Royal Insult Charges As More Summoned by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Matthew Tostevin
FILE PHOTO: Anon Nampa, one of the leaders of recent anti-government protests, is seen near a portrait of Thailand's King
Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida after a rally to demand the government to resign, to dissolve the parliament and to
hold new elections under a revised constitution, in Bangkok, Thailand, August 16, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand faced criticism from international rights groups on Wednesday for bringing charges of insulting the monarchy against protest leaders who have challenged King Maha Vajiralongkorn as well as the government.
    A police source said a total of 15 protest leaders had been summoned to acknowledge lese majeste charges over comments made at protests in September and October, when they spoke about the king’s behaviour, lifestyle and spending.
    “No one should be arrested or imprisoned merely for criticizing public officials or a system of government,” said human rights lawyer Amal Clooney in a statement from the Clooney Foundation for Justice.
    The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights said “lese-majeste must not be used to criminalize pro-democracy protest leaders and participants.”
    Responding to the criticism, government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek said: “The government has been open-minded to rights and freedoms despite many imprudent expressions which offend the majority.    The government must used its authorised powers.”
    The royal insult laws have not been used since 2018 and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said in June that they were not being used at the request of the king.
    Since July, protesters have been calling for the removal of Prayuth, a former junta leader.    They also demand a new constitution and curbs on the king’s powers.
    Summonses for protest leaders came ahead of a demonstration planned on Wednesday to call on the king to give up the personal control he took over a palace fortune valued in the tens of billions of dollars.
    Protesters shifted the venue at the last minute from the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the royal assets.    Police blocked roads there with shipping containers and razor wire – adding to the traffic chaos in Bangkok’s rush hour.
    The protest will now take place at the headquarters of Siam Commercial Bank, in which the king’s stake of more than 23% makes him the largest shareholder.
    “Transferring the crown property to the king’s property is equivalent to a robbery of the nation’s wealth,” the FreeYouth protest group said, referring to a 2017 change in the law that gave the king control of the Crown Property Bureau.
    Details of its assets are not made public but they are estimated to be worth more than $30 billion.
(Additional reporting by Petra Mahira; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/25/2020 China Says Brazil President’s Son Hurts Relationship With Comments Critical Of Huawei
FILE PHOTO: The Huawei logo is seen at Huawei Connect in Shanghai, China, September 23, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – China’s embassy in Brazil on Tuesday said a son of President Jair Bolsonaro had harmed relations between the two countries with critical comments about telecommunications equipment firm Huawei.
    The rift was the latest chapter in a battle between China and the United States over U.S. claims that China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is a security threat.    The United States imposed trade restrictions on Huawei in September.
    Huawei has repeatedly denied being a security risk.
    Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son, has made statements that “darken the friendly atmosphere between the two countries and hurt the image of Brazil,” the Chinese embassy wrote on Twitter.
    Brazil’s right-wing government in early November joined the U.S.-led Clean Network, a digital alliance among more than 30 countries and big telecom companies that excludes technology that Washington views as manipulated by China such as Huawei’s.
    Part of the initiative focuses on building 5G mobile phone networks that exclude equipment from China’s Huawei and ZTE.    Brazil’s top carriers, meanwhile, are already testing Huawei equipment for 5G and have said they would prefer to have as many options as possible.
    Eduardo Bolsonaro on Monday referred in a tweet to Huawei technology as “Chinese espionage” before deleting the post.
    In a post that remains visible, he wrote that the Clean Network initiative is meant to counteract “enemies of liberty,” such as the “Chinese Communist Party.”
    In a series of Twitter posts on Tuesday, the Chinese embassy called the comments “totally unacceptable.”
    Huawei has said it abides by Brazil’s laws and is available for any tests and clarifications authorities deem necessary.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Gram Slattery; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
[DON’T FEEL SORRY FOR THEM IF YOU LIVED IN CHINA AND DID THAT YOU WOULD BE IN A CHINESE PRISON BY NOW.].

11/25/2020 Iran’s Ayatollah Slams U.K., France, Germany Over Missile Proposals by OAN Newsroom
In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
    Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is lashing out at the three largest European countries over their calls to limit Iran’s missile program.    The Iranian     Supreme Leader took aim at the U.K., France and Germany on Tuesday after the countries expressed concerns that Iran scaled back its disarmament commitments.
    The Ayatollah accused the Europeans of a “conspiracy” against Iran.    He added, the Islamic Republic will not reduce its ballistic missile capacity until all international sanctions are lifted.
    Khamenei also went on to claim European countries should disarm first and then Iran would do the same.
    “On the missiles, they themselves have and continue to stockpiles of destructive nuclear missiles, which are rejected by reason, logic, religion, and the world.    Both Britain and France have it and Germany is on the same path.    It is not clear whether it has the stockpile or not but is on the same path.    We are told not to have even a basic missile.”
    The Ayatollah also expressed hope that Joe Biden would become U.S. president and lift U.S. sanctions on Iran.    However, he admitted, President Trump may still win reelection.
[Ayatollah can you feel the Arab nations joining together as one entity under the Abraham Accord to protect themselves with a program created by Trump's administration from your totalitarism of the people of Iran who would also do you in if they ever find away to do it and will keep you intact against the world.].

11/25/2020 China’s Xi Congratulates Biden On U.S. Election Victory
FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping speaks while taking part in an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People's
Volunteer Army's participation in the Korean War at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday congratulated Joe Biden on winning the Nov. 3 U.S.
presidential election, voicing hope the two countries could promote a healthy and stable development of bilateral ties, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
    Sino-U.S. relations have deteriorated to their worst in decades during incumbent U.S. President’s Donald Trump’s four years in office, with disputes simmering over issues from trade and technology to Hong Kong and the coronavirus.
    In his congratulatory message to Biden, Xi said healthy ties between the world’s two biggest economies were not only in the fundamental interests of their two peoples but also expected by the international community, Xinhua reported.
    China’s foreign ministry congratulated Biden on Nov. 13, nearly a week after many U.S. allies had, holding out as Trump, who is still challenging the election results, refused to concede defeat.
    In 2016, Xi sent congratulations to Trump on Nov. 9, a day after that year’s election.
    Also on Wednesday, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan congratulated Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, on being elected as the next U.S. vice president, Xinhua said, without providing further details.
(Reporting by Colin Qian and Tony Munroe; Writing by Tom Daly; Editing by Toby Chopra/Mark Heinrich)
[I think it is funny that Xi is being given fake news from the corrupt Left in the U.S. just as he does to the Chinese people.].

11/26/2020 South Korea, China Top Diplomats Vow To Work On Xi Visit, North Korea by Hyonhee Shin
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (R) greet prior to their
meeting at the foreign ministry in Seoul, South Korea, November 26, 2020. Kim Min-hee/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The foreign ministers of South Korea and China pledged on Thursday to work together to advance bilateral ties and tackle regional and global issues including stalled nuclear talks involving North Korea and the coronavirus pandemic.
    South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha held talks with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi who arrived in Seoul late on Wednesday, after spending two days in Tokyo amid talk of a trip to Seoul by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
    The two held “extensive, in-depth” discussions on a Xi visit and other issues of mutual interests, South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam told a briefing.
    Wang told Kang his visit was to highlight the importance of bilateral relations as the two countries cooperate as “strategic partners” on defending regional peace and stability and promote global governance.
    “The COVID-19 crisis could not defeat the citizens of our two countries,” he said at the start of the meeting, through an interpreter.
    “The bilateral ties have overcome the COVID-19 ordeals and are showing their strength and ever more vigour.”
    When asked whether Xi would visit this year, Wang told reporters that both sides were working to facilitate “conditions” for it, including the COVID-19 situation.
    Kang thanked Wang for the visit, expressing hopes for an exchange of views to deepen cooperation on issues including North Korea, the pandemic and economic recovery ahead of the 30th anniversary of the bilateral relations in 2022.
    “I am also looking forward to discussing ways to stably manage the fluid situation on the Korean peninsula and to foster conditions to move forward our efforts to build lasting peace,” she said.
    The ministerial talks come as both countries explore the possibility of Xi visiting Seoul, just as the United States is gearing up for a new administration under Democratic President-elect Joe Biden. Xi’s trip had been expected early this year but was postponed by the pandemic disrupting the diplomatic calendar.
    Kang exchanged views on the incoming U.S. administration with Wang, who expressed ‘hopes’ for its North Korea policy, a Seoul official told reporters on condition of anonymity citing the closed-door meeting.
    Wang reiterated resistance toward a U.S. missile defence system installed in South Korea in 2017, while Kang called for lifting of restrictions Beijing had imposed on cultural exchanges, the official said.
    Seoul and Washington say the system is designed to counter North Korean missile threats but China fears it undercuts its security interests.
    Wang is also scheduled to pay a courtesy call on President Moon Jae-in, among other officials.
    Wang is the second senior Chinese diplomat to visit South Korea since the coronavirus emerged in China late last year, following an August trip by Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party Politburo.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry & Shri Navaratnam)

11/26/2020 Hong Kong Activist Tells German Paper He’s Doing Well In Prison Isolation
FILE PHOTO: Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong (left) and Tiffany Yuen arrive at West Kowloon Magistrates's Courts to face charges related
to an illegal vigil assembly commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, in Hong Kong, China November 3, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong told a German newspaper he was doing well despite being held in solitary confinement and having trouble sleeping because of bright lights after he was remanded in custody this week.
    Wong, who on Monday pleaded guilty to charges of organising and inciting an unauthorised assembly near police headquarters in last year’s anti-government protests, also said he does not expect a fair trial on Dec. 2.
    Facing a maximum three-year jail term, Wong told Die Welt daily he was not allowed to leave his solitary cell or meet other prisoners and was forbidden to do sport.
    “Because the light in the cell burns for 24 hours, it is difficult for me to sleep,” Wong told the paper in written answers from prison.
    “I have to cover my eyes with protective face masks to fall asleep,” he wrote, adding he does not expect a fair trial and that he felt like a dissident in China.
    “I have long since lost confidence in this legal system,” he wrote, adding, however, that if he and other activists were convicted, the democracy movement would continue.
    “I want to tell the world that the movement in Hong Kong will not come to a halt just because Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam and I are in prison,” he said, adding that he saw China as a threat to world freedom.
    “Universities, journalists and companies – everyone is forced to adhere to Chinese standards,” said Wong.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

11/26/2020 China Wields Patriotic Education To Tame Hong Kong’s Rebellious Youth by Sarah Wu
FILE PHOTO: A flag is seen amidst the rain during a rally at Edinburgh Place in
Hong Kong, China, December 29, 2019. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Cua Chiu-fai is on a mission to rid Hong Kong’s classrooms of what he sees as poisonous anti-China bias.    His soldiers: mainly parents.    He has recruited hundreds of mothers and fathers to monitor and report on teachers deemed guilty of filling their students with hate for China and urging them to take to the streets in protest.
    Using his YouTube channel, which has 114,000 subscribers, Cua says he has enlisted parents and other volunteers as part of an initiative called “Help Our Next Generation.”    In a video posted in late October, he talks about seeing pictures of “people who looked like teachers” directing young students to pick up bricks during the demonstrations that roiled Hong Kong last year.    These teachers need to have their licenses revoked, he says in the video: “If you’re a teacher and you make your students destroy this place for certain so-called political positions, that’s something we absolutely cannot accept.”
    Cua’s vigilante initiative has won the support of some pro-Beijing political figures in Hong Kong.    Targeting the city’s teachers has become part of a broader plan by China’s leaders to reform the city’s rebellious youth after last year’s sometimes-violent pro-democracy demonstrations.
    Some 40% of the 9,200 protesters arrested in the period between June last year and this year were students, according to figures provided to Reuters by the police.    Of these, 1,635 were under the age of 18.    About 100 teachers and staffers from primary and secondary schools were also arrested, according to the city’s education secretary.
    Alarmed that so many young Hong Kongers showed hostility to the ruling Communist Party and its vision for a resurgent China, the leadership has turned to re-education – a tried and tested tactic of the Party through decades of extinguishing domestic opposition.    The aim is to remake Hong Kong’s youth into citizens loyal to China.
    Interviews with Hong Kong political figures, teachers and school principals, and mainland Chinese officials, as well as a review of new educational materials, reveal that the school curriculum, teaching staff, exams and extra-curricular activities are all in Beijing’s crosshairs.
    Lau Siu-kai, the vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, Beijing’s top think tank on Hong Kong affairs, says the first order of business is to turn young Hong Kongers into law-abiding citizens, then instill them with national pride.    “Students should be told not to do anything detrimental to the safety and interests of the country,” he said.    Once that’s been achieved, “we want to cultivate a sense of patriotism.”
    Two mainland Chinese officials told Reuters they expect there will be comprehensive education reform in Hong Kong within the current term of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, which ends in 2022. While they offered few specifics, the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that education reforms would include greater monitoring of teachers.
    Responding to questions from Reuters, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said that “fostering students’ sense of national identity” is a key learning goal, as it is in other countries.    National education “aims to enhance students’ knowledge about our country’s history, culture and development,” the bureau said.    “As well as their awareness of the importance of national security, thereby developing in them a sense of belonging to the country.”
    China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office on the mainland and Liaison Office in the city did not respond to questions from Reuters.
FEARFUL TEACHERS
    The education campaign is a crucial piece in a bigger project – nailing down political control of the former British colony.    In recent months, China has imposed a draconian national security law that allows for the stationing of its feared state security agents in Hong Kong, arrested leading pro-democracy figures and delayed legislative council elections.
    The government is painting a picture of a “bankrupt” education system to justify drastic changes and accelerate control, said Ip Kin-yuen, a pro-democracy lawmaker who represents the education sector in the Legislative Council.    The moves have engendered fear among teachers, Ip said.
    In September, a Hong Kong teacher became the first to lose his teaching license after being accused of promoting the city’s independence in class.    Responding to the move, city leader Carrie Lam said “bad apples” needed to be removed from the education system.
    Earlier this month, the Education Bureau revoked the license of a second teacher, saying in a statement that he distorted historical fact in class, including telling students that Britain “launched the Opium War to eliminate opium in China.”
    In the First Opium War, between 1839 and 1942, Britain took military action after China clamped down on the opium trade in the country, which was dominated by British merchants.    The issue is particularly sensitive for Beijing, which views the conflict as the start of a “century of humiliation,” when foreign powers colonized and exploited the country.
    Ip said in a statement that the teacher had made a mistake, but that the punishment was “disproportionate.”    The identities of the two teachers weren’t disclosed.
    “Teachers play a vital role in passing on knowledge and nurturing students’ character,” the Education Bureau, which oversees the city’s education system, said in response to questions from Reuters.    “All actions are taken from a professional point of view to protect the interests of students and have nothing to do with politics.”
    The increased scrutiny of teachers is having an effect.    Michael Wong, honorary executive secretary of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, told Reuters that following the imposition of the national security law in June, many principals have come to fear challenges from the government, parents or the public.
    Fearing retribution, two teachers told Reuters they plan to steer clear of thorny issues like the mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang.    When it comes to sensitive topics, they said, they plan to stick closely to newly revised textbooks for liberal studies, a civics course students take in their final years of schooling.
    The revision, overseen by the city’s education bureaucracy, was completed ahead of the new school year.    A review of two of these textbooks shows there have been multiple changes.    Expunged are sections that might be considered critical of Beijing, or supportive of democracy and civil rights.
* A section on civil disobedience, which referred to the 2014 pro-democracy protests that shut down major traffic arteries in Hong Kong, was deleted in its entirety. And the “democratic camp” is now called the “non-establishment camp.”
* References to the Tiananmen student protests in 1989 that challenged the legitimacy of the Communist Party have been removed.
* Gone is a cartoon that raised questions about the election of Hong Kong’s leader by a select few, not universal suffrage.
* A section on the rise of a local, Hong Kong identity and Beijing’s meddling in the “one-country, two-systems” governing model that affords the city a high degree of autonomy has also been deleted.
    The Education Bureau said the recent review of liberal studies textbooks was voluntary for publishers.
    Karen Wong, who teaches liberal studies, says she consulted with her colleagues and they decided not to stray from the revised textbooks when teaching about the rule of law, China’s political system and other potentially contentious issues.    Until now, many teachers have used materials of their own design.
    “Now we’ll use textbooks more heavily because it’s more safe,” Wong told Reuters.    She said it was unclear “which terms or which words” could spark a complaint to the authorities from parents or students.
    The review, the Education Bureau said, was initiated because of “mounting public concerns about the quality and accuracy” of liberal studies textbooks.
    Education Secretary Kevin Yeung announced a series of changes to the liberal studies program on Thursday.    These will include cutting the course content in half and establishing a list of approved textbooks, Yeung said at a press conference according to remarks posted on the Hong Kong government website.
‘MODEL ANSWERS’
    The authorities are also scrutinizing exam questions.
    Lau, from the think tank on Hong Kong, said exams need to reinforce content changes to the curriculum, with students being incentivized to give the right interpretations of topics such as China’s constitution and Hong Kong’s governing model.    “You provide the right sort of textbooks and then you provide model answers to the public examination questions,” said Lau, who lives in Hong Kong.    Students, he added, would then know “which answers can gain scores in the examinations.”
    For China’s leaders, the youth-led protests in Hong Kong contained unnerving echoes of a perilous period for the Communist Party – the student-led Tiananmen protests that briefly shook their hold on power.    After crushing the protests, the Party began in 1991 to introduce a patriotic education campaign on the mainland.    The main thrust was to constantly remind students of China’s “century of humiliation,” and the Communist Party’s role in repelling foreign powers and restoring national sovereignty.
    The project has been incredibly successful, says Zhao Suisheng, a professor at the University of Denver who has studied the education campaign.    “In China today, nationalistic sentiments are prevailing among the young people,” Zhao said.
    “That is the result of patriotic education.    They gave them only the information they wanted them to have and tried to block all other information.”
    Until now, engineering that type of groupthink in Hong Kong hasn’t been easy. On a 2007 visit to the city, Chinese President Hu Jintao called for fostering a strong sense of national identity among young people.    The local government opened the funding tap, allocating more money to national education.
    However, there was no immediate payoff in patriotic sentiment.    In 2012, tens of thousands of students, parents, and teachers protested the government’s attempt to introduce a compulsory national education subject and the government backed down.
    A Reuters analysis of government records on funding for national education shows it has continued to rise.    In the 2018-19 school year, the government spent $15 million on student and teacher mainland exchange programs and $12 million in grants to 634 schools that have sister schools in the mainland.
    But as the wave of protests last year showed, these efforts had little impact.
    Implementing patriotic education in Hong Kong will be challenging because the Communist Party doesn’t have the “very well-orchestrated, structured and hierarchical system” that exists on the mainland, said Zhao.    If the people of Hong Kong have “free access” to outside information and continue to be aware of things like “the international community’s positions on Hong Kong,” the authorities will struggle to reshape their thinking.
    Already, there are signs of pushback.    Ip, the pro-democracy lawmaker, is also the vice president of the 100,000-strong Hong Kong     Professional Teachers’ Union, which has set up a legal fund to help teachers who have been targeted.    They have taken on the cases of both teachers who had their licenses revoked.
    “If one teacher can be punished in this way, all the other teachers will be afraid of being punished in the same way,” he said.    “We want people to realize that we are still fighting, maybe in a different way, but the resistance is there.”
    On the other side of the battle are pro-Beijing Hong Kongers like Cua, the education crusader.    Cua, who teaches Chinese at an after-school tutoring center, said he launched his teacher-monitoring initiative to counter hatred of China and the Hong Kong police and government.    Students, he said, need to be informed about the great progress China has made in recent decades.    “No matter how much you hate China, you have to first understand China,” he said.
    Cua says his group asks parents and students for evidence, such as worksheets, homework assignments and recordings, when they receive a complaint about a teacher.    If a school is “slow to act” once it has been approached, then they submit a complaint to Hong Kong’s Education Bureau.
    Asked about the images of students picking up bricks that he referenced on his YouTube channel, Cua told Reuters they were from a video shared on a WhatsApp group during the protests last year.    But he said he couldn’t recall specifically where the events took place.
    Cua, who has a sixth-grade son, said his group is now developing courses that it will offer to schools “to strengthen national education and national identity.”
    “In the past, what I worried about the most was whether he got good grades,” Cua said of his son.    “Now, I only worry about his moral character, whether he understands what is right and wrong.”
(Reporting by Sarah Wu. Additional reporting by Keith Zhai in Singapore and Jessie Pang in Hong Kong. Edited by Peter Hirschberg.)

11/27/2020 Fists And Pig Guts Fly In Taiwan Parliament Debate On U.S. Pork
Taiwan lawmakers throw pork intestines at each other during a scuffle in the parliament in Taipei, Taiwan, November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Legislators from Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party threw pig guts and exchanged punches with other lawmakers in parliament on Friday as they tried to stop the premier taking questions, in a bitter dispute over easing U.S. pork imports.
    President Tsai Ing-wen announced in August that the government would, from Jan. 1, allow imports of U.S. pork containing ractopamine, an additive that enhances leanness but is banned in the European Union and China, as well as U.S. beef more than 30 months old.
    While welcomed in Washington, and removing a roadblock to a long sought after U.S. free trade deal for Taiwan, the KMT has strongly opposed the decision, tapping into public concern about food safety after several high-profile scandals in recent years.
    Since the latest session of parliament began in mid-September the KMT has protested against the pork decision by blocking Premier Su Tseng-chang from delivering regular reports and taking questions by occupying the podium where he speaks.
    Fed up with the paralysis, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) decided they were going to ensure Su could speak on Friday, and formed a protective barrier around him as he made his way in, as KMT lawmakers blew whistles, held banners and sounded air horns.
    As Su began speaking, KMT lawmakers threw buckets of pig guts his way, and some exchanged blows, with a short but vicious encounter between a group of KMT legislators and Chen Po-wei from the small Taiwan Statebuilding Party.
    Su soon withdrew, but later got back up to try and take questions, his words drowned out by KMT lawmakers.
    The DPP condemned the protests, saying in a statement the throwing of the pig guts was a waste of food that “stank up” the parliament floor and was “disgusting,” calling for a return to rational debate.
    The KMT says the pork decision has been rushed through and is a health threat, charges the DPP denies.
    “In order to protect people’s health and protect the bottom line of food safety, the opposition party cannot but resist,” the KMT said of Friday’s protest.
    Taiwan is a rambunctious democracy and fighting is not uncommon in parliament.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/27/2020 Clashes Erupt As Farmers Blocked From Entering Delhi To Protest Over New Law by Anushree Fadnavis and Mayank Bhardwaj
    Flames emerge from tear gas released by the police to stop farmers opposing the newly passed farm bills from
entering the national capital Delhi, at Singhu border, India, November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Thousands of Indian farmers scuffled with police on Friday as they tried to march to the capital, Delhi, in protest against new laws liberalising procurement that they say will leave them vulnerable to big companies.
    Police fired tear gas at some places on the outskirts of Delhi and used water cannons at entry points to stop people coming into the city centre from the big farming state of Punjab.
    Television showed plumes of smoke and some people throwing stones at police as thousands pressed against barricades, waving flags and sticks.    Some rode tractors near the barriers.
    “Although the police have tried to stop us with force, barricades and water cannons, we’ve decided to stay the course to make sure the government listens to the voice of millions of farmers,” said protesting farmer Sukrampal Dhayana.
    Under the laws enacted in September that Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a watershed for agriculture, farmers are free to sell their produce anywhere, including to big corporate buyers, instead of at government-regulated wholesale markets where farmers are assured of a minimum procurement price.
    Many farmer organisations oppose the new law, saying it would leave small growers with little bargaining power.    They also say they fear the government will eventually withdraw price support for wheat and rice.
    The government says there is no plan to eliminate the wholesale markets.
ACTING TOUGH
    As tensions rose, the Delhi police said it had urged the farmers to pull back in line with coronavirus restrictions in the capital under which large gatherings are not allowed.
    At the Sindhu checkpoint on the highway leading to Delhi, hundreds of farmers sat down for a long wait.
    Kulwant Singh, a 70-year-old farmer from Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab, said his group had brought rations for six months and even cooking gas cylinders and were prepared to camp there until farmers were allowed in to Delhi.
    “We are not going back,” he said.
    Farmers make up a powerful voting block across India and some leaders urged the Modi government not to crush the protests with an iron hand.
    Senior cabinet ministers should talk to farmers’ organisations to understand their apprehensions over the new rules passed by the government, the leaders of the United Farmers Forum said in a letter to Modi.
    The government says the new law is aimed at making the vast agriculture sector more efficient by freeing up farmers who want to sell directly to big retailers such as Walmart.
    Farm Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told ANI, a Reuters affiliate that he had already invited farm leaders for talks next week.
(Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/27/2020 Pakistan’s First Transgender Lawyer Goes From Begging To Fighting In Court by Syed Raza Hassan
Nisha Rao, 28, a transgender woman who became country's first practicing lawyer, listens to one
of her clients at office in Karachi, Pakistan November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
    KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Lawyer Nisha Rao maneuvers among the throng of black-coated attorneys clustered near Karachi’s city courts searching for her client.
    But Rao, 28, is not just another lawyer running for a meeting. As Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer, she has carved a path from the streets to the courtroom and her example is inspiring other transgender people in the conservative Islamic Republic.
    “I am proud to have become Pakistan first transgender lawyer,” Rao told Reuters.
    Life is hard for transgender persons in Pakistan, where the Supreme Court only allowed them to claim a third gender on their national identity cards in 2009.    The parliament just passed a law in 2018 recognising transgender people as equal citizen and protecting them from discrimination and violence.
    Treated as outcasts, many transgender persons are victims of sexual assault and resort to working as wedding dancers or begging to make a living.
    Rao also ended up begging on the streets after running away from her middle class home in the eastern city of Lahore when she was 18 with two other transgender persons.
    Arriving in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, the elder transgender people she sought refuge with advised her to beg or become a sex worker to survive.
    Rao stood at traffic lights begging from car to car but was determined to escape that path, eventually using her income to pay for law classes at night.
    After several years, she earned a law degree, gaining her law license earlier this year and joining the Karachi Bar Association.
    She has contested 50 cases and is working with a non-governmental organisation fighting for transgender rights.
Rao has broadened her clientele to include non-transgender persons.
    “As my case pertains to harassment, I feel that Rao can represent me best since transgenders are subjected to frequent harassment in our society,” said Jeya Alvi, 34, an office secretary meeting Rao for a consultation.
    A 2017 census counted 10,418 transgender people out of 207 million in the country, but rights group Charity Trans Action Pakistan estimates there are at least 500,000.
    “Rao used to beg here along with us, today she is better than many. But she still helps us, she even responds at midnight (if we contact her),” said Nayab, a transgender beggar who goes by one name.
    Rao has even bigger aspirations than becoming an attorney.
    “My goal is to become Pakistan’s first transgender judge,” she said.
(Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Editing by Gibran Peshimam and Christian Schmollinger)

11/27/2020 WHO Says Would Be ‘Highly Speculative’ To Say COVID Did Not Emerge In China
Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) attends a news conference on the Ebola outbreak in
the Democratic Republic of Congo at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization’s top emergency expert said on Friday it would be “highly speculative” for the WHO to say the coronavirus did not emerge in China, where it was first identified in a food market in December last year.
    China is pushing a narrative via state media that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in the central city of Wuhan, citing the presence of coronavirus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers claiming it had been circulating in Europe last year.
    “I think it’s highly speculative for us to say that the disease did not emerge in China,” Mike Ryan said at a virtual briefing in Geneva after being asked if COVID-19 could have first emerged outside China.
    “It is clear from a public health perspective that you start your investigations where the human cases first emerged,” he added, saying that evidence might then lead to other places.
    He repeated that the WHO intended to send researchers to the Wuhan food market to probe the virus origins further.>br>     The WHO has been accused by the Trump administration of being “China-centric,” allegations it has repeatedly denied.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge in Geneva and Michael Shields in Zurich; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Toby Chopra)
[AS YOU CAN SEE THE WHO HAS BOUGHT INTO THE WORLD GOVERNMENT SYSTEM WHICH IS IN WITH CHINA ALSO AND IF TRUMP DOES CONTINUE IN U.S. POLITICS HE WILL BE THE ONE WHO WILL HELP IN CREATING A NEW HEALTH ORGANIZATION FOR ALL COUNTRIES AS THE WORLD KNOWS THAT TRUMP CAN GET THINGS DONE AND PROTECT THE PEOPLE AND THEY WILL WANT TO JOIN IT JUST TO TEE THEM OFF AND THEY WILL HAVE MANY DOCTORS, ETC. MOVE TO IT WHICH WOULD DEVASTATE THE EXISTING WHO.].

11/28/2020 Killing Of Suspected Iranian Nuclear Mastermind Risks Confrontation As Trump Exits by Parisa Hafezi
A view shows the scene of the attack that killed Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,
outside Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian scientist long suspected by the West of masterminding a secret nuclear bomb programme was killed in an ambush near Tehran on Friday that could provoke confrontation between Iran and its foes in the last weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
    The death of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Iranian media said died in hospital after armed assassins gunned him down in his car, will also complicate any effort by U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to revive the detente of Barack Obama’s presidency.
    Iran pointed the finger at Israel, while implying the killing had the blessing of the departing Trump.    Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter of “serious indications of (an) Israeli role.”
    The military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to “strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr.”    “In the last days of the political life of their … ally (Trump), the Zionists seek to intensify pressure on Iran and create a full-blown war,” Hossein Dehghan tweeted.
    Channels of the Telegram encrypted messaging app believed to be close to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards reported that the top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, convened an emergency meeting with senior military commanders present.
    Israel declined to comment.    The White House, Pentagon, U.S. State Department and CIA also declined to comment, as did Biden’s transition team.
    Fakhrizadeh has been described by Western and Israeli intelligence services for years as the mysterious leader of a covert atomic bomb programme halted in 2003, which Israel and the United States accuse Tehran of trying to restore.    Iran has long denied seeking to weaponise nuclear energy.
    “Unfortunately, the medical team did not succeed in reviving (Fakhrizadeh), and a few minutes ago, this manager and scientist achieved the high status of martyrdom after years of effort and struggle,” Iran’s armed forces said in a statement.
    The semi-official news agency Tasnim said “terrorists blew up another car” before firing on a vehicle carrying Fakhrizadeh and his bodyguards in an ambush outside the capital.
    In the aftermath, there was a heavy presence of security forces stopping cars in Tehran in an apparent search for the killers, witnesses said.
    Trump, who lost his re-election bid to Biden on Nov. 3 and leaves office on Jan. 20, pulled the United States from a deal reached under Obama, his predecessor, that lifted sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
    Biden has said he will aim to restore that agreement, although many analysts say this will be a challenging goal.
    Robert Malley, who served as Iran adviser to Obama and has informally advised Biden’s team, said Fakhrizadeh’s killing was among a series of moves that have occurred during Trump’s final weeks that appear aimed at making it harder for Biden to re-engage with Iran.
    “One purpose is simply to inflict as much damage to Iran economically and to its nuclear program while they can, and the other could be to complicate President Biden’s ability to resume diplomacy and resume the nuclear deal,” said Malley, adding that he would not speculate on who was behind Friday’s killing.
    A U.S. official confirmed this month that Trump asked military aides for a plan for a possible strike on Iran.    Trump decided against it to avoid a wider Middle East conflict.
    In January, Trump ordered a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad that killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander.    Iran retaliated by firing missiles at a U.S. base in Iraq.
    U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate’s Middle East subcommittee, said on Twitter “this assassination does not make America, Israel or the world safer.”
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged restraint to avoid an escalation of tensions, his spokesman said.
    Iran’s U.N. envoy, Majid Takht Ravanchi, said in a letter to Guterres that Tehran “reserves its rights to take all necessary measures” to defend itself.    He also called on the U.N. Security Council to condemn the killing and take steps “against its perpetrators.”
‘REMEMBER THAT NAME’
    Fakhrizadeh had no public profile, but was thought to have headed what the U.N. nuclear watchdog and U.S. intelligence services believe was a coordinated nuclear weapons programme in Iran, shelved in 2003.
    He was the only Iranian scientist named in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 2015 “final assessment” of open questions about Iran’s nuclear programme. The report said he oversaw activities “in support of a possible military dimension to (Iran’s) nuclear programme.”
    He was a central figure in a presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 accusing Iran of continuing to seek nuclear weapons.
    “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” Netanyahu said at the time.
    Michael Mulroy, a senior Pentagon official earlier during Trump’s administration, said Fakhrizadeh’s killing would set back Iran’s nuclear programme and alert levels should be raised in countries where Iran could retaliate.
    Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, blamed the “heinous attack” on “those sponsored by America and Israel” in an interview with Al Manar television and said the response was in Iran’s hands.
    During the final months of Trump’s presidency, Israel has been making peace with Gulf Arab states that share hostility towards Iran.
    This week, Netanyahu travelled to Saudi Arabia and met its crown prince, an Israeli official said, in what would be the first publicly confirmed visit by an Israeli leader.    Israeli media said they were joined by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Dubai newsroom, Francois Murphy in Vienna, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, and Matt Spetalnick in Washington;     Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Alexandra Alper, Phil Stewart, David Brunnstrom and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Ghaida Ghantous in Beirut and Hesham Abdul Khalek in Cairo, Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Mark Heinrich, Peter Graff and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis)

11/28/2020 Thousands Of Protesting Indian Farmers And Police Face-Off At New Delhi Border by Danish Siddiqui
Farmers attend a protest against the newly passed farm bills at Singhu border near Delhi, India, November 28, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India deployed hundreds of police and paramilitary forces at a New Delhi border on Saturday as thousands of farmers from neighbouring states blocked major roads into the capital, in protest against recent agricultural deregulation.
    A day after clashes ended with an agreement that the farmers could demonstrate in the capital, tensions rose again in the protests over laws that farmers fear could rob them of minimum guaranteed prices for their produce.
    Farmers who arrived in trucks, buses and tractors at Delhi’s Singhu border with Haryana state on Friday, blocked the main northern highway into the capital on Saturday morning, chanting slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and waved the red, yellow and green flags of farmer’s unions.
    They appeared ready for a long sit-in and refused to relocate to a designated protest site, raising fears of fresh clashes between security forces and protesters.
    On Friday, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters before letting them march into the capital and stage a protest at a designated site.
    Both security forces and farmers have installed barricades to prevent a repeat of Friday’s clashes.
    Harbhajan Singh, 75, from Amritsar in the major northern farming state of Punjab, said he and others were carrying provisions and were prepared to camp out.
    “We have been harassed by the government.    We want a special parliament session for withdrawal of the new farm laws,” Singh said, adding he hopes farmers from other states will join the protests to pressure on the government.
    Opposition Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi also slammed the government.
    “Our slogan was, ‘Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer,’ but today PM Modi’s arrogance made the soldier stand against the farmer.    This is very dangerous,” Gandhi tweeted in reaction to a photo of a policeman attempting to hit a farmer with a baton.
    Modi’s laws, enacted in September, let farmers sell their produce anywhere, including to big corporate buyers like Walmart Inc, not just at government-regulated wholesale markets where growers are assured of a minimum procurement price.
    But many small growers worry they will be left vulnerable to big business and could eventually lose the price supports for key staples such as wheat and rice.
    The government says there is no plan to eliminate wholesale markets and that farmers have the choice of buyers.    It hopes the deregulation attracts agricultural investment and fixes supply chains that lose one-fourth of India’s produce to wastage.
(Reporting by Danish Siddiqui; Writing by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Euan Rocha and William Mallard)

11/28/2020 Iran Tells U.N. ‘Serious Indications’ Of Israeli Responsibility In Scientist’s Death
A view shows the site of the attack that killed Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,
outside Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Iran said there are “serious indications of Israeli responsibility” in the assassination of an Iranian scientist and it reserves the right to defend itself, the country wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
    “Warning against any adventuristic measures by the United States and Israel against my country, particularly during the remaining period of the current administration of the United States in office, the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its rights to take all necessary measures to defend its people and secure its interests,” Iran’s U.N. envoy, Majid Takht Ravanchi, wrote in the letter, which was seen by Reuters.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Leslie Adler)

11/28/2020 Iran’s Leader Promises Retaliation For Nuclear Scientist’s Killing by Parisa Hafezi
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) – Iran’s supreme leader promised on Saturday to retaliate for the killing of the Islamic Republic’s top nuclear scientist, raising the threat of a new confrontation with the West and Israel in the remaining weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
    Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged to continue the work of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Western and Israeli governments believe was the architect of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
    Friday’s killing, which Iran’s president was swift to blame on Israel, could complicate any efforts by President-elect Joe Biden to revive a detente with Tehran that was forged when he was in Barack Obama’s administration.
    Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 international nuclear pact agreed between Tehran and major powers.
    Khamenei, who is Iran’s top authority and who says the country has never sought nuclear arms, said on Twitter that Iranian officials must take up the task of “pursuing this crime and punishing its perpetrators and those who commanded it.”
    Fakhrizadeh, who had little public profile in Iran but who Israel named as a prime player in what it says is Iran’s nuclear weapons quest, was killed on Friday when he was ambushed near Tehran and his car sprayed with bullets.    He was rushed to hospital where he died.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a televised meeting on Saturday Iran would respond “at the proper time.”
    “Once again, the evil hands of Global Arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” he said, using terms officials employ to refer to Israel.
    Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he did not know who carried out the killing.     “I have no clue who did it.    It’s not that my lips are sealed because I’m being responsible, I simply really have no clue,” he told N12’s Meet the Press.
CHALLENGE FOR BIDEN
    Israel’s Army Radio said some Israeli embassies had been put on high alert after the Iranian threats of retaliation, though there were no reports of concrete threats.    The radio’s military affairs correspondent said the army was on routine footing.
    Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment on the killing of Fakhrizadeh and an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said the ministry did not comment on security regarding missions abroad.
    The White House, Pentagon, U.S. State Department and CIA have also declined to comment on the killing, as has Biden’s transition team.    Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
    “Whether Iran is tempted to take revenge or whether it restrains itself, it will make it difficult for Biden to return to the nuclear agreement,” Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief and director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, wrote on Twitter.
    Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions.    Once Trump withdrew in 2018, U.S. sanctions were ramped up, driving down Iran’s vital oil exports and crippling the economy.    Tehran, meanwhile, sped up its nuclear work.
    Germany, a party to the nuclear pact, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for restraint from all sides.
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that it was “shameful that some refuse to stand against terrorism and hide behind calls for restraint.”
ACCELERATING NUCLEAR WORK
    A senior official told Reuters: “Definitely Iran will retaliate.    When and how depends on our national interests.    It might happen in the coming days or weeks, but it will happen.”
    He pointed to Iran’s retaliatory missile attacks in January on an Iraqi base where U.S. forces were stationed, days after a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. No U.S. troops were killed in the action.
    “The martyrdom of Fakhrizadeh will accelerate our nuclear work,” said Fereydoon Abbasi, the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, who survived an assassination attempt in 2010.
    At least four scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012 in what Tehran said was a programme of assassinations aimed at sabotaging its nuclear energy programme.    Iran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its aims are only peaceful.
    Fakhrizadeh was thought to have headed what the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the U.S. intelligence services believe was Iran’s nuclear arms programme.
    He was the only Iranian scientist named in the IAEA’s 2015 “final assessment” of open questions about Iran’s nuclear programme.    It said he oversaw activities “in support of a possible military dimension to (Iran’s) nuclear programme.”
    Fakhrizadeh was also a central figure in a presentation by the Israeli prime minister in 2018 accusing Iran of continuing to seek nuclear weapons.    “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” Netanyahu said at the time.
    U.S. intelligence services and the IAEA believe Iran halted its coordinated weapons programme in 2003.
    The IAEA has said it had no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.
    The United States deployed U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz with accompanying ships to the Gulf on Wednesday, shortly before the killing, but a U.S. Navy spokeswoman said the deployment was not related to any specific threats.
(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frances Kerry and Edmund Blair)

11/28/2020 Thai Protesters Move To Bangkok Suburbs
A protester shows the three-finger salute while attending a pro-democracy rally demanding the prime minister
to resign and reforms on the monarchy, in Bangkok, Thailand, November 28, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai anti-government protesters demonstrated in Bangkok’s outskirts on Saturday with a duck parade and speeches demanding the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a new constitution and reforms to the monarchy.
    Protests have been stepped up this week despite threats by Prayuth, a former junta ruler, to use all available laws against protesters who break them and charges of insulting the monarchy against several protest leaders.
    Hundreds of people gathered in both Nonthaburi and Bang Na, to the northwest and southeast of Bangkok respectively.
    “We have had too many years of corrupt dictatorship.    We want an election in which our voices are really heard,” said one 24-year-old recent graduate, who gave only her nickname “A.”
    Protesters are seeking the removal of Prayuth, accusing him of engineering an election last year to keep power that he seized from an elected government in a 2014 coup.    He has said the vote was fair and he will not resign.
    Protesters have also broken taboos by seeking reforms to curb the powers of the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, saying the institution has enabled decades of military domination.
    The palace has made no comment since protests began.    The king has said that despite the demonstrations, the protesters are loved “all the same.”
(Reporting by Matthew Tostevin and Soe Zeya Tun; Editing by James Drummond)

11/28/2020 Iran Threatens Retaliation For Killing Of Top Nuclear Scientist by OAN Newsroom
A combo of recent file pictures shows Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) addressing the faithful
at the weekly Muslim Friday prayers at Tehran University on June 19, 2009 and newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani,
attending a press conference in the Iranian capital on June 17, 2013. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)
    Iran’s supreme leader said he plans to strike back for the killing of the top nuclear scientist in the Islamic Republic.
    On Saturday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comments that he will pick up Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s work.    However, western and Israeli governments have been led to believe Fakhrizadeh headed a secret program to create weapons.
    This could spark tension with the U.S. as Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani quickly blamed U.S. ally, Israel, for the execution.
    “This brutal and cowardly terror attack showed that our enemies are experiencing weeks of anxiety,” Rouhani said.    “Weeks when they feel their stress is being reduced and global conditions are changing.”
    Furthermore, Israeli embassies are reported to be on high alert.
    On Friday, Fakhrizadeh was in his car near Tehran when he was attacked and shot.    He was pronounced dead at the hospital later that day.
    On Saturday, angry protesters took to the streets where they were seen burning U.S. and Israeli flags.
    “The limitations of the nuclear deal were a barrier to the progress of this martyr,” Abolfazl Aboei, a conservative member of parliament, stated. “These restrictions must be lifted.”
    U.S.-Iran tensions have risen over the last few years after the U.S. pulled out of an international nuclear deal, which caused the Iranian economy to plummet.
    However, President Trump said the U.S. pulled out of the deal because it only addressed Iran’s nuclear weapons program and excluded the nation’s other problematic practices.
    Fakhrizadeh’s death could increase tension between the countries.
    Iran has retaliated in the past.    For example, last January the country fired missiles at a U.S. base after a U.S. drone killed Iran’s commander.
[Iran can not believe that an Iranian person may have killed him to get back at the Mullahs for their treatment of the Iranian people and of course they want to blame it on the U.S. or Israel who would have told them they did it if they did as you see in the article above.    I hope Iran is not going to do something stupid again such as shooting down an airplane with Iranians on it and the God of Abraham Accord is watching you.].

11/29/2020 Afghanistan Car Bombing Kills At Least 30 Security Force Personnel
Afghan National Army soldiers keep watch outside of a military compound after a car bomb blast on
the outskirts of Ghazni city, Afghanistan November 29, 2020. REUTERS/Mustafa Andaleb
    KABUL (Reuters) – A car bombing in the Afghanistan’s central province of Ghazni killed at least 30 Afghan security force members on Sunday, officials said, and casualties could increase given the intensity and location of the blast.
    Baz Mohammad Hemat, director of the provincial hospital in Ghazni, said 30 bodies and 24 injured people had been transported there.    “All of the victims are security personnel,” he said.
    The blast targeted a compound of the public protection force, a wing of the Afghan security forces, local officials said.    It damaged civilian residences around the compound, and there could be more casualties from there, they said.
    Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed that there had been a car bomb blast but did not provide further information on the target or possible casualties.
    No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, when contacted by Reuters, did not confirm or deny responsibility.
    Afghanistan has seen a spate of car bombings over the last few months, despite peace talks being under way between negotiation teams of the insurgent Taliban and the government in the Qatari capital of Doha.
    Violence in the country, at war for two decades, remains unacceptably high, foreign governments and institutions say, calling for an immediate ceasefire between the Afghan government and Taliban.
    Another bombing on Sunday, in the eastern province of Zabul, targeting a top provincial official, killed at least one person and injured 23, said Gul Islam Syaal, the spokesman for the province’s governor.
    Haji Ata Jan Haqbayan, head of the provincial council of Zabul, suffered minor injuries in the attack on his convoy.
    No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on Haqbayan, an outspoken critic of the Taliban.
(Reporting by Mustafa Andalib in Ghazni, Sarwar Amani in Kandahar and Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by William Mallard)

11/29/2020 Indian Farmers Defiant Against Reform As Modi Tries To Calm Anger by by Manoj Kumar
FILE PHOTO: Farmers attend a protest against the newly passed farm bills at Singhu
border near Delhi, India, November 28, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Thousands of Indian farmers, angry over reform of the agriculture sector, held a third day of protests on the outskirts of the capital on Sunday, blocking roads into the city and defying a government appeal to move to a designated site.
    The government on Saturday invited farmers’ union leaders for talks on new legislation to deregulate agricultural but that has not calmed farmers’ anger over what many see “anti-farm laws,” and their action appeared to be spreading.
    “We will stay put here today,” said Rakesh Tikait, spokesman of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, one of more than 30 protesting unions, as he and his members blocked a road on the eastern approaches to Delhi.
    The farmers object to legislation introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in September that would let farmers sell their produce anywhere, including to big corporate buyers like Walmart, not just at government-regulated wholesale markets where growers are assured of a minimum price.
    Small growers worry they will be left vulnerable to big business and could eventually lose price support for staples such as wheat and rice.    Modi sought to allay farmers’ concerns on Sunday.
    “From these reforms, farmers will get new rights and opportunities,” he said in his monthly radio address.
    But one farm union leader said many protesters were demanding that the government withdraw the laws.
    “The farmers’ leaders will meet later on Sunday to decide their response to the government,” he said, referring to the government’s call for talks.
    The protests began with farmers from the northern states of Haryana and Punjab on the outskirts of New Delhi on Friday, when police fired tear gas and water cannon in a bid to disperse them. [L1N2ID09V]     But instead farmers from the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh joined in over the weekend, blocking roads to the east of the capital.
    Media reported protests by farmers in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala on Saturday.
    Prices of fresh produce prices at wholesale markets in the city began to tick up and commuters have faced travel disruption.
(Reporting by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Euan Rocha, Robert Birsel)

11/29/2020 Iran To Give A ‘Calculated’ Response To Nuclear Scientist Killing, Says Official
A coffin with an image of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, can be seen among the servants of the holy
shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad, Iran November 29, 2020. Massoud Nozari/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will give a “calculated and decisive” response to the killing of its top nuclear scientist, said a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, while a hardline newspaper suggested Tehran’s revenge should include striking the Israeli city of Haifa.
    “Undoubtedly, Iran will give a calculated and decisive answer to the criminals who took Martyr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh from the Iranian nation,” Kamal Kharrazi, who is also head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, said in a statement.
    Fakhrizadeh, long suspected by Western and Israeli government of masterminding a secret nuclear weapons program, was ambushed on a highway near Tehran on Friday and gunned down in his car.
    Iran’s clerical and military rulers have blamed the Islamic Republic’s longtime enemy, Israel, for the killing. Iran has in the past accused Israel of killing several Iranian nuclear scientists since 2010.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment on the killing.    An Israeli cabinet minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, said on Saturday he did not know who carried it out.
    Iranian hardline media called on Sunday for a tough revenge.
    The hardline Kayhan daily, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for an attack on the Israeli port city of Haifa, if an Israeli role in Fakhrizadeh’s killing is proven.
    “The attack should be carried out in such a way that in addition to destroying the facilities, it should also cause heavy human casualties,” wrote Saadollah Zarei in an opinion piece.
    However, Iran’s rulers are aware of daunting military and political difficulties of attacking Israel.    Such an attack would also complicate any effort by U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to revive detente with Tehran after he takes office on Jan. 20.
    Tensions have been high between Tehran and Washington since 2018, when President Donald Trump exited Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers and reimposed sanctions that have hit Iran’s economy hard.    In retaliation, Tehran has gradually breached the deal’s curbs on its nuclear programme.
    Biden has said he will return the United States to the deal if Iran resumes compliance. Iran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons. (Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frances Kerry)

11/29/2020 Thai Protesters March To Barracks Against King’s Military Power by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Jiraporn Kuhakan
Protesters try to remove barb wires ahead of a pro-democracy rally demanding the prime minister to resign and reforms on the monarchy,
while riot police officers stand guard in front of 11th Infantry Regiment, in Bangkok, Thailand, November 29, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thousands of anti-government Thai protesters marched to an army barracks on Sunday to challenge King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s personal control over some army units.
    It was the latest act of defiance against the king by protesters who have broken taboos by criticising the monarchy.    The Thai constitution says the monarchy must be revered and laws ban insulting the institution.
    Protesters, many carrying inflatable ducks which have become a protest mascot, stopped at the gates of the 11th Infantry Regiment, part of the King’s Guard that played a role in the suppression of anti-establishment protests in 2010.
    Lines of riot police blocked protesters at the gate.
    “No democratic country sees a king control an army.    In any democratic country with a king as head of state, armed forces report to the government,” said Arnon Nampa, a rights lawyer and protest leader who has been a frequent critic of the monarchy.
    “We’ve been seeing the monarchy expanding its powers.    That’s why we’re here today.”
    The Royal Palace has made no comment since protests began, but the king hmself said recently that protesters are loved “all the same” despite their actions.
    Protesters accuse the monarchy of enabling decades of military domination.    There have been 13 successful coups since 1932, when absolute rule by the monarch came to an end.
    Protests began in July and initially demanded the departure of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and a new constitution.    Demonstrators have expanded their demands since then to include curbs on the powers of the king.
    Arnon is among several protest leaders facing charges under lese majeste laws against insulting the monarchy after speeches he made at previous rallies.
    The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Thailand adhered to the rule of law and the right to freedom of speech must stay within those boundaries.
    “In every case where the law is violated, officials take action with strict adherence to the appropriate legal processes without discrimination,” the ministry said.
    The prime minister has dismissed demands that he quit and rejected accusations that he engineered last year’s election to retain power after taking office in 2014.     Video shared on social media showed soldiers taking down a giant picture of the king and queen at the entrance to the barracks before the protest.
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/29/2020 HK’s Top Leader Piles Up Cash At Home After U.S. Sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference following the
annual policy address in Hong Kong, China November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says she has to pile up cash at home as she has been unable to open a bank account in the global financial centre since Washington sanctioned her shortly after Beijing imposed a national security law on the city.
    Beijing circumvented Hong Kong’s legislature and imposed a national security law on the former British colony on June 30, a move condemned by some foreign governments, business groups and rights groups.
    Hong Kong and authorities in Beijing said the law was necessary to restore stability after more than a year of anti-government protests.
    “Sitting in front of you is a chief executive of the Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) who has no banking services made available to her,” Lam told HKIBC, an English-language news channel in the city, on a preview clip shown late on Friday.
    “I’m using cash for all the things,” she said.    “I have piles of cash at home, the government is paying me cash for my salary because I don’t have a bank account.”
    In August, the United States imposed sanctions on Lam and other top officials for what Washington says is their role in curtailing political freedoms in the territory.
    “I don’t want to… deter people from serving in a public position because it is very honourable in this set of circumstances to be so unjustifiably sanctioned by the U.S. government,” Lam said.
    Lam is paid about HK$5.21 million ($672,232) a year, according to local media reports, making her among the highest paid public officials in the world.
($1 = 7.7503 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting by Donny Kwok; Editing by Jan Harvey)

11/29/2020 Singaporean Gives Birth To Baby With COVID-19 Antibodies: Report
Essential workers wearing face masks walk past the skyline of the central business district outside a regional
screening center amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A Singaporean woman, who was infected with the novel coronavirus in March when she was pregnant, has given birth to a baby with antibodies against the virus, offering a new clue as to whether the infection can be transferred from mother to child.
    The baby was born this month without COVID-19 but with the virus antibodies, the Straits Times newspaper reported on Sunday, citing the mother. https://bit.ly/33I0liL
    “My doctor suspects I have transferred my COVID-19 antibodies to him during my pregnancy,” Celine Ng-Chan told the paper.
    Ng-Chan had been mildly ill from the disease and was discharged from hospital after two-and-a-half weeks, the Straits Times said.
    Ng-Chan and the National University Hospital (NUH), where she gave birth, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The World Health Organisation says it is not yet known whether a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can pass the virus to her foetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery.
    To date, the active virus has not been found in samples of fluid around the baby in the womb or in breast milk.
    Doctors in China have reported the detection and decline over time of COVID-19 antibodies in babies born to women with the coronavirus disease, according to an article published in October in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
    Transmission of the new coronavirus from mothers to newborns is rare, doctors from New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center reported in October in JAMA Pediatrics.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore, additional reporting by Chen Lin; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/29/2020 North Korea’s Kim Stresses Economic Policies At A Politburo Meeting: KCNA by Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the 20th Enlarged Meeting of the Political Bureau of the
7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo
released on November 16, 2020 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stressed the need to carry out economic policies with responsibility, as he presided over a meeting of the politburo of the ruling Workers Party, state news agency KCNA reported on Monday.
    The meeting comes during a tough year for North Korea as the coronavirus pandemic has put more pressure on an economy already battered by international sanctions aimed at stopping its nuclear program.
    The politburo harshly criticized the economic guidance organs for failing to provide scientific guidance for economic tasks ahead of a congress next year, KCNA reported.
    “It stressed the need to put the operation and command for carrying out the Party’s economic policies on a scientific basis and display great dedication and responsibility,” said KCNA.
    In August, Kim said the ruling party would hold a congress in January to decide on a new five-year plan, with a party meeting noting serious delays in improving the national economy.
    North Korea embarked on an 80-day campaign in October to attain its goals in every sector before next year’s congress.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Peter Cooney)

11/30/2020 Iran Begins Burial Of Slain Prominent Nuclear Scientist: TV
Servants of the holy shrine of Imam Reza carry the coffin of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,
in Mashhad, Iran November 29, 2020. Massoud Nozari/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran began the burial of slain nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in a cemetery in northern Tehran on Monday, state TV reported, as the defence minister promised the Islamic Republic would retaliate for his killing.
    Fakhrizadeh, long suspected by Western and Israeli government of masterminding a secret nuclear weapons program, was ambushed on a highway near Tehran on Friday and gunned down in his car.
    Iran’s clerical and military rulers have blamed the Islamic Republic’s longtime enemy, Israel, for the killing.    Iran has in the past accused Israel of killing several Iranian nuclear scientists since 2010.
    State TV showed Fakhrizadeh’s coffin, wrapped by an Iranian flag in a ceremony at the defence ministry, where only several dozen senior military commanders and his family attended due to coronavirus precautions.
    “The enemies know and I, as a soldier, tell them that no crime, no terror and no stupid act will go unanswered by the Iranian people,” said     Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami in a televised speech at the ceremony.
    His body was later transferred to the Emamzade Saleh cemetery in northern Tehran for burial.
    Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said on Sunday Fakhrizadeh was assassinated by an automatic machine gun operated with a remote control.    Witnesses on Friday told state TV that there were gunmen on the ground.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment on the killing.    An Israeli cabinet minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, said on Saturday he did not know who carried it out.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

11/30/2020 China To Impose Sanctions On Four Over Egregious Behaviour On Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying attends a news conference in Beijing, China October 9, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Suen
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China will impose sanctions on four people over their egregious behaviour regarding the Asian financial hub of Hong Kong, it said on Monday.
    They will be banned from entering China, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing.
    This month, the United States said it was imposing sanctions on four more Chinese individuals related to actions over the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Kim Coghill and Clarence Fernandez)

11/30/2020 Sri Lanka Coronavirus Prison Riot Leaves Eight Dead, Over 50 Wounded
Family members of inmates react outside the prison, following unrest at Mahara Prison,
on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka November 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – At least eight prisoners were killed and more than 50 injured in clashes with guards at a Sri Lankan prison, officials said on Monday, as authorities tried to quell a protest over rising corornavirus infections in the country’s crowded jails.
    Sri Lanka has witnessed an upsurge in coronavirus cases in the past month and over-congested prisons across the country have reported thousands of fresh infections.
    Inmates have staged protests in recent weeks demanding an increase in coronavirus testing and new isolation facilities for infected prisoners.
    The latest clash at Mahara prison situated on the outskirts of the capital Colombo started on Sunday when some inmates protested against prisoners infected by the Covid-19 virus being transferred from other facilities to Mahara.
    “We can’t say it for certain but most of the deaths and injuries appear to be due to gunshots,” said Ajith Rohana, a senior police official tracking the incident.
    Hundreds of additional police were deployed to help the guards and strengthen security at the prison.
    “A majority of prisoners injured in the Mahara jail clashes were in critical condition,” said Shelton Perera, director of the Ragama Hospital where inmates from the prison were undergoing treatment.
    The John Hopkins University’s latest data on Sri Lanka says the country has had 22,988 coronavirus cases and 109 deaths.
(Reporting by Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Michael Perry)

11/30/2020 Iran Opposition Suspected Alongside Israel In Scientist’s Killing, Shamkani Says by Parisa Hafezi
Protesters hold the pictures of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran's top nuclear scientist, during a demonstration against
his killing in Tehran, Iran, November 28, 2020. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A senior Iranian official said on Monday an opposition group was suspected alongside Israel in the killing of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist, an attack that has raised the prospect of a new standoff between Tehran and its longtime enemy.
    Iran’s English-language Press TV reported the weapon used in Friday’s killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was made in Israel.
    “The weapons collected from the site of the terrorist act bear the logo and specifications of the Israeli military industry,” an unnamed source told Press TV.
    In Jerusalem, there was no immediate reply from Israeli officials contacted for comment on the report.
    Speaking before the Press TV report, Israeli intelligence minister Eli Cohen told radio station 103 FM on Monday that he did not know who was responsible.
    Fakhrizadeh, who had little public profile in Iran but had been named by Israel as a prime player in what it says is Iran’s nuclear weapons quest, was killed on Friday when he was ambushed on a highway near Tehran and his car sprayed with bullets.
    Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, told state TV: “This was a very complicated assassination that was carried out remotely with electronic devices.”
    “We have some clues but surely the ‘Monafeghin’ group was involved and the criminal element behind it is the Zionist regime (Israel) and Mossad,” he added, referring to Israel’s foreign intelligence service.
    “Monafeghin” is a term officials employ to refer to the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella bloc of opposition groups in exile that seek an end to Shi’ite Muslim clerical rule.
CEMETERY
    Iran began Fakhrizadeh’s burial at a cemetery in northern Tehran on Monday, state TV reported, as the defence minister promised the Islamic Republic would retaliate for his killing.    Iran’s clerical and military rulers have blamed Israel for Fakhrizadeh’s killing.
    Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said on Sunday that Fakhrizadeh had been killed by a machine gun operated by remote control, while the Arabic language Al Alam TV reported the weapons used in the attack were “controlled by satellite.”
    When asked about potential Iranian reprisals, Cohen told radio station 103: “We have regional intelligence supremacy, and on this matter we are prepared, we are increasing vigilance, in the places where that is required.”
    Iran’s hardline Kayhan daily, whose editor-in-chief is named by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in an opinion piece on Sunday called for an attack on the Israeli port city of Haifa, if an Israeli role in Fakhrizadeh’s killing is proven.
    However, Iran’s rulers are aware of daunting military and political difficulties in attacking Israel.    Such an attack would also complicate any effort by U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to revive detente with Tehran after he takes office on Jan. 20.
    Tensions have increased between Tehran and Washington since 2018, when Trump exited Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
    In retaliation, Tehran gradually breached the deal’s curbs on its nuclear programme.    Biden has said he will return the United States to the deal if Iran resumes compliance.
    Tehran has always denied seeking nuclear weapons.
(Additional Reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra, William Maclean)

11/30/2020 Democracy Darkens: Hong Kong Activists Reel From Chinese Moves by James Pomfret and Jessie Pang
Pro-democracy activist Prince Wong poses for a photo after attending a court hearing in Hong Kong,
China November 20, 2020. Picture taken November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Prince Wong was still in her mother’s womb when the Chinese government reclaimed control over Hong Kong from the British in the summer of 1997.    She was born nearly three months later, on September 27, into what some here call the city’s “cursed generation.”
    For her 23rd birthday this year, Wong posted a photo of herself on Instagram wearing a pastel-striped paper hat trimmed with pink pompoms.    She has a slight smile on her face as she looks down at her birthday cake, a moment of celebration at odds with her words below: “There are great sorrows in life that cannot be washed away with tears.    Is life always so painful?    Or is it only when I was young?
    On a recent day, Wong spun a gold ring on her finger in continuous circles as she spoke quietly about the past year of her life.    It has been a year filled with disappointment and dread.
    She faces trial early next year on a riot charge stemming from the anarchic standoff between police and pro-democracy protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University last November.    Legislative elections were postponed after she won 23,000 votes in an unofficial protest poll organised by the pro-democracy camp this summer to get on the ballot.    And she witnessed friends being arrested and detained – sometimes for little more than a Facebook post – under a new national security law that has raised the risks for those like her directly challenging Chinese rule.
    Then this month, a fresh nadir.    China’s parliament passed a resolution that will effectively bar any opposition politicians deemed subversive from Hong Kong’s legislature.    City Chief Executive Carrie Lam immediately kicked four pro-democracy lawmakers out of office.    Soon after that, the city’s democrats resigned en masse, leaving the legislature devoid of any opposition democrats for the first time since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule.
    “Regardless of whether you are a front-line politician, anonymous protester, in the media, a teacher or in any profession, they are carrying out a serious political crackdown, and they hope to put everyone in jail,” Wong said.
    Wong is part of a crop of young democrats in the so-called “resistance bloc” who aim to upend the political order through disruptive, unorthodox tactics: the nihilistic laam chau – “If we burn, you burn with us,” a slogan in “The Hunger Games.”
    “It’s the fate of our generation,” Wong said.    “We were just born in a period of historical political change. This is something we have to face.”
    A year after young activists, veteran democrats, working-class families and middle-class professionals collectively formed the boldest people’s revolt against Beijing in decades, Hong Kong is being “mainlandized” with shocking rapidity, democracy advocates say.    The Chinese government, they say, is using the unrest that engulfed the city last year as a pretext for a so-called second handover: the first in the 1997 transfer of power, the second moving it to China’s vision of a police state.
    A Hong Kong government spokesman adamantly denies that, saying that any accusation that the government is “‘crushing civil liberties’ is groundless.”    Mainland authorities didn’t respond to questions from Reuters.
    Beijing’s tough new paradigm has demoralised, damaged and divided the city’s democracy movement, which for decades sought to hold China to account on its historical promise to allow the city to exist as a bubble of liberalism.    More than 10,000 people have been arrested, and protests have shrivelled.    Some democrats are struggling with depression.    Others compare the city to a giant prison.    Hundreds have fled into exile.    But even in dark days, they haven’t given up.
    This is the story of four Hong Kong activists divided by age but united by a deep love of their city – and the toll the last year has taken on them.    One is 23, full of passion and conviction.    One is 82, and has seen it all.    One is in his late 30s, and lives in fear of arrest.    And one is 28, and has chosen a painful path: leaving the city of her birth.
    All four speak of persevering, keeping the spirit of the movement alive among friends and family, and waiting for the day the city might rise up again.
THE PIONEER
    Martin Lee’s apartment is airy and spacious, without clutter, each item – from English and French classical furniture to tall Chinese Qing vases – given the space to breathe, redolent of the East-West soul of Hong Kong itself.
    Lee, 82, an anglophile whose father was a connoisseur of Chinese ink brush painting and calligraphy, was a key advisor to Britain and China during the crucial negotiations in the 1980s that paved the way for the 1997 handover and its “one country, two systems” equation for government that afforded the city a high degree of autonomy.    A forceful orator who helped found the city’s first major pro-democracy party, he has long advocated engagement with China, to seek common ground in moving forward.
    But during a recent interview, the gaunt and gravelly voiced barrister was more guarded than at any other time we’d spoken since our first meeting near the time of the handover. His hair had whitened in recent months, and his steps were slow and deliberate.
    “I can’t see any way out.    Up until recently, there was always some reason for hope,” he said.    “They don’t want Hong Kong people to have hope for a full implementation of one country, two systems,” he said of the mainland leadership.
    His apartment looks over the hills of Hong Kong, forested with a mix of trees and skyscrapers.
    “Every time I look at the beautiful scenery I ask, why are they killing our city?” he said.
    Lee, a longtime pacifist embracing the activism and philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, is haunted by the Chinese military’s massacre of students and other civilians in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. He thinks it was a mistake for Hong Kong’s protesters to resort to violence last year, because “you give an excuse to the other side to use violence, and how can you beat them with violence?
    Instead, he thinks, by resurrecting mass peaceful protests, and bringing back the pacifist middle classes and grass roots, the movement could find new impetus, as long as authorities don’t begin to unilaterally bar public demonstrations, as in China.
    But at the same time, he mused: “How can I blame the young people when they saw how we had failed to get democracy in the past 30 years by not using force? These thoughts of course are conflicting.”
    Wong, the young activist nearly 60 years Lee’s junior who planned to run in the scuttled legislative elections, has no patience for the older generation of Hong Kong activists.    She says they have clung to a political system increasingly rigged against them.
    “They’ve completely failed to achieve anything over the past decades,” she said.    “I could understand why they did what they did back then, as the time they were in was very different from us.    But after all these passing years, if they keep using the same methods, I can’t really accept it.”
    She saw her candidacy as a way to go beyond the street unrest of last year.    Recent tactics by her bloc have included advocacy campaigns for those arrested, and provoking greater international pressure on Beijing with their runs for public office – and the subsequent, and expected, disqualification of 12 of their bloc from running.    After the Hong Kong government postponed the elections for a year, the United States imposed unprecedented sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials.
    Activist Finn Lau, 27, who developed the “if we burn, you burn with us” theory, said in a recent interview: “The situation is actually not that bad.    It’s the best of the worst situations. … If we can continue to laam chau and weaken the economic power of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, it’s not impossible to make them back down.”
    But many of the resistance bloc are paying a high price. Lau fled Hong Kong for Britain in January after being arrested on charges of unlawful assembly. Prominent activist Joshua Wong, another leader of the bloc, has pleaded guilty to charges of organising and inciting an unlawful assembly and could be imprisoned for three years when sentenced this week.
    Lee Cheuk-yan, a veteran democrat and labour unionist, has come to believe that the democracy movement must evolve even if the outcome could be uncertain.
    “They’ve changed the game in unthinkable ways, the radicals,” he said.    “The whole world, the younger generation looks at them with awe.    What they’ve done is something that we could never do, the older generation.”
    Martin Lee accepts that this new generation will lead the way forward.
    “I know my role is over,” Lee said.    “The young people will take over, as they should.”
    Lee, who was arrested earlier this year and charged with organising an illegal assembly, is preparing for a trial slated for early next year.    It’s the first time he’s faced criminal charges after more than 50 years as a barrister.    He said at the time he was “proud” to stand alongside the thousands of other people arrested since the protests began last year.
    But the scope of the national security law and current moves against protesters and professionals such as teachers, journalists and academics have made the future of activism bleak.
    Article 63 of the national security law states that Chinese law will “prevail” over Hong Kong laws in the event of any dispute, and that some trials could be conducted in closed courts and bail denied defendants.    Under the law, suspects in complex cases could be extradited to mainland China and tried under the laws there. Chinese security agents operating in Hong Kong will enjoy immunity from prosecution.    Judges hearing national security cases will be appointed by the city’s leader, breaking a longstanding separation-of-powers arrangement under which such appointments are overseen by the city’s chief justice.    The law also applies globally, unnerving even those who’ve fled abroad.
    In response to the democrats’ assertions, the Hong Kong government spokesman said it “will continue to implement the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” maintaining that the rights and freedoms of Hong Kongers are well protected and that the legislature remains a place of pluralistic views.
    As for last year’s protests, the spokesman said: “From mid-2019 to early 2020, unprecedented violence, reckless and organised destruction plagued the city. These unlawful and violent acts must be condemned, curbed and ended if Hong Kong is to continue as a vibrant international financial, business and logistics hub.    As in any society that believes in the rule of law, it is incumbent on the Government to maintain public safety and order.”
    Some Chinese officials with direct oversight of Hong Kong affairs say they’re satisfied with the impact of the security law in tamping down unrest.    Longer term, they don’t rule out further measures to rein in the city’s dissenting voices, including a proposed law to allow Hong Kongers to vote at balloting centers in mainland China.    Democrats say this is a ploy by authorities to further stack the odds against the pro-democracy candidates in the next legislative council elections, with most of the voters casting ballots from mainland China likely to back pro-Beijing candidates.
    “Old and cunning people like Martin Lee use younger guys in the democracy camp to try to overthrow and destabilise the Chinese Communist Party,” said one Chinese official who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter.    “Beijing will only accept a loyal opposition.”
    Lee shrugs off such a view, saying that even if his hope in the Chinese Communist Party living up to its promises on Hong Kong is gone, “I can see another hope: hope that comes from the way Hong Kong people, including young people, fought to defend their core values and their way of life … by sacrificing so much, including many years in prison.”
    Lee understands he may not live to see his democratic ideals take root in Hong Kong.    But he has faith that it will happen nonetheless.
    “I never say die; I never give up,” Lee, a devout Catholic, said in a subsequent meeting at a church.    “I may not be there to see democracy coming to Hong Kong or coming to China, but it will come one day.    For democracy will reach every shore.”
THE RESCUER
    Last year’s protests reached a zenith during the two-week siege of Poly U, as Polytechnic University is known.
    For months, police struggled to contain the protesters, who moved fluidly through Hong Kong’s dense urban landscapes, deploying their “be water” strategy of staging flash protests mobilised on social media and encrypted apps.    But at Poly U, all escape routes were sealed off by the police.    The movement had no place to flow to, and thousands were trapped.
    Clad in black with makeshift shields, helmets and gas masks, protesters remained defiant, chanting “liberate Hong Kong.”    They hurled petrol bombs, fired arrows and lobbed broken bricks from giant catapults for days on end, and were met with a hail of tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.    Giant fireballs occasionally ripped into the sky, and plumes of black smoke curled upward in columns visible across Victoria     Harbour.    In a Chinese military base next to Poly U, armed People’s Liberation Army troops watched the situation unfold while conducting anti-riot drills in an open forecourt.
    On the outskirts, thousands of regular Hong Kongers came to the rescue, including Dave, a skilled diver.    He described his role on condition that his last name not be used.    Participants in the Poly U occupation have been arrested on rioting-related charges, carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
    Dave, who is in his late 30s, watched the standoff with dread on his phone, glued to his private Telegram group of regular Hong Kongers providing logistical, financial and medical support to the protesters.
    He thought he might be able to scout a way into the campus from a submerged tunnel in Victoria Harbour via a labyrinth of sewers, to find a path out for those trapped inside.
    He messaged several of his diving buddies but wasn’t 100% straight with them.
    “I just told them, ‘We’re going diving tomorrow; I know a good place.    We’re going to catch crabs.’    You always catch crabs at night.”
    Dave and his fellow divers prepped their gear, then took a boat to the choppy waters near the Hong Kong Coliseum where Cantopop concerts are held. The group had obtained detailed subterranean maps drafted by the Drainage Services Department.    They plunged in backward with their scuba gear and oxygen tanks.    In the murk they made their way into the black hole.
    The route that Dave and his diving buddies helped scout led roughly a kilometre underground from Poly U, below a crematorium, to manhole covers near the famous Kwun Yum Temple in the area of Kowloon known as Hung Hom, where subterranean waters can be heard gushing loudly after rainstorms.
    The century-old temple, filled with coils of incense and hung with lanterns painted with tigers, is devoted to the goddess of mercy.    Built in 1873 in the early decades of British rule, the temple survived Japanese bombardments during World War II.    It is considered a place of miracles, as well as a preserve of Chinese traditions through a breathtaking century and a half of change.
    “The way out is easy if you know where to go,” Dave said.    “But without a map, it’s a terrifying labyrinth.”
    In photographs of the sewer system later published by netizens, the waters were neck-high as the protesters edged their way out, connected by their Ariadne’s thread, a red climbing rope.    Fluorescent sticks cast light on walls filled with cockroaches.
    Dave estimates the mission saved hundreds of protesters through escape routes he helped scout with his team.    Those emerging from the sewers jumped into waiting cars.
    Some see the Poly U siege as a metaphor for what the entire city has now become under the security law: people trapped inside, with those on the outside, including the West, trying to come to the rescue.
    Dave, a man with a big laugh and a penchant for Scottish single malts, represents a swathe of regular middle-class Hong Kong professionals who’ve increasingly aligned with the younger generation spearheading the movement.    Though far less visible, these older people with wealth and skills risk arrest for assisting the protesters.    Dave says he has spent large amounts of money on the movement, including for medical treatment for protesters.
    Dave believes the movement is becoming increasingly radical, with many people now choosing to bide their time and go underground, preparing mentally and logistically for more mass protests or, potentially, a more violent path.    He says he could leave Hong Kong anytime but won’t despite the darkening mood.    He wants to persevere with the democracy movement, though he thinks the reality is grim.
    “Hong Kong has become a jail.    No one can get out.    We’re all trapped,” he said.    “Even those that get out are still trapped in their minds, for the city is trapped."
    “We’ve become like a giant Poly U.”
THE EXILE
    Eli, a 28-year-old who was arrested during the Poly U standoff, remembers the moment the protests changed her.
    It was June 12 last year, and police were firing tear gas at peaceful protesters whose arms and sometimes necks were wrapped in cling film to protect themselves from getting burned.    Something snapped inside her as she sent supplies of safety goggles, water, helmets and umbrellas to the front line.
    At a protest a month later, she picked up a brick from a sidewalk, intending to hurl it at riot police.    But she kept it in her hand for hours instead, eventually tossing it in a bin.
    “When I held a brick with my hand, I felt so heavy.    I wasn’t sure whether or not I should throw it,” she said.    “I only knew that since that night, I understood I could protect myself and others if I held a weapon in my hand.”
    After the Poly U siege, Eli was charged with rioting, facing a maximum of 10 years in prison.    In March, she fled Hong Kong for Canada, fearing she might be charged with other offences.
    She kept her plans secret from her family, who she says are all pro-Beijing and thought she was traveling abroad to study.    She was also leaving behind her boyfriend.    At the airport, she says, her heart was pumping as she feared customs officials might discover the documents she had prepared seeking political asylum in Canada.
    “I didn’t have much feeling until the plane started flying.    I began to cry.    At first, I felt relieved.    But I also realized that I wouldn’t have a chance to go back to Hong Kong anymore,” she told Reuters in a two-hour phone call on an encrypted app.    “I felt like I have abandoned my loved one.”
    Eli, who suffers from a defective heart valve, remains plagued by guilt for leaving.    One time, she said, her boyfriend woke up from a nightmare and called her.    She tried to comfort him, but he lashed out.
    “‘What are you scared of? You have left already,'” he told her.    “I was hurt by what he said… He later apologised and knew he said something wrong, but it’s also a cruel fact.”
    After arriving in Canada, Eli finally had the time to recover from the traumatic experience at the front line.    Advised by her doctor, she tries to take a walk every day for stress relief.
    But she’s been buffeted by a stream of bad news on her iPhone.    Other activists have gone into exile, some by plane, others by speedboat.    Some have been caught fleeing, including 12 who were intercepted by the Chinese coast guard and kept incommunicado in a mainland jail, denied access to family, friends and family-appointed lawyers.
    Still, Eli has plunged into advocacy work in her adopted country, helping organise rallies, designing protest art: little acts to sustain the West’s attention on Hong Kong.
    Fellow activists have done the same in other countries, including Taiwan, Britain, the United States and Australia, forging an international front of resistance that follows those from other restive parts of China, including Tibet and Xinjiang.
    “To Hong Kongers, there’s no resistance without paying a heavy cost,” she said.    “I think Hong Kongers need to be like water, and try to find grey areas where they can continue to resist. … I’m still resisting here in a foreign country.”
THE FUTURE
    Prince Wong was a committed protester who went to almost every demonstration last year.    Her time ran out at midnight on November 18, 2019, during the Poly U standoff.
    She was in Yau Ma Tei, a district close to campus.    There were desperate calls online for reinforcements to save those trapped inside.    A police van, its siren blaring, suddenly screeched toward the protesters, causing a stampede.    She tried running away, but was pressed down by the strong arms of a cop and arrested.
    “My life planning was messed up and greatly affected by the rioting case.    I could be put in jail at any time.    I was pushed to the edge by the regime,” she said.
    She suffered from depression after her arrest. When some of her friends arrested in other protests learned that, they encouraged her to go hiking with them in the hills, valleys, islands and shores of Hong Kong’s wilder places.    She started to heal and reflect on what more she could do.
    “I wanted to use my situation to do more, to speak out more, and so I started to think about running for the election.”
    She decided to run in the now-cancelled legislative council elections, to become the face and voice for the anonymous protesters.
    “Running for the election was never my final goal,” said Wong, a final-year student at Lingnan University.    “I want to continue the momentum of the protests.    It’s a medium to continue my role, or to speak for those who might not be able to show their face.”
    Reuters first interviewed Wong back in 2015, a year after she staged a hunger strike outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong during the so-called “umbrella movement” fighting for democratic rights.    That movement, which saw protesters blocking major roads in the city for almost three months, failed to wrest any concessions from China, but sowed the seeds for the bigger battle last year.
    “The elderly often say that my generation will be the ones to live long enough to see a democratic Hong Kong,” she said at the time.    “But I am not so naive to fully believe that it will happen in our time, either.”
    Five years later, she still feels the same, except there’s more responsibility on her shoulders to pass on the light in the darkest hours of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
    “I won’t feel depressed because we can’t achieve it now.    You will influence the next generation, and maybe they will know the answer.”
(This story was refiled to tweak language in graf 11)
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Jessie Pang; editing by Kari Howard. Additional reporting from the Hong Kong newsroom.)

11/30/2020 Vietnam Steps Up Online Crackdown, Jailed Activists At Record High: Amnesty
FILE PHOTO: A Facebook user logs in on his mobile at a cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – The number of political prisoners in Vietnam has reached its highest on record, according to a tally by Amnesty International, which in a report on Tuesday accused Facebook and Google of censorship in the Southeast Asian country.
    There are at least 170 “prisoners of conscience” in Vietnam, the report said, of which around 70 are currently serving jail terms for online activism, mainly on Facebook and Google’s YouTube.
    “Once the great hope for the expansion of freedom of expression in the country, social media platforms are fast becoming human rights–free zones, where any peaceful dissent or criticism of the Vietnamese government is liable to be censored,” the report said.
    The current number of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam is the highest that London-based Amnesty has reported since it began publishing the figures in 1996, an Amnesty spokesman told Reuters.
    Amnesty defines prisoners of conscience as people who have not used or advocated violence, but were imprisoned because of their identity or beliefs.
    Vietnam’s foreign ministry, which handles enquires from foreign media, did not respond to a request for comment.
    Despite sweeping economic reform and openness to social change, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party retains tight control on media, tolerates little opposition and has intensified a crackdown on dissidents and online activists ahead of a key Party meeting next year.
    Earlier this month, Reuters reported that Vietnam had threatened to shut down Facebook locally if it did not agree to censor more political content.    Vietnam’s government said at the time that Facebook should abide by local laws.
    Amnesty’s report said the U.S. social media giants do not do enough to resist government pressure to censor posts.    It cited interviews with Vietnamese activists who said their posts had been censored.
    Both Facebook and Google have said that they only restrict access to content if it violates local laws.    One such law, Article 117, prohibits Vietnamese citizens from “making, storing or spreading” anti-state materials.
(Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Martin Petty)

12/1/2020 China Gave COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate To North Korea’s Kim, U.S. Analyst Says by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holds an emergency enlarged meeting of Political Bureau of WPK Central Committee
in this undated photo released on July 25, 2020 by North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – China has provided North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his family with an experimental coronavirus vaccine, a U.S. analyst said on Tuesday, citing two unidentified Japanese intelligence sources.
    Harry Kazianis, a North Korea expert at the Center for the National Interest think tank in Washington, said the Kims and several senior North Korean officials had been vaccinated.
    It was unclear which company had supplied its drug candidate to the Kims and whether it had proven to be safe, he added.
    “Kim Jong Un and multiple other high-ranking officials within the Kim family and leadership network have been vaccinated for coronavirus within the last two to three weeks thanks to a vaccine candidate supplied by the Chinese government,” Kazianis wrote in an article for online outlet 19FortyFive.
    Citing U.S. medical scientist Peter J. Hotez, he said at least three Chinese companies were developing a coronavirus vaccine, including Sinovac Biotech Ltd, CanSinoBio and Sinophram Group.
    Sinophram says its candidate has been used by nearly one million people in China, although none of the firms was known to have publicly launched Phase 3 clinical trials of their experimental COVID-19 drugs.
    North Korea has not confirmed any coronavirus infections, but South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) has said an outbreak there cannot be ruled out as the country had trade and people-to-people exchanges with China – the source of the pandemic – before shutting the border in late January.
    Microsoft said last month that two North Korean hacking groups had tried to break into the network of vaccine developers in multiple countries, without specifying the companies targeted.    Sources told Reuters they included British drugmaker AstraZeneca.
    The NIS said last week it had foiled North Korea’s attempts to hack into South Korean COVID-19 vaccine makers.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Stephen Coates)

12/1/2020 Chinese Embassy Says Australia ‘Misread’ Offending Social Media Post by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference
in Beijing, China September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – China’s embassy in Australia said politicians there had “misread” a tweet showing a digitally-altered image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child, and were trying to stoke nationalism.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday called the tweet posted by China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, “truly repugnant,” and called for an apology.
    On Tuesday the tweet was pinned to the top of Zhao’s social media account, and China’s Global Times newspaper, known for nationalistic views, interviewed the Chinese artist who created the image.
    “The rage and roar of some Australian politicians and media is nothing but misreading of and overreaction to Mr Zhao’s tweet,” the Chinese embassy in Canberra said in a statement on Tuesday.
    Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary had called ambassador Cheng Jingye on Monday to complain about the social media post, it confirmed, adding that Cheng had “refuted the unwarranted accusations as absolutely unacceptable.”
    Australia was seeking to “stoke domestic nationalism,” and “deflect public attention from the horrible atrocities by certain Australian soldiers,” it said.
    New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said earlier on Tuesday that New Zealand has registered its concern with Chinese authorities over the use of the “unfactual” image of the soldier.
    An independent investigation into allegations of war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan found 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians were killed, and Australia has said 19 soldiers will be referred for potential criminal prosecution.
    Morrison apologised to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani before the public release of the investigation report a fortnight ago.
    The inflammatory tweet came just days after China effectively blocked an A$1.2 billion ($883.44 million) wine export industry by imposing dumping tariffs of up to 200% on Australian wine.
    Australia has said there looks to be a pattern of Chinese trade sanctions against Australian products this year, linked to Beijing’s diplomatic grievances over Australia’s national security, human rights and foreign policy decisions.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

12/1/2020 Indian Government Invites Protesting Farmers For Talks On Tuesday by Mayank Bhardwaj
Security personnel wearing protective face masks are seen at the site of a protest against the newly
passed farm bills at Singhu border near Delhi, India, December 1, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s government invited protesting farmers for talks on Tuesday, seeking to allay concerns about new laws growers fear could pave the way for the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the mercy of private buyers.
    In a letter addressed to 32 farmers’ unions, Sanjay Agrawal, the most senior civil servant at the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, urged farmers to come forward for talks with government ministers and officials.
    The government had earlier invited farmers for talks on Thursday but agreed to meet on Tuesday due to cold weather and the coronavirus pandemic, Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said.
    The protests have intensified since last week when farmers arrived in trucks, buses and tractors at Delhi’s Singhu border with Haryana state and blocked the main northern highway into the capital.
    Earlier, an umbrella group representing different farmers’ unions slammed the government for saying it would engage in talks with the farmers if they moved their protest off the roads into a designated stadium site.
    If the government is serious about addressing the demands of farmers, it should stop laying down conditions, they said.
    Small growers fear the new laws will make them vulnerable to competition from big business, and that they could eventually lose price supports for staples such as wheat and rice.
    On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi resisted calls for the repeal of farm reforms, saying growers were being misled and that new laws would benefit them.
    India’s vast farm sector contributes nearly 15% of the country’s $2.9 trillion economy and employs around half its 1.3 billion people.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Lincoln Fest.)

12/1/2020 Iranian MPs Seek Hardening Of Nuclear Stance After Scientist Killed
FILE PHOTO: Members of Iranian forces carry the coffin of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during a funeral
ceremony in Tehran, Iran November 30, 2020. Iranian Defense Ministry/ WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -A bill requiring Iran’s government to suspend nuclear inspections unless sanctions are lifted, and ignore other restraints on its nuclear programme agreed with major powers, was passed by the hardline-led parliament on Tuesday.
    But the government promptly said the move, proposed in response to the assassination of a top nuclear scientist on Friday, could not change Iran’s nuclear policy, which was the province of the Supreme National Security Council.
    “Death to America! Death to Israel!” lawmakers chanted after passing a draft of the bill in a session broadcast live on state radio.
    Lawmakers later passed the full bill, including a provision requiring the government to suspend United Nations nuclear inspections if Western powers which are still part of the 2015 nuclear accords, as well as China and Russia, do no re-establish Iran’s access to world banking and oil markets within a month.
    Parliament has often demanded a hardening of Iran’s position on the nuclear issue in recent years, without much success.
    In this case, the government must decide whether a sharp response to Friday’s killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh might jeopardise the prospect of an improvement in ties with the United States once Joe Biden takes over from Donald Trump as president.
    “The government believes that, under the constitution, the nuclear accord and the nuclear programme… are under the jurisdiction of the Supreme National Security Council… and parliament cannot deal with this by itself,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters, according to state media.
    A senior Iranian official said on Monday that Tehran suspected a foreign-based opposition group of complicity with Israel in the killing of Fakhrizadeh, whom Western powers see as the architect of an abandoned Iranian nuclear weapons programme.    The group rejected the accusation.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment on the killing.    Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi said on Saturday he did not know who had carried it out.
    The bill, which still needs to be endorsed by a clerical body to become law, also called for Iran to enrich uranium “for peaceful uses” to 20% purity in breach of the nuclear accord.    Iran has already breached the limits set in its deal with world powers, which scrapped sanctions in return for curbs to Tehran’s nuclear programme, to protest at Trump’s withdrawal from the accord and the reimposition of sanctions.
    The maximum fissile purity to which it has enriched uranium has remained around 4.5%, above the deal’s 3.67% cap but below the 20% Iran had achieved before, and below the 90% purity that is considered weapons-grade.
    Biden has said he will return the United States to the 2015 deal if Iran resumes compliance.    Iran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey, William Maclean)

12/1/2020 Analysis: Iran’s Achilles’ Heel? Security Gaps And Possible Enemy Infiltration by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: A view shows the scene of the attack that killed Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,
outside Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist has exposed security gaps which suggest its security forces may have been infiltrated and that the Islamic Republic is vulnerable to further attacks.
    Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s killing on Friday followed two other big security lapses — the theft of Iran’s nuclear archive and a fire at a nuclear facility this year that some Iranian officials blamed on cyber sabotage.
    With Fakhrizadeh the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist killed in targeted attacks since 2010, security experts are suggesting Iran’s enemies have found its Achilles’ heel.
    Commander Hossein Dehghan, a former defence minister, told state television Fakhrizadeh had been killed because of “infiltration into Iran’s security structure.”
    Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards’ Security Force, or Close Protection Unit, assigns bodyguards and security officers to top military and civilian officials.
    “His assassins obviously operated based on detailed intelligence about martyr Fakhrizadeh’s movements,” an Iranian security official told Reuters after Fakhrizadeh was killed in an attack on his car on a highway near Tehran in broad daylight.
    “It is clearly a security weakness and many questions should be answered,” said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.    “We should know whether there are spies among security people and locate the leak. This is essential for us.”
    Iran’s military and clerical rulers have accused Israel of killing Fakhrizadeh.    Israel had identified him as a prime player in what it says is Iran’s nuclear weapons quest though Tehran denies seeking nuclear arms.
    Israel has not commented on the incident but in the past has acknowledged pursuing covert operations against Iran’s nuclear programme to gather intelligence.
    “There are conflicting accounts on how Fakhrizadeh was assassinated, but a degree of infiltration is certain – and this is what worries the Islamic Republic the most,” said Kasra Aarabi, an Iran analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Change think tank.
CONTRADICTORY SCENARIOS
    Iran has given contradictory details of the killing of Fakhrizadeh.    Shortly after he was killed, witnesses told state television that a truck exploded before a group of gunmen opened fire on Fakhrizadeh’s car.
    On Sunday, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, told state TV it was “a very sophisticated assassination that was carried out remotely with electronic devices” and with no people on the ground.
    “We have no idea whether these reports of a satellite-controlled-truck-mounted-machine-gun are true, but they serve two key purposes for Tehran: trying to deflect embarrassment by portraying the assassination as remarkably sophisticated; and showing how quickly they can crack the case,” said Henry Rome, senior analyst with Eurasia Group.
    Iran’s inability to thwart such operations could encourage future attempts.
    “The existence of large chinks in Iran’s nuclear armour is sure to raise questions over the role sabotage could or should play in any future counter proliferation policy towards Tehran,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank in Washington.
    In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had smuggled hundreds of kilograms of paper and digital files on Iran’s secret nuclear weapons programme out of the Islamic Republic.    Iran rejected this as fraudulent.
    Fakhrizadeh’s killing comes months after a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed Qassem Soleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force.    Tehran retaliated by launching missile strikes against U.S. targets in Iraq.
    In July, Iran executed an Iranian man convicted of spying for U.S. and Israeli intelligence.    The Judiciary said Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd, who was arrested in 2018, had spied on Soleimani but that the case was not connected to Soleimani’s killing on Jan. 3.
CRUSHING” RESPONSE OR NOT?
    Iran has said it will launch a “crushing” response to Fakhrizadeh’s killing.
    Political analysts said retaliatory measures could make it hard for U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, to scrap President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran.
    Biden has said that if Tehran resumes compliance with the 2015 agreement with six powers limiting its nuclear programme, he will return to the pact, which Trump quit in 2018 and then reimposed sanctions that have hit Iran’s economy hard.
    “Iran will retaliate but it will not be a crushing response that could lead to full-blown war with Israel,” said an analyst in Tehran, who asked not to be named.
    President Hassan Rouhani has said Iran will retaliate for Fakhrizadeh’s killing at “the proper time” but will not “fall into Israel’s trap” in the last weeks of Trump’s presidency.
    “Considering that Trump is still in the White House for another two months, Tehran’s escalation options are going to have to be restrained,” said Taleblu.    “Despite talk of a potential military reprisal against Israel directly, that would be a low-probability high-impact scenario.”
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

12/2/2020 Hong Kong Activist Joshua Wong Jailed For Thirteen-And-A-Half Months For Anti-Government Protest by Jessie Pang and Clare Jim
An activist shows the "Five demands, not one less!" gesture before the sentencing of pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong,
Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, at West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong, China December 2, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Joshua Wong, 24, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists, was jailed on Wednesday for 13-1/2 months for his role in an unlawful anti-government rally in 2019, the toughest and most high-profile sentencing of an opposition figure this year.
    Wong’s sentence comes as critics say the Beijing-backed government is intensifying a crackdown on Hong Kong’s opposition and wide-ranging freedoms guaranteed after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, a charge authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong reject.
    Wong had pleaded guilty to organising and inciting an unlawful assembly near the city police headquarters during the height of the sometimes violent demonstrations in June last year.    He faced a maximum of three years in jail.
    About 100 supporters gathered quietly inside the court ahead of the sentence, while a small group of pro-Beijing people rallied outside, calling for a hefty prison sentence.
    “I know the coming days will be tougher.    We will hang in there,” Wong shouted after the sentence was read out.
    “It’s not the end of the fight,” Wong said later through his lawyer.
    “Ahead of us is another challenging battleground.    We’re now joining the battle in prison along with many brave protesters, less visible yet essential in the fight for democracy and freedom for Hong Kong.”
    Wong’s long-time colleagues Agnes Chow, 23, and Ivan Lam, 26, were jailed for a total of 10 and seven months, respectively, on charges linked to the same siege when thousands of protesters surrounded the police headquarters on June 21 to demand the government withdraw a now-shelved extradition bill.
    Chow, who cried inside the court room on hearing her sentence, had pleaded guilty to incitement and participation in an unlawful protest, while Lam pleaded guilty to incitement.
    Ahead of sentencing, the judge read a letter from Wong’s mother to the court in which she said her son was “a young person who cares about society and is persistent in his ideals.”
    Under Hong Kong’s handover agreement in 1997, Beijing promised to maintain the free-wheeling city’s way of life for 50 years under a “one country, two systems” formula, although some fear 2047 is arriving early as authorities tighten their grip.
    Rights groups were swift to condemn the court ruling.
    “By targeting well-known activists from Hong Kong’s largely leaderless protest movement, authorities are sending a warning to anyone who dares openly criticize the government that they could be next,” Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said.
    U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn accused China of cracking down on human rights and destroying “any semblance of autonomy in Hong Kong.”
    “Keep the faith, Joshua, you are truly an inspiration to freedom fighters everywhere,” Blackburn said in a statement.
    A familiar face at democracy protests since he was a teenager, Wong was less than a year old when Hong Kong returned to Beijing 23 years ago with a guarantee of freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.
    Democracy activists say Beijing is rapidly chipping away at those freedoms, with the imposition of a national security law on June 30 seen as the latest blow to the city’s liberties, which are crucial for its status as a global financial hub.
    In recent months, the Hong Kong government has expelled opposition lawmakers from the legislature, disqualified pro-democracy candidates from running in a now-postponed election and arrested more than 30 people under the security legislation.
    The expulsion of opposition lawmakers prompted democrats to resign en masse, leaving the legislature devoid of any opposition democrats for the first time since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule.
(Reporting By Jessie Pang, Clare Jim, Twinnie Siu and Donny Kwok; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Kim Coghill)

12/1/2020 U.N. Security Council Unlikely To Act On Iran Scientist Killing, Diplomats Say
Members of Iranian forces carry the coffin of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during a funeral ceremony
in Tehran, Iran November 30, 2020. Iranian Defense Ministry/ WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Just hours after the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, Tehran demanded the United Nations Security Council condemn the killing and take action against those responsible, but diplomats say the call is likely to go unheeded.
    At a minimum, the 15-member body could discuss Friday’s killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh behind closed doors if a member requests such a meeting or it could agree on – by consensus – a statement on the issue.
    But South Africa’s U.N. ambassador, Jerry Matjila, council president for December, said on Tuesday that no member had so far requested to discuss the killing or Iran in general.    Diplomats also said there had been no discussion of a statement.
    The Security Council is charged with maintaining international peace and security and has the ability to authorize military action and impose sanctions.    But such measures require at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, France, Britain, Russia or China.
    While no party has claimed responsibility for the killing of Fakhrizadeh – viewed by Western powers as the architect of Iran’s abandoned nuclear weapons program – Iran has accused Israel.    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment.
    The United States traditionally shields Israel from any action at the Security Council.    Washington has declined to comment on the assassination of the scientist.
    The U.N. investigator on extra-judicial executions, Agnes Callamard, said on Friday that many questions surrounded the killing of Fakhrizadeh, but noted the definition of an extraterritorial targeted killing outside of an armed conflict.
    Callamard posted on Twitter that such a killing was “a violation of international human rights law prohibiting the arbitrary deprivation of life and a violation of the U.N. Charter prohibiting the use of force extraterritorially in times of peace.”
    Iran also addressed its letter on Friday to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. In response, Guterres urged restraint and condemned “any assassination or extra-judicial killing,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Saturday.
    The Security Council is due to meet on Dec. 22 for its biannual meeting on compliance with a resolution that enshrines a 2015 nuclear accord between world powers and Iran, which U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration quit in 2018.
    Any council member or Iran could choose to raise the killing of Fakhrizadeh during that meeting.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Peter Cooney)

12/2/2020 Signs Of Dissent Within Thai Military As Protests Grow by Chayut Setboonsarng and Matthew Tostevin
FILE PHOTO: Police officers sit on the ground after the motorcade carrying Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn and
Queen Suthida drove past towards the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand October 14, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – In July, as thousands of Thais demanded the resignation of the government in one of the largest street demonstrations since a 2014 military coup, Army Sergeant Ekkachai Wangkaphan sided with the protesters.
    “Down with dictatorship,” he wrote on Facebook under a news story about a jailed activist, a week before the protest.    On the day of the protest, July 18, he shared a livestream and pictures with the hashtag of the Free Youth protest group.    A few weeks later, he shared a photo of a protester carrying a placard saying “The country where you speak the truth and you go to jail.”
    His superiors in the Royal Thai Army warned him to stop.    But he had already made up his mind to quit and left the army in October.
    “When the protests escalated, orders to prohibit social media posts came in more often,” Ekkachai, 33, told Reuters in an interview.    “They want to nip it in the bud, but they can’t.”
    Social media is exposing discontent among some soldiers, police and civil servants after months of protests against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.    Although Thai soldiers have occasionally expressed sympathy for protesters in past bouts of political unrest, the rapid expansion of social media is making it difficult to contain.
    Reuters reviewed dozens of social media posts and messages on chat groups used by soldiers and police and found many expressing sympathy with protesters and anger or unease over the way those who oppose the government are being treated. Some posted about their loyalty to Thailand’s institutions.
    It is impossible to establish how far disaffection reaches based on social media activity.    But the posts have attracted the attention of authorities.
    “If you are posting things that are creating misunderstanding and provocation that would create instability, that is inappropriate,” said Colonel Sirijan Ngathong, the army’s deputy spokeswoman, adding that commanding officers were reviewing the social media activity of soldiers to prevent breaches of army rules.
    She did not respond to requests for comment on the case involving Ekkachai or whether surveillance had increased since protests escalated in July.
    Some posts appeared on the viral video-sharing app TikTok.    One TikTok video, now removed, showed a soldier giving the three-fingered salute, a gesture of resistance featured in “The Hunger Games” film that Thailand’s student-led, anti-government protest movement adopted.    “Keep up the struggle, Thai brothers and sisters,” said the caption.
    The video’s author told Reuters that he is a serving professional soldier but asked that his name not be used.
    Some sections of the army have intensified their clampdown.    A message posted by a coordinator in a private chat group used by officers in one artillery regiment, reviewed by Reuters, prohibited soldiers from joining protests or giving any political opinions on social media.
    “After finding political expressions that were not suitable, commanders are asked to consider and rectify accordingly and to explain the political situation correctly to troops,” the message said.
    The army did not respond to a request for comment on the message.
    It is unclear if disaffection will affect the protests or the way the government responds to them.
    “While there is some disaffection within the armed forces, grumblings do not remain significant enough to constitute a significant faction,” said Paul Chambers, a politics expert at Naresuan University in northern Thailand.
    Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri declined to comment on disaffection among members of the security forces or civil service, saying only that the country should be focused on dialogue between those with different views.
PROTESTS SWELL
    Tens of thousands of people have protested in the streets of Thailand since July, calling for a new constitution and the removal of Prayuth, who led a military coup in 2014. Protesters have also demanded curbs on the powers of the king, until recently a taboo subject in a country where criticism of the monarchy is a crime.
    The army plays a pivotal role in Thailand, which has been ruled by serving or former military officers for more than two-thirds of the time since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.    Thailand’s army has seized power 13 times since then and has on several occasions been involved in bloody crackdowns on protesters including in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010.
    Although many of the coups have had the broad support of the armed forces, cracks in the military have been exposed in the past.    During a bloody 2010 crackdown on red-shirted anti-government protesters in Bangkok, some green-uniformed soldiers openly sympathized with the demonstrators, tipping off the group’s leaders ahead of a planned army operation.    They were dubbed “watermelons” – green on the outside with red sympathies on the inside.
    That same year, rogue general Khattiya Sawasdipol – known as “Seh Daeng” or “Commander Red” – was assassinated after he came out in support of anti-government protesters, showing that displays of disloyalty in the Thai military can be dangerous.
    “Security forces, especially those who have to confront the protesters, are in a stressful position,” said Kiranee Tammapiban-udom of government consultancy Maverick Consulting Group. They have to follow orders but at the same time are branded “servants of tyranny” by protesters, she said.
    One protest leader, Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, said he encouraged security forces to disobey orders.    “Turn your backs to your commanders, the regime will collapse,” he told Reuters.
    Another soldier who had also posted on social media said he was looking to defuse tension rather than escalate it.    “Maybe it’s time for the older generation to listen to the young,” he said.    “Asking Prayuth to quit and for changes to the constitution is not abolishing the monarchy.”
DRESS CODE: YELLOW
    Some Thai police and civil servants are also questioning their roles.    Many have been ordered to join official displays of loyalty to the crown, such as lining royal motorcade routes wearing yellow shirts – the king’s colour.
    Police Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen told Reuters such activities are part of police duty and that law enforcement was politically neutral.
    “Is this police work?” queried one police officer in an internal chat group, responding to a superior officer’s request in the group for participants to join a royal event.    The superior officer responded in the chat group that he was passing on orders and that questions should be addressed to more senior levels.
    One document seen by Reuters, sent by the Bangkok Metropolitan Police to the Office of Police Strategy, a national body, requested “250 female police officers and 1,950 male along the route of the royal motorcade” for a funeral on Oct. 29 in Bangkok.
    “Dress code: yellow shirt with yellow collar.    Long black pants, black shoes.” Bangkok police spokesman Kissana said this was a normal police duty.
    “Basically, we are disguised as civilians,” a female police officer in her late 20s from the Royal Thai Police told Reuters, asking to remain anonymous.    “We’re told to wear yellow and shout ‘Long live the king’.”    Protesters say police are easy to spot on such occasions because of their short haircuts.
    One 23-year-old civil servant complained at being ordered to attend a seminar to praise the works of the Chakri dynasty, of which Vajiralongkorn is the 10th king.
    “I can’t do much, so I donate to the protesters,” she told Reuters.
(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Matthew Tostevin in Bangkok; Editing by Bill Rigby)

12/2/2020 Thai PM Found ‘Not Guilty’ In Conflict Of Interest Case
FILE PHOTO: Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha attends an agreement signing ceremony for purchase of AstraZeneca's potential COVID-19 vaccine at
Government House, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Bangkok, Thailand November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s constitutional court ruled on Wednesday that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was “not guilty” of a conflict of interest for staying in an army residence after retiring.
    The ruling meant that he can stay in power.    The court’s decision comes with tension high after months of protests to demand his removal.
    Opposition parliamentarians filed a petition that it constituted a conflict of interest for Prayuth to have remained in military housing after his retirement from the army in 2014. Prayuth has said he needs to stay there for security reasons.
(This story refiles to remove extraneous word verdict from headline)
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

12/2/2020 Parliamentarians From 18 Countries Urge HK To Intervene In China Detention Case
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference following
the annual policy address in Hong Kong, China November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – More than 150 parliamentarians from 18 countries have called on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to intervene to ensure justice for 12 people, the youngest of who is 16, who have been detained in mainland China while trying to flee the city by boat.
    The 12, who had all faced charges in Hong Kong linked to anti-government protests, have been held virtually incommunicado in a mainland prison since they were detained at sea on Aug. 23, apparently while trying to reach the democratic island of Taiwan.
    Chinese authorities said last week members of the group face charges of illegal border crossing and organising an illicit border crossing, which could carry a sentence of up to seven years in jail.
    “In your role as Chief Executive, it is incumbent on you to intercede on behalf of these young people to ensure that they are guaranteed justice,” the parliamentarians said in the letter released late on Tuesday.
    “To continue to fail to do so would be a gross abdication of your responsibility to serve the people of Hong Kong and ensure their wellbeing and safety.”
    The 12 should be returned to Hong Kong immediately, be allowed to nominate legal representatives and given access to their families, they said in the letter.
    Hong Kong leader Lam has said the 12 will have to face justice in the mainland and that her government will provide them with “needed and feasible” assistance.
    Human rights groups and democracy activists have expressed fear over the conditions and treatment of the 12, with families and lawyers for them denied access.
    Chinese authorities have insisted the group be represented by officially appointed lawyers.
(Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

12/2/2020 Hong Kong Activist Joshua Wong Defiant As He Is Jailed Over 13 Months For Protest by Jessie Pang and Clare Jim
Pro-democracy activists Ivan Lam and Joshua Wong arrive at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre by prison van after being sentenced to jail for unauthorised assembly
near the police headquarters during last year's anti-government protests in Hong Kong, China December 2, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Joshua Wong, 24, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists, was jailed on Wednesday for more than 13 months over an unlawful anti-government rally in 2019, the toughest and most high-profile sentence for an opposition figure this year.
    Wong’s sentence comes as critics say the Beijing-backed government is intensifying a crackdown on Hong Kong’s opposition and chipping away at wide-ranging freedoms guaranteed after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, a charge authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong reject.
    Reacting to the court ruling, Britain’s foreign minister Dominic Raab urged Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to stop their campaigns to stifle the opposition.
    Wong had pleaded guilty to organising and inciting an unlawful assembly near the city’s police headquarters during the height of the sometimes violent demonstrations in June last year.    He faced a maximum of three years in jail.
    About 100 supporters gathered quietly inside the court ahead of the sentence, while a small group of pro-Beijing people rallied outside, calling for a hefty prison sentence.
    “I know the coming days will be tougher.    We will hang in there,” Wong, wearing a black sweater and surgical face mask, shouted after the sentence was read out.
    “It’s not the end of the fight,” Wong said later through his lawyers.
    “Ahead of us is another challenging battleground. We’re now joining the battle in prison along with many brave protesters, less visible yet essential in the fight for democracy and freedom for Hong Kong.”
    Wong’s long-time colleagues Agnes Chow, 23, and Ivan Lam, 26, were jailed for a total of 10 and seven months, respectively, on charges linked to the same siege when thousands of protesters surrounded the police headquarters on June 21 to demand the government withdraw a now-shelved extradition bill.
    Chow, who cried inside the court room on hearing her sentence, had pleaded guilty to incitement and participation in an unlawful protest, while Lam pleaded guilty to incitement.
    A familiar face at democracy protests since he was a teenager, Wong was less than a year old when Hong Kong returned to Beijing 23 years ago with a guarantee of freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.
    China’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong on June 30 was seen as the latest blow to the city’s liberties, which are crucial for its status as a global financial hub.
KEEP THE FAITH.”
    Ahead of sentencing, the district court judge read a letter from Wong’s mother to the court in which she said her son was “a young person who cares about society and is persistent in his ideals.”
    Under the handover agreement in 1997, Beijing promised to maintain the free-wheeling city’s way of life for 50 years under a “one country, two systems” formula, although some fear 2047 is arriving early as authorities tighten their grip.
    U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn accused China of cracking down on human rights and destroying “any semblance of autonomy in Hong Kong.”
    “Keep the faith, Joshua, you are truly an inspiration to freedom fighters everywhere,” Blackburn said in a statement.
    Rights groups were swift to condemn the court ruling.
    “By targeting well-known activists from Hong Kong’s largely leaderless protest movement, authorities are sending a warning to anyone who dares openly criticize the government that they could be next,” said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra.
    Wong, Chow and Lam are all former members of political group Demosisto, which was disbanded hours before Beijing imposed the security law amid fears it could be targeted.
    Hong Kong activist Sunny Cheung said Wong’s sentencing would leave a hole in the democracy movement’s fight to be heard.
    “This is a big loss to the civil society.    It also denotes a fact that Hong Kong is now entering a new stage if not a dark time which requires strategic adjustment in order to continue the fight for democracy,” Cheung said.
    In recent months, the Hong Kong government has expelled opposition lawmakers from the legislature, disqualified pro-democracy candidates from running in a now-postponed election and arrested more than 30 people under the security legislation.
    The expulsion of opposition lawmakers prompted democrats to resign en masse, leaving the legislature devoid of any opposition democrats for the first time since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule.
    Hundreds of Hong Kong activists have fled through legal or illegal channels to the democratic island of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province that should be brought back under its sovereignty, by force if necessary.
    Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) expressed grave concerns over the sentencing.
    “The DPP emphasises that what the Chinese Communists and the Hong Kong government have done today is equivalent of declaring that Hong Kong’s freedom is dead,” it said in a statement.
(Reporting By Jessie Pang, Clare Jim, Twinnie Siu, Donny Kwok, Aleksander Solum in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in TAIPEI; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Kim Coghill)

12/2/2020 Afghan Government, Taliban Reach Breakthrough Deal Even As Fighting Shows No Let-Up by Hamid Shalizi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in
Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. Picture taken with a fish-eye lens. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan government and Taliban representatives said on Wednesday they had reached a preliminary deal to press on with peace talks, their first written agreement in 19 years of war and welcomed by the United States as a chance to halt the violence.
    The agreement lays out the way forward for discussion but is considered a breakthrough because it will allow negotiators to move on to more substantive issues, including talks on a ceasefire, even as Taliban attacks on Afghan government forces have continued unabated.
    “The procedure including its preamble of the negotiation has been finalised and from now on, the negotiation will begin on the agenda,” Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, told Reuters.
    The Taliban spokesman confirmed the agreement on Twitter.
    “A joint working committee was tasked to prepare the draft topics for the agenda (of peace talks),” a joint statement from both sides said.
    The agreement comes after months of talks in Doha, the capital of Qatar, encouraged by the United States, despite the ongoing violence.
    A car bombing in the central province of Ghazni killed at least 30 security force members on Sunday, officials said.    No group claimed responsibility.
    A ceasefire remains the most urgent demand of international capitals and Kabul, even as the Taliban refused one during the preliminary stages of talks.
    “(The agreement) is a step forward towards beginning the negotiations on the main issues, including a comprehensive ceasefire as the key demand of the Afghan people,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said on Twitter, quoting the Afghan leader.
    U.S. Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter that the two sides had agreed on a “three-page agreement codifing rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire.”
    The three-page document has not yet been made public.
    “This agreement demonstrates that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues,” Khalilzad said.
    The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by U.S.-led forces for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.    A U.S.-backed government has held power in Afghanistan since then, although the Taliban have control over wide areas of the country.
TRUMP WANTS OUT
    Under a February deal, foreign forces are to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counter-terrorism guarantees from the Taliban.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has looked to hasten the withdrawal, despite criticism, saying he wanted to see all American soldiers home by Christmas to end America’s longest war.
    The Trump administration has since announced that there would be a sharp drawdown by January, but at least 2,500 troops would remain beyond then.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Tuesday warned NATO against withdrawing troops prematurely and said it should “ensure that we tie further troop reductions in Afghanistan to clear conditions.”
    “The biggest obstacle remaining is the current unacceptable level of violence: this must stop,” the UK’s mission in Kabul said on Twitter after the agreement.
    UN envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons welcomed the “positive development” on Twitter, adding that “this breakthrough should be a springboard to reach the peace wanted by all Afghans.”
    The agreement was held up last month after the insurgents balked at the document because it mentioned the Afghan government by name.
    A European Union diplomat familiar with the process said both sides had kept some contentious issues aside to deal with separately.
    “Both sides also know that Western powers are losing patience and aid has been conditional… so both sides know they have to move forward to show some progress,” said the diplomat, requesting anonymity.
    Last week, roughly $12 billion in aid was pledged by international capitals and institutions over four years for Afghanistan, but linked to annual reviews on progress in key areas such as the peace talks.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi, Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul, and Rupam Jain in Mumbai; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Macfie)

12/2/2020 Construction Of Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Monitoring Centre Has Begun: Turkey
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Construction work has started on a joint Turkish-Russian centre to monitor a ceasefire< in the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Wednesday.
    He said the centre, being built following the worst fighting in decades between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces, would be operating “very shortly
    Azerbaijan and Armenia last month signed a Russia-brokered ceasefire for the enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but mainly populated by ethnic Armenians.
    Russian peacekeepers were deployed to the region under the deal, which froze Azeri gains in six weeks of fighting.
    Turkey has no peacekeepers in the region but said it had finalised an agreement with Russia on setting up the joint centre to monitor the ceasefire.
    “An agreement was reached.    There is no written obstacle to the formation of our joint observation centre there.    Now, its construction is under way.    Our colleagues will begin working there very shortly,” Akar said.
    Turkey backs Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, and has criticised the co-chairs of the OSCE’s so-called Minsk Group for not resolving the long-running conflict in decades of mediation.    The Minsk Group is led by the United States, France and Russia.
    France, whose population includes from 400,000 to 600,000 people of Armenian origin, has said it wants international supervision of the ceasefire.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Daren Butler and Timothy Heritage)

12/4/2020 Pompeo Says Violence Levels In Afghanistan ‘Unacceptably High’
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks after a security briefing on Mount Bental in the
Israeli-occupied Golan Heights November 19, 2020. Patrick Semansky/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

12/5/2020 U.S. Ends Exchange Programs With China, Calling Them ‘Propaganda’ by Raphael Satter
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media prior to meeting with Kuwait's
Foreign Minister in Washington, D.C., U.S., November 24, 2020. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Friday it has ended five cultural exchange programs with China, calling them “soft power propaganda tools.”
    The Department said on its website it had “terminated” the Policymakers Educational China Trip Program, the U.S.-China Friendship Program, the U.S.-China Leadership Exchange Program, the U.S.-China Transpacific Exchange Program and the Hong Kong Educational and Cultural Program.
    It said that the programs had been set up under the auspices of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act – a 1961 law signed by President John F. Kennedy and aimed at boosting academic and cultural exchanges with foreign countries.
    “While other programs funded under the auspices of the MECEA are mutually beneficial, the five programs in question are fully funded and operated by the (Chinese) government as soft power propaganda tools,” the statement said.
    The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the move.    Attempts to reach representatives for the programs singled out by the State Department were not immediately successful.
(Reporting by Raphael Satter in Washington; Additional reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by William Mallard)

12/5/2020 China Tweet That Enraged Australia Propelled By ‘Unusual’ Accounts, Say Experts by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the
Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – A Chinese official’s tweet of an image of an Australian soldier that sparked a furious reaction from Canberra was amplified across social media by unusual accounts, of which half were likely fake, an Israeli cybersecurity firm and Australian experts said.
    The digitally altered image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child was tweeted by China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday.
    Twitter declined Australia’s request to remove the tweet.
    The Chinese embassy in Canberra told ABC television on Friday that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s demand for an apology drew more attention to an investigation into war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
    Cyabra, an Israeli cybersecurity firm, said it was highly probable that an orchestrated campaign had promoted Zhao’s tweet.
    Cyabra said it had found 57.5% of accounts that engaged with Zhao’s tweet were fake, and “evidence of a largely orchestrated disinformation campaign” to amplify its message.
    The firm did not give any details about who was behind the campaign.
    Cyabra said it analysed 1,344 profiles and found a large number were created in November and used once, to retweet Zhao’s tweet.
    China called Cyabra’s statement “unwarranted.”
    “This is a classic example of spreading false information.    Twitter has its own rules managing tweets,” the Foreign Ministry said late on Friday in response to Reuters questions.
    The Queensland University of Technology’s Tim Graham analysed 10,000 replies to Zhao’s tweet.
    Accounts originating in China were the most active, he said, and 8% of replies were from accounts created on the day, or in the 24 hours prior.    Many contained duplicated text.
    “When not tweeting about Afghan children, they were tweeting about Hong Kong,” he told Reuters in an interview.
    “If there’s enough of them, those irregularities suggest they were set up for a particular campaign.”
    Some of the accounts had already been identified by Graham in a data-set of 37,000 Chinese accounts targeting Australia since June, he said.
    Ariel Bogle, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said she had also noticed “unusual behaviour” by Twitter accounts retweeting or liking Zhao’s tweet.
    “There was a spike in accounts created on November 30 and December 1,” she told Reuters, adding it was too early to determine if it was coordinated inauthentic behaviour or patriotic individuals.
    Many of the new accounts only followed Zhao, plus one or two other accounts, she said. A third of accounts liking Zhao’s tweet had zero followers, ASPI noted.
    Earlier this year, Twitter said it had removed 23,750 accounts spreading geopolitical narratives favourable to the Chinese Communist Party, and another 150,000 accounts designed to amplify these messages.
    A Twitter spokeswoman said the company remains vigilant, but the Cyabra findings “don’t hold up to scrutiny” because it relied only on publicly available data.
    A Cyabra spokeswoman said its founders are information warfare experts with Israeli military backgrounds, and the U.S. State Department was among its clients.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and William Mallard)
[THIS ARTICLE IS FUNNY SINCE CHINA HAS PUT OUT PROPAGANDA TO THEIR OWN PEOPLE AND THE WORLD THAT THE CORONAVIRUS DID NOT COME FROM CHINA AND EVEN DID NOT TELL THE TRUTH TO THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION SO CHINA'S STATEMENTS ARE DISPUTED BECAUSE WE SAID SO.].

12/5/2020 China, U.S. Need To Proceed Together With ‘Good Will’: Chinese Envoy
FILE PHOTO: China's ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai responds to reporters questions
during an interview with Reuters in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China and the United States need to proceed together with “good will” to improve relations, the Chinese ambassador to Washington said on Saturday, as ties remained fraught between the world’s two biggest economic powers.
    Sino-U.S. relations have fallen to their lowest point in decades over issues from trade and security to human rights and COVID-19.    On Friday, a Chinese state media editorial said ties are being shifted to “a dangerous path.”
    “In order to put the relations on the right track, to have real improvement of the relations, both sides have to proceed with good will and good faith,” Ambassador Cui Tiankai told the Annual Conference of the Institute for China-America Studies via video link.
    “I don’t think that China should just do something to please anybody here,” he said, according to a transcript posted on his embassy’s website.
    Tensions between the two countries dramatically escalated in July when China closed the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu in retaliation for Beijing’s ouster from its consulate in Houston, Texas.
    Earlier in the year, Washington cut the number of Chinese nationals allowed to work at the U.S. offices of major Chinese state media. Beijing then expelled U.S. journalists in the China bureaus of New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.
POSITIVE GESTURES
    When asked by President of the National Committee on United States-China Relations Steve Orlins if China is prepared to reopen the Chengdu consulate among other positive gestures before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January, Cui did not rule out the possibility.
    “I have to say we did not initiate the closing of consulates.    We were not the first one to ask foreign journalists to leave the country.    We did all these things in response to actions taken by the United States.    So if the U.S. government is ready to reverse the course, we are ready to look at it,” Cui said.
    But, Orlins said, Beijing had unilaterally taken measures against U.S. interests, including the blocking of the three newspapers’ websites, as well as Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter, and that Washington had not responded to those actions.
    “There were provocations.    If you look at what happened in the past year or so,” Cui replied.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; editing by Clelia Oziel)

12/5/2020 India Fails To End Deadlock With Farmers, Talks To Resume Next Week
Farmers listen to a speaker during a protest against the newly passed farm bills
at Singhu border near Delhi, India, December 5, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s government failed on Saturday to break a deadlock with farmers protesting over agricultural reforms and will meet again on Wednesday, the agriculture minister and union leaders said.
    Thousands of Indian farmers have demonstrated against the laws, which they say threaten their livelihoods, by camping on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi and blocking highways.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says the new laws are meant to overhaul antiquated procurement procedures and give growers more options to sell their produce.
    “Farmers made it clear to the ministers that they want the government to repeal the laws,” Jagjit Singh Dhalewal, a senior farmers’ leader, said after five hours of talks on Saturday.
    Agriculture and farmers’ welfare minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters that talks will resume on Wednesday, adding the government is committed to farmers’ welfare and is keen to examine and consider the issues raised.
    Led by influential farming groups from the grain-producing states of Haryana and Punjab, the protests are a test of Modi’s ability to reform the agricultural sector.
    Agriculture makes up nearly 15% of India’s $2.9 trillion economy and employs around half of its 1.3 billion people.
    Farmers fear the legislation will eventually dismantle India’s regulated markets and stop the government from buying wheat and rice at guaranteed prices, leaving them to negotiate with private buyers.
    The are calling for the government to repeal the laws and retain mandatory government purchases, among other demands.
(Reporting by Nigam Prusty and Mayank Bharadwaj in New Delhi; Writing by Aditi Shah; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Alexander Smith)

12/5/2020 Iran’s Coronavirus Deaths Surpass 50,000 – Health Ministry
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian woman wearing a protective face mask, walks next to closed shops, as government imposed a full lockdown, amid the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tehran, Iran November 21, 2020. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Iran’s total deaths from coronavirus surpassed 50,000 on Saturday, with more than one million people infected, although transmission rates in the Middle East’s worst-affected country were slowing, state TV reported.
    Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, shopping malls and several other businesses re-opened after a two-week shutdown, following a 10-percent drop in infections over the past days.
    Officials cautioned that the situation remained “fragile” in Tehran and in the other cities that have moved from the coronavirus red alert to the lower risk orange level, said the broadcast.
    Iran’s health ministry recorded a total of 50,016 coronavirus deaths on Saturday with 321 new fatalities in the past 24 hours.
    Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 12,181 people had been infected with the coronavirus since Friday, taking the total number of COVID-19 infections to 1,028,986.
    President Hassan Rouhani warned against complacency.
    “We were heading toward the 500-daily death” toll, Rouhani said in televised remarks, adding that 64 of the 160 cities that were put under red alert two weeks ago remained at high risk.
    He warned that Tehran was teetering towards the “red border” and could return to the higher risk level within a week or two if appropriate health protocols are not observed.
    Tougher restrictions were enforced on November 21 in Iran’s major cities, such as Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashhad, where non-essential businesses and services were shut down, including shops, malls, and restaurants.
(Editing by Ros Russell)

12/6/2020 South Korea Tightens Curbs In Seoul As COVID-19 Cases Hit 9-Month High: Media by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks walk at a traditional market amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Seoul, South Korea, November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea will impose heightened social distancing rules for the capital Seoul and surrounding areas, local media reported on Sunday, as health authorities struggle to contain the largest wave of coronavirus infections in nine months.
    The decision comes after the government implemented unprecedented measures on Saturday in a country that had seen initial success through aggressive contact tracing and other steps.
    The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 631 new cases as of midnight Saturday – the largest daily tally since a peak in February and early March – bringing the country’s total to 37,546, with 545 deaths.
    The new wave of infections has brought the number of active cases in South Korea to a record 7,873, according to the KDCA, raising concerns over the dwindling number of hospital beds.
    Many of the recent cases have been centred in Seoul, which on Saturday launched unprecedented curfews, shuttering most establishments and shops at 9 p.m. (1200 GMT) for two weeks and cutting back public transportation operations by 30% in the evenings.
    Under Sunday’s measures, gatherings of 50 or more people are prohibited and stricter attendance limits will be placed on religious gatherings and school classes, while businesses like gyms and karaoke bars will face new restrictions, Yonhap said.
    The heightened curbs will last at least three weeks, until the end of the month, news agency News1 reported.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Chris Reese and William Mallard)

12/6/2020 Ex-Hong Kong Lawmaker Ted Hui Says Accounts Frozen After He Sought Exile
FILE PHOTO: Former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung appears outside West Kowloon
Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong, China November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Former Hong Kong lawmaker Ted Hui said on Sunday his local bank accounts appeared to have been frozen after he said he would seek exile in Britain to continue his pro-democratic activities.
    Hui told Reuters via the social media Whatsapp that the banks accounts belonging to him, his wife and his parents in Bank of China Hong Kong, HSBC and Hang Seng Bank were frozen.    He gave no further details.
    Democracy activists say conditions have worsened in the former British colony after China imposed security legislation on the financial hub in June, making anything Beijing regards as subversion, secession, terrorism or colluding with foreign forces punishable by up to life in prison.
    China, which promises Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, denies curbing rights and freedoms, but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved swiftly to quash dissent after anti-government protests erupted last year and engulfed the city.
    Local media reported that at least five accounts worth hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars belonging to Hui and his family, all of whom are now in Britain, had been inaccessible since Saturday.
    Hui contacted the banks and was told there were “remarks” placed on his accounts, but the staff refused to provide further information, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported.
    “We do not comment on the details of individual accounts,” a Hang Seng Bank spokesman told Reuters by email.    HSBC and BOC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Hui said on Thursday he had fled after facing criminal charges and would seek exile in Britain.
    One of the pro-democracy activists arrested last month and charged with disturbing legislature proceedings, Hui arrived in Copenhagen last week on an official invitation from Danish lawmakers.
    Hong Kong’s Security Bureau issued a statement on Friday that, while not naming Hui, said “running away by jumping bail and using various excuses such as so-called ‘exile’ to avoid one’s responsibility is a shameful, hypocritical and cowardly act of recoil.”
    Hui was one of several opposition lawmakers who quit Hong Kong’s Legislative Council last month in protest at the dismissal of four colleagues in what they called another push by Beijing to suppress democracy in the city.
($1 = 7.7507 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting by Yanni Chow and Donny Kwok; Editing by William Mallard)

12/6/2020 Indonesia Receives First COVID Vaccine From China’s Sinovac
FILE PHOTO: Indonesian President Joko Widodo wearing a protective mask greets Reuters' reporters after an
interview at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccine from China on Sunday, President Joko Widodo said, as the government prepares a mass inoculation programme.
    Jokowi, as the president is widely known, said in an online briefing that the Southeast Asian country
received 1.2 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., a vaccine Indonesia has been testing since August.
    He added that the government plans to receive another 1.8 million doses in early January.
    Late-stage trials of the Sinovac vaccine are also under way in Brazil and Turkey, with interim results on efficiency from Brazil expected by mid-December.
    Indonesia is also expected this month to receive shipments of raw materials to produce 15 million doses and materials for 30 million doses next month, the president said.
    The vaccine still needs to be evaluated by the country’s food and drug agency (BPOM) while his administration continues to prepare for distributing the vaccine across the vast archipelago of 270 million people, Jokowi said.
    “We have been preparing for months through simulations in several provinces and I am sure that once it is decided that we can begin the vaccination, everything will be ready,” he said.
    Indonesia’s daily number of coronavirus infections have accelerated in recent weeks, with total confirmed cases reaching 575,796 on Sunday with 17,740 deaths, the highest in Southeast Asia.
(Reporting by Tabita Diela; Writing by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Nick Macfie)

12/7/2020 Exclusive: U.S. Preparing New Sanctions On Chinese Officials Over Hong Kong Crackdown – Sources by Humeyra Pamuk and Matt Spetalnick
FILE PHOTO: Helicopters carrying China's national flag and Hong Kong's flag fly past the skyline of Victoria Harbour
on China's National Day in Hong Kong, China October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is preparing to impose sanctions on at least a dozen Chinese officials over their alleged role in Beijing’s disqualification of elected opposition legislators in Hong Kong, according to three sources, including a U.S. official familiar with the matter.
    The move, which could come as soon as Monday, will target officials from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as President Donald Trump’s administration keeps up pressure on Beijing in his final weeks in office.    President-elect Joe Biden takes over on January 20.
    The State Department and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Up to 14 people, including officials of China’s parliament, or National People’s Congress, and members of the CCP, would likely be targeted by measures such as asset freezes and financial sanctions, two sources said.
    The U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said multiple individuals would be sanctioned.    A person familiar with the matter said the group would likely include officials from Hong Kong as well as the mainland.    The sources did not provide names or positions of those being targeted for sanctions.    Two sources cautioned an announcement could still be delayed until later in the week.
    China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Beijing has previously condemned U.S. sanctions related to Hong Kong, calling it interference in China’s internal affairs.     Stock markets in Asia gave up early gains on worries the move may signal a further deterioration in relations between the world’s two largest economies.
    “One thing that the market has been concerned about is that on his ‘Out of office’ Trump would look for some retribution on China. So this news speaks to that fear,” said Kyle Rodda, market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne.
    Chinese financial stocks traded in Hong Kong fell 2.3% in morning trade, their sharpest drop in six months amid worries sanctions could be extended to banks.
STAND-OFF GROWS
    In October, the U.S. State Department warned international financial institutions doing business with individuals deemed responsible for China’s crackdown in the Asian financial hub that they could soon face tough sanctions.
    Washington has already put sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the territory’s current and former police chiefs and other top officials in August for what it said was their role in curtailing freedoms in a crackdown on the territory’s pro-democracy movement.
    Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government last month expelled four opposition members from its legislature after China’s parliament gave city authorities new powers to curb dissent.    The move triggered mass resignations by pro-democracy opposition lawmakers in the former British colony.
    It also raised further alarm in the West.    The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group – made up of Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – said last month the move appeared to be part of a campaign to silence critics and called on Beijing to reverse course.
    White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in November the expulsion showed the “One Country, Two Systems” formula, under which Hong Kong’s autonomy had been promised since Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997, was now “merely a fig leaf” and promised further U.S. action.
    That month, the State Department and Treasury Department imposed sanctions on four more Chinese officials in Hong Kong’s government and security establishment, barring them from traveling to the United States and blocking any U.S.-related assets they might have.
    Hong Kong is expected to be one of Biden’s thorniest challenges with China, which will be high on his foreign policy agenda with relations between Washington and Beijing at the lowest point in decades over an array of disputes.
    Biden has promised to take a tougher line than Trump over human rights in China and other countries, so his response to the crackdown in Hong Kong could be an early test of that resolve.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Donny Kwok in Hong Kong, Luoyan Liu in Shanghai and Swati Pandey in Sydney; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lincoln Feast.)

12/7/2020 China’s Senior Diplomat Hopes U.S. Policy On China Can ‘Return To Objectivity’
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi wearing a face mask following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak attends the opening session of the
National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    (Reuters) – China’s senior diplomat Wang Yi said on Monday he hoped and believed that U.S. policy on China could eventually “return to objectivity and rationality.”
    China’s relations with the United States hit rock bottom during the Trump administration, which is set to be replaced by new leadership when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.
    Speaking to a group of business leaders from U.S. firms, Wang, who is China’s state councillor and foreign minister, said both countries should respect each other’s history, core interests and “the systems and paths chosen by our people” when managing differences and conflicts.
    “China and the U.S. can totally cooperate on areas such as managing the pandemic, economy recovery and climate change,” Wang added.
    It is up to the U.S. to “make the correct decision” on future relations, he said.
    Wang called for both countries to resume dialogues at all levels and to encourage friendly exchanges between legislatures, think tanks, business communities and the media.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Tom Hogue and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

12/7/2020 China Says Firmly Opposes U.S. Interference In Its Domestic Affairs
FILE PHOTO: Flags of U.S. and China are displayed at American International Chamber of Commerce (AICC)'s booth
during China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing, China, May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Monday it firmly opposes and strongly condemns U.S. interference in its domestic affairs if a media report that Washington is preparing new sanctions on Chinese officials over a Hong Kong crackdown is true.
    If the United States insists on going down the wrong path, China will continue to take firm counter measures to safeguard its sovereignty and security, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman with the foreign ministry told a briefing.
    The United States is preparing to impose sanctions on at least a dozen Chinese officials over their alleged role in Beijing’s disqualification of elected opposition legislators in Hong Kong, Reuters reported on Monday citing sources.
(Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk; Editing by Kim Coghill)

12/7/2020 European Powers Rebuke Iran After Uranium Enrichment Announcement
PARIS (Reuters) -France, Germany and Britain said on Monday they were alarmed by an Iranian announcement that it intended to install additional, advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges and by legislation that could expand its nuclear programme.
    “If Iran is serious about preserving a space for diplomacy, it must not implement these steps,” the three powers, who along with China and Russia are party to a 2015 nuclear containment deal with Tehran, known as the JCPoA, said in a joint statement.
    A confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained by Reuters said Iran plans to install three more cascades, or clusters, of advanced IR-2m centrifuges in its enrichment plant at Natanz, which was built underground apparently to withstand any aerial bombardment.

12/7/2020 China Says Firmly Opposes U.S. Sanctioning Chinese Officials
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying attends a news conference in Beijing, China October 9, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Suen
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China firmly opposes and strongly condemns U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposing sanctions on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) United Front Work Department, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
    China will take the necessary and legitimate measures to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development rights, Hua Chunying, spokeswoman with the ministry told a briefing.
    Pompeo said on Friday that he had imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials and others who have used or threatened to use violence, the release of private information or other coercive tactics to intimidate critics.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tom Hogue)

12/7/2020 Iran Says ‘Smart Satellite-Controlled Machine Gun’ Killed Top Nuclear Scientist
FILE PHOTO: Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is seen in Iran in this undated photo taken before
his death. Official Khamenei Website/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist last month was carried out remotely with artificial intelligence and a machine gun equipped with a “satellite-controlled smart system,” Tasnim news agency quoted a senior commander as saying.
    Iran has blamed Israel for the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was seen by Western intelligence services as the mastermind of a covert Iranian programme to develop nuclear weapons capability.    Tehran has long denied any such ambition.
    Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the killing, but in the past has acknowledged pursuing covert, intelligence-gathering operations against the nuclear programme of its arch-enemy Iran.
    The Islamic Republic has given contradictory details of Fakhrizadeh’s death in a daytime Nov. 27 ambush on his car on a highway near Tehran.
    “No terrorists were present on the ground…Martyr Fakhrizadeh was driving when a weapon, using an advanced camera, zoomed in on him,” Tasnim, a semi-official agency, quoted Ali Fadavi, the deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, as saying in a ceremony on Sunday.
    “The machine gun was placed on a pick-up truck and was controlled by a satellite.”
    Fadavi spoke after Iranian authorities said they had found “clues about the assassins,” though they have yet to announce any arrests.    Shortly after Fakhrizadeh was killed, witnesses told state television that a truck had exploded before a group of gunmen opened fire on his car.     Last week Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, said the killing was carried out with “electronic devices” with no people on the ground.
    Experts and officials told Reuters last week Fakhrizadeh’s killing exposed security gaps that suggest its security forces may have been infiltrated and that the Islamic Republic is vulnerable to further attacks.
    “Some 13 shots were fired at martyr Fakhrizadeh with a machine gun controlled by satellite…During the operation artificial intelligence and face recognition was used,” Fadavi said.    “His wife, sitting 25 centimetres away from him in the same car, was not injured.”
    Fakhrizadeh, identified by Israel as a prime player in what it says is a continuing Iranian quest for a nuclear weapon, was the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist killed in targeted attacks since 2010 inside Iran, and the second slaying of a high-ranking Iranian official in 2020.
    The commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq in January.    Tehran retaliated by firing missiles at U.S. military targets in Iraq.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/7/2020 U.S. Slaps Sanctions On 14 Chinese Officials Over Hong Kong Crackdown by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter near The Bund, before U.S. trade delegation meet their
Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Monday imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on 14 Chinese officials over their alleged role in Beijing’s disqualification last month of elected opposition legislators in Hong Kong.
    The move, which was first reported by Reuters overnight and sent Asian stock markets lower, targeted the vice chairpersons of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), the top decision-making body of the Chinese legislature.
    The action was widely seen as part of an effort by outgoing President Donald Trump to cement his tough-on-China legacy and also box president-elect Joe Biden, before he takes office on Jan. 20, into hardline positions on Beijing at a time of bipartisan anti-China sentiment in Congress.
    The Trump administration earlier slapped sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the Asian financial hub’s current and former police chiefs and other top officials in August for what it said was their role in curtailing freedoms in a crackdown on the territory’s pro-democracy movement.
    “Beijing’s unrelenting assault against Hong Kong’s democratic processes has gutted its Legislative Council, rendering the body a rubber stamp devoid of meaningful opposition,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
    Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government last month expelled four opposition members from its legislature after China’s parliament gave city authorities new powers to curb dissent.    The move triggered mass resignations by pro-democracy opposition lawmakers in the former British colony.
    White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in November the expulsion showed the “One Country, Two Systems” formula, under which Hong Kong’s autonomy was to be safeguarded after Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997, was now “merely a fig leaf,” and he promised further U.S. action.
    Pompeo said the NPCSC has effectively “neutered” the ability of people in Hong Kong to choose their elected representatives.    “These actions demonstrate once again Beijing’s complete disregard for its international commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a U.N.-registered treaty.”
    Beijing’s action heightened alarm in the West.    The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group – comprised of Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – said last month the move appeared to be part of a campaign to silence critics, and called on China to reverse course.
    The sanctions prohibit the 14 individuals and their immediate members from traveling to the United States.    Any assets the officials might have within the United States will be blocked and U.S. individuals and companies will be banned from dealing with them.
    The news kept global markets on edge as investors fretted over fresh Sino-U.S. tensions, which offset bets over more stimulus in Europe and the United States. [MKTS/GLOB]
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Heinrich)

12/7/2020 Iranian Official Denies Rumours Of Decline In Supreme Leader’s Health
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a virtual speech, on the occasion of the
Prophet Mohammad's birthday, in Tehran, Iran November 3, 2020. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -An official close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denied rumours on social media on Monday that the 81-year-old’s health was deteriorating.
    “By the grace of God and with the good prayers of devotees, the gentleman (Ayatollah Khamenei) is in good health and is busy vigorously carrying out his plans according to his routine,” the official, Mehdi Fazaeli, said on Twitter.
    Fazaeli has worked in an office publishing Khamenei’s work.    His tweet was also reported by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.
    The statement about Khamenei’s health appeared to be a response to reports by several news organisations, which referred to a tweet by a journalist in Arabic who said Khamenei had transferred duties to his son because of his health.
    Khamenei has served as supreme leader since 1989, with the final say on all state matters.    His health has been the subject of speculation for years.
    A security official in Israel, which closely follows events in its enemy Iran, told Reuters: “We are aware of these rumours, and regard them as rumours only.”
    The Tehran bourse’s index fell 10,000 points, or about 0.7% on Monday.
    The state news agency IRNA blamed the decline on a “rumour widely exchanged on social media,” without giving details.    But news websites, including bultannews.com, said the market was reacting to the rumours about Khamenei’s health.
(Additional Reporting by Dan Williams in JerusalemWriting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra)

12/7/2020 WHO Hopes To Visit China As Soon As Possible To Study Coronavirus Origins
FILE PHOTO: People line up to buy takeaway food, following the outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Beijing, China December 4, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    GENEVA/ZURICH (Reuters) – The World Health Organization wants to visit China “as soon as possible” to study the origins of the new coronavirus, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
    “We are planning and hope to be on the ground as soon as possible,” he told a news conference.
(Reporting by Emma Farge and John Revill; Editing by Alison Williams)
[IT WOULD BE NICE TO TAKE SOMEONE WITH YOU THAT IS NOT BIAS AS YOU HAVE SHOWN TOWARD CHINA AND YOU NEED SOMEONE TO GO WITH YOU THAT WILL FIND THE TRUTH IF THE CHINESE BIGWIGS DO NOT COVER UP THE TRUTH WHICH WILL MOST LIKELY HAPPEN AND IT IS OBVIOUSLY NOTED THAT ITALY WAS THE FIRST COUNTRY TO BUY INTO CHINA'S BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE AND HAD AIRPLANE TRAVEL AND ITALY HAD THE FIRST SEVERE WAVE OF THE CORONAVIRUS AND MASS DEATHS AND MANY AIRLINE FLIGHTS FROM THERE EXPANDED TO THE REST OF THE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS IN THE EU AND EVENTUALLY THE U.S. WHICH WE AND THE REST OF THE WORLD ARE STILL DEALING WITH IT.].

12/8/2020 Hong Kong Arrests Eight More Activists As Crackdown On Opposition Shows No Sign Of Let-Up
FILE PHOTO: Lawmaker, activist and one of the candidates in Hong Kong council elections, Leung Kwok-hung
stands outside a counting center, in Hong Kong, China November 24, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police arrested eight more activists on Tuesday over an anti-government protest in July, the latest move by authorities in a relentless crackdown on opposition forces in the Chinese-ruled city.
    The police did not identify the people, saying only that they were aged between 24 and 64.    Local media said former pro-democracy lawmaker and veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung, known as Long Hair, was among those arrested.
    The move comes a day after eight people aged between 16 and 34 were arrested, including three on suspicion of violating a sweeping national security law, over a brief demonstration at a university campus last month.
    Hong Kong police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters on July 1, the anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to Chinese rule, as thousands demonstrated despite a police ban on the annual protest.
    More than 300 were arrested in the rally that came after Beijing imposed security legislation on its freest city, saying it was vital to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of sometimes violent anti-government protests that rocked the city over the last year.
    The law punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.
    Opposition politicians and Western governments fear the law is being used to suppress dissent and erode wide-ranging freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    On Monday, the United States announced further sanctions to punish Beijing for imposing the law on Hong Kong, escalating tensions between the two sides.
(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Kim Coghill and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

12/8/2020 Explainer: What Hardline Islamic Cleric Rizieq Shihab’s Return Means For Indonesian Politics
FILE PHOTO: Rizieq Shihab, the leader of Indonesian Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), is greeted by supporters
at the Tanah Abang, Jakarta, Indonesia, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Six supporters of Indonesian Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab were killed in a shootout on Monday, police said, raising worries the clash could reignite tensions between authorities and Islamist groups in the world’s biggest Muslim majority country.
    Since his return from self-exile in Saudi Arabia last month, Rizieq has declared plans for a “moral revolution” causing unease in President Joko Widodo’s administration as Indonesia battles the coronavirus pandemic and an economic recession.
WHO IS RIZIEK SHIHAB?
    Hardline Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab has for years cut a controversial figure in Indonesian politics.
    Rizieq heads the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) group. He was jailed in 2008 for inciting violence and left Indonesia in 2017 after facing charges of pornography, and insulting state ideology, which were later dropped.
    With a reputation for raiding bars, brothels and violently cracking down on religious minorities, the FPI has since become politically influential.
    In 2016, Rizieq was the figurehead of the mass 212 movement against Jakarta’s former Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, who was jailed on charges of blasphemy for insulating Islam.
    The 2016 mass rallies, the biggest since the fall of Suharto in 1998, raised concern about the rise of identity politics and political Islam.     The President, known as “Jokowi,” viewed the rallies as one of the biggest threats to his government.
WHAT HAPPENED IN SHOOTOUT?
    When Rizieq returned to Indonesia he was met by tens of thousands of supporters and in subsequent days held several events also attended by thousands.
    Hard hit by the pandemic and amid restrictions on mass gatherings, police have twice summoned Rizieq for questioning over alleged violation of health protocols.    The cleric has ignored the requests, most recently on Monday – the day of the shootout in which police said six of his supporters were killed.
    Police say they were tailing a convoy of Rizieq supporters on a Jakarta highway just after midnight after hearing they were preparing to mobilise, when firearms were pointed at them.    Police say they acted in self-defence when they opened fire and killed six people.
    The FPI claims Rizieq was traveling to a dawn prayer when they were attacked by unknown assailants who “abducted” six of his bodyguards.    An FPI spokesperson described the incident as an “extrajudicial killing.”
    Amnesty International Indonesia and Indonesia Police Watch have called for an independent investigation.
HOW BIG A FORCE IS ISLAM IN INDONESIAN POLITICS?
    As the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation Islam has always been important in Indonesian politics.    Every president has been Muslim. The 2016 rallies against the Jakarta governor saw Islam take on an increasingly prominent political role.
    In a move widely seen as an attempt to appeal to Islamic voters, president Jokowi chose a senior Islamic cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, as a his vice presidential running mate in 2019.
    To further neutralise the threat posed by Islamists, in 2019 Jokowi appointed fiery former general Prabowo Subianto as defence minister.    Prabowo had harnessed support from Islamist groups when running against Jokowi.
    While Rizieq was overseas, hardline Islamic groups such as the FPI have been relatively quiet and Jokowi had until the pandemic hit, been able to govern without too much pushback.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN NOW?
    Political analysts say given the opposition vacuum, the coronavirus and the first recession in 22 years, Rizieq may harness frustrations with the government and pose a threat.
    The 55-year-old cleric has already met with several key opposition figures and there is a sense that politicking for the 2024 election is already underway.
    More immediately, Monday’s fatal clash with police may create six “martyrs” and give the FPI a rallying point.
    According to sources and analysts that spoke to Reuters the government grossly underestimated Rizieq’s continued appeal and following his reception was aware it would have to carefully calibrate its response, fearing if it cracked down too hard it may backfire.
    Despite more vocal backlash from pluralists and moderate Islamic groups such as the MUI toward Rizieq this year, Monday’s incident was unlikely to have met the careful approach the president and his key ministers had been aiming for.
(Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Michael Perry)

12/8/2020 China Says Will Take Firm Countermeasures After U.S. Sanctions On Officials
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Tuesday it would take firm countermeasures after the United States imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over a crackdown in Hong Kong.
    The U.S. move to sanction Chinese officials is “unwarranted and vile behaviour,” and China urges it to withdraw the decision, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Kim Coghill)

12/8/2020 Analysis: In Singapore, A Very Different Davos Takes Shape by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – It’s not only the weather that might come as a shock when the World Economic Forum moves from Davos, the Swiss ski resort after which it takes its informal name, to the tropical Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore in May.
    Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual gathering of world leaders, billionaires, celebrities and media often referred to as a “circus” is expected to be a trimmed-down, tightly controlled affair, Singapore-based business groups and consultants said on Tuesday.
    Although seen as another coup for the country that hosted the 2018 Trump-Kim summit, questions remain as to how Singapore – with its borders effectively shut and strict anti-virus rules and limits on public gatherings – will put on a show that usually attracts thousands just five months from now.
    “Singapore does not take risks,” said Christopher Khoo of Singapore tourism consultancy MasterConsult Services, adding that he expected fewer attendees and that virus curbs would make it hard to recreate Davos’ networking environment.
    “In Davos, it is an opportunity to rub shoulders with somebody taking the lift or in the hotel lobby, and exchanging thoughts that way,” Khoo said.    “How do you create those networking opportunities? … That is a challenge.”
    Others said the success of global vaccine deployment over coming months would most likely dictate the scale of the event, planned for May 13-16.
    Announcing the change late Monday, WEF’s chief Klaus Schwab said the decision was made to safely ensure the first “in-person” meeting of business executives, government leaders and civil society since the start of the pandemic to discuss recovery.
    In its statement, Singapore – which restricts conferences to 250 people, split into groups of 50 who cannot mingle – talked up the virtual component of the conference, which it also said would be a first.
    Neither the WEF or Singapore have yet given specifics on the number of attendees expected at the event, the first in Asia and only the second to be held outside of Switzerland since its inception in 1971.
TOEING THE LINE
    WEF usually plays host to about 3,000 official participants, but much of the action happens outside the conference at side meetings and networking events.    The population of the hard-to-reach Alpine town of Davos swells from 10,000 to about 30,000 during the summit.
    By contrast, Singapore averaged around 400 arrivals daily in October, the latest official figures available, less than 1% of those arriving during the same period in 2019.
    The city-state remains largely closed to visitors and has agreements for limited official and business travel with seven countries, all in Asia.    A plan to open a quarantine-free air travel bubble with Hong Kong last month was postponed at the eleventh hour.
    Other factors may keep attendance down too, said Hsien Hsien Lei, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.
    “It is not necessarily whether Singapore is ready to welcome them but whether people are ready to start travelling,” said Lei, adding that many companies still restrict travel, especially for their top executives.
    Lei said international praise for Singapore’s handling of the coronavirus, including from the World Health Organization, as well as vaccine rollouts early next year, should lend firms more confidence.
    The success of smaller-scale events like the 250-strong energy week in October also shows that Singapore’s strict regime of pre-event testing, safe distancing measures and contact tracing works, said David Kelly, head of the British Chamber of Commerce Singapore.
    Other virus-safety measures for Singapore’s WEF could include defined itineraries for delegates, restrictions for media coverage and a series of smaller events and online networking sessions to reduce mingling, the business groups and consultants said.
    “They need to make sure that the delegates toe the line,” said Toby Koh of Singapore-based security firm Ademco.
(Editing by Gerry Doyle)

12/8/2020 Farmers Protest Across India Against Modi’s Liberalisation by Manoj Kumar and Rajendra Jadhav
Activists of Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) shout slogans at a protest rally during a nationwide strike
against the newly passed farm bills, in Kolkata, India, December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Farmers’ protests against new laws liberalising agricultural markets spread across India on Tuesday, as farm organisations called for a nationwide strike after inconclusive talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
    In eastern and western states, farmers blocked roads and squatted on railway tracks, delaying hordes of people getting to work, and preventing perishable produce from reaching markets.
    Farmers from the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, neighbouring New Delhi, have been at the vanguard of the agitation since last month, and have set up protest camps in and around the capital.
    “We will not allow the government to change the rules because they want to hurt farmers’ income by filling the pockets of big companies,” said Gurwinder Singh, a 66-year-old farmer from Punjab, a state known as the food bowl of India.
    The reforms enacted in September loosened rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce that have protected farmers from an unfettered free market for decades.
    Assured of floor prices, most currently sell the bulk of their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets, known as mandis.
    The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has said the reforms would not hurt farmers’ incomes.    More talks between the government and farmer organisations are due on Wednesday.
    Meantime, social media has fanned sympathy for the farmers’ cause among the Indian diaspora abroad.    During recent days, thousands of people have protested in support of the farmers outside the Indian embassy in central London.
    Amid the coronavirus pandemic, protest sites around New Delhi have turned into camps, with entire families cooking and sleeping in the open and Sikh religious organisations were providing them with face masks, water and food.
    At least 20 regional and national opposition parties backed the call for the strike.
    “It’s going to be nightmare if there will be any serious unrest during the pandemic,” a senior home ministry bureaucrat overseeing security told Reuters on condition of anonymity, warning that police had been authorised to use water cannons or tear gas to disperse over-crowded protests.
(Reporting by India bureau; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

12/8/2020 A Year On, Markets Bustling In Chinese City Where COVID-19 Emerged by Cate Cadell
People wearing face masks are seen at a main shopping area almost a year after the global outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Wuhan, Hubei province, China December 6, 2020. Picture taken December 6, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    WUHAN (Reuters) – Hundreds of shoppers pack a wet market on a December weekday morning in the Chinese city of Wuhan, jostling to buy fresh vegetables and live fish, frogs and turtles.
    Almost a year since the city reported the world’s first cases of COVID-19 in one of its handful of vast wet markets, and even as several other countries remain firmly in the grip of the subsequent pandemic, life in Wuhan has largely returned to normal.
    “I’m not afraid, what is there to be afraid of?” said Nie Guangzhen, a fish and vegetable vendor.
    Nie and other shop owners along a narrow street, part of the larger wet market, were busily gutting fish for streams of buyers – some not wearing masks – as city cleaners sprayed down the pavements.
    Few hints remain of Wuhan’s early role in the coronavirus pandemic, which has since infected more than 67 million people globally, killing around 1.5 million people.
    China first alerted the World Health Organization to 27 cases of “viral pneumonia” in Wuhan on Dec. 31.    Authorities shut down a wet market in the city the next day, after discovering some patients were vendors or dealers.
    That marked the start of a dark period for the city of 11 million in central China.    Infections spiralled quickly to 50,000 cases, including almost 4,000 deaths.    Officials responded by swiftly imposing a tough 76-day lockdown, erecting kilometres of thick yellow barricades through the city’s deserted streets to keep people at home and businesses closed.
    The measures paid off.    Wuhan has not recorded a new locally transmitted case in several months and is now indistinguishable from other Chinese cities with crowded shopping streets, traffic jams and tightly packed restaurants.
    “I really missed these more fun and exciting times, like going out shopping and eating with my friends,” said 27-year-old shopper Hu Hang on Monday at a packed Wuhan night market selling Christmas sweaters among other goods.
    In the busy street, hawkers sell flowers and balloons, street performers including dancers and a clown perform while music blares from shops lining the road.
    The city’s recovery is a sharp contrast to other major economies heading into the Christmas and New year holiday season.
    In the United States, the health system is under severe pressure as cases mount and health officials warn the worst is yet to come.    The country recorded 15,000 deaths over the past week, the deadliest seven days of the pandemic since April.
    Several European countries have rolled out tight restrictions on gatherings ahead of Christmas, fearing a return to peak levels of cases because of festive celebrations.[L8N2IG3WB]
    China’s relative success in controlling the virus has become a key talking point in Chinese state media.
    “I haven’t been overseas, so I don’t understand it well, but looking at the TV it seems like foreign countries don’t put human life first,” said Mr Li, a 54-year old Wuhan street food vendor, who reopened his shop in June.    “The ideology of foreign countries is not as good as that of China.”
HEIGHTENED VIGILANCE
    China has taken steps, including mass testing millions of residents following small-scale outbreaks, to prevent a second wave of infections seen in many other cities and countries.
    At the gates of residential compounds, staff in blue tents monitor residents’ smartphone health codes    . In a public park, slogans on red propaganda banners urge people to remain vigilant.
    Wearing face masks is not mandatory, but most people do so in public.
    And while shoppers have returned to Wuhan’s streets, Li and others say business is yet to return fully to normal.
    “The whole situation is not great, it’s still a lot worse compared to the last few years,” Li said, referring to a slump in sales during the time after lockdown when people were too afraid to return to the streets.
    Still, for many residents, lockdown memories have been superseded by the city’s swift reopening – alongside new precautions.
    “I don’t worry, because I’m doing a good job of protection,” said wet market vendor Nie, who said she will continue to disinfect and boil her clothes.    “Even if there is a second wave, I will just stick to it.”
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; editing by Jane Wardell)

12/8/2020 Taiwan Says Faces Daily Threat As U.S. Notifies Of New Arms Sale
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen delivers a speech during National Day celebrations in
front of the Presidential Building in Taipei, Taiwan, Oct. 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan faces military threats on a daily basis from “authoritarian forces,” President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday, as the United States announced a new $280 million arms sale package to the Chinese-claimed island, the sixth this year.
    The outgoing Trump administration has ramped up support for the democratic island, with 11 arms sale packages in total, and on Monday the U.S. government notified Congress of the sale of a new Field Information Communications System.
    Such sales have riled China, adding to existing tension between Beijing and Washington, with China placing sanctions on U.S. companies involved and stepping up its military activities near Taiwan, including regular air force missions.
    Speaking at a security forum in Taipei, Tsai noted the threats in the region, including the “increasingly militarised” South China Sea, which China claims large parts of and where it has built artificial islands with air and naval facilities.
    “Authoritarian forces consistently attempt to violate the existing norms-based order,” Tsai said.    “Taiwan has been at the receiving end of such military threats on a daily basis.”
    Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the latest weapons sale demonstrated that the U.S. commitment to helping strengthen the island’s defence capabilities remained unchanged.
    “Taiwan and the United States will continue to consolidate their security partnership to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” it added.
    Taiwan’s government has moved to reassure its people that the new administration of President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, will not lessen U.S. backing for the island.
    Speaking at the same forum, Kurt Campbell, a former U.S. official who has advised Biden, said there was strong bipartisan support for Taiwan.
    “There is a broad group of people across the political aisle that understand the profound strategic significance and our strategic interests in maintaining a strong relationship with Taiwan,” said Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia under former President Barack Obama.
(Reporting by Ben BlanchardEditing by Michael Perry)

12/8/2020 U.S. Targets North Korea Coal Shipments With New Sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Residents hold US and North Korean flags while they wait for motorcade of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un en
route to the Metropole Hotel for the second US- North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kham
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has blacklisted six companies, including several based in China, and four ships accused of illicit exports of North Korean coal, the Treasury Department said on Tuesday.
    The United Nations Security Council banned North Korean coal exports in 2017.    The 15-member body has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
    “The DPRK (North Korea) continues to circumvent the U.N. prohibition on the exportation of coal, a key revenue generator that helps fund its weapons of mass destruction programs,” U.S. Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
    “The North Korean regime often uses forced labor from prison camps in its mining industries, including coal, exploiting its own people to advance its illicit weapons programs,” he said.
    An annual report to the U.N. Security Council by independent sanctions monitors earlier this year said North Korea continued to flout council resolutions “through illicit maritime exports of commodities, notably coal and sand” in 2019, earning Pyongyang hundreds of millions of dollars.
    The U.S. action freezes any U.S. assets of those sanctioned and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
    The blacklisted ships – Calm Bridge, Asia Bridge, Lucky Star and Star 18 – “loaded coal directly from North Korean ports and transported their cargo throughout the region,” the U.S. Treasury Department said.
    The shipping companies sanctioned are China-based Weihai Huijiang Trade Ltd, Always Smooth Ltd, and Good Siblings Ltd.    Always Smooth and Good Siblings are also registered in Britain, the Treasury Department said.
    It also designated Hong Kong-based Silver Bridge Shipping Co-HKG, Vietnam-based Thinh Cuong Co Ltd and Korea Daizin Trading Corporation, which operates in North Korea and Vietnam.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have met three times since 2018, but failed to make progress on U.S. calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for an end to sanctions.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum)

12/8/2020 Some Of Those Involved In Killing Of Iranian Nuclear Scientist Arrested, Official Says
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Some of those involved in the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist last month have been arrested, an adviser to the Iranian parliament speaker said on Tuesday, according to the semi-official news agency ISNA.
    Iran has blamed Israel for the Nov. 27 killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was seen by Western intelligence services as the mastermind of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme.    Tehran has long denied any such ambition.    Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the killing.
    “The perpetrators of this assassination, some of whom have been identified and even arrested by the security services, will not escape justice,” ISNA quoted adviser Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as telling Iran’s Arabic-language Al Alam TV.
    “Were the Zionists (Israel) able to do this alone and without the cooperation of, for example, the American (intelligence) service or another service?    They certainly could not do that,” Amir-Abdollahian said.
    Iran has given contradictory details of Fakhrizadeh’s death in a daytime Nov. 27 ambush on his car on a highway near the capital Tehran.
    A senior Revolutionary Guards commander has said the killing was carried out remotely with artificial intelligence and a machine gun equipped with a “satellite-controlled smart system.”
    Witnesses earlier told state television that a truck had exploded before a group of gunmen opened fire on Fakhrizadeh’s car.
    Experts and officials told Reuters last week that Fakhrizadeh’s killing exposed security gaps that suggest Iran’s security forces may have been infiltrated and that the Islamic Republic is vulnerable to further attacks.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and Nayera Abdallah in CairoEditing by Mark Heinrich)

12/8/2020 China Summons U.S. Diplomat Over Sanctions, Vows Retaliation by Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: The flags of China, the United States and Chinese Communist Party are displayed in a flag stall
at the Yiwu Wholesale Market in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, China, May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China summoned the acting top U.S. diplomat in Beijing on Tuesday to protest U.S. sanctions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong, and vowed to take “reciprocal” retaliation.
    The United States on Monday imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on 14 Chinese officials over their role in adopting a national security law for Hong Kong and Beijing’s disqualification last month of elected opposition legislators in Hong Kong.
    This is likely the first time that all 14 vice chairpersons of China’s lawmaking body, the National People’s Congress, have come under U.S. sanctions.
    The sanctions came just after China’s top diplomat Wang Yi urged the United States to maintain dialogue at all levels and encourage exchanges between legislators and other groupings of people.
    China criticized the sanctions. Its foreign ministry said on its website on Tuesday that Chinese vice foreign minister Zheng Zeguang had summoned the acting representative in the U.S. embassy to express “solemn protest and strong condemnation.”
    In a statement on its website, the U.S. embassy said its Chargé d’Affaires Robert Forden told Zheng that Beijing has used the law repeatedly to suppress freedom of expression and assembly in Hong Kong and to arrest Hong Kong residents who have peacefully raised their concerns over Beijing’s oppressive policies.
    Zheng threatened “reciprocal” retaliation from China.
    “U.S. barbaric actions will only invoke the intense anger of the Chinese people against anti-China forces in the United States and cause 1.4 billion Chinese people, including our compatriots in Hong Kong, to fully recognise the U.S. devious intentions and strengthen the resolve of the Chinese government in implementing the Hong Kong National Security Law,” he said.
    Earlier on Tuesday, China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Chinese foreign ministry’s office of the commissioner to Hong Kong issued separate condemnations of the U.S. sanctions.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Bernadette Baum)

12/8/2020 Chinese Province To Give COVID-19 Vaccines To Vulnerable Groups, General Public In 2021: Local Media
FILE PHOTO: A worker performs a quality check in the packaging facility of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, developing an experimental
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, during a government-organized media tour in Beijing, China, September 24, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Sichuan province could start administering new coronavirus vaccinations to vulnerable groups that are more likely to develop severe symptoms after infection, such as the elderly and people with underlying conditions, in the beginning of 2021, local media reported on Tuesday.
    The southwestern province could also begin inoculating the general public after the Lunar New Year in mid-February, said the Sichuan Daily, which is backed by the local authorities of Chinese Communist party.
    China has not announced an official timeline for nationwide mass inoculation or approved any COVID-19 vaccines for general public use.    However, an emergency-use program, that gives experimental vaccines still in clinical trials to specific people in high-risk groups, was launched in July.
    Sichuan province could complete vaccinating over 2 million people within 2020 via this emergency-use program, Sichuan Daily said in an article in Chinese social media Weibo.
    People whom the province prioritises for emergency use fall into 12 categories, including medical workers, staff at ports of entry, police, employees in cold-chain food industries, teachers, and people travelling abroad for study or work.
    The vaccines to be administered in Sichuan province will be mainly inactivated vaccines, Sichuan Daily said, without identifying specific products.    Inactivated vaccines, made of dead virus that cannot replicate in human cells, is used to trigger immune responses.
    Three vaccines approved for emergency use, including one developed by Sinovac Biotech and two from a subsidiary of China National Pharmaceutical Group(Sinopharm), are all inactivated vaccines.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Tony Munroe; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

12/8/2020 Hundreds Block Streets In Armenia After PM Ignores Deadline To Step Down
Armenian law enforcement officers stand guard during an opposition rally to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan
following the signing of a deal to end a military conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, in Yerevan, Armenia December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Artem Mikryukov
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Opposition demonstrators blocked streets in Armenia’s capital on Tuesday to mark the start of a protest campaign after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan ignored their call to step down over a ceasefire deal struck with Azerbaijan.
    Hundreds chanted “Nikol, traitor” and “Armenia without Nikol” in the streets of Yerevan, answering an opposition call to protest after a deadline of midday Tuesday set by the opposition for Pashinyan to quit passed with him still in power.
    Pashinyan, who swept to power in a peaceful revolution in May 2018, accepted a Russian-brokered ceasefire deal last month to end a bloody conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabkh enclave and surrounding areas.
    Pashinyan’s opponents want him out over what they say was his disastrous handling of the six-week conflict that handed Azerbaijan territorial gains.
    Pashinyan has accepted responsibility for the conflict’s outcome, but said he is now responsible for ensuring national security and stabilising the ex-Soviet republic of around three million.
    Ishkhan Saghatelyan, an opposition politician for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation party, announced the start of coordinated civil disobedience in a televised address on Tuesday after the deadline passed.
    “Nikol, you will go anyway.    Leave peacefully,” he said.
    “…from now until 17:00 Armenia’s citizens have the legitimate right to use their right to peaceful actions of disobedience to express their demand and to make it heard,” he said.
    The opposition has said it plans to block streets nationwide and to paralyse the national transport network if needed.
    Armenian spiritual leader Karekin II said in a statement that he had met Pashinyan and urged him to resign.
    Pashinyan did not comment on the protests publicly on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by William Maclean)

12/9/2020 Hong Kong Activist Agnes Chow Denied Bail After Landmark Sentencing
FILE PHOTO: Student activist Agnes Chow poses for photo ahead of her campaign to join Legislative Council
by election, at Demosisto party's office in Hong Kong, China December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow was denied bail on Wednesday pending an appeal against her 10-month jail sentence on charges related to unauthorised assembly during anti-government protests last year.
    The 24-year old activist was jailed on Dec. 2 along with Joshua Wong for their roles in an unlawful rally near police headquarters in 2019, the toughest and most high-profile sentencing of opposition figures this year.
    Chow’s hearing came after around 16 activists were arrested since Monday, part of a relentless crackdown on opposition forces in the Chinese-ruled city.
    Critics say Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government is curtailing opposition and wide-ranging freedoms guaranteed after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, a charge authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong reject.
    Chow, along with Wong and Nathan Law, founded the now-disbanded democracy group Demosisto in 2016.    The party was dissolved hours after Beijing passed a contentious national security law for the city on June 30 amid fears it could be targeted under the legislation.
    Chow was also arrested in August under the new security legislation on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces,” but is yet to face any charges.
    Under the national security law, Beijing punishes what it broadly defines as sedition, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.
(Reporting by Aleksander Solum and Yoyo Chow; writing by Farah Master)

12/9/2020 Police List Gives Insight Into Detention System In China’s Xinjiang: Group
FILE PHOTO: A Chinese police officer takes his position by the road near what is officially called a vocational
education centre in Yining in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A leaked list of more than 2,000 ethnic Uighur detainees in China’s Xinjiang suggests the government used an expansive data collection project to arbitrarily detain Uighurs in the region, according to U.S. rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
    The list from Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture, obtained by HRW, is of detainees flagged by a Chinese predictive policing programme, called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), which collects data and identifies candidates for detention.
    The list from 2018 includes the names of Xinjiang Uighurs, phone numbers and reasons for detention in China’s camp system, including studying the Koran, wearing religious clothing or travelling internationally.
    “The Aksu list is the first time we have seen the IJOP in action in detaining people,” said HRW’s Maya Wang.
    It “provides further insights into how China’s brutal repression of Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims is being turbocharged by technology,” she said.
    Human Rights Watch did not identify the source of the list, citing the person’s safety.    Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the list.
    Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    U.N. experts and advocates say at least a million ethnic Uighurs, who are mostly Muslim and speak a Turkic language, have been detained at some point in Xinjiang camps.
    China maintains that the heavily guarded centres are educational and vocational institutes, and that all the people who attended have “graduated” and gone home. Access to the camps is restricted and it is not possible to independently verify whether all the camps have closed.
    Human Rights Watch said it was able to confirm the identities of people on the list with Uighurs now living abroad, including the identification of 18 members of the same family.
    The rights group said the list is further evidence that the government selected Xinjiang Uighurs for detention based on religion, personal relationships, contact with overseas relatives and even age.
    Other reasons for detention listed include activities like repeatedly switching off a smartphone, having “unstable thoughts” or “being generally untrustworthy.”
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/9/2020 Iran Blacklists U.S. Envoy In Yemen, Reciprocating U.S. Move
FILE PHOTO: Attendees hold flags from Iran and the United States as Iranian Americans from across California
converge in Los Angeles to participate in the California Convention for a Free Iran and to express support for
nationwide protests in Iran from Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 11, 2020. REUTERS/ Patrick T. Fallon
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has blacklisted the U.S. ambassador in Yemen, the Iranian foreign ministry said on Wednesday, a day after Washington imposed terrorism-related sanctions on Tehran’s envoy to the Yemeni Houthis.
    Tehran’s move, which allows the seizure of assets within Iran of sanctioned individuals, is symbolic and unlikely to have any impact on the U.S. ambassador.
    “Highlighting his key role in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, Iran puts Christopher Henzel’s name on its sanctions list,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.
    On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury blacklisted Hasan Irlu, Iran’s ambassador to the Houthis, describing him as a pillar of Iranian efforts to project its power in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.
    Yemen has been locked in conflict since 2014, when the Iran-aligned Houthis group seized Sanaa, the capital, and then much of the country’s north.
    Iran’s regional foe Saudi Arabia is leading a Sunni Arab coalition fighting the Houthis in the impoverished state on the tip of the Arabian peninsula.    The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/9/2020 U.S. Blacklists Chinese Crime Boss, Others In Anti-Corruption Sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Flags of U.S. and China are displayed at American International Chamber of Commerce (AICC)'s booth
during China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing, China, May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Wednesday slapped sanctions on Wan Kuok Kai, the leader of China’s 14K Triad organized crime group and a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the U.S. Treasury said.
    The sanctions also apply to three entities headed by Wan, who is also known as “Broken Tooth,” the agency said in a statement.
    The United States also blacklisted one Liberian individual and one Kyrgyz individual under Executive Order 13818, which targets corruption and serious human rights abuse.
    Under the sanctions, all property of the three individuals and companies that fall under U.S. jurisdiction is frozen.
    OFAC regulations generally bar Americans from dealing with designated individuals.    A senior U.S. official told reporters non-U.S. actors who deal with them also risk being blacklisted.
    Treasury said it targeted Wan for his activities at the helm of the 14K Triad, saying the group engaged in drug trafficking, illegal gambling, racketeering, human trafficking and other criminal activities.
    The Treasury also designated three entities owned or controlled by Wan: Cambodia-based World Hongmen History and Culture Association; Hong Kong-based Dongmei Group; and the Palau China Hung-Mun Cultural Association, based in Palau.
    It said the World Hongmen group had co-opted elites in Malaysia and Cambodia, continuing a “pattern of overseas Chinese actors trying to paper over illegal criminal activities by framing their actions in terms of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)” and other major initiatives of the CCP.
    Treasury also blacklisted Raimbek Matraimov, a former deputy of the Kyrgyz Customs Service, alleging his involvement in a customs scheme in which at least $700 million was laundered from the Kyrgyz Republic.
    It also designated Harry Varney Gboto-Nambi Sherman, now a prominent lawyer, Liberian senator and head of the Liberian Senate Judiciary Committee, who was indicted but later acquitted for his role in a bribery scheme in Liberia.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)

12/10/2020 China Revokes Visa Exemptions For U.S. Diplomat Passport Holders Visiting Hong Kong, Macau
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying holds a news conference in Beijing, China, November 30, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Thursday it would revoke visa exemption treatment for U.S. diplomatic passport holders visiting Hong Kong and     Macau after the United States imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on more than a dozen Chinese officials.
    Beijing will also implement reciprocal sanctions against some U.S. officials, members of Congress, personnel at non-governmental organisations, and their family members, over their “vile” behaviour on Hong Kong, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news conference.
    China urges the United States not to go further down this “dangerous and mistaken path,” Hua added.
    She declined to give any names of those sanctioned or to say when the sanctions would start.
    The United States on Monday imposed financial sanctions anda travel ban on 14 Chinese officials over their role in adoptinga national security law for Hong Kong and over Beijing’s disqualification last month of elected opposition legislators inHong Kong.
    The U.S. action was widely seen as part of an effort by outgoing President Donald Trump to cement his tough-on-China legacy and to box President-elect Joe Biden into taking a similarly hardline position on Beijing at a time of bipartisan anti-China sentiment in Congress.    Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
    In August the Trump administration slapped sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other top officials over what it said was their role in curtailing freedoms during a crackdown on the territory’s pro-democracy movement.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Writing by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Gareth Jones)

12/10/2020 Taiwan TV Station In Media Freedom Row Gets Internet Boost
View of CTi's control room in Taipei, Taiwan December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – A Taiwan television station at the centre of a dispute over media freedom that could be forced off the air this week has received a boost to its online presence, a senior executive said on Thursday, as it prepares to shift its focus to the internet.
    Taiwan’s National Communications Commission said last month it would not renew CTi’s broadcasting license, citing evidence of interference from a tycoon with major business interests in China, amid fears of Beijing’s efforts to win support on the Chinese-claimed, democratic island.
    CTi’s major shareholder, Tsai Eng-meng, runs one of China’s largest food firms, Want Want China Holdings Ltd.
    The company and Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang party have denounced the regulator’s decision not to renew the license as censorship aimed at silencing voices critical of President Tsai Ing-wen.
    Tsai and her government have rejected that, saying the decision was made by an independent body and not subject to interference.
    Sky Liang, the vice president of CTi’s news department, told Reuters it would keep broadcasting, but online, and that its YouTube channel had gained some 440,000 new subscribers in the last few weeks, taking its tally to 1.7 million.
    “We’ve been forced to become new media.    Doubtless this is a big challenge, but everyone has prepared themselves psychologically,” Liang said, adding they were looking at Instagram and Facebook as other areas for development.
    The channel is due to go off air at midnight on Friday, though it has lodged a legal appeal to stop this.
    Formerly a dictatorship, Taiwan is an exuberant democracy but it has a deeply partisan media, and many Taiwanese view CTi, which began operations in 1994, as being pro-China or “red media,” a reference to China’s ruling Communist Party.
    Liang said that was an unfair, “malicious” accusation, and that they took neither instructions nor money from Beijing.
    “I’ve been at CTi for a long time, and as a senior executive in the news department.    I’ve never come under any pressure from China or (its) Taiwan Affairs Office on what news to report or not report.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/11/2020 One Year On, Wuhan Market At Epicentre Of Virus Outbreak Remains Barricaded And Empty by Cate Cadell
Optical shops are seen open which were originally at the second floor of the Huanan seafood market, where the coronavirus believed to have first surfaced,
almost a year after the start of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) – For over six years, 38-year-old Wuhan restaurant owner Lai Yun started most days the same way – with a trip to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, just ten minutes walk from his house.
    “I’d send the kids to school, have breakfast and then walk over to the market.    It was very convenient,” he said.
    That changed on Dec. 31, 2019, after four cases of a mystery pneumonia were linked to the market and it was shuttered overnight.    By the end of the month, the city had begun a gruelling 76-day lockdown that came with just hours notice and barred people from leaving their homes.
    Almost a year since the outbreak began, COVID-19 has claimed more than 1.5 million lives, and the Wuhan wet market where it was initially detected stands empty even as the city around it has come back to life.
    It’s become a symbol of the fierce political and scientific battle raging around the origin of the virus with Beijing continuing to spar with the United States and other countries, accusing them of bias.
    A team of World Health Organization experts has yet to visit Wuhan, let alone the market.    Health authorities in China and abroad have warned that origin tracing efforts could take years and yield inconclusive results.
    In Wuhan, where the stigma of being the first coronavirus epicentre hangs heavy, over a dozen residents and business owners told Reuters they don’t believe the virus began in the city.
    “It certainly couldn’t have been Wuhan… surely another person brought it in.    Or surely it came from some other product brought from outside.    There were just certain conditions for it to appear here,” said a wet market vendor in the city’s centre who gave his name as Chen.
    In recent months, Chinese diplomats and state media have said they believe the market is not the origin but the victim of the disease, and have thrown support behind theories that the virus potentially originated in another country.
RESTRICTED ACCESS
    Experts say the market still plays a role in the investigation and is therefore unlikely to be demolished, though much of that research will rely on samples taken immediately after the outbreak began.
    “The first cluster of cases was there, so at least it would be of interest to find out the origin of those and put forward a few hypotheses, like whether it’s more likely from the wild animals or perhaps points to a human superspreader,” said Jin Dong-Yan, professor of virology at the University of Hong Kong.
    Access to the area remains heavily restricted. People who visited before the lockdown remember a bustling building with hundreds of stalls divided into sections for red meat, seafood and vegetables.
    Recently, the local government has added leafy green plants and traditional Chinese paintings to the semi-permanent blue barricades encircling the area.    Inside, wooden boards line the stalls and windows.
    On the second floor above the empty market, shops selling glasses and optometry equipment reopened in June.
    This week, a guard at the entrance to the eyeware market took temperatures and warned journalists not to take videos or photos from inside the building.
    “Maybe some people have some bad feelings about it, but now it’s just an empty building … who feels anxious about an empty building?” said a shop assistant selling contact lenses, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
    While Wuhan hasn’t reported any new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 since May, for some who relied on the market making ends meet is still a struggle.
    Lai, who reopened his Japanese restaurant in June, says the market’s closure and subsequent public panic about the safety of imported seafood has increased the cost of procuring some ingredients five-fold.
    “Our goal for the next year is to just survive.”
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

12/11/2020 Taiwan Commissions New Coast Guard Ships To Bolster Defences by Ben Blanchard
Reporters conduct an interview in front of the Cheng Kung ship at the launch of the first of a new
generation of coast guard patrol ships in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, December 11, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan commissioned the first of a new fleet of coastguard ships on Friday, an advanced catamaran that can be armed with missiles during war, as the island bolsters its defences in the face of what it sees as a growing threat from Beijing.
    President Tsai Ing-wen has made military modernisation a priority for the Chinese-claimed island.    Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.
    Attending the commissioning of the domestically made, T$1.05 billion ($37.30 million) Anping in the southern city of Kaohsiung, Tsai praised its “specific” ability of being able to be used in time of conflict.
    “If necessary, it can be immediately be transformed into an important force for defence,” she said at the shipyard, where she also named the second ship to follow the Anping, the Chengkung.
    “This also means that while the coastguard strengthens law enforcement, national defence forces will be strengthened too.”
    The Anping is a similar vessel to the Tuo Chiang-class of corvettes, on which it is based, and has space for launchers for Hsiung Feng anti-ship and sea-to-land missiles but has added equipment for rescue operations.
    The Tuo Chiang vessels are state-of-the-art, highly manoeuvrable stealth vessels, meant to take out larger warships while operating close to Taiwan’s shores.
    The first is already in service, and has been referred to by Taiwan’s navy as the “aircraft carrier killer” due to its missile complement.    China has two carriers in operation and is building at least one more.
    With Taiwan’s armed forces dwarfed by China’s, Tsai has championed the concept of “asymmetric warfare,” including adding weapons that are mobile and harder to attack, to make any Chinese offensive costly and difficult.
    While the United States remains Taiwan’s most important arms supplier, Tsai has also boosted the island’s indigenous defence industry, most notably the planned building of eight submarines.
    Taiwan’s coastguard is often involved in confrontations with Chinese fishing and sand-dredging ships which Taiwan says operate illegally in its waters.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/11/2020 Hong Kong Media Tycoon Jimmy Lai Charged Under National Security Law
FILE PHOTO: Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of Apple Daily arrives at West Kowloon Courts to face charges related to an
illegal vigil assembly commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, in Hong Kong, China October 15, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 73, has been charged under the city’s national security law on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces, his Apple Daily newspaper reported on Friday, citing a police source.
    Lai, an ardent critic of Beijing, would be the highest profile person charged under the sweeping new law imposed on the Chinese-ruled city in June.
    He was due to appear in court on Saturday, according to Apple Daily, a popular tabloid known for its feisty and critical coverage of China and Hong Kong.
    The security law, which punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail, has been condemned by the West and human rights groups as a tool to crush dissent in the semi-autonomous, Chinese-ruled city.
    Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing say it is vital to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of sometimes violent anti-government and anti-China protests that rocked the global financial hub over the last year.
    “The goal is to hold Jimmy Lai, and shut Jimmy Lai up,” Mark Simon, an associate of Lai, told Reuters.
    Hong Kong police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The publishing tycoon is one of the financial hub’s most prominent democracy activists, while his Next Media group is considered one of the key remaining bastions of media freedoms in Hong Kong.
    Tensions between China and the United States have escalated in recent weeks as Washington accuses Beijing of using the security law to trample wide-ranging freedoms guaranteed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Authorities have intensified a crackdown on opposition forces in the city, dismissing lawmakers from the legislature, conducting widespread arrests and jailing high-profile democracy activists such as Joshua Wong.
    Lai was denied bail earlier this month following his arrest on a separate charge of fraud related to the lease of a building that houses his Apple Daily, an anti-government tabloid.
    He was arrested in August when about 200 police officers swooped on his offices. Hong Kong police later said they had arrested nine men and one woman for suspected offences including “collusion with a foreign country/external elements to endanger national security, conspiracy to defraud” and others.
    The tycoon had been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he has met officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor.”
(Reporting by Twinnie Siu and Greg Torode in HONG KONG; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Sam Holmes, Lincoln Feast and Michael Perry)

12/11/2020 Iran Protests To Turkey Over Remarks By Erdogan In Azerbaijan
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to media following the Friday prayers
in Istanbul, Turkey, December 11, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned Turkey’s ambassador on Friday over remarks by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to Azerbaijan, which Tehran said amounted to meddling in its affairs.
    Erdogan recited an Azeri-Iranian poem about the division of Azerbaijan’s territory between Russia and Iran in the 19th century.    Tehran appeared concerned his remarks could fan separatist tendencies among Iran’s Azeri minority.
    “The Turkish ambassador was informed that the era of territorial claims and expansionist empires is over,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website.    “Iran does not allow anyone to meddle in its territorial integrity.”
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted earlier: “President Erdogan was not informed that what he ill-recited in Baku refers to the forcible separation of areas…from (the) Iranian motherland.”
    “NO ONE can talk about OUR beloved Azerbaijan,” Zarif said, referring to a northwest region of Iran where many of its ethnic Azeris live.
    Azeris speak a language very similar to Turkish, but most observe Shi’ite Islam, Iran’s state religion.    The Iranian region of Azerbaijan borders on the independent state of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Republic.    Turkey has become a close ally of Azerbaijan, helping it make major territorial gains against Armenians in a war that ended with a ceasefire last month.
    Turkey’s foreign ministry also summoned Iran’s ambassador in Ankara and protested claims about President Erdogan, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, additional reporting by Ezgi ErkoyunEditing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Graff)

12/11/2020 Pakistan Accuses India Of Funding Disinformation Campaign In EU
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks during an interview with Reuters at the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) office in Islamabad, Pakistan March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan accused arch-rival India of funding a long running disinformation campaign against it on Friday and said it would raise the matter in global forums.
    In making its claim that India attempted to manipulate international bodies through fake news websites and organisations, Pakistan’s foreign minister cited a report by European non-government organisation EU Disinfo Lab.
    The report highlighted a network of hundreds of fake media outlets and organisations that it said have pushed a pro-India agenda in the European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) bodies to discredit the country’s rivals, in particular Pakistan.
    EU DisinfoLab did not detail any direct links between the alleged network and the Indian government and Reuters has no independent evidence of them.
    “Today, India is manipulating and misusing the international system for its own nefarious designs,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said at a press conference, adding that the Indian government was funding the network.
    Qureshi called on the UN and UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to immediately investigate and de-list “10 fake NGOs created by India to malign Pakistan.”
    He also asked the European Union Parliament to begin an investigation into what he termed to be the manipulation of the body and its legislative process by “fake organisations involved in anti-Pakistan propaganda under a fully funded disinformation and influence operation, run by India.”
    New Delhi rejected the charges, saying it was Pakistan that was spreading disinformation.
    “As a responsible democracy, India does not practice disinformation,” Anurag Srivastava, India’s foreign ministry spokesman, told a news conference.
    The EU DisinfoLab report also said Indian press agency Asian News International (ANI) was the only press agency to extensively cover material from the disinformation network.
    Qureshi accused ANI of amplifying propaganda against Pakistan, and he noted that the organisation had a partnership with Reuters, which, he said, was also being used to spread this information.
    Reuters News, a unit of Thomson Reuters, has had a minority stake in ANI for more than two decades.
    ANI editor Smita Prakash dismissed the allegation, saying in a Twitter post, “An attempt has been made by Pakistan and its proxies to hurt ANI’s credibility by hurling wild accusations of fake news.”
    Reuters, in a statement responding to a request for comment, said it was “reviewing these allegations” in its capacity as a minority shareholder in ANI, but added that it has “no involvement” in ANI’s editorial operations.
    “As is the case with all our editorial partners and suppliers, we review ANI’s raw, unedited video content shot within India, and exercise our own news judgment about what we distribute and publish,” the statement said.
    The two nuclear-armed South Asian nations have fought three wars since they became free nations in 1947, and remain deeply distrustful of each other.
    Tension has sharpened since August 2019 when India ended the autonomy of its only Muslim-majority region, Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan.
    UNHRC spokesman Rolando Gomez said the organisation would look into these specific allegations, and that it was aware a number of accredited groups were pursuing their own political agenda or those of governments.
    Delphine Colard, a European Parliament spokeswoman, said they were not aware of such a request made by Pakistan, but added: “We take very seriously any effort to misrepresent the positions of the European Parliament or its elected members.”
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels and Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

12/11/2020 Europeans, U.S. Accuse North Korea Of Using Pandemic To Crack Down On Rights by Michelle Nichols
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
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council discussed on Friday human rights abuses in North Korea after the issue was raised by seven members who accused Pyongyang of using the coronavirus pandemic “to crack down further on the human rights of its own people.”
    Germany, Britain, France, Belgium, Estonia, the United States and the Dominican Republic brought up the issue in a closed-door virtual meeting after diplomats said Russia and China objected to a public briefing on the situation.
    “The DPRK’s human rights violations pose an imminent threat to international peace and security.    The DPRK government diverts resources away from its people to its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs,” the seven countries said in a statement, read by German U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen.
    North Korea’s formal name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).    North Korea’s U.N. mission in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Security Council meeting.
    North Korea has repeatedly rejected accusations of human rights abuses and blames sanctions for a dire humanitarian situation.    Pyongyang has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missiles and nuclear programs.
    “The government’s decision to prioritize its weapons programs over the needs of its people and their isolation from the international community, is inevitably worsening the impacts of the pandemic on the North Korean population,” Heusgen said.
    Between 2014 and 2017 the Security Council held annual public meetings on human rights abuses in North Korea.
    In 2018 the council did not discuss the issue amid now failed efforts by North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump to work toward Pyongyang’s denuclearization.
    Last year at least eight council members pushed for a meeting on human rights abuses, sparking Pyongyang to warn it would consider such a move a “serious provocation” to which it would “respond strongly.”
    The United States instead convened a meeting on the threat of escalation by North Korea amid growing tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

12/12/2020 Bloomberg News Chinese Staff Member Detained In Beijing by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese authorities have detained a Chinese national working for the Bloomberg News bureau in Beijing on suspicion of endangering national security, the news agency and China’s foreign ministry said on Friday.
    According to a Bloomberg report, Haze Fan was seen being escorted from her apartment building by plain-clothes security officials on Monday, shortly after she had been in contact with one of her editors.
    “Chinese citizen Ms. Fan has been detained by the Beijing National Security Bureau according to relevant Chinese law on suspicion of engaging in criminal activities that jeopardize national security,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in response to a Reuters query.
    “The case is currently under investigation.    Ms. Fan’s legitimate rights have been fully ensured and her family has been notified,” the ministry said.
    The Beijing National Security Bureau could not immediately be reached for comment.
    “We are very concerned for her, and have been actively speaking to Chinese authorities to better understand the situation,” a spokeswoman for     New York-based Bloomberg said in an emailed statement to Reuters.    “We are continuing to do everything we can to support her while we seek more information.”
    Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait and other senior editors told China-based staff that Chinese authorities had said Fan had not been detained in relation to her work, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources.
    Fan has been at Bloomberg since 2017 and previously worked for Reuters, as well as for CNBC, Al Jazeera and CBS News, according to her LinkedIn profile.
    China has expelled more than a dozen foreign journalists at U.S. media organizations this year by cancelling their press credentials as its relations with Washington have worsened.
    In August, authorities in Beijing detained Cheng Lei, a China-born Australian citizen working for the Chinese state-run broadcaster CGTN, on suspicion of activities that endangered national security.
    In September, the Australian government helped two Australian foreign correspondents to leave China after they were questioned by China’s state security ministry.
    The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) in Beijing said it was very concerned to learn of Fan’s detention, and seeking clarity on why she had been detained.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe; additional reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Kevin Liffey)

12/12/2020 India’s Modi Says On Track To Achieve Paris Climate Accord Targets
FILE PHOTO: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations
at the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, August 15, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday the country was doubling down on clean energy sources and was on track to achieve the emissions norms set under the 2015 Paris climate change accord.
    India, one of the top emitters of greenhouses gases that lead to global warming, is eyeing 450 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity by 2030, Modi said in an address to the Global Climate Ambition Summit. Renewable energy capacity would reach 175 gigawatt before 2022, he said.
(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Alex Richardson)

12/12/2020 Rocket Attacks In Kabul Kills One
A rocket is launched in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 12, 2020 in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. Samiulla Hameed/via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – At least one person was killed and two were injured on Saturday in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul as ten rockets hit various parts on the city, officials said.
    A Taliban spokesman said that his group was not behind the attack as they continued talks with the Afghan government’s representatives to end nearly two decades of war.
    Security officials said it was not clear if militants of Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan, were involved in the attack.
    Last month, a barrage of rockets hit residential areas in Kabul, killing at least eight people and wounding more than 30.
    The regional Islamic State group had claimed responsibility for the November attack.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

12/13/2020 India Farmers Intensify Protests As Deadlock Over New Laws Continue by Mayank Bhardwaj and Nupur Anand
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators gesture during a protest against the newly passed farm bills at
Singhu border near New Delhi, India, December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Indian farmers on Sunday intensified their protests against three new agricultural laws aimed at overhauling food grain procurement and pricing rules by allowing private companies direct access to the vast agrarian sector.
    Angry farmers staged demonstrations near New Delhi after rejecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurances that the laws would double farmers’ income.
    Six rounds of talks between government officials and farmer union leaders have failed to resolve the challenge faced by Modi’s government.
    “Hundreds of farmers will launch a tractor trolley march to New Delhi to voice our grievances against the new laws,” said Kamal Preet Singh Pannu, a leader of Sanyukta Kisan Andolan (United Farmers’ Protest), one of 30 groups against the laws.
    “Government wants to discredit and crush our movement, but we will continue to protest peacefully,” Pannu said.
    Local authorities increased security measures, deploying police and putting up barricades to prevent farmers from entering New Delhi in large numbers.    Opposition parties and some senior economists have lent support to the protests.
    “I’ve now studied India’s new farm bills & realize they are flawed and will be detrimental to farmers,” Kaushik Basu, a former chief economic adviser to the federal government, wrote on Twitter.
    “Our agriculture regulation needs change, but the new laws will end up serving corporate interests more than farmers.    Hats off to the sensibility & moral strength of India’s farmers,” Basu said.
    The farmers are protesting the three laws that the government says are meant to overhaul procurement procedures and grant them more options to sell their produce.
    Ministers from Modi’s government at an industry event on Saturday in New Delhi appealed to leading industrialists and businesses to explain the benefits of the new laws to farmers.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Writing by Nupur Anand; Editing by Tom Hogue)

12/13/2020 Bloomberg News Chinese Staff Member Detained In Beijing by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese authorities have detained a Chinese national working for the Bloomberg News bureau in Beijing on suspicion of endangering national security, the news agency and China’s foreign ministry said on Friday.
    According to a Bloomberg report, Haze Fan was seen being escorted from her apartment building by plain-clothes security officials on Monday, shortly after she had been in contact with one of her editors.
    “Chinese citizen Ms. Fan has been detained by the Beijing National Security Bureau according to relevant Chinese law on suspicion of engaging in criminal activities that jeopardize national security,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in response to a Reuters query.
    “The case is currently under investigation.    Ms. Fan’s legitimate rights have been fully ensured and her family has been notified,” the ministry said.
    The Beijing National Security Bureau could not immediately be reached for comment.
    “We are very concerned for her, and have been actively speaking to Chinese authorities to better understand the situation,” a spokeswoman for New York-based Bloomberg said in an emailed statement to Reuters.    “We are continuing to do everything we can to support her while we seek more information.”
    Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait and other senior editors told China-based staff that Chinese authorities had said Fan had not been detained in relation to her work, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources.
    Fan has been at Bloomberg since 2017 and previously worked for Reuters, as well as for CNBC, Al Jazeera and CBS News, according to her LinkedIn profile.
    China has expelled more than a dozen foreign journalists at U.S. media organizations this year by cancelling their press credentials as its relations with Washington have worsened.
    In August, authorities in Beijing detained Cheng Lei, a China-born Australian citizen working for the Chinese state-run broadcaster CGTN, on suspicion of activities that endangered national security.
    In September, the Australian government helped two Australian foreign correspondents to leave China after they were questioned by China’s state security ministry.
    The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China in Beijing said it was very concerned to learn of Fan’s detention, and seeking clarity on why she had been detained.
    The European Union said in a statement on Saturday it expected the Chinese authorities to grant Fan “medical assistance if needed, prompt access to a lawyer of her choice, and contacts with her family.”
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe; additional reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Kevin Liffey and William Mallard)

12/13/2020 China Reports 24 New COVID-19 Cases, Monitoring Tourist Spot Hainan
FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak shop at the Sanya International
Duty-Free Shopping Complex in Sanya, Hainan province, China November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) -China reported 24 new coronavirus cases in the mainland on Sunday, up from 13 cases a day earlier, while the authorities were monitoring possible contacts in the domestic tourism hotspot of Hainan.
    There were five local cases and 19 imported infections on Saturday, according to a statement by the National Health Commission.
    The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 14 from 17 a day earlier.
    As of Saturday, mainland China had 86,725 confirmed coronavirus cases, the health authority said.    The COVID-19 death toll remained at 4,634.
    Two tourists visiting Sanya in Hainan, China’s southernmost island province, were found to be in close contact with an asymptomatic case in Xian in northwest China, after they had lunch with this person on Wednesday.
    Hainan, known as the “Hawaii of China,” has been free of coronavirus for six months, drawing eager shoppers to duty-free malls, couples seeking a sub-tropical backdrop for wedding pictures, and surfers just looking to “breathe freely.”
    The two tourists and 43 other people who were in close contact are being quarantined in Sanya, according to a statement on the city’s official WeChat account.
    China’s far western region of Xinjiang saw a sharp increase in local cases of the coronavirus from mid-July to mid-August and another local wave from late October to early November.
    After National Day holidays in October, a new wave of the pandemic occurred with local cases first reported in Qingdao in China’s Shandong province in the north.
    In November sporadic cases in the districts of Shanghai and Tianjin and the Inner Mongolia region in the north have been reported, while in December more local cases were reported in the provinces of Sichuan in the southwest and Heilongjiang in the northeast.
(Reporting by Shivani Singh and Ma Rong; Editing by William Mallard)

12/13/2020 South Korea’s Moon Warns Of Toughest COVID-19 Curbs After Two Days Of Record Cases by Cynthia Kim
FILE PHOTO: Women walk on an empty street affected by heightened social distancing rules amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Seoul, South Korea, December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in warned on Sunday that COVID-19 restrictions may be raised to the highest level after a second day of record increases in cases as the country battles a harsh third wave of infection.
    Presiding over an emergency meeting at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters for the first time since February, Moon urged vigilance and called for an all-out efforts to contain the virus.
    “Unless the outbreak can be contained now, it has come to the critical point of considering escalating social-distancing measures to the third level,” he said, referring to the tightest curbs under the country’s five-tier system.
    Greater Seoul, home to about half of South Korea’s 52 million people, is under level 2.5 restrictions.    Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned and restaurants are prohibited from serving customers after 9 p.m.
    A country that had initial success controlling COVID-19, South Korea reported 1,030 new coronavirus infections on Sunday after 950 the previous day, bringing total infections to 42,766 with 580 deaths.
    Of the new cases, 1,002 were locally transmitted, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.
    “Our back is against the wall,” Moon said.    “This is a crucial moment to devote all our virus control capabilities and administrative power to stopping the coronavirus spread.”
    Level 3 curbs would essentially mean a lockdown for the first time in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. Schools would switch to remote learning, companies could allow only essential workers in offices and gatherings of more than 10 people would be banned.
    The government will add about 10,000 hospital beds within the next few weeks and temporarily pay some nurses involved in the care of COVID-19 patients an extra 3 million won ($2,748) a month to help overstressed hospitals across the country.
    “Assuming about 1,000 of new daily infections for the next 20 days, we will secure over 10,000 beds in the next three weeks,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a televised briefing after the emergency meeting.
    South Korea was praised for its early success in containing the coronavirus without a lockdown by relying heavily on contact-tracing and testing after the country’s first case was confirmed in January.
    On Saturday, Moon ordered the mobilisation of police, military personnel and public medical doctors to block the spread, which he called an “emergency.”
(Reporting by Cynthia Kim; Editing by Daniel Wallis and William Mallard)

12/13/2020 Armenia, Azerbaijan Blame Each Other For Deadly Post-Ceasefire Clashes
FILE PHOTO: An armoured personnel carrier (APC) of ethnic Armenian forces captured during recent fighting as it is transported for public show
during the parade to mark the victory in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Baku, Azerbaijan December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Karimov/File Photo
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Clashes in the Nagorno-Karabakh region have killed four Azeri servicemen in recent weeks, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said on Sunday, in the first report of casualties since a Russian-brokered ceasefire accord.
    Separately, authorities in Armenia said six of their servicemen had been wounded in what they described as an Azeri military offensive that took place on Saturday.
    The Baku government said the clashes, which also left two Azeri servicemen wounded, had taken place in an area that fell under its control when the fighting ended on Nov. 10 and territory in Nagorno-Karabakh previously controlled by ethnic Armenians was handed over to Azerbaijan.
    It said the military operation on Friday and Saturday aimed to destroy or drive out enemy forces responsible for the deadly attacks on Azeri servicemen.
    Yerevan said Armenian forces had repelled attempted intrusions into territories supposed to remain under the control of the rebel province’s government, namely the Hin Tagher and Khtsaberd villages.
    “The provocations of Azerbaijan continued today in the direction of the villages of Mets Shen and Hin Shen in the Hadrut region,” Armenia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
    In another statement, Armenia’s defence ministry said: “negotiations between Armenian, Russian and Azerbaijani servicemen are underway to resolve the situation in Hadrut and ensure the return of the parties to their former positions.”
    Russian peacekeepers deployed in the conflict area have reported no major clashes but said at the weekend there had been one ceasefire violation.
    Azerbaijan’s State Security Service said that “unfounded accusations against the Azeri side and the Russian peacekeepers by some Armenian leaders and media” were unacceptable.
    The Armenian foreign ministry said Russian forces were not deployed in the area where the clashes broke out.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova in Baku and Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gareth Jones and Barbara Lewis)

12/13/2020 Pakistan’s Opposition To Lead March To Capital In Bid To Oust PM Khan by Mubasher Bukhari
Supporters of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of political opposition parties, wave flags as they listen to the
speeches of their leaders during an anti-government protest rally, in Lahore, Pakistan December 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
    LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – The leaders of an anti-government alliance urged tens of thousands of supporters at a rally on Sunday to join a march to the Pakistani capital next months to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who they say was installed by the military in a rigged 2018 election.
    An alliance of 11 major opposition parties – Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – has been holding mammoth rallies in since its inception in September to seek Khan’s ouster and press the military to stop interfering in politics.
    “The time to have a dialogue is over.    There will be a march now,” said opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
    He ruled out the possibility of any dialogue with Khan or the military unless fresh elections were announced.
    Khan, who says the protest campaign is aimed at blackmailing him into dropping corruption cases against its leaders, has criticised the rallies amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
    The opposition, which has held six mammoth rallies in recent months, says it plans to put pressure on the government to call a fresh election.    The next election is due in 2023.
    Pakistan has reported 72 coronavirus deaths and 3,369 infections in the last 24 hours, the highest numbers since June.
    The protest campaign come as the country’s economy struggles with high inflation and negative growth, which the opposition blames on Khan and the military.
    “Who else do we blame,” asked former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, addressing the rally via a video link from his home in London where he has been living since he left on a medical bail late last year.
    Sharif after he fell out with the generals was convicted in 2018 on corruption charges.
    “Don’t use the military’s institution for your political ends,” Sharif urged the military generals.
    Khan and the military deny the accusations.
(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

12/13/2020 Iran Mostly Contains Fire After Southwest Oil Pipeline Spill
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform is seen alongside an Iranian
flag in the Gulf July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Firefighters have contained most of a blaze that broke out after a pipeline carrying crude oil to Iran’s second-largest refinery ruptured on Sunday because of a landslide, the head of the state company in charge of oil pipelines said.
    “Most of the fire … has been contained and operations teams are repairing the damaged section of the pipeline,” Qasem Arab Yarmohammadi told the Oil Ministry’s news agency, SHANA.
    “Landslides have a long history in this area,” said Arab Yarmohammadi, chief executive of the Iranian Oil Pipeline and Telecommunications Company.
    Khosro Kiani, an emergency official in southwestern Iran, where the blaze occurred, said earlier that the oil had spilled down a hard-to-access valley, which firefighting equipment could not reach, the semi-official news agency Tasnim reported.
    The damaged Maroun pipeline feeds the Isfahan refinery, which has a capacity of about 375,000 barrels a day.
    Iran’s ageing oil infrastructure has long been in need of rehabilitation, as refurbishment plans have been delayed by Western sanctions and local bureaucracy, analysts say.
    There have been several earlier instances of spillage from the pipeline that have adversely affected the region’s agriculture and fishing, state news agency IRNA reported.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Barbara Lewis and Peter Cooney)

12/14/2020 Explainer: What Hardline Islamic Cleric Rizieq Shihab’s Return Means For Indonesian Politics
FILE PHOTO: Rizieq Shihab, the leader of Indonesian Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), is greeted by supporters at
the Tanah Abang, Jakarta, Indonesia, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/File Photo
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian police arrested firebrand Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab on Saturday on suspicion of violating coronavirus protocols after the staging of several mass gatherings since his return from self-exile in Saudi Arabia last month.
    The arrest comes after six of his bodyguards were shot dead by police last week and raises further concerns about a boiling over of tensions between authorities and Islamist groups in the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation.
WHO IS RIZIEQ SHIHAB?
    As head of the hardline Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), Rizieq has for years cut a controversial figure in Indonesian politics.
    He was jailed in 2008 for inciting violence and left Indonesia in 2017 after facing charges of pornography, and insulting state ideology.    Those charges have since been dropped.
    Formed in 1998, in the tumultuous months after president Suharto stood down, the FPI initially had close links to security forces and became notorious for raiding bars and brothels, as well as violence against minorities, and preventing a Lady Gaga concert.    It has also been involved in humanitarian work after natural disasters.
    But moving from the fringes it has increased its political sway and in 2016 Rizieq was a key figure in a mass movement against Jakarta’s former Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, who was jailed for insulting Islam.
    The huge 2016 rallies raised concern about a threat to Indonesia’s pluralist tradition and its secular state.    President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, also viewed them as among the biggest threats to his government.
    In the weeks since his return, Rizieq has declared plans for a “moral revolution.”
WHY WAS RIZIEQ ARRESTED?
    After twice ignoring police summonses, Rizieq turned himself in and was arrested.
    He was charged with obstruction of law enforcement, incitement of criminal acts and violation of the quarantine law.    He could face a maximum six years in prison if convicted.
    The charges relate to mass events including the tens of thousands of people who showed up to greet Rizieq at the airport and his daughter’s well-attended wedding.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SHOOTOUT?
    Police say they were tailing a convoy of Rizieq supporters after hearing the FPI was preparing to mobilise.    Police say they acted in self-defence when they shot the six supporters dead after firearms were pointed at them.
    The FPI has described the incident as an “extrajudicial killing” and said Rizieq and his entourage were unarmed and travelling to a dawn prayer when attacked by unknown assailants.
    Amnesty International Indonesia and Indonesia Police Watch have called for an independent investigation, and Indonesia’s human rights commission has since opened a probe.
HOW BIG A FORCE IS ISLAM IN INDONESIAN POLITICS?
    With nearly 90% of the population Muslim, Islam has always been important in Indonesian politics.    Every president has been Muslim and the 2016 rallies saw Islam take on an increasingly prominent political role.
    In a move seen as an attempt to appeal to Islamic voters, Jokowi chose cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, as his vice presidential running mate in 2019 and after the election appointed his poll opponent, Prabowo Subianto, who had backing from Islamist groups, as defence minister.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN NOW?
    Political analysts say given an opposition vacuum, the pandemic and the first recession in 22 years, Rizieq could harness frustrations with the government and pose a threat.
    The 55-year-old has already met with several key opposition figures and there is a sense that he could be a kingmaker in the 2024 election.
    More immediately, the police clash has seen the FPI hail the dead as ‘martyrs’ and call for demonstrations.
    According to sources and analysts the government grossly underestimated Rizieq’s continued appeal and quickly understood it needed to carefully calibrate its response to Rizieq.
    Despite a more vocal backlash from pluralists and moderate Islamic groups toward Rizieq this year, the fatal clash is unlikely to have met the careful approach the administration had been aiming for.
(Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Ed Davies)

12/14/2020 Vietnam Leadership Wrangling Heats Up As Communist Party Meets by James Pearson
FILE PHOTO: Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong takes his oath of office after being elected as
Vietnam's State President during a National Assembly session in Hanoi, Vietnam October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kham/File Photo
    HANOI (Reuters) – As Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party started a week-long meeting on Monday, discussion has intensified over the top leadership that will emerge and set the tone for the next five years in the fast-developing Southeast Asian country.
    A government statement said the latest plenum would include discussion of “personnel documents” – a euphemism for deciding who holds the most important posts, which will be formally assigned at the Communist Party Congress due in January.
    The congress will shape policy five years after General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, a party ideologue, emerged to lead an anti-corruption drive after ejecting a former leadership that had closer ties to business.
    “No matter who will be elected into the new leadership, there will be more continuity than change, and Vietnam will maintain its current trajectory,” said Le Hong Hiep, a fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.
    Trong himself, one of the most powerful Vietnamese politicians in decades, may retain an important role, but questions have been asked over the 76-year-old’s health as he has appeared frail at events in recent months.
    During the last congress in 2016, Trong led a move to dispose former prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung.    Then in 2018, he inherited the presidential role in addition to his Communist Party chief position after the incumbent president died.
    Some of the highest profile scalps to have been claimed by Trong’s anti-corruption crackdown have been allies of the former premier.    Most analysts expect the crackdown will continue after the congress.
NO STAND OUT CANDIDATE
    Vietnam has no paramount ruler and is officially led by four “pillars”: a president, prime minister, the chief of its Communist Party and the national assembly chair.
    In theory, who can ascend to the highest levels of Vietnamese politics is governed by rules and limits on age and origin.    There has never been a general secretary who was not from the northern half of Vietnam, for example, and politburo members over the age of 65 should retire.
    In reality, the highly secretive process revolves around building a consensus and vying for control of the party’s powerful decision-making politburo.    Exceptions to those rules are often therefore granted, especially if a consensus on the top candidates cannot be reached.
    Another question surrounds the fate of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who could fight for a second term or seek to further climb the party ranks.
    The 66-year-old has represented Hanoi on the world stage as the face of Vietnam’s many trade deals and pushed for regional multilateralism as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year.
    A friendly face to business, Phuc has boosted his economic credentials by keeping Vietnam on track to post GDP growth of 2%-3% this year, despite the catastrophic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy.
    Phuc has been touted as a potential contender for party chief, but other candidates with closer ties to Trong and Vietnam’s powerful security ministry and military will also be lobbying for the position.
    Linh Nguyen, a Singapore-based analyst at risk consultancy Control Risks, said the outcome of this congress will likely be more unpredictable than previous years.
    “The main reason is that unlike in previous congresses, we haven’t seen very clearly the figures for top leadership positions this time,” Nguyen said.
    “None of the current potential candidates are really standing out, most of them are overage, and we might see more political infighting among different factions closer to the date.”
(Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Michael Perry)

12/14/2020 Japan, South Korea Fret As Surging Coronavirus Undermines Leaders’ Support by Rocky Swift and Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: People shop amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at a traditional
market in Seoul, South Korea, December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) – Japan and South Korea grappled with surging coronavirus cases and growing public frustration on Monday as Japan’s prime minister tiptoed around a contentious travel subsidy programme while an anxious South Korean president warned of harsh curbs.
    Japan reported more than 3,000 new cases on Saturday, yet another record as winter set in, with infections worsening in Tokyo, the northern island of Hokkaido and the city of Osaka.
    But Japan, with a focus on the economic costs, has steered clear of tough lockdowns.    It tackled its first wave of infections in the spring by asking people to refrain from going out and for businesses to close or curtail operating hours.
    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last week a halt to a campaign that subsidises domestic tourism was not under consideration, citing economic considerations.
    Critics say encouraging people to travel has helped spread infections.    Media reported on Monday that Suga could restrict the programme after weekend polls showed his support had eroded over his handling of the pandemic.
    Across the sea in South Korea, President Moon Jae-in also faces sliding ratings as clusters of new infections fuel criticism over what many see as slack containment.
    “Our back is against the wall,” Moon said.    “This is a crucial moment to devote all our virus control capabilities and administrative power to stopping the coronavirus.”
    South Korea reported a new daily record of 1,030 infections on Sunday, a big worry for a country for months held up as a mitigation success story but still a fraction of the tallies being seen in some European countries and the United States, where vaccines are being rolled out.
    Few Asian countries expect to get significant amounts of coronavirus vaccines in coming weeks as they manage distribution schedules, allow time to check for any inoculation side effects elsewhere or run their own late-stage trials.
    Instead, they are counting on the methods that have largely kept infections in check for months – ahead of the curve testing, stringent travel curbs, strict social distancing and masks.
    China, for instance, where the virus emerged almost a year ago, has managed to limit new cases with tough, sweeping action.
    It locked down an area of more than 250,000 people after half a dozen cases were confirmed near the Russian border in the province of Heilongjiang, the Associated Press reported on Monday.
    New Zealand, which has been particularly successful in tackling the pandemic, said on Monday it had agreed to open a “travel bubble” with Australia in the first quarter of 2021.
‘MORE TESTING’
    South Korea has warned that coronavirus restrictions may be raised to the highest Phase 3 level, which would essentially mean a lockdown for the first time in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
    In Seoul, schools will close from Tuesday, a step towards the imposition of Phase 3.    Last month, the government banned year-end parties.
    In Japan, which is hoping to stage the postponed summer Olympics next year, testing has remained relatively low, peaking at about 50,000 in one day recently.    Testing in Tokyo, which has the capacity for more than 60,000, is now about 9,000 a day.
    “Whether a country or region is doing enough testing should be assessed based on the positivity rate and not on the number of tests,” said Fumie Sakamoto, infection control manager at the St Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo.
    “The positivity rate for Tokyo is now over 6%, so we should be doing a bit more testing to bring the number down.”
    South Korea, meanwhile, has ramped up testing to more than 22,000 people a day, compared with roughly 16,000 a day in September.
(This story corrects last paragraph to say S.Korea ramped up testing to more than 22,000 people a day from 16,000 a day in September, not 89,000 people a day as of Sunday compared with over 22,000 a day in early October)
(Reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo and Sangmi Cha in Seoul; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh in Singapore; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/14/2020 China Says Legal Rights And Interests Of Detained Bloomberg Chinese Employee Guaranteed
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Monday that the case of a Chinese national working for Bloomberg News being detained is under investigation, and that all legal rights and interests of the employee are guaranteed.
    On Friday, the news agency and China’s foreign ministry said that authorities had detained Haze Fan, a Chinese citizen working for the Bloomberg News bureau in Beijing, on suspicion of endangering national security.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Writing by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

12/14/2020 Bird Flu Spreads To 10th Japanese Prefecture by Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi
FILE PHOTO: Officials in protective suits work at a chicken farm where an outbreak of a highly pathogenic bird flu was
confirmed in Mitoyo, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo November 5, 2020. Picture taken November 5, 2020. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s worst bird flu outbreak on record spread to new farms and now affects more than 20% of the country’s 47 prefectures, with officials ordering cullings after more poultry deaths.
    About 11,000 birds will be slaughtered and buried after avian influenza was discovered at an egg farm in Higashiomi city in Shiga prefecture in southwestern Japan, the agriculture ministry said over the weekend.
    Another outbreak started in Kagawa prefecture, where the outbreak emerged last month, the ministry said on Monday.
    The outbreak in Japan and neighbouring South Korea is one of two separate highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) epidemics hitting poultry around the world, according the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
    Both the strain circulating in Asia and the one in Europe originated in wild birds, it said.
    “The virus found in Japan is genetically very close to the recent Korean viruses and thus related to viruses in Europe from early 2020, not those currently circulating in Europe,” Madhur Dhingra, a senior animal health officer at the FAO, told Reuters by email.
    “This means that we currently have two distinct H5N8 HPAI epidemics in eastern Asia and Europe,” she said.
    The FAO has issued an alert to African health authorities for heightened surveillance of farms to avoid the spread of the more recent European strain there.
    In Japan, 10 of the country’s 47 prefectures have been affected in the outbreak, with around 3 million birds culled to date, a record number.
    All farms in Japan were earlier ordered to disinfect facilities and check hygiene regimes, and ensure that nets to keep out wild birds are installed properly, agriculture ministry officials told Reuters this week.
    Japan has suspended poultry imports from seven countries, including Germany.
    Japan has an egg-laying flock of about 185 million hens and a broiler population of 138 million head, according to the ministry of agriculture.
(Graphic: Japan’s birdflu outbreak by prefecture – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-BIRDFLU/JAPAN/yxmvjqgoapr/chart.png)
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi and Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Stephen Coates)

12/14/2020 Malaysian PM Muhyuddin May Face Showdown In Final Budget Vote by Joseph Sipalan
FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin poses for a picture at the parliament, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
November 26, 2020. Malaysia Information Department/Zarith Zulkifli/Handout via Reuters/File Photo
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin may face another challenge to his leadership on Tuesday, if the opposition in parliament seeks to block a third and final vote to pass the government’s 2021 budget.
    Muhyiddin’s government plans to spend a record 322.5 billion ringgit ($79.61 billion) next year, up 2.5% from this year as it seeks to spur activity in an economy badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Opposition lawmakers led by veteran leader Anwar Ibrahim backed down from a plan to vote down the budget at the end of the policy stage debate last month, avoiding a potential political crisis as Muhyiddin faced the first real test of his wafer-thin majority in the 222-seat parliament.
    A budget defeat would have been seen as a loss of confidence in Muhyiddin’s leadership and could have triggered snap polls.
    Two opposition sources said Anwar, who in September declared he had majority support from lawmakers to form a government, is expected to try to block the budget this time.
    “He’s got 113, so we expect something to happen,” said a senior opposition lawmaker, who asked not to be named as they were not authorised to speak to media.
    The opposition bloc include up to 10 lawmakers from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the former ruling party, led by its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former premier Najib Razak, according to the sources.
    Anwar and Najib’s offices declined to comment, while Ahmad Zahid’s representative did not have any immediate comment.    There was also no immediate comment from the prime minister’s office.
    Muhyiddin also faces pressure from his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, who on Monday called on lawmakers to consider replacing a “weak” government with one that is stable and focused on reviving Malaysia’s economic fortunes.
    “If the 222 members of parliament love this country, they will not choose the party or themselves… they are elected in order to govern this country,” Mahathir told a news conference.
($1 = 4.0510 ringgit)
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Ed Davies)

12/14/2020 Rouhani Says Iran Can Move Beyond Row With Turkey Over Erdogan Poem
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in Tehran, Iran
December 14, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday Tehran could move past a diplomatic quarrel with Turkey over a poem recited by President Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to Azerbaijan, which Tehran had called a threat to its territorial integrity.
    Iran summoned Turkey’s envoy last week after Erdogan recited an Azeri-Iranian poem lamenting the 19th century division of Azerbaijan’s territory between Russia and Iran. Tehran appeared concerned his remarks questioned Iran’s territorial integrity and could fan separatist tendencies among its Azeri minority.
    “In my opinion, with the explanations (Turkish officials) gave, we can move beyond this issue, but the sensitivity of our people is very important,” Rouhani told a televised news conference in Tehran.
    “Based on my past knowledge of Mr Erdogan, it is very unlikely that he had any intention of insulting our territorial integrity,” Rouhani said.    “He always recites poetry in his speeches.”
    Azeris are the largest minority in Iran, and millions live in an Iranian region which shares the same name as the independent state of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Republic.    Azeris speak a language very similar to Turkish, while mostly observing Shi’ite Islam, Iran’s state religion.
    Turkey has become a close ally of Azerbaijan, helping it make major territorial gains against Armenians in a war that ended with a ceasefire last month.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Peter Graff)

12/15/2020 U.S. Sanctions Against Turkey ‘Contempt For International Law’, Says Iran’s Zarif
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the presidential
palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 14, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday condemned U.S. sanctions against Turkey over Ankara’s acquisition of Russian S-400 air defence systems as “contempt for international law.”
    “U.S. addiction to sanctions and contempt for international law at full display again.    We strongly condemn recent U.S. sanctions against Turkey and stand with its people and government,” Zarif tweeted.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom)

12/15/2020 Taiwan Sees Role As Arms Supplier For West As Launches New Warship by Ann Wang
Navy officers attend the official ceremony for the new Tuo Chiang-class corvettes in Yilan, Taiwan, Decemebr 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    SUAO, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan may become a supplier of weapons to Western democracies, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday, praising the island’s ramped up weapons-design ability as she launched an advanced, missile-laden warship and commissioned a new minelayer.
    Tsai has made boosting the defence of the Chinese-claimed island a priority in the face of a growing military challenge from Beijing, which has never renounced the use of force to bring democratic Taiwan under its control.
    While Taiwan’s air force has benefited from big-ticket items like new and upgraded F-16s, the navy is Tsai’s next focus, with submarines in production and the Tuesday launch of the first of a fleet of highly manoeuvrable stealth corvettes.
    The new Tuo Chiang-class corvettes, a prototype of which is already in operation, has been dubbed by Taiwan’s navy the “aircraft carrier killer” due to its complement of anti-ship missiles.    It can also carry Sky Sword anti-aircraft missiles.
    Speaking in the eastern port city of Suao for the launch of the Ta Chiang, the first mass production ship of the Tuo Chiang-class, Tsai said the vessel and the new minelayer would deter attacks and showcased Taiwan’s research and development ability.
    “We have the determination and capability to complete the task of building our own ships, letting the world see our defence research and development energy,” Tsai said.
    “In the future, we may also become a supply source of related equipment and components in Western democracies, driving the upgrading of the defence industry,” she said.
    The United States is Taiwan’s main foreign source of weapons. Most countries shy away from arming the island, wary of angering Beijing and loosing valuable commercial contracts with the world’s second-largest economy.
    Tsai, re-elected in a landslide in January on a vow to stand up to China, has championed the concept of “asymmetric warfare,” focusing on high-tech, mobile weapons designed to make any Chinese attack as difficult as possible.
    She has bolstered the domestic arms industry to try to make Taiwan as self-sufficient as possible.
(Reporting by Ann Wang; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/15/2020 U-Turn On Travel Subsidy Adds To Pressure On Japanese PM by Sakura Murakami and Yoshifumi Takemoto
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference
in Tokyo, Japan December 4, 2020. Hiro Komae/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Even as coronavirus infections in Japan hit record highs and government support ratings slipped, Prime Minister Yoshihide     Suga defended a government tourism campaign, defying experts and denying links to the spread of the virus.    Until Monday.
    In a stunning about-face on a policy aimed at helping small businesses that he took credit for when assuming the premiership in September, Suga said he would halt the subsidy programme over the year-end, the latest wrangle to mar his first months in power.
    The decision was likely prompted by another steep drop in opinion polls over the weekend, showing respondents highly critical of Suga’s handling of the pandemic and, for the first time, those against the government outnumbering those in favour.
    The events mark a dramatic reversal in the fortunes of a man who came to power with the aura of an uncompromising political operator capable of pushing through reforms and taking on the stodgy bureaucracy.
    They also revealed a leader who, critics from within the ruling camp say, lacks big-picture vision and smart advisers, and acts like the micromanager he was known to be when serving as the right-hand man to his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.
    Suga is also under fire for defending Abe over allegations – being investigated by prosecutors – that his office helped fund parties for supporters, violating political funding laws.
    He also stirred an outcry by removing scholars critical of the government from an advisory panel and was forced by the junior coalition partner, Komeito, to compromise on a policy on healthcare costs for the elderly.
    The stumbles have raised questions about the longevity of Suga’s tenure, government officials say, and could complicate his ability to implement difficult reforms.
QUESTIONS
    Izuru Makihara, a professor of politics at the University of Tokyo, compared Suga’s previous role of chief cabinet secretary liaising with ministries to a piano tuner who “tinkers with the issues so that everything goes smoothly.”
    “As prime minister, you need to be the record player and play the music.    At the moment, that record player doesn’t have a record in it and can’t play any music,” Makihara said.
    The criticism was echoed by ruling-camp members of parliament and a senior government official, who said Suga still called up bureaucrats, fussing over details and giving instructions.
    “We can’t function as an organisation if he’s going over the heads of ministers and vice ministers,” said the official, who declined to be identified.<
    The son of a farmer without a strong base in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dominated by political bluebloods, Suga has been a political underdog and an unlikely pick for prime minister from the outset.
    His mishaps have prompted some rank-and-file lawmakers to question his ability to lead the party in a lower house election that has to be held by late October.
    “It’s possible that the prime minister’s office will lose a lot of its momentum if the number of people who think that the LDP can’t win with Suga rises,” said a different government official speaking on condition of anonymity.
    An LDP executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, questioned whether lawmakers would want to put up Suga’s posters in their districts during elections.
    “Suga’s administration started out as a ‘down-to-earth cabinet’ but it’s now turning into a ‘dark cabinet’,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Kazuhiko Tamaki; Editing by Antoni Slodkowski and Robert Birsel)

12/15/2020 South Korea Bans Anti-North Leaflets; Defector Says He Won’t Stop by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: A balloon containing leaflets denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seen near the demilitarized
zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, March 26, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Monday banned the launching of propaganda leaflets into North Korea, drawing the criticism of rights activists and defiance from a prominent North Korean defector who said he would not stop sending messages to his homeland.
    Defectors and other campaigners in South Korea have for decades sent anti-North Korean leaflets over the tightly guarded border, usually by balloon or in bottles on border rivers.    They also send food, medicine, money, mini radios and USB sticks containing South Korean news and dramas.
    Isolated North Korea has long denounced the practice and recently stepped up its condemnation of it, to the alarm of a South Korean government intent on improving ties on the divided peninsula.
    The South Korean parliament voted on Monday to amend the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act to bar any scattering of printed materials, goods, money and other items of value across the heavily fortified frontier.
    It also restricts loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts, which the South’s military once championed as part of psychological warfare against the North until it withdrew the equipment following a 2018 summit between the two Koreas.
    The ban will take effect in three months and violators face up to three years in prison or 30 million won ($27,400) in fines.
    The change was approved despite efforts by opposition lawmakers to block the super-majority of the ruling party of President Moon Jae-in, who is keen to improve cross-border ties.
CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGE
    The bill was introduced in June after Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said South Korea should ban the leaflets or face the “worst phase” of relations.
    “They’re trying to put Kim Yo Jong’s order into law at her single word,” Tae Yong-ho, an opposition lawmaker and former North Korean diplomat, said in a 10-hour filibuster speech, adding the bill would only help Kim’s government continue “enslaving” its people.
    Park Sang-hak, a defector who has already been stripped of a license for his leaflet-launching group and faces a prosecution investigation, said he would not give up his 15-year campaign.
    “I’ll keep sending leaflets to tell the truth because North Koreans have the right to know,” he told Reuters.    “I’m not afraid of being jailed
    Park and some other 20 rights groups in South Korea vowed to challenge the law’s constitutionality, while Human Rights Watch called the ban a “misguided strategy” by South Korea to win Kim’s favour.
    “It criminalises sending remittances to families in North Korea and denies their rights to outside information,” said Shin Hee-seok of the Transitional Justice Working Group.
    “Such appeasement efforts only risk inviting further North Korean provocations and demands.”
    Chris Smith, a U.S. Republican congressman co-chairing a bipartisan human rights commission, issued a statement criticising the amendment as “ill-conceived, frightening” for facilitating the imprisonment of people for simply sharing information.
    When asked about Smith’s statement, South Korean’s Unification Ministry, which handles ties with North Korea, said the bill was a “minimal effort to protect the lives and safety of residents in border regions.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Daewoung Kim; Editing by Alex Richardson, Robert Birsel)

12/15/2020 Kabul’s Deputy Governor Killed In A Blast In Afghanistan -Official
People stand around a car damaged in a bomb attack on the street in Kabul, Afghanistan
December 15, 2020 in this picture obtained from social media. Tamana Ashna via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – A bomb attack in Afghanistan’s capital city killed the deputy governor of Kabul on Tuesday, security officials said, adding a sticky bomb was attached to his car by unknown assailants.
    Mahboobullah Mohebi, the deputy governor was travelling with his security guards when the blast occurred.    Two guards were injured in the blast.
    No militant group has made an immediate claim of responsibility for the blast.
    Last week an Afghan government prosecutor was shot dead in eastern Kabul while he was on his way to work.
(Reporting by Hamid Farzad and Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Tom Hogue)

12/15/2020 Iran’s Probe Into Downing Of Airliner Has Major Flaws – Canada Report by David Ljunggren
FILE PHOTO: A member of a rescue team walks among debris from a plane belonging to Ukraine International Airlines, that crashed after a take-off from
Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran January 8, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – Iran is not conducting its probe into the downing of a civilian airliner in January properly and many questions remain unanswered, an independent Canadian report into the tragedy said on Tuesday.
    The 79-page document is the latest expression of frustration from Western nations into how Tehran is handling the aftermath of a disaster that claimed 176 lives.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards say they accidentally shot down the Ukraine International Airlines plane shortly after take off, mistaking it for a missile when tensions with the United States were high. Many of the victims were Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
    Former Canadian cabinet minister Ralph Goodale, charged with helping the victims’ families and examining how to deal with similar disasters in future, said “many of the key details of this horrific event” remain unknown.
    “Iran bears responsibility for that because … it has not conducted its investigations (safety, criminal or otherwise) in a truly independent, objective and transparent manner, and answers to critical questions” are absent, he wrote in the report.
    Last month, a governing panel at the United Nations’ aviation agency urged Iran to accelerate the investigation.    Later in November, Ukraine said Iran was dragging its feet.
    In the hours before the disaster, Iran had fired missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq. Five days earlier, Washington had killed a Revolutionary Guards commander with a drone strike in Iraq.
    Goodale said Iran needed to explain how it had assessed the risks to civilian aircraft in its airspace and what it had told operators.    He also said Tehran had to reveal why it had left the airspace open and also why exactly the Guards had decided to down the plane.
    Canada, working with other nations who lost citizens, is pressing Iran for reparations while “seeking a full and candid accounting of what exactly happened” and a formal apology, Goodale said.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alistair Bell)

12/16/2020 Exclusive-WHO-Led Team Expected In China In January To Probe COVID-19 Origins – Experts by Stephanie Nebehay and Nikolaj Skydsgaard
FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks walk on a street market in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicentre
of China's novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, April 6, 2020. RUETERS/Aly Song
    GENEVA/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – An international mission led by the World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to go to China in the first week of January to investigate the origins of the virus that sparked the COVID-19 pandemic, a member and diplomats told Reuters on Wednesday.
    The United States, which has accused China of having hidden the outbreak’s extent, has called for a “transparent” WHO-led investigation and criticised its terms, which allowed Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary research.
    China reported the first cases of a pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, central China, to the WHO on Dec. 31 and closed a market where the novel coronavirus is believed to have emerged.
    Health ministers called on the WHO in May to identify the source of the virus and how it crossed the species barrier.
    Now a team of 12-15 international experts is finally preparing to go to Wuhan to examine evidence, including human and animal samples collected by Chinese researchers, and to build on their initial studies.
    Thea Fischer, a Danish member, said that the team would leave “just after New Year’s” for a six-week mission, including two weeks of quarantine on arrival.
    “Phase 1 was supposed to be completed by now, according to the terms of reference, and we should have some results.    If that’s what we get when we come to China…that would be fantastic.    Then we are already in phase 2,” she told Reuters.
    Keith Hamilton, an expert at the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) who will take part, told reporters on Tuesday:     “I anticipate the mission will take place quite soon.”
    WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in an emailed reply to Reuters inquiry that the international team was working on logistical arrangements to travel to China as soon as possible.    “We hope the team will be able to travel in January,” he said.
    A Western diplomat said that the team was expected to leave in early January, ahead of WHO’s executive board opening on Jan. 18, adding: “There is strong pressure on China and on WHO.”
‘NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK’
    Hamilton said a similar but not identical virus was identified in a horseshoe bat, indicating that it was transmitted first to an animal, or intermediate host, before infecting humans.
    “When we are doing animal surveillance, it’s difficult, it’s rather like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.
    Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s top expert in animal diseases, said last month the mission would like to interview market workers about how they were infected with the virus.
    “There is nothing to indicate that it would be man-made,” he added.
    Chinese state media have suggested the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, citing its presence on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers claiming it had been circulating in Europe last year.
    Some Western countries have voiced concern at the delay in sending international experts.
    One senior Western diplomat complained of a lack of transparency while experts were not on the ground talking to clinicians and researchers or inspecting lab samples.
    But another Western diplomat said that the mission was on a “good footing” and that the WHO had to accept China’s terms to secure access.

12/16/2020 Armenia Opposition Calls For Dec. 22 Strike To Demand PM’s Exit Over Ceasefire Deal
FILE PHOTO: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan speaks during his address to the nation in Yerevan, Armenia
November 12, 2020. Armenian Prime Minister Press Service/Tigran Mehrabyan/PAN Photo via REUTERS
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenia’s opposition called on their supporters on Wednesday to join a national strike on Dec. 22 to press for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who they accuse of bungling the conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
    Pashinyan, who swept to power in a peaceful revolution in May 2018, accepted a Russian-brokered ceasefire deal last month to end a bloody conflict between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabkh enclave and surrounding areas.
    The deal locked in territorial gains for Azerbaijan, sparking protests in Yerevan.    He has accepted responsibility for the conflict’s outcome, but declined to resign, ignoring a deadline set by his critics to step down earlier this month.
    Hundreds of opposition demonstrators rallied in Yerevan and chanted for his exit as the deadline passed last week.    They have called for snap elections to be held and also put forward a possible interim leader to replace Pashinyan.
    “….We will continue accumulating power so that Tuesday (Dec. 22) becomes decisive,” Ishkhan Saghatelyan, one of the opposition leaders, told supporters at a rally in Yerevan where he announced the strike plans.
    On Wednesday, Pashinyan said in an interview with RFE/RL that it was not up to him to call a snap election and that such a move would have to be agreed with other parliamentary parties.
    He said the opposition forces criticising him over the ceasefire deal were the same factions who had demanded his exit in December last year.
    “Essentially, nothing has changed all this time,” he said.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by William Maclean)

12/16/2020 Iran’s Khamenei: U.S. Hostility Toward Iran Will Not End With Trump’s Departure
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot
in the Iranian presidential election in Tehran June 12, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Washington’s hostility toward the Islamic Republic would not end when U.S. President Donald Trump leaves office.
    “The hostility (against Iran) is not just from Trump’s America, which will not end when he leaves, as (President Barack) Obama’s America also did bad things to …the Iranian nation,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by his official website.
(Editing by Jon Boyle)

12/16/2020 Iran’s Rouhani Says He Is Happy That ‘Lawless’ Trump Is Leaving Office
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a session of
the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council In Yerevan, Armenia October 1, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday he was happy that Donald Trump was leaving office, calling him “the most lawless U.S. president” and a “terrorist.”
    “We are not overjoyed about Mr. Biden’s arrival, but we are happy about Trump leaving,” Rouhani said in a televised speech to the cabinet.
(dubai.newsroom@thomsonreuters.com; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

12/16/2020 Taliban Delegation Visits Islamabad, Plans For Leadership Meeting In Pakistan by Charlotte Greenfield and Jibran Ahmed
FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, speaks at a signing ceremony
between Afghanistan's Taliban and the U.S. in Doha, Qatar February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari
    ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR (Reuters) – A Taliban delegation will arrive in Pakistan’s capital on Wednesday for a three-day visit, according to official statements, as both sides in the Afghan peace process continue consultations during a break in negotiations.
    The Taliban delegation, led by the militant group’s top political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is set to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and the foreign minister during the visit, according to a Pakistan foreign office statement.
    Two Taliban political sources in Doha told Reuters they would also hold a meeting in Pakistan among their leadership.
    The Taliban last visited Islamabad in August, just before the peace talks with the Afghan government began in Doha as the United States pushed for a political settlement while it withdraws troops from the war-torn country.
    After reaching an agreement on procedural ground rules this month, negotiators representing the government and the Taliban are taking a break until Jan. 5 when they will continue to work on an agenda.
    Diplomatic sources told Reuters that both sides will continue to consult with their leaderships and other key players over the break.
    They added that the next stage will be very challenging as violence rises around the nation and the Afghan government calls for a ceasefire to be top of the agenda, while the Taliban says it should be discussed later.
    The Taliban political sources said they would take up the issue of rising violence with their military leaders during their leadership meeting.
    “Our field commanders started carrying out more attacks and it created problems for our office in Qatar; therefore our delegation would like to see them and discuss it with them,” one of the sources said, adding they would not request attacks stop entirely but explain the problems and suggest they slow.
    A Taliban spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at the London-based Overseas Development Institute, said the meeting of the wider Taliban leadership was key to moving forward.
    “The Taliban have been able to skate by making almost no concessions…they won’t be able to get away with that for much longer, and building up a consensus about what they’ll agree to – or not – is now essential,” she said.
(This story corrects day in lead paragraph to Wednesday.)
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad and Jibran Ahmed in Peshawar; Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

12/16/2020 Ayatollah Khamenei Resurfaces After Reports Of Poor Health, Reiterates Threats To U.S. And President Trump by OAN Newsroom
A handout picture provided by the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on October 24, 2020, shows
him wearing a protective face mask as he gives a speech in the capital Tehran during a meeting of the national staff
to discuss the issue of the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (Photo by -/KHAMENEI.IR/AFP via Getty Images)
    Iran’s supreme leader recently made the first televised appearance since reports of his grave illness.
    On Wednesday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed the Iranian nation on state television to reiterate his opposition to the U.S. foreign policy.     He vowed revenge for General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by President Trump earlier this year.
    According to recent reports, Khamenei could step down due to deteriorating health, but the supreme leader rebuked such claims.    He also made non-specific threats against the U.S. military and President Trump.
Members of the Iraqi riot police stand near a poster of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad,
in a square in the Iraqi capital on December 3, 2020. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)
    “Soleimani’s killer and the one who ordered Soleimani’s murder must be avengedThese are related to all the arrogance and the US.    That is in its place.    However, as told by a loved one, Soleimani’s shoes is an honour to be over his killer’s head.”
    The Ayatollah also called on the E.U. to lift sanctions on Iran as well as condemned President Trump’s latest peace efforts in the Middle East.

12/17/2020 WHO Says Beijing Welcomes COVID-19 Investigators Trip To China by John Geddie
People wear face masks as they wait at a bus stop following an outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Beijing, China, December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Beijing will welcome an international team of COVID-19 investigators due to travel to China in January, said the World Health Organization (WHO), which is leading the mission.
    China has strongly opposed calls for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, saying such calls are anti-China, but has been open to a WHO-led investigation.
    However, it was unclear whether the WHO investigators will travel to the city of Wuhan where the virus was first detected, with discussions on the itinerary ongoing.
    “WHO continues to contact China and to discuss the international team and the places they visit,” Babatunde Olowokure, the WHO’s regional emergencies director in the Western Pacific, told a news conference on Thursday.
    "Our understanding at this time is that China is welcoming the international team and their visit…This is anticipated, as far as we are aware, to happen in early January,” he said.
    On Wednesday, a WHO member and diplomats told Reuters the mission was expected to go to China in the first week of January to investigate the origins of the virus.
    Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not directly comment on the WHO visit during a daily media briefing on Thursday.
    “China stands ready to enhance its cooperation with WHO to advance the global tracing efforts and contribute our share in our early victory against the pandemic,” he said.
    The United States, which has accused China of having hidden the outbreak’s extent, has called for a “transparent” WHO-led investigation and criticised its terms, which allowed Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary research.
    Chinese state media have suggested the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, citing its presence on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers claiming it had been circulating in Europe last year.
    Olowokure said the exact timing of the trip would depend on “obtaining the results of some other tests that are being carried out initially,” without giving further details.
    Referring to the ongoing discussions with China over the trip, Olowokure said: “These are of course important for us, and to get an overall picture of how the investigation will go.”
    More than 72.92 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 1,641,733 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
    Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.
(Reporting by John Geddie; Additionalreporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Ed Davies and Michael Perry)

12/17/2020 ‘We Are Not Afraid’: Wuhan Residents Say They Hope WHO Team Finds Virus Origins by Emily Chow
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) – With investigators from the World Health Organization (WHO) set to visit China next year, residents of Wuhan are saying they want the team to come to the central city, hoping they could prove the virus did not originate there.
    An international team of investigators is expected to travel to China in January, the WHO said on Thursday, more than a year after the first identified cluster of COVID-19 infections was linked to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan.
    “I welcome them to come. We also want to know how it developed, specifically where it came from, if the source of the virus is here,” said a Wuhan resident surnamed Wan, as he walked to work on Thursday morning.
    “My feeling is that it is not from there,” he added, referring to the seafood market.
    The WHO did not confirm whether its team will go to Wuhan, saying that discussions on the itinerary were ongoing. A two-member WHO team visited China in July, but did not visit Wuhan.
    Reuters reported earlier, citing a member and diplomats, that a team of 12-15 international experts will visit Wuhan to examine evidence, including human and animal samples collected by Chinese researchers, and to build on their initial studies.
    Beijing has strongly opposed calls for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, but said it has been open to a WHO-led investigation.
    China’s foreign ministry did not directly comment on the WHO visit during a daily media briefing on Thursday.
    “China stands ready to enhance its cooperation with WHO to advance the global tracing efforts and contribute our share in our early victory against the pandemic,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
    Many questions remain about the origins of COVID-19 and the role Wuhan’s exotic wildlife trade may have played in it.
    Although authorities closed the Huanan market in January, there is a growing scientific consensus that the virus did not originate there.    Some studies suggest it was already in circulation by the time it reached the market, with more than one transmission route.
    China still tightly restricts access to locations such as the Huanan market, which stands empty and locked even though normal life has largely resumed in Wuhan and throughout China.
    Beijing has also been pushing a narrative that the virus existed abroad before it was found in Wuhan, and unlike other countries cites frozen food packaging as a risk of spreading COVID-19.
    “There is a strong possibility it was brought in via wholesale seafood from elsewhere.    Wuhan has no seafood,” said 20-year-old Wuhan student Jiang Yongcheng.
    Others said a WHO visit is an opportunity to show how well the city had done battling the virus.    Wuhan has not reported a locally transmitted case since May 10, after a 76-day lockdown that was one of the strictest worldwide.
    “We are not afraid of their investigation,” said Liu Qin, who works in real estate.    “Because you can see from the epidemic this year, in Wuhan things were done well, if not the epidemic would not have been controlled quickly.”
(Reporting by Emily Chow in Wuhan; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Writing by Brenda Goh; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

12/17/2020 China’s Moon Probe Lands Back On Earth – State Media
FILE PHOTO: The Long March-5 Y5 rocket, carrying the Chang'e-5 lunar probe, takes off from Wenchang Space Launch
Center in Wenchang, Hainan province, China, November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo/File Photo
    (Reuters) – China’s Chang’e-5 moon probe has landed in the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, the official Xinhua news agency reported, completing its return to Earth and bringing back the first lunar samples since the 1970s.
    The return capsule touched down in the Siziwang, or Dorbod, banner of Inner Mongolia, in the early hours of Thursday local time, Xinhua said, citing the China National Space Administration.
    China launched the Chang’e-5 spacecraft on Nov. 24 and landed a vehicle on the moon at the start of December.
    The success of the mission would make China only the third country to have retrieved lunar samples after the United States and the Soviet Union, who 44 years ago launched the last successful mission to retrieve samples.
    The plan was to collect 2 kg (4.41 lbs) of samples, although how much was eventually gathered has yet to be disclosed.
(Reporting by Tom Daly and Nikhil Kurian Nainan; Editing by Chris Reese and Mark Heinrich)

12/17/2020 China Says To Share Part Of Lunar Samples With Scientists From Other Countries
Researchers work around Chang'e-5 lunar return capsule carrying moon samples next to a Chinese national flag, after
it landed in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, December 17, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China plans to share data and samples that the Chang’e 5 probe obtained during its recent mission to the moon, based on international cooperation conventions, said the deputy head of the country’s space agency on Thursday.
    The lunar samples will be mainly used for scientific research, Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the China National Space Administration, told a press briefing.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

12/17/2020 Iran’s President Says “No Doubt” U.S. Will Return To Nuclear Deal Commitments
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in Tehran, Iran
December 14, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday he was certain the incoming U.S. administration will return to its nuclear deal commitments and lift crippling sanctions on his country.
    “I have no doubt that the three-year resistance of the Iranian people will persuade the future American government to return to its commitments and the sanctions will be broken,” Rouhani said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers in 2018 and imposed new sanctions.
    President-elect Joe Biden’s coming to power has raised the possibility that Washington could rejoin the agreement.
(dubai.newsroom@thomsonreuters.com)

12/17/2020 ‘We Are Not Afraid’: Wuhan Residents Say They Hope WHO Team Finds Virus Origins by Emily Chow
A man wearing a mask stands near a street, almost a year after the start of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) – With investigators from the World Health Organization (WHO) set to visit China next year, residents of Wuhan are saying they want the team to come to the central city, hoping they could prove the virus did not originate there.
    An international team of investigators is expected to travel to China in January, the WHO said on Thursday, more than a year after the first identified cluster of COVID-19 infections was linked to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan.
    “I welcome them to come. We also want to know how it developed, specifically where it came from, if the source of the virus is here,” said a Wuhan resident surnamed Wan, as he walked to work on Thursday morning.
    “My feeling is that it is not from there,” he added, referring to the seafood market.
    The WHO did not confirm whether its team will go to Wuhan, saying that discussions on the itinerary were ongoing.    A two-member WHO team visited China in July, but did not visit Wuhan.
    Reuters reported earlier, citing a member and diplomats, that a team of 12-15 international experts will visit Wuhan to examine evidence, including human and animal samples collected by Chinese researchers, and to build on their initial studies.
    Beijing has strongly opposed calls for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, but said it has been open to a WHO-led investigation.
    China’s foreign ministry did not directly comment on the WHO visit during a daily media briefing on Thursday.
    “China stands ready to enhance its cooperation with WHO to advance the global tracing efforts and contribute our share in our early victory against the pandemic,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
    Many questions remain about the origins of COVID-19 and the role Wuhan’s exotic wildlife trade may have played in it.
    Although authorities closed the Huanan market in January, there is a growing scientific consensus that the virus did not originate there.    Some studies suggest it was already in circulation by the time it reached the market, with more than one transmission route.
    China still tightly restricts access to locations such as the Huanan market, which stands empty and locked even though normal life has largely resumed in Wuhan and throughout China.
    Beijing has also been pushing a narrative that the virus existed abroad before it was found in Wuhan, and unlike other countries cites frozen food packaging as a risk of spreading COVID-19.
    “There is a strong possibility it was brought in via wholesale seafood from elsewhere.    Wuhan has no seafood,” said 20-year-old Wuhan student Jiang Yongcheng.
    Others said a WHO visit is an opportunity to show how well the city had done battling the virus.    Wuhan has not reported a locally transmitted case since May 10, after a 76-day lockdown that was one of the strictest worldwide.
    “We are not afraid of their investigation,” said Liu Qin, who works in real estate.    “Because you can see from the epidemic this year, in Wuhan things were done well, if not the epidemic would not have been controlled quickly.”
(Reporting by Emily Chow in Wuhan; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Writing by Brenda Goh; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

12/17/2020 India’s Supreme Court Declines Calls To Ban Farmers’ Protest by Suchitra, Mohanty and Mayank Bhardwaj
Bharatiya Kisan Union national president, Naresh Tikait, addresses the crowd as farmers take part in a protest against farm bills passed by India's parliament
at Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border on the outskirts of Delhi, India, December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis REFILE - CORRECTING ID
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court on Friday declined calls to ban a weeks-long farmers’ protest and asked the government and unions to help form a committee of experts to mediate between them.
    “We make it clear that we recognize the fundamental right to protest against a law. There is no question of balancing or curtailing it.    But it should not damage anyone’s life or property,” Chief Justice S. A. Bobde said.
    Thousands of farmers angered by three agricultural laws that they say threaten their livelihoods have intensified their protests by blocking highways and camping out on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi.
    Petitioners had approached the Supreme Court to complain that the protests had hampered drivers and making it difficult for people to access emergency medical services.
    “We are of the view at this stage that the farmers’ protest should be allowed to continue without impediment and without any breach of peace either by the protesters or the police,” Bobde said.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration in September introduced the farm bills that the government says will unshackle farmers from having to sell their produce only at regulated wholesale markets and make contract farming easier.
    Farmers insist that the new laws will leave them at the mercy of big corporations.
    Six rounds of talks between government ministers and farmers’ union leaders have failed to resolve the situation.
    The government has said while the laws can be amended, it is against repealing the bills.    Farmers last week rejected a government’s proposal to amend the legislation.
    India’s vast agriculture sector, which makes up nearly 15% of the country’s $2.9 trillion economy, employs about half of its 1.3 billion people.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

12/18/2020 Iran Rejects IAEA Chief’s Call That New Agreement Needed After Biden Takes Office -Tweet
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi listens during an interview with
Reuters at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, December 16, 2020. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner u000d u000d
    (Reuters) – Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday rejected the UN atomic watchdog chief’s suggestion that reviving Iran’s nuclear deal after a new U.S. administration comes to power would require striking a new agreement.
    In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Rafael Grossi, who heads the IAEA that polices Iran’s compliance to the 2015 nuclear deal, said there had been too many breaches by Iran for the agreement to simply snap back into place when U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month.
    Biden has said the United States will rejoin the deal “if Iran resumes strict compliance.”

12/18/2020 China To Vaccinate 50 Million People For Lunar New Year – SCMP
People wear face masks as they walk outside a bus terminal following an outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Beijing, China, December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    (Reuters) -China is planning to vaccinate 50 million people in the high-priority group against the coronavirus before the start of the peak Lunar New Year travel season early next year, the South China Morning Post reported on Friday.
    Beijing is planning to distribute 100 million doses of the vaccines made by Chinese firms Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech Ltd, the report said.
    China has granted emergency-use status to two candidate vaccines from Sinopharm and one from Sinovac Biotech.    It has approved a fourth, from CanSino Biologics Inc, for military use.
    The SCMP report said Chinese officials have been asked to complete the first 50 million doses by Jan. 15 and the second by Feb. 5.
    The mass inoculation for high-priority groups aims to reduce the risks of the spread of the disease during the annual week-long holiday, the report added.
    The high-priority group includes health workers, police officers, firefighters, customs officers, cargo handlers, transport and logistics workers.
    China’s Sichuan province could start vaccinating the elderly and people with underlying conditions at the beginning of next month, after it completes inoculations for priority groups, officials have said.
(Reporting by Ann Maria Shibu in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

12/18/2020 Special Report-The Last Taboo. A New Generation Of Thais Is Defying The Monarchy by Panu Wongcha-um and Kay Johnson
FILE PHOTO: Pro-democracy demonstrators stand on a truck during a Thai anti-government mass protest, on the 47th anniversary of the 1973 student uprising,
in Bangkok, Thailand October 14, 2020. To match Special Report THAILAND-PROTESTS/YOUTH REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Songphon “Yajai” Sonthirak had been a boxer for most of his young life and knew how to face down a stronger opponent: Keep your guard up, stand tall, stay focused.    So he was shocked to discover, on the day of his arrest, how little his training mattered and how fear seized him.
    Yajai, meaning “balm for the heart,” is a 21-year-old law student with a mop of dyed blue-green hair.    He’d volunteered to help with security at a small anti-government protest in the heart of old Bangkok.
    It was Oct. 13, a Tuesday, the start of 11 days that would change Yajai’s life and shake Thailand.
    For three months, thousands of young Thais had been pouring onto streets in protests of growing size and boldness, largely unimpeded by police.    They were demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a retired army chief who seized power in a 2014 coup.    Far more remarkably, they were publicly criticising King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is protected from insult by a strict lese majeste law.    The young demonstrators were thus risking criminal prosecution and tearing up the rules of a society centred on devotion to its monarch, who is still revered by many as semi-divine.
    Yajai and his friends were gathered around a pick-up truck that doubled as a sound stage. Reuters reporters witnessed the scene.    It was the end of the rainy season, overcast and drizzling. Dancing on the truck was Yajai’s friend Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa.    Pai had previously served two years in prison for sharing a critical article about King Vajiralongkorn on Facebook, so falling foul of Thailand’s lese majeste law.    Today, Pai was gyrating his hips and singing a satirical song about the king.
    “Don’t love him, don’t love him, don’t love him, don’t love him."
    Then be careful you’ll go to jail, to jail, to jail…”
    Other protesters sang along or held up three-fingered salutes, a gesture of defiance borrowed from the Hunger Games movies.
    Yajai watched the police.    Since late morning, there’d been a few cops.    Then, around 3 p.m., hundreds of officers swarmed the intersection where the protesters were gathered.    King Vajiralongkorn, on a rare visit to Thailand from Germany, where he has spent much of each year, would soon pass in his motorcade on the way to a nearby temple.
    Normally when a royal motorcade approaches, Thais sit on the ground or even prostrate themselves, in silence.    Now, for the first time, openly disrespectful protesters would be within shouting distance of the king.    And for the first time since these protests began, police were moving in to break up the demo.
    “Form a line! Form a line!”    Yajai shouted, linking arms with others to hold back the police.
    The police lines moved closer, slowly throttling the protest.    Yajai later recounted how, in the confusion, he saw a policeman grab one of his friends and he ran to help.    After the briefest of scuffles, he was pinned down and carried off by four or five officers, then bundled into a police van.
    “I’d always thought my boxing experience meant I could protect myself, but it turns out I couldn’t do a thing,” Yajai said.    “I’d never been more frightened in my life.”
    In the van, Yajai said he was guarded by six policemen.    “Who do you all think you are?” he recalled one of them sneering.    “Did you think you could win?'
    Modern Thai history is littered with failed street protests, many of them crushed by the military.    Most recently, in 2010, more than 90 people died in clashes when the army ended pro-democracy protests by the populist “Red Shirts.”
    This time is different, say the young protesters, who continue to pour into the streets.    They portray their movement as more inclusive, incorporating diverse political and social grievances.    Three demands unite them: They want Prayuth’s resignation; a new, more democratic constitution; and curbs on the monarch’s powers, though not his overthrow.
    They have learned from the tactics of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and built alliances with anti-China activists in Taiwan.    This new generation threatens to upend Thailand’s conservative, predominantly Buddist establishment.    And they are complicating U.S. hopes of drawing     Thailand, America’s oldest ally in the region, away from China’s growing sphere of influence.    Some Thai officials suspect Washington is aiding the protests, despite U.S. denials.
    Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri told Reuters the authorities need to do a better job of explaining to young people “why the monarchy is important and why it has been with Thailand for centuries.”    Prayuth’s government, he went on, was democratically elected and any challenge should come from parliament, not the street.
    The palace didn’t respond to a request for comment.
    Yajai and Pai were among 21 protesters arrested that day.    Deputy police spokesman Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen said the force was following standard operating procedure faced with an illegal gathering that was blocking the road.
    In the days that followed, there would be bigger demos, more arrests, and harsher responses as the government tried to contain the unrest.
    The damage to the monarchy’s lustre was already done.    After Yajai, Pai and several others were arrested, dozens of protesters remained on the street, their hands raised in three-fingered salutes.    When the king’s limousine went past they shouted a new battle cry.
    “Free our friends! Free our friends!
WE WANT TO TALK ABOUT THESE PROBLEMS
    While Yajai spent his first night in a police cell, Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon was worrying about portable toilets. And also about her parents.    Again.
    Mind, a 25-year-old engineering student from Bangkok, was helping to organise a bigger protest for the next day, Oct. 14.    Thousands would march to Government House, home to the prime minister’s office, and occupy the surrounding streets for five days.    They would need trucks, tents, all sorts of supplies – including portable toilets, which Mind was struggling to rent.
    She was also trying to convince her parents that everything was going to be okay.    “I give my mother such a headache,” she told Reuters.
    Mind has a tiny frame, a disarming smile and a habit of greeting people with a cheerful, double-handed wave.    She had worked mostly behind the scenes as a protest organiser.    The youth movement is often described as “leaderless” when it is actually hydra-headed, with new leaders emerging with every arrest.    It would soon be Mind’s turn.
    There were already hints at the firebrand she would become.    At a big protest outside parliament in September, she had climbed onto a truck.
    “We will not stop until we have a constitution that comes from the people,” she thundered.    “We will not stop until the dark forces disappear!”    When she got down from the truck, she was still so nervous her legs were shaking.
    Many student protesters use the Thai phrase taa sawang – literally, “eyes brightened” – to describe their political awakening.    Mind’s eyes brightened in 2015, on the first anniversary of Prayuth’s coup.    A dozen or more young people protested against military rule in central Bangkok.    In a video, Mind saw police officers and men in civilian clothes drag away protesters.
    “I was shocked and thought, ‘Why can’t we talk about the coup? What kind of democracy is this?'” said Mind.    “That was it.    That was the beginning.”
    Like most Thais, Mind was taught from an early age that the king is the centre of Thai identity.    Gold-framed portraits of the monarch hang in all classrooms and look down on city streets.    Cinema audiences stand for the royal anthem.
    Mind began to question the things she’d learned.    She went online to study the history she hadn’t known at school.    She listened to lectures by outspoken Thai scholars and watched radical documentaries.    She thought about the duelling protests that dominated her childhood, pitting Thais clothed in the colours of their movements: the populist Red Shirts against the royalist Yellow Shirts.    And she reflected how any challenge to the military establishment was branded anti-monarchy.
    She began to see a straight line through her country’s turbulent past.    It drew through dozens of coups and attempted coups and popular uprisings and military massacres, right back to the 1932 Siamese Revolution that ended the centuries-long reign of Thailand’s absolute monarchs.
    But despite the shift to a constitutional monarchy that revolution was unfinished, and today the military and monarchy exist in an unhealthy alliance, Mind thought.    She believed that the only way to avoid future violence was to talk more about the monarchy, not less.
    “We don’t want to topple the monarchy, but we want to talk about these problems,” she said.    “For too long, no one has dared.”
A HEARING
    The next morning, Oct. 14 – the day of the big protest – Yajai appeared at a hearing in a Bangkok court.    According to Yajai and his lawyers, he faced 10 charges, including illegal assembly, damaging property and blocking traffic.    The offenses were fairly minor and Yajai had no criminal record.    He was confident the court would grant him bail and he would still make it to the protest.
    Yajai not only studied law; he believed in it.
    Growing up in northeast Thailand, where his parents ran a market stall in a small town in Roi-et province, he thought little of politics; he barely remembered the 2014 coup.    His activism began at university, where he joined an environmental group.    In 2019, he met his friend, Pai, newly released from prison, in the university’s law department.
    There was a general election in March 2019, the first since the coup, and Yajai hoped for a return to democracy.    Like many young Thais, Yajai supported Future Forward, a new progressive party.    It came third, and General Prayuth remained prime minister. The opposition complained the election was designed to favour military-backed parties.    Prayuth said the vote was fair.
    Less than a year later, in February 2020, Future Forward was dissolved by a Thai court on the grounds the party received an illegal loan from its founder, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.    Future Forward’s supporters were outraged.    The student protests began.
    Today’s protest in Bangkok would be the biggest Yajai had attended – if only the court would grant him bail.
      But Yajai was denied bail.    “I was in deep shock.    I couldn’t even form a thought,” he recalled.    He was driven to Bangkok Remand Prison and locked in a squalid cell packed with two dozen people.    He was relieved to see that Pai was among them.
    A spokesperson for the Court of Justice said of the case: “The court is impartial and independent and all the decisions it makes are based on the law.”
THEY CAN TRY TO SHUT OUR MOUTHS BUT WE WILL REFUSE
    Mind arrived for the big protest after noon with an oversized white bow in her hair and wearing one of her favourite T-shirts.    It read, “Love Cat, Hate Coup.”
    The protest was layered with symbolism.    Democracy Monument, where the protesters gathered, commemorates the 1932 end of absolute monarchy.    Oct. 14 was the anniversary of a 1973 student-led uprising that propelled the military dictators of the day into exile and ushered in a brief period of democracy.
    The march was aimed at occupying the streets surrounding Government House, around a mile away.    Mind was riding on one of three main sound trucks.    She looked at the crowd and felt her adrenalin pumping.    There were tens of thousands of people.
    Attached to Mind’s truck was a German flag, a reference to the king’s frequent extended visits in Bavaria.    A protester on another truck was wearing a crop top with a bare midriff, a more daring reference to the king.    Photos of King Vajiralongkorn dressed this way had appeared in several European tabloids and had circulated online in Thailand.
    The march set off.    The trucks played songs or led the crowd in chants of “1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Asshole Tu!” Prime Minister Prayuth’s nickname is Uncle Tu.
    The march soon ground to a halt.    The road to Government House was blocked by buses and riot police.    Hours went by at a standstill.    Then, at dusk, the protesters swept through the barricades and occupied the surrounding streets.<
    It was now Mind’s job to help organise for the planned occupation.    Groups of people set up stages, sound systems and tents.    The portable toilets were en route. Food vendors wheeled in carts and sold grilled chicken and pancakes.    Within an hour, a tent city had sprung up with a festive atmosphere.
    Mind was confident.    “If we can maintain a large enough crowd, I don’t think the police will take drastic action,” she recalled thinking.
    She was wrong.    At 4 a.m. Prayuth declared a state of emergency, citing “turmoil” and “acts affecting the Royal Motorcade” after a few dozen protesters jeered Queen Suthida’s car on Oct. 14.    All political gatherings of more than five people were now illegal, and the police had wide powers of arrest and detention.
    Just before dawn, riot police surged back into the area, ripping down protesters’ barricades and tents.    Thousands fled.    Police arrested dozens of people, including 18 protest leaders, but not Mind.    She slipped away into the night, only to reappear hours later to address a protest in central Bangkok, near the national police headquarters.
    With so many leaders now behind bars, Mind was stepping up.    “Hello, all democracy-loving brothers and sisters!” she told the crowd.    “More than 30 of our friends have been arrested.    Is this appropriate? Is this right?    Our friends are fighters.    They fought bravely to challenge the dictatorial power of the government.”
    Her legs weren’t shaking this time.    “They can try to shut our mouths,” she cried, “but we will refuse!
A FAMILY DISPUTE
    As the Oct. 14 drama unfolded, 18-year-old student Raroengchon “Kaen” Rattanavijai was watching the protests on television at her grandmother’s house in Bangkok’s eastern suburbs.     She had always been close to her grandmother, and had chosen to spend the day with her rather than alone in the dormitory.    The protests were about to tear her family apart.
    Three televisions in her grandmother’s house were tuned to Nation TV, whose commentators have described the protesters as “nation haters.”    Kaen’s grandmother and aunt watched in outrage.
    “They’re a disgrace to our country,” Kaen recalled her grandmother saying.    “I wouldn’t be against the idea of shooting them dead.'
Kaen fumed but said nothing.    She had already attended some protests but knew it was pointless to argue with her grandmother.    She also knew that, a few years ago, she too might have condemned the protests.
    Kaen, a budding artist, speaks in near-flawless English picked up during a year in Alaska on a high school exchange program.    Reverence of the monarchy runs deep in her family.    She had marched with her mother in pro-royalist demonstrations in her earlier teens.    Her grandmother had been fostered by an aristocratic family and grew up inside the grounds of a royal palace in Bangkok.    Kaen and her mother went to an elite girls’ school.
    “We had to write essays about why we love the king,” said Kaen.    “I was taught you cannot question this one person.”
    The turning point for Kaen came in 2016 with the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current king’s father.    King Bhumibol had ruled for so long – 70 years – that most Thais had no memory of a time before.    For many Thais, he is the archetypal monarch: kind, wise, frugal, dutiful, despite the crown’s vast wealth.
    King Vajiralongkorn’s style was different.    He took control of the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the monarchy’s holdings, from the country’s finance ministry.    The government transferred two bodyguard units in Bangkok to the king’s personal command.    King Vajiralongkorn ordered the creation of a new volunteer corps, millions strong, whose members salute his portrait.
    In May 2019, shortly before his coronation, the thrice-divorced king married one of his longtime bodyguards and named her Queen Suthida.    Three months later, he elevated another bodyguard to be his “Royal Noble Consort,” a title that hadn’t been used since 1921.    Soon after, the consort was stripped of the title for what the palace called her “very evil behavior,” only to be later restored and publicly declared “untainted.”
    By then, the student protests were gaining momentum, and criticism of King Vajiralongkorn was blossoming online.    Kaen read some of this and taa sawang – her political awakening began.    Or, as she put it in American English: “I was like, ‘All my life, was it all a freaking lie?'
    Kaen started attending protests.    Her family knew this, which made their comments in front of the television so hurtful.    “My aunt said if I was to hold up three fingers, I might lose them,” she recalled.
    Kaen silently resolved to defy the emergency decree and join the next protest.
    “I thought the justice system would help protect us.”
    The morning after his arrival at Bangkok Remand Prison, Yajai’s green-blue hair was shaved off by a guard.
    Anti-coronavirus measures meant prisoners weren’t allowed to leave their cells.    Yajai’s overcrowded cell had no beds.    Prisoners slept on mats on the hard floor.    The lights were left on 24/7.    In one corner, open to the room, was a toilet and water barrel. Yajai shut his eyes while washing in case he saw anyone watching him.
    A spokesman for the Department of Corrections told Reuters that prisons were quarantining new arrivals for 14 days because of the coronavirus, and this was leading to more overcrowding.    It is government policy to treat all prisoners in accordance with international standards, he said.
    The cell had a television but it mainly aired prison information broadcasts or the Royal Bulletin – a reverential daily round-up of royal activities shown on most Thai channels.    There was nothing on the protests.
    Yajai battled despair.    “I thought the justice system would help protect us,” he said.
    Seventeen of the 20 protesters arrested along with Yajai now shared his cell.    Reuters interviewed several of them, including Pai, who was the oldest at 29.    He’d been in jail before.    He helped his friends prepare their beds, cracked jokes and urged them to eat and exercise.
    Yajai encountered another political activist – a well-known Red Shirt called Nattawut Saikua, imprisoned for his role in the 2007-2010 pro-democracy protests.    Yajai and several others recounted how Nattawut lifted their spirits, telling them they were fighters, not criminals.
    “Just changing this mindset made things better,” Yajai recalled.
    Nattawut had access to information about what was happening on the streets.    He told them tens of thousands of people were still protesting.    Soon, said Yajai, a new thought punctured his gloom about being jailed: It was worth it.
LEARNT FROM HONG KONG
    Just after 5 p.m. on Oct. 16, Kaen arrived at that day’s protest site – Ratchaprasong, a busy intersection in central Bangkok – to find that police had sealed it off. It was the third straight day of mass protests and police were growing more forceful.
    Kaen pulled out her phone and checked Telegram, the latest messaging app used to organise the protests and confound police.    The protesters had seen in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement the value of last-minute changes of plan and tactics.
    Sure enough, there was a message announcing a different venue: another busy intersection nearby, flanked by giant shopping malls and crisscrossed with elevated train tracks and pedestrian walkways.
    Thousands of protesters had occupied the intersection, bringing rush-hour traffic to a halt.    Among them were high school students in their uniforms.    A loudspeaker on a truck pumped out chants of “Prayuth, get out!”    Food vendors moved in to sell to protesters.    Reuters reporters were at the scene.
    Kaen was sitting in front of a makeshift stage when she heard someone say, “The police are coming!” She stood and saw a line of riot police edging towards the protest, a big truck behind them.    Only when Kaen saw drenched protesters run past did she realize the truck had a water cannon.
    A cry went up: “We need umbrellas!” Kaen watched as people on the walkways threw down umbrellas.    Hands reached out to pass them to people on the front line facing the water cannon.    This human conveyor belt was a scene straight from the Hong Kong protests.
    As the water cannon broke through, the crowd turned and fled.    Kaen ran with them, fending off calls from her mother, who was watching live TV coverage of the protests.    'Mom, I don’t have time for you right now!"    Kaen thought.    A few hours later, her mom would pick her up, along with another student who’d been kicked out of her royalist home.
    The Royal Bulletin that evening showed the king on a visit to a university.    He told a group of subjects sitting at his feet, “Right now, the country needs people who love the nation and the royal institution.    We must teach the new generation to understand this.”
    But it wasn’t just the new generation that was asking questions.    The use of water cannons on non-violent protesters, many of them school kids, shocked many people.    One was Kaen’s mother, Patcharee. When the family’s messaging group erupted in an argument, Patcharee took her daughter’s side and called for the monarchy’s reform.     Kaen’s grandmother left the chat in disgust.    So did Kaen’s aunt, who later shared a Facebook post, seen by Reuters, that read: “I cut ties with anyone who supports the protests insulting the monarchy, whatever our relationship.”
    Kaen stopped going to her grandmother’s house. When her grandfather had a birthday party, she and her parents weren’t invited, Kaen said.
WE WILL STILL BE OUT HERE FIGHTING
    Yajai was released from prison the following Monday, Oct. 19, after seven days behind bars.    Mind was arrested on Wednesday night and charged with breaching the emergency decree, but was released the next morning.    The next day, she led a rally outside Bangkok Remand Prison to call for the release of Pai and the remaining jailed protesters.
    Pai walked free on Friday and immediately resumed his activism.    “Send our voices to those locked up inside,” he told a cheering crowd at the prison gates.    “No matter how many leaders they arrest, we will still be out here fighting.”
    The fight, all three agreed, had barely begun.    The protests continue.    And no one can predict what will happen next.
    The king has extended his stay in Thailand indefinitely. He attended gatherings with loyalists in yellow shirts – the monarchy’s colour – and posed for selfies or signed autographs.    Millions of mostly older Thais still passionately believe that devotion to the king is the core of Thai culture and identity.
    The government has barely budged either.    Prayuth promised to consider changes to the constitution, the process for selecting the prime minister, for example, but not to the sections that deal with the monarchy’s powers.    He also said in late November that all laws would be used against the protesters, including Article 112 – the lese majeste law – which remained on the statute book but hadn’t been applied for the past two years.    At least 30 protesters have since been questioned by police on suspicion of breaching the lese majeste law.    Charges have not so far been laid.
    There have also been signs of violence as protests ground through November and into December.    On Nov. 17, protesters marching on parliament clashed with police firing water cannons and tear gas.    That evening, six protesters sustained gunshot wounds after they fought with royalist counter-protesters.
    But Pai, Yajai, Mind and Kaen continue to hope.    Speaking in early December, they said their movement continued to grow.    They believe the change they helped set in motion is seismic.    And now that the taboo about criticising the king is gone, they say, everything about the future is up for discussion.
    “I can create change,” Mind said.    “It’s a powerful feeling.”
(additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat)
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Kay Johnson; editing by Andrew RC Marshall and Janet McBride)

12/18/2020 Senior China Diplomat Urges U.S. To Stop ‘Arbitrary Suppression’ Of Chinese Companies by Tom Daly
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi wearing a face mask following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak attends the opening session of the
National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The United States should choose dialogue and consultation with China instead of pursuing “unacceptable” unilateral sanctions against Chinese companies, China’s State Councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi said on Friday.
    Washington is adding dozens of Chinese companies, including the country’s top chipmaker, SMIC, to a trade blacklist, a move seen as the latest in President Donald Trump’s efforts to cement his tough-on-China legacy.
    The U.S. Commerce Department said the action “stems from China’s military-civil fusion doctrine and evidence of activities between SMIC and entities of concern in the Chinese military industrial complex.”
    Wang, in a special address to the Asia Society that focused mainly on the state of Sino-U.S. relations, urged the United States to stop “overstretching the notion of national security” and “arbitrary suppression of Chinese companies.”
    “We need to replace sanctions with dialogue and consultation,” he said, adding that unilateral sanctions had become the “biggest destabilising factor to regional and global security.”
    “China is not a threat to the United States – was not, is not and will not be a threat,” Wang said, yet relations were at their lowest ebb since the establishment of full diplomatic ties in 1979.
    Tensions between Washington and Beijing have grown over the past year as the world’s top two economies sparred over Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong and rising tensions in the South China Sea.
    Wang also railed at attempts by some U.S. politicians to defame China’s ruling Communist Party, describing these as “irresponsible” accusations without any evidence.
    Likening Sino-U.S relations to a “giant vessel,” Wang said the interests of the whole world were at stake.    “I think we all agree the time has come to decide the future course of this vessel,” he said, calling for U.S. policy toward China to “return to objectivity and sensibility as early as possible.”
    Beijing has taken note of the four policy priorities of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who is set to take office on Jan. 20, Wang added, and believes at least three of them – COVID-19 response, economic recovery and climate change – provide room for cooperation between the two countries.
(Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/18/2020 WHO Investigators Heading To China In Early January To Probe Virus
FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured outside a building of the World Health Organization (WHO) during an executive board meeting
on update on the coronavirus outbreak, in Geneva, Switzerland, February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ZURICH (Reuters) – World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on Friday an international team led by the U.N. agency would be going to China in the first week of January to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
    Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, said international experts would go to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 were detected last December.
    “We still don’t have a take-off date because we are working on the logistics around visas and flights.    We do expect the team to be going there in the first week of January.    There will be quarantine arrangements,” Ryan told a news conference.
    “The team will visit Wuhan, that’s the purpose of the mission.    The point of the mission is to go to the original point at which human cases were detected.    They’ll fully expect to do that,” he added.
    WHO officials also said that three-quarters of cases were occurring in the Americas, and thanked Canada for committing to donate vaccine doses to other countries.
    Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, said the agency was in touch with South African researchers who identified a new variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus.
(Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz and Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Tom Brown)

12/18/2020 Russian Serviceman Killed In Nagorno-Karabakh While Dismantling Landmine
FILE PHOTO: Service members of the Russian peacekeeping troops stand next to a tank near the border with Armenia,
following the signing of a deal to end the military conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces,
in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Francesco Brembati
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian serviceman was killed in the Nagorno-Karabakh region when he was demining a road, the defence ministry said on Friday, Russian news agencies reported.
    He is the first casualty among Russian peacekeepers who were dispatched to the region last month after a ceasefire agreement signed on Nov. 10 ended three months of heavy fighting between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces.
    Interfax news agency said the officer had died on his way to hospital from heavy wounds after a mine exploded near Nagorno-Karabakh’s second city Shushi, which Azeris call Shusha.
    The enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated by ethnic Armenians.    Some 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops are now being deployed to the region.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/18/2020 Mysterious N.Korea Site May Be Building Nuclear Components, Report Says by Josh Smith
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 Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A mysterious North Korean facility may be producing components for building nuclear bombs, a new report suggests, offering clues to understanding the site near the capital that has perplexed experts and policymakers.
    The nondescript cluster of buildings called Kangson on the southwest outskirts of Pyongyang was first publicly identified in 2018 by a team of open-source analysts as the possible location of a facility for secretly enriching uranium, a fuel for nuclear bombs.

12/19/2020 China To Vaccinate ‘Key Groups’ Over Winter, Spring: Official
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker in protective suit collects a swab from a man at a makeshift nucleic acid testing site inside a sports centre
in Binhai New Area, following new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tianjin, China November 21, 2020. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China will focus first on vaccinating high-risk groups over the winter and spring before widening the inoculation to the general public, a senior health official said on Saturday.
    Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) and director of State Council’s vaccine R&D working group, warned that China’s COVID-19 prevention efforts were under increasing pressure as temperatures fall.
    “During the winter and spring seasons, carrying out novel coronavirus vaccination work among some key population groups is of great significance to epidemic prevention,” he told a briefing.
    China aims to actively build group immunity, and the vaccination of high-risk groups – which include workers in the cold chain industry, customs, healthcare, markets and public transport – is just the first part of a “step-by-step programme,” he added.
    China has included two candidate vaccines from Sinopharm and one from Sinovac Biotech Ltd in an emergency-use programme launched in July, targeting specific high-infection risk groups such as medical workers and border inspectors.
    It has also approved a vaccine from CanSino Biologics Inc for military use but has not approved any vaccine for use among the general public.
    Zheng Zhongwei, the NHC official heading China’s COVID-19 vaccine development team, said China had administered more than 1 million emergency doses to members of high-risk groups since July and “no serious adverse reactions” have been detected so far.
    “For the vaccines where we are moving quite fast, the number of cases required for the interim stage of Phase III clinical trials have already been obtained,” Zheng said, though he didn’t specify which products.
    Data has been submitted to the medical products regulator, which will approve the vaccines if they meet the necessary conditions, he added.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Roxanne Liu; Writing by David Stanway; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and William Mallard)

12/19/2020 China Says Tailed U.S. Warship In Taiwan Strait
FILE PHOTO: U.S. destroyer USS Mustin maneuvers and approaches the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Wally Schirra (not shown) in preparation for a
replenishment-at-sea in the Western Pacific, February 19, 2018. Picture taken on February 19, 2018. Dominique M. Lasco/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China’s military tailed a U.S. warship as it passed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Saturday, the Chinese military said, denouncing such missions as sending “flirtatious glances” to supporters of Taiwan independence.
    China, which claims democratically-run Taiwan as its own territory, has been angered by stepped-up U.S. support for the island, including arms sales and sailing warships through the Taiwan Strait, further souring Beijing-Washington relations.
    The U.S. Navy said the guided missile destroyer USS Mustin had conducted “a routine Taiwan Strait transit (on) Dec. 19 in accordance with international law.”
    “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it added.
    This is the 12th sailing through the strait by the U.S. Navy this year.
    China’s military, in a statement released by its Eastern Theatre Command, said its air and naval forces “tailed and monitored” the vessel throughout.
    Such missions “deliberately raise the temperature of the Taiwan issue, as they fear calm in the Taiwan Strait, and send flirtatious glances to Taiwan independence forces, seriously jeopardising peace and stability in the strait,” it said.
    The United States is engaging in a show of force and trying to use Taiwan as a pawn for its own selfish strategic purposes, the statement added.
    In Taipei, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the U.S. ship had proceeded in a southerly direction, that it has also monitored its movements, and that “the situation was as normal.”
    Beijing believes Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is bent on a formal declaration of independence for the island, a red line for Beijing.    She says     Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
    Tsai has made bolstering Taiwan’s armed forces a priority in the face of repeated Chinese military activity near the island, including on occasion this year sending fighter jets across the Taiwan Strait’s median line, an unofficial buffer.
(Reporting by David Stanway and Ben Blanchard, Editing by Ros Russell)

12/19/2020 Armenians March To Mourn War Victims As PM Faces Calls To Resign
People visit Yerablur Military Pantheon cemetery on the day of the Armenian nationwide mourning for those killed in a conflict
over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Yerevan, Armenia December 19, 2020. Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Thousands of Armenians marched through the capital Yerevan on Saturday to commemorate the soldiers killed in a six-week conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in which Azerbaijan made significant territorial gains.
    The conflict and the fatalities on the Armenian side have increased pressure on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, whom the opposition accuses of mishandling the conflict by accepting a Russian-brokered ceasefire last month, to resign.
    Pashinyan led the march, held on the first of three days of mourning, driving up to the Yerablur military cemetery to light incense on the graves of fallen soldiers along with other senior officials.
    Although his supporters filled the cemetery to its brink, footage published on Armenian television showed Pashinyan’s critics shouting “Nikol is a traitor!” as his convoy passed by, escorted by heavy security.
    Armenia’s opposition has called on its supporters to join a national strike on Dec. 22, at the end of the three-day mourning period, to pressure Pashinyan to resign over the losses incurred in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabkh.
    Pashinyan, who swept to power in a peaceful revolution in May 2018, has rejected calls to resign.
    Ethnic Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh accused Azeri forces on Wednesday of capturing several dozen of their troops, putting further strain on a ceasefire deal that brought an end to the fighting last month.
    The two sides have nonetheless begun exchanging groups of prisoners of war as part of an “all for all” swap mediated by Russia.
    Moscow has deployed peacekeepers to police the ceasefire, but skirmishes have nonetheless been reported.
(Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

12/20/2020 Thailand Holds Provincial Elections In Test Of Democracy by Matthew Tostevin and Panarat Thepgumpanat
A woman wearing a face shield votes in the provincial election in Nonthaburi, Thailand December 20, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Tostevin
    NONTHABURI, Thailand (Reuters) – Thais voted nationwide on Sunday in provincial elections that mark the first test of democracy since a general election last year that drew accusations of manipulation and helped spawn months of youth protests.
    The elections in Thailand’s 76 provinces outside the capital Bangkok are the first since Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who kept power after last year’s ballot, overthrew an elected government in a military coup.
    “It’s my duty to vote,” said 27-year-old bank worker Korkiet Akaraparn, voting in his first provincial election in Nonthaburi, on the outskirts of Bangkok.    “I hope that there will be new people from this election who bring change.”
    Polling officials reported a steady turnout despite Thailand’s biggest daily surge in coronavirus cases on Saturday in a province outside Bangkok.    Polls close at 5 p.m. (1000 GMT), with results expected from the evening.
    Among the parties putting up candidates is the Progressive Movement, which has its roots in the now banned Future Forward Party of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
    Thanathorn had emerged as the most vocal challenger to Prayuth. When he and his party were banned from politics, it prompted protests demanding the removal of Prayuth, a new constitution and reforms to the powerful monarchy.
    Prayuth rejects accusations that he engineered the general election to keep power.
    Although the party backing him in parliament is not formally putting up candidates in the provincial elections, contestants in races across the country are making clear their loyalty to his camp.
    The elections are also a test for the Pheu Thai Party linked to populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.    In opposition it remains the largest party in Thailand’s parliament.
    Thaksin, who rarely comments in public from self-exile since being overthrown in 2006, has posted on Twitter to encourage people to support the party ahead of provincial elections, in which powerful families traditionally hold local sway.
    “I voted for candidates who are relatives of the former chief,” said Charoen Buaperm, 60.
    Provincial administrations are responsible for the provision of local services and development plans and run their own budgets.    The Progressive Movement seeks to devolve more power to provinces from Bangkok, which is not yet holding its own local election.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat in Bangkok; Editing by William Mallard)

12/20/2020 India’s Modi Surprises With Sikh Temple Visit Amid Farm Protests
FILE PHOTO: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day
celebrations at the historic Red Fort in Delhi, India, August 15, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to a Sikh temple in New Delhi on Sunday, kneeling down in respect and freely clicking pictures with visitors at a time when the community is leading massive protests against his farm reforms.
    Sikhs in India and abroad have rallied against recent deregulation of agriculture markets that they fear would erode farm incomes by giving a greater say to profit-chasing private companies, instead of assuring a minimum price like in government-regulated wholesale markets.
    Protesting farmers, mainly from Sikh-dominated Punjab and neighbouring Haryana, have blocked highways into New Delhi for the past three weeks demanding a repeal of the laws, which the government says widens the agriculture market and are crucial to boost storage and other infrastructure.
    The protesters have repeatedly rebuffed Modi and his ministers’ attempts to reach a compromise, in what has become the biggest challenge from the country’s farmers in his six-year rule.    On Wednesday, a 65-year-old Sikh priest committed suicide at one of the protest sites.
    Modi, whose security detail often keeps him far away from the general public, prayed at the Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, interacted with Sikh religious leaders there and obliged visitors seeking to take pictures with him.
    The temple near the Parliament House was where Sikh saint Guru Teg Bahadur was cremated.
    “I felt extremely blessed,” Modi said on Twitter.
    While some social media users and his party colleagues welcomed Modi’s visit to the shrine like a “common man, without any restrictions,” others urged him to try and end the protests where tens of thousands of farmers, many in their sixties or above, are sleeping in the open in the cold.
    “A request to @narendramodi please visit #FarmersProtests site as well where #Farmers are peacefully protesting,” a Twitter user posted. (Reporting by Swati Bhat; Editing by Michael Perry)

12/20/2020 Nine Dead As Kabul Car Bombing Targets Afghan Lawmaker
Afghan security forces inspect in front of a damaged building at the
site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan December 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – A car bombing in Kabul targeting an Afghan lawmaker killed at least nine people, officials said.
    Lawmaker Khan Mohammad Wardak survived the blast but is among 20 injured including women and children, Afghan Interior Minister Massoud Andarabi said.
    It is unclear whether the explosive was planted in a car parked on the lawmaker’s route or if a vehicle with the bomb was being driven by a bomber, Andarabi added.
    No one has claimed responsibility for the blast.
    Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in violence, particularly bombings, in recent weeks as the Afghan government and Taliban hold talks to find an end to the country’s almost 20-year-long war.
    Separate bombings were also reported on Sunday in the provinces of Logar, Nangarhar, Helmand and Badakhshan, in which a number of civilians and security forces members were killed and injured.
    On Friday, a suspected rickshaw bomb blast killed at least 15 civilians, including 11 children, in central Ghazni province.
    The Afghan interior ministry in a statement said that the Taliban had killed 487 civilians and injured 1,049 others by carrying out 35 suicide attacks and 507 blasts in across the country over the past three months.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, additional reporting by Ahmad Sultan in Nangarhar and Zainullah Stanekzai in Helmand; Editing by Stephen Coates)

12/20/2020 Nepal Heads To Surprise Election Next Year After PM Loses Ground by Gopal Sharma
FILE PHOTO: Newly elected Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari greets Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, also known as K.P. Oli,
after taking an oath of office at the presidential building Shital Niwas in Kathmandu, Nepal, March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Nepal’s president dissolved parliament on Sunday at the request of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s cabinet and announced that general elections would be held in April and May, more than a year ahead of schedule.
    The move plunges the Himalayan country, which has seen revolving-door governance since street protests restored multi-party democracy in 1990, into political turmoil as it battles the coronavirus pandemic.
    Seven ministers stepped down, including the tourism head, citing Oli’s decision to go against the “popular mandate” given to them in the 2017 general election.    Protesters burned effigies of him in various parts of the capital Kathmandu.
    President Bidhya Devi Bhandari’s office said in a statement that the April 30 and May 10 voting dates were recommended by Oli’s cabinet following an emergency meeting.
    Oli, 68, pushed for a fresh mandate after his Nepal Communist Party (NCP) accused him of sidelining his party in government decisions and appointments.    He had led an alliance with former Maoist rebels to a landslide win in the last vote.
    “The prime minister has lost the majority in the parliamentary party, central committee and the secretariat of the party,” said Bishnu Rijal, an NCP central committee member.
    “Instead of seeking a compromise within the party, he chose to dissolve parliament.”
    Oli’s decision came after some lawmakers from his party registered a vote of no confidence against him in the 275-member lower house of parliament, NCP lawmaker Pampha Bhusal said.
    Sandwiched between China and India, politics in Nepal is also influenced by the priorities of its giant neighbours.    India has been pushing back against Beijing’s growing clout in a country that New Delhi considers its own backyard.
    Oli aide Rajan Bhattarai said the prime minister had acted in response to the backlash from his party, which had also asked him to consider quitting as its president.
    Politicians and social media users said the ruling party should have tried out other political combinations to run the country instead of calling an untimely election when its tourism-dependent economy has been battered by the pandemic.
    Nepal’s 2015 charter does not give the prime minister the prerogative to dissolve parliament without exhausting alternatives, constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari said.
    “It is unconstitutional at the first sight,” he said, adding that the decision could be challenged in the Supreme Court, which may take a couple of weeks to decide its legality.
    After his 2017 win, Oli had vowed to ensure political stability, fight corruption and poverty but has made little progress, especially since the pandemic.
    Coronavirus infections have reached 253,772, with 1,788 deaths, in the country of 30 million people.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; additional reporting Navesh Chitrakar; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by William Mallard and Louise Heavens)

12/20/2020 Taiwan Sends Ships, Aircraft As Chinese Carrier Passes Island by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Navy officers march during the official ceremony for the new Tuo Chiang-class
corvettes in Yilan, Taiwan, Decemebr 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s navy and air force were deployed on Sunday as a Chinese aircraft carrier group led by the country’s newest carrier, the Shandong, sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, the day after a U.S. warship transited the same waterway.
    While it is not the first time China’s carriers have passed close to Taiwan, it comes at a time of heightened tension between Taipei and Beijing, which claims the democratically-ruled island as its territory.
    Taiwan has complained of repeated Chinese military activity, including China’s regular flying of air force aircraft near the island.    China says such drills are aimed at protecting the country’s sovereignty.
    Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the Shandong, which was formally commissioned almost exactly one year ago, accompanied by four warships had set out from the northern Chinese port of Dalian on Thursday.
    After passing through the narrow Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the carrier group was continuing in a southerly direction, it added.
    China’s Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    China has previously said that such trips by its carriers through the strait are routine missions, often on their way to exercises in the disputed South China Sea.
    Taiwan’s ministry said that six warships and eight air force aircraft were sent to “stand guard” and monitor the Chinese ships’ movements.
    “With the support of the people, the national armed forces have the confidence and ability to guard the homeland, and ensure national security and safeguard regional peace and stability,” it added.
    On Saturday, a U.S. warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait, the 12th such mission by the U.S. Navy this year.
    China’s military said it tailed the ship.
    Beijing has been angered by increased U.S. support for Taiwan, including new arms sales and visits to Taipei by senior U.S. officials, further straining already poor Sino-U.S. ties.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is overseeing a revamp of the island’s military, rolling out new equipment such as “carrier killer” stealth corvettes.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Louise Heavens)

12/21/2020 Japan Sets Record $52 Billion Military Budget With Stealth Jets, Long-Range Missiles by Tim Kelly
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reviews the Japan's Air Self-Defense Force at Iruma Air Base
in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, Japan, November 28, 2020. David Mareuil/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government approved a ninth consecutive rise in military spending on Monday, funding the development of an advanced stealth fighter and longer-range anti-ship missile to counter China’s growing military power.
    The Ministry of Defense will get a record 5.34 trillion yen ($51.7 billion) for the year starting in April, up 1.1% from this year.    With Suga’s large majority in parliament, enactment of the budget is all but certain.
    Suga is continuing the controversial military expansion pursued by his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, to give Japan’s forces new planes, missiles and aircraft carriers with greater range and potency against potential foes including neighbouring China.
    China plans to raise its military spending 6.6% this year, the smallest increase in three decades.
    Japan is buying longer-range missiles and considering arming and training its military to strike distant land targets in China, North Korea and other parts of Asia.
    A planned jet fighter, the first in three decades, is expected to cost around $40 billion and be ready in the 2030s.    That project, which will be led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd with help from Lockheed Martin Corp, gets $706 million in the new budget.
    Japan will spend $323 million to begin development of a long-range anti-ship missile to defend its southwestern Okinawan island chain.
    Other big purchases include $628 million for six Lockheed F-35 stealth fighters, including two short-takeoff and vertical-landing (STOVL) B variants that will operate off a converted helicopter carrier.
    The military will also get $912 million to build two compact warships that can operate with fewer sailors than conventional destroyers, easing pressure on a navy struggling to find recruits in an ageing population.
    Japan also wants two new warships to carry powerful new Aegis air and ballistic missile defence radars that have much as three times the range of older models.    The government has not yet estimated the cost of the plan, which replaces a project cancelled in June to construct two ground Aegis Ashore stations.
($1 = 103.3100 yen)
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)

12/21/2020 Indian Farmers Vow To Carry On Protests Despite Cold, Deaths by Danish Siddiqui and Sunil Kataria
Farmers warm themselves on a cold winter morning at the site of a protest against new farm laws,
at Singhu border, near New Delhi, India, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Indian farmers, protesting over agricultural laws that they say threaten their livelihoods, have vowed to carry on their around-the-clock sit-ins despite cold weather that has already led to some deaths among them.
    Farmers from the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and the desert state of Rajasthan have camped on key national highways for weeks demanding a repeal of the laws, withstanding temperatures dropping to 2-3 degree Celsius (35.6-37.4 Fahrenheit).
    The farmers, including a large number of older people, said they would endure the bitter winter sweeping northern India, including the capital New Delhi, to force Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration to rescind the laws introduced in September.
    “It’s very difficult to camp out in this weather, but we aren’t scared,” said Balbir Singh, an octogenarian from the Patiala district of Punjab.    “We won’t go back until our demands are met.    Even if we have to die here, we will.”
    Since late November, when thousands of farmers arrived in trucks and tractors to camp out on the borders of New Delhi, nearly 30 people have died, several of them as a result of freezing weather, farmers said.
    About ten people have been killed in road accidents near the protest sites, they said.
    “We don’t want more people to die in this protest, and I hope Modi and his government take back the laws soon,” Paagh Singh, 76, said, wrapped in a blue blanket.    “It’s a democracy, and he (Modi) has to listen to us.”
    As temperatures dropped, one of the main protest sites turned into a sea of small tents and tarpaulin-covered tractor trolleys.    But some demonstrators have to spend the night sleeping in the open air.
    “I don’t care how cold it gets,” said farmer Surminder Singh.    “I’m neither scared of the cold nor of Modi.    Our struggle will continue until the laws are withdrawn.”
(Writing by by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

12/21/2020 Germany To Iran: Don’t Waste Chance For Rapprochement With U.S
FILE PHOTO: Satellite image shows Iran's Natanz Nuclear Facility in Isfahan, Iran, October 21, 2020. Picture taken
October 21, 2020 in this image supplied by Maxar Technologies. ©2020 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday urged Iran not to waste the opportunity offered by the prospect of Joseph Biden’s United States administration returning to the nuclear non-proliferation deal.
    Speaking after a video conference of officials from the countries in the JCPOA deal, Maas said that Iran should avoid taking any tactical steps that would make it hard for Biden to reverse President Donald Trump’s decision to quit the deal.
    “To make possible a rapprochement with the U.S. under Biden, there should be no further tactical manoeuvres of the kind we’ve seen too many of in the recent past,” he told reporters.    “This chance, this last window of opportunity, must not be wasted.”
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Riham Alkousaa)

12/21/2020 Indian Farmers Start Hunger Strike To Pressure Modi On Reforms by Manoj Kumar
Farmers stand next to a fire as they warm themselves on a cold winter morning at the site of a protest against
new farm laws, at Singhu border, near New Delhi, India, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    (Reuters) – Farmers leaders sought to step up pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal three agricultural reform laws on Monday by starting a 24-hour relay hunger strike.
    Modi’s government is urging the farmers to engage in further talks to end a deadlock which has led to thousands camping on the outskirts of New Delhi for more than three weeks.
    The protests have blocked roads connecting the national capital with neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, hitting public transport and the supply of fruit and vegetables.
    “We are going on a 24-hour relay hunger strike, skipping meals, to press our demands of repealing three agricultural laws,” Yogendra Yadav, a prominent protest leader, said.
    Leaders called on their supporters to skip one meal on Dec. 23, in solidarity with the protests against new laws, approved by parliament in September without much debate, which farmers fear could pave the way for ending state procurement of crops, while helping big retail buyers.
    Modi has defended the laws saying these would help increase farmers income as it would encourage more private investments in cold-stores, procurement and distribution.
    More than 30 protesters have died in recent weeks, mainly due to the cold as they were sleeping in the open with temperatures falling to 4 degree Celsius, farmer leaders said.
    Farmers leaders also called upon their supporters to boycott Modi’s monthly radio address.
    “People should bang their utensils at home on Sunday when Modi speaks up on radio,” Jagjit Singh Dallewal, president of the Bharti Kisan Union, said.
(Additional reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Alexander Smith)

12/21/2020 Hong Kong Court Rules Mask Ban Constitutional For All Public Meetings
Anti-government protesters adjust their masks during a protest at Wong Tai Sin
district, in Hong Kong, China, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s highest court on Monday ruled the city’s government had the right to invoke colonial-era emergency powers last year to ban the wearing of masks at all public processions and meetings during the height of 2019’s protests.
    During the anti-government protests which have largely died down, many demonstrators wore masks to hide their identities from authorities and to protect themselves from tear gas.
    Surgical masks have also long been common in the financial hub for when people are sick and the ruling comes at a time when Hong Kong people are mandated to wear masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.
    The Court of Final Appeal went further than a lower-court decision in April which upheld the government’s right to impose emergency measures but ruled the mask ban was unconstitutional.
    Opposition lawmakers and activists in the former British colony lodged a judicial review on the anti-mask law last year.
    Joshua Wong, 24, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists, was arrested for allegedly breaching the anti mask law and his participation in an unlawful anti-government rallies in 2019.
(Reporting by Kat Cheng; writing by Farah Master; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

12/21/2020 Nepal PM’s ‘Constitutional Coup’ Challenged In Court by Gopal Sharma
FILE PHOTO: Nepal's Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli reviews the guard of honour during
a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam May 11, 2019. REUTERS/Kham
    KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Opponents of Nepal’s prime minister turned to the Supreme Court on Monday to challenge his dissolution of parliament and the calling of an election, denouncing it as a “constitutional coup.”
    Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s dissolution of parliament on Sunday raises the prospect of months of political turmoil in the Himalayan country as it battles the novel coronavirus.
    Seven government ministers stepped down after Oli’s dissolution saying it was violation of the “popular mandate” given to them in a 2017 general election.    Protesters burned effigies of him in the streets.
    Supreme Court Spokesman Bhadrakali Pokharel said three petitions against the dissolution were “in the process of being registered.”
    “Under the constitution, the prime minister has no prerogative to dissolve parliament,” lawyer Dinesh Tripathi, who is one of the petitioners, told Reuters.
    “It’s a constitutional coup.    I’m seeking a stay order from the court.”
    The president on Sunday set April 30 and May 10 as dates for the general election – more than a year ahead of schedule – on the advice of Oli’s cabinet.
    The prime minister has recently lost support within his own Nepal Communist Party (NCP), with some members accusing him of sidelining the party in government decisions and shunning members when making key appointments.
    They have called on him to step down.
    His supporters say that in a democracy, a new election is the best way out of a crisis like this.
    The strife comes as Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries, battles the coronavirus.
    Nepal has had 253,772 infections and 1,788 deaths and the pandemic has battered its tourism-and-remittance-dependent economy.
    Tripathi said that under the constitution, the prime minister should allow the formation of an alternate government to ensure stability in a country that has seen 26 prime ministers in 30 years.
    If the court registers the petitions it could take about two weeks for a decision, legal experts say.
    Neighbours China and India, which jostle for influence in Nepal, have not publicly commented on the upheaval.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/22/2020 China’s New Long March 8 Rocket Makes Maiden Flight
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A new Chinese carrier rocket made its first flight on Tuesday under a long-term plan to develop reusable launch vehicles aimed at reducing mission costs and speed up launch schedules for commercial clients.
    The medium-lift Long March 8 Y-1 blasted off at 12:37 p.m. (0437 GMT) from the southern Chinese island of Hainan carrying five satellites, state media reported.
    China plans to develop reusable rockets under the Long March 8 series in the coming years, similar to the Falcon range already produced by U.S. private aerospace firm SpaceX.
    State media did not say if the Long March 8 Y-1 itself was reusable, but future variants are expected to be capable of vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL), allowing them to be used for more than one launch.
    China will develop its first VTVL vehicle around 2025, an official at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the country’s main space contractor, told a local conference in November.
    The Long March 9 Y-1 launch wrapped up a hectic year for China’s space programme.
    Earlier this month, China brought back rocks and soil from the moon in the first lunar sample retrieval since 1976.    In July, China launched its first independent mission to Mars.
    Around 2022, China aims to complete a multi-module, inhabited space station.
    By 2045, it hopes to establish a programme operating thousands of flights a year and carrying tens of thousands of tonnes of cargo and passengers.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

12/22/2020 Japan PM Suga Aims To Meet With Biden As Soon As Possible
FILE PHOTO: Yoshihide Suga, Japan's prime minister, speaks during a joint news conference at
Suga's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 17, 2020. Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday he wanted to meet with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden as soon as possible to discuss the U.S.-Japan security alliance, the coronavirus pandemic and global warming.
    Suga, speaking at a symposium, also said Japan was preparing to implement thorough coronavirus prevention measures for the Summer Olympics next year.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Tom Hogue)

12/22/2020 India’s Ruling Party Says ‘No Question’ Of Repealing India Farm Laws by Mayank Bhardwaj and Krishna N. Das
Demonstrators attempt to cross a police barricade during a protest of farmers and members of various agricultural against
new farm laws passed by India's parliament, in Mumbai, India, December 22, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party said on Tuesday there was no question of the government repealing agriculture laws fiercely opposed by farmers who are worried deregulation will reduce their incomes.
    Tens of thousands of protesters have camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi and blocked national highways for over three weeks to protest against India’s biggest farm reforms in decades.
    The government says the laws enacted by parliament in September would increase farmers’ income through more private investments.
    They aim to link potential bulk buyers, such as WalMart Inc, Reliance Industries Ltd and Adani Enterprises Ltd, directly with farmers, bypassing government-regulated wholesale markets and layers of commission agents.
    “There’s no question of repealing from the government’s side.    We have ample support from many farmers’ organisations,” Gopal Krishna Agarwal, a spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party, told Reuters, for the first time making clear the government’s refusal to back down.
    “Without private investments, agriculture income won’t be able to grow,” he said.
    Earlier in the day, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar appealed to the protesting farmers to hold further talks.
    “We assure our farmers that we’ll listen to them with an open mind,” Tomar told foreign journalists.
    The government has offered to amend the laws, including by giving a written assurance that the farmers will continue to get a guaranteed minimum price for grains, including rice and wheat at state-controlled wholesale markets.    The growers, however, want the laws scrapped.
    Their protests have resonated around the world.
    Urging India’s diaspora to help the government to convince farmers, Tomar said the policy changes would make agriculture more attractive for farmers.
    The protesters have received support from overseas Indians mainly from the state of Punjab, who have organised demonstrations in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States.
    “Farmers have decided they won’t go back till the government takes back all three farm laws,” said Rakesh Tikait, spokesman for Bhartiya Kisan Union, one of over 30 protesting unions of growers.
    “It will take more than a month to resolve all issues.”
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Writing by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, William Maclean and Barbara Lewis)

12/22/2020 Armenian Opposition Sets Up Protest Tents To Pile Pressure On PM
Opposition protesters warm themselves as they attend a rally to demand the resignation of
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan, Armenia December 22, 2020. REUTERS/Artem Mikryukov
    (Reuters) – Hundreds of opposition supporters set up a protest camp outside Armenian government headquarters in central Yerevan on Tuesday, escalating a campaign against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
    His opponents demand that he resign over what they say was his mishandling of a bloody six-week conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and surrounding areas which ended with a Russian-brokered truce and big territorial gains for Azerbaijan.
    Opposition groups had threatened to launch a national strike on Tuesday and, as Armenian police looked on, protesters waving Armenian flags set up four tents outside government headquarters.
    “We’ve already set up tents, we intend to stay as long as we have to, including sleeping here.    Pashinyan must resign,” Ishkhan Saghatelyan, an opposition politician, was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.
    On Saturday, thousands of Armenians led by Pashinyan marched through the capital to its Yerablur military cemetery to commemorate soldiers killed in the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
    Although his supporters filled the cemetery to its brink, footage published on Armenian television showed Pashinyan’s critics shouting “Nikol is a traitor!” as his convoy passed by, escorted by heavy security.
    Pashinyan, who swept to power in a peaceful revolution in May 2018, has rejected calls to resign.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/22/2020 S.Korea Scrambles Jets As Chinese, Russian Aircraft Enter Air Defence Zone
FILE PHOTO: A Russian A-50 military aircraft flies near the disputed islands called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo
in South Korea, in this handout picture taken by Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint Staff Office
of the Defense Ministry of Japan July 23, 2019. Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan/HANDOUT via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said it scrambled fighter jets in response to an intrusion into its air defence identification zone by 19 Russian and Chinese military aircraft on Tuesday.
    Four Chinese warplanes entered the Korea Air Defence Identification Zone (KADIZ) followed by 15 Russian aircraft, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
    The South Korean military dispatched air force fighters to take tactical measures.
    The South Korean military said the Chinese military had informed South Korea that its planes were carrying out routine training before the Chinese aircraft entered the KADIZ.
    “This incident seems to be a joint military drill between China and Russia but it requires a further analysis,” the JCS said in a statement.
    South Korea’s foreign ministry contacted China and Russia and told them there should not be a recurrence, Yonhap news agency reported.
    In July last year, South Korean warplanes fired hundreds of warning shots toward Russian military aircraft on a joint air patrol with China, when they entered South Korean airspace.
    South Korea and Japan, which both scrambled jets to intercept the patrol at the time, accused Russia and China of violating their airspace. Russia and China denied it.
(Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Heavens)

12/22/2020 China Says Will Take Countermeasures In Response To U.S. Visa Bans
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin attends a news conference in Beijing, China December 14, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China will take countermeasures against those responsible for hurting the Chinese side, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday, in response to additional U.S. visa bans on Chinese officials.
    The U.S. has used visas as a weapon against China, this has severely interfered in China’s internal affairs, the ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a press briefing.
    The United States on Monday imposed additional visa restrictions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses, taking further action against Beijing in the final month of U.S. President Donald Trump’s term.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Tom Hogue)

12/22/2020 Tibetan Leader Welcomes U.S. Bill That Reaffirms Rights by Neha Arora
FILE PHOTO: Paramilitary police officers swap positions during a change of guard in front of Potala Palace in Lhasa, during
a government-organised tour of the Tibet Autonomous Region, China, October 15, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The political head of Tibetans in exile welcomed on Tuesday the passing of legislation by the U.S. Congress that reaffirms the rights of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
    China regards the exiled Dalai Lama as a dangerous “splittist” and the latest show of support from the U.S. Congress could increase already tense ties between the two countries.
    Lobsang Sangay, president of the Tibetan Central Administration (CTA), which is known as the Tibetan government-in-exile, told Reuters Monday’s passing by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate of the Tibet Policy and Support Act (TPSA) was historic.
    The legislation calls for the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Tibet’s main city of Lhasa, the absolute right of Tibetans to choose a successor to the Dalai Lama and the preservation of Tibet’s environment.
    The legislation also proposes a “regional framework on water security” and greater participation from the community in dialogue with China on monitoring the region’s environment.
    “The People’s Republic of China has already completed water transfer programs diverting billions of cubic meters of water yearly and has plans to divert more waters from the Tibetan plateau in China,” the bill said.
    Environmental groups and Tibetan rights activists have expressed concern about China’s hydropower ambitions in the region, saying they could affect downstream water supplies.
    China seized control of Tibet after its troops entered the region in 1950, in what it calls a “peaceful liberation.”    Tibet has since become one of the most restricted and sensitive areas in the country.
    The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
    China has said its leaders have the right to approve the Dalai Lama’s successor, which many see as a coercive attempt to control Tibet, where ethnic Tibetans make up about 90% of the population.
    “By passing the TPSA, Congress has sent its message loud and clear that Tibet remains a priority for the United States and that it will continue its steadfast support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the CTA,” Sangay said.
    “This is a victory for the Tibetan freedom struggle.”
    China accuses the U.S. of destabilising the region by interfering in its internal affairs.
    Relations between China and the United States have deteriorated to their worst in decades over a range of issues, including trade, Taiwan, human rights, the South China Sea and the coronavirus.
    The U.S. bill also proposes dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama.
(Reporting by Neha Arora; Additional Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/23/2020 Senators Cruz, Rubio Warn Pacific Ally On Chinese Bid For Undersea Cable Project – Letter by Jonathan Barrett
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's plane makes a landing approach towards Pohnpei International
Airport in Kolonia, Federated States of Micronesia, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Prominent U.S. lawmakers warned a Pacific ally that China risked undermining the security of a sensitive undersea cable project if a cut-price, state-backed bid wins a tender process overseen by development agencies, a letter reviewed by Reuters shows.
    In the letter, dated Sept. 18, Republican senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio told the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) that China could leverage its way into the project to wage “campaigns of espionage and geopolitical coercion.”    Beijing recently imposed symbolic sanctions on both Cruz and Rubio.
    Reuters reported last week that Huawei Marine, recently divested from Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and now majority-owned by another Chinese firm, submitted bids priced at more than 20% lower than two rivals for the $72.6 million project funded by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
    Washington has pressed governments around the world to squeeze Huawei Technologies Co Ltd out of supplying critical infrastructure, alleging the company would hand over data to the Chinese government for spying, a charge consistently denied by the company.
    The cable project is designed to improve communications to the remote Pacific island nations of FSM, Nauru and Kiribati, although it has reached an impasse at the bid assessment stage, two sources with direct knowledge of the project details told Reuters. All parties involved have input on the selection of the tender winner.
    The people with knowledge of the situation declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the project.
    Following Reuters’ report last week, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that the United States was smearing Chinese companies.
    The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to additional questions for comment on Wednesday.
    Huawei Marine and its new majority owner, Shanghai-listed Hengtong Optic-Electric Co Ltd, did not respond to Reuters’ questions.    Huawei Tech. Investment Co retains a small stake in Huawei Marine, company filings show.
    GRAPHIC: Map of Submarine cables in the Pacific https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-PACIFIC/dgkvlqbmmpb/SUBMARINE-CABLES.jpg)     The interjection by Cruz and Rubio builds on earlier communiques sent to Pacific nations by U.S. embassies warning against awarding Huawei Marine the contract.
    Signed by Cruz and Rubio, the letter said that awarding Huawei Marine the contract would “deeply complicate relations between our countries and hinder the ability of U.S. diplomats and personnel to interact with your government.”
    “The Chinese Communist Party subsidizes companies such as Huawei to ensure they are able to undercut all competitors, and then uses infrastructure installed by those companies to advance the CCP’s campaigns of espionage and geopolitical coercion,” the letter said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
    Cruz’s office did not respond to questions.    Rubio’s office could not be immediately reached for comment outside business hours.
    The U.S. State Department said in a statement to Reuters that Huawei and its current and former subsidiaries, including Huawei Marine, posed “economic and national security risks.”
    Under the Compact of Free Association, a decades-old agreement between the United States and its former Pacific trust territories, Washington is responsible for FSM’s defence.
    FSM said in a statement that the procurement process was a “complicated endeavour” involving the cooperation of the three Pacific nations and two development agencies.
    The Nauru government, a Pacific ally to Taiwan, which is viewed by China as a wayward province, was the first to raise concerns about Huawei Marine’s bids, the two sources said.
    The Nauru government said in a statement the bid process was confidential.    The Kiribati government, which last year severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China, did not respond to questions.
    A World Bank spokesman said the tender for the “complex, multi-country project” was ongoing and could not provide specific comments on the process.    The ADB referred questions to the World Bank.
    The cable project, which offers far greater data capacity than satellites, is particularly sensitive because it is designed to connect to the HANTRU-1 undersea cable, which is primarily used by the U.S. government and lands at Guam, a U.S. territory with substantial military assets.
    Rival bidder Alcatel Submarine Networks, part of Finland’s Nokia, said in a statement it was ready to start the project if selected.    The third bidder, Japan’s NEC, did not provide information on its proposal.
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; additional reporting by Beijing Bureau; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

12/23/2020 China’s CAS COVID-19 Vaccine Induces Immune Response In Mid-Stage Tests
FILE PHOTO: The word "COVID-19" is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this
illustration taken November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) was found to be safe and triggered immune responses in early and mid-stage trials, researchers said on Tuesday.
    A late-stage trial of the ZF2001 vaccine, which CAS is developing with a unit of Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products, began last month in China.    It aims to recruit 29,000 people across China, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ecuador.
    The candidate did not cause serious adverse events, with common mild side-effects including injection pain, redness and swelling, researchers at the Chongqing Zhifei unit, CAS, and other Chinese institutes said in a paper published on Tuesday ahead of peer review.    https://bit.ly/3nKZzt0
    The combined data from Phase 1 and 2 trials involved 950 healthy Chinese participants aged 18-59.    Low dose and high dose versions were tested, and the Phase 2 study also tested two doses versus three doses for both the low dose and high dose versions.
    The higher dose given via three injections spaced 30 days apart did not induce an improved immune reponse compared to the lower dose, the paper said.    The Phase 3 trial will look at the lower dose version given over three injections, it said.
    Neutralising antibodies against the virus were detected among at least 93% participants who received three shots in different groups.    The levels of vaccine-triggered antibodies were higher than those seen in samples of patients recovered from the disease, researchers said.
    However, these antibody-based readings are on their own not sufficient to predict how effective ZF2001 will be in protecting people from the virus, researchers said, warning they could not yet determine the duration of immune responses.
    The vaccine also triggered moderate cell-based immune responses, a crucial part of the human immune system that works differently from antibodies.
    ZF2001 is a protein subunit vaccine, which uses a harmless piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus rather than the entire germ.     Four other Chinese vaccines from Sinopharm, Sinovac Biotech and CanSino Biologics have also entered Phase 3 clinical trials.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

12/23/2020 China Says Fighter Aircraft Did Not Enter South Korea’s Air Space
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference in Beijing, China September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Chinese and Russian warplanes did not enter South Korean airspace, after Seoul said they scrambled fighter jets in response to an intrusion into its air defence identification zone.
    “During this training, Chinese and Russian warplanes strictly abided by international law and did not enter the air space of South Korea,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

12/24/2020 China To Suspend UK Flights Indefinitely - Foreign Ministry
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin attends a news conference
in Beijing, China November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) -China will suspend direct flights to and from the United Kingdom indefinitely over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus, Wang Wenbin, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday.
    “After much consideration, China has decided to take reference from other countries and suspend flights to and from UK,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.
    “China will closely monitor relevant developments and dynamically adjust control measures depending on the situation,” Wang said.
    Countries across the globe are shutting their borders to Britain after the emergence of a highly infectious new coronavirus strain.
    There are currently eight weekly flights between mainland China and the United Kingdom, according to aviation data provider Variflight, including one each by Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines.
    British Airways operates two flights a week from London to Shanghai.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Stella Qiu; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Tom Hogue)

12/24/2020 Iran Foreign Minister Dismisses Trump’s Tweet That Tehran Behind Attack On U.S. Embassy In Baghdad
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the presidential palace
in Baabda, Lebanon August 14, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister on Thursday dismissed U.S. President Donald Trump’s allegations that Iran was behind the recent rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
    “Putting your own citizens at risk abroad won’t divert attention from catastrophic failures at home,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.
    Trump, without giving evidence, said on Twitter on Wednesday that the rockets that landed in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone on Sunday, in an attack targeting the U.S. Embassy, were from Iran and “we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq.”
    “Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible.    Think it over,” Trump said.
    The Iraqi military blamed the attack, which caused some minor damage, on an “outlaw group.”
    Top U.S. national security officials agreed on Wednesday on a proposed range of options to present to Trump aimed at deterring any attack on U.S. military or diplomatic personnel in Iraq, a senior administration official told Reuters without describing the content of the options or say whether they included military action.
(dubai.newsroom@thomsonreuters.com; Editing by Michael Perry)

12/24/2020 Iran Says U.S. Approved Its Funds Transfer To Buy COVID Vaccines
FILE PHOTO: Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), lie in beds at an intensive care unit at
a hospital in Tehran, Iran December 16, 2020. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran has won U.S. approval to transfer funds for coronavirus vaccines from overseas, the central bank chief said on Thursday, as its daily death toll fell to a three-month low.
    Central Bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati said an Iranian bank had received backing from the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to transfer the money to a Swiss bank to pay for the vaccines.
    “They (Americans) have put sanctions on all our banks.    They accepted this one case under the pressure of world public opinion,” Hemmati told state TV.
    There was no immediate U.S. reaction to Hemmati’s remarks.
    Hemmati said Iran would pay around $244 million for initial imports of 16.8 million doses of vaccines from COVAX, a multi-agency group dedicated to assuring fair access to vaccines for low- and middle-income countries.
    Iranian officials have said repeatedly that U.S. sanctions are preventing them from making payments to COVAX, to which some 190 economies have signed up.
    Iran’s Shifa Pharmed began registering volunteers this week for human trials of the country’s first domestic COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Iranian media reported, as a factional dispute appeared to be brewing over the use of imports.
    “We do not recommend injecting foreign coronavirus vaccines to the personnel of the Revolutionary Guards and the basij (voluntary militia),” Iranian news outlets quoted Mohammed Reza Naqdi, a deputy head of the hardline Guards, as saying.
    Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV earlier that 152 people had died of COVID-19 in Iran in the past 24 hours, the lowest number since Sept. 18, taking total deaths to 54,308 in the worst-affected country in the Middle East.
    The fall in deaths comes after more than a month of night traffic curfews and other restrictions in major cities.    Police said 96,000 fines were issued nationwide on Wednesday for drivers breaking the curfew.
    Officials have cautioned that the danger of a resurgence in infections looms large.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers in 2018 and imposed new sanctions on the country.
    President-elect Joe Biden’s coming to power has raised the possibility that Washington could rejoin the agreement.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Nick MacfieEditing by Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie)

12/25/2020 Trial Of HK People Detained In China From Monday, Supporters Say
FILE PHOTO: The father of Cheng Tsz Ho, one of the 12 detainees, stands on a peak overlooking Yantian district in the
neighbouring Chinese mainland city of Shenzhen, in Hong Kong, China Nov. 21, 2020. REUTERS/James Pomfret/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Ten of 12 Hong Kong people captured by China at sea as they tried to flee by boat four months ago will go on trial in the mainland city of Shenzhen on Monday, supporters said on Friday.
    The case has attracted great interest in Hong Kong and abroad as a rare instance of the Beijing authorities arresting people trying to leave the financial hub at a time of growing concern about the prospects for the city’s high degree of autonomy.
    The families had asked this week for 20 days’ notice to allow them to attend the trial, given a 14-day COVID-19 quarantine upon entering mainland China.
    Instead, the families of seven detainees were notified of the trial date by government-appointed lawyers, a support group said.
    “Obviously (the Chinese authorities) are rushing during the Christmas period so as to minimise international backlash,” said Beatrice Li, sister of detainee Andy Li.
    Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Twelve Hong Kongers were intercepted by the Chinese coastguard on Aug. 23 on a boat believed to be bound for Taiwan.    Two underage suspects will undergo private hearings on a separate date, Chinese authorities said earlier this month.
    All were facing charges in Hong Kong linked to anti-government protests in the former British colony, including rioting and violation of a national security law Beijing imposed on the city in June.
    In their mainland trial, they face charges of illegally crossing the border and organising an illegal crossing, which could carry sentences of up to seven years.
    The Hong Kong government has said the defendants must face justice on the mainland before returning to Hong Kong, where they are expected to be further investigated for the suspected protest-related crimes.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing by Clare Jim; Editing by William Mallard)

12/25/2020 Japan Official, Calling Taiwan ‘Red Line,’ Urges Biden To ‘Be Strong’ by Ju-min Park
FILE PHOTO: Japan's then-State Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasuhide Nakayama speaks during the White House Summit on
Countering Violent Extremism at the State Department in Washington February 19, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – A top Japanese defence official on Friday urged U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to “be strong” in supporting Taiwan in the face of an aggressive China, calling the island’s safety a “red line.”
    “We are concerned China will expand its aggressive stance into areas other than Hong Kong.    I think one of the next targets, or what everyone is worried about, is Taiwan,” State Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama told Reuters.
    In an interview, Nakayama, Japan’s deputy defence minister, urged Biden to take a similar line on Taiwan as outgoing President Donald Trump, who has significantly boosted military sales to the Chinese-claimed island and increased engagement.
    Japan’s engagement with Taiwan has also flourished in recent years on a largely non-governmental basis.    Tokyo maintains a “one China” policy, delicately balancing its relationships with neighbouring giant China and its longtime military ally in Washington.
    Japan shares strategic interests with Taiwan, which sits in sea lanes through which much of Japan’s energy supplies and trade flow.
    “So far, I haven’t yet seen a clear policy or an announcement on Taiwan from Joe Biden.    I would like to hear it quickly, then we can also prepare our response on Taiwan in accordance,” Nakayama said.
    During the presidential campaign, Biden called for strengthening ties with Taiwan and other “like-minded democracies.”
    Decades ago as senator, Biden questioned whether the United States had an “obligation” to defend Taiwan.    But many in his foreign policy circles acknowledge that U.S. imperatives have changed as a rising, authoritarian China has become more assertive and sought to shape global institutions.
    Beijing has been angered by increased U.S. support for Taiwan, including arms sales and visits to Taipei by senior U.S. officials, further straining already poor Sino-U.S. ties.    China considers democratically run Taiwan one of its provinces and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.
‘RED LINE’
    “Taiwan is China’s internal affair,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Friday.    “We firmly oppose interference in China’s internal affairs by any country or anyone by any means.”
    In Taipei, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou noted the strong bipartisan U.S. support for Taiwan based on the “shared language” of freedom and democracy.
    “Taiwan looks forward to working closely with the Biden team, to continue to steadily improve Taiwan-U.S. relations on the basis of the existing solid friendship,” she said.
    U.S. officials in Tokyo could not be reached as the embassy was closed for Christmas.
    “There’s a red line in Asia – China and Taiwan,” Nakayama said, citing a red line that former president Barack Obama declared over Syria’s use of chemical weapons – a line Damascus then crossed.    Biden was Obama’s vice president.
    “How will Joe Biden in the White House react in any case if China crosses this red line?” said Nakayama, who attended a memorial for the late former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui in August, before taking his defence position.    “The United States is the leader of the democratic countries.    I have a strong feeling to say: America, be strong!.”
    Chinese fighter jets in recent months have conducted waves of forays, including crossing the sensitive mid-line between China and Taiwan, ratcheting up pressure tactics to erode Taiwan’s will to resist, say current and former senior Taiwanese and U.S. military officers.
    Taiwan deployed its navy and air force on Sunday as a Chinese aircraft carrier group led by the country’s newest carrier sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, a day after a U.S. warship transited the same waterway.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by William Mallard)

12/25/2020 Hundreds Protest Against Nepali PM’s Sudden Dissolution Of Parliament by Gopal Sharma
Protesters get detained in front of the supreme court as they take part in a protest after the parliament was dissolved and general elections were announced
to be held in April and May, more than a year ahead of schedule, in Kathmandu, Nepal December 25, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Nepal’s Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli faced a fresh political challenge on Friday as hundreds of opponents protested against his sudden move to dissolve parliament and call elections more than a year ahead of the schedule.
    Three former prime ministers joined hundreds of activists who sat on a road near Oli’s office demanding he reverse the decisions announced on Sunday, which have triggered deep political unrest in the Himalayan nation just as it grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The ex-premiers said Oli had no power to dissolve parliament and that he had violated the constitution.
    “We’ll organise stronger protests against this dissolution by an unrestrained prime minister,” said Prachanda, one former prime minister.
    Oli has rejected their demands and vowed to press ahead with parliamentary elections next year, on Apr. 30 and May 10. It is not uncommon for Nepali polls to take place over two days.
    The prime minister has lost support within his ruling party this year, with some senior members accusing him of sidelining them in making decision and key appointments, and calling for him to step down.
    Oli says internal squabbling and a lack of cooperation from his party has paralysed decision-making, forcing him to seek a fresh popular mandate.
    The Supreme Court is hearing more than a dozen petitions challenging Oli’s dissolution of parliament and calling of early elections.    It has given the government until Jan. 3 to provide reasons for the dissolution, said court Bhadrakali Pokharel.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Rupam Jain and Pravin Char)

12/26/2020 At Least Eight Climbers Killed In Iran, More Missing After Heavy Snowfall
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the Tochal ski resort, in north of Tehran, Iran December 12, 2019. Picture
taken December 12, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) -At least eight climbers have died and several more are missing in mountains north of Iran’s capital Tehran after heavy snowfall and a blizzard, state television reported on Saturday.
    Several climbers remain unaccounted for since Friday when two deaths were reported, while the number reported as missing has increased as concerned families contact the authorities, the broadcaster said.
    Local news agency reports said the number of people unaccounted for could be as high as 12.
    Search and rescue efforts were halted for the night and would resume on Sunday, the report added.
    Tehran lies at the foot of the Alborz mountain range which has several ski resorts.    Heavy snow and winds in several parts of the country have closed many roads.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mike Harrison)

12/26/2020 Indian Farmers Agree To Meet Government Over Contentious Farm Laws by Mayank Bhardwaj
A view of a crowded highway as farmers protest against new farm laws at a state border in
Shahjahanpur, in the state of Rajasthan, near New Delhi, India, December 26, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Leaders of Indian farmers’ unions have agreed to meet ministers on Tuesday, possibly paving the way for a seventh round of talks with the government which has so far failed to mollify growers who say three new agricultural laws threaten their livelihoods.
    Worried over farmers’ round-the-clock sit-ins on the outskirts of New Delhi, the government of Prime Minister Narendra had on Thursday invited protest leaders to further talks.
    Farmers’ unions still insist they want the laws repealed, a coalition of unions called Samyukta Kisan Morcha said on Saturday in a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare.
    The government says the laws, which came into force in September, will unshackle farmers from having to sell their produce only at regulated wholesale markets.    It argues farmers will gain if large traders, retailers and food processors can buy directly from producers, bypassing antiquated wholesale markets.
    But tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on national highways demanding the government withdraw the laws that they fear will eventually dismantle regulated markets and stop the government buying rice and wheat at guaranteed prices.
    Farmers’ leaders would also in Tuesday’s meeting oppose plans to impose stiff penalties for the burning of crop stubble, a major source of air pollution, according to the farmers’ letter seen by Reuters.
    Modi has dismissed the farmers’ protests as motivated by his political opponents, while the main opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi has accused the prime minister of introducing the laws to help a few business people.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by David Holmes)

12/26/2020 Japan Bans New Entries Of Foreigners After Virus Variant Arrives by Chris Gallagher and Sam Nussey
FILE PHOTO: Shoppers wearing protective face masks walk on the street at Tsukiji outer market, amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo, Japan December 24, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan on Saturday said it would temporarily ban non-resident foreign nationals from entering the country as it tightens its borders following the detection of a new, highly infectious variant of the coronavirus.
    The ban will take effect from Dec. 28 and will run through January, the government said in an emailed statement.
    Japanese citizens and foreign residents will be allowed to enter but must show proof of a negative coronavirus test 72 hours before departing for Japan and must quarantine for two weeks after arrival, the statement said.
    Japan on Friday reported its first cases of a fast-spreading variant in passengers arriving from Britain.    The new variant has also been detected in a man who visited the UK and a family member – the first cases of infected people found outside airport checks – Nippon TV reported on Saturday.
    The new strain adds to worries about a surge in cases as Tokyo reported another record rise on Saturday.
    Infections of the virus that causes COVID-19 hit a record 949 in the capital just as Japan heads into New Year holidays that normally see people stream from the capital into the provinces.
    Serious cases were unchanged from a day earlier at 81.
    Tokyo transport hubs were subdued, local media said, a day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, under pressure as cases continue to climb, urged the nation to stay home and avoid social mixing.
    With New Year celebrations centred around family gatherings and mass visits to temples and shrines, experts have warned public restraint will be essential to prevent infection rates from rising further amid concerns of pandemic fatigue.
    Suga’s initial political honeymoon after taking his post in September has ended, with his popularity sliding after criticism he was slow to react to rising infections in Tokyo and for attending a group steak dinner in defiance of his own calls for caution.
(Reporting by Sam Nussey and Chris Gallagher; Editing by William Mallard and David Holmes)

12/26/2020 Hacked Documents Detail China’s Effort To Control Narrative Surrounding Coronavirus by OAN Newsroom
TOPSHOT – Delegates attend the opening session of the Chinese Communist Party’s five-yearly Congress
at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 18, 2017. (WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images)
    In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, China’s ruling communist party took extensive steps to control the narrative surrounding the virus as well as to fight public opinion.
    This revelation came amid reports by ‘Pro-Publica’ and the ‘New York Times,’ which detailed documents leaked by a hacker group called ‘CCP Unmasked.’
    These documents show thousands of directives and memos reportedly from the country’s internet regulator, the ‘Cyberspace Administration of China.’    According to the documents, the internet regulator aimed to make the virus appear less threatening in addition to making authorities seem like they were competently handling the situation.
    To do so, the Cyberspace Administration of China used specialized software to allow the government to track online trends, coordinate censorship activity and manage fake social media accounts.
    These directives date back as far as early January. They mandated that news sites only use government-published reports when discussing coronavirus.    Furthermore, news stations were forbidden from comparing the virus to the SARS outbreak of 2002.
    At the beginning of February, Chinese President Xi Xinping called for tighter control of digital media with a directive saying regulators should work to ‘influence international opinion.’
    On February 7, this came to a head with the death of coronavirus whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang. He had warned of a new viral outbreak before succumbing to the virus himself.
    Authorities began an immediate crackdown and said expressions of grief would be allowed, but anyone ‘sensationalizing’ the story would be dealt with ‘severely.’
    Following Li’s death, online memorials vanished and police detained people who were working to archive deleted posts.
    By late May, authorities were alerted to confidential opinion analysis reports published online. Officials ordered cyber administration offices to get rid of internal reports.
    According to researchers, hundreds of thousands of people work part-time in China to help shape the country’s online narrative, including low-level government employees, university students and teachers.
    This is not the first report that demonstrates China’s effort to censor its own people. Reports dating back to early 2020 showed the Chinese messenger app ‘We-Chat,’ owned by ‘Ten-Cent Holdings,’ blocked keyword combinations that criticized President Xi, local officials and policies linked to the outbreak.
    The U.S. and other nations have long accused China of suppressing information about the coronavirus.    This information could have potentially changed the tide of the outbreak.

12/27/2020 Bangladesh Set To Move Second Batch Of Rohingya Refugees To Remote Island: Officials by Ruma Paul
FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees are seen aboard a ship as they are moved to Bhasan Char island
in Chattogram, Bangladesh, Dec. 4, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh is set to move a second batch of Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar to the remote island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal this month, officials said on Sunday, despite calls by rights groups not to carry out further relocations.
    Around 1,000 Rohingya refugees, members of a Muslim minority who have fled Myanmar, will be moved to the island in the next few days after Bangladesh relocated more than 1,600 early this month, two officials with the direct knowledge of the matter said.
    “They will be moved to Chittagong first and then to Bhasan Char, depending on the high tide,” one of the officials said.    The officials declined to be named as the issue had not been made public.
    Mohammed Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, said the relocation was voluntary.    “They will not be sent against their will.”
    The United Nations has said it has not been allowed to carry out a technical and safety assessment of Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, and was not involved in the transfer of refugees there.
    Bangladesh says it is transferring only people who are willing to go and the move will ease chronic overcrowding in camps that are home to more than 1 million Rohingya.
    But refugees and humanitarian workers say some of the Rohingya have been coerced into going to the island, which emerged from the sea 20 years ago.
    Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abdul Momen told Reuters earlier this month the United Nations should first assess and verify how conducive the environment in Myanmar’s Rakhine state was for repatriating the refugees, before carrying out an assessment of Bhasan Char.
    Several attempts to kickstart repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar have failed after refugees said they were too fearful of further violence to return.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

12/28/2020 U.S. Embassy Urges China To Release 12 Hong Kong Fugitives
FILE PHOTO: Police officers wearing face masks, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, stand
guard outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The U.S. embassy in China has called upon Chinese authorities to immediately release 12 fugitives from Hong Kong and permit them to depart the country on Monday, according to a statement released on Monday.
    “Their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny.    Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere,” the statement said.
    Ten of the twelve Hong Kongers, who were detained in Chinese waters while fleeing to Taiwan, will go on trial at the Yantian District People’s Court in Shenzhen on Monday afternoon.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

12/28/2020 China Jails Citizen-Journalist For Four Years Over Wuhan Virus Reporting
Police vehicles are seen outside Shanghai Pudong New Area People's Court before the trial of citizen-journalist Zhang Zhan, who reported
from Wuhan during the peak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Shanghai, China December 28, 2020. REUTERS/Brenda Goh
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – A Chinese court handed a four-year jail term on Monday to a citizen-journalist who reported from the central city of Wuhan at the peak of last year’s coronavirus outbreak, on grounds of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” her lawyer said.
    Zhang Zhan, 37, the first such person known to have been tried, was among a handful of people whose firsthand accounts from crowded hospitals and empty streets painted a more dire picture of the pandemic epicentre than the official narrative.
    “We will probably appeal,” the lawyer, Ren Quanniu, told Reuters, adding that the trial at a court in Pudong, a district of China’s business hub of Shanghai, ended at 12.30 p.m., with Zhang being sentenced to four years.
    “Ms Zhang believes she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of speech,” he had said before the trial.
    Criticism of China’s early handling of the crisis has been censored, and whistle-blowers, such as doctors, warned.    State media have credited success in reining in the virus to the leadership of President Xi Jinping.
    The virus has spread worldwide to infect more than 80 million people and kill over 1.76 million, paralysing air travel as nations threw up barriers against it that have disrupted industries and livelihoods.
    In Shanghai, police enforced tight security outside the court where the trial opened seven months after Zhang’s detention, although some supporters were undeterred.
    A man in a wheelchair, who told Reuters he came from the central province of Henan to demonstrate support for Zhang as a fellow Christian, wrote her name on a poster before police arrived to escort him away.
    Foreign journalists were denied entry to the court “due to the epidemic,” court security officials said.
    A former lawyer, Zhang arrived in Wuhan on Feb. 1 from her home in Shanghai.
    Her short video clips uploaded to YouTube consist of interviews with residents, commentary and footage of a crematorium, train stations, hospitals and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
    Detained in mid-May, she went on a hunger strike in late June, court documents seen by Reuters say. Her lawyers told the court that police strapped her hands and force-fed her with a tube.    By December, she was suffering headaches, giddiness, stomach ache, low blood pressure and a throat infection.
    Requests to the court to release Zhang on bail before the trial and livestream the trial went ignored, her lawyer said.
    Other citizen-journalists who had disappeared without explanation included Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua.
    While there has been no news of Fang, Li re-emerged in a YouTube video in April to say he was forcibly quarantined, while Chen, although released, is under surveillance and has not spoken publicly, a friend has said.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)
(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

12/28/2020 Ten From Hong Kong Face Charges In Chinese Court Amid Tight Security by David Kirton
Pro-democracy supporters protest to urge for the release of 12 Hong Kong activists arrested as they reportedly sailed to Taiwan for political
asylum and citizen journalist Zhang Zhan outside China's Liaison Office, in Hong Kong, China December 28, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) – Security was tight on Monday as 10 people from Hong Kong faced charges in a mainland Chinese court that include illegal border crossing after a boat they were travelling in was intercepted en route to the democratic island of Taiwan.
    Mainland Chinese authorities detained the 11 males and one female at sea on Aug. 23.    The youngest is 16.
    The 12, who had all faced charges in Hong Kong linked to anti-government protests in the city, have been held virtually incommunicado in a mainland prison since they were detained.
    Chinese officials, who have described the group as separatists, said two of them would have a separate hearing as they are minors.    It was not clear if the 10 were appearing in the court or were attending via video link.
    They face charges of illegal border crossing and organising an illicit border crossing, which could carry a sentence of up to seven years in jail, mainland authorities said.
    The case has attracted much attention in Hong Kong as a rare instance of Chinese authorities arresting people trying to leave the former British colony at a time of growing fears about prospects for the city’s high degree of autonomy after Beijing imposed a draconian national security law in June.
    Diplomats from countries including the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia, were denied entry for the much-anticipated hearing after authorities said the court was full.
    “We’ve been denied entry. The official explanation given is that the case does not involve any foreign citizens,” one Western envoy told Reuters.
    The detainees’ plight has grabbed international attention, with human rights groups raising concern over their treatment after their families said they were denied access to independent lawyers.
    “They try to say it’s an open trial but they also say all the seats are occupied.    The family members don’t have the right to attend the trial.    That’s absurd,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
    “They don’t have the right to appoint their own lawyer. They don’t even know the names of the government-appointed lawyers.”
    Earlier on Monday, the U.S. embassy in China urged authorities to release the fugitives and allow them to leave.
    “Their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny.    Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere,” the embassy said in a statement.
    Pro-democracy activists began fleeing Hong Kong for self-ruled Taiwan from the early months of anti-government protests last year, most of them legally, by air, but some by fishing boat, activists in Taipei who helped Hong Kong citizens get visas have told Reuters.
(Reporting By David Kirton in Shenzhen and Pak Yiu in Hong Kong; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/28/2020 China Says U.S. Should Stop Using Taiwan To Meddle In Its Affairs
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds flags of Taiwan and the United States in support of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during an
stop-over after her visit to Latin America in Burlingame, California, U.S., January 14, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States should stop using Taiwan to meddle in China’s domestic affairs, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday, after U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020.
    Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made the comment at a daily news briefing in Beijing.
    The act was included in a $2.3 trillion pandemic aid and spending package Trump signed on Sunday.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley Ben Blanchard; Editing by Tom Hogue)

12/28/2020 Bangladesh To Ship New Group Of Rohingya Refugees To Remote Island by Ruma Paul
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Buffaloes are seen on the island of Bhasan Char in the
Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo/File Photo
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh will move a second group of Rohingya refugees to a low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday, officials said, despite calls by rights groups to stop the relocation on safety grounds.
    More than 1,100 Rohingya refugees, members of a Muslim minority who have fled Myanmar, will be moved from a refugee camp near the Myanmar border to Bhasan Char island, two officials with the knowledge of the issue said.
    Authorities moved the first batch of more than 1,600 early this month.
    “Buses and trucks are ready to carry them and their belongings to Chittagong port today.    Tonight, they will stay there. Tomorrow they will be taken by naval ships to the island,” one of the officials said on Monday.
    The officials declined to be identified as the issue has not been made public.
    Humanitarian agencies and rights groups have criticised the relocation, saying the island, hours by boat from the mainland, is flood-prone, vulnerable to frequent cyclones and could be completely submerged during a high tide.
    Bangladesh says it is only transferring people who are willing to go and the relocation will ease chronic overcrowding in camps that are home to more than 1 million Rohingya.
    Mohammed Shamsud Douza, the deputy government official in charge of refugees, said a 12 km long embankment had been built to protect the island from floods along with housing for 100,000 people. Relocation was voluntary, he said.
    “No one is forced to go there,” he said, adding that people can live a better life there with greater access to healthcare and education.
    But refugees and humanitarian workers say some of the Rohingya had been coerced into going to the island, which emerged from the sea 20 years ago and has never been inhabited.
    More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in 2017 following a military-led crackdown that the United Nations has said was executed with genocidal intent.    Myanmar denies genocide and says its forces were targeting Rohingya militants who attacked police posts.
    Several attempts to launch a process to repatriate Rohingya to Myanmar have failed because the refugees refused to go back, fearing more violence.
    The United Nations has said it has not been allowed to conduct a technical and safety assessment of Bhasan Char and was not involved in the transfer of refugees there.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/28/2020 Sydney Told To Watch Its Famous New Year’s Eve Fireworks From Home by Lidia Kelly
FILE PHOTO: Fireworks light up the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House during
new year celebrations on Sydney Harbour, Australia, January 1, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Sydney, one of the world’s first major cities to welcome each New Year with a public countdown featuring a fireworks display over its well-known Opera House, has banned large gatherings that night amid an outbreak of the coronavirus.
    A mid-December resurgence of COVID-19 in the city’s northern beach suburbs has grown to 125 cases after five new infections were recorded on Monday.    About a quarter of million of people there must stay in strict lockdown until Jan. 9.
    That has led to further restrictions of the already toned-down plans for the New Year’s Eve.    New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian banned most people from coming to Sydney’s downtown that night and limited outdoor gatherings to 50 people.
    “We don’t want to create any super-spreading events on New Year’s Eve, which then ruins it for everybody across the state moving forward,” Berejiklian said at a news conference, adding that watching the fireworks from home was the ‘safest’ way to do so.
    “On New Year’s Eve we don’t want any crowds on the foreshore around Sydney whatsoever,” she said.
    Only residents with permits for hospitality venues downtown will be allowed there on New Year’s Eve.    Households across Sydney are only allowed to host 10 people until further notice.
    NSW Police have issued 15 notices in Sydney for breaking public health orders since Christmas Eve.
    “I would say to those people half contemplating doing anything stupid in the next few days, forget it,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
    Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, backed the Sydney restrictions.
    “What we have been doing is working,” he said.
    Because of swift border closures, lockdowns, widespread testing, social distancing and a high rate of public compliance with anti-virus measures, Australia has recorded just over 28,300 infections and 908 deaths related to the coronavirus.
    Officials say this has given regulators time to evaluate vaccines without the pressure of mounting cases of COVID-19, as has been the case in much of Europe and the United States.
    “Our approach is to under-promise and over-deliver,” Hunt said, reiterating that the government is sticking to a March timetable to start vaccinations.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

12/28/2020 China Foreign Ministry Says Firmly Rejects New U.S. Law On Tibet Policy
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference in
Beijing, China September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese foreign ministry on Monday said it firmly rejected new U.S. legislation on Tibet signed into law by President Donald Trump over the weekend.
    Tibet-related issues are domestic affairs, Zhao Lijian, a ministry spokesman, said at a regular media briefing.
    The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 calls for the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa and the absolute right of Tibetans to choose a successor to the Dalai Lama.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Tom Hogue)

12/28/2020 India’s Punjab Warns Farm Protesters Against Telecom Mast Attacks by Rupam Jain and Abhirup Roy
FILE PHOTO: Farmers gesture as they block a national highway during a protest against farm bills passed by
India's parliament, in Shambhu in the northern state of Punjab, India, September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s major grain-growing state of Punjab on Monday asked police to crack down on farmers and sympathisers vandalising telecommunication masts as they intensify their weeks-long protests against farm deregulation.
    Protesters have attacked hundreds of masts of companies such as oil-to-groceries conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd that they believe have profited from the farm reforms at their expense.
    Tens of thousands of farmers are camping out on highways near New Delhi demanding a repeal of the new laws they fear will lead to corporate dominance of the farm sector and erode their incomes.
    The office of Punjab’s chief minister said in a statement that more than 1,500 communication masts had been damaged or their power supply cut off in the past few days.
    The “use of violence could alienate the protesters from the masses, which would be detrimental to the interests of the farming community,” minister Amarinder Singh said in the statement.
    A source close to Reliance’s telecom unit, Jio, said that more than 1,400 of its 9,000-plus masts there had been hit, with power supply and fibre cut by unidentified people.
    Some bundles of Jio’s fibre were burnt at one location, the source said, seeking anonymity.    Jio did not respond to a request for a comment.
Representatives of two of the more than two dozen farmer unions protesting against the laws rejected the allegations when contacted by Reuters.    They asked to remain unidentified pending a formal statement from all of the unions.
    The federal government says the laws will increase farmers’ income as it links potential bulk buyers such as Reliance, WalMart Inc and Adani Enterprises Ltd directly with farmers, bypassing wholesale markets and commission agents.
    The government and farmers are scheduled to hold another round of talks this week.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain and Abhirup Roy; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Nick Macfie)

12/28/2020 China Court Hears Case Of Activists Alleged To Have Fled Hong Kong For Taiwan Amid Protests by David Kirton
Pro-democracy supporters protest to urge for the release of 12 Hong Kong activists arrested as they reportedly sailed to Taiwan for political
asylum and citizen journalist Zhang Zhan outside China's Liaison Office, in Hong Kong, China December 28, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Monday heard the case of 10 Hong Kong activists alleged to have fled the territory for Taiwan amid anti-China protests and held in a Chinese prison for four months as their relatives appealed for a swift resolution.
    The group, whose case is being dealt with by a court in Shenzhen, on the border with the semi-autonomous former British colony of Hong Kong, faced charges that include illegal border crossing after their boat was intercepted allegedly en route to Taiwan.
    Authorities detained the 11 males and one female at sea on Aug. 23. The youngest is 16.
    The 12, who had all faced charges in Hong Kong regarding anti-government protests there, have been held virtually incommunicado in a mainland prison since they were detained.
    Pro-democracy activists began fleeing Hong Kong for democratic Taiwan from the early months of the protests last year, most of them legally by air, but some by boat, activists in Taipei have told Reuters.
    Chinese officials, who have described the group as separatists, said two would have a separate hearing as they are minors.
    Andy Li, one of the detainees, is facing charges related to a national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June for which some offences carry a sentence of up to life in jail.
    The charges of illegal border crossing and organising an illicit border crossing carry a sentence of up to seven years in jail, mainland authorities said.
    A Reuters reporter was not allowed into the court, nor were diplomats.    A concern group supporting the families of those detained said none of the defendants’ relatives attended the trial.
    At a news conference in Hong Kong, relatives of some of those detained pleaded for transparency.
    “I’m begging the courts to quickly give a sentence,” said the mother of Wong Wai-yin, 29, one of the defendants.
    “I really want to see my son very much.    If you do not give him a sentence, I cannot see him.    If you give him a sentence, then I can go see him.    All I want is just to see his face once.”
    The court said the judgment would be delivered at a later date, without elaborating on a time frame.    It was not clear if the plaintiffs made a plea.
    The case has attracted much attention in Hong Kong as a rare instance of Chinese authorities arresting people trying to leave at a time of growing fears about prospects for its high degree of autonomy after Beijing imposed a draconian national security law in June.
    International human rights groups have raised concern over the defendants’ treatment after their families said they were denied access to independent lawyers.
    “China must guarantee that all 10 people … as well as the two others detained with them, get fair and public hearings,” Amnesty International said in a statement.    “They must also ensure that none of the 12 are subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.”
    Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, slammed the trial.
    “They don’t have the right to appoint their own lawyer.    They don’t even know the names of the government-appointed lawyers,” he said.
    Diplomats from countries including the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia, were denied entry for the hearing after authorities said the court was full.     “We’ve been denied entry.    The official explanation given is that the case does not involve any foreign citizens,” one Western envoy told Reuters.
    British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said his government was deeply concerned that the 12 were tried in secret.    London expected China to uphold the rule of law and conduct trials in a fair and transparent manner, Raab said.
    The U.S. Embassy in China urged authorities to release the fugitives and allow them to leave.
    “Their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny.    Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere,” the embassy said in a statement.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including freedom of speech.    Protesters who took to the streets for months last year complain that Communist Party rulers in Beijing are whittling away at those freedoms, a charge Beijing denies.
(Reporting By David Kirton in Shenzhen and Pak Yiu, Katherine Cheng and Jessie Pang in Hong Kong; Writing by Anne Marie RoantreeEditing by Robert Birsel, Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie)

12/29/2020 Bangladesh Moves Second Group Of Rohingya Refugees To Remote Island
Bangladesh navy personnel check Rohingyas before they board a ship to move to Bhasan Char island
in Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 29, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    DHAKA (Reuters) -Bangladesh started moving a second group of Rohingya Muslim refugees to a low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday, a naval official told Reuters, despite opposition from rights groups worried about the new site’s vulnerability to floods.
    The 1,804 Rohingya were being moved in seven ships to Bhasan Char island, said Navy Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury.
    “We are ready to receive the new arrivals,” he said by telephone from the island.
    A first group of more than 1,600 Rohingya, members of a minority group who have fled from Myanmar, were relocated from their camps near the Myanmar border to Bhasan Char earlier in the month.
(Reporting by Ruma PaulEditing by Jacqueline Wong, Robert Birsel)

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